Junk

Because of the chatter around the recent beta and the introduction of Micro.blog publishing support, I tested Ulysses (again) and found it almost perfect and yet completely unusable (again).

I’ll have more to say about that later, but in the meantime, the experience made me really look at my current workflow. What a mess.

Here’s what was happening on iOS:

  • Pushpin: for sending links to Pinboard (iPad and iPhone)
  • 1Writer: for managing my Blot blog (iPad and, in a pinch, iPhone)
  • Bear: for active drafts of mostly everything (iPad)
  • Drafts: for catching weird little snippets and pocket lint (iPad & iPhone)

So far so good. (Not much has been happening on my iPad for the last year: I don’t go anywhere, so I rarely use it for writing. This may change again in the future, of course. And I decided many years ago that my iPhone is for almost nothing.)

And here’s what was supposed to be happening on the Mac:

  • Scrivener: for all major writing projects (poetry: WIP, drafts, archives, mss; essays: archives only; fiction)
  • Spillo: for sending links to Pinboard
  • Byword: for managing my Blot blog
  • Bear: for active drafts of mostly everything — and also for old cruft, like notes imported from moribund text editors (e.g. Editorial and Vesper…)
  • Drafts: for first drafts of everything — and for catching weird little snippets and pocket lint — and sending them on to their forever homes

But here’s what was actually happening on the Mac:

  • Scrivener: (no problems here)
  • Spillo: (no problems here, either)
  • Byword: (and no problems here)
  • iA Writer: for only one small sporadic ongoing project, for which I really could be using Byword and the Finder ( 🤨 )
  • Bear: for active drafts, sure, but mostly a dumping ground for tons of random garbage ( 🙄 )
  • Drafts: for catching weird little snippets and pocket lint which then languish there forever — and almost never for first drafts of anything ( 🤦🏼‍♂️ )

Clearly, things had really gone off the rails in Bear and Drafts. Neither of them was serving its main purpose anymore, and in terms of the vast drifts of junk in each of them, they were largely indistinguishable.

My problem was that Bear and Drafts — both of them — were the starting and ending points for too much content. Major work and random snippets were side by side. No matter how clever I was with tags and filters, there was nothing really dividing the important, active work from the junk. And as a result, I was always just a little nervous that I was going to lose track of something. So wasn’t really using either as fully as I could have, or wanted to.

Now, if I’d simply committed to using either Bear or Drafts exclusively for junk and archives and random pocket lint, then things would have been fine. But I was also trying to use them both as workbooks, and it was just too much.

And I realize now that what I really wanted to do was sweep Bear and Drafts clean and use Ulysses to serve as a hub to collect everything together. I would have my major work, and my blogging drafts, and my snippets and pocket lint, all together and within easy reach, where I could keep an eye on it.

But because I’ve decided not to use Ulysses, I needed to understand what exactly I had really wanted Ulysses to achieve for me, and how to replicate it, if possible — preferably with as few tools as possible, and preferably with tools I already had on hand.

When it comes to building or changing habits, the best solutions are often as similar as possible to what you’re already doing. It’s easier to modify an old habit than to erase it and build a completely new habit. So I looked again at what I was doing, and realized I wanted each tool to do only one thing, and for my raw materials (drafts, finished archives, and snippets/junk) each to live in as few locations as possible.

So here’s what I did:

  1. I exported everything out of Bear and Drafts, and dumped all of it into a fresh Scrivener project;
  2. I canceled my subscription to Bear and emptied my iA Writer “locations” and favorites, and deleted both apps;
  3. Folders holding my writing had gotten scattered, so I gathered them in one place, and consolidated as many as possible. I recently upgraded iCloud Drive to have shared family space and to replace Dropbox, so my primary writing folders are now all in iCloud. (I still have a small free Dropbox account for Blot);
  4. In Scrivener, I filtered for several important tags and moved those files back into Drafts or saved them as .md files in one of my principal document folders.

I will now exclusively use Scrivener, Byword (or 1Writer), and Drafts. In fact, I’m going all in with Drafts — tags, workspaces, custom actions, the works. Text will start in Drafts and stay there unless it goes to:

  • a Scrivener project
  • my writing folders (saved as a .md document for access by Byword or 1Writer)
  • email, text message, etc
  • the trash

But what of the weird little snippets and pocket lint? Well, I’d like to say that I won’t collect them in the first place, but I know better: of course I will collect random junk. So my plan for this is to periodically shove things out of Drafts and dump them into…

  • the junk drawer

We all have junk drawers. No system, however robust, can contain everything or categorize it all perfectly. Nor should it. There are always odd, unclassifiable extra thingies.

Think of how we interact with junk drawers out here in the physical universe. We look for something in all the places it should be, and if we still can’t find it, we look in the junk drawer. Or we need something that we hardly ever use but which is suddenly vitally important; things like that need to be handy but out of the way. Junk drawer. And the junk drawer is usually further away from our active work area, since we don’t go into it as often. And a junk drawer is the perfect place for things which sort of belong nowhere and everywhere; which are just a little too useful to throw away but just a little too useless to warrant their own place.

Whenever I’ve felt most fluent and organized, my digital work space has had a “junk drawer” of some kind, separate from my main active drawers, and a little out of the way. It shouldn’t be easier to throw things into the junk drawer than into anywhere else, otherwise everything will eventually end up there — especially when you’re tired, or rushed, or stressed, or sad.

To shore this up, and to delay the inevitable decay for as long as possible, I’ve created a new folder in Documents called Junk Drawer and I’m pointing nvUltra at it. I was a longtime user of nvAlt, and I got on the nvUltra beta as soon as I could. Then I forgot all about it until some folks here on Micro.blog mentioned it a few days ago. It’s amazing at searching quickly among tons of data, and it will update dynamically whenever I cram stuff in there.

So there you have it.

All this may sound like a massive shift in behavior and organization, and it has certainly felt like a lot of work over the last day or two, but I want to reëmphasize that I am really just tightening up habits, processes, and methods I was already doing, but which had gotten sloppy or uneven.

I violently disagree that disorganized people must change everything in order to become organized. Instead, they should look at what they already do and then shift a few key actions and modify a few key habits. “Organized” is a state of doing, not a state of being. What you do, not who you are. And remember that being more organized does not in fact make you happier; these two things are utterly unrelated. If you want to be organized, great, good luck. If you want to be happy, I can’t help you, and no one else can, either.

That said — I am certain that I’d grown so disorganized precisely because I was unhappy. Over the last year, I had lost focus and had grown apathetic. I’ve been doing this “spring cleaning” not because I want to be happier, but rather, I’ve been feeling happier and have therefore been doing this spring cleaning.

So if you’re cleaning house, maybe it’s not because you’re putting off doing something unpleasant, but because you’re feeling better.

Robert V @rnv