Time sure flies when you’re hacking fun, doesn’t it? It’s once again that special time of year in which the Lifehacker staff tells you about our work habits and favorite tools that we use to get things done. I’m Andy, and this is how I work.
Last year I told you about my secret: that I’m a disorganized mess. I was exaggerating. But I do maintain a fairly improvisational style of work because I don’t like making plans and I’d rather just react to whatever’s happening. Most of the hardware and software I use are the same as last year, as I try to keep things pretty minimal. And by the way–some of you have been asking if our normal How I Work spots will return. They will be back! I’ve just been taking some time for research and development.
Location: New York
Current Gig: Edit assist at Lifehacker
One word that best describes how you work: Reactive
Current mobile device: iPhone 5s. Ideally I’m trying to make it last until iPhone 7, but the battery is starting to fade. And I’m not crazy about the embiggification of phones in general.
Current computer: Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 (Intel Core i7-4500U, 8GB RAM, with a really great QHD+ touchscreen) running Windows 10 at home and a MacBook Air at work (also i7, 8GB RAM). I’m verklempt about the Air, not specifically for the mobility, but rather because I’ve been using a 2011 iMac for the past couple years–an old beat up rental car by comparison.
What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?
A lot of work happens in Gmail. Aside from just answering emails I keep notes in drafts, a running to-do list of the day, that sort of thing. I don’t use any add-ons or any fancy “Labs” stuff–except Undo Send! I keep a twenty second window to un-send messages, which I use all the time.
We use Google Docs internally. Fine! Whenever I write something myself (as opposed to editing other people’s work) I often start in Evernote. It feels less intimidating than the blank page of a Google document–more like of a sandbox for ideas.
Though I usually keep Adium or Pidgin running in the background for IMs, a lot of that has been replaced by Slack. We hash out stories and headlines in Slack and, of course, also just shoot the breeze during the day. All of Gawker Media uses Slack with each site having their own respective rooms, and as you might imagine having all the neurotic and witty personalities of a media company on one chat platform can foster some silly conversations. “Silly” might be a generous euphemism.
TweetDeck is a necessary appendage that I stare at all day long. I’m a little bit information obsessed (convenient that it’s my job, huh)–I have columns of technology news and journalists and colleagues. The cascade of tech news is very helpful for work and the other columns foster sense of a ubiquitous awareness. Some of that helps guide news relevancy beyond tech on the site but I also, you know, enjoy having fun on Twitter. I tweet a little less than I used to–for me the service has always been primarily a means of consumption–but you can still find me there every day.
I also spend a ton of time reading with Instapaper. I don’t know if you know this about New York, but living here means you are either waiting for the subway or on the subway 90 percent of your day, it feels like. Subway time is reading time.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I like to keep things pretty simple. Just the Lenovo with a cheap external monitor at home, and practically the same setup at the office with the Air. I use a thin aluminum Apple keyboard. I got so accustomed to it at work that I got one for personal use too. (There are some minor quirks when using an Apple keyboard on a Windows machine, but no deal breakers.) I’m not a mechanical keyboard kind of guy–I prefer typing on laptop-style Chiclets. And a Logitech M705 mouse.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I try to think as little as possible. About most of reality! Pretty much all of life and work is stress-inducing if you give anything any thought, because you can’t really control anything. I try not to think about it. Broad strokes, you know. I’m not great at not thinking but I try.
(I’m being a little facetious, obviously, but another way to say it is that I try to let background processing handle most of the workload.)
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Just Gmail! Seeing a lot of unsent drafts makes me anxious, so that’s my motivation, really. A fight against anxiety could describe most of my life. That’s why I try not to think about it!
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Buddy, I’ve got to tell you, I really don’t use any gadget besides my computers and my phone. I’ve mentioned the AeroPress before, which I still use everyday. I drink a decent amount of coffee. By the way–I don’t particularly enjoy high-end single origin coffee. Taste the subtle notes of soil from which the beans were carefully grown? No thanks, pal!
As far as headphones I really like Koss Porta Pros. I’m super stingy so $40 for headphones is about the maximum I’m willing to spend but they’re great. I like the Walkman aesthetic too.
Oh, you know what, I’ve been pretty into Blackwing Palomino pencils lately. I can’t really recommend that you buy a bunch of pencils if you aren’t a big pencil fan already, a real pencil nut, but I enjoy them. They’re mostly for fun; I draw sometimes:
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I have a unique sense of humor I guess. Did you see we made some videos? I have the screen charisma of a potato but I think they’re pretty fun. (Major thanks to Devin Clark and the video team who actually make that happen while Madeleine and I just goof around on camera. That show happens in the editing.)
Perhaps I’m pretty good at humility if you consider that a skill.
What do you listen to while you work?
Lately I’ve been listening to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps on repeat, over and over. I’ve never really listened to Coltrane before a couple weeks ago, but I can’t get over it. It’s crazy to me that a person could be so good at a thing. It helps me type without thinking about it. When Countdown comes on you can’t help but mash your keyboard as though you’re trying to keep up with his crazy horn.
Not that I’m a big jazz guy. I was also deeply into Chvrches this year. The first four tracks of Yeezus are good for work too. Bowie’s Blackstar. Beach House. Sufjan’s Carrie and Lowell (is it weird to listen to something so sad while I work?). Hop Along is wonderful. Have I ever told you about my Gregorian Christmas music? Oh! That’s good too for feeling relaxed when work is slow.
What are you currently reading?
I don’t read a lot of books, if you want me to be honest with you, pal, and I think you want the real deal here. I did recently read the graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson, which is a lovely, touching story with wonderful illustrations.
How do you recharge?
Gosh, I watch a lot of TV. I watch all the big HBO shows and all the big Netflix shows. All of them. What else was on the tube last year? Better Call Saul, the end of Mad Men, Mr. Robot. Bourdain. I love Mythbusters (RIP) and stupid Top Gear (RIP). Survivor is still a good show too! I liked the Police Squad-esque show with Rashida Jones that premiered recently–I watched the entire season over the course of a weekend. Honestly? I’ve never left my apartment.
Listening to jazz while trolling Slack is my other main hobby.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I’m often up later than I should be, as I really hate skimping on sleep. But I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert and I often watch a bit of the Late Show which pushes bed time past midnight.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Well, Colbert. I also love Conan. I’m fascinated by late night talk shows. I watch DVDs of Johnny Carson. That’s a good life hack: watch topical humor from forty years ago, and you too can have the sense of humor of an old man.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve repeatedly referenced Conan’s quote that you should work hard and be kind, and that’s really the only mantra you need to follow. I still think about that, particularly about how cynicism can be poisonous. It’s very easy to become jaded and cynical when working in an always-on media cycle and I try to limit my eye-rolls. How does one avoid cynicism? Not sure, but watching Pixar movies helps.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Just try to be kind, pal.
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 Andy.