Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts and personalities. Today: Lifehacker's freshly minted US editor Alan Henry.
Obviously I'm no stranger to this series. In 2015, I made some pretty slick workspace changes (and I went triple-monitor!). In 2014, I cemented myself as a cross-platform kinda guy. In 2013, I was cursed with love for services doomed to shut down. Before even that, I was the new kid. It's been a long road, but let's focus on what's new — and barring that, at least what's interesting.
Location: Washington, DC (for now) Current Gig: Editor-in-Chief of Lifehacker One word that best describes how you work: Strategically Current mobile device: Moto X (2013 model, running Android 5.1 Lollipop). Also in the drawer: a OnePlus One (running Android 5.0 Lollipop), a Nexus 5 (running Android 6.0 Marshmallow), an iPad 3 (iOS 9) and a rooted (and still chugging along) Nook Simple Touch. Current computer: Ganymede, my 15" MacBook Pro (2010), Deneb, my custom-built Windows PC (Win 10) and, when I'm really bored, Europa, my 15" MacBook Pro (2008) running Ubuntu.
What apps, software or tools can't you live without?
Moto X screen cracked in a tragic Ingress-related accident. Virtually everything that crosses my desk comes through Google Docs and Drive. I still managing email on the Mac with Airmail, and Postbox on Windows, although I've seen some promising betas that might unseat those two. Good desktop email clients are hard to come by. Unlike everyone else at Lifehacker, mostly LastPass enthusiasts, Dashlane is still my preferred password manager. It helps that I still have an old grandfathered free account that meets all of my needs.
For everyone keeping track, I'm still swimming in smartphones. The ones I listed above are here, sure, but that doesn't count the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P I tested a few months ago, or the OnePlus X and OnePlus 2 that I'm still trying to send back to OnePlus (guys seriously take these phones back I do not want them anymore.)
My Nexus 5 is my pure Android testbed, and my OnePlus One is more or less the phone I use when my Moto X needs to charge and I don't have it handy (and I do a lot of streaming to my Chromecast with it, too.) I've been meaning to replace my Moto X though — it's served me long and well, and I'm thinking a Nexus 6P is probably going to be my next phone, probably in the next month or so, assuming nothing earth-shattering comes out of this spring's round of announcements. We'll see.
What's your workspace setup like?
It's not always this, clean, I swear. Gonna level with you guys — not much has changed from this time last year. When you find a setup that works, stick with it. The downside though is that in a few short months I'll be moving, which means I'll have to turn everything upside down. Wish me luck.
Until then, I'm still rocking a 30" Monoprice IPS display in the centre of my triple monitor setup, and two (now-discontinued) 27" Monoprice IPS displays on either side. Ganymede, my trusty (but ageing) 2010 Macbook Pro sits under the display to the right, and I slide it out and into my bag when I need to take my work with me. Deneb, my custom-built Windows PC, is off to the left. I still even have the SpaceBar organisers that keep the 27" displays at a decent height compared to the 30", and they make great USB hubs for both computers. I did finally move all of my display connectors to DisplayPort not too long ago, and let me tell you, if you're still rocking DVI-D and you don't have to, switch to DisplayPort. So much easier for cable management.
That's actually a Voyager 1/2 golden record cover replica in the upper left. Kinda rad, amazing gift. On Deneb, aside from an upgrade to Windows 10, not much has changed. It's still as much my gaming PC as it is my Windows test bench. Someone around here needs to use Windows on a daily basis, and it may as well be me. I've been pondering building a new computer, and every time I write a PC build guide I get the itch, but I think I'm going to push the overclocking envelope before I do.
I'm still (I know it's been two years no you shut up) proud of my lamp-plus-camera mount: It pulls double duty as a light source and a webcam stand. My trusty Loigtech HD C920 is mounted there using a Joby Gorillapod, so when I do Google Hangouts or Skype calls the camera is close to my face and at generally a great angle for when I do podcast interviews or other video calls.
Doombunny helps me brainstorm. Now this is where I talk about my peripherals. My unfortunate addiction. I still rock my Corsair K70 RGB for my Windows PC, and if you guys have any leads on awesome lighting profiles, I'd love to see them. Over on my Mac, I've actually been using Das Keyboard's Division Zero X40, which they sent me to review not too long ago. I mean, look, it's a gaming keyboard, but I absolutely love their custom switches for writing. They feel a lot like Cherry MX Reds, but they're twice as quiet, which makes them a joy to write on. Even when I finished my review and swapped my Corsair back to my Windows PC, I kept writing on this. The Cooler Master Novatouch TKL I mentioned last year is still kicking around, just in that foot locker under my desk with all of the other keyboards I have, waiting for some time when I feel like switching things up a bit.
The mouse situation has changed completely though. I've upgraded from a Performance MX to Logitech's MX Master, which is more than a fitting successor. I switched from my beautiful wireless Logitech G602 on Windows to a Logitech G502 Proteus Core, because I love how it feels more than I love not having a cable across my desk. I know, last year I said it would "take some tempting to get me to drape a cable across my desk again". Well, the G502 is just that good. As for my Performance MX and G602? Don't worry — they're in the drawer of my filing cabinet with the other dozen mice I keep because clearly I have a problem.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Over the years, I've told you to front-load your day and your week, and I've told you to tackle your to-dos fiercely — as fiercely as possible. But here's something I want to highlight for this year: Be aggressive about defending your boundaries, your personal space and your workload. Defend your off time, take your holidays and don't work when you don't have to work. Spending time doing the things you love with the people you love.
If there's anything I've learned since moving into the centre seat at Lifehacker, it's how important it is to be flexible and reactive, but also to aggressively defend your boundaries. Being a project manager back in the day helped a lot, and I still agree that being lazy is a powerful productivity weapon. It even applies here (get things done now so you can be lazy later), but it's still a delicate balance. When it comes to productivity, this is as much my mantra this year as it's ever been:
Productivity isn't about just getting more shit done. It's about getting the shit you have to get done finished so you can spend more time doing the shit you want to do.
Your time is precious. Spend it doing things that enrich, inspire, challenge and empower you. Don't settle for anything less. Be fearless with your time and energy. It's all we really have.
Yeah, let's just go with that.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
Asana is still what I affectionately call my "idea bank", with different boards for article and feature ideas, pet projects and a few other things I'm still keeping under wraps. Just as a tease though, the Showdown series was one of those idea bank projects, that went in there as a spark of an idea and matured into something awesome.
Todoist is still my day-to-day to-do manager, mostly because I love the way it handles recurring events, it's super easy to use, and has apps and plug-ins for virtually every OS, mobile OS and email app or browser you can think of. It's everywhere, so it's always by my side, which is exactly what I need from a to-do app.
For everything else, like shopping lists, packing lists, notes (like how many reps at what weight I'm doing at the gym, for example) and other quick notes and reminders to myself, I'm all about Google Keep, which is still incredibly underrated.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
I...may have a problem. So a few of you noticed this in my workspace photo from last year, but beyond my phone and computer, and all of the peripherals for them, I'm super into headphones. I get into the topic every now and again here at Lifehacker, but I tend to keep the depth of my collection to myself. Well, let's talk cans. I have a wall of headphones next to my desk, so I can swap depending on what I'm listening to and what of it I want to hear. Right now I have a pair of AKG K7XX Special Editions (that I bought from Massdrop) that get the most use; a set of AKG K701s that I picked up to compare with the K7XX; a pair of Grado SR80e's that are perfect for jazz and classical (and worth twice their price, easily); a pair of older V-Moda M100s that are damned near indestructible, sound great and have great isolation; and a pair of Sennheiser Momentums that I waffled on for way too long before I bought them — they're worth every cent.
Those are just the ones on the wall. There's a pair of AKG K553 Pros resting just under the wall, along with a Blue Mo-Fi powered headphones that I absolutely love and really need to write about. (You can check out Gizmodo's review, but I liked them a bit more than my man Mario did.) They're expensive, but they're perfect for podcasting and voice, and they feel like I'm wearing some steampunk apparatus on my head when I put them on. Those are probably all the ones worth mentioning in detail. There's also a pair of Superlux HD668Bs in the pile, a trusty set of Monoprice 8323s, a Koss Bluetooth BT540i set and a Koss Pro4S they graciously sent for review (quite good for Bluetooth!). And there you have it. I have a lot of headphones. I really need to sell some, but I like having options.
And I use them, too. Last year I mentioned my slow cookers (plural - yes, I have three), the Kitchen Aid stand mixer that's been transforming my baking all year and the small tweaks I've made to my coffee-making process, and that's all well and good. I even mentioned how much I've fallen back in love with my humble Nintendo 3DS, but mobile gaming is a love affair that's expanded — to the point where I bought PS Vita not too long ago, mostly to catch up on old games that aren't available on other platforms, and cheesy import titles. Even when I don't have time to game at my PC, I can carve out some time to game on a train or something, a little bit of sanity I'm thankful for.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I still don't really like this question, even after all these years, mostly because I don't think I'm better at these things than anyone else. I just like to think I'm good at them. I mentioned adaptability (and my BS detectors) last year, but I had no idea how prescient that notion would be, and how important being flexible and adaptable would become in the following year — and how important it is right now. I'm probably one of the most adaptable people I know, and I'm still challenged on a daily basis to find the line between what I should be willing to tweak and where I should draw the line. It's an ongoing struggle between watching my boundaries and pushing my comfort zone.
That's kind of the point though, isn't it? Being willing to bend without breaking, but retain who you are and what makes you, well, you. It's a skill, not a talent, and it's something that demands practice — so in a way, I'm thankful to have had so much of that.
What do you listen to while you work?
Bless my old partykid heart, but these days I've been really into future funk and vaporwave while I work. Part of it is that a lot of it's mostly instrumental and all beats, so it's easy to work to. Part of it is that it celebrates that '80s/'90s nostalgia for a neon-lit, cyberpunk, vaguely Bladerunner future (with a heaping helping of anime GIFs) combined with samples and remixes from classic funk, soul, disco and electronica that I've been listening to for years. Here, I slapped together a YouTube playlist for you here with some of my favourite tracks recently:
Since YouTube and SoundCloud seem to be the hub for this stuff, I find myself just subscribing to YouTube channels and hitting "play all" in some of these channels. A few worth subscribing to: Artzie Music, Triangle Music, SoundStation, 94.20AM, Tukyo キーOへ, 悲しい ANDROID-APARTMENT, ENM, Real ℒℴѵℯ ❤, AkaneInTokio TV and Sun Levi.
If you're a Pandora lover, check out my profile there to see what I'm listening to when I have that running — you'll find something you like. You'll usually catch me listening to my Todd Terje station, or that Skyrim station that gets me pumped to write. Other times it might be Emancipator or Blackmill or Parov Stelar. When I'm feeling jazzy, it's all about Miles, or maybe Mark Farina or, hell, even Brubeck.
Beyond that, some familiar names that still deserve your ears — and your subscriptions: Noon Pacific, which I've covered before; Freefall Radio, a weekly podcast hosted by David Bassin; and with This Is My Jam gone, I've moved on to Nusiki ( which I've written about before — you can check out my profile here) for my community song-sharing needs, and Whyd (you can check out my profile here) when I hear something I absolutely need to save and listen to again.
What are you currently reading?
I never really have a ton of time to read, but I was given Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me for Christmas, and I'm reading it now.
From the tech pile, I'm working through Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart, mostly as a Python refresher, but also to see if there are any cool projects I can highlight here at Lifehacker.
From the cookbook pile, I've been working through recipes in America's Test Kitchen's Cook It In Cast Iron. You can definitely expect to see some of their tricks featured here in future posts — it's already amazing, and if you want to spoil yourself and you love cast iron cooking as much as I do, pick up this book. We did a book review on their last book, Kitchen Hacks, not too long ago, and that's worth picking up as well.
How do you recharge?
I really can't understate the restorative power of music, good food, a decent drink and a nap. Of those things, I get the music (and maybe a little time to play video games) more than anything else, but I still try to make time to eat and drink well. My occasional nap has sadly gone by the wayside though. Here's hoping it will reappear in my schedule someday.
I also recharge by getting out and travelling, whether it's around town or around the world. The same old same old can get pretty stale. I've also found taking pictures — even around streets you know — forces you to see and appreciate them in a whole new light.
Oh, that and a lot of coffee. And tea. Not at the same time.
What's your sleep routine like?
Sup Penguin. Working with a team that's spread out around the country dictates that I'm flexible with my hours, so I'm usually up and working around 7/8am ET (9/10pm AEST), drinking my first coffee of the day, checking the feeds to see if anything interesting happened overnight. Luckily I don't have to be at the keys right away as soon as I wake up, which is a comfort, but at the same time that same benefit translates to a drawback when it's the middle of the evening or night for me, but the afternoon for my colleagues elsewhere in the US. It's a give and take, but a tough one to get used to.
I try to get to bed around 11pm-ish (although lately it's been closer to midnight or 1am), and while I try to crank out as much work in the morning while things are still quiet, I feel more creative later in the afternoon and evening, so I try to make sure I have time to brainstorm or work on my personal projects then.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
We all got our wish when it came to Alton Brown doing a How I Work, so I'm pretty pumped about that. I'm actually eager to aim even higher and see who else we can get that we've always wanted to talk to, so if you guys have suggestions, I'm happy to hear them!
Beyond that, like last year, I'd still love to know how Nikki Giovanni works, or NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, or Mae Jamison (we share a birthday!), or LeVar Burton since they were all role models for me as a child. Let's toss in Ta-Nehisi Coates, since I look up to his writing style a good bit.
Oh, and it wouldn't be an answer to this question if I didn't hope that one day Xeni Jardin will share her insight with us. I've mentioned before that she's one of my heroes, and nothing's changed on that front.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Ready for an answer you can probably Google at this point? Here:
Back in 2006, I was struggling with living a kind of double life. On the one hand, I was working in tech and going to grad school, trying to decide if I wanted to work in an office with enterprise technology for a living. On the other hand, I was already writing on my own, and really wanted to that into a career. I reached out to Xeni Jardin, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing (still one of my favourite sites), on a whim for advice as a fledgling writer looking for tips from someone more experienced. She replied:
Find untold stories, things that fascinate you, and do your best to tell them honestly. There's so little truth in the world these days, any small morsel of it is a precious thing that will be appreciated, and find a grateful audience.
Don't look for "big" stories, just look for ones that matter to you. The more you work at it, the better your work will be, and the more people will see it.
I'm still working on it, but every day I appreciate her words. I'd also share a quote from the 8th century father of Zen, Shitou Xiqian: "The vast sky is not hindered by the floating clouds." Something else I try to remember, especially in this line of work.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Every year I post the video above. Every year it becomes more and more important.
I said I was in Washington DC "for now". I love it here, and if anyone else is in the area or thinking about it, you can always rely on me to tell you what to see, where to live, and of course, what to avoid. However, if you haven't inferred it yet, I'm moving! I'm relocating to New York City in the very near future. It will be an adventure, to be sure.
On the bright side, I get the feeling we'll be doing more Lifehacker meetups in the near future, so... hold on to your butts?
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.