How We Work (Out) 2015: Dick Talens’s Favourite Productivity Tips And Gear

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

Location: San Francisco, CA
Current Gig: I’m currently taking some time off in between startups. I just left the last startup I founded (Fitocracy) and am currently taking a break before the next. In the meantime, when I’m not writing for Vitals, I do a lot of fitness coaching over at and also Minimum Viable Fitness. Most of the “case studies” that I write are real clients who, in case I’m talking about their struggles, are anonymised so they don’t spit in my face when they see me.
One word that best describes how you work: Erratically (or spasmodically)
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: Macbook Air. 11-inches and proud. (Haters gonna hate.)

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

Slack. I love Slack. I told Lifehacker that I would literally work for free if I could just join the US Slack room and post puns and GIFs all day. But really, it’s incredibly solid and I am in (I shit you not) seven Slack rooms.

Sometimes Slack circles collide. For example I’m in two Slack rooms with Leo Babauta and when Lifehacker highlights a post from Zenhabits I rush over to one of them and am all like “HEY LEO HEY LEO! LOOK!”.

Aside from all the tech/geek stuff, I use MyFitnessPal to log my diet, and Evernote to log my exercise activity.

What’s your best time-saving life hack?

Definitely not in terms of a”‘classical” life hack. But I suppose lifehack-adjacent shortcut I swear by is Intermittent Fasting (IF). I don’t eat breakfast. Some days, I don’t eat at all (don’t try this unless you’re experienced at IF).

When I first started with fitness, I bought into all of the myths — six meals a day (lol metabolic furnace), breakfast is the most important meal of the day, etc. But in case you haven’t thought about it, lugging around six containers full of meticulously calculated meals is slightly less than optimal.

So I started to experiment, starting by wiping out all of those erroneous fitness “truths.” By starting with a blank slate of what I know, I was able to cull my daily fitness regimen into something incredibly easy and maintainable, even successfully losing fat through the most stressful times in my life.

One key change I made was embracing intermittent fasting. It saves so much time, which is really valuable when your schedule is as variable as mine.

Here is my daily exercise and diet regimen:

8-11am: Wake up (how about that)

1pm: Lunch (usually a lean meal, like chicken breast and broccoli)

3pm: Train (routine below)

8pm until whenever: Dinner and drinks

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I manage my entire life on Trello. Being severely ADHD, I have an assistant who looks through my Trello on a daily basis and adds to my to-do list, while trimming down unnecessary material.

What exercise can you not live without and why?

Dumbbell bench press, for sure (evrday chestday bruh).

Chest used to be my worst body part, but by figuring out how it responds to resistance training, it’s now my biggest asset. For physique purposes, I recommend that all men focus on developing their chest. A large chest (as well as shoulders and lats) makes your waist look smaller and is the first thing that people notice from a physique perspective.

As you can see here, a well-developed chest is quite useful for hiding a beer belly. Half kidding.

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

I’m really good at accurately estimating the number of almonds in my hand, provided the number is somewhere between 8 and 24. I get right about 92% of the time. I honestly don’t know why or how, I don’t even eat them that often.

But seriously, as someone who has the genetics of an obese person, one of the skills that I use to maintain my fitness is being able to estimate my caloric intake when I’m eating out or have no clue what I’m eating. I highly recommend developing this skill by guessing what you’ve eaten and then comparing it to actual nutritional information when available.

What’s your current workout routine?

I strength train 6 days/week, performing main movements with medium reps and lots of sets (high volume strength training). I’m not a fan of cardio, due to former-fat-kid memories of jiggling up and down while running. If I need to get my heart rate up, I just lift weights faster.

That being said, high volume training is a recent thing. I’m a big believer in minimalist workouts, and for the longest time I did the routine below. It only takes 45 minutes, 3 days/week and is more powerful for building muscle than p90x or any fad routines out there.

Back Day (Monday)
Barbell Deadlift —

Set 1: 4-6 reps

Set 2: Backoff Set

Chin-up (weighted) —

Set 1: 4-6 reps

Set 2: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Pendlay Rows —

2 sets x 5 reps

Chest and Arms (Wednesday)

Barbell Bench Press —

Set 1: 6-10 reps

Set 2: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Set 3: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Barbell Incline Bench Press —

Set 1: 8-12 reps

Set 2: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Barbell Bicep Curls (Cambered Bar) —

One set of 8-12 reps

Legs (Friday)

Barbell Squats —

Set 1: 6-8 reps

Set 2: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Set 3: 20 reps (also known as a widowmaker…for self-explanatory reasons)

Leg Curls —

Set 1: 8-12 reps

Set 2: Lower the weight by 10% and aim for +1 rep

Weighted Ab Cable Crunches

One set of 10-20 reps

What are you currently reading?

“This is How You Pitch” by Edward Zitron and “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

“Outgoing” introvert. I was deathly shy as a kid, but somehow grew out of that and now most people think I’m a full on extrovert. But I’m not…I’m the type of person that loves speaking in front of a crowd but dreads talking to people afterwards. I like being surrounded by people, but not talking to any of them. When I was in college, I’d invite people over to study with me, but only so they’d be around me. I didn’t want them to actually chat with them.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Non-existent. My lack of sleep schedule is probably the biggest of all of my flaws and it’s something that I intend to work on soon. I will say that I purchased a sleep mask and that’s made quite a difference in my ability to get into deep sleep.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

George RR Martin. He really needs to write something before he goes the way of most of his characters.

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

“The more you learn, the less you know”

This is incredibly true when it comes to fitness. At the start of my career, I was quite certain that I had all of the answers. Some of the things that I firmly believed (and no longer do): sugar is toxic, obese people are just lazy, and you can always do more at the gym. My beliefs have now completely flipped. Often, I write about these topics because I don’t want people making the same mistakes that I did.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?

When I was younger, I looked like a spitting image of the kid from Up.

Which is why I dressed like him for Halloween.

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