Interview with Gina Trapani, Founder of Lifehacker – Morning Routine, Little Hacks with Big Results, and More…

Lifehacker was one of the first blogs I ever read. Its tag line echoes the sentiments of most digital workers:

“Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right. Lifehacker recommends the software downloads and web sites that actually save time. Don’t live to geek; geek to live.”

Gina Trapani, the founding editor at Lifehacker and author of the brand-new book, Upgrade Your Life, which comes out today, is largely responsible for the popularity of the term “lifehacks.” I figured I’d ask her to share a few of her favorites. From morning routine to top downloads and more, we were able to cover a lot of topics in just 8 questions.

1. What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night? In other words, what are your daily start and stop rituals?

I make a cup of jasmine green tea first thing in the morning, before I sit down to write. The process of boiling the kettle of water and steeping the tea helps me wake up, and the hot cup takes the morning chill off. My evening ritual isn’t anything special–I try to turn off the TV and computer screen an hour or so before bed to give my eyeballs a rest and start unwinding. Sometimes I think about a problem I have or a decision I’ve got to make before I fall asleep so I can let my unconscious work on it throughout the night.

2. Which some small life hacks–little changes–have had the biggest impact on your working life?

One simple but powerful habit is this: To act immediately on things as they come up.

For example, if I have an idea while I’m on line at the grocery store, instead of thinking “oh, I’ll write that down as soon as I get home,” I force myself to take out my phone and send myself an email or jot it down on a piece of paper in my pocket. If I get an email that requires a quick response, instead of moving onto the next one, firing off that response immediately and archiving the message. If I see a web page that looks like it might be a good Lifehacker post at some point, instead of just bookmarking it for later, creating a draft post in Lifehacker’s publishing system on the spot. This practice requires some discipline to develop, especially when you’re feeling lazy or distracted, but it can make a huge difference.

Mostly, it’s about putting things in the right place as soon as you possibly can, to avoid having random stuff hanging around your mind and space.

3. Thoughts on the ability to keep work from consuming life?

Being a work-at-homer, I do struggle with this, since the lines between work and life are blurred. One thing I do is set aside at least one weekend day, if not both, as a computer-free day. No email, no writing, no book-pimping, nothing beyond checking movie times and getting directions to places I’ve got to go. While I do work on the road when traveling to conferences and such, I’m also a big believer and practicer of work-free vacations and holidays. Hooray for “out of the office” auto-responders!

4. What are some common “time management” tactics or approaches that you disagree with or don’t follow, and why?

To some degree, I reject the super-structured, old school of time management thought, the type of rigid planning where you say “from 10AM till 10:45 I’m going to work on TPS reports. From 10:45 to 11:15 check email,” etc. As a “web worker,” by nature I embrace serendipity and tangents, and like to keep myself open to working on unexpected things that excite me, even if they’re not in the plan. For example, a few years back, during some web surfing, I happened upon a tutorial on how to build Firefox extensions. I let myself go down the rabbit hole, so to speak, and now extension development is a big part of what I do. [Note from Tim: Neither Governor Schwarzenegger nor investor Warren Buffett have set workday calendars. There could be something to it.]

At the same time, I think a lot of web workers like me can take this to the extreme, and need a dose of structure and limits in their day–or else we’d all while away eight hours just clicking hyperlinks and opening tabs and letting our monkey minds swing from branch to branch all day long.

As in most things in life, the key is balance. I try to stay open to tangents while limiting how far and for how long I let myself follow them. Anne Zelenka’s book, Connect!, summarizes this shift from routine, structure, and planning to serendipitous tangents really well.

5. How do you keep on task and ensure you are focused on the most important to-do’s?

I keep a to-do list that I update and review daily and weekly. It’s my map. At the top, there are 3-4 things that are most important, that I need to get done outside my regular daily writing deadlines.

At any given time I should be working on one of those things on my list or one of my “daily duty”-type tasks. If I’m not, I’m either letting myself go off in tangent mode (which is fine, as long as that’s a conscious decision), or something’s out of sync and it’s time to regroup and rework my priorities.

Basically I’ve got two modes of work: loose/open, and focused/closed. When I’m in “open” mode, my instant messenger status is set to available, I’m surfing, writing, checking email, coding, listening to music with lyrics–getting things done, but in a multitasking way, open to interruptions and tangents. When I’m in focused/closed mode,

I shut down IM, stop checking email, close any windows I’m not using, switch to my ambient music playlist, set a timer, and plow through whatever I’ve got to get done. Typically I go into closed mode when I’m on deadline, or feel like too much time has passed since I checked off something really important on my list.

6. As a new Mac convert, I have to ask: what are your top 10 must-install applications for the Mac besides Quicksilver? Top not-to-install applications, if any?

Good question! Right after Leopard was released, I made a list of 20 useful downloads for your Mac.

7. If an overwhelmed person could only read 3-5 posts from Lifehacker, which would you recommend?

My goal at Lifehacker is to constantly improve, and if we’re succeeding, our newest stuff is our best stuff. If you have time for 3-5 posts per day, use our Top stories page. If you only have time for 1 post a weekday, go for our feature stories tag page. For one post a week summing up our best stuff from that week? You want our Friday afternoon Highlights post. All of these post listings are also available as RSS feeds.

8. What do you personally still have trouble with, and how will you tackle these challenges in 2008?

Writing and thinking about productivity and efficiency every day of the week for the past three years has made me more than a little neurotic and anal about getting things done. My goal in 2008 is to relax more, and remember that the reason why anyone wants to get more done in less time and with less effort is to have more time to experience life. So in 2008, my plans include more vacations, more time with my family and friends, and less worrying!


At the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference in San Diego, Gina gave a presentation called “Personal Productivity is Personal,” and it is. Just remember that, while there is no single path to productivity that works for everyone, there is one path to total lack of productivity: trying to please everyone.

Do you have a routine — or simple productivity hacks — that have stood the test of time for you?

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

42 Replies to “Interview with Gina Trapani, Founder of Lifehacker – Morning Routine, Little Hacks with Big Results, and More…”

  1. “Do you have a routine — or simple productivity hacks — that have stood the test of time for you?”

    It’s been my experience that time management is a misnomer. To me, I just see time management as an outdated tool used to cram more and more busy-ness into a day. I prefer the theme of task management. This runs a bit counter to what Trapani writes when she speaks of remaining open to tangents.

    For me personally, tangents are fine if you’re a good multi-tasker but I don’t find multi-tasking to be very effective. I may make note of a tangent as it arises so I can review the note later, but to zip off onto a tangent without finishing the task at hand isn’t very productive, at least for me.

    With one statement, though, Trapani hits the nail square-on: Trying to please everyone is a good recipe to pleasing no one, including one’s self. I think your post, Tim, on “The art of letting bad things happen” speaks well to this.

  2. What I’ve found that works sustainably for me is:

    * focusing more on weekly planning rather than daily planning.

    * I keep a list of things that will blow up in my face if I don’t act on them and I make sure I take care of that stuff. This stuff gets scheduled.

    * I keep a list of things that I get ‘extra credit’ for. These are things that I get no immediate benefit, but I am planting the seeds for greatness. I know that when I leave this job, *these* are the things I will be remembered for and will stand out on my resume.

    I printout the 1 week schedule and keep that sheet of paper with me in my moleskin yearly planner or my lab notebook (I work in a fab).

    This strategy is based on Steven Covey method (top down) vs GTD (bottom up).

  3. “Do you have a routine — or simple productivity hacks — that have stood the test of time for you?”


    I believe that I’m looking for depth. The most enduring “hacks,” aren’t hacks at all, they’re new ways of re-framing the world that reorganize my perception of life. The best hacks are fresh perspectives on life. I used to be on the lookout for another tip that would help things, but at one point I had 15 rss feeds was averaging like 200 tips per day and it led to tip overload.

    One of the best “hacks” has been the concept of lifestyle design, or the notion that there are myriad ways to structure your existence. That’s really empowering, Tim, so thank you for that. And thank you Gina for the great interview.

  4. Thank you to Gina. I feel completely affirmed. I’ve felt guilty too often for having the habits she promotes in this article. And thank you to Tim for being the most incredible inspiration to be as productive as possible and still live like there is no tomorrow. Whoo hoo!

  5. Tim and Gina on a single page!? My fave productivity gurus getting together incites enthusiasm in me to DO THINGS! 😀

    I really relate to what Gina said about having an loose/open and focused/closed mode — such a process developed organically for me over time, because the Second Life video tutorials I make need attention & concentration, but there are other times during the day when I love “traveling the tangents” and going wild with hyperlinks, absolutely saturating myself in knowhow… then absorbing it for later.

    I chalk it up to a philosophy of being more of an “AND” person than an “OR” person.

  6. Tim, this message found me at the perfect time…I have a client who owns 5 hair salons, and she is constantly in overwhelm mode…you gave me 3 great ideas to help her with her time management issue from this article.

    Oh, and thanks for the link to the 20 Mac aps, I have a brand new MacBook Pro, and I’ll never go back to PC. I’d rather drive an old East German laptop before I’d buy another PC.

  7. A great tip for an office environment is to start your day early. I arrive at the office at 7:30, which is an hour or two before most others. It’s so quiet, you can get heaps of work done before the distractions start.

    Also, I try to pick a topic or skillset I want to learn more about, that’s directly relevant to my work and will help me in my role. I then block out some time (usually 30-60 minutes 3 days a week) to devote just to that learning. This works especially well combined with the tip above – since nobody sees you doing stuff that isn’t strictly “your job”, you won’t cop any grief over it. Plus you won’t get any interruptions, so the learning time is more effective. And with your new-found skills, you’ll get more work done than if you just plugged away at “your job” anyway!

  8. Sometimes, when I’m rushing around in a frenzy of activity, in reactive mode and not getting anything done, I remember this anecdote from The Renaissance Soul, by Margaret Lobenstine:

    A brain surgeon must perform a critical element of an emergency operation and he has only three minutes to save most of his patient’s cognitive functions. The doctor is frantically giving directions to the various medical personnel in the operating room when one of the hospital’s most outstanding surgeons enters, steps to his side and says: “Dr. Morgan, you only have three minutes. You better slow down.”

  9. I’ve come across Lifehacker many times, but I think this go-’round I’ll be subscribing.

    One thing that I personally struggle with, especially being a self-employed night owl, is aligning my productive times with the rest of the world…more of a social pressure thing, rather than a personal desire.

    The biggest thing for me there, has been *letting* myself stay up late and wake up “late” since it really is the best time for me to be getting things done. My days are a backwards from most in that from the time I wake up until 10pm, it’s my more social time, and until about 4am is “work time.” So, allowing myself to have an abnormal schedule was a big hack for me.

    What I’ve also found to work well for me is to try and take Sunday afternoons and nights to myself. I prepare my meals for the week, do laundry, review and set goals, clean, etc.

    “Personal Productivity is Personal”

    I dig that. Great interview.

  10. Both Tim and Gina have great philosophies. I have just started outsourcing some of the things that I wanted to achieve and I’m having great results. The anti cellulite cream I’ve had on the back-burner for 2 or 3 years is now going through the test process – and my book is coming along too.

    Tim & Gina – I can’t thank you enough for changing the way I think about work.

    Steve Marshall

  11. Nice post, thanks for the info. Tim you should checkout lovesacs, they rock for having a glass of wine and reading a book. Its like a giant bean bag.


    Jose Castro Frenzel

  12. Do you have a routine — or simple productivity hacks — that have stood the test of time for you? >>>


    I have 2 here. 1 is a program that becomes a way of thinking. The other is a way of thinking and a habit.

    I went through a lot of time management tools then I found that using Mindjet Mindmanager was actually the perfect time management tool, life, and project management tool all in one.

    I use it to keep a list of projects and priorities and also a daily calender that I quickly built in the nodes.

    This way I am always on task when I want but the fact that projects change size and shape is also VERY VERY easy to accommodate.

    I know that MindJet is not normally considered a time management tool. When you use it this way it becomes more of a life management tool.

    (Tim if you are interested in a Camtasia of how I use it to become as a time management tool let me know. I am not using it like the company designed it.)

    The other life hack I found is, Decisive Dharma. Basically DECIDING to be focused on 1 thing at a time. Whether that is playing with my kids or working.

    I set timers on my phone so I am never playing with my kids thinking I should be working or working while thinking I should be playing with my kids.

    If I decide to take an hour off work to play I can do it guilt free and without worrying about the time. 🙂

    I work more then 4 hours a week because I am growing a larger company and I enjoy it very much.


  13. Talked to the client that originally told me about the 4HWW today. He is so pleased and proud of how seriously I took his advice to read the book – as he should be. Then, talked to a different client that I told to read the book – who invited me to help paint her house on Maui at the end of the month. And, I seem to be the only SXSW attendee not now sick. Things are pretty sweet.

    And tonight I’ve been remembering some things Anil Dash said about the liberation he found through marriage at the Designing for Freedom panel. Realizing how much time I’ve lost through relationships not built to last. I figure getting married would have to rank pretty high as a productivity hack or sorts. Also realizing I just might be the most un-romantic girl on the planet.

    Anyway, I digress. Tim, Chyavanprash is my favorite cold remedy. Wild Oats (and Whole Foods, I think) carry the Himalayan brand – it’s about the size of a jar of peanut butter and has a bright orange and turquoise label. It’s basically a bunch of amla (think Vitamin C), Indian pepper varieties, and other Indian herbs suspended in honey. It tastes good, usually induces a slight sweat if you need it to, and is just all-around awesome. I highly recommend it. Better than airborne, echinacea or anything else I’ve tried.

  14. An oldie but worth a mention. The best man to look at for time management Randy Pausch. This man was a professor at Carnegie Mellon who is currently living/dying with pancreatic cancer. I love this man, funny, intelligent and a man who understands priorities. He is spending his remaining time time with his wife and kids and doing things that are fun and well as valuable. In his talks he speaks about the 80/20 rule among other tools. His “Last Lecture” as well as his real last lecture on “Time Management” both on YouTube. I urge you to check them out. I hope Gina accomplishes her goal for 2008 to spend time with family and friends and worry less.

    Kudos Tim for keeping us up to date with Gina.

    links, info on his family and condition.

    PS. He likes to use two monitors as well. He has read studies of productivity on more screen space.



  15. Tim, thanks for posting this! I love Gina and read her blog all the time. Thank you, Thank you!!

    Oh, and I love you too! 🙂


  16. Great interview!

    Best personal productivity hack for me….digital tape recorder. I dictate in traffic and while powerwalking. Something about combining the mundane/physical (lower chakras) with the creative spark (upper chakras)with a digital recorder (technology) to catch the words straight from brain to dvf files (for transcription by a VA) is like…channeling from the Gods! I can always edit later or hire someone to edit, but the initial creative process goes extremely fast and focused in a short amount of time. Three hours of powerwalking and dictating a week will yield a 300 page manuscript in less than six weeks, plus I lose weight while creating and have a blast doing it. Best of all worlds.

  17. Excellent interview Tim. Gina really rocks ! And her most important tip is finish that thing then and there is really the most relevant thing. Think of something note it down and finish it !

    Great work, your blog is one of my fav destinations everyday.

  18. Good interview, I admire Gina.

    I agree with her #1. I do the same thing. I carry my Treo everywhere and the second I get any kind of idea, I put it down, even if it’s just a few words. I hate having a good idea and then losing it 5 min later when someone taps me on the shoulder mid-thought.

  19. Great post!

    I do a couple of things that let me manage my company of virtual workers more easily-

    1) Keep an updated to-do list.

    2) Always write down ideas I have for projects and future articles.

    3) Take frequent breaks.

  20. Great interview! I agree if we try to remember every bit of our plans and to-dos could become hard pressure. It’s a good thing we have a site like Ligehacker to give us useful tips on staying more productive. In fact, I want to thank the site for linking me for the tool that saved my productivity – Wrike is a powerful application to collect everything in one place and never forget your important stuff. Once again, thanks to all the people writing for Lifehacker. Keep up the good work!

  21. Was that the two of you dancing in that pic?


    With Gina? No, no. That’s Alicia Monti from Argentina.


  22. I find “energy management” to be a more useful concept for me than time management. Check out The Power of Full Engagement and The Power of Story by Jim Loehr for more.

    Also, great interview with Gina….Lifehacker put me onto the “blog-to-book” idea, and they have quite a few good tips for that. Although plenty of people have done the opposite with great success 😉

  23. “Do you have a routine — or simple productivity hacks — that have stood the test of time for you?”

    So with this comes the first step on my daily routine… So far

    Wake Up

    Shower/Brush Teeth/Groom

    Make Breakfast/Smoothie/Yogurt/Oatmeal

    Write 3 – 4 Stories for and Post to the Appropriate Social Networking Sites.

    Check and Return Morning Emails

    Return Morning Phone Calls

    Head to the Beach to WorkOut – Morning/Evening/Night – Location TBD

    Well… I must get back to work… “Concepcion” and I are on our usual mission for fortune, happiness and the perfect body.

    LP Kisses and Hugs… Chao’

    This is apart of my new blog LP Virtual Hiding Place –

  24. Great article! While there are several schools of thought on improving personal productivity, certain core principles from each can be integrated into your own system. Which one is best? Whichever one works the best for you.

    Acting immediately on small things that come up is in line with David Allen’s “2-minute rule” from Getting Things Done – if it takes less than 2 minutes to do, go ahead and do it rather than letting it sit for later, unnecessarily clogging up your to-do list.

    I posted an entry at The Job Search Strategist blog on this interview.

    To your success,

    David B. Wright

    Author, Get A Job! Your Guide to Making Successful Career Moves

  25. Well, time is important no doubt. Nothing is impossible.

    But you don’t have the time to achieve the EVERYTHING of the NOTHING. So you have to focus on JUST ONE goal, with two others as options. This saves time and focuses your effort on the essential and important things to you. Freeing your time, helping you use it EFFICIENTLY.

    Don’t buy too much (also called consuming) – you add to the clutter in your life, not only do you erode your wealth but you are also slowing yourself down by time needed to maintain your purchases.

    My 2 cents, fils, paisa, pence 🙂

  26. I love tea more than hacking or any other stuff too. But when it comes to project management, we always preferred Basecamp and Redmine.

  27. I will be retiring soon and seek something I am passionate about. Please address this in one of your blogs. I have reduced and reduced, so now am bored.!!