Every week, we share the shortcuts, workspaces, and productivity tips of our favorite experts. Today it’s my turn. I’m Beth, and here are some of the secrets to how I work.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Current Gig: Freelance health and science writer. I write for Vitals here at Lifehacker.
One word that best describes how you work: Messy
Current mobile device: LG G4.
Current computer: Dell XPS 13, developer edition, because it ships with Ubuntu. I’m the world’s only(?) Linux user who doesn’t have time to tinker. It’s 2016, so I expect things to Just Work.
What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?
Inbox for Gmail is the best thing ever. Without it, my inbox would be a giant mess. With it, it’s only a small mess.
I save things to Pocket and Evernote, and in general, if I don’t know what to do with something I put it in Evernote. My Evernote is a mess.
I also use Evernote to take pictures of book pages. The G4’s camera is really great at taking pictures in low light, so I can scan a whole chapter in the stacks in some cave of a library, and not have to lug a 19th book home that day.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I sit on a hard wooden chair in a freezing cold attic because misery is important for creativity.
(That was the impression some folks got last year. I love this workspace. Don’t worry, I use a heater when it gets cold.)
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
This one time, I logged out of Facebook for three whole days and wow did I get a lot done in those three days.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried the apps and they all suck. I write stuff on paper and hope I don’t lose the paper. (Sometimes I snap a picture and send it to Evernote.)
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you work without and why?
A Medela Freestyle. Baby’s gotta eat.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I can type 45wpm one-handed.
What are you currently reading?
I’m writing a book about disease epidemics through history, so I’ve been plowing through a massive amount of disease themed literature.
Here are just a few of my favorites so far. (Seriously, narrowing down this list was the hardest part of writing this whole post.)
…and I’m currently reading Rats, Lice, and History by Hans Zimmer. All of these books are really entertaining, readable, and engrossing. As for how my book is going, well, I’m currently working through Step 3 of Thorin’s book-writing guide.
How do you recharge?
What’s your sleep routine like?
I’m a night owl, but since I’m too old and have too many children to pull all nighters that just means I’m a person who goes to bed too late and then can’t wake up.
So I’m really glad there is an app called I Can’t Wake Up. Without it I would still be asleep right now. It is terrible and horrible and I hate it but by the time I can muster the energy to throw my phone across the room I’m already awake. See, it’s good. Here’s what it does.
First, it plays a soft little ringtone, which turns into a LOUD RINGTONE THAT IS GOING TO WAKE UP THE BABY. But if I play its little games, the ringtone stays quiet. So I play.
It asks me to play a memory tile game, matching the colors. This doesn’t take much brainpower. I start tapping the squares and before I know it I have most of the board cleared. Phew.
Next it brings up a barcode scanner. I have to get up and find a certain book, and scan the barcode on the back. Obviously this doesn’t work in the dark, so this phase is doubly cruel in that I have to turn on the light.
After that, I have to shake the phone hard enough to work a dumb little meter up to 100%, then I get a string of case-sensitive gibberish I have to type in. Finally, it lets me decide whether I want to get up or snooze. Well, shit, I’m awake now.
All of this is configurable; there are many tortures to choose from. Oh, and five minutes later, the alarm goes off again, softly. If you don’t do the “Yes, I’m still awake” slider, it starts all over again.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
This is from Elise Hancock, in Ideas Into Words (a book about science writing):
Make sure you put in all your raisins (i.e., fun facts, great quotes, and interesting comparisons). Have you ever eaten a bread pudding that had too many raisins? I can’t imagine such a thing, and so it is with writing.
I think any raisins at all would be too many for a bread pudding, but this is still great advice for writing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers or fans?
To the people who ask how I can “do it all,” how I can work from a home office and produce a full time job’s worth of writing, while also being the mom of three kids, come in close and let me whisper you a secret:
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.