How I Work, 2017 Edition
We all work in different ways
Lifehacker, a popular publisher that I’m a great fan of, has a series of articles that focus on workflows. They ask very successful people a series of questions about how they work. These reveal to the reader the tools, preferences and methods that these individuals use to stay on top of their game. I strive to be the best instance of myself, so I find that topic deeply interesting. And I’m sure the many interviews I’ve read have influenced the way I work in some way or another.
So, I thought I’d ask myself those same questions. Now, I don’t pretend to be in the same boat as those interviewed — I write in the knowledge that I would listen to or read about anyone’s workflow. Yes, including those who almost aggressively only use pen and paper! Thus, there will be those out there who would want to read and even find my edition useful, without the stamp of significant merit to convince them. Without further ado, enjoy.
Location: London, England
Current gig: UI/UX Designer @NewDay
One word that best describes how you work: Carefully
Current mobile device: OnePlus 3T
Current computer: 2014 MacBook Pro
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Bristol, with an interest in biology, technology and engineering. It wasn’t until much later in my school career that I found design, and I went to university to experience an art education for the first time. I played catch up and taught myself the majority of my design skills and technical knowledge. I finished with a degree in Digital Media Production, specialising in user interface and interaction design. I worked in a few agencies as a motion designer and UI artist, and freelanced for a few years before my current gig.
What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?
Sketch. A vector-based, UI design suite thats becoming ever more popular since its conception in 2010. It’s actually much more than a design tool — I’ve created illustrations, mock ups and more since stumbling across it in 2014. It’s lightweight, open-source and boasts an exponentially growing library of user plugins. Not to mention regular updates from the Bohemian Coding team. You can even generate CSS/HTML from it — pretty sweet if you’re working on web projects. I’ve written more about it here.
Spotify. My library is home to playlists stretching back to 2009 (unfortunately). This means, with the power of machine learning, the team in Sweden have got a pretty good idea of the music that gets me going. This tech is what makes my favourite feature possible, and what I believe is the best thing about Spotify: Discover Weekly. A scarily good, weekly playlist of new music that Spotify’s algorithms know I’ll like.
What’s your workspace setup like? Coffee shop with laptop and headphones? Home office with a standing desk?
At work it’s a white desk, dual monitors and a pretty good chair. I sit a stone’s throw (or a nut’s throw) away from the bank of developers.
At home it’s a pretty simple set up — laptop sans monitors, and a swivel chair. I’m lucky enough to have two adjacent, very large windows with a beautiful view of central London’s skyline. At night, the city lights fill the room, like the glow of a very soft Philips Hue light. They reflect off the series of inspirational illustrations on the wall my university gave to graduates.
I’ve always wanted to have a go at a standing desk — if I ever return to freelance life that will be my first investment.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Alfred. A little piece of software that will change the way you use your computer. It may be in my top Mac apps. Imagine Spotlight, but on steroids. Search files, launch apps, automate processes and more with a few keyboard taps. It features powerful extensions called workflows. Examples include inline metric and currency conversion, native tweeting, language translation, window layout, movie look-up and many more. Without interrupting your flow.
A super useful Alfred feature is Snippets. Snippets allow you to type a specific series of characters and Alfred will, in an instant, replace that string with whatever you like.
For example, I’ve set it up so that when I type
Alfred replaces it with my full email address. You can set up any number of Snippets for any personal information you find you type out often. I have my portfolio, Twitter and Instagram URLs stored. If you’re looking for similar functionality on mobile, Android has access to Texpand.
Use keyboard shortcuts. If you notice yourself doing repetitive actions on the computer with a mouse or trackpad, it’s time you found a shortcut for it. So the time you would spend on that action in the future can be spent on something else. When I catch myself doing something 10x or more in a certain period, I open keyboard preferences and make a new shortcut. Not only do these custom shortcuts work system-wide, but they also work in any software.
You’ll need to commit the new way to muscle memory, but once you do you’ll be laughing. And wondering what to do with all this free time.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I’ve been a Google Keep user for as long as I can remember. Yet, recently I wanted to develop a system where I could keep track of what I needed to do and prioritise each task. So I turned to Evernote, but despite its library of features, I felt it was too complex and left it.
With a Google Keep sized gap that Evernote couldn’t fill, I gazed once again at Todoist. A simple, stripped-down to-do list app with natural language processing onboard. Accessible anywhere with good workflow integrations. A month ago, I took the plunge. So far it’s been great. It allows me to stay on top of everything I’m doing, from projects, ideas, events, to my watch list. It wasn’t long before I phased out my Trello-based set up at work in favour of Todoist…
I use Todoist in tandem with Bear, a minimal note-taking app based on Markdown syntax. It features a distraction-free editor, rich formatting options and an intuitive tagging system. And an array of note export/import functions and interface themes. The only downside for me is the lack of Android support (it’s on the horizon). That said, as I generally use Bear as a long-form tool, I wouldn’t write with my phone anyway.
It so happens that I’m writing this article in Bear! Shout out to the team for their great work. 💯
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
A solid pair of headphones. My Bose QC 35s reign supreme and help me stay focused when I need to be, and help let my hair down when it needs to be.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Laughing at myself. And keeping a calm composure under stress - like a not-so-cool cucumber.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
If I’m doing something creative like designing, I’ll listen to something instrumental. Usually a hip-hop beat. For tasks that need more rationale/logical thinking such as a long email, I often go without music. When I’m not working or having a break, I love my hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk. As well as some electronic music.
What are you currently reading? Or what’s something you’d recommend?
I read a lot of articles. Offline, I’m currently reading The Player of Games by Iain Banks. It’s a sci-fi novel straight out of Mark Zuckerberg’s 2016 reading list.
In the corner of my bedroom sits a stack of amazing design books, including Logo Modernism and Creativity Inc. As well as a few biographies of inspirational humans that I’m slowly wading through. I particularly enjoyed and recommend those of Elon Musk and Jony Ive. I find it’s easier to get reading in when I do it on the go, instead of blocking out time to read. Little sessions do add up.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I’ll normally watch something. A film, a tv series I’m into at that moment, a TED talk or something. In fact, I’m just going to go and watch another episode of Silicon Valley…
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early-riser?
A night owl, no doubt about that. I rise before 8am and normally in bed by 12am.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.
Here’s a few of the many:
Matías Duarte, Satya Nadella, Elon Musk, Jony Ive, Dieter Rams (when he was at the peak of his career) and Warren Buffett.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.
And that’s the end. I hope you enjoyed and got something out of this. If you got this far…