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 Adam Powers, and this is how I work.
Name: Adam Powers
Current Gig: Video producer, Lifehacker
Current mobile device: Apple iPhone 7
Current computer: Apple iMac 2018
One word that best describes how you work: Sporadically
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I come from the Boston area, went to college for film production & editing, and moved to NYC soon after. I’ve worked for several major publications as a video editor and daily content producer.
Take us through a recent workday.
A busy (and therefore good) day recently involved two back-to-back remote shoots we produced earlier this summer. To shoot our Summer of Adulting series, we booked a swanky Airbnb in Midtown, and shot all day. Most days are spent at my desktop, either editing, rendering, or emailing, but on production days things get exciting. Every shot takes effort, and my favourite thing is spending a day working through lighting, camera, and blocking problems.
After a full day of shooting, we loaded our cameras and equipment back into the elevators and Ubers, in the early evening rain, to head across town for our second shoot at the NYC YMCA pool. We were filming the final swimming lesson for our “Learning as an Adult” episode. Even after nearly 12 hours of shooting, it was a thrill to hold the camera so close to the water’s edge.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I’m completely addicted to Flipboard and YouTube, though I do not suggest joining in those addictions. Also, since my cat’s favourite thing to chew is headphones, I can’t survive without my Bose wireless set.
What’s your workspace setup like?
We work out of two spaces here in NYC: our HQ where we edit our videos, and our studio where we shoot them. Most days have me walking between the two, which I’ve come to enjoy.
I have a newer iMac with a second screen set up on my work desk, with some of my favourite books resting underneath for motivation, as well as a golden dino statue guarding my sticky notes. There are also lots of sticky notes.
When working from home or on a side project, I tend to lug my entire iMac between my bedroom and living room to edit, depending on what I’m working on. I also have a large tracing board at home that I use to draw and trace, which helps with animations.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
A classic hack that I trained myself to do compulsorily: Phone, Wallet, Keys. Whenever I step out a door, off a train, or out of a car, I instinctually pat my pockets (1…2…3…good to go!). Since I’m such a forgetful person, this has saved my hide more times than I’d care to admit.
Also, the only proper way to enjoy a cupcake is to twist off the bottom and make a frosting sandwich.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
There’s a technique I’ve used for several years to turn portraits into colourful, pop-art styled graphics. It’s probably not the most streamlined or precise effect, but I’ve used it often, including in our Appreciating Classical Music series:
Take a picture into Photoshop and duplicate many layers, changing the hue on each to bold, opposing colours.
Erase parts of each layer to create a mixed composition.
Take that composition into Illustrator and give it a high-definition Image Trace, which gives it a smooth, posterizing look.
Take that vector composition back into Photoshop for further tweaking, and add an Oil Painting effect for good measure.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Our video team is really talented. As our leader, Joel always has his feet on the ground, eyes on the prize, and a hilarious anecdote to share. Heather is an After Effects wizard and an unquenchable source of cheer. Santiago is our main cameraman who’s always handy on set, and CJ keeps the studio running and busy for everyone. Video production is a team sport!
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I don’t keep long, detailed to-do lists since I tend to ignore them in the end. I cover my monitor in sticky notes with just the projects’ names to help keep things on my mind as I work.
How do you recharge or take a break?
My husband and I play co-op video games together after work. These include either overly complicated dungeon crawlers or 1v1 anime brawlers. Given that he’s a pianist and has brains in his fingers, I hardly ever win, but that’s why it’s fun. We’ve beaten some tough bosses together, and when I need motivation, I remember those victories to help me stay encouraged.
What’s your favourite side project?
Whatever my husband is working on next. He is a musician and composer for indie video games, podcasts, films, and more. He is always working on a new tune in his studio, and I spend most of my free time encouraging and helping with his freelance career.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I’m reading a few releases out of the current affairs section, including Us vs Them, White Fragility, and Age of Anger. And for fun, the newest Pulitzer winner Less is wonderfully charming. If you’re a science fiction fan who wants something slightly more adult than The Hunger Games, you should pick up the Red Rising series.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Maria Bamford, Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius), and Ronan Farrow.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be responsible for the energy you’re projecting.
You don’t have to “meditate” every day, but it’s important to keep yourself in check and to check-in with yourself every day. One of my first bosses told me to keep a mirror on my desk so that I could “be aware of that face … that we all have to work with today.” He was equally charming to all of his employees.
The lesson was sound, though. It’s important to stay in tune with yourself, to be aware of what attitudes and energies you’re bringing to the table. It’s especially true in relationships. People are emotional sponges, and they will feed off the energy you bring every day. So always try to choose positivity, confidence, and honesty.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I don’t have a great solution for problematic keying. I’d like to take a day and really focus on studying the best approach to getting a super clean key, rather than just tweaking with the settings arbitrarily. If anyone has a solid technique or a preferred key effect/method, suggestions are welcome.
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.