When a startup pivots into a pile of horseshit.
When you get to choose who you trust, a lot of other good things happen too. There are no workarounds (it’s worth noting that in our business, workarounds are usually people). Politics are kept to an absolute minimum. Egos never get out of control. Policies tend to be generous and lenient. Collaboration runs high. The common goal becomes the only goal. The CFO–this is a big one–actually understands and supports the culture. And work is fun. Not just foosball-and-beer fun, but the work part of work is fun. The grind becomes less so.
I’ve always admired Venebles Bell for their work. And I’ve always heard great things about the culture. I can also say from experience that working at an independent agency has a much different feel.
Though I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have an out of control ego stashed somewhere in the building.
Digital notes are supposed to make life easier. Instead, I’ve wasted what is surely half of my life on trying to put the right system into place.
There was a time when I thought Evernote was great. And it was! You could collect stuff on a computer, and then that same stuff would be right there on your phone. There were a thousand ways to get stuff into Evernote, and Evernote was available on just about anything that plugged into a wall.
I jammed Evernote full of stuff. Everything from hospital discharge paperwork to weird things my kids said to my portfolio work.
But it was a little frumpy. All the green and brown made it feel like the menu at a Rainforest Cafe. It’s a terrible writing experience, and I never actually liked using it. I didn’t mind it. But I didn’t like it.
It also turned into a bit of a black hole. There are documents in there that will only be found by trained archeologists in the future. When I look through it, I am surprised by the sheer amount of things that I saved and forgot about. And I also wonder about why I decided to put half of it in there in the first place.
Then I was introduced to the wonders of plain text and Dropbox syncing. Compared to Evernote, it was like piloting a rocketship. I liked the freedom of being able to write in any text editor that synced with Dropbox. NVAlt on OS X is fantastic for plain text notes. Nothing is faster.
But it’s difficult to combine images and text in plain text. That left me scratching my head when I came across images or webpages or rich text that I wanted to save. This is how random stuff started to find its way into every nook and cranny of my file system.
Then Apple announced that they were revamping Apple Notes. I was sure that this would be the answer. The new version has a rich feature set, it’s available across devices, and it’s really easy to get stuff into it from the share sheet. Also, I was tired of thinking about which apps to use for notes. The idea of just sucking it up and using the default solution was incredibly appealing.
But I’m finally ready to admit that Apple Notes hasn’t been working for me. I caught myself hesitating to put some kinds of information into it. I can’t explain why, but it just doesn’t seem like the kind of app that wants to be jammed full of random thoughts and images and whatever else. It’s not really an information database in the sense that I’d like it to be.
It’s also a bit slow to load on my phone, and it drives me crazy that you can’t specify a folder for a new note from the share sheet. Oh, and you can only create subfolders on a Mac. iOS doesn’t offer the full feature set. Which seems completely bananas, and it has resulted in a giant mess of notes that aren’t easily searched.
Meanwhile, finding something that I knew I captured was becoming a chore. Was it in Apple Notes? Was it still in my dormant Evernote account? Did I capture it in plain text? Maybe it’s sitting in my Drafts.app inbox. Of course it could also be on Pinboard.in, or maybe I saved it to Instapaper.
This was a problem. It would’ve been better to just keep using Evernote in the first place. So I started to think about moving back in.
I swore Evernote off last year. It seemed like a dying company. The constant nagging in the app about whether or not I had heard about Work Chat was getting under my skin. And I still wasn’t enjoying the experience of using it.
But I also never found a way to replace it.
Evernote is bloated with features, and it sucks at most of them. But the things it does well, like really well, also happen to be really hard to find in other apps.
So I worked to come to terms with the reality of the situation over a couple months, and I set off to reactivate my subscription.
But then, riding over the hill, wearing shining white robes and flanked by reinforcements, came DEVONthink and the new DEVONthink To Go iOS app. They were either coming to the rescue or dooming me to another few months of fiddling.1
I’ve known about DEVONthink for years, but I had never tried it. It’s costly, and it didn’t do mobile very well.
Gabe Weatherhead’s blog post about DEVONthink To Go 2 completely sold me on the app. It seems like it changed DEVONthink’s game, and it stands a chance of changing mine.
People really like the way DEVONthink works because it is more secure than other apps. And it doesn’t change what you put into it into some other kind of file the way Evernote does.
That stuff is all fine and good, but what gets me excited is the chance to use something with similar functionality to Evernote, but with a higher ceiling for organization than Evernote. It works with folders and tags, but you can also work with multiple databases. And I think there is unlimited nesting of folders and tags.
That means you can have more than one database. You can have a database for work projects and a database for your kid’s art and another database for cataloging the mustaches of the world.
It’s also much easier to search within the right context. Your search results for work projects won’t involve having to wade through pictures of the right yogurt to buy for your wife or your kid’s shoe size.
You can selectively sync each database with your devices. If you don’t need your party dip database on your work laptop, it doesn’t have to be there. But you can sure as shit have it on your phone to show off at parties.
Each database has its own unique collection of tags, so there’s no need to use characters like brackets to signify different kinds of tags.2
Want to keep your documents in the regular file system on your Mac? DEVONthink can take files into its database, and it can index files stored in your Mac’s filesystem to include in your database without actually having to move the files anywhere. Rad.
Oh, and the desktop version has AI that can help to autoclassify new additions to the database and help to find related items to your search. I’ve heard amazing things about this stuff, but I don’t have enough files in DEVONthink yet to try out the AI.
So now I have two choices. I can go back into Evernote, reupping my subscription at their increased yearly rate, or I can buy DEVONthink outright, at a fairly high price, but without any need for a yearly subscription.
I think I know which way I’m leaning.
Wow, if you made it this far, remind me to buy you a coffee sometime.
I like gadgets. I like notebooks. I like pens. I like backpacks. And oh boy, do I love apps.
I have a bit of a gear problem.
And in a podcast cue and RSS reader full of people who like to talk about the latest and greatest of everything from Apple gear to note taking to creative work, sometimes it’s nice to have a counter. An angel on the opposite shoulder from the devil.
Patrick Rhone is good for that. He’s the voice of simplicity. Of quiet calm. He stands out from the frantic storm of newness and upgrading and always searching for some kind of new way to hack one’s life.
You see, it is not that the Amish shun modern technology. It’s that they take a very long, mindful, and considered approach as to what technology to adopt, weigh the pros and cons of how it might affect them, their homes, their communities, their way of life and if any of those trade-offs are worth it. Phones, for instance, are fine — as long as they’re not in the home and used only when absolutely necessary. And, if it’s not in any one home, then why not just have one phone in a central location that the whole community can use? So, one can see from this example that really what is at stake with the Amish approach is a question of true value — beyond the material — that every technology must pass and only applied in specific ways in order to be adopted.
I write about this because I’ve found myself over-building systems for work. I’ve been using too many tools, and I’ve been spending far too much time trying to find a better way to do X,Y or Z. Especially Z. Especially if Z works on iOS.
Enough with the Fiddling!
I have notes and saved links and blurbs of text in way too many apps. It’s become difficult to find information that I’ve captured. I’m also at a loss for how to deal with a lot of what lands in my email inbox. When I find an article that I want to read later, it can wind up in any number of different places. I have too many options for what to do with it all, so I put it everywhere. And then I can find it nowhere.
I have too many email apps. Too many ways to make outlines or mind maps. I have apps hanging around that have been waiting to revolutionize how I work since I downloaded them months ago. I have apps for automation and list making and WOW do I have a lot of text editors.
I have text editors with automation built in. I have text editors meant for writing books. I have text editors with built in previews, and text editors that can publish to websites, and text editors that sync to Dropbox, but also text editors that have their own built in libraries that sync through iCloud. I also have text editors that are meant to send text to other text editors.
A giant warehouse of spatulas for every occasion.
Thousands to choose from in every shape, size, and color.
And because we eliminate the middle man, we can sell all our spatulas factory direct to you.
Where do you go if you want to buy name brand spatulas at a fraction of retail cost?
It’s time to streamline … to get back to basics. Develop a way of working and stick with it.
And somehow try to stay away from the new and flashy and loud.
I’ve been recently accused of being a “gadget guy.” Yes, I happened to be writing on an iPad using a Bluetooth keyboard. And my iPhone was laying next to the iPad. A MacBook Pro was closed on my desk. And my watch sometimes needs to be rebooted.
There is a mountain of evidence against me. And if you come between us, I’ll kill you. But it’s not codependency, and I not a gadget guy. Come on…
OK. I do my fare share of unnecessary fiddling with gadgets. But it does prove to be helpful more than other people realize.
Parenting is Hard.
My wife and I have two young boys. 2 and 6. Which is like having three additional full time jobs on top of working.
Sonos and Apple Music make it easy to put on music that we like without having to browse or even make decisions.1 It’s incredibly useful when there’s spaghetti flying through the air and we want to get some music going.
I can glance at my Apple Watch to know if it’s going to be raining soon or if it’s hot enough that the kids are going to catch on fire in long pants.
Using an iPad Pro as my primary work device has helped by reducing the amount of maintenance and meta nonsense that come with a traditional OS, and it means that any other screen I pick up is essentially the same. My phone, my iPad Air 2…they are all almost identical to the iPad Pro. Same apps, same data, same settings. They have become different sized windows into the same computer.
Setting our coffee maker to automatically brew at a specific time in the morning is essentional now that our six-year-old has to be at the bus stop before the sun comes up.
No, it’s not revolutionary or new. But this is the kind of thing that I want more of from technology.
I’m not excited about VR or AR or any of the other Rs. I can’t yet see the benefit.
There’s nothing so compelling going on in home automation that would make it worth the headache. Right now, it seems like it’s mostly about lights that change color.
I don’t need a video game system or a blue ray player or a fridge that I can see from my phone. It’s all frivolous. Additional time commitments. More things to set up and maintain. More things to think about.
Less wow, and more utility.
We need tech that helps us keep our shit together while we raise our kids and maintain our jobs and keep our house from being reclaimed by the earth. Help us get more done without having to think about it. Anything that helps us take time back is a winner.
- Amazon Echo is supposed to be even faster, but we’re in deep with Apple’s ecosystem, and haven’t made that leap yet. ↩