I haven’t been using my Mac much since getting an iPad Pro over the summer. It’s just been more fun to use than the laptop.
Then I bought Pastebot, and I’ve been back on the Mac ever since.
Pastebot remembers everything you copy. Then you can paste any of it later, anywhere you want, in any order you want. You can also create filters that transform text in the clipboard into another format.
If you’re anything like me, and you probably are me if you’re reading this, then you’ll appreciate what this means for doing research or trying to put together a document that includes bits of text or images from elsewhere.
It’s the most useful app I have right now.
Also, Tapbots is a developer well worth supporting. They make great apps.
I’m struggling with the idea of Facebook for Work. Facebook is already at work. It’s also at red lights and in the bathroom and it’s probably open, lurking, somewhere on the machine you’re using. Right now. Just act cool. Maybe it won’t know that you know.
Do we need specialized Facebooks? I guess it makes sense as an enterprise enterprise.
The thing that bugs me about it is that they are continuing to burrow further and further into our flesh. Like that weird eel in Stranger Things. Having it remxoved is going to be an inpatient procedure with one night in the hospital at best.
It’s getting to the point where everyone will have a Facebook account, but also, everyone will be forced to have one.
Because their job will require it.
Their families will require it.
And because they used Facebook connect to log into their creme brulee torch, they’ll need it at least once every year or two.
Or figure out how to access their My Creme Brulee Torch account using an email address.
But that seems like a lot of work. Remember dealing with two factor authentication on the Keurig? That’s a Saturday we’ll never get back.
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.
What winds up happening at Evernote conferences is that people go and they say, ‘Oh, I love Evernote and I’ve been using it for years and now I realize I’ve only been using it for 5 percent of what it can do’ … And the problem is that it’s a different 5 percent for everyone.
Evernote’s icon is an Elephant. Because an elephant never forgets. Elephants are also difficult to work with, bad at telling you what you want to know, and they will roll your Land Rover if you get too close.
Evernote was created by combining an old kitchen appliance with a drunk know-it-all and a bucket of mud. And like the universe, it is ever-expanding.
I don’t like it anymore. Maybe I never did. I’ve moved most of my notes into Apple Notes and text files syncing through Dropbox. But the 5% of Evernote that I still use just isn’t easily replicated anywhere else.