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 David Murphy, and this is how I work.
Location: Silicon Valley
Current gig: Lifehacker’s senior technology editor
Current computer: Gosh, what am I even using now? It’s been so long since I’ve built a PC from the ground up, that probably means I’m due for an upgrade. Right now, I’m running an old-school Intel Core i7-4790K processor, and a much more modern Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card. (It’s a beast.) I have an annoying mix of SSDs and HDDs in my system because I have yet to condense everything onto a single, super-speedy, gigantic SSD. (They’re expensive). I do love my 34-inch widescreen display and my 5.1-surround setup, even though my computer-receiver connection is often a source of headaches.
Current mobile device: iPhone X
One word that best describes how you work: Purposefully
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. That took me to Silicon Valley, where I started out working for the now-defunct (in print, at least) Maximum PC. Since then, my career has been a bit eclectic; I’ve tried to stay in journalism as much as possible, but I’ve also jumped to positions in higher education, marketing, and even permalancing — a super-fun but anxiety-inducing period of my life. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it’s amazing if you can make it work.
I now work for Lifehacker, because I love helping people learn new tips and tricks for all their geeky gadgets.
What are your job responsibilities?
I write most of the technology articles on the site, and I edit a number of the articles our amazing group of tech freelancers think up. I’m up every morning assigning stories, pounding coffee, and trying to find all the important information you need to know about the big news of the day. I also write a weekly tech-support column, which I (always) encourage you to read and/or submit questions to. I’m always happy to help you troubleshoot!
Take us through a typical workday.
I wake up super-early and am ready to begin my Lifehacker day at 6:00am my time, which is always a struggle. I’ve never been a morning person, and I’ve tried very hard to improve my feelings about that — to little success.
I go over the day’s assignments for the first hour or so, and then I get to work on my own stuff. Sometimes, that’s writing a bunch of articles. Other times, that’s tinkering with various devices or rummaging through operating systems while researching pieces I’m working on. I do a lot of editing of other peoples’ work, too. And before I know it, it’s time to go home for the day, even though I’m already home since there’s no actual Lifehacker office in Silicon Valley.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Since I live in the (expensive) Silicon Valley, I work in my bedroom — where I sleep, watch TV, and generally live most of my life. It’s a little depressing, sure, but I suppose it’s no worse than the crammed studio apartments or one-bedrooms my NYC Lifehacker colleagues have to deal with.
I type on a loud mechanical keyboard (Razer BlackWidow TE Chroma) that lights up when you tap the keys because I’m silly like that. My giant monitor is attached to my desk via a handy arm, and my receiver (that powers both my computer and the TV, that’s wall-mounted above my head), sits in front of my keyboard. My IKEA desk isn’t super messy, but it could always be cleaner.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
My computer (obviously) and my phone — my lifeline to the world, it seems. Years ago I might have even added something like “Facebook” to this list, but I find more and more that I just want to pull back from the online world and live a more private life. I realise that’s kind of odd for a “senior technology editor” to say, but maybe that’s the point. I’ve been deep in the rabbit hole of technology, privacy, gadgets, and gear for the past 15 years or so. Sometimes, it feels great to come up for fresh air.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I love the little “goodnight” routine I’ve set up for my Google Home smart speaker. It’s simple, but it turns off all my lights, turns on the fan in my room, and plays soothing thunderstorm sounds for an hour or so as I drift off to sleep. I’ve used it every single night for more than a year now, and I only wish I could do more — like have my speaker query me when I want to wake up in the morning (by fading up all the smart lights in my room at a given time, and by setting the alarm for a specific time).
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
For larger projects / reminders, the tried-and-true method of sticky notes attached to my monitor. Yes, I know that various reminder apps exist, and they’re useful and all that. I just find phone notifications easier to ignore than a big yellow piece of paper staring me in the face while I work.
For everyday things, I find the Lifehacker airtable — mixed with my own little system of starring items in Slack and scheduling reminders for myself — works wonderfully for tracking the many moving pieces on the tech beat.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Good question. I love naps, but I probably shouldn’t rely on them as much as I do, because that makes me feel like I’ve suddenly turned 80 years old and need to eat my dinners at four p.m. I’m an on-and-off gamer — it depends when the mood strikes — and an aspiring outdoorsy person. I really love hiking around the Bay Area, even though I admit I am lazy about it. I do have a deep regret that I live in California and am not outside like, 23 hours of the day. It’s a gorgeous state with so much to see, and I always feel like I haven’t done enough. Yes, I still haven’t made it to Yosemite. I am a bad Californian.
What’s your favourite side project? I’m a huge advocate of the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I run the largest Facebook group dedicated to all things theatre around these parts. I’ve acted in more than 30 shows; produced shows; worked as a production manager and board member for local theatres; and seen/reviewed way, way too many productions. Theatre is incredibly important to me, and where I’ve met some of my closest, most lifelong friends — and more.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I’ve been bad about books lately, because within five minutes of starting to read one before bed, I’m usually asleep. They have a very calming effect — that, and the aforementioned thunderstorm sounds. Nevertheless, I’m slowly working my way through The World of Warcraft Diary by John Staats, which is a wonderful, in-depth look at how the sprawling MMO was created. Also, the book itself is gorgeous.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I didn’t receive this advice personally, but I’ve always enjoyed this quote:
“In the time of your life, live — so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”