Going Analog

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The past little while, I have started noticing a sort of electronic device fatigue. A fatigue in which despite how useful the digital tools at my disposal are, I still have a decreasing desire to actually use them because I am so tired. I’ve been finding myself increasingly drawn away from using software, toward using good ol’ pen and paper. The effort involved in even booting up the multiple pieces of software I have on its own just sucks the life out of me completely. So I decided today that I’d go analog.

I went to my local Walmart to pick up some supplies to replace the various tools I use on a day-to-day basis, and complement some of the ones that I already had. I wanted something portable (naturally), and it needed to still be fairly easy to access. If I for whatever reason want to leave my phone at home, I want all these more traditional supplies to do the trick without it. So that meant it needed to fit in a backpack, needs to take fewer than 10 seconds to remove from said backpack, and it needs to be organized so searching for information is minimized.

Here’s what some of the tools I use now generally look like.

Digital ToolAnalog ReplacementPurpose
Google CalendarDaily PlannerPlanning
NotionNotebooks, sticky notesNotes, Ideas
BookmarksSticky flagsReading list
Concepts (iPad app)WhiteboardIdeas, design
Tomighty / Marinara TimerSpinny baking timerWorkflow

I love technology, and I want to make that clear before I complain. I would not be a developer if I didn’t love technology, and I’ve loved technology since I was a kid. But there are some things about it that I can’t stand. Those things are emails, notifications, and apps being made “stupid”. Every time you use a website you have to deal with modals asking you to “Subscribe” to their content, every app you register to seems to feel entitled to sending you copious amounts of spam via notifications or emails, and a lot of apps are built to be so “stupid” that “anyone can use them”, making them look like they have more features than they actually do.

I’ve tried a lot of different softwares to get focused as an individual. On a team you no doubt require software, but as an individual do we really need all the sparkle? That’s part of what my Going Analog journey is about.


Note Taking

I generally use Notion to record information fast. I want to be able to hammer it out and reference it at a moment’s notice. Notion has this great search feature that means I can basically find whatever I want in a moment’s notice, but because of the way I organize things, I virtually never need to use search. This is also because I rarely if ever go back and reference my notes because I have to boot the software. This is a bit of an issue, considering that notes are meant to be returned to in a lot of cases. So why do I never return to mine? I simply can’t be bothered to open software not installed on my computer in a lot of cases (no Linux support).

Instead of Notion for note taking, I will be using my new notebooks to write down the information I need, with the sticky flags being little indicators for the kind of information that can be found on each page. This is great for non-specific thinking-notes, where the whole function isn’t so much to reference them in the future, but to use it as a thinking buffer. It’s not so great when you have more specific projects such as research projects. For this use case, I am instead using loose-leaf paper and a magnet to stick it to my whiteboard.

When reading hard-cover books, I’ve seen a lot of people do underlining, highlighting, and writing on the book itself. On the iPad I’ll usually just press and hold with my finger before moving it across the page to highlight text. I can press on it once more to write notes, change the note color, or just get rid of the highlight altogether. I do however find this a horrific way to treat a book, so I opted instead to use sticky notes of varying sizes and the little indicator flags for when a page has a particularly important subject. I kinda prefer my books to stay clean and free of markings, but I also want to keep my ideas close to the book.

Planning

Planning is a little more free-form in my day-to-day life. For my work we do sprints, in which the various features are broken down into what their objectives are, and then the effort for those are estimated. For personal goals, I don’t actually use any software. I’ve tried all sorts of software-based approaches, but there’s one thing I can’t stand about all of them. Virtual check-ins are a huge pain, and I don’t want to pull out my phone to update my progress on a goal. I absolutely can’t stand using software for goal planning. It always feels like I am trivializing the actual objective by having a confetti-puking, notification spamming, graph-touting piece of software that won’t ever leave me alone. So instead I create SMART goals in the form of a paragraph on a piece of paper, and do a similar estimation process to how my work for defining the T (time) in SMART goals.

I don’t really care for graphs or a confetti explosion when I reach a goal, so an app never really would’ve done it for me to begin with, but planning is an important part of life. It’s what you use to inform what you do on the day-to-day, which is where my daily planner comes into play. The one thing I absolutely can’t stand about Calendars nowadays is notifications. I hate notifications, and I can’t tell you how much they drive me absolutely mental. My phone is in a perpetual “Do Not Disturb” mode, all apps are full-screen on my PC so I do not ever have to see the notification bell, and any computer that supports it also has Do Not Disturb. But an overload of calendar events are worse than email notifications, which are the most frustrating kind of notification out there.

So to replace all of the things that I can’t stand about personal calendars, I am using the good ol’ fashioned, back-to-gradeschool agenda. Makes me wish sometimes that I actually just kept using the agenda back in gradeschool instead of “losing” it so I wouldn’t have to use it. Each day, I reference the day from my planner and write down what’s coming in the days ahead. Simple, easy, and no bloody notifications.

Ideation

This one depends on what exactly I am trying to accomplish. Sometimes I need a big area to try to form my ideas, and sometimes I just need to hear it being “read” back to me in the form of writing. In the case of bigger ideas and concepts, I use (no surprise) the “Concepts” app. It lets me write out on an infinite canvas in every direction with every cool little tool you’d want. Drawing angles, straight lines, a beautiful UI, extremely performant, and even has layers! What’s wrong with this? Well, most times I don’t have my iPad with me. My iPad is a reading, Netflix, YouTube device. It’s meant for media, and though I do have the pen for it, I just can’t bring myself to lug my iPad everywhere I go. The battery worry, the notifications (often duplicated from my phone), and the temptation to browse instead of focus are all too overwhelming.

So instead I use a big whiteboard where I can take a picture or distill it further once I get it all down. I haven’t experienced many scenarios where writing on a whiteboard isn’t crystallized in my memory, but there have been a few instances in which it helps build plans. Either way the purpose of a white board is so your brain doesn’t have to hold all the details in your head. You can just get it out and think on the board. This is even sometimes inspired from writing on a piece of paper, which is then expanded upon on the whiteboard before being finalized in software to share with others.


Tools I’ve tried

Note: All tools here are for me as an individual. I stress again, teams basically require a software-based source of truth to operate efficiently.

Note Taking
  • Nebo
  • Git + Vim (Markdown)
  • Apple Notes
  • Notion
  • OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Simplenote
  • Google Drive
  • Obsidian
Planning
  • Google Calendar
  • Notion
  • Google Drive
  • Reminders
Task management
  • Clickup
  • Trello
  • Microsoft ToDo
  • Google Tasks
  • Notion
  • Focus ToDo: Pomodoro Timer & To Do List
  • Apple Reminders

So there you have it. The basics of my first attempt to go analog. If you have any comments, my social media are all linked on the home page. Feel free to reach out :)