Grounded & Steadfast

The journal of Chris Bowler, a collection of thoughts on faith, business, design, and the creative process. Also working on Idea Cafe.

Hoban Cards

It's been a long time since I had a business card. Since I moved from the world of corporate IT to writing and design work online, I've had no need for them. When you're separated by a large chunk of geography, face to face meetings are few and far between.

My first blog and my Twitter account were my calling cards once I started getting involved in the Internet community. From those came Fusion Ads and a change in my career. In the 6 years since, I've never needed a card until this past year.

Even getting together as a geek community at a conference or festival didn't require a card. I was there to connect with the people I already knew, a reversal of the situation where a card comes in handy.

It wasn't until my wife and I started considering a move to another town that the need arose. Once I started to connect with locals who were remote workers or involved in the startup community, I realized having something to hand out with my contact details would be useful.

That's where Hoban Cards comes in.

Do It Right

If you're going to carry around several pieces of dead tree with your name and details on them, they should look good. Evan Calkins has been doing that for people for several years now over at I've long wanted to put in an order, but the lack of actual need had always kept me from pulling the trigger.

I'm glad for that.

The cards are printed on a sturdy stock of paper that gives a feel of quality. Of course, the nice type and letterpress print lend to that feel as well. Handing these out to people will be a pleasure.

And while the end product is a quality item, the process of putting in your order is also a good experience. Evan is fast to respond to any questions or modifications and pleasant to interact with. He's a swell guy!

His service is genius. If you're a designer and want to craft your own unique look, he’s your printer who can make your design sing. Just send him your design and he’ll get you the cards. But if you're not endowed with Illustrator skills, he's got you covered as well with the templates listed on the Hoban Cards home page. Anyone can have a well designed, attractive calling card for a good price.

I can't recommend the service enough.

For the Love of Pen and Paper

As I have moved from one digital task management tool to another over the years, one habit has stuck with me consistently. That is the use of pen and paper in conjunction with my current app of choice. No matter what piece of software is saving, archiving, and (in modern times) syncing my projects, my day to day tasks have been scratched out on paper.

Why? If the tasks are captured in my digital tool, why repeat myself on paper? Why take the time, a longer amount of it as I type much faster than write by hand, to copy them down on a dead tree? Simply put, because I like it.

Here's why.

Time to Process

A large reason I've kept up this practice is because I appreciate the time it requires. Especially the way I keep this habit. It's a sort of weekly review.

For me, the key is to take 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon or evening and plan my week. I start with a new page in my notebook and draw the days of the week out vertically (Saturday and Sunday share the last row). Then I start to review; first my calendar, then the page from last week, then OmniFocus.

For each day, I find two or three big rocks (Most Important Tasks) and write them on the left with a number beside it. Then, I add a couple of less intensive tasks, administrative type things, to the right. Each of those has a letter next to it.

This is my prioritization, but also gives me things to do in all moods and energy levels. There are never more than 3 MITs for a day (usually no more than 2 these days) because more will simply result in frustration as I know they will not be completed.

Now, I realize this could all be done in OmniFocus. I could tinker with perspectives and get a view that is very similar. But I cherish the exercise and taking the time causes me to closely consider each task and whether it's a good use of my time. Sometimes the slow way is the better way.

A Good Filter

Another benefit is that every task considered and captured in the moment is not necessarily a good idea. Ideas will come, but not all are ones I want to act on. Some are triggered by caffeine, some from outside influences. Not all are worth my time and energy.

Check Patrick Rhone’s Dash Plus system. I've longed used it, with some modifications of my own. But an X beside an item on your list indicates that the task was not completed, but simply dropped.

At the end of the day, I like to capture all my ideas … but I also greatly enjoy scratching some of with an X on the side. Paper is a good filter in that I take that 30 minutes on Sunday and contemplate each item. It's at my most unplugged time of the week, which means I've been able to walk away from the firehose and remember where my priorities lie.

My tasks should mirror those priorities.

Manual Labour Is Good for You

Writing with pen and paper is obviously not quite manual labour. The actual physical work and energy burned is probably the same as typing these tasks out. But still, there's something about the act of using your hands with physical objects.

I take pleasure in writing with a nice fine tipped pen on a quality piece of paper.

Fetish Much?

On a similar note to the last point, I like notebooks! Finding a new brand of book with the right kind of paper and a nice grid is always a pleasure. And cracking open a new notebook is much more pleasing than starting a list or project in a digital tool like OmniFocus.

Each new book is filled with promise. Each new page has so much potential and can take a bad week and make the next that much better.

My “system” is truly hybrid. My day to day task management, for a large part, is done on paper. I'm not simply writing out tasks that I plan to work on, I'm also capturing smaller subtasks that arise from the work I'm doing. I love what OmniFocus does for me, but even planning out a larger project, I tend to brainstorm and sketch and get my ideas out on paper.

The digital tool keeps me up to date and synced across devices. But it's my manual tools that keep me going.

Singular Focus

With the recent announcements made by the Dropbox team yesterday, I wonder if the file storage genius has lost its way a little. As a user of the service who has been paying for an account for 3-4 years, I've been a free evangelist since I started using it. I still am today.

But as the news hit , I started to wonder if Drew Houston and his team have started to shift their gaze as they've grown. And whether or not that's good news for the company and their customers.

Too Much Choice?

The primary cause for my thinking is the options that are now available. When I signed up for this service in 2009, there was one option. Just sign up. Your only choice was to use the free account with limited storage, or pay a monthly fee for a lot more storage. Today? My teammate Tim Swan summed it up well in our chat room yesterday:

Dropbox, Dropbox for business, Dropbox teams, Dropbox for personal and work... I'm getting awfully confused by Dropbox.

If a savvy designer who's been using the service for years feels this way, how will Joe User feel with all the options. Maybe some of the options are not targeted at Joe User, but if Drew Houston wants to compete with Apple as a digital hub for consumers, they'll have to focus on Joe and his kind.

Maybe it doesn't matter. As a happy user of the service, whose needs have been met by the original, simple option, I haven't paid a lot of attention to the newer options that have come available the past two years. But if I were to try to explain to someone the differences between Dropbox for Business and Dropbox for Teams, I'd be at a loss.

Perhaps that's not an issue at all. Certainly, people who've used Dropbox in a team environment have felt the pain points, which is the driving force behind these options being available. But, like a man in a grocery store looking for that one option his wife sent him for, I feel a small bit of pain at the number of choices Dropbox now offers.


Creating a separate app for viewing the photos you already store in your account is a no brainer for current users, simply giving them another way to view what's there (I love that icon). And it's a potential incentive for those free users, the ones on the 2GB plan, to sign up and pay and move all those photos to a backed up location.

But if you do not use Dropbox to store your photos, I wonder how Dropbox thinks this app will work. Of the three announcements they made yesterday, carousel was most focused on Joe User. The blog post from Drew yesterday was titled, A Home for Life, a clear indicator that the focus is on making the digital lives of the common American easier.

But what if you use Dropbox for work purposes? If you were to add your family photos to your Dropbox account, are they mixed in amongst photoshop comps and design assets for your website? Screenshots you made for that blog post? I guess this is where the Dropbox for Business option comes in handy, allowing you to use the service for both purposes, but with intermixing the two.

But that seems a tad complicated. Personally, I currently store my photo files in Dropbox as a part of iPhoto libraries. But I use Picturelife as a way to have another backup of those files, as well as a way to view the view photos themselves. Will Dropbox and Carousel make options like Picturelife redundant? Perhaps.

I've been so pleased with how Picturelife presents my photos to me, that I currently have no plans to stop using it, despite it being another monthly bill.

But I suspect that in time, many people will feel that mixing their file storage needs with their usage of consumable items (photos, movies, music) leaves a bad taste. This might be an example where two separate apps(services) might make more sense. Two options has the appearance of more complexity than one, but that can be an illusion when the one option requires complexity to attempt to meet multiple needs.

Mailbox for OS X

Last, they announced two additional versions of Mailbox. It's available now for Android, and a long anticipated version for OS X is in the works. If tackling file storage can be considered boring and un-sexy, email is the next logical thing to tackle. And a desktop version is the next step.

Email clients are easily interchangeable as most of us user services that sit behind the client, accessed via IMAP (do people still use POP3?). For this reason, I've been looking forward to trying Mailbox on my desktop.

Although mobile email usage is king of the hill, I personally do most of my email work on the desktop, simply using my phone for reading and some triaging. It'll be interesting to see if the features that made Mailbox popular will have the same effect on the desktop. Or, maybe the Mailbox team has some new ideas for the desktop.

As things currently stand, this utility application is the backbone of my computing setup and works like a charm. The changes yesterday can be a part of a larger focus; to be the hub of your computing setup. And if Dropbox has a vision to be a hub of all your computer usage, tackling file storage and email is a brilliant strategy.

But whenever I become uncertain of how the available options apply to me, I wonder about the overall focus or vision of the company behind them. But if there's a team other than Apple or Facebook that has my confidence, it's Dropbox. I have faith.

The Right Mix

When I first began to write online, I focused mostly on software and personal task management. Both topics fit well on a site titled The Weekly Review. Over the years, I've settled into my own comfort zone in regards to managing my tasks and haven't dedicated a lot of time to writing on this topic.

But during this last year, I have to admit I've been searching once again for a task management tool that better suits how I work. While I've experimented with a few options, I've kept some notes on both how these types of tools are designed and how we try to mould them to our personal habits.

Here are a few of my observations.

Making the Switch

First, changing from one task management tool to another isn't quite as simple as switching Twitter or email clients. Those categories of software tie into a central source and simply display the same information in slightly different ways. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. I can easily switch from Tweetbot to Twitterific, or from Apple Mail to Airmail at the drop of a hat.

Task management tools take a little more work. But if, like me, you have a fairly lean way of managing your responsibilities, it's an exercise that can take less than an hour.


One thing that has caused me to try the many different options available (besides my fetish with software and a lack of discipline) is that none of them feel quite right. Why is it so hard to find tools that fit our personal needs?

Partly because the everyone is a little different and no developer or team can meet the needs of each individual. I would imagine that many developers write apps for themselves first, believing that others will have the same needs as them. Some teams build the tools to adhere strictly to a particular philosophy. Whatever the reason, it means that many tools will fit 80–90% of your needs.

But it's that 10% that keeps you looking at the other options.

Include Your Vision

It can be easy to fit your concrete projects and their small steps into a task based tool. But what about your larger goals? Items like "Teach the children to be critical thinkers" or "Pursue my wife like we're not yet married" are the kinds of things we think about at New Years, but they should really be meditated on over the year if you want to see progress. Why not include them in your tool of choice?

I've had thoughts in this vein over the years. But I've tended to have a regular review of items in my journal (paper or digital) to keep the higher level items in focus.

This recent video from Paul Boag discussing the OmniFocus 2 beta struck a chord with me (the pertinent bit starts at 7:15 into the video). He keeps his high level goals as the top most folders in OmniFocus. If a project comes his way and doesn't fit into one of those folders, he asks himself whether he should really be spending time and energy on it.

Which is always a wonderful question to be asking of anything. Time and energy are limited; we have to choose where to spend it.

The Candidates

When I first became interested in this category of software, fresh off of reading Getting Things Done, the options were less plentiful. Much so. At the time, I was working in IT for a large corporation, meaning Windows was my daily OS … the options were almost nonexistent.

So when Things came along, it was love at first sight.

Over time, I tried all the options as the editor of a site focused on web software. Finally, I settled into OmniFocus and found the tool that best suited my workflow and habits. The iPad version especially; it's the best task management tools I've ever used.

However, if found myself once again seeking other options last year. There were two causes of this and I hope I'm mature enough now to say that an itchy finger and curiosity were not included.

The first was that I now lead a team of men at my church in taking care of the building and grounds itself, as well as various legal and tax related responsibilities. OmniFocus (and most desktop based options in this category) is not well suited for sharing tasks with others. The second is that I am a little slower to update to the newest version of a piece of software these days. And with the entire lineup of OmniFocus apps due for a major version change and hence, a new transaction required, I knew I'd be paying more money to stay up to date.

And so I was back to looking for a better tool.


Late last year, I made the switch to using Teuxdeux as my primary tool for managing tasks. Coming from OmnFocus to Teuxdeux is a little like switching from a Swiss Army Knife, one with all the bells and whistles and toothpicks and nail clippers, to a simple pocket knife. Albeit a very well designed, quality pocket knife.

This is an application that has been designed purposefully. It's intended to be minimal. It sports a clean design and the layout encourages you to only include the things you want or have to do each day. It fits my needs really well in one aspect. I tend to keep all my tasks and responsibilities in my tool of choice, but I work day to day off of paper. I always have. Teuxdeux fits nicely into that way of working.

Where it breaks down for me was the totality of everything I need to track. I really appreciate the design and if I had less going on in my life, it might have been the tool of choice for me. Here's what I like about it:

Here's what didn't work for me:

To get into that last point a little further, I have several majors areas of responsibility in my life. Each of those has recurring tasks I have to remember (I used a single items project in OmniFocus to manage these) as well as various other projects that have a specific end goal. Teuxdeux includes lists at the bottom half of he interface that can be used for specific projects. That works somewhat well, but once the number of those lists grows large enough, the usage becomes problematic.

Overall, this is a great tool that I enjoyed. But the points of friction were enough to keep me looking.


Truth be told, I started to use Asana while still using OmniFocus and Teuxdeux last year. Why? It works very well with teams.

I gave Asana a look when it was first available, but no more than a glance. Over time, it matured quite nicely and being web based on focused on teams, it was a solid option for me to assign tasks to my guys at church. When I decided that Teuxdeux was not quite going to fit, I decided to try keeping everything in one place. Since I was using Asana for some of my church projects, trying it for everything was a logical choice.

Again, this is another well designed service that has been built purposefully. It's intended for teams, completely.



On this last point, I found Asana less than ideal. I don't keep a browser open at all times, so having to open Safari, type Asa, then add a task to the correct workspace was more cumbersome than other options. Asana does allow for emailing tasks, but it comes with problems. Each workspace requires a different email address to specify which workspace to put the task. If you forget to specify the correct from address in the email, the task can end up in the workspace. To make it worse, you cannot drag and drop a task from one workspace to another in Asana.

At the end of it all, the ability to quickly dump something from my head into my Inbox was vital. Any friction at all in that process was problematic … I hate needless tasks being in my task list, but it's better than missing important tasks because they didn't end up in the right spot. A good review will take care of tasks that don't belong in there or aren't worth my time and energy.

Again, this is another nice tool that works well for 80% of my needs. I'd recommend it to anyone who works in a team environment and it's a nice alternative to Basecamp.

Full Circle

Here I am today, back to OmniFocus as my tool of choice. It's ease of use on the desktop are top notch. And if it's overkill for my needs, it's designed well enough that the features I don't need do not get in the way. And the improvements in the desktop version make it an even better choice.

I have no idea how Forecast and Review work on the iPhone … I'm still on version 1.

The sync between versions (and online backup) and easy entry alone make OmniFocus great. But the Forecast and Review features of the iPad and desktop beta versions are fantastic. I've yet to see another GTD type of tool that incporporates these concepts into the UI. I live in the Forecast view about 90% of the time I'm using this tool.

You could look at all this as a waste of time, but I consider it time well spent as it causes me to evaluate how I process my work and ideas.

I'm convinced that unless we all build tools for ourselves, we'll never find ones that fit perfectly. That's okay.

There's always going to be a little elbow grease involved to mold our tools to how we work rather than the other way around. And as long as I'm seeing progress in my work, I'm happy to check out new options from time to time. I'll get to the right mix one way or another.

Memberships, Newsletters, and Hot Sauce

It's been just over a year since I added a support page to this site and made it possible for readers to become members. In return, members would receive updates on my personal projects and the site newsletter. It's pretty typical of site memberships — nothing radical.

Why earn anything at all off writing? Anyone who has run a site consistently knows the time and effort involved. It's not mandatory — the content will still be published here. But if readers want to help out and feel the content is worth something, it's nice to have the option available. So for the price of a coffee each month, you can support this site and my writing. I personally like to support the writers I enjoy when I can.

In year one, I was hoping to replace what I earned from having an ad on my site. And it did just that. This year, I'd like to make a more serious commitment.

The Newsletter

Last year, my newsletter was consistent. For about 6 months. It was monthly and I shared various items of note, plus the progress on various personal projects.

This year, it will be a weekly publication. I made the decision early in 2013 to remove link list style posts from my site, simply because those entries didn't seem to have a lot of lasting value in that format.

However, I really enjoy pointing out various articles or resources and sharing short pieces of opinion with my online acquaintances. That's part of what this newsletter will be. In addition to sharing items of interest to me, the newsletter will continue to give insight to my other work, as well as how to cultivate creativity in the midst of our busy lifestyles. As a father in a home with 4 homeschooled children, I hope I have some helpful tidbits to share.

So if you're interested in a lovely email coming your way each Saturday to enjoy with your weekend coffee, here's your chance!

The Giveaway

Another common tactic for promoting site memberships is to have some prizes. I like this approach for two reasons. First, as a reader, it gives me a chance to win a prize I'm probably going to enjoy. Since the people I read tend to have similar tastes to me, the prizes usually align with that.

Second, and more importantly, it gives me a chance as a writer to promote some of the services I enjoy or admire. It's the community that drew me to using a Mac and becoming involved in the web & design world. So having a chance to point readers to the products and services built by great people is something I enjoy. And giving stuff away is even better.

So here are the prizes available for all existing members and anyone who signs up by midnight, PDT on April 16th:

A huge thank you to all my friends who were willing to support me by making these great prizes available. Hugs & kisses all around!

The fact that we live in a time where small, independent creators can be supported is wonderful. For all who've supported my writing over the years, I thank you. I'll continue to do my best to honour the attention you give this space!

Join now: monthly or annual plans available

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