The last two weeks have been odd, to say the least. I mean, for me, the day-to-day rhythm feels pretty close to normal. Staying at home for days in a row is something I'm used to. But in every other sense, things have changed.
Rather than been annoyed or frustrated, I've tried to approach this entire situation as an opportunity to rest. That can be hard when you have young kids at home, but I am finding not having to drive people to various events fives nights a week has been peaceful. We've developed a daily routine that gets everyone outside (and we're blessed to have an acre of space to run around on), helping with chores, being creative, as well as entertain themselves on various screens.
How much screen time?
On that topic, I have seen a lot of parents expressing concern about screens and trying to find a routine that encourages other activities. Which is good. But also, let's not place too much pressure on ourselves — this is not a time to be adding stress.
There is a healthy balance to be found and it can involve more than 60–90 minutes of screen time. For our home, that can be as much as 3 hours per day in addition to whatever family viewing we do together in the evening. If our children are going to be awake and at home with us for 14 hours each day, there is plenty of time left for work, learning, and creative activities.
One other aspect affecting how I feel about screens is the social impact. If your children are older, there's a good chance that gaming is a way for them to connect with their friends. Something they're doing much less in person because of social distancing. So if our 14 year old son chooses to do his screen time from 8:30–11:30 pm playing Fortnite, talking to his friends all the while, I'm happy he has the ability to do so.
Oh yeah, school too…
Thankfully, this major shift in life came just as we were heading into spring break. But I feel for any parents who are trying to juggle work and home life, while simultaneously feeling the pressure of taking on their children's education.
I continue to hear a lot of positive feedback about Roam Research. And although I'm hesitant to embrace new web apps that are VC funded, the number of people saying good things about this one has me intrigued (but it would have to be a life-changing tool to get me to invest my time and energy in a funded team that is not charging for their product).
Roam research by Drew Coffman … who made some lovely illustrations to go with his post
Nat covers a few points that are worth highlighting:
Each note has relationships to other notes, but no note lives inside another note or notebook. All of the information is fluid in the sense that you flow between notes based on their relationships, not because they’re all in the same folder or hierarchy.
This also highlights a big difference between Roam and other note taking tools: tags are both everything and nothing. Every page is a tag, and every tag is a page. Whether you do a [Page Link] or a #Hashtag Link is purely a stylistic choice. I use [Page Links] when it’s inline, and #Hashtag Links when they’re out of context, but you can use them however you want.
By structuring information in this way, Roam makes it super easy to move laterally across your information, while retaining vertical references. The book Emergency by Neil Strauss can live in my Book Notes page, my Prepping page, and my Neil Strauss page, without having to be moved.
And Drew is replacing three types of tools with Roam:
So Roam has quickly replaced any note-taking apps I’ve been using and given me an increased drive to write — but there’s something else that Roam seamlessly replaced: My task manager. One of my greatest issues with task management apps has been the same problem I’ve had with note-taking apps in the past — that I don’t want to have to deal with the mental weight of figuring out where my tasks are supposed to live. I will open a task manager to write something down, get distracted by the urgent tasks that are left unchecked, and immediately get frazzled — or I will meticulously build sections into my task manager, add tasks to each, and then forget about them as they become buried too deep in the app’s hierarchy of folders and buckets to be easily acted on.
I'm not sure I'd want to go so far, but the gap between your tasks and your reference information is a major pain with most of today's tools. I wrote about this when Things 3 came out:
In all the services I’ve used over the years, there has been a gap between managing the actual tasks and the information that is required to work on those tasks. There always needed to be a secondary piece of software required. That might be apps like Yojimbo or Evernote or Ulysses, or it might be parts of the macOS (files/folders in Finder).
Having all you need in one place would be powerful.
Thoughts on Tot
I was intrigued as soon as I saw the news about Tot on Twitter. A small scratch pad that lives in the menu bar brings value. However, it’s an idea that has been addressedoftenalready. But since Tot is available across Apple devices, that also adds to its value. However, I already have Apple’s own Notes or a tool like Ulysses on all my devices. So how would Tot be useful enough to use?
For me, it comes down to ease of access. Yes, I use Ulysses across all my devices — it even has a sheet titled Inbox. But when I have a one-off thought to record, opening Ulysses and navigating to a specific sheet takes a few seconds. Using a keyboard combo to open Tot in the menu bar, jot down my thought, then move on, is a lot less friction and helps me keep focus on whatever had my attention at first.
Second, there’s just enough flexibility with Tot as it includes seven panes (distinguished by color). This fits nicely with my overall areas of responsibility in my life, giving one pane for each.
What do I collect in there?
Whereas Ulysses has lengthy notes and all my writing, Tot is simply a place to collect a loose collection of one liners. Maybe it’s a topic someone in the our family wanted to discuss, or a list of things to talk to a specific person about, or a few groceries I need to get from the store. I often have a thought that needs to be captured, but it doesn’t require its own sheet in Ulysses or a task in Things. It’s just a thought or note that I want to refer to later. And since the context of later will often be somewhere away from my desk, Tot scratches an itch I didn’t realize I had.
But what about the cost? When I first saw it was a macOS app, I expected a small cost as its more of a utility than a full fledged, feature rich app. But it was free. When I saw it also had an iOS version, I expected a subscription. But when I saw the price tag on the iOS version, I confess I was a little shocked. $20 USD is more than I’m used to seeing applications like this cost. It took about a week before I felt like it was compelling enough to pay that price.
Bonus points: an app icon on my iOS home screen that is not the same color as all the others.
Joe Buhlig makes some good points about using GTD in this post. As someone who’s followed the basic principles for a long time, he knows where he struggles to be consistent in the process. I definitely get where he’s coming from as I have my points where I could always use some improvement.
This caught my eye in particular:
It’s one thing to collect items on a someday/maybe list. It’s another to put them to work. I can capture ideas all day long every day of the week. But incubating them, curating them, and activating them is work in itself.
Amen to that. This also makes it harder to do a thorough weekly review — you have a list of projects/areas with tasks that you don’t have any firm intention of doing anytime soon. That friction makes it hard to review everything.
And another point that grabbed me:
In the case of GTD, we often think about this through the lens of contexts, a set of tools or periods when we work on certain lists. And a common misunderstanding here is working from these contexts “when you find yourself in that context.” I’m sorry, but I don’t “find myself” anywhere by accident. Even if that is the way life worked, I’m pretty sure that working from lists whenever you accidentally end up in a context wouldn’t allow you to complete the tasks you need to complete each day.
Instead, you have to choose to put yourself in those contexts. And I have found that the best way to do that is by scheduling time for different projects and contexts throughout the week. You see this concept employed in a lot of ways: time-blocking, daily themes, yearly themes, tasks on a calendar, etc… Choose the method that works for you, but don’t expect the contexts to magically appear and the work to complete itself when that happens.
For me, this issue is less about contexts and more about roles or areas of responsibility. If I don’t purposefully schedule time for home maintenance or certain tasks for my role as director of IT at our church, those things will always take a back seat to my roles that get a higher priority. Over time, that results in guilt or increased stress for those roles as the feeling if I should starts to build.
Gosh, what a time to have something to share with the world. It seems there are new options every week to help you create something, send it out into the world, and earn a living doing so. From a teen who quit high school to focus on Fortnite and his Youtube channel, to a guy walking across Japan, it seems like the opportunities are only limited by your imagination.
As someone who has hosted a website for 10+ years and written a newsletter for just slightly less than that, 2020 feels like a golden age for self-promoting.
I’ve spent some time researching Ghost in recent weeks. This is partly due to their being an initial team on People-first Jobs. But I was also interested to hear about their purchase of Pico from Paul Jarvis.
If you’re considering starting a web site (or moving an existing one) or a newsletter, their recent article on How to create a premium newsletter (+ some case studies) may be useful. This seems like a great combination for people who want to build a membership-based business. It allows you to write, then choose whether a post should be available to the public or just members. If you choose your members, a lovely designed email is sent out.
It doesn’t (yet) give you a lot of the tools a typical email service provides. You can’t create custom onboarding workflows for new subscribers. There are no options for tweaking the email design. You can’t even view the aggregate stats of a newsletter (you can only view the details of one member at a time).
But it does allow you to connect to a Stripe account, charge for your content, and distribute that content to your audience. And the entire experience of using the platform feels good, including the ethos of the company behind it.
I’ll be paying close attention to how this matures.
Why I'm not crazy for Notion
There's a lot of hype about Notion these days. Everyone seems to be using it, trying to figure out how to configure its complexity to be their second brain, or share their public roadmap, or a place to document what they read. It feels similar to when Slack started to get momentum.
I confess I'm struggling to enjoy the product.
We looked at using Notion in its early days, long before it was the rage. It didn't stick, but our team was keeping an eye on it. Now we use it for a few things at Wildbit, and I've tried to put a few different things of my own in there. But no matter what I try to do with it, I stick with my existing tools.
If that sounds crazy to you because Notion is clearly the way of the future, hear me out.
First, thing first — how does a tool feel to use? That's a critical part for me. And while I appreciate Notion's wiki features and power, good gosh, the way text is handled feels like stabbing yourself in the eye.
I just want some decent vertical rhythm to the text. Medium does this well. Ghost's editor is lovely. Grammarly too.
But Notion makes each line break its own module that can be turned into any kind of content. Unfortunately, these modules have no whitespace between them, meaning that if a page is a document full of text, each paragraph is all up in its neighbouring paragraph's business. Not cool!
Need that whitespace to let your text breath and your anxiety down? Me too. Unfortunately, if you had an extra line break, it's too much space. Small detail, for sure. But it feels yuck to me and that makes me want to write somewhere else.
You know what else Notion reminds me of? Evernote. Remember when everyone raved about Evernote and some people made their living helping others get the most out of the app? That's where we're at with Notion.
My big beef with Evernote was getting my content back out. It was always difficult to do and the results were a mess. I have the same concerns here. How long is Notion going to be around? If I put my whole life into it, can I get it back out easily?
The more time I spend digging into B-corp certification and measuring the impact of my activity and that of our team, the more I'm convicted to use local tools. If software is eating the world, cloud software is eating the universe. But every piece of Web-based tooling we use means multiple computers are involved (mine, plus however many servers/VMs are involved in my web apps).
As a member of team making web based products, I realize this may sound off. But I'm simply saying that this factor should be evaluated when considering adopting a new tool. Notion is one tool that offers what a collection of desktop tools already provide for me.
Meeting all the needs
On that note, I'm also skeptical of tools that try to be everything for everybody. Notion wants to be the Slack of the team productivity space, or the new Microsoft Office. Communication tool? It can be that. Task management? That too. Design reviews. Roadmaps. CRM. Calendars. Journals.
Notion wants to handle all these use cases. And it can!
But maybe it doesn't do them all really well. And when you try to do so many things, there are tradeoffs that perhaps make the whole experience less of a joy.
I could do all my writing in Notion. But it's nowhere near as enjoyable as using Ulysses. The same for Things, or Day One, or Fantastical.
Not everything is bad about the product. The leadership don't seem to want to grow just for the sake of growth, so their approach to funding is great. And it is a good way for team members to work together on certain initiatives.