Ken Jennings didn’t become a household name overnight. He became a household name over exactly 74 nights. Ken, of course, holds the record for the longest winning streak on the television trivia show Jeopardy! and has since become a best-selling author.
His 2006 book Brainiacs dove into the world of his trivia aficionados and his own rise in that world, and he’s more recently been contributing to his Junior Genius Guides series for kids. But he hasn’t hung up his trivia hat just yet. Next week Ken will be a featured player on FleetWit, an online trivia and brain game platform where participants compete for real prizes. Ken will be competing with the public in a live trivia race on December 12 at 12:30PM AEDT, when you’ll be able to put your own trivia wit against his. In the meantime we caught up with Ken to learn a little about how he works.
Current Gig: Author of 11 books, most recently the Junior Genius Guides for nerdy kids.
One word that best describes how you work: Reluctantly
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: IBM’s Watson, who is now my butler
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I was a lowly computer programmer in 2004 when I unexpectedly won on Jeopardy! for six straight months. Sorry for the spoilers if you still have that on your DVR.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?
What’s your workspace setup like?
Big old railroad desk, extremely cluttered.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Only knock off for the day when you know exactly what you want to write next. If you stop when you’re stuck, your future self the next morning is screwed. I stole this from Hemingway and it totally works. Knock off early and go to a bullfight or something. (Or in my case, watch all productivity end when the kids get home from school.)
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
The back of yesterday’s page of my New York Times crossword desk calendar.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I’m not one of those weirdos who carries around a Leatherman on their keyring. But I do carry around a mini-Swiss army knife, the kind with the little ballpoint pen and tweezers, and it comes in handy all the time.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Turning off the car right at the end of the song. The key is planning early. You need to start making adjustments when you’re two to three minutes away from your destination, minimum.
What do you listen to while you work?
If I’m writing, it has to be silence. But if I’m in the research stage on something, I can put on music. 2016 was terrible but at least there was a new Teenage Fanclub record and a new Sleigh Bells record.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading Alan Moore’s new novel Jerusalem for weeks and weeks, because it’s almost a million words long. Right now I’m stuck inside this chapter that’s 50 pages of James Joyce pastiche and I may never escape.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
Go out back and shoot some baskets.
What’s your sleep routine like?
White noise machine required. I always stay up too late reading or writing, so I’m not an early riser.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Alex Trebek. About time someone asks him something.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ll never forget what my dad said to me once when I was a kid: “Don’t pull up real close to the gas pumps like your mother does.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
My daughter just got cast in the class play, It’s Electrifying! She is playing “Electromagnet #2” and “Alessandro Volta Fan Club Member”. Talk about range!
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? [contact text=”Let us know.”]