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.

A tool for thinking

Yes­ter­day as I was sat on my sofa watch­ing the Sunday morn­ing church ser­vice on You­Tube I had my Mac­Book Pro open on my lap to make notes in Obsidi­an. After the ser­vice had fin­ished I spent a few minutes to tidy up some format­ting and make sure the cor­rect bible verses were being ref­er­enced, I real­ised how much I am enjoy­ing using the app. It got me think­ing about why.

Over the course of the day it slowly dawned on me what it is that I like about it. It doesn’t tick all the fea­tures I was hop­ing to find in the my notes app, but it does tick one that I didn’t list before. It is a tool for think­ing, and really that’s what I’ve been look­ing for.

Eph­em­er­al notes still go into Obsidi­an through my daily notes, and where appro­pri­ate they are linked to pro­ject notes, but I’ve found that I’m cre­at­ing notes about sub­jects that I am think­ing about or try­ing to learn more about. Look­ing at my Obsidi­an graph I see some small clusters start­ing to form. There is one about note tak­ing itself as I read around the sub­ject of ever­green and atom­ic notes; there is one around habits and routines; and there is a lar­ger one form­ing related to my work and cur­rent think­ing about the concept of Min­im­al Viable Products (MVP).

As I’ve been look­ing into these dif­fer­ent applic­a­tions and their fea­ture sets, I’ve been exposed to some ideas about note tak­ing that I had nev­er really con­sidered before. The concept that a “notes” app can be more than a scratch­pad used through­out the day but a tool for think­ing has con­nec­ted with me. Really it is not a notes app but some­thing much more use­ful and import­ant. I guess this is why many people refer to these tools that I’ve been explor­ing as Per­son­al Know­ledge Man­age­ment (PKM) or their second brain. I’m not sure either of those terms sit right with me, I think they are more than that. I am not purely gain­ing know­ledge by using this tool and it’s not think­ing for me like a second brain should, but I can use this tool to see con­nec­tions between ideas. It forces me to dis­till con­cepts down to man­age­able chunks so that I can form my own ideas from them. This is why I’ve begun refer­ring to it as a tool for think­ing and why it’s start­ing to become a key part of my cre­at­ive pro­cess. Time will tell if it lasts.

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.

In response to my post the oth­er day, John Philpin respon­ded with a quote from his Mum. I really liked it so wanted to share it here for more people to discover.

Mom: “Remem­ber … don’t for­get to write to me at least once a week – even bet­ter – every day.”
Me: “Every day! There wont be enough to say every day!”
Mom: “You will find that the more you write the more you will have to say, because then everything is import­ant. If you only write once a month, there will be noth­ing import­ant enough to write about.” 

Don’t forget to write

Write More ›

Camer­on Moll pos­ted a thread on Twit­ter urging people to write. Here are the four tweets quoted:

I’ve found it incred­ibly dif­fi­cult to make time for long-form writ­ing the past few years. When I have, the cata­lyst has been remind­ing myself of the tre­mend­ous ROI as a design­er, man­ager, busi­ness own­er, and so on.
If you want to be a bet­ter design­er, write more.
If you want to be a bet­ter man­ager, write more.
If you want to be a bet­ter biz own­er, write more.
You can also sub­sti­tute “speak more” for each of these.
The act of syn­thes­iz­ing what’s in your head for an audi­ence of crit­ics leads to increased ana­lyt­ic­al think­ing, self-aware­ness, clar­ity, and much more.
Last but not least, you inspire oth­ers to write—or at the very least ‘write’ by join­ing the con­ver­sa­tion you’ve started. 

It’s some­thing I’ve been think­ing about lots the last couple of weeks. I’ve been want­ing to post to my blog more because I think it will be bene­fi­cial for me in many ways, one of which to help me build dis­cip­line and self-con­trol in oth­er areas of my life.
The thing that really strikes me about this Twit­ter thread, the whole thing would make a good blog post. It prob­ably would’ve been easi­er to post to a blog as well, likely have a longer life span, and con­sequently have more of an impact. Not all writ­ing on a blog has to be long to have an impact, if it’s worth string­ing four tweets togeth­er in a thread to make a point, it’s worthy of a blog post.

Thoughts as Nest Eggs ›

Today when you say “nest egg” many think of money saved and put away, but a lit­er­al “nest egg” is a real or fake egg that you put in a nest to encour­age a bird or a hen to lay more eggs there. So what Thor­eau is say­ing is that by simply writ­ing down a thought, you encour­age more thoughts to come. When you have enough thoughts pushed togeth­er in the same space — a col­lage of thoughts, jux­ta­posed — they often lead to some­thing totally new.
This is the magic of writing. 

Aus­tin Kle­on wrapped up a recent post with the quote above. The post on one level is about journ­al­ing and writ­ing in gen­er­al, but do you know what else that quote describes? A blog.
A blog is noth­ing more than a series of thoughts writ­ten down over a peri­od of time. When you think about it that way it’s incred­ibly free­ing. There should be no pres­sure. Instead there should just be turn­ing up to write down a thought and see­ing where it takes you.

Tinker

The desire to tinker is strong in this one.
I have this prob­lem when it comes to my blog. The more I start to post to it, the more I want to tinker. The more act­ive I am on the site, the more I notice little things I don’t like and want to fix. The more I post to it, the more I want all my inter­net post­ing to ori­gin­ate on it. It’s like an illness.
It’s some­thing I’ve always struggled with, and I con­fess it’s a side to blog­ging that I enjoy. The trouble is, the more I tinker the less I post. The more I craft the design, the less time I spend writing.
It’s a battle, although one I’m sure I do not face alone. It’s not just the battle of a blog­ger, it’s a battle of a design­er. Most of the tinker­ing I do is design related, little details and quirks in my theme which I notice but very few oth­ers will. I also know from exper­i­ence, that I will get to the point where I’ve caught the little tweaks I need to and they will be fixed. Then it’s just a case of res­ist­ing the big­ger things I’d like to do. Or at least knock­ing off the major ones first, like find­ing a way to post pho­tos here and on Ins­tagram, dis­play­ing them in a way I’m happy with. The key though, is to keep the posts flow­ing. Keep to my chal­lenge of post­ing every­day, and get­ting through the tinker­ing stage until I get to the point where I’m just post­ing each day and all my pub­lished con­tent ori­gin­ates here.
Or is it just a pipe dream? Should I just keep post­ing and ignore the little bits that nag?
But I know I can­’t just ignore the nag­ging. I’m a design­er, I like details and its in my nature to keep refin­ing bits until they’re gone. To keep craft­ing until they as close to per­fect as can be, it’s just import­ant to keep the per­spect­ive, to keep in mind that per­fect does­n’t exist. It’s about get­ting things to good enough whilst keep­ing on post­ing each day and build­ing momentum so that the writ­ing takes over the tinker­ing and becomes a cre­at­ive out­let in its own right.

What Do You Write About?

I know what you’re think­ing. It’s only the second day of the chal­lenge I set myself, to post to my blog every­day from now until the end of the year, and already I’m ask­ing the ques­tion of what do I write about.
I would ima­gine it’s a famil­i­ar story to any­one who’s decided to under­take such a chal­lenge. Going from barely writ­ing or post­ing to your blog to post­ing every­day it’s only nat­ur­al to find your­self won­der­ing what to write about. If I hadn’t been here before it would be a big worry, it might even be so dis­cour­aging that I would just aban­don ship straight away. Whilst this morn­ing when I decided it was time to write today’s post I didn’t have any­thing in par­tic­u­lar I wanted to write about I know that if I keep going and post­ing each day I will even­tu­ally end up with too many sub­jects to write about. It’s the nature of the beast, the more you do it, the more ideas you have.
There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent tac­tics that I’ve come across over the years that are aimed at help­ing you come up with sub­jects to write about. Unsur­pris­ingly none of them have ever worked for me, but there is one thing that does. I know it works because I’ve demon­strated it in oth­er parts of my life, be it read­ing my bible or doing the work for my freel­ance business.
Show­ing up every day.
So here I am, show­ing up. A new sheet in Ulysses, my head­phones in and I’m writ­ing. In fact through the course of writ­ing this post I’ve already come up with the top­ic for tomorrow’s post. There it is in action. Show­ing up today has triggered the pro­cess. The more you do some­thing the more idea’s you have, the first step is show­ing up.

Ulysses 2.5 for iPad and, Now, iPhone Review ›

A glow­ing review which I could­n’t agree with more. Ever since I down­loaded it for my iPad I’ve been using the app, now it’s on my iPhone as well everything I write for this site goes through the app. Paired with the Mac app, it’s great for writ­ing ser­mons in as well.

Just Hit Command‑N

Just hit Command‑N. Those are the words I just read in a post from Man­ton Reece, and so that’s what I’m doing. I may not be a developer or someone who’s had much of an audi­ence in my life on the Inter­net. How­ever, for the last few weeks I’ve wanted to start post­ing to my site again but for whatever reas­on I’ve nev­er known what to write. So here I am press­ing the plus but­ton in Ulysses on my iPad and writing.
I remem­ber when I first got in to the whole blog­ging way of things. I was­n’t really select­ive about what I wrote about, I would just write whatever came to me. Of course there was a set of themes that would be covered, but they wer­en’t chosen with inten­tion, there were just what my interests were. They were me. Since dis­cov­er­ing Man­ton’s blog towards the end of last year I’ve been reminded of my early blog and the early blogs of those who I still fol­low. They were genu­ine and full of inter­est­ing things because they wer­en’t overly focused, they were just per­son­al sites. Of course those sites, at least the ones that are still going, are still inter­est­ing but they’ve become more focused over time. Although that focus may have happened by a nat­ur­al evol­u­tion as people found what really makes them tick, those sites are inter­est­ing in a dif­fer­ent way now. Thank­fully what I’m start­ing to see, and what I hope I con­tin­ue to see, is more vari­ety and new sites that are per­son­al and reflect the whole of the per­son who writes them. That’s what drew me to this hobby we call blog­ging, and it’s what I hope will help me return.
So here’s to new begin­nings, to start­ing to write more and to being less bothered about what I should write about and instead just post­ing what feels right.