How We Work (Out) 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Favourite Productivity Tips And Gear

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

Our annual How We Work roundup, where Lifehacker staffers and contributors share their favourite tips and tools for better productivity, continues. Today: fitness guru Beth Skwarecki.

Location: Pittsburgh, PA Current Gig: Writer for Lifehacker and a bunch of other places; community college instructor. One word that describes how I work: Allthetime. Current mobile device: Moto G. I've had fancier phones, but they all have the same life story: my kids toss it around for about a year (the Nexus 4 took a dunk in the toilet and never missed a beat) and then the one time I drop it, it breaks. So now I have a cheapish phone in a 3-layer case. So far so good. Current computer: I have an Asus VivoBook X202E named apollo. It runs Ubuntu. Fun fact: I've been an exclusive Linux user since 1999.

What apps/software/tools can't you live without? Why?

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

I use Evernote because there is a constant flow of things past my eyeballs — facts, stories, article ideas — and I have to grab some of them and stick them down somewhere or else I'll never find them again. I love the app's Document Camera for "scanning" things, whether they're forms I have to sign and send, or pages in library books that I don't want to bother checking out.

I write in LibreOffice and Google Docs, do occasional image work in GIMP, and I have a Google Keep widget on my phone's home screen that is great for keeping track of mini to-do lists and shopping lists and other quick notes.

I am totally in love with Inbox. It's just like regular Gmail, except it has a button for "I don't want to deal with this crap". I use that button all the time. It's great.

I also need a notebook at my right hand while I'm working, to write down anything I don't have time to deal with properly but don't have space for in my head. It's like having extra CPU registers for my brain.

What's your workspace setup like?

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

I work in several different places, and a key thing about my minimalist productivity style is that I remind myself that if I have the essentials for a task (usually just my laptop, or even my phone in a pinch) I can get work done. There's never a perfect time or perfect place.

But I do have a home office that I like very much. The workstation is a plain wood table and chair. The cleaner the table, the more confident I feel that I can do anything, take on the world and win, and get a million things done. It is usually not clean. Here's the honest picture:

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

I have Roy Peter Clark's list of Quick 50 Writing Tools posted above my desk. It's packed with excellent advice, and I got it from a Science Writer's conference where Clark gave a talk that involved playing the piano and teaching us a Three Stooges trick. So it's a souvenir too.

Where I work out: A strip mall gym, the roller rink, a physical therapy facility that I see far too much of (I've been rehabbing my knee after ACL surgery), and a suburban park with jogging loops on the roads and 40 miles of rocky singletrack.

What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Prioritise ruthlessly.

What's your favourite to-do list manager?

I am allergic to to-do lists. They might as well all be titled Things I Am Dreading. I keep them very small, and limit the items to the ones that, if I forgot to do them, would make me sit bolt upright in the middle of the night and cry out to the heavens, "Oh @$US##& I forgot _________!!!"

I use Keep to put reminders of those true must-dos on my home screen, Inbox to keep track of essential emails, and notebooks for everything I feel like I have to write down but will probably never read.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

I'm a roller derby player. (I also run and lift, but I count that as cross training.) So my essentials there are my skates: RS-1000 boots with short forward mounted DA45 plates (vintage aluminium Magnums) built by Doc Sk8. None of this is super fancy or impressive by derby standards, but they fit perfectly and they're super responsive. I love 'em.

For running shoes, I swear by the Nike Free.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?

I had to ask friends for help with this one. Two themes emerged:

"Doubting things. Calling bullshit." I am sceptical of any claim, and if I'm going to share it or act on it or write about it, I check it out.

This first clicked for me in the context of running shoes. I'd been trying to find the right motion-control shoe for my overpronating foot, when I read a key thing about shoe research: in the lab, you can make an overpronator's foot stop pronating by giving them a motion control shoe. BUT, that doesn't mean that person will have a lower injury rate as a result; you'd have to do a study that specifically looks at injury rates. (Those studies have since been done, and they show that the shoes don't prevent injury). So I always ask what kind of evidence is behind something, and what specifically was tested. I'm the guy on the train saying there's one cow that's brown on one side.

"Doing it all," "Time management." All you have to do here is prioritise ruthlessly, and be realistic about your planning. I actually think I'm not very good at time management, but my friends see that I can hold down a job, parent two kids, devote a lot of time to roller derby (playing and committee work), and do crafts and hobbies. The truth is the crafts and hobbies are serial; I have many skills but I don't bust them all out at the same time. I'll knit for a month, then draw for a month, maybe do archery while I'm taking a break from derby. At the end of a few years I've done a lot of stuff, but it wasn't all at the same time.

It breaks my heart sometimes to not be able to do everything at once, but that's where the ruthlessness comes in. You have to cut things to make room for what you love.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I can't listen to words while I'm trying to make words. If I really need to drown out the conversation at the table next to me, I'll put on some God Is An Astronaut.

Here is my workout playlist. It includes Queen, Pitbull, Meatloaf and Peaches.

What are you currently reading?

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips

I love the science writing at Vox and at Buzzfeed (don't laugh, they have hired some serious science journalists).

Curling up with a dead tree, my recent choices are books on hand-lettering and botanical illustration. I'm not super into botany, but I like the idea of scientific illustration and plants are easy to find. (The first exercise in one of those books is to draw an apple.)

I've also been reading the How to Train Your Dragon books with my kid. They're nothing like the movie: in the books, dragon training is an age-old Viking rite of passage. Our hero's dragon Toothless is the smallest and weakest of them all, and actually has no teeth. The stories are well-paced and the illustrations are hilarious, although the books suffer from an unusually severe Smurfette problem and couldn't pass the Bechdel test if they studied for a month.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I'm not sure that's a useful distinction. I'm sort of introverted, but I do get my energy from other people. Since freelancing is a lonely life, I connect with others by teaching classes, by meeting my writing buddy on the regular, and by hanging out virtually with the rest of the Lifehacker team.

What's your sleep routine like?

I'm a night owl. My best sleep hack is the hot water bottle at my feet. About six months of the year I feel justified in using one. Hot tap water on an ordinary night, boiled water when it's really cold. Wrap that sucker in a big towel and sleep under a down comforter, and it will still be warm in the morning.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

In writing: Never start or end a sentence with a boring word.

In roller derby: Get low and drive from your outside foot. We call this a "bookend".

In life: Pain don't hurt.

How We Work (Out), 2015: Beth Skwarecki's Gear and Productivity Tips


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