A Day in the Life of Charles Seife


Charles Seife Courtesy of Charles Seife

What I’m working on:

My latest project is a book about how digital information messes with your head (and what you can do to combat this.) It’s called Virtual Unreality and is due out this summer. I’m also doing some investigative work on research misconduct in clinical trials, and starting work on a nonfiction project which, if I get funding, I hope to turn into a documentary.

Where I work:

New York City—home office is a dedicated alcove, and an office at work.

Daily routine:

Arise sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.; my son typically gets up at 7:00, so I can read the morning news and catch up on some e-mails and even perhaps write a little bit before he stirs. Get the kids ready for daycare, and hand ’em off to my wife who takes them in. My workday starts at 9:30. If I’m teaching that day, I typically go in to the office, and if not, I stay at home. (During the school year, maybe one day a week is devoted to writing and researching; the rest is largely prepping lectures, grading, and administrative stuff for the department. )

Most productive part of my day:

A collaborative workspace.

Easy: whenever the kids are away or asleep.

Before I had children, my most productive hours were about 2:00 p.m. until about 8:00 p.m.—I would spend the morning catching up on news, doing research, and answering emails, and really start cranking out the prose after the lunch torpor dissipated. Now, the day’s more or less over for me at 5:30, so I can’t do the sustained productive writing sessions that I once did—except on special occasions when my wife is kind enough to take full responsibility for the kids or we hire a babysitter.

Most essential ritual or habit:

My most essential habit, at least when it comes to long works, is that pretty much every time I open up a document make any substantial changes to a work in progress, I save it as a new draft rather than replacing the old file. It’s an extra layer of backups that has saved my bacon more than once. (And it’s a habit I picked up after losing about half a chapter of my first book to a corrupted file.)

Mobile device:

Avoided. I don’t have a smart phone, and I use my cell phone only rarely. I’m distracted enough when I’m at my computer; the last thing I want is for those distractions to follow me.


I rotate among a laptop and two desktops, one in the office and one at home. They’re all Windows 7 boxes, and I keep essential files synced with a memstick and Syncback. I have access to Apples in the office if I need them, and I have converted an old laptop to a Linux box (Ubuntu) for special-purpose work.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

MS Office for most of my writing, number crunching, and database work. Adobe Pro for PDF manipulation (and PDFCreator instead, on my home desktop.) Syncback for keeping files in sync. Google Docs for sharing. Truecrypt for encrypting sensitive documents.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Kerbal Space Program.

My reading habits:

My pleasure reading is almost always before I fall asleep in the evening. I still prefer a good old-fashioned book made out of wood pulp, but nowadays, about 50 percent of my reading is on Kindle. (Periodicals for me are almost entirely electronic.) Maybe four out of five books I read are nonfiction; the last is fiction. Most recent reads are James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird and Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future?

Sleep schedule:

About 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. if all goes well, and once in a while, I can grab a 45-minute nap.

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