What I’m working on:
I’m more of a project freelancer than a story freelancer these days, so I’m balancing a handful of ongoing projects. The biggest, most me-centric one of those is Science Studio, a new place for the best multimedia on the web that we (Ben Lillie, Bora Zivkovic and I) just launched. You know how you can buy all sorts of anthologies for the best print science writing? Science Studio is a place for all the stuff you can’t put in a book.
When I’m not compiling multimedia stuff, I also like to make it. So I also just joined the Nautilus Magazine team as their special media manager, which is definitely as fancy as it sounds. (I help manage the community, do social media stuff, and make weird things for the blog). I blog every day for Smart News, and am an editor over at TED-Ed where we create animated lessons about everything from the evolution of feathers to what makes a metaphor work. And rounding out the regular gigs is Minute Earth, where I try to keep the ship on course and do a bit of writing. Whenever I’m not doing those things, I’m freelancing stories and shiny multimedia things for the internet. My recent obsessions include the uncanny valley, PMS, the physics of rainbows and the history of drag queen makeup.
Where I work:
I work a few different places. There’s my desk in my room, which is the command center where my post-it-note board lives. It’s the thing that reminds me at a glance of all the projects and stories I need to check up on or do.
One day a week I head over to the TED-Ed office, which is a great place to work in full of creative and interesting people. Another day a week I head over to a co-working club that also employs the use of post-it-notes and is also full of creative and interesting people, one of whom makes amazing bread.
There are the inevitable random trips to Manhattan, and on those days I often hole up at the Path Cafe, where I work for as long as I can stand the mellow-guitar pop cover radio station they play (everything else about the place is amazing, but sometimes I just can’t hear a soft rock cover of Thriller more than once in a day). And rounding out the week I’ll usually bike over to a coffee shop with a roving band of fellow freelancers. We’re pretty serous about our freelance coffee shops. So serious that there’s a map of places we’ve each tried, with notes about how good they are for coworking. Some of my favorites are Blue Stove (pie and free coffee refills), Little Skips and Outpost, for those in Brooklyn looking for places to work.
I’m a big list-maker, so every day starts with making a list. Then I usually try to do some blogging to get the writing wheels going. This is where I get all the worst jokes out of my system (sorry Smart News readers). After that it’s really unpredictable. I’ll respond to comments, fight with people on Twitter, write some words about something, work on an animation, send a lot (a lot) of emails and generally just try to go down my list. The list never gets completed, of course, but it’s a good guide.
Most productive part of my day:
I’m one of those awful morning people that everyone hates. I work the best early in the morning, and I’ve built some of my schedule around that. Often I’ll pitch ideas for Smart News in the evening the night before, so I can start working on them as soon as I get up and my editor can wake up to things to edit. Between 1 and 3 are the very least productive parts of my day, and I try to go for a run or do something else during that time rather than sit in front of the computer and pretend like I’m working and then wonder what I’ve just done for the past two hours aside from eat Oreos and look at tutorials about drag makeup.
Most essential ritual or habit:
It’s boring, but lists are really key for me. They help me when I start to feel like I’m floating away into mindless land and have no idea what to do next.
MacBook Pro 15″ Retina display
Essential software/apps/productivity tools:
I’m a strong believer in John Pavlus’s lesson to not let life hacking hack your life. I’ve got a few key systems but a lot of my tools are paper based—post-its and paper lists.
The one thing I’m obsessive about is gmail. I’ve got a label for every outlet that I work for (color coded to match the publications logo, obviously), and filters that label emails from editors at those outlets. So when I get an email from Sarah Laskow, my editor at Smart News, it comes in with a handy little yellow “Smithsonian” tag already on it. I also give any source I’m emailing with the “Sources” tag. I’ve got the multiple Inbox lab activated, so when I look at my gmail I can see all the emails from Sources all together on one side, and the unified inbox on the other. And to remind myself to follow up with these sources, I use Boomerang, which will pop an email back into my inbox (labeled properly of course) if no one responds after a certain amount of time. These are boring email things, but they help me stay at inbox zero, which is important to my sanity.
I also keep spreadsheets of most things, but most importantly I have a spreadsheet of every source I ever talk to, what their specialty was, and whether I would contact them again. This is mostly because I’m paranoid that if gmail ever does go down I will be utterly and completely lost, but it also makes finding sources that I’ve already talked to and who might remember me (fondly, I hope) easier.
Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:
I’m pretending like I might write a book right now, so when I’m procrastinating I find myself on photography blogs and the photography subreddit looking for examples of doctored photographs. (Do you know any good examples? Email me!). Oh and ranting about feminism, I’m into that too.
My reading habits:
I read almost everything on a screen—whether that’s my laptop or iPad. If I’m reading something on paper it’s usually for fun, which means it’s usually fiction. I’ve committed to setting aside my commute time for pleasure reading only—no working allowed. Recently I’ve been building up some serious arm muscles trying to hold up David Quammen’s Spillover on the train with one hand.
Being one of those lame morning people it also means that I’m one of those lame early-to-bed people. I’m usually totally asleep by 11:00 p.m. and up at 6:00 a.m.