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Ways We Work

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Nathan Snelgrove

Founder of Wildfire Studios

What do you do?

My name is Nathan Snelgrove. I’m the founder of a creative firm called Wildfire Studios. I cohost the Five More Things podcast, which is a variety show for geeks, and I write about music on Unsung Sundays in my spare time. When I’m working, I create or improve visual identities for companies as small as startups and as large as multinationals. Recently, I’ve launched a national ad campaign for a water treatment company and designed an iPad-exclusive magazine for modern music producers.

What mobile device do you use?

I have a 32gb black iPhone 5 and a 64gb white iPad Air with LTE.

Best way to stay on top of email?

I don’t buy into the whole Inbox Zero thing. I don’t have the time to sift through emails and figure out how to label them, or archive them when I’m done with them. I check my email on my phone first thing in the morning, usually when I’m still in bed, but don’t respond to anything until I’m at my computer. Knowing what I need to get to helps put me in the right frame of mind while I eat breakfast. And since I rarely delete or archive messages, my inbox is really easy to search through if I need to reference something a few weeks down the road.

Top five applications/programs?

I spend almost all day, every day inside Creative Cloud and some text editing apps, but those definitely aren’t my favourite.

Instapaper: If the web article or item in my RSS feed is too long, it gets sent here until I read it on Sunday, which is the only day I take off almost every week.

Day One (iOS/Mac): If a tweet seems too personal, it gets put in Day One, which is my personal journal.

Tweetbot (iOS/Mac): Stupidly expensive, but so worth it. I don’t have as much time for Twitter as I’d like, but I’m glad I get to spend the time I do have for it in a beautiful digital environment.

Begin (iPhone): This app is a beautifully-designed daily todo list that basically wipes out all your unfinished tasks at the end of the day. For me, that’s an extra incentive to get work done. It also meant I could stop using my Moleskine notebooks as daily todo lists, and start actually sketching designs in them.

Rdio: I listen to new music for hours every day looking for good material forUnsung Sundays, and Rdio is the only reason that’s affordable. Not only that, but it’s got a great interface. I think the only way to prevent piracy is to make content easily accessible, and Rdio is definitely leading the pack for music in that regard — in Canada, at least.

What is your best time-saving trick?

A couple months ago, I started forcing myself to take Sundays off. I shut down my computer on Saturday night and use the day to recharge for the upcoming week.

Without taking that day off, I’m tired, inefficient, and grumpy. The best time-saving trick I’m aware of is to remain balanced.

Favourite productivity tool?

My secret weapon is iDoneThis. I use the free version and track what I accomplish throughout the day as I go, but it also sends me an email reminding me to add my finished tasks every night. It’s an easy way to track the work I’m getting done, and it keeps me focused.

One non-tech thing you can't live without?

If you asked me this a couple years back, I would have told you about one of my guitars. Now it’s a little different. You might laugh, but I have an ostrich egg on my desk. It was a gift from a friend who got it for me when she was visiting family in South Africa. Physical things like guitars are impermanent — you know, they break or you sell them or maybe you just put them in storage somewhere. But what the egg represents — family, friends, and memories of time well spent — that stuff lasts forever. And that’s perspective.

So yeah, I guess I can’t live without my egg.

Structure of your typical day? How do you divide your time?

I tend to work long hours and stay up late, often till 4 am, working on whatever needs to get done. I’ve noticed nobody cares what time I “show up” to work, so I tend to sleep in until 9 or 10 most days, start work right after breakfast, and go until 6 or so. Then I’ll hit the gym and hang out with friends until about midnight and work again until 4 or 5. A couple days a week I push everything a bit earlier for meetings, but I’m really flexible with my sleep schedule. The only way I find I can be productive is if I don’t force myself to work when I’ve hit a mental wall, so keeping it lose helps me feel consistently inspired.

What does your workspace look like?

I’ve got AudioEngine 2 speakers hooked up to an Apple Airport Express for wireless connectivity with all my stuff. I’m running a first-gen 15″ Retina MacBook Pro, which sits on a Twelve South Bookarc beneath the desk. It frequently has a 256gb external SSD and a 4TB RAID plugged in for redundant backups. On the desk is a Thunderbolt monitor, a Logitech solar-powered keyboard, and a Magic Mouse. And, of course, the aforementioned ostrich egg.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

I’d love to see Frank Chimero, Ryan Sims from Rdio, or Ryan/Tina Essmaker (the husband/wife duo behind The Great Discontent interviewed. And obviously, Rob Ford.