Working Tools – 22. ScanSnap

Filing. Yay!

Alright, it’s difficult to get excited about filing. However, the ScanSnap has made my filing tolerable.

Evernote

I first came across the ScanSnap, in a green jacket: The Evernote Edition. This piece of hardware was completely integrated with Evernote, and I was smitten.

I would flick open the scanner, drop in a document, a receipt or a business card, press fire and it would be automatically scanned and saved into the right place in Evernote. It was awesome.

However, my love affair with Evernote waned. Retasking the scanner to work outside of Evernote was awkward and hacky.

Fujitsu

Eventually, I bought a “naked” ScanSnap, the iX500 by Fujitsu. It looks exactly the same as the Evernote edition, but with a black and blue colour scheme rather than a grey and green one under Evernote.

This allows my office to be paperless. The system transforms all correspondence into electronic format.

ScanSnap

Paperless

There is irony I know, to read from someone who has a business selling notebooks, and runs his life from a bullet journal, that he prefers a paperless office.

Much though I love paper notebooks and writing letters, I’m less keen on paper copies of invoices, delivery notes and receipts. I’m even less keen on paying rent for space to put expensive shelves, where expensive folders sit full of expensive paper that nobody ever looks at.

I love the ScanSnap because it makes scanning so easy. The unit connects to my wireless network meaning it can sit anywhere. Scanning is quick, reliable and easy. Invest a little time in setup, and the scanner will save specific types of documents to designated folders. The software even ‘reads’ the documents, allowing them to be searchable.

Open Scansnap

Instructions

Listening to the excellent podcast, Mac Power Users introduced me to David Sparks and his field guide to “Going Paperless”. Here, I learned about Hazel, a mac app that does much of my filing automatically.

No more filing!

I have to admit, that I have not set up a fraction of the automation that I should have, but nevertheless, once paperwork is into the system, my automated backup routines mean that I have multiple copies distributed across several sites, both physical and virtual.

I have two ScanSnaps now. One in the UK office, and one beside me here in the mountain hideaway.

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Working Tools 20. – Music

“Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Leo Tolstoy.

I’m writing scenes set in Budapest in the early 1990s. My protagonist, Sean is in a bar. Everything is going his way. He’s invincible, unstoppable. The world is his oyster and everything is coming up roses, (ouch – talk about a mixed metaphor.) He is full of that impossible confidence of youth.

I want the reader to feel all of that, to be transported to a smokey bar, whisky in hand, rock music booming from the speakers, ready to party hard.

“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” E. Y. Harburg.

History

I lived in Budapest in the 1990s. Sean and I have similar tastes in music. To get inside Sean’s head, I decided to build a playlist.

Wow.

I’m back there. It’s all I can do not to pour myself a Johnnie Walker Red. I can smell the bar, see the faces. Memories rush back with every chord.

I messaged a friend from those days. We reminisced about basement rock clubs full of leather jackets, tattoos and sticky dance floors. He suggested some missing tracks. Listening to a playlist melted 25 years, taking us both back to those days. It was a joy to bathe in nostalgia and “feel those feelings” again. The question is, can I communicate those feelings to the reader, without the music?

Technique

I can’t use the lyrics. In order to quote Guns and Roses or U2, I need their permission, which can be withheld or charged for. That’s overhead that I can’t afford, neither in terms of money, nor time.

Still. I’m a writer. Communicating is a core skill, I hope. How hard can it be?

Turns out, really hard.

I’m going to invest some time in creating specific playlists for each character and each venue. At worst, I get to luxuriate in memories of my youth, and the scenes become much more vivid in my mind’s eye.

I’ll publish them in the members section of the site.

Now. Where did I leave that Johnnie Walker?

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Working Tools 19. – The Pocket Notebook

The Pocket Notebook

The original personal data assistant.

I use a combination of digital and analogue tools, which is not a policy decision, rather it depends which tool is right for the job. I wrote about my range of notebooks back in January. The primary function of the pocket notebook for me is data capture, and for that, I consider it unbeatable. I’m very seldom without a notebook and pen.

I’m aware that I could take a note on my phone, but I rarely do.

Why not?

  1. Process versus outcome. Field Notes have a tag line: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” It’s the act of making the note that is important for me. It cements that otherwise fleeting thought. Often, I don’t need to refer back to my notebook, I automatically recall what I wrote. This is less true of things I have typed.
  2. Efficiency. I hand write much faster than I can type on a phone. I could dictate I suppose, but people think I’m weird enough without me wandering around mumbling into my phone all the time.
  3. Presence. I do not buy into the idea that screens are destroying the world, but I absolutely know that a smart phone can undermine and divert human attention. In the pocket is better than on the table, I find.
  4. Musing. Doodling. I draw very poorly, but from time to time, I get something from making marks on paper. It soothes me. (Told you I was weird.)
  5. Availability. My notebook is always on, and never loses power. Should my pen or pencil disappear or fail, it’s usually quite easy to replace. A phone, less so.
  6. Archive. I’m old enough to have learned that digital data is transient and impermanent. How many people had their lives backed up and preserved on floppy disks, video cassettes, and CDs? How many dissertations survive only in digital formats that can no longer be easily read? Sure, we can migrate data to newer formats every few years, but who does? I could lose my notebooks, or they could be destroyed, but a disaster apart, they will be just as legible in twenty years as they are now.
  7. Hashtag. Pick your favourite. #amwriting, #hipster, #analog. It was pocket notebooks that got me back into stationery – so much in fact, that I bought a notebook business. There are some really cool notebooks out there. (Most of them @NerosNotes)

Membership

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Working Tools 18. – Bullet Journal Update

Working Tools 18. – Bullet Journal Update

At the end of this month (April), I will finish my third consecutive bullet journal. I started here. Six contiguous months, planned, noted, bulleted, journaled. Six months counts as a consistent practice and I feel qualified to write a review.

Bullet Journal Update

What works?

By far the biggest win for me, is how the practice fits into a morning routine. The morning routine is beloved of productivity gurus and enthusiasts. I once bought access to a course on the morning routine, and when we got to the section on “go to the bathroom”, I realised that I may, with no formal tutoring, be a guru myself. I have been regularly going to the bathroom for years. That aside, getting the day started right certainly beats getting the day started wrong.

Morning routine

Leaving out the bathroom, my days starts with an espresso (or more likely two) and my journal. I write the date and then my first note of the day, which is always a gratitude note. I simply write one thing for which I am grateful. Isn’t that nice? Try it. You might be surprised. It does make you feel good.
From there, I’m automatically jotting “To Dos”, reviewing calendar events, just getting an idea of how my day is going to unfold. Once I am down in the office, I will more formally review the previous days – and check if there is anything that I want to migrate forward; either an uncompleted task, or a note that I took. At this point, I will decide which of my tasks are priorities, my “must-dos”. These, I mark with an asterisk.

At that point, the journal gets closed. I don’t constantly refer to it during the day. In many ways, it is the act of the practice that is important, rather than the output. An analogy might be that the journal is an old-fashioned road map rather than a satellite navigation system. I look at the map before I set off.

Reference

Generally, I start the day with creative tasks. I stay away from e-mail and social media, lest my day start by other people prioritising my day for me. As I go through the day, I do sometimes refer back to the journal, either to check completed tasks off or to make a note. At some point, I will review “inbound”, where there will undoubtedly be tasks for me to deal with, note or ignore.

Evening routine

In theory, I review the day and make the odd note. Often, I don’t get to it. It is a lovely way to close the day out, if I can be disciplined enough to do it, but sometimes, well, life happens.

What doesn’t work?

Collections

I have some that I setup at the beginning of each journal, but adding to them does not come naturally to me, I’ll concede. I also create some on the fly, when I have need. At a conference that I recently attended, rather than using the pad provided for notes, I created a collection in the journal. Similarly, I have drafted blog posts in the journal – rather than carry around another notebook.

Bullet Journal Update

Conclusions

Ryder Carroll, the guy behind #bujo gets a bit of stick. Some suggest that his book on the subject goes OTT on what the system can do for you: “Bullet Journal to the rescue!” One can see where people are coming from, but I get the impression that Ryder is self-aware and maintains a balance between promoting the system and staying humble. I find my bullet journal practice helpful and will continue it. I will customise it and evolve it, which is exactly what Ryder suggests you do.

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Working Tools 17. – Podcast Setup

Every Monday evening, I come down to the the office to record an episode of 1857. “Make the past, the present in the future.” If you haven’t already, have a listen. TJ Cosgrove and I chat through our week and talk around a subject that has captured the attention of one of us. As I write, we have just recorded episode 64.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that two years ago, I had only the faintest concept of what a podcast was. I’d certainly never listened to one. I am sure that you, dear reader, are completely au fait with the concept, but lest someone like me has stumbled upon this post, permit me to supply a definition:

“A podcast or generically netcast, is an episodic series of digital audio or video files which a user can download in order to listen to. It is often available for subscription, so that new episodes are automatically downloaded via web syndication to the user’s own local computer, mobile application, or portable media player.“(From Wikipedia)

There is a huge choice of podcasts out there – and I have become a voracious consumer of them. From time to time, I publish lists my current favourites. Here and here for example.

How to listen.

Listening is easy.

Personally, I live in a Mac world, and in my opinion Overcast leads the market. So easy, even I can use it.

Sometimes overlooked – the good old BBC produces some superb podcasts

How to record.

It never occurred to me that I could record a podcast. Then along came Anchor FM, where I was able to mumble into my phone on the way to work and call it a podcast. Anchor is a fantastic way to get started, and is adding functionality all the time. Anyone can become a podcaster in moments.

TJ has been knocking around the analogue world for a while, producing logos, and particularly, great video content. He had shot some video for me at Nero’s Notes. TJ and I got talking. We had never met, but what the hell? We decided to record. I looked around at outsourcing editing services, until we settled on TJ. We looked around at sponsors, until we settled on Nero’s Notes.

It’s that simple.

Podcast Setup

Not as complex as you might think. In a nutshell, we talk on the phone and each of us records our own voice. We usually talk through What’s App, but Skype works too. You could even just talk on the phone – subject to your call plan! We’re talking though our headphones. I use these. In order to record my end of the conversation, I use this, the Blue Yeti. (As does TJ.) It plugs into a USB in the back of my monitor. It has a little furry hat on (or a pop filter, as techie folk call it) to stop my plosives popping on the audio. Recently, I bought a boom arm, to reduce the clutter on my desk.

Podcast Setup - Desk
Podcast Desk

The recording is done though a piece of software called Audacity, where I press a button to start recording (the red one), and another to stop it (the yellow one). Then I export the audio to my dropbox and send TJ a link to the file. He then imports my file into his Audacity, and mixes and edits the two tracks together. There is undoubtedly some work in that editing phase, and I have no doubt that TJ’s experience in editing video has helped him master it quickly, but I am told that it is learnable, with great instruction available online.

Our recordings are hosted at SimpleCast, for a low monthly fee, and people subscribe to us through a wide variety of channels.

Why do we do it?

That’s really simple. We enjoy it. We take pleasure in our conversations, and our listeners do too. The podcast has spawned a Slack channel, 1857ers chew the fat, and that’s great fun too. If you would like to join – get in touch and I’ll send you an invite.

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Working Tools 16. – Home Office

Since moving to Cyprus, I don’t commute any more. I am lucky enough to have a distinct home-office. It’s a converted carport, connected to the house, yet separate. Now, six months after arriving, I am onto office 3.0.

Desks

Home Office 1

This is a desk from Ikea where the height can be adjusted. I bought it with the intention of varying it through the day, sometimes sitting and sometimes standing. Lesson learned. Within days, I stopped adjusting the desk. It was a permanent standing desk, then a permanent sitting desk. Here is where I write letters, and sometimes work. It is not entirely analogue, my iPad Pro lives here and there is a small monitor on the wall. (It’s actually the doorbell, which also functions as an intercom to the kitchen, upstairs.)

Home Office 2

Turns out, an Ikea bookshelf makes for a perfectly adequate standing desk. The IT setup is a MacBook Pro with external monitor. The screen riser is a very high-tech solution, namely a ream of printer paper. My podcasting microphone lives on the boom and I have a Mastermind desk pad and Squire from the excellent Baron Fig. The small surface area enforces a minimalist approach, which minimises distraction. Focus is a real benefit of working on my feet and this is only enhanced by the new setup.

Feet Up

Central to my space, I have an armchair, where I meditate, read and nap. Trouble is, it’s a popular spot.

Home Office 3

The plan is that having a great workspace allows me to segregate my day. This is important. While Spice was tiny, I took to working in the kitchen, where I could keep an eye on her. While convenient, this very quickly blurred the lines between work time and downtime. Given half a chance, I’ll keep tinkering away for eighteen hours a day. Now, I am more able to switch off when I leave the office.

The next challenge will be the heat. Despite taking its time to arrive this year, summer is hot in Cyprus. Temperatures will reach 40 degrees centigrade (104 F) in the shade, and I’m sure that working on the terrace will seem very attractive. Surely that’s an element of #livingthedream? If it does get too hot, the home-office does have air-conditioning, so it may become a sanctuary.

I’m extremely lucky to have such a fantastic space, so time for me to make the most of it and do some work.

My writing is supported by people like you. Most posts here are free, but some are reserved for Members.  Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Working Tools -15. Tripit

Tripit is another digital tool. Last week, I wrote about analogue tools, so this week, something truly digital. I travel a bit, and Tripit is now my goto tool for travel plans.

Camino de Santiago

The best way to demonstrate why I like it, is to provide an example. I am walking the Camino de Santiago, following the Via Francés, which runs from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, five hundred miles away. I am doing it in stages, a week a year, for five years. This year will be the fourth. We are starting in Léon and finishing in Triacastela, one hundred and ten tiring miles later.

There are many ways to walk the Camino, and my walking-buddy Stuart, (I know, it confuses everybody) and I have settled into a routine where we pre-book our overnights. We’re both creeping up on fifty years old and after our first camino decided that dormitories have had their day for us. We share a room in a cheap hotel. Now, we walk at an easier pace, and often enjoy a leisurely lunch, secure in the knowledge that we can roll into our chosen village at six pm, our bed secured.

Camino by Tripit!

The Process.

I sit down with the guide book to plan our next stage. First criterion is that both Stuart and I are very lucky in that our wives put up with us disappearing for a week each year to go walking, and we don’t want to push our luck. We stipulate that we will go for no more than eight days. Two days travel and six days walking.

Task 1.

International. Stuart starts from Dublin and this year, I start from Cyprus. We need to get to Léon to carry on from where we finished last year. I use RometoRio and Skyscanner to work this out. This year, we will be landing in Madrid, and taking a bus to Léon. Leaving, we will be getting a bus from our finish point to the town of Sarria, overnighting there, before getting a train to Santiago de Compostela, and a bus to the airport there. That worked out, I book my flights, and Stuart books his.

Task 2.

Stages. We are pretty comfortable at around eighteen miles a day. Less than fifteen feels too little and twenty plus feels a slog. Using the guidebook, I identify likely stop points, and then search accommodation options online. I tend to use booking.com. Twin beds, private bathroom and access to a laundry service or washing machine is essential. We carry everything that we need for the week on our backs, so the ability to wash and dry clothes is non-negotiable.

Task 3.

Finally, we get to Tripit. I go to my email, which is now full of booking confirmations from airlines and hotels. I forward all of these to Tripit. This is where the magic happens. In moments, all of the bookings are collated into an itinerary that is available to me online or on an app in my phone. Each booking is summarised on a master view, and I have the ability to drill into the detail. The reservation number, the cancellation terms, the payment status, everything. For example, in one of the bookings, this is listed under Notes:
“Notes. This room features views of the Santa Mariña Church. It comes with 2 single beds and a private bathroom.”

Advantages

Everything that I need is stored in the app and online. I can share the trip plans, so that everyone is in the picture. I am able to add notes and pictures to any item in the itinerary.  We are not pre-booking bus tickets, we will buy them on the ground, but I am able to save the schedules in the itinerary, both the buses that we plan to take and the fallback options, because, well, life happens. Stuart and I are both now looking at the route, reading blogs, seeking out sites to visit, churches to see, even restaurants, (we take lunch very seriously). All of this can be added to Tripit.

My writing is supported by people like you. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year, which will, this year, include my debut novel. Become a member.

Working Tools -14. Writing Instruments

Writing Instruments

Writing instruments are important to me. I consider myself a writer and keep several journals. I own a notebook company. Of course, writing instruments are important to me.This post could run to pages, and I daresay that this is a subject area to which I’ll return. I will try not to go on too long today.My love affair with pens and pencils is similar to my relationship with bags. I adore finding and using the write instrument for the purpose at hand.

Matching

This “matching” is more important to me than any subjective or objective measure of quality or merit. For example, I own a Pelikan 805 Stressemann fountain pen and I own multiple Mitsubishi Uniball UB-150 gel pens. For my bullet journal, I will always reach for a Mitsubishi rather than the Pelikan, even though the Pelikan is a magnificent fountain pen, that is expensive and a joy to own.
Writing a letter to a friend, I will always reach for a fountain pen. Often, I might reach for several, changing pen, nib and ink, mid-sentence. Drafting a chapter, or a blog post, I might use a pencil, a rollerball, a gel pen, a fountain pen or, at a push, a ballpoint. Which will depend on where I am, and how the mood takes me.

A beautiful Writing instrument
Isn’t she gorgeous?

Tools

Ultimately, the writing instrument should simply be a working tool. It shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter what we use, it matters what we do with it. Nevertheless, it helps if you enjoy using your tools. I definitely enjoy mine too much. I even have pencils coming by subscription. Heck, I even bought a notebook company!
Analogue writing is mounting a comeback in this, the digital age. There is much research that using pen or pencil stimulates parts of the brain that keyboards simply don’t reach, and the success of Moleskine and Field Notes has led to the launch of multiple competitors.

Everpresent

Whether I be hiking the Camino De Santiago, or sitting in a coffee shop, I am never without a writing instrument and a notebook. Marie Kondo would approve; they bring me joy. Handy for making a shopping list too.

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Working Tools -13. Baron Fig Messenger

Baron Fig Messenger

It’s been over a month since I changed bag. Perhaps a record? There must a syndrome name for this obsession. Now, I’m into a Baron Fig Messenger. This latest change was prompted by a super-short trip. Sunday last, Nero’s Notes had a table at the WES London Spring Show. Tuesday just gone (yesterday, as I write this), was Mrs L’s birthday.

Therefore, the confluence of these two events meant that I was flying to the UK on Saturday afternoon and returning to Cyprus on Monday morning. I could choose either to live out of one bag for the duration of the trip, or, as I ultimately chose to do, have one bag for the hotel, and one for the show and “out and about”.

New criteria. New bag.

The Pacsafe

The PacSafe is an excellent bag and for a commute, I would definitely recommend it. However, there is a lot of it. It’s big. I wanted something lighter and smaller. In my mind’s eye, I expected to be doing a fair amount of walking about town – not necessarily with a destination in mind. On my last trip, when I went for a wander, I left both my bags in the hotel, I think, because of size concerns.

I have recently acquired a Messenger bag from Baron Fig. It’s small, the opposite of tactical and a pleasing shade of baby-blue. To be honest, spec-wise, it is not in the same league as the PacSafe. But, its small and cute.

A Messenger bag by Baron Fig

Pros & Cons

A real advantage of “small” is that it places constraints on what I can carry, forcing me to keep things light. From that point of view, this definitely worked. However, there was an issue: My DSLR. I have, on 1857, been talking about getting more into photography and wanting to carry a camera, other than my phone, around with me. I had been toying with the idea of buying a new mirrorless camera and prime lens, giving me a compact form but a huge sensor. Whilst an attractive idea, I had rejected it, in favour of a new lens on my existing Nikon. It is only a little bigger and heavier. The trouble is, that little counts. A camera and lens is a bit boxy, and boxy is anathema to Messengers, at least in my mind. As a result, the camera ended up around my neck, or in the wheelie bag. Food for thought.

Conclusion

The Baron Fig is a lovely bag. It is well-built, looks good and does the job. I believe that the newer version has some water resistance, however I suspect that the person carrying this bag is not hiking or cycling through a storm. This bag might jump into a Lyft or an Uber when the rain came. The zips are tough and heavy duty, but they are metal. Metal doesn’t always play nice with things being pulled in and out of the bag. As a smaller model, it doesn’t offer the versatility of the Pacsafe, although it would be a mite unfair to criticise a small bag for being small.

I suppose the real question that I face is, bigger bag or smaller camera? The search continues…

Working Tools -12. Buffer

The Dilemma

I wrote before about my distrust of Facebook (and by extension, Instagram), and Twitter. Ultimately, I find the way that they harvest and trade in personal data abhorrent, and the way that they allow themselves to be instruments of manipulation, dangerous.
Nevertheless, this is where the people are, and whether it be my writing or my notebooks, I want people to see what I’m up to; so I need to continue to post on Twitter and Facebook. In large part, I do this from one remove.

Buffer

I use a tool called Buffer. This is a web service that allows me to create and schedule posts in advance from an independent platform. Once a week, I sit down and prepare a week’s worth of content. I schedule Facebook posts, Tweets, LinkedIn updates and even Instagram photos (although Instagram/Buffer is a bit awkward). This isn’t my sole interface with social media, but it does help me maintain a more intentional presence. I have no notifications turned on for any social media channels. No little red numbers, no banners in the notification centre, no cute little sounds. I look at social media when it suits me, not the other way around. I recommend that everybody do this with pretty much all notifications, on all things. My phone rings when someone calls it, and beeps when I get an iMessage or SMS. That’s it. My iPhone home screen is empty, bar one app in the dock. The telephone.

Other check-ins

  1. Instagram. I check in at the beginning and the end of the day, to respond to any comments on my posts and to have a little browse myself.
  2. Facebook. I don’t go there anymore, perhaps once a week, I might have a scroll through some of the Groups. Clare looks after the Nero’s Notes Facebook page, and it connects through to the shopfront for any customer queries.
  3. Twitter – Once a day, I check mentions, retweets and spend a little time scrolling through for something of interest.
  4. Linkedin. As per Facebook, I might have a look every week or two.

Content Inbox

During the week, I will top up my Buffer queues. Buffer allows me to set up “Content Inboxes”. These are made up of RSS feeds, so when the Pen Addict publishes, this will appear in my Nero’s Notes Twitter Content Inbox. I can then add this to my queue. It seems likely that people following Nero’s Notes are going to be interested in the output of the Pen Addict, and so giving them a link to it, is a service, of sorts. Similarly, my own blog posts appear in the Content Inbox and I can then push status updates and tweets from there.

Summary

There is always a risk that social media will suck away time, but tools like Buffer do make it easier to manage and control. Buffer can’t replace genuine interaction, but it does provide a background ‘base’. I’m not looking to profile, target and pursue customers with Big Tech’s data harvesting, I just want to let people know that we’re here and that we may have something that they are interested in.

My writing is supported by people like you. If you can support me, I’m very grateful. If you choose not to, that’s OK too. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.