I'm a Christian, a designer, and a gadget fan who lives in Cheltenham, UK.

This is my blog, a creative outlet to mess around and play with as well as a place that logs my thoughts and inspirations.

Searching for the perfect notes app

For the last 6 months or so I have been using Roam Research as my notes app. The daily note turned into my home from home allow­ing me to cap­ture things through­out the day. Thoughts, feel­ings, meet­ing notes, tasks, art­icles I read, videos I watched, everything got noted down in the daily note. Using the ser­vice has encour­aged me to read more wisely, mak­ing notes from art­icles that are use­ful and cap­tur­ing high­lights and thoughts as I read books.

Over the last month or so, I’ve noticed my usage start to drop off. Some of it is related to me hav­ing days off from work, so I’m not in front of my Mac all day, but that’s not the sole reas­on. I’m writ­ing this on my iPad which has become my main per­son­al com­puter. Mac for work, iPad for me. I star­ted to real­ise that this is part of the reas­on I’ve been using Roam less even though I still wanted to cap­ture notes and thoughts. I don’t find the exper­i­ence of Roam on the iPad to be that pleas­ant. There are too many little quirks and bits that don’t quite work prop­erly that mar the exper­i­ence enough to to make me want to stop using it.

So in the last week I star­ted to draw up a short­l­ist of apps to try in an attempt to replace Roam. In order to really under­stand if some­thing can grow in to a replace­ment I need to under­stand how I’ve been using Roam and what I have come to find really use­ful about it.

What are the key features I’m after?

Daily Notes

I’ve come to real­ise the joy and free­dom in hav­ing a Daily Note open on my screen all day. It has become my main place to cap­ture any­thing and everything. Art­icles I read, what’s on my mind, notes from meet­ings I’m in, tasks that come in. Each new item gets a time stamp and then I write down what I need.

References to blocks and pages

This is new func­tion­al­ity to me but one that I’ve quickly under­stood the value of. Being able to ref­er­ence some­thing with a back link is really power­ful. If I’m in my Daily Note and jot some­thing down about a pro­ject, being able to quickly link to that pro­ject page and have what I wrote appear there is invalu­able. It frees up thoughts for think­ing instead of focus­ing on put­ting it in the right place in my system.

Embedding blocks

These are even more power­ful and I think have become really import­ant for me. On a Sunday as I watch church on You­Tube (who knew that would be a thing?) I make notes on the ser­mon. I’ve taken to adding the bible pas­sage broken down verse by verse in a sep­ar­ate note, then when I need to make a note about a verse I embed the block and write a note under it. Hav­ing the text vis­ible is really use­ful and hav­ing the bible pas­sages auto­mat­ic­ally ref­er­ence all the notes I make over time will be really insightful.

Capturing tasks

This is a simple one, but a quick way to cap­ture tasks in a meet­ing without hav­ing to change app focus is great. Even bet­ter is the abil­ity to send those tasks to my ded­ic­ated task man­ager where I can organ­ise them after the meeting.

Journal

This final one is a little up in the air at the moment. I used the Daily Note of Roam to help me start journ­al­ing again and since begin­ning this quest to find a more nat­ive exper­i­ence I’ve dus­ted off Day One and star­ted to use that instead. As I reflec­ted on how I had been Journ­al­ing in Roam, I real­ised that I didn’t inten­tion­ally use any of the con­nec­ted thought fea­tures for it. Ques­tion­ing why that was, I real­ised it’s because what I’ve been journ­al­ing about isn’t neces­sar­ily related to what I’ve been think­ing about or work­ing on, instead it’s more about pro­cessing how I feel and am hand­ling situ­ations. So for now I’m going to use Day One for this part of my writ­ing, although it lacks the con­veni­ence of hav­ing one place to write I think the trade off is bet­ter for me.

Haptic Architects Teach the Benefits of the Scandinavian “Work Life Balance” ›

Work/Life bal­ance is a thing many of us struggle with. I know when I was 100% self-employed it was the thing I struggled with most, there was always some­thing I felt I should be doing. Whilst many people claim that doing what you love means you have a per­fect work/life bal­ance that seems far to ideal­ist­ic to me. Work is work, wheth­er we love what we do or not and we need a good bal­ance between it and the rest of our lives.
It seems Haptic Archi­tects have that same aware­ness, and so I was inter­ested to read about the Bene­fits of the Scand­inavi­an Work/Life Bal­ance that they have imple­men­ted in their design stu­di­os. It seems a healthy approach to work and demon­strates a real aware­ness and care towards their employees.

Employment vs. Self-Employment ›

Occa­sion­ally I’ll come across an art­icle on the inter­net that I find myself read­ing more than once. Usu­ally it’s because the piece res­on­ates deeply with me, but some­times it’s because it’s some­thing I want to be able to write myself. In this instance it’s just that, a piece I would like to be able to write in a years time, but with my own perspective.
In a piece about Employ­ment vs. Self-Employ­ment Gar­ret Dimon wrote this paragraph.

Being self-employed is great. And it’s not so great. Like any­thing, there are tradeoffs. For you, the tradeoffs may be worth it. Or, they might not. Or, they may not be the right tradeoffs at this point in your life. Just don’t put self-employ­ment on a ped­es­tal. There are plenty of oth­er options that are darn near self-employ­ment without the burdens. 

I’ve been on both ends of Employ­ment and Self-Employ­ment. For the last 5 years I’ve been run­ning my own design busi­ness, and dur­ing the last year and a half of that I’ve been run­ning it along­side anoth­er job in a cof­fee house. I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s also been the most stress­ful time of my life. So stress­ful that it made me ill. The last couple of months I’ve been think­ing about and mak­ing steps to begin look­ing for a full time design job work­ing for someone. Through it all I have to keep remind­ing myself that self-employ­ment is not the be all and end all, there is a lot of import­ant work being done by many dif­fer­ent people and com­pan­ies that it will be a priv­ilege to be a part of.

Deep Prayer > Deep Work ›

There’s been a lot of talk on the inter­net circles I fol­low about focus and deep work. They’re thought pro­vok­ing and often res­on­ate with me, but there’s one thing I’ve been strug­gling to recon­cile in it all. The focus of all these dis­cus­sions is usu­ally aimed at put­ting your indi­vidu­al desires first, which does­n’t really jive with my Chris­ti­an beliefs.
Chris Bowl­er, in his excel­lently con­sidered art­icle Deep Pray­er > Deep Work, seems to demon­strate I’m not alone. In doing so he seems to cap­ture exactly how this kind of think­ing should be influ­en­cing my approach to my faith.

But over and over, I come back to the fact that while Newport’s concept of increas­ing our abil­ity to focus is cru­cial to a suc­cess­ful career, it’s even more cru­cial to a suc­cess­ful Chris­ti­an life. One that is lived attuned to the Spir­it. One that is care­fully watch­ing to see where God is work­ing, then ready and will­ing to join him in it. 

Permission

At the start of last week I set myself the chal­lenge to blog every­day between then and the end of the year. Yes­ter­day I did­n’t man­age to post to this site, in some people’s eyes I’ve failed the chal­lenge already. Maybe I have, but it’s not going to stop me car­ry­ing on.
These types of chal­lenges are great to do, they add an extra bit of impetus to get going on some­thing you want to do. A little bit of healthy com­pet­i­tion goes a long way. But yes­ter­day life happened, two friends got mar­ried and the day was rightly taken up cel­eb­rat­ing that. There simply was­n’t time in the day to sit down and write a post for this site, it was an excep­tion to the norm and that’s ok. I real­ised this early on and gave myself per­mis­sion to have a day off.
A few years ago had I set myself this chal­lenge I would’ve let it defeat me. The chain would’ve been broken and I would’ve let the day off turn into two, three or four days, before giv­ing it one last effort and then stop­ping it. Over the last year and a half I’ve learnt that some­times it’s ok to give myself per­mis­sion to say, it’s just not going to hap­pen today. As long as it does­n’t turn into a reg­u­lar occur­rence that’s per­fectly OK, I just pick up where I left off the next day.
It’s been an import­ant les­son for me to learn, per­fect is unat­tain­able and being some­what of a per­fec­tion­ist it’s a dif­fi­cult thing to accept. Now in the con­text of this chal­lenge, had I real­ised earli­er in the week when I star­ted it, I’d have writ­ten an extra post in the week so I had one in the bag and did­n’t break the chain. In the con­text of real every­day life, it’s a far more import­ant les­son to learn. I’ve had to learn how to give myself per­mis­sion to say this is ok, this is good enough and I’m ok with put­ting it out there.

Kill Your To Do List ›

Here’s what’s always bothered me about task man­age­ment sys­tems: it’s not what Pres­id­ents use. 

I’ve nev­er thought of this before. It’s nev­er even crossed my mind about the meth­ods of work­ing for people in high powered pos­i­tions, or nation­al office. Yet it shouldn’t be a sur­prise when you think about.
After read­ing this excel­lent art­icle from CJ Chil­vers it struck me that in the last few months this is some­thing I’ve star­ted to do subconsciously.When I think back to how I’ve pro­gressed some pro­jects recently it’s all been down to clearly block­ing out time on my cal­en­dar and then work­ing dur­ing those times.
Of course I’ve not entirely scrapped my to do list, and I think it would be wrong to scrap it com­pletely. It’s a use­ful tool for keep­ing track of the cli­ent pro­jects I’m work­ing on. The import­ant thing, I think, is to not let your to do list dic­tate your time and instead to let your cal­en­dar dic­tate your to do list.

The cal­en­dar does­n’t lie. It’s bru­tal about how much time you actu­ally have in a day to com­plete your pro­jects. It’s hon­est. We need to stop wish­ing, determ­ine what’s import­ant enough to spend our very lim­ited time on and get it scheduled. 

You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At. ›

Do what you love has been a bit of a man­tra of late on the inter­net, at least on the blogs I seem to have been read­ing over the last couple of years. It’s some­thing that I love the sen­ti­ment of, but at the same time some­thing that has nev­er quite sat prop­erly with me. So when I saw the phrase You’re Not Meant To Do What You Love. You’re Meant To Do What You’re Good At in a tweet link to the match­ing art­icle I instantly saved it to my Instapaper.
I agree entirely with this point:

We’re doing people an incred­ible dis­ser­vice by telling them they should seek, and pur­sue, what they love. People usu­ally can’t dif­fer­en­ti­ate what they really love and what they love the idea of.
But more import­antly, you are not meant to do what you love. You are meant to do what you’re skilled at. 

The trouble comes when the people who are espous­ing the man­tra of do what you love are the for­tu­nate few who’s skill also hap­pen to be what they love. It gives them a dis­tor­ted view that every­one should be doing this and it cre­ates a world­view that doing work is a bad thing unless it’s some­thing you love.
The hus­band of an old col­league of mine had a peri­od of unem­ploy­ment not long after they got mar­ried. It really impacted him as a per­son and I remem­ber talk­ing to my col­league about how her hus­band felt worth­less because of it. He wanted to work because not work­ing made him feel worth­less. When he did get a job, it was not in some­thing he loved, but it gave him mean­ing again. He was con­trib­ut­ing to soci­ety, not reli­ant on it. He was giv­ing some­thing of him­self to do it and what he was doing had value because of it.
As a Chris­ti­an I believe we are designed to work, God even designed and mod­elled the week around it six days of work and one day of rest (Sab­bath). The theo­lo­gian Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeav­our states

Work is as much a basic human need as food, beauty, rest, friend­ship, pray­er, and sexu­al­ity; it is not simply medi­cine but food for our soul. Without mean­ing­ful work we sense sig­ni­fic­ant inner loss and empti­ness. People who are cut off from work because of phys­ic­al or oth­er reas­ons quickly dis­cov­er how much they need work to thrive emo­tion­ally, phys­ic­ally, and spiritually. 

This is exactly what my colleague’s hus­band exper­i­enced. Without work he struggled in exactly the way Tim sug­gests we will. When we fall into the trap of telling people to only do what they love, we do a dis­ser­vice to work. For some people their work involves doing what they love, whilst for oth­ers it involves doing what they are skilled at. For some, maybe even the major­ity, it involves doing a job because it gives them value and helps them serve people around them.
The art­icle fin­ishes with this quote which I think sums up the value of work, of any kind, superbly.

The real joy of daily work is in what we have to give. We are not ful­filled by what we can seek to please us, but what we can build and offer. It is not fame, or money, or recog­ni­tion that makes for a thor­oughly mean­ing­ful life, it is how we put our gifts to use. It is how we give. 

This morn­ing I gave some­thing a try for the first time. I left my Mac­Book Pro at home and took my iPad and Bluetooth key­board out to do a bit of work. Since the release of iOS 9 last Septem­ber I’ve heard many people talk­ing about it has enabled them to use their iPad to do a lot of work. Being a design­er I just pushed them aside, no soft­ware is able to pro­duce art­work to the that the Cre­at­ive Cloud apps can on my Mac, and so I just marked it as not yet for me. I have noticed recently that I’ve been nat­ur­ally reach­ing for my iPad to do cer­tain bits of work, largely emails and admin. I decided it was time to give it a try. Inter­est­ingly I’ve really enjoyed it and I think with a little think­ing through, I could switch some of my web site main­ten­ance tasks to the iPad.

The Longest Shortest Distance ›

“So I pro­pose we for­get the phrase “just do what you love” because it’s exhaust­ing and mis­lead­ing. We need less instant grat­i­fic­a­tion and more patience in our practice” 

I could­n’t help but identi­fy with these final few words from Kyle Steed. Soci­ety today is so des­per­ate to do just the things we love and to get there in the shortest pos­sible way that it for­gets the value in hav­ing to do things we don’t want to do, but that we need to do. It sets so many people up for massive falls as they make big leaps to begin doing things that they’re not yet ready to do. There’s too much I want it now and not enough will­ing­ness to work and explore and grow into whatever that it is.