Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts. Now, we're going behind the scenes at Lifehacker. I'm Melanie Pinola, and this is how I work.
I still stand by my answers from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, for what it's worth, but now I'm older and wiser... and also more set in my ways. So here's what's new-ish: Mostly gadgets.
Location: Long Island, NY Current Gig: Writer for hire One word that best describes how you work: Serendipitously Current mobile device: Phones: Samsung Galaxy Note 5, iPhone 5. Tablets: iPad Air 2, Nexus 7. Current computer: Microsoft Surface Book, Mac Mini (late 2014), Asus Chromebook and various other old laptops as backup
What apps, software or tools can't you live without? Why?
Not much has changed, apps-wise, since the last time I did this. I'm still using Pocket with Evernote to save every article of interest and OneNote for brainstorming. I keep TweetDeck running in a separate window so I can feel like I'm sort of catching up with everything that's going on in the world. And I finally ditched annoying Avast for Bitdefender for my anti-virus solution.
The ultimate test of what's truly useful to you on your computer or phone is getting a new one, and last year I replaced both my Windows and Mac computers, my smartphone and the iPad. I got a new Dell monitor too. (It was a big year gadget-wise for me! And expensive! But I might get a tax refund at least for the first time in ages.)
The apps I was basically lost without promptly installing: 1Password, Dropbox, Photoshop, Quicken and Microsoft Office. And Chrome extensions I'm eternally grateful for: Lazarus, OneTab, The Great Suspender and Grammarly. They have saved my bacon too many times to count.
What's your workspace setup like?
You've seen my main, DIYed standing desk a few times in previous versions of this post, so this time I'll show you the other desk in my office, the one that holds the Mac mini:
Pretty boring, right? Sometimes I sit here in the morning to ruminate and write (on paper), but most times I only use this desk for Mac-centric tasks. Yes, that's an Aerogarden on the desk, which bubbles loudly (I'm still getting used to it). Right now it's sprouting herbs, but I hope to one day have flowers blooming there that I won't kill.
The best thing about this workspace is its proximity to the window. I live across the street from a school, so it's fun to look out the window occasionally at the parents and kids rushing by. Once, I saw a mum and her tween-aged daughter let their dog poop on my front lawn and walk away. I knocked on the window and yelled at them like the crazy woman I am, and the girl cleaned it up. Fun stuff like that. Get off my lawn.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Say no. I'm non-confrontational by nature, so saying no is the hardest thing for me to do. It's only recently that I realised how this one word can save your sanity. I don't have to agree to everything, and, to make time in my life for the things that really matter, I need to say no more often. No to participating in bake sales if I don't feel like baking, no to doing work for free, no to going out when I'm dead tired. Use "no" sparingly, but always ask, Why the f*** would I do that?
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
My brain, Google Calendar and pen and paper. If something's important enough to do but I might forget it, I put it on the calendar. If I want to map out my week, I scribble the projects I need to work on in a weekly calendar. I've found that to-do apps give me a false sense of organisation and productivity: I write the tasks down and feel accomplished enough having done that that I forget to check back with the to-do list app. Or I tire myself out organising my to-dos. So for everything else, I rely on my brain. It still works, mostly.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
My favourite gadgets are kitchen gadgets. Besides my Bonavita coffee maker and Hamilton Beach electric kettle, I've been digging my waffle maker lately and my rice cooker, also a very versatile gadget. I could live without them, but where's the fun in that?
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
This question is funny to me because I've done four of these posts so far, and I try to vary my answers a little each time. But that would mean I'm better at five different things than everyone else, which is laughable, because I'm not even better at one thing than everyone else. I will say that I'm proud of my ability to research the heck out of a topic. Back in the day, they used to call me Research Monkey.
What do you listen to while you work?
An Aerogarden. Sometimes, video game music playlists on YouTube.
What are you currently reading?
Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning, his latest haunting collection of short stories, Mark Strand's Collected Poems and Mary Oliver's gorgeously written A Poetry Handbook. I feel like I might write poetry and fiction again, if only I'd read it more again. I don't feel like I have the time to indulge in a novel now (although I should probably re-read Dance with Dragons, because through the last season of Game of Thrones I kept thinking, "Huh? That happened?").
How do you recharge?
I stay up very, very late so I can do whatever I want while everyone is asleep. However, this is only recharging at the moment, because I suffer from my sleep procrastination the next day.
What's your sleep routine like?
See above. I feel like the world is conspiring against those of us on Team Night Owl. Last week I took my first non-travel holiday in a long time while my daughter had winter break. We stayed up most nights past 2am and slept 'til noon. It was glorious. Now it's back to not getting enough sleep.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Robert Caro, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Although my previous answers are still the "best" I've ever received, I'll add one to the list: Do what you love, and do it often. That's from the Holstee Manifesto, as you're probably already aware. Similarly: Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think. There are too many hobbies and things that I enjoy doing that I haven't kept up over the years — things like going to poetry readings and plays. I'm making more of an effort to seek out and schedule these kinds of activities because they bring me joy. I recently took my daughter to see the Lion King on Broadway and it was fantastic, by the way.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
I'm sorry to everyone who follows me on things like Instagram or Flipboard, because I hardly ever share anything (or anything worthwhile, at least). I'd say I'll try to post more interesting stuff, but don't want to make promises I can't keep. Anyway, thanks for reading!
The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Andy.