How You Work: Automation, Personal Organization, and the 1-3-5 System

How You Work: Automation, Personal Organization, and the 1-3-5 System

Every week we showcase the productivity tips and tricks of our favorite experts and productivity heroes in our How I Work series. Now, we're peppering our daily dose of tips with some showcases from you, our favorite readers. This week: John Leeman, rock mechanics researcher.

As always, if you want to show us how you work and maybe see it featured on Lifehacker, check out this post for more info.

How You Work (Yes, You!)

Over the past year, we've chatted with lots of productivity heroes about their habits, workspaces, inspirations, and more in our How I Work… Read…

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John Leeman : How I Work

John Leeman : How I Work

Location: State College, PA, USA

Current gig: Rock Mechanics Researcher - I'm a graduate student at the Penn State University Rock and Sediment Mechanics Lab studying earthquakes experimentally in the lab (a glorified geologist). In addition to running lots of experiments I'm responsible for some hardware/software development and constantly have instrumentation design projects running on the side.
Current mobile device: "New" iPad, iPhone 4S
Current computer: iMac at my desk, MacBook Pro for mobile
One word that best describes how you work: Constantly

More Personal Info: www.johnrleeman.com

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

I can't live without Adobe CS6 for making figures and processing images from scanning electron microscopes and the like. I use Python daily to make graphs, process data, and run simple numerical models. Other than those programs I use a lot of hardware. A 100 MHz Rigol oscilloscope sits on my desk along with a bench power supply to do quick checks of circuits I'm designing and building to run experiments in the laboratory. I use a fountain pen every day and recently travel with a small thermos of coffee everywhere I work.

Dropbox and Evernote are essential for keeping things going between multiple workplaces and for letting me collaborate with everyone else. Just pay to upgrade both... it saves you an incredible amount of time and is more than worth it!

Finally I use all kinds of big hydraulic presses to test rock and granular material properties. I mostly the "the biax" designed by Chris Marone.

What's your workspace like?

My desk at work has a 27" iMac and a second 27" thunderbolt monitor. I use a lot of screen real estate while coding or designing hardware. Space to spread out is important. I have access to basic test equipment at my desk and often work there throughout the entire design, code, test, and production/writeup phase of a project.

John Leeman : How I Work

At home I work on an 8 foot long table made of 100 year old barnwood, handmade by friends of mine. There is an iMac there along with my custom made aluminum MacBook stand complete with liquid cooling (a modified transmission cooler from O'Reilly auto). At home I have another oscilloscope, power supply, and boxes of hardware and sensors. All my workspaces are coupled with an alphabetical filing system for relevant paper. Generally sensors, soldering equipment, and a random project (currently instrumenting a frisbee with accelerometers) sits in the open space of the desk.

John Leeman : How I Work

During the week I hide in the evenings at various libraries, campus locations, coffee shops, etc to work on manuscript text or more difficult problems that require no interruptions.

What's your best time-saving trick?

Automate everything you can - I automate ordering certain items I need from Amazon subscription services, I automate plotting and other repetitive tasks with custom scripts, I automate syncing by putting configuration files, etc in Dropbox. While tasks you automated are running they don't take up your time! Write everything you can't automate on a calendar the second it crosses your mind, then let it go. I make appointments for seminars months in advance and don't think about them until the reminder comes up the day or so before.

What's your favorite to-do list manager?

I use OmniFocus for my GTD style lists that occur over any time scale from days to years; this software syncs between my devices and is worth every penny. My calendar stores all important appointments, talks, seminars, meetings, etc. Every day I use a page in a small pocket notebook to implement the 1-3-5 system: 1 big thing for the day, 3 medium things, and 5 small things. This includes simple things like "reply to this email," but is essential. Always put on a thing you've already done, and one or two you were going to do anyway to get some positive momentum going in the morning!

John Leeman : How I Work

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

I can't live without a Fluke-87V multimeter. I check the voltage or current across something daily in the lab. These meters are amazing, but I use cheaper meters at home. You must have instruments you can trust or troubleshooting is absolutely, completely, and utterly pointless. (A coffee pot is also essential and without it all life stops.)

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I run everything out of folders (digital or paper) and can find anything (personal or professional) within 60 seconds. Having all my data organized saves me hours every single day. The system doesn't matter so much as strict adherence to that system and consistency.

I also wear a tie or bow tie (generally science themed) every Thursday as a prelude to casual Friday as started by a friend of mine at the University of Oklahoma. Dressing professionally (or like you're not going to bed) is lost these days.

What are you currently reading?

At home - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintence - Robert Pirsig

At work - Introduction to Data Acquisition with LabView - Robert King (among many)

What do you listen to while you work?

It really depends on the task. No lyrics for writing (Big Band and Jazz), but electronic for coding. Generally 60/70's otherwise. I'm current addicted to "The Herbaliser" for my data analysis frenzy preparing a new manuscript.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I'm an introvert that can network. I don't enjoy being incredibly social 24/7, but I do enjoy giving talks and meeting new people. I always know someone that has a hand in lots of fields and get to make some pretty cool connections. Sometimes I have to shut off everything though and be disconnected for awhile.

What's your sleep routine like?

I'm a morning person, I go to bed around 10pm and read for awhile. I get up about 6am and am at my desk by 7:30... Earlier in the winters when it's dark in the morning and in the evening.

Fill in the blank: I'd love to see ______ answer these same questions.

Joe Grand

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

"You can have it all, just not all at once." - Eliza Richardson (While interviewing professors about how they work and balance their work/personal life.)

there anything else you'd like to add?

The best skill anyone can have today is being able to communicate with a diverse group of people. Everyone speaks their own jargon in their niche of a field, but people that can connect and integrate systems are in high demand.

Also... backup your data! I've seen too many people loose their digital life because they had a backup on their desk and it was stolen or burned up right by their computer. Don't carry both in the same bag to/from the office! I keep two backup drives for my laptop and two for my desktop. They are SATA drives I plug into a USB dock and switch every two weeks. This way there is a copy of my data in 3 places. One of the drives stays at work, one stays at home. Essentials are also in Dropbox. Same goes for external drives. If you are using them to store unique copies of photos, etc... buy two while you're at the store. Make sure they are different brands as well to decrease the likelihood of them failing near simultaneously. It can be a pain, but it's worth it to protect your stuff!

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