William Johnson, founder and editor of Vancouver Tech Journal (VTJ), is a big fan of Lifehacker’s How I Work series where they deconstruct the daily habits, patterns and hacks of creators across a variety of industries. Academics, politicians, entrepreneurs, executives and artists –– everyone has their own unique and idiosyncratic way of doing things. Writers are no different, or perhaps, they’re very different. You be the judge. Take a peek behind the scenes and discover how William gets things done. That is, of course, when he’s not taking breaks inside the metaverse.
Current gig: Writer and editor at the Vancouver Tech Journal
Current computer: MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, 2017)
Current mobile device: iPhone 11 Pro
One word that best describes how you work: Pleasantly
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in small-town Ontario with two brothers, raised by a single mother. While studying political science at Carleton University, I quickly realized I loved writing for fun. I tried to transfer to the journalism department but didn’t have the grades to get in. So, I started writing for The Charlatan, the student newspaper, before securing a number of part-time copywriting jobs.
When I graduated, I joined the so-called “communications industry” and worked in it for over a decade before returning to my first love, writing. I worked as a freelancer for publications like Macleans, BetaKit, BCBusiness, Daily Hive, and University Affairs. In 2018, I founded the Vancouver Tech Journal, the publication I write and edit for today. At VTJ, we uncover and tell the stories that matter in Vancouver and BC’s tech ecosystem.
Take us through a recent workday.
While I try to write something new every single day, some days are dedicated to what I call non-producing but important activities: re-listening to old interviews, reviewing designs for the new VTJ website, changing the format of our editorial calendar, editing freelancer work, moderating an industry conversation on Twitter Spaces or meeting readers in person during VTJ’s weekly morning coffee meetups.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
iPhone: For most things.
Otter.ai: To transcribe my interview audio.
Zoom: For interviews.
LinkedIn and Twitter: For watching trends and sourcing subjects.
Feeder: Where my Google Alerts are sent to a feed.
Physical notebook: For taking notes feverishly while on calls with people.
Calendly: To make scheduling meetings easier.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I try to keep things simple. I have my Macbook, an ASUS monitor for when I need more screen space, a Brother printer so I can print articles and mark them up like a college professor, a stapler, tape, pens, and markers. I don’t remember where the chair I sit in came from, but fortunately, it’s a serious office piece.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
Simply not doing things that don’t serve my goals. See: Kevin Ashton’s Creative People Say No.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
When I interview someone for a profile, I record it. Then I transcribe it using Otter.ai. Then I export the transcription into a WORD doc. Then I listen to the interview while marking up the WORD doc and put key points or good quotes into bullets. Then I print this document off and physically highlight the key points and make note in writing the key themes I want to focus on for the article. Then I go back to my computer and transfer my written notes and highlights to a new electronic document (a Google Doc) where I’ll make an article outline and incorporate the key points I want to make with the best quotes. Then I start writing a rough draft –– this is where the hard work begins.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
The VTJ includes me, our staff writer James, our community manager Chandler, our new account executive Dave, and of course, countless people at OMG that help us grow.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use Google Tasks to write tasks down so I don’t forget them. Every morning, I write in a notebook with black permanent marker the five-10 things that I would love to get done. I usually number the five most important and attack the tasks in that order.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I go for long walks or play games on my Oculus Quest 2.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I’m reading The Culture Map by Erin Meyer as part of the Next Gen Men B.O.O.K. Club. A book I recommend for everyone, especially storytellers, is Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Internally, Fiz Dhanani, our VP of growth. Externally, Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It wasn’t advice given directly to me, but it’s a line I think about every day: “Those who win are producers, not consumers.” - Julien Smith
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How to write articles faster!