Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces, and productivity tips of our favourite experts. This week, we’re going behind the scenes at Lifehacker. I’m Claire Lower, and this is how I work.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Current Gig: Food editor for Lifehacker (I run Skillet.)
Current mobile device: iPhone 7
Current computer: MacBook Pro
One word that best describes how you work: Anxiously.
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
My background is neither in food nor in writing. I studied chemistry at the University of Florida, and completed an internship at Dupont working in organic light-emitting diodes before taking a full-time lab position at Honeywell running the same spectrometer all day. I did not like it.
I started blogging as a hobby, then cold pitched xoJane, asking them if I could write about food, because I like food. Most of their food-related content was either about diets or mental health issues around food, so I asked if I could write about it from the view of “food is good!” Much to my surprise, they said “yes.” My first article was about peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.
I freelanced for them for a few years, writing for a few other outlets here and there, then I started freelancing for Lifehacker, taking over Skillet. Eventually xoJane ceased to exist and, lucky for me, Lifehacker’s editor in chief at the time (Alan Henry) was able to give me more work. I came on as a staff writer in February of 2017, and it has, frankly, been a dream job.
Take us through a recent workday.
My workdays are all actually pretty similar, with the main variation being what I cook. Last Monday (August 27th) was pretty fun because I got up and immediately made and ate (and took pictures of) a peach caprese salad, which was delicious. I wrote that up, got it on the site, and wrote my early-in-the-day article for Tuesday. Then I went to the store and got some ingredients for a shrimp cocktail, made a shrimp cocktail, took photos of the shrimp cocktail, and ate the shrimp cocktail. Then I did the dishes that I generated that day—which were many—and wiped down the kitchen.
Besides your phone, what apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I couldn’t do my job without my camera (a Canon Rebel SL1), but the kitchen gadgets I mostly use are my two sous vide circulators—I have one Joule and one Anova—my Instant Pot, and my immersion blender.
I’m really not much of an app person. I use the usual social media crap like Twitter and Instagram, and I have casting apps for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Spotify. I wish I had a cool app that revolutionised my work flow to recommend, but I do not. I am probably the least technically inclined person at Lifehacker.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I live in a studio, so my whole apartment feels like my office sometimes, which can create an interesting work-life balance. Luckily I really like my apartment; it has lots of natural light, it’s decorated to my liking, and my cat is there. My kitchen is set up like a normal kitchen, I guess. The immersion circulators, Instant Pot, and vacuum sealer all live in the same corner. My kitchen table is basically just a photo station now—I do most of my eating at the coffee table. I also do most of my writing at the coffee table, on my uncomfortable vintage couch.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack (no matter how small or niche)?
Always make salad dressing in a mason jar. There are a bunch of pricey “emulsifying bottles” out there but it’s way easier to just throw everything in a jar, seal the jar, and shake the jar to emulsify the dressing. If you don’t use all the dressing, just close the jar and pop it in the fridge.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
If I’m at home, I need complete silence to write. I can edit photos and cook with music on, but it’s almost impossible for me to write with any noise. I used to be able to listen to this playlist, which is full of songs I’ve heard a million times, but I can’t even do that anymore.
The weird thing is that I’m able to work at a bar—no matter what music is playing—without any problems. It might be because there’s enough noise in a public place that it all kind of just melds into one, big, white-ish noise. My brain is a mystery, even to me.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
I work from home, but I rely on all my editors pretty heavily for feedback on ideas. Virginia (our managing editor) helps me with scheduling, which is extremely helpful because planning ahead is not something I’m particularly great at. When I’m filming videos, my video producer, Joel, is very good at keeping me focused and calm by giving me compliments and helping with food prep and cleaning.
I also have a few bartender friends—especially 3-Ingredient Happy Hour by suggesting cocktail ideas and recipes. Sometimes Dan will hand me a cocktail, then toss me a coaster with the recipe written out in his beautiful handwriting.
Other than that, both my boyfriend and my friend Ryan come over and eat most of the food I cook, which is more helpful than it sounds. Working alone means I’m sometimes the only one who gets to taste what I make, so it’s good to have other people confirm that what I’m cooking is actually delicious, and it’s not all in my head.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I write things down on paper. I have an Uncalendar planner, which I love because it has lots of boxes and spaces for making lots of lists, and nothing calms me like a list. I also have this notepad that came on a clipboard, which I use to take notes during meetings and also while developing recipes. Then I have a smaller notepad for writing daily to-do lists.
I also Slack myself random article ideas as they occur to me, as well as articles and recipes I find interesting.
How do you recharge or take a break?
My boyfriend and I like to read in the park or at the river, but we also spend a lot of time in Powell’s and various comic book stores, looking for things to read at the park or the river. We’ve also been watching a lot of murder documentaries, and listening to Last Podcast on the Left.
I take a lot of baths. I recently bought this banging bath tray that came with a very extra candle holder. If I have a night to myself, I like to have a quiet cocktail or two alone at a swanky bar. There is something very soothing to me about putting on a dress and some lipstick, and sitting at a bar with only the bartender to occasionally chat with (they’re working, so it’s just the right amount of conversation). I’ve also taken up embroidery, and am currently working on a Daniel Johnston-themed towel.
What’s your favourite side project?
I have an abandoned book proposal I really need to pick back up again. Writing used to be my side project, but now that it’s a full-time job I don’t really have one. I’m actually ok with it.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I just finished reading Fascism, What It Is and How to Fight It and The Communist Manifesto (both are very short), and I’m in the middle of The Satanic Bible, mainly because I’ve been listening to Last Podcast on the Left and I want to get their satanic references. I’m still the middle of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead—I had to take a break because it was a real bummer—and the second volume of Sex Criminals. The two most recent fiction books I read and deeply enjoyed were The Secret History by Donna Tart and Love in the Time of Cholera.
In terms of food and cocktail-focused stuff, I’m currently really into Robert Simonson’s 3-Ingredient Cocktails, Sasha Petraske’s Regarding Cocktails, and Stella Parks’ Bravetart. I would also recommend On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee to anyone—cookbooks are great, but once you understand the science behind cooking, you can come up with your own recipes a lot more easily.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Mick Jagger, Stephen Merritt, and Noel Fielding
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“It’s 2018 for everyone,” with the year changing as needed. I took a little longer than most to get through college, which made me feel absolutely panicked for a bit, and my dad said “It’s 2010 for everyone. You’re fine.” And I was fine. Not one timeline or five-year plan I’ve set for myself has gone how it was supposed to—which I’m actually thrilled about—and all you can do is react to the present.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I wish I could get the timing of when I work on my recipes a little more streamlined. I always end up eating extremely heavy things like stew or steak for breakfast—though today it was mushrooms—or snacking on some sort of dip and being too full for a real meal. This is not a real problem, it just makes it kind of hard to meal plan. I also hate my stupid tiny fridge. I generate a lot of random food, and having a small, European-style fridge means I can’t see most of it most of the time. I would say my dumb fridge is my biggest problem. Everything else in my life is pretty pleasant.
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 Nick.