I love systems. I know the tools and strategies I use to navigate each day of my life will fundamentally define who I am. I frequently think of this quote from James Clear that hits that point so well.
Intensity:— Matt Broberg (@mbbroberg) October 28, 2020
-run a marathon
-write a book in 30 days
-silent meditation retreat
-don’t miss a workout for 2 years
-write every week
Intensity makes a good story. Consistency makes progress.
~ From a newsletter by @augustbradley
The core of my system falls into two groupings: principles and tools.
Tools are less meaningful without practices that guide their usage. Here is a shortlist of principles I do my best to follow. Some are goals I may never achieve ultimately. Ask me any questions you have in the meantime on Twitter.
The resulting choices are as follows.
Here are the tools I use right now in order of frequency of use. I have a Changelog at the bottom for reference on the big shifts.
I’ve gone all-in on the weird and wonderful world of Notion. I find it as revolutionary as the spreadsheet once was, and its ability to share templates with others gives it a virality that is sure to pay off. For new users, however, it’s a blank slate similar to any superpower of a tool. I fell into the work of August Bradley and find his system to be the right foundation for me. I even paid to take his course and found that it set a foundation for me well worth the cost.
I keep every random note, meeting note, action item, and article I plan to read in Notion using (many) embedded and interlinked databases. Notion also has a rapidly maturing webclipper that I use on nearly every page I read on the internet (and then I organize into the system). It sounds complicated, but it feels fluid and interwoven.
More importantly, I have a system of projects that align with personal objectives and key results (OKRs) that cascade down from a vision of the person I want to be. (This system is largely a 1:1 to August’s work above, so check it out if it sounds of interest). The resulting structure is the first time in my life that I feel I can plan a big picture concept and see it all the way through to completion. It’s a huge boost that I’m slowly building out.
Most important about Notion is that it can organize and interlink information in a way I haven’t found before. I’m using it to build a knowledge management system to feel like I’m growing knowledge over time rather than hiding it away in unlinked notes.
Evernote continues to be the path of least resistance for quick notes that synchronize across operating systems, but that’s not why I keep it around. The Evernote Webclipper is still the most effective way to pluck knowledge from the internet into a forever file. Notion is getting closer with its webclipper, but it’s way of structuring inputs as blocks doesn’t always capture website output without manual copy and pasting of links. For that reason, Evernote remains a must have.
I have tried to adopt an open source alternative (specifically Joplin, Simple Notes, and Standard Notes), but I haven’t quite landed on an architecture for cross-operational sync and a good web clipper. I bet I’ll adopt one of these with time.
A password management tool that sync across devices is the single best “hack” any of us can do for ourselves. As this Mozilla article puts it so well:
|The alternative to using a password manager is to rely on your own memory to remember all your credentials — or worse yet — writing them down. This inevitably leads to recycling passwords or using variations — a bad habit that hackers love.|
Maybe more importantly is that I don’t ever (re)write my name, address, phone number, or email over and over again on websites. Whenever a prompt comes up, I click and it’s filled out.
I’ve relied on Dashlane for quite a few years now. It works 95% of the time, and comes in at a fair price (for now). I’m cautious about the latest round of VC funding, but it hasn’t been enough to change. If I do, it will be to either 1Password or an open source alternative. The gotcha is that I need my loved ones to join me on the transition, and that can be a challenge.
Paid accounts include a VPN that I frequently use on my phone.
I try to use a non-Chrome-based browser as my primary web browser. It’s… inconvenient at times, but I believe enough of us doing so is the only way to avoid a monopoly. I believe in the mission of Mozilla, and I hope the little I can contribute as a user can help that mission along.
That said, Chrome-based browsers do work quite a lot better for Google Drive work, which I use for my day job. I have been using Brave for that purpose because of their privacy stance. I hope they help push toward a better business model for the internet.
My work on Opensource.com inspired me to stretch beyond a single operating system, which has proven to be a challenge at times. Thankfully, I use a few tools that keep me relatively in sync across systems.
I manage all the little utilities I love using the
brew command on both Mac and Linux.
Homebrew is a brilliant open source software to install command-line utilities and full applications. The latter only works on macOS, but the former is impressively cross-platform. Thanks to Homebrew, any time I type
fd on the command line, I can feel confident it’s in the path.
You can read more about my use of Homebrew:
I absolutely love the concept of portable customization files, especially across operating systems.
There are a million ways to do this, most of which rely on poorly tested shell scripts. I’ve tried about 100 of them, written more than I’d like to admit, and then stopped when I found something that did what I needed it to do. The absolute best tool I’ve found to handle it is chezmoi. It gives a command-line utility wrapper around the files you want it to manage. On top of that, there’s a
diff function that lets you compare your local configuration to the saved state, making it easier to catch and adjust drift across machines.
If you prefer programming in Python, I found HOMELY is a great wrapper around standard library code. I’ve also contributed in the past and have push access if you need to get any fixes in.
You can poke around my dotfiles here to see how it looks in practice.
I am one of those people who immediately opens a terminal window after my computer boots up. It’s not out of necessity at this point, but the habit is there. I spent most of my career learning its magical incantations, and I find navigating through my daily tasks on the terminal makes for a more enjoyable day at work.
I wrote all about the specifics in Drop Bash for fish shell to get beautiful defaults.
There are way too many places to get pinged on a day-to-day basis. Ferdi makes that suck a whole lot less with a great open souce experience.
I open Ferdi daily to access Google Chat, Twitter, Discord, Signal, IRC, and anything else I want to aggregate under one “to read” block. Its memory management is pretty solid for how many apps I throw at it.
Slack remains the best app to use if you’re signing into multiple Slacks simultaneously. Other than that, though, use Ferdi.
I completed a migration from macOS to Fedora for work (see Why I made the switch from Mac to Linux), and it kicked off a curiosity I didn’t expect it to. I now run three operating systems: macOS on occasion, Fedora as my main work system, and Pop!_OS on my System76 personal laptop (Note: I do NOT recommend System76 to non-tech people just yet. There have been too many firmware issues along the way. Get a Dell XPS and load Linux on it).
All that said, I have tools specific to certain environments that are worth listing out.
I have used a Mac as a primary operating system since 2004, so it’s still the default in my head even if it’s not the day-to-day use system. Here are some specifics that add a lot of value to my life:
ctr+cmd+spaceI have a searchable history of the last 100 items I’ve copied.
aaawill input my full mailing address, or
;twill input the current time (
2:25PM). The best part is this library that gives me GitHub-like syntax for emojis.
Linux is officially my default operating system. Both of my Linux systems run with less CPU noise than my Mac and are quite beautiful these days thanks to improvements to its default interface, Gnome. Here are my favorite bits on Linux (again, across Fedora AND the Ubuntu-like Pop!_OS):
F12to see the terminal pop down from the top of the screen.
alt+tabover to. It’s officially my go-to if I need a quick “app” locally.
I have an iPad configured as a completely separate productivity system. There are zero notifications, it always remains in Do Not Disturb mode, and I keep the apps on the first page to a minimum. I use it daily for two purposes: in the kitchen, as I cook a recipe, I load on there (from my Notion database on recipes or NYTimes of late) and for writing.
The writing system includes two apps that are well worth their cost.
I occasionally doodle as well, mostly in Notes but sometimes in Adobe Draw, which has some excellent features for layered images.