The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

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.


Where do I look for help?

It’s taken a lot of years to improve on this, but I’m finally learning to turn to God as a first option more frequently. So often, when there is some kind of problem in my life, I would react and attempt to use my skills and resources to solve it. Some times this is enough; many times it is not.

God has helped me change my thinking over the past couple of years. And truth be told, the more common scenario is not dealing with an actual problem, but the potential for a problem (for when something goes wrong, we usually have to do something). Anxiety is the true problem here — my fear of what might happen down the road.

This is a problem God promises to help with. Our job is to trust and believe.

There are several verses that bring this home to me. I came across a newer one in Isaiah (newer to me) in a recent morning devotional time.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Returning can also mean repentance here, but rest? Quietness? Trust? When I’m fearful, those can be hard attitudes to adopt. But later in this morning reading, I was in Psalm 31 and struck by how good David was at having this kind of mindset.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!

The next day I was in Isaiah again, and again this emphasis:

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (Isaiah 32:17-18, ESV)

This reminded me of a verse I had memorized last year. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah, amidst his crying out (it’s a lament after all), gives this amazing expression of praise

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

There is so much emphasis in Scripture in this trust and confidence. I want more of this in my life. I long for quiet resting places, for my soul is often weary.

Thank God for making it possible for us to enter into his rest!