How We Work (Out), 2016: Stephanie Lee's Gear And Productivity Tips

How We Work (Out), 2016: Stephanie Lee's Gear and Productivity Tips

Usually we share the shortcuts, workspaces and productivity tips of our favourite experts, but now we're handing the mic to the Lifehacker staff. I'm Stephanie, and here's how I work (and work out!). Cover photo credit Karen Hong Photography.


Location: Los Angeles, CA normally, but currently wandering around Asia and working remotely Current Gig: Blogger, writer, amateur video maker (I even have a YouTube channel!), professional dork One word that best describes how you work: Tetris Current mobile device: iPhone 6 Current computer: 2011 13" MacBook Air

What apps, software or tools can't you live without?

Fun fact: I used to write video game strategy guides for a living at IGN. This spawned out of having written literally hundreds and hundreds of pages of straight plain text in Courier font over at GameFAQs.com starting in 2001. Because old habits die really slow deaths, I like to write on really minimalist stuff like OmmWriter or Notes on Mac. So, I switch between those, Microsoft Word and Google Docs depending on what I'm writing and whom it's for.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of Evernote love among my colleagues, but that's no surprise. It's. The. Best.

On the mobile side, I'm attached to Spotify and the food-tracking app Cron-o-meter at the hip. I've written about Cron-o-meter at least twice.

What's your workspace setup like?

These days, I'm content with just having my laptop and at least a table and chair.

Months of temporary housing situations have made me appreciate the wonders of being in a comfortable, seated position for focused work. (Not to mention how the impact of a stable environment on productivity is super underrated.) For a while in Japan, I had no other furniture except for a futon and cardboard box. It was leg cramp city.

So, coffee shops, generally Starbucks, are my go-to. I do like random mom 'n' pops coffee shops because they tend to be way more low-key and quiet, but they sometimes have a problem with me staying a while.

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

Eating. Food.

More specifically, knowing what to eat at least a day (or sometimes a few days) in advance. You'd be surprised by how much time and energy can be spent every day on figuring out what to eat based on what you "feel like having", calculating the convenience and time of acquiring noms, weighing eating for pleasure against its healthfulness and things like that. I've talked about bulk-cooking and pre-planning weekly meals before, and my modified system is based on those concepts.

I pre-plan my meals (including restaurant meal ideas) usually the night before. When it's chow time, my food is about 90 per cent ready (extra 10 per cent from heating and liberal squirts of Sriracha sauce). Exceptions are, of course, when I'm eating with others. Things have gotten much easier with time and practice.

As someone who used to be overweight and way too preoccupied with food throughout the day, this has helped me reclaim more time and energy for what I need to do. It's also helped me realise that when I do start thinking about food, even when I'm not hungry, I'm probably bored or procrastinating.

What's your favourite to-do list manager?

Evernote. The great thing is that it syncs up across all of my Mac devices so I can add and modify my to-do list pretty easily. Plus, it has those tick boxes that I can check off every time I compete a task. Doing so makes my brain happy.

To-do lists are their own black holes, so one thing I keep in mind is to be realistic with my to-do targets and know when to walk away. It helps that I go through my Evernote at the end of every day to reassess and figure out the one or two things that would make me happy if I made progress on them.

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

Currently, my AeroPress coffee maker and my digital kitchen scale. My reasons are clear:

On a serious note, the travel-friendly AeroPress really does make a quick and mean cup of coffee. Meanwhile, I use my digital kitchen scale to weigh out my coffee in grams (yes, I'm that serious about it) and also sometimes weigh out portions of food that I know are super calorically dense, like peanut butter. It keeps me "honest".

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

I guess I've developed some radically good self-control to fight against impulsive eating (and by extension, buying things unnecessarily). I go with something I call the "Fuck Yes!" mentality, which borrows Mark Manson's take and the ideas I wrote about risk versus reward here. It acts as a buffer to let me step back so I don't go completely ga-ga over some random muffins or something.

I'm also pretty sure I "coffee-shop-hipster" harder than anyone I know.

What do you listen to while you work?

Robot Unicorn reject or next EDM DJ? You decide. #workmode ?

A photo posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on

I generally work better in silence mostly because I forget to put something on or I jump into something right away and things will click.

I'll put on music to inspire a new line of thought or get a fresh angle. I honestly haven't found a specific genre that I seem to work better with, but I do have a preference for electronic dance music, jazz, indie rock and Korean pop, if I'm feeling frisky.

What are you currently reading?

I'm listening to The Willpower Instinct and reading Predictably Irrational.

How do you recharge?

Work-life balance is a unicorn concept for most of us I think, but at an earlier point, I realised I was being a real arsehole to friends and family because I couldn't pry myself away from work. Now I dedicate one full day a week to taking a complete break, agreeing to anything I would normally say "no" to — like actually doing things with friends and family or having a decadent meal plus dessert — without feeling guilty for not working.

If I work on something, it would be purely for or on myself. It's my day to say "Fuck Yes!" to mostly everything within reason.

Otherwise, my long days of being hunched over my laptop are usually broken up by my mealtimes and workouts. During mealtimes, I make it a point to not multitask like I used to, when I was trying to catch up with news on Feedly or watching Netflix. I've found total focus on my meals to be immensely helpful breaks.

What's your workout routine like?

I work out about five to six days a week. An intense weightlifting session almost always lifts my spirits (heh), too, especially if I take my workout break when I'm really struggling work-wise.

I don't always have access to a gym, so I have with me a knock-off TRX trainer that I've had for several years. It's been really effective at helping me maintain fitness and is a nice occasional break from the gym. Plus, it's gotten me stronger in some aspects.

Right now, I have regular access to a gym (after paying out the wazoo for a temporary membership as a foreigner in Hong Kong) and follow this training template from JC Deen:

Monday: Legs (Strength day)

  • Squats: 3 sets of 5-8
  • Single-leg hip thrusts: 3 sets of 15-20
  • Dumbbell step-ups: 3 sets of 8-10
  • Weighted hyperextensions: 3 sets of 8-10 (1 second hold at top)
  • Planks: 3 sets of 60 seconds

Tuesday: Chest/Back (Strength day)

  • Incline dumbbell chest press: 3 sets of 5-8
  • Pull-ups: 3 sets of 5-8 (if I can't hit the rep range, I switch to negatives)
  • Shoulder press: 3 sets of 8-10
  • Bent-over barbell row: 3 sets of 8-10
  • Face-pulls: 3 sets of 12-15
  • Rear-delt raise: 3 sets of 12-15

Thursday: Chest/Triceps (Intensity day with short rest periods)

  • Incline dumbbell press: 35 reps (as many sets as needed to get to 35 reps with 30 seconds rest)
  • Dumbbell later raise: 3 sets of 10-12
  • Feet-elevated push-ups followed by face-pulls: 3 sets of 10-12
  • Flat bench squeeze press followed by rope pushdown: 3 sets of 10-12

Friday: Back (Intensity day with short rest periods)

  • Rack pull: 3 sets of 5-8
  • Chest-supported dumbbell row: 35 reps (as many sets as needed to get to 35 reps with 30 seconds rest)
  • Power shrugs followed by hammer curls: 3 sets of 8-12
  • Single-arm cable row: 3 sets of 12-15

Saturday: Legs (Intensity day with short rest periods)

  • Front Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 (short rest)
  • Split squats followed by leg curls: 3 sets of 8-10
  • Cable pull-throughs followed by reverse hyperextension: 3 sets of 8-10
  • Hanging leg raise: 3 sets of 8-10

On days I'm not working out, I'm walking a lot to get to places. Otherwise, I hike, run or cycle when I'm feeling up to it.

What's your sleep routine like?

I always have trouble sleeping if I'm excited about something, so I've made a rule to stop all work by 10pm. Around this time I have a pre-bedtime snack. I keep it light and focus on carbs — and no, carbs at night don't make you fat. Then I'll read non-fiction on my Kindle in bed for about 20-30 minutes, or until I pass out.

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

The Rock. I'm no wrestling fan, but I freakin' respect the guy. Plus, we already did Alton Brown, my other hero.

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

Before, every article, podcast or video appearance I made was followed by a feeling of dread that I've screwed up somehow, that people out there were just going to laugh at me. Then, point number one in this Cracked article:

It's incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don't create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created.

...was like a hand that reached through my computer monitor and slapped me right across the face (like Batman does to Robin). Kudos to everyone who takes the time, energy and courage to create and put things out there. I still screw up (and people probably still laugh at me), but I've just learned to accept it as part of growth and roll with it.

The other advice that I've taken to heart is "You're probably doing something right if you're scared to do it."

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

One time at band camp...


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.


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