Tag: Personal

My Note-Taking System with Craft

It’s rare to find a productivity app that does everything perfectly—no matter what kind of app. There will always be pros and cons to each. For example, I recently have been in the market for a notes app, and my journey involved 11 different apps and dozens of hours of seeing what worked best for me. I have finally found a system that allows me to write three issues of Clicked a week. So here is my workflow for capturing content, making notes on them, and using those notes to create original content for Clicked.

What I Need in My System

The first thing I did to find a notes app that works with me was figure out a system. I wanted a place to save links to read later, a place to save ideas and thoughts, and a way to make connections with the permanent notes I make.

Read Later

When it came to picking a place to save links for reading later, I decided to go with Pocket; it is a read later app I enjoy using, and it has never been an issue for me at any point. Instapaper and Matter are also good options, but Pocket has been my read later app of choice for years now, and I decided to stick with what I knew and focus on other things with this system. So any articles, media, or tweets I like, I send to Pocket either on my phone or my Mac. Thanks to the Share Sheet on iOS and Pocket’s web browser extensions, it’s super easy.

Anything I save in Pocket is not in my notes system, and for a good reason. Not everything I save deserves to be a permanent note in Craft. For me, notes are kept for only things written in my voice. I don’t want to copy and paste someone else’s words into my notes because it doesn’t allow me to comprehend the writing thoroughly.

Also, I only create notes when I feel they can be used for future ideas and projects. For example, a short article about a new Apple rumor will likely not make it into my notes system because it is an unfounded rumor and will be less relevant as time goes on. My goal when I create a new note is that it adds to my overall knowledge and insight into something rather than being just a timeline of things that happened.

Daily Note

I have also found a daily note to be critical to me. When I have a fleeting thought, task, or idea, I just put it in my daily note so that I have captured that thought in a trusted system to be later processed. Then, I try to process those ideas and fleeting notes made throughout the day to keep things organized and limit the backlog to a minimum.

Fleeting notes have proven to be the buffer I need between an idea and a full-fledged note. As David Allen, creator of the GTD system, says,

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.

David Allen

Making Connections

Finally, having everything in Craft allows me to make connections and link back to other notes or ideas as a way to have new ideas and things to write about possibly.

Thanks to backlinks, I can also see the links I have made to the note I am in. For instance, if I am looking at a note about podcasting, I can see all of the notes I have made linked to the podcasting note at the bottom. This allows me to see connections I might not have seen otherwise.

What I Learned

After trying numerous notes apps and tweaking my system, there are a few things that I have learned, and feel can be helpful for anyone getting started in content creation.

Just Pick a Notes App

I chose Craft as my notes app, but there are a ton of other options that I think can work for someone looking to make their own a system. Among the apps I tried, these are some of the ones I felt were great but not the best option for me.

If I am being honest, there are things that some of these apps do that are better than Craft; but as a whole, I chose Craft because it fits the most of my needs and wants in a notes app, and I let its shortcomings fall to the wayside. The same thing could be said about any of the note apps above because – like I said – there is no perfect app for storing and organizing notes.

Also, stick with your notes app because a note-taking app is only as valuable as what you put in it. If you don’t stick with a notes app for long and hop from one to another, you are losing the actual value of a notes app. The value isn’t the features or the bells and whistles it has; the important stuff is the content you bring to that app. That content and those connections you make with them are exponentially growing in importance every time you add to that notes system.

So once you pick an app, dedicate yourself to it for at least six months to a year. I put my money where my mouth was and paid for a year of Craft Pro. That $48 a year I spent locked me into this app because I invested my hard-earned money, and I want to get my money’s worth out of it.

Final Tips and Further Research

I hope this has helped you understand how I work on Clicked, and more importantly, I hope it has helped you know what a note-taking system can be.

If you want to learn more about the features a notes app has or compare different apps to choose what is best for you; I highly recommend going to NoteApps.info; it is a beautiful site to use to find and compare features in a notes app.

If you want to learn more about Craft you can read my article Why Craft is the Note Taking King.

Until then, I will see you Wednesday, June 8th, with links from the past week I found to be interesting, entertaining, weird, or all of the above.

I don’t have it in me today

I don’t have it in me.

Yesterday morning I woke up with an eagerness to write something for my newsletter. I was off last week, and I wanted to hit the ground running with this week’s issue to make up for it.

Even while I was at work, I would take my spare time to write ideas and outlines down in my Field Notes journal.

Then in the late afternoon, breaking news comes in from a town in Texas called Uvalde. It was another angry white man with a gun killing people. The 19th one in ten days. 19 children and 2 adults were slaughtered yesterday.

For the majority of you, you don’t know why this shooting is too close to home for me. The reason is that my wife, the woman I have been with for over a third of my life, is a middle school teacher. Every year she talks about the shooter drills she has to endure and the simulated sounds they make to “make it more realistic.” Every time a school shooting comes up in the news I become afraid for my wife and her workplace. I am exhausted from hearing about this and angry that nothing is done to try and change things for the better.

I don’t have it in me to write up a long piece about something that interested me today. I just don’t. I am going to put some links to things I had saved this past week and call it a night.

I understand how my writing about this can be construed as making this tragedy about me. Trust me, I understand that criticism, but I am also not interested in ignoring this news as if nothing happened.

The parents of these children are getting their DNA literally swabbed to help identify the victims. I am disgusted, I am devastated, but most of all I am tired of watching this madness happen again and again.

Maybe next week I can talk about something fun or weird online, but today I can’t.

I implore you to contact your congresspeople (write and call) today and demand changes are made.

What it Means to be a Creator

On May 9th Jason Kottke announced he would be taking a sabbatical after over 24 years of blogging. He started his blog in 1998 and has been regularly posting and sharing links to intriguing things online ever since.

In fact, Kottke was one of the reasons I decided to give this newsletter a go. I felt that I, like Kottke, liked to dive into rabbit holes and make connections along the way. I also enjoyed allowing the internet to regularly take me to new and fascinating places.

In my view, Kottke is a pioneer in blogging, and I will miss him as he takes time for himself.

Why is he taking a sabbatical? I think I will let his words speak for themselves.

I’m burrrrned out. I have been for a few years now. I’ve been trying to power through it, but if you’ve read anything about burnout, you know that approach doesn’t work.

I support a lot of individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them produce content at a furious pace to keep up their momentum, only to burn out and quit doing the projects that I, and loads of other people, loved. With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.

Kottke brings up a point that I have dealt with repeatedly as a creator: consistency.

I have tried writing when I felt like it, only to go months without posting because I deemed what I was writing wasn’t “good enough.” I have written on a schedule of two or more newsletters a week only to quickly burn out and feel like my writing was a chore and not worth my time.

I currently write this newsletter once a week. Full disclosure I am writing this in my pajamas at 11 p.m. the night before I need to post this. I have allowed this writing to sit in my head without taking action for two days now, and I am terrified this will be some of the shittiest writing I have ever written.

But guess what, I have to send this out Wednesday at 9 a.m. before I leave for work. I promised a weekly newsletter to you all, and by golly, I will give you a newsletter.

With the thought of burning out and being a creator comes the “cost” of creation.

In the superb piece The Cost of Creation, Shaun Gold, writer of Youtopian Journey, talks about what you must pay to be a creator.

There is a cost of creation and that cost is far too high for the multitude to pay.

And what is this cost?

It is the agreement with yourself to constantly create, to dedicate yourself to becoming a manufacturer of your mind. Yet this factory of facts that you have setup within your head does not have a union. It does not have off hours or holidays. It does not have benefits. It has only you, the foreman, the CEO, the president, the creator.

This piece by Gold had me go down a rabbit hole about Charles Bukowski, and I learned a lot about him, but I think two things sum up my takeaways from him.

The first is a video from the Pursuit of Wonder YouTube channel, which gives a biography about Bukowski and some astute speculation about why his tombstone reads “DON’T TRY.”

With no real sight of success or money or fame – or even just creating a living from writing – Bukowski continued to write nearly every day before work for years of course we know how Bukowski’s story ended. He’s being spoken about right now as a writer; a renowned, successful, and important enough one to be spoken about with significance decades after his passing. To be considered one of the greats of all time…Only after a long-continued attempt at writing did Bukowski’s work finally become noticed and appreciated by an audience…Arguably, perhaps, this is where the most important idea can be found, not in just Bukoski’s work but in his life.

The second is a quote from another video I stumbled upon where KCET features Bukowski. He performs readings of his work in it, and in between each reading is a short interaction Bukowski had as the camera crew followed him around for a day.

One thing that stuck with me in this video was when he was discussing his poetry and how with poetry, the realities are never explained, and then he said this:

The reason I kept writing was not because I was so good but because they were so damn bad.

– Charles Bukowski

That quote reminds me of another great creator, Ira Glass from NPR. In a short piece called The Gap, Glass explains how when you start, what you make isn’t what you thought it would be, and you know that because you know what is good.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

The thing I would say to you with all my heart is most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have this special thing we wanted it to have. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.

– Ira Glass

Whether it’s writing, making videos, painting, or sculpting, creating will take some time to learn and even more time to perfect. If you want to create, especially if you’re going to do so regularly, you must have an inextinguishable need to do so. If you don’t have that, you’re screwed. The temptations from TikTok, Netflix, that book on your nightstand, or the latest podcast you downloaded will envelop you like a net in the ocean catching a school of Mackerel.

If you do have that flame under you pushing you to create, you must make that thing you have wanted to make. Whether or not it is good isn’t in the equation, and neither is how many people will see it. Creating is for you, and you deserve to have that waterfall of dopamine after finishing what you set out to do.

So make the damn thing.

Why I’m not Leaving Twitter

Twitter has always been my social media platform of choice. The atmosphere was fun, making me instantly fall in love with it. In addition, I was able to find other weirdos like me to talk about Apple products, Batman and have open conversations with them. Over time, with my newfound group of online friends, I felt obligated to stay. It was my internet home, after all.

After billionaire Elon Musk buys Twitter for $44 billion, more and more discourse about “free speech” continues to bleed into everyone’s walled gardens. Some have even begun talks about leaving Twitter altogether. This is a mistake, in my opinion.

I am not here to say that Elon Musk will be good or bad for the company; that is yet to be determined – if the deal ever goes through – what I am saying is that Musk’s recent tweets and statements are alarming many.

Furthermore, Twitter employees have raised their concerns in a recent all-hands meeting. Casey Newton wrote about the meeting and shared several items discussed between Twitter employees and Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal. One thing I think is indicative of what Twitter’s leadership wants from this deal is Agrawal’s final statements in the meeting:

Agrawal concluded by asking employees to “embrace change.”

“Let’s embrace change. Let’s embrace uncertainty,” he said. “If we see this as an opportunity, it will manifest as an opportunity. If we see this as doom and gloom, it will manifest as doom and gloom.”

As of now, it seems not many people have left the platform, and some say most will stay on the platform even after Musk takes control. The reason for this is, as Jeremy W. Peters says in his New York Times piece, is Twitter is too big to cancel.

The way both ends of the partisan spectrum are perceiving the Musk deal probably oversimplifies the reality of what his leadership would do to the platform — not to mention how it could be a folly to predict the whims of an eccentric billionaire whose political views are rife with inconsistencies.

I can’t help but agree with this sentiment. Leaving after just an announcement of Elon taking over, Twitter is putting the cart well in front of the horse. Of course, the other side of that coin is true for those who were encouraged to join after the announcement.

It’s nearly impossible to tell what Musk and the rest of Twitter’s leadership will do in the next six months after the deal is done. Hell, it is impossible to know what Twitter or Elon will do tomorrow.

Content Moderation is not Censorship

After talks about buying Twitter began, Musk tweeted this in hopes it would explain his stance on “free speech,” when in reality, it poured gasoline onto the proverbial fire.

I feel that Eric Newcomer explained things much better in his piece, Why Are Reporters So Opposed to “Free Speech”?.

Newcomer continues in his piece where he delves into the heart of his question and explains how reporters and journalists have disdain for Musk’s version of “free speech.”

Newsrooms debate passionately about what stories deserve the highest billing on their homepage. But social media companies have just been distributing whatever superficially appeals to readers. The idea that social media sites take so little responsibility for the quality of content that’s being pushed to millions or billions of people is endlessly frustrating to journalists who spend far more time worrying about what they publish to their much smaller audiences.

I spend hours every week curating, researching, writing, editing, and fact-checking this newsletter I send once a week. I take it seriously because it is crucial that I get things right and have the knowledge and sources to back up my claims and takes.

When I stated that I hope Twitter keeps moderation on the platform, I didn’t mean that they should block and report anyone with differing opinions. On the contrary, nuance and discussions from different perspectives are essential – healthy even. What isn’t healthy are situations like misgendering someone just for the sake of hurting them, hateful comments against women a la Gamergate, antisemitic remarks, and pro-KKK positions – all of which are legal in the United States. It is one thing to have a meaningful discussion about something respectfully; it is another thing to have a superiority complex over someone because of their gender, race, or religion.

With that in mind, you’re damn right I don’t want Twitter to be filled with “legal” content that includes fascist propaganda for Nazis, the KKK, trans hate, and other awful but lawful content.

I am staying on Twitter because I don’t think the platform is doomed because of Musk. That remains to be seen. I am staying here because this is my home online, and I will continue to treat it as such.

I am sure there will be more and more skepticism regarding this Twitter deal as things progress, but I feel that this will be my last piece directly about this Musk and Twitter deal, that is until something is put into motion.

Substack, The New York Times, and Nuance

While everyone has been up in arms about Elon Musk and the Twitter takeover, I wanted to talk about something else from this past week.

I have been reading up on a new tiff between Substack and The New York Times that I feel essentially is a tit for tat shouting match. However, this quarrel has made me think about nuance, publications, and whether I am part of the problem or not.

The Article

Tiffany Hsu, a writer for The New York Times, wrote an article that many called a “hit piece,” claiming Substack is dealing with “growing pains” in gaining new streams of revenue and an “exodus” of writers leaving amid controversies. By recruiting writers from major publications, expressing a primarily hands-off approach to content moderation, and expanding to the podcasting space, Substack has made waves. Yet, I don’t think this is inherently a Substack problem.

Hsu, who has written for the LA Times, wrote a piece about Substack portrayed as objective reporting while peppering in many subjective things. For one thing, Hsu alluded to Substack allowing for transphobic and COVID misinformation to be a part of the success of Substack.

Critics say the platform recruits (and therefore endorses) culture war provocateurs and is a hotbed for hate speech and misinformation. Last year, many writers abandoned Substack over its inaction on transphobic content. This year, The Center for Countering Digital Hate said anti-vaccine newsletters on Substack generate at least $2.5 million in annual revenue. The technology writer Charlie Warzel, who left a job at The New York Times to write a Substack newsletter, described the platform as a place for “internecine internet beefs.”

While I agree that controversy gets clicks on Substack, I think Hsu misses the mark here. This story is less about Substack and more about nuance in media. Substack isn’t the only publishing platform that allows for hateful and hurtful rhetoric on their platform. Just visit any Facebook group that unironically uses a Gadsden flag as their profile pic.

In fact, Lulu Cheng Meservey, Vice-President of Communications (VP Comms) at Substack, shared a Twitter thread that I felt gave a fair and honest retort to Hsu’s piece. I also feel like the examples given are worth looking at here.

I don’t think that Hsu wrote a fair assessment of Substack, nor did she fairly represent the direct competition The New York Times has with it. I think she erred on the side of The Times rather than offer a fair balance between the two.

Moderating content is complex; that isn’t something anyone can argue. I don’t envy anyone who creates a publishing platform on the internet today. The responsibilities, politics, and more would make me permanently disassociate from reality.

I am not here to say that all content should be allowed online. There are obvious things you should not allow on your platform, but it is a lot less than what some may want to see. Of course, not everyone will agree with me on that belief, and you know what: that’s okay.

It is okay to be offended.

I don’t enjoy seeing pieces written on Substack that bring COVID misinformation, transphobic rhetoric, or hate of any kind (except hatred towards nazis, because duh). I am not that kind of person, and I try to show that publicly and privately. I am not perfect, though. I occasionally need to be explained things when I don’t understand them fully. I have also found myself asking people who are more attune to the LGBT+ community if I am being insensitive. Again, I try my best, but that isn’t always good enough without guidance from friends and family.

As a cis white male, I feel it is my responsibility to educate other cis people and share my experiences in hopes that I can dissuade anyone from choosing malice over acceptance. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that someone who disagrees with my political, social, and economic beliefs has the same right as me to express their beliefs. My only caveat is that they do so in a civil, respectful way.

Civil discourse is something I believe is healthy and helpful for both sides. There are many things happening in the world that I disagree with, and I know there is an entire side of the aisle that hates how I feel about things. Someone with differing views from mine could say the same. The problem is that it is effortless for us to isolate ourselves from the challenging articles and rhetoric and only consume the things that align with our points of view. It is also hard to have anything civil nowadays as things have become significantly more partisan and divided.

Now, I am not saying that every liberal person needs to watch Fox News every day or that conservatives should be watching MSNBC. However, finding and reading content that doesn’t align with your views isn’t a bad thing, and I believe it’s now being viewed as such.

I am not saying that “cancel culture” is wrong; there is a time and a place for the pitchforks and torches to come out. There are many people from the Me Too movement that I felt deserved to have their lives turned upside down. They were monsters who did monstrous things. But that shouldn’t be the status quo.

Am I Part of the Problem?

As someone that does not individually condone hate speech of any kind, it does affect me to see posts on other Substacks with that kind of speech. I don’t stand for it, I don’t condone it, and I certainly don’t want to read it.

When I am on a platform that anyone can join, I have to acknowledge that there will be people that present their side of the argument here.

Let me be clear; Substack profits from sensationalized, fake news, and hateful speech. I am sure you have seen a headline or two on a Substack that made you cringe. It’s almost a given that you will find the latest sensational and over-the-top conservative opinion piece from a Substack. It is one of the few places they have left after the mass banning on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. But, Substack also makes money from good journalism, reporting like no other, voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, and creators making money from their hard work independently.

Does having a Substack automatically endorse the sleaze bags on Substack? This has been a struggle I have dealt with as I continue researching more and more about this issue. There have been things I’ve read on Substack that made me wince with discouragement and disbelief. I won’t be sharing the articles here, but you can probably find them if you look for yourself; there are plenty to choose from.

So am I endorsing this profiting by being on Substack? My answer is no.

I can still be a creator here without endorsing that kind of content. I will continue to assess Substack and where they stand, and I will still support writers on the platform. I can’t entirely agree with every user on this platform, but that is the same on all social media. Once enough people start sharing their beliefs and values on a platform, it is an inherent problem.

I have since moved to Ghost, but now because of Substack’s politics or views on free speech. I move to Ghost because I felt that blogging was something more my speed and I wanted a god-honest blog rather than something hybrid like what Substack gives you.

I love the newsletter format, and I want to continue with it, which is why you can subscribe to the newsletter version of Clicked and get all of the articles I write in the week, plus extra goodies like links to stories and websites I didn’t feature, and good Tweets.

For now, I acknowledge that those who have left have valid reasons for leaving, but it is also not the only option you have to show Substack that you aren’t pleased with their actions/inactions. Being critical of a platform whilst still on it isn’t hypocritical, it is necessary to keep checks and balances.

The Attention Economy and this Newsletter

I have a Bachelor’s degree in communication. Specifically, I majored in broadcasting. I have been doing production in television in some capacity since I was a junior in high school. I love my job, but I don’t always enjoy how the news is entangled with the Attention Economy.

I feel the same way about this newsletter. I have this need to share cool things I find online and semi-regularly write original essays about things I am passionate about. I always worry whether what I have to say is worth your time. I often battle with my negative thoughts to justify hitting publish with each newsletter, blog post, or podcast I create. I don’t want to be yet another lousy website writing about something in the news in hopes I can get a fraction of the traffic on my site. As a creator online, I am part of the Attention Economy, but I think this newsletter and the format I write will help thwart any bad things I fear when hitting publish.

To explain the Attention Economy, I defer to Michael Ashley, who wrote a piece about it in Forbes back in 2019.

“Facebook is free and always will be,” was Facebook’s slogan. Yet in recent years, books like Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and movies such as The Great Hack have shown this slogan’s hollowness. The internet is pay-for-play and always has been. Or as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says: “On Facebook, we’re not the customers. We are the product.”

But it’s not just Facebook commoditizing the web; it’s most every site you visit, whether it be Instagram, Amazon, or Google. Also, the public isn’t just the product, we’re customers, too. We’re all participating in a cleverly orchestrated, capitalistic symphony, shrink-wrapped in the feel-good rhetoric of something called “The Attention Economy.”

Substack recently showcased a piece by Kate Lindsay, writer of Embedded, that struck a chord with me as I thought about the Attention Economy and my place in it.

At my first writing job, I wrote seven stories a day, sometimes waking up as early as 6 a.m. to fit it all in. By the time I’d worked at a few different publications, I could tell when an article was actually an SEO grab masquerading as a legitimate piece of writing, or a piece of clickbait meant to make people mad, and I wasn’t interested in feeding the machine with my own reading habits.

While I’d like to think this particular era of digital media is on its way out, you still see shades of it when the latest viral moment prompts every outlet to scramble for its own unique take. So many websites are writing the same thing. This can be helpful: When Yellowjackets was airing, I was so deep in the show and its fan theories that I read every perspective I could find in hopes of getting all the crumbs. But this strategy doesn’t work universally. For instance, I similarly consumed Covid-19 content in the first year of the pandemic, but I realized that this wasn’t actually reading—it was anxiety-spiraling.

All this is to say, I’m somewhat precious with what I consume, and definitely read a lot less than perhaps you’d think for someone who calls themselves “chronically online.” I like pieces that work to clarify a moment with reason rather than drum up anxiety for clicks, and I have a natural aversion to reading whatever piece has my Twitter timeline in an uproar—because it was probably designed to do just that.

To further add to this, I present Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

I hate being made into a product just as much as the next person, and I often think about this as a creator myself. The last thing I want is to churn out content for the sake of content. You are not a commodity or asset I want to exploit for internet fame or money.

Aside from creating something worth your time, I promise that I won’t be using gimmicks like SEO marketing, clickbait titles, or writing about something just because I want it to gain attention and grow my audience.

I will be writing about things that follow the following criteria:

  • It is something that I feel confident in talking about
  • The content I make adds value to you, the reader
  • It either provides depth, or a new perspective, to an established topic or story

I hope to use this list as my North Star guiding me to write about things that provide value to you and provide a meaningful dialogue to the topics themselves.

My hope in every issue of Clicked I send is that you walk away having learned something or gained a new perspective that you didn’t otherwise consider. Those two things can come from an original piece I write or something I link to in the newsletter itself.

Bottom line, I don’t want to waste your time, and I hope that becomes apparent in every issue and post of Clicked going forward.

Why I Don’t Use Just One Wrench

Adam Savage, the famed MythBuster, has now been on YouTube for several years making things and sharing things others make. He has a whole collection of Hellboy builds where he makes the Samaritan, the sword from a Hellboy comic book cover, and more. It’s not just comic books though, he also shares how to build  simple things like a box. I find it very enjoyable to watch. In fact, I have it on constantly.

I am not someone that makes things like Adam, but I do run his videos in the background as I write, edit podcasts (the volume from the video is off), or just when I am in need of a break. What Adam taught me though, wasn’t how to build something, it was that you can have variants of the same tool for different purposes.

I was watching a video where he made a “tiny thwacker” while literally using a similar tool to make this hammer. I don’t use hammers though; my “hammers” are note-taking and writing tools.

Throughout the time I have been writing for Tablet Habit, I have been searching for the “perfect notes app.” I wanted an all-in-one solution that captures, organizes, and edits perfectly to what my brain wants. I have been using everything you can possibly imagine. I have tried Apple Notes, Craft, Notion, Obsidian, and even Evernote to name a few.

All of these apps and services have their benefits and flaws, and I am yet to find the notes app that works “perfectly” for me. Now, I have come to the realization that this search is not only never-ending but it is also inherently flawed. There is no “perfect notes app”, much like there is no perfect anything in this world. You need multiple tools to get the job done, and you might also need multiple apps to store and save your thoughts, ideas, and journal entries.

In the latest episode of A Slab of Glass I interviewed James Eaton, someone I have spoken to online quite a bit over the years. He had some fantastic insight, which I will share on the next Premium issue of Tablet Habit. However, I will share one of the things I learned. It’s that you shouldn’t make a tool something it’s not. James said it best when he talked about how he started using the note-taking app Craft.

I basically let go of any other structure that I had. Because I am always bringing a structure from an old thing in. ‘I used to it this this way. Well how do I Evernote in Craft? How do I do Notion in Craft?’ I kind of just said ‘How do I do use Craft? What would it look like if I didn’t have all of this?

If you pay attention to the workshop he is working in you will see dozens of saws, pliers, and drill bits. They are all slightly different, but they all have a purpose.

If we think of this for software, you can use Apple Notes for a particular set of work, Notion for another, and Obsidian for something else. However, this isn’t permission to just throw your notes anywhere you feel like, it still needs a system in place otherwise it won’t work.

This tool metaphor goes both ways, because I have seen workshops that have no semblance of order or organization. This doesn’t mean that your workshop (notes app) is helpless, but it definitely needs some TLC. Assess what you have to work with and go from there.

Taking this insight from James Eaton and Adam Savage has helped me put my search for a “perfect notes app” to rest. I don’t know why it took me nearly 30 years on this planet to come to this conclusion, but I’m glad I reached this point at all.

As for what system I am using now, that is still a work-in-progress.

Look at the Engine, not the Color of the Car

I wanted to write to you about note taking apps, I had a whole plan to go over the different apps and what issues I had with them. I thought is was going to be a great post to share with you all. By the time I got it halfway written though I realized that the common denominator wasn’t a missing feature lack of Markdown support or the inability to export notes properly. No, the problem with me not finding a good note taking app was me.

Maybe this has happened to you too. You search for a great note taking app–or task manager, etc.–where there’s so much saturation in the app market that you basically have infinite choices. So, you start downloading the usual suspects. For notes it’s usually Bear, Evernote, Apple Notes, OneNote, Agenda, GoodNotes, Notability, and I am sure there are some that I missed but that’s my whole point. You download a boat load of apps in the hopes that you find one that instantly “clicks” with you.

As someone that has used all of the apps listed above, I still went ahead and downloaded them all again to try them out in hopes that I will magically love an app I previously didn’t.

I went ahead and fired them all up and within the first few minutes using them I remembered why these apps “weren’t a good fit for me.” It was like I was looking for a used car, nit-picking every small ding and scratch having higher expectations than what reality can afford me. One by one I gave it a thumbs down a la Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator.

I was left without a note taking app once again. Naturally, I was frustrated that there wasn’t an app developer that thought just like me about notes. That was when I realized that I truly didn’t know what I wanted in regards to note taking. I don’t have a trusted system in place to save my notes, I don’t have a strong philosophy about what is or isn’t good note taking hygiene. Frankly, I only thought about the note taking app and not the system. To continue the used car metaphor, I only cared about the color of the car, not the engine.

The best advice I have gotten regarding how to find a trusted system is to start with as minimal as you can until you start hitting walls. Once that happens start looking for more robust solutions. With that in mind, I will be using the Apple Notes app for now in hopes that it will give me an idea of how I want my note taking system to be, and if I decide to go elsewhere I can do so without much friction. Bear, Evernote, and a slew of other apps that are candidates for me have tools to import Apple Notes in without issue.

I don’t have a timeline set for myself for when I will have my system in place, but I hope with this approach whatever I decide will stick more than what I have been doing previously.

If you are in the same boat as I was, searching for the perfect app that meets your needs, maybe stop looking at the color of the car and start looking at the engine. Lift up the hood and really figure out is it is the app that is the problem or your system.


One thing I didn’t mention in this article was email apps, and for good reason. Shawn Blanc and The Sweet Setup have created an awesome course on handling your inboxes. It’s called Calm Inbox.

Email is a primary example in the course but I took what was taught in that course and have been using it for all of my inboxes. Things like email, RSS feeds, News, and more have all been maintained since I got an early preview of the course. If you are interested, I highly recommend checking out Calm Inbox and see if it is a match for you.

Going Offline Has Made Me Better

Lately I have found myself gravitating to tools that don’t offer any kind of internet access whatsoever. As some say, I have been using items “off the grid.”

Before I get into the what let me get into the why. As someone that has managed to write on a MacBook, iPad, iPhone, and other devices with access to the web, I have found it to be consistently distracting. When I have a thought to look something up, or check on an app’s features, I stop the writing flow before it even starts. Also, my task manager has become a bucket filled with things I want or need to do but no semblance of organization. Sure I have shortcuts to add items to Things 3, but I am not making it a priority to use that app to help me get things done. I am not opening it much, nor am I organizing the thoughts and tasks in there. I am effectively filing things away and never looking at them again until it has either been finished or hasn’t been done at all.

So, to fix this I decided to use a Bullet Journal and an AlphaSmart Neo 2.

Bullet Journal

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been without a task management system. After listening to the latest episode of Focused all about the Bullet Journal, I thought it might be worth a shot. I grabbed an old notebook I had in my office and started to set up a new BuJo. After starting out using this notebook I noticed the “intentional friction” with this system and it was something I hadn’t had in my other task managers. I would have hundreds of tasks in my digital task managers over time, clogging up the system and making it nearly impossible to decide what is important to work on and what isn’t. I was paralyzed by the amount of choices I had. With Bullet Journal you can add as many tasks as you want, but there is no copy and paste, no automation, and no services connected to the Bullet Journal adding things to my to do list automatically. If there was a task or an idea I had, the only way to get it in this system is with good ol’ old-fashioned pen and paper.

Here’s a quote from the book The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal, that clicked with me:

In 2016 the average American spent nearly eleven hours in front of digital screens each day. Factoring in six to eight hours of sleep (which is also compromised by our smart phones), we’re left with around six hours of non-screen time per day. Now consider the time you spend commuting, cooking, and running errands, and you can see where this is headed: We’re steadily decreasing the amount of time we have to stop and think.

Doing some quick math I average about an hour of free time that doesn’t have screen time in it. My commute is another 2 hours, but I don’t count that because I don’t have a choice in that matter. But my work a free time is almost entirely comprised of screen time, taking up my mental storage and “mental RAM” almost entirely.

As someone that has a full time job watching local TV programming and directing the local nightly news, I am inundated with screen time. It has gotten to the point now where I need to have the anti-blue lens on my prescription glasses to slow the deterioration to my eyes. Reading that quote made me really consider the time I spend in front of a screen, and has made me double down on using a Bullet Journal just to give my mind and my eyes a break.

One thing that I really enjoy about Ryder is that he isn’t just here to tell you how to use the system, but to also share with you insights and information about productivity and task management in general. Honestly, even if you aren’t interested in Bullet Journaling his book can still be of value to people interested in this kind of stuff.

Making pen and paper my main task manager has also allowed me to think beyond the things I need to get done and make decisions about the things I am doing. I am critically thinking about whether or not something on my task list deserves my time and attention or if it is something that I should just remove from my life entirely.

I plan to share more as I continue to use the Bullet Journal methodology and if I find any cool tips or tricks with it I will pass it along.

For those of you that aren’t interested in using a physical journal but are interested in this system, I suggest checking out the app NotePlan. It is a fantastic digital Bullet Journaling app. I have been on the beta for version 3 and it has some very cool features BuJo enthusiasts will enjoy. I don’t want to speak on the new version just yet, but once it is released to the public expect a full review of it here on Tablet Habit.

The AlphaSmart Neo 2

Along with the Bullet Journal, I have been writing with a product that was made in 2013 and has nothing but small LCD screen, and a standard keyboard. The AlphaSmart Neo 2 is a word processor that was meant to be used for typing classes in schools created by former Apple employees. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Hackett’s video on the Neo 2, it is a fantastic introduction to the product that I can’t compete with. For me, this product is basically a digital typewriter. In fact, the reason I bought this product (again) was because I was seriously considering buying an actual typewriter but quickly decided against it once I looked at the price of one in good working condition online. To add to that, there is no ink or maintenance needed to make sure this machine is working properly, where a typewriter can be expensive to continue to use over time.

I have written the last several newsletters, including this one, with the Neo 2 because I have found that the iPad, even when in Do Not Disturb mode, I can’t focus. I catch myself looking online for information, checking RSS and Twitter feeds for the latest news, and other things that isn’t writing frequently. It took me over an hour to write a first draft for my newsletter before the Neo 2 because I couldn’t focus on the task at hand. There were too many possibilities and open trails to be explored. No matter how much I tried, when it came to putting my head down and writing, the iPad always seemed to offer other things for me to do.

Before you write in, yes I am aware of Airplane Mode, but even when I would turn it on I would simply disable it to quickly look something up and that would begin my descent into a rabbit hole.

With the Neo 2 those things that I would waste time on the iPad with aren’t available. There is no internet, no videos, no podcasts, and nothing else I can focus on. There is simply a keyboard with a blinking line awaiting for my writing to appear.

I used to see that blank page as something daunting, frightening even, but now with the Neo 2 I know that there is nothing I can do except fill that void with my words. I am much more excited to write with the Neo 2 than I have been on the iPad lately. It seems less of chore and more of an experience. This could be because it is a new thing for me to use, but I also consider the fact that when I wrote on the iPad it took significantly more time.

This may be a simple keyboard with a cheap screen but it allows me to turn off the distraction in my brain and just write what is in my head. The words pour out of me as opposed to the light trickle it was when I was writing on a device that had access to the entire world in just a few clicks.

Conclusion

I plan to still write about the iPad, don’t get me wrong. That being said, I think that the way I will be writing about it won’t be on an iPad initially but instead will be on this “digital typewriter” for the time being.

As for the Bullet Journal, I plan to finish reading The Bullet Journal Method and write a review of it. I also will be sharing some of the things I am doing to make the BuJo experience more catered to me, including digital tools I have used.

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