CES 2015

Every now and then, someone I meet will be surprised to hear that I don’t have a “day job” beyond what I do as a freelance writer. Sometimes, they’ll be even more amazed that I have been able to sustain myself with my humble small business for the better part of a decade. This can lead to a conversation about a typical day in the office, how I operate my business, and how I get things done.

I cover some of these topics in my book, but I thought I would offer up an abridged version of Lifehacker’s How I Work series on my daily operations as a full-time freelance writer. Believe it or not, there is a method to my madness. And yes, I am effectively interviewing myself.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why?

I use a combination of local and cloud-based software. While other writers may prefer to use a traditional word processor, I’m far more inclined just to use Notepad. There’s far less clutter and distraction, for starters, and working in plain text offers another major benefit. The majority of my writing is online and I do work in basic HTML (for italics, links, headers and so on). The problem with programs like MS Word is that they can use or insert characters that aren’t exactly HTML compatible. Plain text works every time.

The cloud has become an incredibly important part of my workflow. I share files with Dropbox, collaborate on Google Drive, manage social media with HootSuite, improve productivity with KanbanFlow and the Pomodoro Technique, manage websites with WordPress… the list goes on and on.

What’s your workspace setup like?

How I work has changed tremendously over the years. When I first started out as a freelance writer, I’d take my laptop to practically anywhere in my home and set up camp for a few hours. These days, I have a dedicated home office with an L-shaped desk in the corner. I run a dual monitor configuration; the left screen is usually where I do my actual writing, while the right screen is for source material, social media, and other secondary information.

Around the home office, I have several storage bins and shelves for random paraphernalia. You can never have too many micro-USB cables. I have a separate room that I use as a studio for product photography and video reviews.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

There is nothing more motivating than an imminent deadline. All joking aside, batch processing is one of the best things you can do to improve your productivity. If I’m going to take some pictures for an upcoming product review, I’ll take pictures of the next few items I’m going to review. If I have multiple articles to write for one client, I may be more inclined to write several of them in succession rather than bounce between projects.

It’s such a simple concept. By working this way, I minimize the amount of time I need to setup and “re-frame” my brain for different tasks. Two other tips for writing quickly are to keep outlining to a minimum and to write each piece in a single session. The natural flow of language is far easier to maintain this way.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

I realize this directly contradicts what I just said, but I think I’ve gotten pretty good at multitasking. I can hop between tasks without too much trouble and, especially when the batch processing approach isn’t working out, I find I can work more effectively by tackling bite-sized tasks at a time. Is this in direct relation to an increasingly short attention span? Maybe… hey look, a castle!

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends on what I’m doing and my approach has changed over the years too. I used to enjoy having some background noise, like leaving the TV on.

Now, I find anything with speech or lyrics can be too distracting for when I’m actively writing. Words get in the way of words. Even instrumental music distracts me from writing. On the other hand, if I’m editing pictures or taking care of some administrative duties, some music can be appreciated. Kendrick Lamar’s new album is currently on loop.

How do you recharge?

Just stepping away from the computer and doing something completely unrelated to work seems to help. Since I work from home (and I have an infant daughter), there is always something that needs doing. As menial as it may sound, washing dishes or doing the laundry can be helpful. Playing with my little girl is pretty terrific too. For more of an extended break, I might go out somewhere for a coffee or errands.

Perhaps the subtle irony is that I often find myself between a rock and a hard place. If I’m actively working at my desk, I feel like I’m neglecting my duties as a husband and a father. If I’m spending time with my family, I feel like I’m not working hard enough to provide for them. The struggle is real, as they say.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ________ answer these same questions.

I’d be curious to see how some other work-at-home dads balance their responsibilities, especially if they keep juggling multiple balls. Buzz Bishop could be interesting.