31 May 2020 Weeknote

Habits, as I’ve learned over the past few months, are a good thing. They’re also something I resisted like the plague in the past owing to a misplaced idea that creativity and all things good came out of spontaneity not repetition.

I’m not sure I even believed that myself at the time, so it’s good to get it out there and over with.

One habit that I’ve been meaning to get into for about fifteen years is the habit of blogging regularly, something that I really haven’t done for a good ten years, possibly more. Prompted by the appearance in my feeds of this post from the redoubtable Ben Hammersley (were you twiddling with your feeds, Ben?) I’ve decided that a regular weeknote of my own will be in order.

Unlike many weeknotes, there won’t be much about work in these. There’s a couple of reasons for that: first, much of what I do these days is connected to people management, or in some way sensitive to the business. I can’t really write much about that, although I might write more generally about digital publishing every now and then (I have, as you can guess, opinions.)

So the focus is going to be a bit more personal. I hope that’s OK.

Covid exhaustion

In common with a surprisingly small percentage of the population I’ve had the coronavirus in my system. For me the symptoms at the time I got it were minor: a raised temperature for a whole day, a very intermittent cough for a couple of days, a couple of other things. The biggest impact was tiredness, which was like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. I felt ill first thing in the morning, so I started writing an email to my manager – and something which should have taken me five minutes to compose took nearly half an hour. I couldn’t concentrate, and my eyes just started closing.

I promptly slept from 9am till 9pm, when I woke up and soon enough fell asleep again.

Since then tiredness has been an ever-present factor in my life, and I’ve learned to manage it so I get the most important things done in the morning. This week, that feeling has been back with a vengeance. I don’t know if this is the start of some kind of post-illness fatigue syndrome or what, but at one point in the early evening I was lying on the small sofa and was so tired that I literally felt my arms slump to my side as I passed out.

I’m hoping this will pass, but if not, I’ll embrace it and just get up earlier. You can only do what you can do.

Big-picture productivity

A few weeks ago I signed up to Pater Akkies’ “Big Picture Productivity” course, and I’ve just completed the second module. I discovered Peter through YouTube – where I discover 90% of people these days – where he’s put a series of really nice videos on setting up Things, OmniFocus and some other tools.

The course is really good, and I’d recommend it to most people. The modules released so far have been on the basic productivity strategies of thinking about your values and roles then working through what your goals are. Once you’ve done that it’s time to work out what the actionable projects are which lead to your goals.

I like Peter’s avoidance of the SMARTER framework which everyone uses for goals. One thing that I’ve come to understand is that some goals don’t have an end: for example, a goal of reducing your carbon emissions isn’t ever going to end, but it’s still a goal. The projects you put together to achieve that should have something closer to a smarter framework, but the goal itself can be ongoing.

Peter has also finallygot me using Notion, which I’ve resisted for a long time. A notes app that is really a database sounds too much like the kind of thing that I would spend about a year tinkering with to get it just so while never actually using. But Peter’s course shows you how you can use it to track goals and projects in a way that I really like. I’ll still use my Bullet Journal for my day-to-day note taking, but when I need something more serious I can see how Notion fits in.

Tot

The other big discovery of the week is Tot, which I’ve written about extensively already so I won’t dwell on it too much. However, it’s a great example of an application which uses a limitation as a fundamental feature to nudge someone towards a better behaviour. We need more of that.

Music

For some reason I ended up listening to “I’m a tree” by Imani Coppola AKA the single that almost sank her career. After having a big hit with her first song, top 20 worldwide and all that kind of thing, this one was released and promptly charted… absolutely nowhere. Well, it scraped the top 200 in Australia.

Culture

Grayson’s Art Club is of course fantastic. There’s a long-running battle in our house over which of is Grayson and which is Philippa. I’m also really enthused by the amount of talks that museums and art galleries are making available virtually while we’re all stuck at home, plus the new range of plays and ballets available on YouTube. At least, the internet is enabling democratic culture.

As well, of course, as resurgent nationalism, but we will talk no more of that.

Tot

I hadn’t heard of Tot before I read MacStories’ article about its new share extension in iOS, but when I did I was intrigued. And when I used the Mac version I knew it was something I really wanted on my Mac.

At its heart, Tot is a scratch pad. It’s just a place to jot down little snippets of text, often that you will use elsewhere.

There’s only seven documents, called dots, represented by – you guessed it – a series of dots along the top of the window. If a dot has text in it, it has a colour fill (you can change this for accessibility purposes – a nice touch).

This conceit of seven and only seven possible “documents” is what makes Tot so good. It places a limitation on what the user can do which nudges you towards a particular kind of behaviour. Applications like Drafts or Apple Notes allow you to keep on making more and more new documents and that encourages you to never actually look back on what you’re written.

The seven-dot limitation of Tot means you can’t do that: if you keep taking notes, as soon as you hit that seven dot limit you’re going to have to go back through what you’re written and either delete something or, if it’s still valuable, move it elsewhere.

There are some other cute little interface touches, all of which remind me quite why I love the Iconfactory’s software. You can have Tot set up either as a menu bar icon or a dock icon. If you have it in the dock, the icon changes to match the colour of the front-most dot.

You can set a keystroke to invoke it on the Mac and there’s a smart set of keyboard shortcuts which let you move forward and back through dots without taking your hands off the keys. You’d be surprised how many text applications don’t have proper navigation like this. There’s also, I’m pleased to say, Touch Bar support.

The Mac version is free: the iOS version is $20. That sounds like a lot for an iOS app, but in the great history of what you can charge for software it’s peanuts. I paid more than that for ridiculous shareware games in the past. And as Mike Schmitt on Sweet Setup points out, for an app this simple a subscription model just doesn’t make any sense.

And the iOS version is excellent, working exactly how you would expect it. If you’re using an iPad with a keyboard then you will find all the keyboard short cuts you have on the Mac version. To switch between dots, you can just swipe across the screen with a single finger. Again, it’s simple, but you can see and touch (literally) the thought that has gone into making it easy.

The iPadOS version really comes into its own when used in a Slide Over window. It’s ideal in this kind of scenario. Of course you can use it full screen, or split view, but when you have it in Slide Over you can see the screen and take notes easily from what you’re working on, or just drag and drop text or links from your “main” view.

The key question with any new software, though, is “what can you actually use it for?” For me, it’s all about jotting down random thoughts and ideas that I’ll take and do something with later – this blog post started life as a set of jottings in a single dot, and then moved to Ulysses once I thought I had enough to start writing a full blog post on it. And the nice thing is that when I exported to Ulysses, all my links and formatting just dropped right in.