In Flow

Some days the work just flows. Tasks feels easy, decisions are made, words transfer from the brain to the keyboard with nary a pause; and engaging with people makes you realise the world is full of interesting characters.

These days of flow are generally few and far between. We structure our days such that we have no breathing room. Alternatively, we don’t structure anything and drift through without a clear and achievable goal in mind. If we can happen to find the Goldilocks Zone between those two extremes, and establish a mindset that is engaged yet relaxed, well, I think that’s where the magic happens.

Most days, of course, the work doesn’t flow. Things are a grind and stuff fails to work out as intended.

So the days where flow occurs; embrace it, because there’s no guarantee it will be back tomorrow. Get the most out of this rare and elusive asset!

Replacing Social Media

I joined both Facebook and Twitter many years ago, when they were technical ideas, as opposed to advertising machines driven by algorithms.

Part of the reason for joining in the first place was for me to reserve my namespace. Just like gold rushes of old, it’s always important to claim your username before somebody else jumps in before you and puts their stake in the ground. While Twitter and Facebook took off, I also had my namespaces at long-forgotten sites like Pownce, Myspace and Technorati.

The Halcyon Days

Over the following years, my engagement with Twitter and Facebook increased. Facebook was great for retaining connections with people I knew IRL while on Twitter I built a list of followers that I didn’t know, but whose insights and commentary I enjoyed. This ultimately revolved around my two greatest hobbies: basketball and the Apple IT ecosystem. From around 2011-2015 really were the salad days of these two services.

The problem for them (not me), however, was that I wasn’t paying the bills. Nor were any of the other users. We know how this story goes. As per the trope, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. There was a realisation that I was certainly the product – being sold as advertising fodder by these services that needed revenue to keep the lights on, and investors invested.1

Addiction

Over time, these services added dopamine to my day. The nefarious social engineering tweaks they built to maintain my engagement were difficult to defeat. Likes, comments, shares, retweets. All these things built in a way that tries to make you feel like you are valued by your audience, but which are all just further measures to build an advertising profile of each of their human products. But it kept me coming back.

My usage continued to grow until a series of events made me question what the hell I was doing. Firstly, most of the Facebook people I realised I either saw in real life — which was much more satisfying — or I never saw them, and didn’t have space in my life to genuinely care about them. The algorithm would occasionally surface them to my feed, then they would bubble down again to be forgotten. On Twitter, there was growing awareness (and evidence) of the hate, vitriol, bile and mistreatment of people, both inside and outside my personal feed.

Downfall

As the services became politicised, they became weaponised. Intolerance grew, they became echo chambers, and the value of what was being expressed was minimised. From link bait to listicles and lame videos, both services were serving up nothing but empty calories. I realised that I was using my most valuable resource — my time — on two services that were giving me nothing back in return for my investment.

Hence, the decision to withdraw my namespace claims. I have deactivated Facebook. I have deleted Twitter.

Reversion

What is great is that I don’t feel I have lost anything. I feel just as informed, and I actually feel calmer. I don’t have this buzz in the back of my brain, like an itch I can’t scratch, knowing that I need to check my feeds. It has freed up the time to do more productive things. I’ve been reading actual books again. I have watched TV shows and movies with full focus.

It’s been great to have more free time to invest in activities that provide mental nourishment, rather than the fast food diet I had become used to with social media. Ironically, I think I had it more right 10 years ago, before the age of social media, where this is exactly what I would do. I would read, learn, converse. I didn’t like, share and tweet. But I think, on balance, I was all the better for it. I’m enjoying this rebalancing I’m going through now, and I hope that it continues.


  1. If you want evidence of just how much you are the customer, be sure to download the document from Twitter that shows just what information they have on you, and how you are linked with a range of brands and services for marketing towards. It’s kind of chilling. 

Deprioritising Facebook

A few months ago I stopped using Facebook. I deactivated my account, deleted the Facebook apps from my iOS devices, and went cold-turkey. I have subsequently had to reactivate my account because of the need to engage with some groups that exist only on Facebook, but I continue to ignore my timeline.

It has been a great change for the better. Facebook adds a huge weight of nothing. It’s empty calories. It uses up time that could be better spent elsewhere. I haven’t missed any news; I don’t feel less engaged with the world. To the contrary, actually. I feel more engaged. I don’t crave the little dopamine hits of likes and comments. I’m still writing and recording aspects of my life, but now they are feeding content that I own, whether it’s on my own microblog, or in my Day One journal, or (heaven forbid) through one-on-one conversations.

It surprised me just how easily I was able to ‘kick the habit’ of using Facebook. I thought I would miss it. As if to emphasise just how hollow the platform is, I’ve not had any of my myriad followers reach out to check if I’m still alive since my departure! That point highlights the disconnected connectedness Facebook promotes. Sure, you ‘like’ somebody’s post, but do you remember it 30 seconds later? Would you notice if it were not there? The evidence would suggest not, and that spot in the timeline would just be filled by something else.

If I could dump the Facebook platform entirely I would. As it is, I will use it as little as possible, and only as required for specific functional tasks. I am not willing to gift my attention to Facebook, for it to leverage into profit. My hours on this planet are too valuable to give you them for free.

Writing versus Speaking

If I have the option to communicate through text or voice, I’m choosing text every time.

I don’t love writing; it’s not a passion. I’m more happy working with numbers, to be honest. What I am definitely not, though, is a talker.

In writing, I feel that I can more eloquently express my views. In conversation I never quite feel as agile, by comparison. It takes a lot of focus to think on my feet and maintain the flow. Add to that, the little voice in my head that is always there in the background, questioning whether the person I’m talking to is listening, if they care at all, or are they bored out of their brain. Talking comes with pressure!

When I write, however, it comes out much more formally than when I speak. I struggle to achieve a relaxed tone in my writing (as this article may attest!). I also have no indication as to whether my words have ever been read — conversations don’t have that issue.

Ironically, so much of my work relies directly on my ability to have conversations with clients. There is a discerning factor, though. In these instances, I prefer to consider myself an empathic listener and interpreter. The more I listen, the more I can understand. If I’m talking, I’m not getting to the root of the issues and concerns of the firms I am trying to help. Sure, I will add some value through some suggestions, ideas and stories, but that tends to come more easily.

Then I go away and write some outcomes and actions!

Podcasting

Podcasting has definitely gone mainstream now. There is nothing in technology more reliant on voice and speaking than podcasting. Blogging I’m comfortable with – it’s writing. Podcasting? I have been a happy listener for years, but have never been a producer.

A new version of the app Anchor has been released for iOS and Android. The app has had a pivot with its focus now being the generation of short, simple podcasts. I’ve downloaded it, but haven’t yet had a play. I will probably try recording a few podcasts, but I have strong doubts that any of my efforts would be any good.

I really don’t like the sound of my own voice. I feel bad for people who have to listen to it normally, so to record myself and have to listen to my own voice in an extended recording is confronting in the extreme. I’m also not sure that I could maintain a coherent and interesting structure while speaking. Writing is different. You can plan, outline, edit, rewrite. Voice recording requires a lot more editing effort to achieve the same, and I’m no audio engineer.

I don’t own any professional podcasting equipment. I don’t have a good mic. If I started a podcast it would be rudimentary at best. Then again, that makes me sound like the target market for Anchor.

Finally, but probably foremost, there is the issue of content. What to talk about? What to say? Why would anybody bother to listen?1

So I may, or may not, trial a podcast. I might record it, hate the result and delete it. Or it may turn out okay and I might share it to my blog. Who knows? I don’t know!


  1. To be fair, all these questions could just as easily be levelled at this blog, but here I am, typing away. 

Sisyphus’ Notetaking App

I am always searching for the perfect notes app, and the best way to integrate that into my workflow. I’m not sure I have found the former and I haven’t achieved the latter, but I keep trying. It’s ultimately a Sisyphean task, because there’s always another note taking app just around the corner which will constitute a new way of working with it. Nevertheless, I try.

With our proliferation of devices it’s no longer enough to have a decent desktop-based notetaking process. Access needs to be ubiquitous, and that means cloud sync. While a few years ago that would limit the candidates significantly, nowadays sync is the price of entry. When the iPhone arose and syncing was hard, the best option was Simplenote. This app used its own sync engine to provide lightning fast sync. I had a large number of notes in Simplenote, but it was convoluted getting them on my Mac, which required Dropbox and NVAlt – an app which I love the concept of but it never really grew on me.

Nowadays there are an abundance of options, such as Apple Notes, OneNote, Notability, OmniOutliner, and the list goes on. The problem with this is fragmentation. Taking notes is one thing, finding them again later is quite another. If I don’t have all my notes in one location, they may as well be lost. Plus that location needs to be available wherever I am and whatever device I have to hand. Spotlight search is useful, but I want to know where that note is, and I don’t want to have to trawl through search results to find it.

For the moment I have settled on Bear for notes. It syncs reliably across iOS and macOS, it supports Markdown syntax and can export into a variety of formats. It also looks really pretty.

Despite my use of Bear, I haven’t totally solved the fragmentation problem. I continue to use Goodnotes for handwritten notes taken with my Apple Pencil, DEVONThink Pro for reference material, and Ulysses for long-form writing. So stuff remains scattered.

And so my stone rolls back down the hill…