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 Lisa Rowan, and this is how I work.
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Current gig: Staff writer for Lifehacker
Current computer: A 2017 13" MacBook Pro
Current mobile device: An iPhone 6. Really!
One word that best describes how you work: Lexapro
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been writing news since I was 16, when I freelanced for a group of weekly newspapers where I grew up in the Philly suburbs. I studied history in college, worked for a public relations database tracking the newspaper industry (which was doing not great at the time, during everyone’s favourite recession), and moved over to digital news.
It wasn’t until 2014, when I was in the midst of trying to run a vintage clothing store that crashed and burned, that I started writing about small businesses and personal finance. I ended up spending five years writing primarily for a personal finance website, The Penny Hoarder, before being adopted by Lifehacker in May 2019.
What are your job responsibilities?
I write about all things money, whether it’s managing your finances better, paying down debt, building wealth or figuring out how the economy impacts your wallet.
Besides your phone, what apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I have a Logitech K750 solar keyboard with a number pad. When you write about numbers a lot, having that extra space on the right set up like a calculator is clutch.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I’m about to move to a house where I will have a dedicated desk, but right now I do everything at the space that once served as my kitchen table. I live in a 500-square foot apartment right now, and although I worked from home frequently before coming onboard at Lifehacker, I’ve allowed my work to take over what used to be my eating space. I’ve got a spare monitor, laptop riser, keyboard and mouse, along with the least ergonomic kitchen chair in the universe.
When my wrists start to hurt, I take my laptop over to the couch. When that gets uncomfortable, I move to an armchair. My cats usually follow.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
Half-caf coffee. I don’t love drinking decaf (the appeal is all in the kick for me), but I have found here in the 30s that my beloved caffeine can keep me up at night, even if I’m exhausted. Instead of forgoing coffee altogether in the afternoon, I brew a cup of half-caf.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
I draft everything I write for work, either for Lifehacker or for freelance gigs, in a simple TextEdit window. It’s a virtually featureless, plain white box and can be as big or small as I need it to be, which makes it perfect for jotting notes while I’m doing research, doing an interview, or just trying to keep my writing head clear.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I have a dedicated notebook for my job that serves as both a to-do list and a diary of meetings and ideas. I also use both a paper planner, a work Google Calendar and a personal Google Calendar to track meetings and appointments.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I like to go to the gym right after work to clear my head while catching up on podcasts. If I’m working on a freelance project or assignment that needs my attention in the evening, it can be hard to justify taking the time to work out. But I usually leave the gym feeling glad I went.
What’s your favourite side project?
I’ve cohosted Pop Fashion, a weekly podcast about fashion and business, for 5.5 years with my friend Kaarin. It’s a ton of work, especially since it’s a news-based show without guest interviews, so we can’t schedule things too far ahead. But the show has been a constant in my life that’s outlasted a lot of other things — cities, boyfriends, jobs, a cat (RIP).
While Kaarin and I used to record together in a makeshift fort of blankets and books to record our episodes, we now rely on technology to record from in two locations. I have a folding desk in my bedroom closet where I record episodes. Hack: Use your clothing as makeshift acoustic panels.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I’m rereading, ever so slowly, a series of books I loved as a kid by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Simply called the Alice Series, they follow Alice McKinley from fourth grade through college as she navigates her teen years with her dad and brother. They’re the perfect nightstand books for when when I only feel like reading for about 15 minutes before bed, or nights when I just can’t get to sleep (probably because of all that caffeine I mentioned).
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You can’t change anyone’s behaviour but your own.