September 28, 2020

Introverted in an Extroverted World

I’m finishing up listening to the audio book Quiet by Susan Cain. This is the second time I have “read” this book. I really love the book. I will return to it often. 

I have always been introverted. As a kid I felt pressure to not be the way I was. My introversion and shyness always felt like something I had to overcome. “Quiet” is like a weighted blanket wrapped around me telling me that it is okay to be me. 

When I was a kid I felt different. I didn’t see all the other kids that were just as scared to do things as me. I thought all the other kids were normal & well-adjusted. I thought nobody else had anxiety at the prospect of interacting with groups of people you didn’t know very well. I’m not sure where I fall on the introversion continuum, but when I was little I thought I was the only one who felt the way I did.

If you are introverted at all I would recommend that you read “Quiet”. It reminds me that I am not alone in my introversion, and that there is actually nothing wrong with me. I’ve come a long way since I was that extremely shy little kid, but in my free time I’m just as introverted as ever. I still need time to myself to recharge and think, and “Quiet” reminds me that is perfectly okay. 

The book also reminds me that not everybody feels the same way as I do, and I need to take them into consideration as well. Life has to be a balanced. I may never get it just right, but "Quiet" helps me put things into perspective. 

September 22, 2020

Book Tracking in Notion

A few years ago I got serious about reading again. That might sound weird, but hear me out. I've always enjoyed reading for enjoyment, however high school and college burned me out. During my 4 years of college I read the Harry Potter series and once I finished that I basically stopped reading novels for the next 15 years. 

In 2005 I started really diving into podcasts. I started watching a ton more movies and writing on this blog. I also started reading a ton of online content. There was no more time in my life for reading novels. 

I bought a Kindle around 2010 and downloaded a bunch of classic literature onto it. I never read those books. I filled my Kindle up with online articles that I'd saved to Instapaper. I used it as a device to read web content... which is totally against the point of a kindle. 

Starting in 2015 or so I set a goal to read a certain number of books each year, but I would usually finish woefully short of my target. I was still trying to read classic literature or force my way through other fiction books that just weren't grabbing me. 

At the beginning of 2017 I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It was the beginning of my exposure to a ton of nonfiction books. I started seeking out "best books I've ever read" lists on YouTube or on the web. I found lists of favorite books from all sorts of successful people. I had to have a way to keep track of it all. I needed a way to organize and prioritize the books I wanted to read. I created a kanban board in Trello and tagged books that were available at the public library. 

My Trello board was fine, but it still had a lot of friction. I debated on moving everything to a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs. Then a couple months ago Notion expanded their free tier and I knew I was going to test out the app with my book tracking database. 

I first created a database that allowed me to easily capture the books I wanted to read and categorize them in all sorts of ways. I was able to easily track data around when I start and finish reading each book. I can easily open up each row of the spreadsheet into a separate page and capture any notes that I want to make as I am reading the book. 

The "Book Vault" is a database of all the books I want to read.

I have also created a "Book Tracking" page which gives me thumbnail views of the books I am currently reading as well as the books I have recently finished. I can switch these to several other views that I have created if I want to look for items in my backlog that I want to prioritize to read next. 

I have been really happy with this system. It is serving me much better than my Trello board did and has way more features that a simple Excel spreadsheet could offer. 

There obviously is a bit of administrative work to keep up with the database, but that will be the case with anything like this. You have to feel like you are getting out of it more than you are putting into it. In this case, I definitely feel like I am getting a lot out of it. In these last several months I have read more books than I have in any other year of my life. I also feel like I am getting more out of my reading. My note-taking system for ideas from books is evolving and maturing. I feel like I am compiling a tangible set of knowledge from reading these books, and that motivates me even more. 

I am still learning Notion and I hope to make my book tracking database even fancier. I have started playing around with relationships between tables and have started logging the inspiration or influence that led me to read each book in that way. Still, I feel like I am only scratching the surface with this powerful tool. 

I want to be intentional about not overcomplicating this system. I am sure I will continue to dive down the Notion rabbit hole, but I want to make sure I don't lose sight of what is important. I don't want to waste a lot of time building unnecessary features in my book tracking system. I could be using that time actually reading. 

September 19, 2020

Quick Thoughts on iOS 14

 I installed the new Apple mobile OS’s on my iPhone, iPad, and watch yesterday. I thought I would share some quick thoughts on some of the new features. 

The reason I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger before the .1 update came out was home screen widgets. I’ve thought that would be a really compelling feature for a long time. So far I really like having a smart stack at the bottom of my home screen. It is the perfect thing for a weather and calendar app. I can get nearly all the information I will ever need from the widget, and only need to go into the app if I am looking for something specific. 

I haven’t gotten too crazy with the widgets yet, but I plan to add a couple more to my home screen and further pare back the app icons. A lot of my favorite apps still need to make widgets available. You can't tell via the screenshot, but I have 5 widgets in a stack that I can quickly flip through. 

I am hoping to embrace the App Library concept. So far I don’t know how I feel about it. In the past I had 2 screens of apps and then a bunch of folders. It was how I’ve interacted with my phone for several years. I basically have that same concept, but everything feels really cluttered now. I plan to clean out all the folders on my second page and rely more on the app library concept. I’m sure I will be messing around with app placement for weeks before I finally get something workable. 

While interacting with my phone the last couple of days the other major feature changes haven’t been that noticeable. There hasn’t been anything that sticks out with iPad OS 14. I really with you had more flexibility to put widgets on the home screen of the iPad. Hopefully that will come in the near future.  

I do think my battery life is slightly worse on both of my devices. 

The updates to Messages are nice, but don’t significantly change the way I use the app. 

The new watch faces are fine. I am testing out one of the “stripes” faces as well as a tachometer face. The rainbow numbered “California” face is also a nice clean look. 

I’ve just started playing around with Shortcuts. I’ve automated the changing of my watch face during work hours. I use an information dense one during the day and switch to a simple analog view after work. That is a nicety that I didn’t know I wanted, but will probably go down the rabbit hole on setting up these little automations. 

One annoyance that I've always had with iOS is that you cannot remove the name of the app that is always shown beneath the icon. I know all of my apps by now, I don't need the name always to be shown. It creates unnecessary visual clutter. Now with the widgets it drives me absolutely insane that they have the name of the app printed below the widget. For some reason this is unacceptable to me. I hope they consider changing this or adding an options. 

Overall it isn't that exciting of an update, but I haven't dug into all of the features that it offers. 

September 14, 2020

Notes Are Personal

 Even though I haven’t posted lately, I have continued to think about my note-taking system and how I might further refine my process. This has led me to think about what principles have been important to me developing the system I have. I’m also thinking about the things that are most important to me that will help guide my way forward. 

I have decided to turn these principles into a series of posts. This first item is central to how I got to where I am right now. It is also something I keep in mind as I continue to learn how other people work. 

When I think back to when I was getting started I was so quick to adopt systems from other people. It let me on a wild goose chase. I would run into frustration almost everywhere I turned. I got to the point where it no longer became helpful to see how other people worked because I didn’t have a foundation for myself to build from.

It wasn’t until I created my own simple workflows that I was able to start improving. I had something that I had created that worked for me, and now I was ready to start building onto that using ideas from others. 

Your productivity workflow has to be something personal to you. For notes to be effective you have to be able to engage with those notes in a productive way. If you are using a system that doesn’t fit you there will always be friction. You will have a ton of trouble trying to stay engaged and excited about your note-taking system. You will stop using it. You will be back at square one. 

I have an extremely analytical personality. I like structure. I have to create discipline and consistency in my routines. Those things give me a sense that what I am doing is working for me. My entire productivity and note taking systems are geared around those personality traits. I have started to understand what worked for me and now I am able to try new things and push my comfort zone in a way that is useful and expands how I think. 

Earlier in my productivity journey I did not understand exactly what I needed and what types of workflows connected with my brain. It can feel like you are blowing in the wind trying everything you see but never finding a system that completely works for you. 

My guidance would be to create something from scratch. What is the simplest thing you could think to do that is better than what you do now. Does that work? Build on it. 

What I am writing on this blog is something that I would find beneficial in my current productivity journey. The whole point of me writing all of these things down is to further teach myself what worked for me, and continue to push myself forward. I don’t want to lead anybody astray that hasn’t figured out what works for them yet. 

So what am I really saying here... you already have to know what works for you in order to create something that works *better* for you? That seems silly. 

I’m saying that you have to explore options and be aware of when a system creates friction for yourself. In order for any of this to work you have to want to do it. I don’t think anybody is going to force a personal productivity system onto you. You have to know what you want to get out of it, and you have to identify when you find something where the juice is worth the squeeze. 

I was lost in the wilderness for a long time before I ever felt like any of this was worthwhile. I still question it from time to time. There will be days/weeks when I disengage for some reason. Then there are times when I don’t do something I have put in place for myself and it causes me to completely fail. I’m getting better at catching myself and getting back on track. Those are the times that keep me trying. My desire to be better at all aspects of my work pushes me to follow my own rules and keep up with my own expectations. To make it work you have to want it. 

This post doesn’t have anything you can tangibly do to get better. It is warning you to be aware. Try new things, but don’t be too hard on yourself if they don’t work. You have to try new things and figure out what connects with you. Don’t feel like you need to wholesale adopt a system. What do you need to do to get to a point where you can build upon a foundation and continually improve?