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 Meghan Walbert, and this is how I work.
Location: Bethlehem, PA
Current gig: Lifehacker’s parenting editor
Current computer: I have an iMac that was a hand-me-down from my dad and a 13" MacBook Air. I work from home, so I bounce back and forth depending on my mood/technical difficulties/location.
Current mobile device: iPhone 7
One word that best describes how you work: Remotely
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
My background is in journalism and media relations. I graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communication from Kent State University in Ohio and moved to Arizona on my 22nd birthday to work as a newspaper reporter for the Arizona Republic. After several years covering mostly education, I left to work in media relations; first for a career and technical high school, and then for a private university.
A couple of years after my son was born, my husband and I moved back to the East Coast to be closer to family. We became foster parents, and I spent the next several years freelance writing — everything from local newspaper articles and marketing copywriting to a series of foster parenting essays for the New York Times. Last spring, I filled in for Lifehacker’s former parenting editor while she was on maternity leave and continued freelancing for the site when she returned in February. She left recently for another opportunity and I was hired on as her full-time replacement. I’ve been in the job for exactly 16 days as I write this.
What are your job responsibilities?
I write the bulk of the content for Lifehacker’s parenting vertical, Offspring. I also assign and edit freelance parenting pieces and manage our Offspring Facebook Parent Group. (Come join us! There are more than 4,000 members and they’re full of ideas. That group is where I recently got this genius dirty tissue hack.)
Take us through a typical workday.
I drop my son off at school at 8:50am and am at my desk working right at 9. I start by checking a few top news sites to see if there is any breaking news that might specifically affect parents or kids, such as a large recall or a news event that may raise the question, “How do I talk to my kids about this?”
Then, if I’m not finishing up a post for the morning, I spend some time looking through a list of sites I read for inspiration, I pitch story ideas in Slack and I get approved stories scheduled on the calendar. I usually try to work a half day ahead, so on any given day, I’ll write a post for that afternoon and a post for the next morning.
In between pitching and writing, I edit and schedule freelance pieces as they trickle in, or I pose a question to the Facebook group to get discussion going and ideas flowing. I usually wrap up my day by combing through the email I’ve been trying to ignore all day before I pick my son up from extended care at 5pm.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I converted my second-floor guest bedroom into a home office last year and it has made a huge-huge-huge difference. I was previously working from my dining room table, which was both inconvenient and wreaking havoc on my lower back.
On the wall above my desk, I’ve hung a set of dry erase sheets, a calendar and a cork board that help keep me organised with story ideas and reminders. I also have my coveted coffee warmer, my Ohio state licence plate pencil holder and a couple of “Zoobs” my son constructed for me: an “M” for “Mummy” and an “L” for Lifehacker.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
Because I work remotely, Slack is my lifeline to my co-workers (and really any human contact) throughout the day. Google Docs is also key for me to keep track of story ideas and other important info since I tend to switch back and forth between computers.
Beyond that, I’m really a paper-and-pen kinda girl. I have a bullet journal that keeps track of EVERYTHING (my work deadlines, my son’s soccer schedule, my volunteer stuff and other important dates). I like having everything written/colour-coded in one spot so I can see what my full day looks like. I also keep a reporter’s notebook and a stack of Post-it notes next to my right hand so I can jot down little notes to myself when needed.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I have two kitchen sponges — one that is currently in use and one in the dishwasher. When I empty the dishwasher, I switch the sponges. Dirty sponge goes in, clean sponge comes out. Since I run my dishwasher nearly every day, I’m never wondering how dirty my sponges are.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
I do absolutely all of the formatting of a post before I actually write the content. I write the headline, schedule the date/time, add the footer, the related story links and the tags all before I write a single word.
I find that I’m less likely to forget part of the formatting that way, but it also helps me get in the groove of the topic, especially if it’s midday and I’m wildly switching gears from something heavy and important to something lighter and fun (or vice versa).
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made at work, and how did you deal with it?
When I was a brand new education reporter, I spelled a source’s first name wrong in the newspaper. Not only was he a source, he was one of my main sources because he was the spokesperson of a school district I covered. I’d met him several times and talked to him on the phone at least a few times a week. And his name was not complicated. It was Tim. But for whatever reason, I called him “Tom” in the story.
I only discovered it when he called me that morning, I answered the phone and he said, “Meghan... what is my first name?” “Uh, it’s Tim, hahaha... Hi, Tim.” “Then why am I ‘Tom’ in the paper today?”
I was so freaking embarrassed, and I offered to run a correction, which he insisted I not bother with. But the experience stuck with me so much that to this day, nearly 15 years later, I am obsessive about double-checking the spellings of names.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Mostly my bullet journal. Honestly, if that thing disappeared, I would miss all deadlines, meetings and events for the foreseeable future. So if I don’t show up for something, you know why.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I leave the office — i.e., walk downstairs to the kitchen — for lunch. I listen to a podcast and/or read the local newspaper (support local journalism, guys!) while I eat. If I’m feeling particularly punchy from all the silence around me, I might pop out to work from Panera or Starbucks for half of the day.
What’s your favourite side project?
As a former foster parent, child advocacy is very important to me and my family. I’ve been involved in the foster care system in a variety of ways, but for the past year and a half, I’ve served as a member of the board of directors for One Simple Wish, a non-profit organisation that grants wishes to kids in foster care. It’s been incredibly rewarding. My son has even joined their “junior board” to help plan Wish Parties and do activities with other kids that help bring awareness to foster care.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series, this time with my son. I bought this gorgeous illustrated version, which is perfect for an adult and child to read together.
He’s nine years old, so he certainly doesn’t need me to read to him anymore, but it’s been so fun to share this story with him and have a little extra time together each evening. His dad has done the bulk of the nighttime reading over the past several years, but now that I’m back to working full time, I’m looking for ways to build more connecting time into our schedules.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Give parenting 75 per cent of your effort. That is, if you want your kids to like you, and you want to like your kids, don’t give it 100 per cent. It’s impossible anyway and the more perfect you try to be, the more stressful and unpleasant life becomes. Pick your battles and then lower your standards on the stuff that doesn’t really matter.