Chuck Bowen – How I Work

As Editor and Associate Publisher of Lawn & Landscape Magazine, Chuck Bowen has been quietly leading the landscape industry for years. I learned long ago to find the smartest person in the room and go stand next to them and you will learn a whole lot.  If you see Chuck Bowen and me in the same room, I will be standing next to Chuck.  Chuck has more insight on the landscape business than most landscape contractor owners I know. He has been advocating for better water management and more education in the industry for years.  Lawn & Landscape has been producing the absolute best content in the industry for years.  Each edition is a wealth of training and business advice for the landscape industry.  Let’s see what we can learn from Chuck.

What’s your typical work schedule?

When I’m not traveling, I try to work a pretty consistent schedule: Monday to Friday, 8-4:30. I take a long lunch a couple days a week to go to a gym near my office. When I’m in the office, I’m working and focused on L&L. After work, it’s family time – dinner, dance class, homework and spending time with my wife and kids. Weekends are the same thing – that’s family time. I’m more creative in the morning, so I reserve that time for writing and outlining projects. I keep my afternoons free for interviews, conference calls and meetings. When I’m traveling, it’s more difficult to keep to a routine, but I do still get to the hotel gym or out for a run.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Apps: Apple News is where I get most of my headlines. I follow Quartz, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal for business news, and National Geographic for cool photos and Outside magazine for stories on bike gear. I use Podcasts on my commute and when I’m flying. A couple of my favorites (besides the LL podcast) are Back to Work, about productivity; Roderick on the Line, about a bunch of random stuff; and Here’s the Thing, Alec Baldwin’s interview show from WNYC. I love his interview style – it’s very up-front and direct. I save web stories to read later via Instapaper, and I use Evernote to tag notes, stories and emails for projects I’m working on and stories I’m writing.

Tools: A basic sharpener, pencil and paper – my desk is covered in legal pads, reporter’s notebooks and scraps of paper with notes. I think best when writing, and a few times a week I do a brain dump onto a legal pad or notebook. My to-do list is a bound paper journal with a week’s worth of days on the left-hand side. I use that and post-it notes to keep me focused on the day’s tasks. On my laptop, I prefer to use Notepad for project and story notes. It fires up fast and is easy to search. I have a lot of .txt files called “notes” or “ideas” sitting on my computer. Pandora is on my phone, iPad and laptop all the time. Right now I’m listening to a station based mostly on Parker Milsapp and Jason Isbell, but what plays most is Kidz Bop Radio. We’re blessed in Cleveland to have a world-class library system, and it offers an app that allows me to save and then reserve books as I find them. So when I hear about a good book, I can look it up in the system and add it to my “read later” list.

How do you stay up on what’s happening in irrigation?

I talk with irrigation contractors, suppliers and distributors regularly.


How much time to you spend managing projects and people vs. spending time writing?

I spend a lot of time writing, but very little of it actually ends up in the magazine. My name isn’t all over the magazine, but my fingerprints are. I spend most of my time talking with readers, my editors, sources and our sales team about upcoming stories, new developments and other leads. My role is to lay out the train tracks and let the rest of my team keep the train on the tracks. So as I write this, we’re finishing up the March issue, but I’m working on outlines and projects for May and June.


Where do you get ideas?

Everywhere. One of my favorite books is “Steal Like an Artist” by (Ohio-native) Austin Kleon, and I take it to heart. I often crib ideas from other trade and consumer magazines, or podcasts or newspapers. I get a lot of my best story ideas talking with readers about something unrelated. Our designer, Justin Armburger, has a great talent for taking my ideas and turning them into compelling cover art, so he’s a big part of the cover process.


Work area set-up?

I try to keep my online and digital work separate from my on-paper work. My desk is shaped like an L, so my laptop and large monitor sit on one side. In front of my laptop I have a list of all the current and long-term projects we have working, as well as the current issue’s pagination. I use the large monitor for editing stories and combing through Excel files. My main desk holds my lists, papers and layouts for the upcoming issue I’m editing. I have a bulletin board up in front of this desk where I keep the last 12 months of LL covers. That helps me keep our cover styles consistent but not repetitive.

On the bookcase behind me where I keep important books and other mementos. I have bound copies of all the LL archives, which I consult regularly. It’s a fun time capsule. I have an Indianapolis Colts plush football from an editor of mine back in Indiana, and a mechanical clock that I keep wound each day. It was a gift from my father-in-law, and the ticking helps me focus. I have a magazine tree my daughter made me in art class. The decorations are simple: a photo of my wife, Becky, and me at her brother’s wedding, some photos of my kids, and a few awards that our staff has won. A big part of my job is reading, so I keep a stack of magazines and other printed material that I need to read close by. I try not to live in my email, and not have it open all the time. It’s a big distraction.


What kind of gear and tech do you use to work?

The tech is pretty standard: a Logitech Bluetooth mouse (especially when I’m editing layouts or photos, I need a mouse). My laptop is a Dell Ultrabook Latitude E7440. It’s powerful enough to run InDesign and Photoshop, but still light enough to travel well.

I have an iPhone 5, which I use mostly as a camera when I travel. I can take print-ready shots with it, and no longer have to lug around a DSLR. My iPad and Bluetooth keyboard are useful for taking notes and brainstorming (I use the Pages app for that), but that’s a rare thing.

I swear by Uniball Jetstream pens, .7 mm, blue ink. I buy them by the box and they’re always getting borrowed by folks in the office. On the road, I use Gregg-ruled reporter’s notebooks.

For day-to-day note taking and reminders, I often keep a stack of index cards held in place by a bulldog clip. It’s a perfect set up for jotting down quick ideas, and fits in my back pocket.

I record podcasts with GoTo Meeting. I use a Samson Meteor USB Mic and a Dragonpad pop filter. Our podcast studio is still in development, so I set it up in a storage container lined with acoustic foam. I edit in Audacity.


Computer apps I use to stay productive

Evernote is a big one for me. It’s on all my Apple devices, and I use the web app on my laptop. I keep all sorts of lists – home improvement projects to do, books to read, gifts to buy – as well as large collections of tags. It’s also a great way to keep sources for upcoming issues – I can forward emails directly to an Evernote email, and they’re automatically stored and easily searched.

I use Outlook for email. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. The calendar function is probably what I use most. I use Dropbox to receive high-res photos from sources.

I edit stories in Word, and edit magazine pages in InDesign.


What are you currently reading?

I just finished “Salt, Sugar, Fat” by Michael Moss. It’s an investigative look at how big food companies manipulate these three ingredients (as well as huge marketing and advertising budgets) to sell more and more processed food. And I’m re-reading “Bird by Bird”by Annie Lamotte, which is a great book for anyone trying to write better, or just be a better person.


How do you recharge?

I get away from my computer and phone and go outside. I spend time with my family.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ________________answer these same questions.

Warren Gorowitz.  

Next month you can see Warren’s answers here on the Jain blog.

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