The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

How much screen time?

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.

Give yourself some slack in all of these areas.


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 addressed often already. 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.

Tot looks good up in the menubar

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.


Running a membership business

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.

Content permanance

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?

Environmental impact

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.

The good

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.

But I'm not jumping on this bandwagon just yet.