Who We Are: An Inside Look at Our Writers and Their Workstations
Here at MakeUseOf, we don’t have a central office. Nor do we have cubicles, a water cooler, or (sadly) a cafeteria. All of us work remotely and we all tune in from various ends of the earth, making us a truly international website.
But wouldn’t it be neat if you could see how we worked?
Our locations are not the only thing that differentiates us. We all have a wide variety of computer setups and each of us has a unique workflow that keeps us productive every day. Join us as we bare our most sacred spaces for you to see!
Aibek Esengulov (Founder)
If you’ve ever wondered who you should thank for the existence of MakeUseOf, that person is Aibek Esengulov. Without him, this website would never have taken off and become what it is today. He’s brought it a long way in just eight years.
Though he no longer runs the organization, Aibek still hangs around as part of the team. Here’s what he sees every day:
During his time at the head of MakeUseOf, he worked from home. That’s no longer the case. About six months ago, he began working from a high-rise building located in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. As you can see, the view from a 17th floor office is breath-taking.
Every day starts with a cup of coffee or green tea. His work day lasts from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM on weekdays and he does his best to avoid working on Saturdays. Sundays are reserved for planning the upcoming week’s tasks, which is done through Wunderlist.
One other app that he cannot live without is PivotalTracker, a project management tool that’s meant to aid in agile software development. That, along with his iPhone and Macbook Pro, is all he really needs.
Mark O’Neill (Aug 2007)
Our former managing editor Mark O’Neill is one of the longest-writing authors on this site. He works out of an apartment in Germany and is mostly a night owl because he mainly works with clients in the US. What gets him through the day? Copious amounts of tea.
You’ll notice a strangely bright lamp sitting right in the center of his desk. What is that thing? It’s a sunlight lamp, which helps him through bouts of depression (an issue he has been vocal about in the past ).
His two most important tools are Google Calendar, something which he swears by, and Evernote, where he stores all of his notes and thoughts. Otherwise, frequent breaks are the name of the game thanks to his canine pal who demands constant walks and attention.
Saikat Basu (Jun 2008)
Our editor for the Internet and Self-Improvement sections is Saikat Basu, who logs in all the way from the opposite side of the globe as me: India. Here’s what the view from his window looks like:
He’s an early bird, waking up at 5:30 AM every day to enjoy the mornings, sometimes even going for a jog. The day begins at 7:00 AM with an hour dedicated to catching up on RSS feeds and learning at least one new thing each morning as a way to cultivate personal growth .
Breakfast is at 8:00 AM. Once his stomach is full, work starts – that means sitting down and putting hands to keyboard. He takes a short break in the afternoon to tackle his emails before wrapping everything up by 7:00 PM.
His tools of choice include Todoist, Pomodoro Keeper, Trello, Habit List, and Toggl. As far as his to-do routine is concerned, he limits each day to the 3 Most Important Tasks and gets it all done. Nothing more, nothing less.
Pomodoro breaks are particularly crucial for his workflow. The ebb and flow of the Pomodoro technique is what allows him to maintain energy and stay sharp from morning to night. That, and his avoidance of coffee. It’s tea all the way!
Ryan Dube (Dec 2008)
A few months ago, we appointed a new person to take over the position of managing editor at MakeUseOf. That person’s name? Ryan Dube. Reigning all the way from the frigid lands of Maine, his setup is so simple and straightforward that it might surprise you.
Ryan doesn’t have a chair. He’s one of several writers who have transitioned into the standing desk lifestyle as a means to improve physical health and mental clarity. Sitting for long periods of time is not good for the human body, but sitting all day every day? That will kill you .
His secret weapon is a portable lapdesk with kickstands that allow him to prop up his workstation anywhere (usually on the dining room table). In addition, most of his peripherals are ergonomically designed, including a special mouse and a neck pillow.
What about tools?
Ryan juggles multiple Gmail and Google Drive accounts using a Chrome profile manager and separate window instances. He also has a semi-automated task system that pulls information from Todoist and emails. Lastly, his Galaxy S5 is indispensable for staying up-to-date with internal communications through Slack, Trello, and email.
Azamat Bohed (Dec 2009)
Our graphics designer, Azamat Bohed, is one of the reasons why the MakeUseOf front end is as beautiful as it is. You know the high-resolution graphics that sit at the head of every recent article? He creates most of them on demand and we’re all so grateful for it.
Here’s his workstation in Kyrgyzstan, which happens to show the template image used in our Cool Websites & Apps column. Though he prefers the night life, he’s become more of a morning person ever since the birth of his son. Coffee, coffee, coffee is what his day looks like now.
Besides his smartphone, which he uses for Gmail and Slack, Bohed’s tools include a Wacom Bamboo tablet for digital art and a Canon 650D for snapping shots. Other than that, he likes to end his day with a few rounds of Battlefield 4 for some quick stress relief.
James Bruce (Nov 2010)
Every website needs a backend guru, and that’s who we have in James Bruce from the UK. He started off as a writer but these days focuses more on developing the MakeUseOf website and editing both Smart Home and DIY sections.
He’s also a massively loyal Apple fan, almost to the point of aggression. All of his work is done on an iMac (when at the desk) and a Macbook Air (when in bed or traveling).
See that thing in the middle of his workstation? It’s a DIY LED display board that he created from scratch, which he plans to mount on a wall for displaying real-time stock prices. He outlined his process in case you want to try making one for yourself, too.
Since a lot of his work involves waiting – whether due to uploading, rendering, or compiling – his work routine involves a lot of meandering breaks. Throughout the day, he’ll “enter the zone” and type away for long stretches, then relaxes when the flow dissipates. Rinse and repeat.
He doesn’t use many helper apps – like calendars or gamification tools – because they just don’t work for him. If anything, he uses his inbox as a makeshift to-do list, but that’s it.
Christian Cawley (Dec 2011)
Our Chief of Security, Christian Cawley, also waves hello from the UK. He mainly works from his home office and tries to stick to a regular 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM schedule, but that rarely happens as planned, due to family reasons.
A lot of times, he’ll take a break during the afternoon and spend the evening catching up, which is a compromise I’m sure most work-from-home folks will understand. That being said, Christian admits that the work produced during the morning hours is usually his best.
To stay organized, he makes heavy use of an online Outlook calendar, an Excel spreadsheet that’s set up to be used as a daily agenda, and a paper-based to-do list (gasp!). If he ever needs help with focus, he finds that tea and classical music can be helpful.
And like Ryan, Christian is in the camp of standing desk users – except that instead of using a dedicated desk, his workstation is set up on a shelf. Hey, whatever works!
Dave Parrack (Dec 2011)
Our next writer, Dave Parrack, is best known for the We Ask You and Tech News Digest columns that we produce. He works from home out of a spare room in a flat that sits right on the border of a city and the UK countryside, which is just where he likes to be.
Dave is a former night owl, having recently switched over to waking up at 6:30 AM every single day save for the weekends. As soon as he wakes, he sits down and churns out that day’s Tech News Digest, refusing to take a break until it’s done. His other articles, however, are written in fits and starts.
One look at his setup and you’ll notice that it’s surprisingly clean, almost to the point of being zen-like. I have to admit, it stirs up a bit of envy in me.
I suppose it works wonders for getting work done, too, seeing as how Dave doesn’t use any productivity aids. His Windows 7 laptop, Chromebook, and a simple list of planned articles is all he has. Impressive.
Aaron Couch (Jun 2012)
If there’s one writer on our team who we can designate as the “wilderness man”, it’d have to be Aaron Couch. This guy lives in a middle-of-nowhere tourist town located somewhere between Idaho and Wyoming, surrounded by three separate mountain ranges.
He even lives in a scenic cabin with a window view that’s as picturesque as any passport or travel brochure. It’s a great location for mountain biking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter.
Aaron’s workflow is as wild as the setting. Sometimes he’ll knock everything out first thing in the morning; other times the work will drag into the late of night. On the worst of days, he gets nothing done. The mountains are that enticing, it seems.
Organization is tough, which is why he relies heavily on Evernote for notes management and the OneTab Chrome extension for managing browser tabs. Google Calendar is used as a way to block out sections of time throughout each day. Lastly, Toggl helps him track his time spent per task.
Side note: the cabin he rents is owned by author and comic artist, Mike Clelland. How cool is that?
Kannon Yamada (Dec 2012)
Our resident hardware expert, Kannon Yamada, works from a cramped California apartment directly next to a loud, noisy kitchen. How does he keep sane? With headphones and Gnaural, a program that produces brown noise and binaural beats .
Another key element of his setup is F.lux, a program that causes monitors to produce a warmer colored light during night hours. Not only does this help with computer-related eye strain , but it can help you sleep better , too.
He doesn’t have many tools beyond a Nexus 9 and the usual apps that tend to go along with it (alarm clock, RSS reader, Google Now, etc). However, he does have a tDCS that supposedly improves his performance by zapping his brain with a small current.
Matthew Hughes (Jun 2013)
Fellow writer and MakeUseOf Answers Manager Matthew Hughes writes from the UK like many of our staffers, but there’s something about his workstation that sets him apart from the rest: the fact that it isn’t situated at home. He writes from his local hackerspace.
For those who don’t know, a hackerspace is a communal workspace where people of similar pursuit can socialize and collaborate on creative endeavors. These common interests can involve anything from computers and machines to art and music.
While many creatives work in isolation, Matt finds that this approach fosters creativity. He works best at night (as he’s a night owl) and often requires six to eight cups of coffee to get him through the day. Even with all of that caffeine for focus, he is a master of procrastination.
Yet, he doesn’t use any productivity apps. The only thing that matters to him is the program he uses for writing, which impacts his efficiency. Depending on his mood, he’ll switch between Google Docs, Pages, iA Writer, and vanilla WordPress. Otherwise, simplicity is his game.
Bruce Epper (Sep 2013)
If you’ve ever asked a question on MakeUseOf Answers, you’ll probably recognize Bruce Epper. He’s been the gatekeeper for a while now, making sure to keep the section free from spam and silliness. There are a lot of questions posed every day, so how does he get through them all on time?
For one, his work hours are unconventional. He usually wakes up some time in the early afternoon and goes to bed a little after sunrise. When he sits down to do some work, he tries to get it all done in one session. That could be as quick as one hour or as slow as six hours.
A coffee boost at 3:00 AM helps with focus as well.
Regarding his setup, two things really stick out to me. First, through VirtualBox and dual booting, he has access to over a dozen different OSes that cover Windows, Linux, and even Mac. Second, he has 33 TB (yes, terabytes) of personal storage space thanks to his vast collection of internal and external hard drives.
What does he need all of that space for?
“Some of these drives hold active files while others are used in a moderately complex backup system,” Bruce explains.
“Ideally, there will be at least four copies of any given data file at three locations as well as current system images of my most important machines at each location at all times.”
If you’re reading this, snag a page out of his book! The importance of backing up your data cannot be overstated. Bruce takes his data seriously and so should we all.
Akshata Shanbhag (Nov 2013)
In direct contrast to Matt above, Akshata Shanbhag from India prefers to write from the solitude of her room, actively avoiding public spaces like cafés and libraries – because she’s easily distracted. I can sympathize with that, big time.
Her energy levels fluctuate on a day-to-day basis and dictate how much work she gets done. When she does write, it happens in one-to-two hour sessions, and she’s most efficient when she has strict deadlines looming overhead.
A few cups of tea throughout the day can prove helpful, but what really rejuvenates her is a 30-minute nap before lunch. Indeed, mid-day power naps have been shown to boost concentration levels .
As for hardware, she keeps it light: a Linux-equipped netbook with a few browser-based apps like Litewrite.
Rob Nightingale (Jan 2014)
Avid traveler Rob Nightingale is young but already living the dream. His possessions all fit into a carry-on sized backpack, which is necessary when you’re never in one place for too long.
He’s hiked through the rainforests of Cambodia, walked under palm trees in Morocco, and basked on the white sand beaches of the Maldives. But it’s not always sunshine and rainbows, especially when he’s stuck with a dial-up connection in an ant-ridden room.
So, writing from public cafés is regular affair – which also means that he has nothing that resembles a daily routine. Sometimes he’ll be awake at 4:00 AM to catch a 12-hour bus ride into the next city. Other days are slower, quieter, and more enjoyable.
But no matter where he is, he writes, usually to the tune of Spotify or Naturespace in the background.
Daniel Price (Jan 2014)
While Rob’s journey across the world is cause for envy, he’s not the only one in paradise. A few years ago, Daniel Price relocated to a beach house in Mexico where he has a front-row view across the Bay of La Paz.
When he gets bored or needs to clear his mind, all he has to do is sit back and look at this:
As one might expect, he has a flexible schedule. He works “typical hours” on most days, but he’s free to switch off his mind for a few hours (or an entire day) when he’s feeling demotivated. There’s only one thing that he commits to every day and that’s his ten-mile morning bike ride.
The only apps in his arsenal are Google Calendar and Google Keep. Besides that, he’s only got a clock, a lamp, a coffee mug, a laptop, and a mouse.
An uncluttered workstation helps keep uncluttered thoughts: “If you have too many gadgets, you spend longer fiddling with them and managing them than actually doing the task at hand,” he says.
Ben Stegner (Feb 2014)
For some of us, MakeUseOf is a side job that provides a way to channel and expend our creative energies in a fun way. That’s certainly true of Ben Stegner, who writes in his spare time from his Pennsylvanian college dorm room.
Check out how clean and organized he keeps his desk. I don’t think anything in my dorm room was ever this clean during my college days:
His setup is a little unusual – a primary laptop with a television used as a second monitor – but it works well and keeps him productive. He also attributes some of his efficiency to his combination of keyboard and mouse: a mechanical keyboard with Cherry Blue switches and a full-size Performance MX mouse.
His writing setup is unique as well. Instead of the usual Word or Google Docs, Ben writes using MarkdownPad and exports it into HTML when transferring to the site. He also recommends Pushbullet and Dropbox Camera Upload for easy management of photos taken on his smartphone.
Philip Bates (Feb 2014)
Here we have another writer who has the privilege of living in a scenic area – specifically, a seaside resort town located in the UK. Right outside his window is a line of greenery that leads into a majestic woodland. “Utterly enchanting,” he calls it.
Philip Bates doesn’t keep office hours. He didn’t know writers could do that.
Instead, his writing routine falls somewhere between “writing when inspiration strikes” and “starting as early as he can manage”, but it often drags on into the night with all of the interruptions throughout the day (e.g. food, showers, comics, TV shows, etc).
Every so often, he’ll draft a to-do list for the week or the month. Sometimes, he even ticks things off of it. Most of the time, however, he just gets things done at his own pace.
Harry Guinness (Aug 2014)
Despite having hopped onto the MakeUseOf wagon just a few months ago, Harry Guinness has been incredibly energetic and involved. Though based in Ireland, he loves the freedom offered by remote work and he takes advantage of it by traveling a lot.
On top of writing, he does a good deal of work with photography and screencasting, all of which is done on a Hackintosh machine .
Being a night owl, most of Harry’s work happens after 10:00 PM, but his best work is produced after midnight. Prior to that, his day consists of a mixture of relaxation and preparation along with two (!) gym sessions.
As for productivity, he uses a ton of hacks and tools:
- BetterTouchTool for custom key shortcuts and trackpad gestures
- TotalFinder and TotalSpaces2 for optimized workflow
- OmniFocus and iCloud Calendar for data organization
- Byword, Desk, and Scrivener for writing
- Lightroom and Photoshop for photo management
Gavin Phillips (Sep 2014)
Last up in our exploration of workstations is Gavin Phillips, who rises every day at 7:30 AM to make breakfast for the kids before imbibing tea and chowing down on bacon and avocados for himself. Only then does work begin, which often takes place in a local Internet café.
Sometimes he’ll switch over to his dual-monitored desktop, but either way, productivity is at its best when he’s wearing his headphones. It’s the only way to get any work done with two noisy kids in the background.
Gavin doesn’t rely on many apps and tools to keep him on track, though he admits that maybe he should be more open to the idea. As of now, he only uses Evernote for clipping thoughts, Google Keep for portable notes, Google Now for voice-controlled assistance, and a Chrome distraction blocker .
How Does Your Workstation Compare?
And so we’ve come to the end. As long as this list is, it doesn’t even cover half of our staff, but it should be enough to give you an idea of how we work from around the world. Seriously, we’re as international as it gets.
But enough about us! We want to see what your setup looks like, whether it’s a decked out work-from-home station or a simple, comfortable laptop-in-bed combination for browsing MakeUseOf.
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