How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Tim Herrera, editor of Smarter Living, an advice section of The Times, discussed the tech he’s using.
You give advice for people to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. What are the most important tech tools for doing your job?
I’m a really big fan of tracking oneself to get a better view of the behaviors and habits we don’t really think about, so a lot of the tech tools I use regularly at work or otherwise are software.
For example, I religiously use a mix of Trello and Google Keep to organize my work life around lists that make sense for me and how I structure my days. (Here are some tips on prioritizing your to-do lists.) I use LastPass to manage my passwords; Sleep Cycle to track my sleeping; Mint (and the apps for the banks I use) to track my finances; Lose It! to track my diet and exercise; Strava for when I run; Snapseed and Skitch to edit and annotate photos on the go; and Citi Bike to get around New York. The Voice Memos app on the iPhone is how I record interviews, and lately I’ve been using a Google Voice Typing trick to transcribe them.
On the gear side, I keep things pretty light. I use a MacBook Air and an iPhone 8 Plus for pretty much everything. I keep a wireless charger at my desk. (It’s amazing. I highly recommend getting one.) An external battery is mandatory, of course, as is a great lap desk for when you’re working from home.
What’s so great about these tools, and what could be better?
It’s so easy to lie to ourselves or bury our heads in the sand about things we’d like to be better at; like how it’s easy to ignore your bank account unless it’s payday. But being forced to write down or track everything about something and put it in an app — for example, every dollar you spend — gives insight into those behaviors and habits you can’t really get otherwise.
This was so crucial for me when I started dieting and exercising in 2016 and ended up losing about 35 pounds. I relentlessly tracked — and still mostly do — everything I ate and every time I exercised. The act of writing these things down with 100 percent accuracy is less important than having a way to objectively look at the data and what it says, rather than having to rely on your memory or feelings.
For me, it was eye-opening to have a spot where I could see the nutritional information for the things I was putting into my body. It showed me that even though I thought I was doing an O.K. job at watching what I ate, I now had the written proof that said … nope, still eating 30 Oreos a week. That same idea translates to finances, sleep schedules, productivity and time management at work, and so on.
So what tech products do you think people need to live healthier, more fulfilling lives?
Depends! What are you trying to be better at? I think most people could probably benefit from a budgeting system. (Here are a few ideas.) If nutrition and fitness are your goal, a food-tracking app like Lose It! or MyFitnessPal can be really helpful (as long as you don’t obsess over calories, which is a poor way to measure overall nutrition and health).
On the gear side, I’ve written before that having a six-foot iPhone charging cable changed my life, and I stand by that. Likewise, if you have trouble sleeping, a white noise machine can be revelatory, and a light therapy lamp is a great way to wake up. Wireless headphones are an absolute must: I can’t explain the relief of never having to deal with tangled headphone cables. (And how many times have your headphones been yanked out of your ears because they caught on something?) An immersion blender is a game-changing kitchen tool, and so is a spiralizer. A tiny, very low-tech tool that will immeasurably improve your life is a solid pair of tweezers. A good electric toothbrush completely changed my dental health.
Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life?
O.K., so this is a weird one: I’m in love with this Black and Decker buffer. Weird, I know! Hear me out.
I do a lot of running, spinning and weight training, and I’m constantly sore. So last December, my roommate/platonic life partner got me this buffer for Christmas after New York magazine ran a story saying it’s the best home massage for sore muscles that you can buy.
My first reaction was a confused “ … thanks?” But after she explained — and I read the story and did my own research — I gave it a try. Friends, it works like a dream.
The idea is that the hyper-rapid motions of the buffer loosen tight muscles, reducing soreness and speeding up recovery. If that sounds vaguely familiar, you might have come across the $600 TheraGun, a power drill-like device a bunch of professional athletes and fitness-focused celebrities are using.
Unlike the Black and Decker buffer, the TheraGun is designed for use on human muscles and not to wax the hood of your car. But save your money: The buffer is $30 on Amazon.
Should people be using less tech to live smarter lives?
I love this question because the default solution to “Is unplugging from technology the key to happiness?” has become such a vehement, unwavering yes. And I don’t agree with that! I get a lot of happiness from scrolling through Instagram for 20 minutes when I first wake up, and I don’t think it’s inherently bad to rely on things like automation tools or virtual assistants. (Siri essentially replaced my short-term memory years ago.)
So when we talk about unplugging, I think what we’re really talking about is structuring our lives in ways that allow technology to serve us, rather than the other way around.
For example, an idea I hear from readers and other writers constantly is how to unplug when you’re on vacation — live in the moment rather than living on your smartphone. But there’s research that says taking photos makes “people more engaged with experiences, leading them to enjoy positive events more than people who didn’t take pictures.” So here, the common wisdom — enjoy your vacation more by completely unplugging! — is, in a way, contradicted by the research.
Should you plan for a less fun vacation because it would make for better Instagram stories? You do you! But the assumption that we can be truly happy only if we unplug is one that adds stress to our lives because it’s yet another thing we have to worry about: “Did I unplug enough today?”