10 Productivity Hacks From WIRED Staff
This story is part of a series on how we make time—from productivity hacks to long walks to altering the function of our own circadian clocks.
Here at WIRED, the tempo of our workdays is set by the ever-shifting cadence of deadlines. From the steady progress of print magazine production to the just-in-time sprints needed to feed the internet's insatiable maw, our time horizons accordion in and out depending on the task at hand. The constant is that somebody is always waiting for you—editors for writers, designers for editors, web producers for photo editors, video producers for subjects, and our readers for everybody. Our journalism machine works best when those waits are kept to a minimum, and that means each of us must make the best use of our time. Here are some strategies and apps WIRED staffers use to optimize their work/time ratio.
Tabli Chrome Extension
You’re a tab hoarder. Don’t deny it. Gmail open in three tabs spread over multiple browser windows. Wikipedia windows everywhere reflecting way too many half-plumbed rabbit holes. Your browser is really just a closet full of overstuffed shoeboxes containing newspaper clippings and aging to-do lists. Get the Tabli Chrome extension, and transform your browser from a sloppy floor into a clean, well-organized data center so you can get more done faster. The little pop-up is a kind of control module that lets you name the windows that you have populated with the tabs relevant to a particular project—Work Basics, Random Internet Wanking, That One Big Presentation, whatever. Click to navigate straight to that YouTube video you never finished watching. Or type “soccer” into the search bar to find the game schedule you know is on a tab somewhere. Antony Courtney, the San Francisco–based software developer who created Tabli, suggests that power users deploy the Revert button liberally. “It always brings delight,” he says. “After you’ve been researching something for a while, and you have a big messy browser, you can just hit it to get back to your basic state.” Yes, please. Me, I like the setting that keeps you from opening duplicate tabs. Now, at the end of every day, just take a minute to tidy up in Tabli, exiting windows you don’t need anymore and making sure you didn't (accidentally, of course) let a work-related tab sneak into a personal-stuff window. It’s like stacking and organizing papers on your desk, but for your digital workspace. —Sarah Fallon, deputy web editor
A Tour of How We literally and figuratively Make Time.
Do Not Disturb … Forever
The digital world is a cacophony of productivity-swallowing distraction: pings, rings, push notifications, calendar alerts, @here abuses in Slack, software updates stuck in endless Remind Me Tomorrow cycles. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution. Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode. And never turn it off. Think of it as the layperson’s tech detox—no silent meditation retreat or 3,000-word thinkpiece required. Just one touch in your settings and you too can enjoy a ping-free world. I put my iPhone in Do Not Disturb about two years ago and haven’t looked back. Though I am neither popular nor cool, I somehow receive approximately 334 notifications during the average workday. Most are iMessages from the litany of irrelevant group chats I’m a part of, Slacks, followup emails from PR flaks asking why I didn’t respond to their invitation to a crypto happy hour, or Twitter notifications. Absolutely none of which necessitate me receiving a focus-breaking alert. Living the permanent Do Not Disturb life doesn’t obliterate these notifications—they’re still there, lurking on my home screen—it just strips them of their ability to interrupt my day. They’re out of mind until I decide to take a moment to check them. It’s my time, and I am in control. —Paris Martineau, staff writer
There are endless productivity apps out there, but the one I’ve found most useful comes preinstalled on my iPhone: the clock. I use the app to set timers for 20 minutes, and then force myself to focus on a single task until the alarm goes off. Afterward, I let myself take a five minute break. The method breaks up daunting items on my to-do list into smaller, less painful chunks and has helped me get a better sense of what I can accomplish in a set amount of time. It’s also nice to have dedicated five-minute intervals for distracting tasks, like answering Slack, checking Twitter, or responding to a text message (though it takes discipline to start the next 20-minute cycle). My timer hack is inspired by the Pomodoro Technique, a productivity method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. If you suddenly have an idea or remember something else you need to do while the timer is running, Cirillo recommends writing it down and getting back to the task at hand. —Louise Matsakis, staff writer
Making time is about making brain space, so I offload as much brain clutter into the ether as possible. “Morning meeting.” “Call Mom.” A buzzing on my wrist. I don’t want to waste energy simply having to remember something, or waste time—well, checking the time. It started with my quest for Slack Zero. (Think Inbox Zero but for Slack.) With the whack-a-mole of messages (spanning multiple time zones), I skim and mark everything as “read” so I know I didn’t miss something. Don’t want to forget to respond to one? I snooze it with the “Remind me about this” option. I’ve even ditched my to-do list. Typing “/remind me” to my trusty friend Slackbot, or shouting “Hey Google … remind me …” at home are now both as natural as breathing. That buzzing on my wrist? Fitbit’s silent alarms prompt me to get ready for work, walk the dog—everything I don’t need to keep stuffed in my brain anymore. This way, my work-life “to-do list” follows me around seamlessly, freeing my mind to concentrate on what I’m doing (or to wander without a care). I do strive to make the time I have meaningful—sometimes I need a nudge to get there. —Kimberly Chua, managing digital producer
I like to think I handle work stress well. I meditate, I exercise, I look at an issue from the other person's point of view. But you can't convince me that using a mouse to copy and paste something isn’t grounds for homicide. God, just think of the drudgery. Click-drag to highlight a word. Mouse up to the Edit menu. Click. Mouse down to Copy. Click. Move mouse to—sweet tap-dancing Wilbur Ross, I can't even finish reciting such an inane litany of needless actions. Look, our fingers are anatomical marvels; they stretch and bend and articulate in all kinds of ways. It's because of them that keyboard commands are the rarest of phenomena: things we call "shortcuts" that are actually shortcuts. This is not beyond you, friend! Start small, on an email. Instead of reaching for that coarse crutch you call a "peripheral," rather than suckle at the narcotic teat of the trackpad, try something new: Jump a word ahead. (Option-right.) Now highlight it. (Shift-option-right.) Now cut it (command-X) and put it somewhere else (command-V). Success! Not true salvation, though; for that, you'll need to select and delete all 47 new emails that just arrived while you were reading this (shift-asterisk-U, shift-3). —Peter Rubin, senior correspondent
Mystery Ranch Bags
When I’m packing for a video shoot, say involving 3 GoPros on a climbing wall to film Alex Honnold, one of the nation’s fastest junior climbers, and my colleague Robbie Gonzalez for our sports science show “Almost Impossible,” I spend a good hour or two organizing all of the batteries, chargers, cables, USB adapters, and plugs I’ll need to keep the electrons flowing to all of my gear. It all goes into my organizational secret weapons: little nylon bags. Sure, you could use ziplocs, but any good nylon sack, like the ones from Mystery Ranch I rely on, will be far sturdier and likely outlast the gear that you pack into them. The Ranch, as those in the know call it, makes bomber tough backpacks for wildland firefighters and military rucks that even civvies drool over. They’re pricey, but have a reassuring heft. Knowing that I’ve got all of those things neatly packed and ready to grab on a shoot keeps me from sweating bullets and wasting time fumbling to find the right adapter. Keeping my feet out of the shot while clipped to 25 feet up a climbing wall is a different story. —Sean Patrick Farrell, senior video producer
Posting a notification in Slack can be easy, even fun, especially if that message heralds an accomplishment: “Hey gang, I just filed this story. It’s ready to be copy edited. Go team!” Small victory, yes, but worth noting nonetheless, especially when you’re producing a monthly magazine and concise communication is essential to getting to press on time. However, multiply the time it takes to post that message by 400, roughly the number of internal deadlines per issue of WIRED, and we’re talking considerable friction, particularly when more pressing, bandwidth-sucking matters arise, like clearing legal hurdles on a true-crime story or rescheduling a photoshoot in Dubai due to a sandstorm. Slack’s ability to integrate outside apps reduced that friction. We track the progress of every article in hybrid spreadsheet-database software called Airtable. Now when someone files an article to the copy desk, all they need to do is update the status in Airtable. Who doesn’t love a pulldown menu? Airtable then automatically posts a message on Slack. No need to find the right channel, no typing, no need to even hit return. Small victory, yes, but every second counts. —Jay Dayrit, director of editorial operations
I’m distracted as I write this. It’s now a near-permanent state for me whenever I sit down in front of a bunch of springy keys. In journalism, reading is just as crucial as writing—some might even argue that reading is more crucial. My problem is that I would read all day if I could, and the internet has no shortage of suggestions for what I should be reading. I am a dog for the news squirrels that dart around my feeds. That’s where Instapaper saves me. You might be thinking that a decade-old service couldn’t possibly help tame the forces of the attention economy, but it does. When my eyes land on a story I really want to read, I simply click on the browser extension and save it for later instead of breaking my productive stride and indulging in the moment. Apps like Pocket and Evernote work similarly, while Google Chrome and Apple Safari both have built-in read-it-later tools. Even Twitter, the siren that tempts me the most, now has an Add to Bookmarks feature. It’s not a perfect solution. I go to bed every night carrying the burden of a hundred stories waiting in my Instapaper. And in my precious few minutes before shut-eye I’m still more inclined to scroll Twitter or Instagram than to tackle the digital reading backlog. But I get to collate the stories and read them when I want, instead of letting their timestamp dictate my schedule. —Lauren Goode, senior writer
Look, you can't "make" more time. You can only remind yourself that every second is precious and the way you choose to spend those seconds will come to define your small, momentary existence. Do yourself a favor and think of this often. I use Death Clock, a Chrome extension that calculates your life expectancy and then displays your waning days, hours, and minutes every time you open a new tab. Considering a quick peek at Facebook? Go ahead—if that's really how you want to spend some of the 18,245 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes you have left on Earth. People will tell you, a little smugly, about how they get it all done with color-coded to-do lists and a constellation of productivity apps. That's cute. But nothing will help you stay on task like considering your own mortality. We all get a finite amount of time, and there is no app that lets you hit Rewind. You want to leave a legacy of intricate bullet journals behind? Be my guest. But if you want to actually do something with your remaining time, remind yourself that the clock is ticking. Death is the ultimate motivator. —Arielle Pardes, senior associate editor
Listicles and quizzes be damned: If you're looking for a true generational divide in journalism, just ask someone how they transcribed their interviews when they were first starting out. Physical tape recorders are the equivalent of walking 5 miles in the snow to school, uphill both ways: All the fun of ceaselessly cringing at your own voice and questions, compounded by the joy of rewinding a microcassette two or three hundred times. Even when recorders went digital, the drudgery remained—but now, thank Asimov, we've finally found the perfect job for machines. They're not perfect at it, but they don't need to be. At a measly dime per minute of audio, I've become a profligate transcriber. Interviews, conference calls, keynote speeches: Record it all, and let AI sort it out, I say. So what if the occasional error slips in? So what if every service I've ever tried, from Otter to Trint to Wreally, seemingly has no idea where to put a sentence break? So what if I auto-transcribed this very paragraph, only to find that it's not exactly what I typed in the first place? Baby steps! We're on our way to the true singularity, and when we get there, it won't need spell-check. —Peter Rubin, senior correspondent
Auto-Transcribed Version: List of calls and quizzes be damned if you’re looking for a true generational divide in journalism just asked someone have a transcript for starting out physical type of quarters of the equivalent of walking 5 miles in the snow to school uphill both ways all the fun of ceaselessly cringing your own voice questions compounded by the joy everyone other times you go on record as my digital the drudgery remained now thank as I’m off we finally found the perfect job for machines it’s not perfect but it doesn’t need to be a measly dime for minute audio profligate transcriber interviews conference calls keynote speech is called it all in at eight I sort it out I say so what is the occasional errors listen so what if every service I’ve ever tried from Auto to Trent to really seemingly has no idea where to put a sentence break so what are you transcribe this very paragraph I need to find that it’s not exactly what I typed in the first place baby steps we’re on our way to the true singularity know when we get there it won’t need spellcheck
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