How I Work while Trekking the Planet

Darren trekking in the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia

Darren recently completed a Q&A interview on how he works, given our continual travel while we are Trekking the Planet.

What is the one word that best describes how I work?


What are the apps/software/tools cannot you live without?

As soon as we clear customs in a new country, our first order of business is to purchase a new SIM card for my Unlocked Motorola Droid 2 Global. I selected this model because it is one of the few android devices that has a physical keyboard. I use Tweakker to make the needed configuration changes. I use gReader as my RSS reader. I forward stories of interest to Pocket to read them later. I follow New York Times, BBC and Forbes to keep up-to-date. I share articles to GTasks if they require follow up. When we left the U.S. in January 2012, we had the first 11 months of our trip completely booked. I use the app to manage these bookings and Dropbox to store our booking confirmations and other documents such as our itinerary.

In order to produce the documentary shorts, I am using a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V to record the video clips. Sandy has an identical camera for stills. In order to record the on-camera dialog, I use dv Prompter on my phone as a teleprompter. I have a Sony Vaio S-Series laptop and am using Avid Studio to post-process the video. I use One Load to distribute the video to YouTube, Vimeo and DailyMotion. Because the websites that we need to access are sometimes blocked (like they were in China!) and because we want extra security when accessing our financial accounts online, we use the WiTopia’s VPN service.

What is your workspace like?

Cramped. When we are not out shooting, I am usually at the desk in our hotel room putting together our video documentaries (I have also spent a great deal of time editing video on planes, trains or in local coffee shops). I am using a 1TB Western Digital USB Drive to archive the photos, video clips and other artifacts from the trip. Sandy and I create our own secure network using a D-Link Pocket Router and sync using Allway Sync since we create content in parallel and often need to share. We are using an All-in-One Travel Power Plug Adapter. This might sound like a minor point, but we are going to over 50 countries, so we cannot bring a whole box of adapters with us. We also have a Belkin Mini Surge Protector and a six foot (two meter) retractable extension cord because power is often located far away from our work area.

My workspace is wherever I can find an Internet connection

What is your best time-saving trick?

I know that this is not new, but I block out my time when starting a new project. When I was in the corporate world, I would do the same thing by coming to the office early in the morning, working through lunch when everyone else was out of the building or staying late. I have learned that my best work comes when I have “flow”. Once I am “over the hump” (meaning I have a clear direction and have laid out the steps I need to complete), I can relax a little.

What is your favorite to-do list manager?

Though I simply love GTasks, I prefer to fully explore a topic using the mind mapping tool called Mindjet first. By saving the finished map in Dropbox, I have access to it on my laptop using FreeMind.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? What is your secret?

I have a software background. At work, we used the Scrum methodology to develop most new computer systems. I have found that this same technique can apply to most any creative endeavor. When I sit down to produce a new documentary, I typically have an hour worth of clips, hundreds of stills and, sadly, no idea how it is all going to come together. Scrum helps by simplifying the problem through to concepts of sprints and backlogs. Basically, I set an intermediate goal and then break the work down into steps that I can accomplish in 20-30 minutes. When Sandy and I are working on a project together, we use a spreadsheet on a shared drive to manage the tasks. We planned our entire trip this way.

I save money by bringing an unlocked phone with me – here are just some of the SIM cards I have purchased!

What do you listen to while you work?

I subscribe to Rhapsody’s Premier Service. It allows me to download hundreds of songs and then listen to them offline. As a result, I never get tired of the music I have. When comparing the cost of Rhapsody vs. purchasing songs, I feel I am ahead of the game. I have been known to listen to Zakk Wylde (the heavy metal guitarist) when I feel I need a dose of creative energy.

What is your sleep routine like?

It seems we are in a different time zone every week, so I often find myself wide-awake at 3am. Instead of fighting it, I embrace it by catching up on articles I have captured on Pocket. After an hour or so, I get groggy and fall back to sleep.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I am a big fan of Dean Karnazes. He is the guy that ran 50 marathons in 50 days in each of the 50 US States. Dean has many great quotes. But, my favorite is simply “Go”. Based on his life story, I began to realize that there are no limits to what you can accomplish in life. (And, even if there are, they are so far beyond what we think they are, for all practical purposes, they don’t exist). If you have a dream, however crazy, start taking small steps to realize it.

Anything else you want to add?

Figure out what time of the day that you are most creative and only schedule creative tasks for that time. Push repetitive tasks to the end of the day, when you are tired.

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