How I used to Work

Someone asked me to do a “this is how I work” in the style of, say, this article. Below is my answer from 2014; my working style has since changed; see How I Work in 2020 for a description of those changes.

I don’t think I’m quite fancy enough to pull this off—the person linked goes out to breakfast every day and has a gleaming white office—but I’m going to try.

Even though it becomes pretty apparent to me (ETA: that I’m not cool enough, but I was so uncool I didn’t even finish that sentence.)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

1. Timeout. This is one I just installed: it makes you take short breaks. If you’re at a computer a lot, those short breaks to stretch your eyes, and stretch and move around in general, can make the difference between ending the day with a massive back ache and headache and feeling basically okay.

2. Scrivener. I use Scrivener for writing. I wasn’t able to write a successful book until I started using Scrivener.

3. Mac Freedom. Because the internet is the enemy of productivity.

4. Letter-sized narrow-ruled pads of yellow paper. Because I do a lot of writing by hand.

What is your workspace like?

It can best be described with one word: clutter.

Perhaps three words would be better: so much clutter.

This holds true all the way up to the point when my workspace becomes augh too much clutter, at which point my workspace can be described with one word again: Starbucks.

What’s your best time-saving trick/life-hack?

I think the closest I come is: avoid cleaning the house at all costs. It’s never worth it, and the dog’s just going to leave paw prints on everything an hour later.

Other than that, I’m much better at wasting time than saving it, sorry.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Oh, to-do lists! Those things I make on a daily basis on sheets of paper, where I instantly throw them out because I know I can’t be bothered to actually go through them all!

What were you saying?

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without, and why?

My Apple Time Machine. That device has saved me a billion times from computer crashes, accidental deletions, and pure stupidity. Automatic backups FTW.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?


Let me guess—mostly dudes answer these questions, right? (Goes and checks.) Oh, there are some women, but yeah, mostly dudes.

I wonder how I knew that?


Of the first seven (I got bored after that) “this is how I work” articles that show up in the tag on, five are written by men and two by women.

The five men averaged 5.4 lines in answer to this question, ranging from 4 to 6.

The two women averaged 2.5 lines in answer to this question, ranging from 2 to 3.


What are you currently reading?

Thea Harrison’s Darkness Rising and Medeia Sharif’s Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I am so introverted on the introvert scale that you should just imagine me curled in a little ball over the absolute zero of introversion.

What’s your sleep routine like?

When it’s good, I go to bed at about 9 or 10 PM (yes, really) (and often, I just fall asleep in the middle of whatever it is I’m doing) and wake up at 5 or 6 AM.

When it’s bad, I stay up until 1 or 2 and then wake up at 3 AM and can’t sleep anymore.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My answer to this will depend on context—I’m not sure how to balance whether financial advice is better than personal advice or business advice—but I think one of my favorite pieces of business advice came from an NPR interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.

The interview is here.

What she said: “As soon as I could afford to hire my weaknesses, I did.”