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Aug 4 / King Kaufman

Ira Glass shares his method for turning interviews into stories

I like this Lifehacker “How I Work” interview with Ira Glass, host and impresario of the great radio show “This American Life.”

In the top half, Glass talks about gear he uses and the setup of his workplace. It starts to get interesting for me when writer Andy Orin asks, “What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?”

I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.

Though come to think of it, I guess my biggest life hack—and this is the very first time I’ve attempted to use the phrase “life hack” in a sentence—is that my wife and I decided to live just a few blocks from where I work.

On the one hand, I always hope questions like that will clue me in to some secret that will transform my existence and free up hours in my day. On the other, that never happens. The only “time-saving shortcut/life hack” I ever hear anyone talking about is some variation of “Well, I hired an assistant …” So I find it comforting when some productive person admits they’ve got nothing on this front.

I live like an ape too, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

Anyway, after some more gadget talk, Orin asks, “What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?” Glass then goes into a long explanation of his working method, which should prove useful to anyone doing original reporting.

I don’t think I’m better than everyone else at anything, but I am very quick at organizing a big mass of interview tape into a structure. I learned my technique from a great print editor named Paul Tough, who was at the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s, and worked with our show a lot in the early years. It’s so basic I worry it doesn’t bear going into here, but just in case it’s handy to another writer or editor, here we go:

We’re not going to go. I’m ending the quote there because I don’t want to dilute what Glass says. It’s a complex but understandable method for synthesizing information and putting it into a structure he can work with to tell a story.

It won’t always work, especially if your deadline is expressed in terms of minutes rather than days. But I bet it’s a good framework even in abbreviated form. Check it out.