When it comes to my pen & paper tools, I came to appreciate a blank canvas over the years. My preference is for a nice grid paper that lets me sketch out a layout that works for me. I’ve shared a few of these over the years.
So when it comes time to get a new notebook, the Confidant from Baron Fig is usually my choice. I love the build quality and overall design of these notebooks. However, I have a slew of lesser quality notebooks, and I was determined at the start of the year to make use of them. I lasted one quarter.
I simply wasn’t using my notebook often, primarily due to the paper. If it doesn’t feel good to write on it, I tend not to use it. So when the team at Baron Fig announce the [Do Journal], it caught my attention because I wasn’t enjoying what I was using.
Now, while I love the mainstay items from Baron Fig, they put out a lot of stuff that doesn’t interest. [Quirky designs], [notebooks with blank pages], [fat tipped pens], [dream journals] — those don’t appeal to me. And while I have preferred blank notebooks, the design of the Do Journal looked so good I had to give it a try.
What stood out right away is the design. But that’s true for a lot of their options that don’t appear to me — all their themed notebooks look good. The typography is great, and the layout is aesthetically pleasing. But that would not be enough on its own.
What works for me — or at least I think it will — is the structure of this journal already matches what my notebook usage. I have annual high-level goals. I break those down into smaller chunks each quarter, then I pick and choose various pieces to focus on each given week.
What’s not great about this notebook? For one, it only covers one quarter at a time. Each book has one quarterly page, 14 weekly pages, and 70 daily pages. There are some other items, including a section blank pages (just like their annual planner notebook), but the time-based pages are the crux of this design. 14 weeks covers a quarter, but 70 days does not.
The obvious answer is that the spread is focused on weekdays (14 x 5 = 70). But I would prefer to have one daily spread for Saturdays and Sundays.
The post resonated with me because I’m the kind of person who needs constant reminders of God’s love and affection for his children. I’m the kind of Christian who finds it far too easy to envision God as a stern heavenly father who is constantly correcting his flock (guess what my parenting style is like as well), rather than the sacrificial provider and nurturer that he truly is.
Ortlund does a great job of reminding us that the love of God is so much higher than what we picture on our own. More so, the conversation discusses how Christ likes us as well as loves us.
I have trouble believing both that he loves me and likes me. But I think you're right, Matt, that we do tend to not think, talk, preach, write much—or as much—about his liking us. By “liking us” I don't mean kind of indiscriminate approval of everything we do, but love communicates that he is bound to us, he's committed to us even to the point of having laid down his life for us. Liking us communicates desire, longing, affection, a desire to be in the presence of. And that's what is really hard to retain a strong sense of as we go through life and do what you just said: you go through life piling up sins and is he still attracted to me? Does he still want to be with me? And so I do think very much that we need to understand he wants us. He actually has a desire for us as sinners. He's drawn to his people. He's the friend of sinners and all the pathos that includes.
What a great reminder. This article was a blessing to me!
The Roam cult
Well, that escalated quickly. I went from disinterested when I first heard about Roam from Drew Coffman, to mildly curious when I saw a lot of chatter about it, to pretty sold on the idea. I’ve been using it consistently for a little over two weeks and I can see it’s likely a better tool for creating a Zettelkasten than any other product I've explored.
But one aspect that has caught my attention is the community using the tool. It reminds me a little of the hype of Slack in its early days, or more recently, the hype surrounding Notion and Superhuman. The latter is likely the best example for one reason: it was designed targeted at a specific audience.
Superhuman is intended for one main purpose: making it easy for executives to get through their email quickly. Does that mean someone like myself can't benefit? No, I'm sure its a great email client. But dealing with email isn't a big problem for me, so I don't fit the ideal user profile.
Roam is a little like that. On the surface, it's a note taking tool that anyone could use in that capacity. But if you were looking for a similar alternative to Evernote or Bear or even Apple Notes, you might give Roam a quick look and think it's a little odd. Maybe even lacking in some ways. But that would be missing the true purpose of this tool.
Anyway, I wasn't intending to write about the app itself. Instead, it's the community that caught my attention. It's comprised of people from across a wide range of professions, but who all understand the value of connecting related thoughts. And they're quick to help you get using the tools, even quicker to publicly sing its praises. There are all kinds of videos and community sites helping you make sense of how to benefit from what this product offers.
I'm currently working my way thought Nat Eliason's Effortless Output with Roam course. That one makes the most sense, for that is exactly what Adler's syntopical reading and Luhman's Zettelkasten method are all about: output.
It's easy to get caught in the trap of tooling. Roam is different — it has functionality you can dig into, but it's work to do so. The easiest thing is to just start writing, and the value builds over time.
That's where I'm at currently. I use the Daily Notes to track my activity all day (something I did previously in Day One … and I export each day to ensure I have my notes if I decide to walk away from Roam), but have truly not jumped into it all the way.
I've referred to Drew Coffman a lot recently. That's partly because we share similar interests, but it's also due to his use of Roam (he's writing a lot more). Anyway, he talks about Apple's iPad Pro Magic Keyboard in this post.
Well, he refers to it, but spends most of his time talking about the original Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro.
The original Smart Keyboard was not a folio case like what we have today, instead it covered only the front of the screen and hid the keyboard away behind a fold. This fold was, weirdly, amazing. You would open up the keyboard with a flourish of the hand, popping the keyboard out and creating a little triangle tent on which the iPad would then stand firm, like a column on its pedestal.
And the best aspect of this tool?
I have nothing but the fondest memories for that keyboard. What I loved about it was the way in which any context felt possible. Did I want to write? I could write from anywhere! The couch, a desk, a coffee shop, an outdoor patio! Did I want to read? I could pull the iPad off the keyboard and, with a Pencil in my hand, take notes with ease! Did I want to lay in bed and watch YouTube? Sure, I could do that too! The original Smart Keyboard made changing contexts effortless. I never found myself worrying about whether or not I should change it up, I just did it.
This — and all the other articles about this recently — has caught my attention because I've just ventured back into the iPad realm after 5 or so years away from it.
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.
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.