Weekly Playbook #5: Handling Email

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I’ve been using email for more than half my life. While it was available to me in college, I didn’t begin to use it until I started at my job a few months after I graduated. That was 1994 and I was 22 years old at the time. Nearly 27 years later, I think I’ve done a pretty good job with handling email. My inbox rarely contains more than a dozen message at any given moment. I frequently hit “inbox zero.” I’ve been through a variety of models for managing my email over the years, from an elaborate folder structure to the minimalist structure I’ve used for the last fifteen years or so.

Until recently, I kept up with my email more or less in real time. I’d clear out messages as they came in, respond as they came in, prune and refile throughout the day. As I developed my morning routine, one of the things I wanted to try was to see if it was possible to handle my email once a day, in the mornings, after I’d finished my writing. This playbook is what has come out of that experimentation so far.

Playbook

  1. Reply to email messages I flagged the previous day. Use canned replies, if possible.
  2. Move the replied-to message to my Archive folder.
  3. Scan my inbox for messages that can be deleted without being read. Update filters to weed these out in the future, if possible.
  4. Delete the unneeded messages.
  5. Read the remaining new messages
  6. Take action on the email if action is quick. If it takes more time, snooze the email for a later date/time.
  7. Move messages that don’t require a response to my Archive folder.
  8. Flag messages that require a response and leave in my Inbox. I use the Pin function in my mail client for this.
  9. Compose any new messages I need to send

Commentary

Example: Handling this morning’s email

My basic philosophy here is to try to deal with email once per day. So far, this doesn’t work out quite this way in practice, but I’ve found that it means I am checking email much less frequently during the day. And it does help me to make sure I am replying to email only once each day. Here is what my inbox looked like as I composed this post:

My morning inbox, before running through my playbook.

The first thing I do is to reply to any email messages in my inbox that I flagged the previous day. If possible, I’ll use a canned reply. I have a few of these. One common example is when I get unsolicited requests to do a guest post on my blog. If I find that I am writing the same reply over and over, I will also use this time to compose a reply that I will turn into a canned reply that I can use in the future. Once I’ve replied to a message, I immediately move into my Archive folder. This morning was nice. I had no email that I flagged for reply.

Next, I look for email that can be deleted without being read. Often these are newsletters I didn’t subscribe to, or notifications from service I use that I don’t need to see. For the former, I’ll see if there is an easy way to unsubscribe. I’ll also use this opportunity to improve my inbox filters so that messages like these never make it to my inbox in the first place. The MetLife Dental Claim email is a good example of a message I can just delete as I know it contains no useful information (just a link to the site).

Next, I’ll read through what is left. I always enjoy Melanie Novak’s posts which is why I subscribed to her blog. No action other than to read. For blogs, I’ll use the email as a reminder to go to the blog itself to read so that the blogs get the views. Besides, I prefer reading on the blog than in email. It makes it easy to comment. Once I’ve opened the blog in a browser, I’ll delete the message from my inbox.

The Ring message requires an action on my part, but it is not something I want to do now, so I’ll snooze that for Friday when I know I will have time.

Dan Roberts is the CEO of Ouellette & Associates, a great company I’ve worked with in the past, and from which I have received some of the most practical project management training I’ve encountered, to say nothing of their outstanding customer support training, which focuses on moments of truth. I saw that Dan is starting a podcast, and the action here was to get more information about the podcast and when it drops.

The message from Capclave (my local science fiction convention) has been sitting in my inbox for almost a week now, which is rare for me. Since it is going to take more than a few minutes to handle this, I’ll snooze it until Friday.

The nice thing about this morning is that I have no email that requires a reply, so there is nothing to flag (so far). This is where I tend to dip into email throughout the day, checking to see if there is anything I need to reply to and flagging it so that I can reply tomorrow. I also don’t have any new mail to send out, so it was a quick and easy morning for me. At the end of the process, my inbox looked like this:

My morning inbox after running through my playbook: inbox zero achieved!

I don’t achieve inbox zero every morning, but as I said, I usually don’t have more than a dozen messages in my inbox at any one time. One nice side effect of this is that people can expect to get a reply from me first thing in the morning, the day after they’ve sent me a message. First thing in the morning is also when I sent out my new messages, if I have any.

Filing my email

When I began using email in 1994, I was using a Unix-based email system that allowed for the creation of folders in the same way you could create folders in a file system. I had a fairly elaborate scheme for organizing my email into folders. back then, but about fifteen years ago, I moved to a much simpler scheme, consisting of four active folders. The four folders are:

  • Inbox – where I process new email.
  • Archive – where I store all email that I want to keep
  • Sent – where I store copies of email that I sent, including replies
  • Upcoming Travel – where I store current messages related to upcoming travel (confirmations, tickets, etc.)

It occurred to me that the power of search made it simple to find pretty much anything I needed without spending a lot of time figuring out where to file a message. So if a message doesn’t go into the trash, it goes into the Archive folder. Travel-related messages take a detour to the Upcoming Travel folder until they are no longer needed, at which point they go into the archive folder as well.

If I need to find something, I just run a search and can usually find what I am looking for within a few seconds.

My mail apps

Currently, I am using the Spark mail app for handling mail on my computer. On my phone I use the Spark mail app for iOS. I just like the simplicity and functionality of Spark better than the native Mac mail app.

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My Annual Summer “I’m On Vacation” Photo

My 2021 I'm on my summer vacation photo

My vacation began just a few minutes ago and I couldn’t begin before taking my annual summer “I’m on vacation!” photo. It is nice to be on vacation after a very busy first half of 2021. We have some fun plans, which I’ll eventually write about here. There is something magical about the first few minutes of a new vacation. The waiting is over, and they entire thing is laid out before you. It is a great feeling and that is why I always look so excited in these photos.

For those who may wonder what my vacation means for the blog, it should be business-as-usual. I am on vacation from my day job, not from writing. And I’ve worked up enough of a lead here that I already have posts throughout most of my vacation just in case vacation fun eats into my writing time.

Here is a collage of various “I’m on vacation” photos from the last 6 or 7 years.

Can you tell that I am already having fun?

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The Weight of a Streak

Back on April 10, WordPress notified me that I had a 100 consecutive day streak of posting underway. I thought it was nice of WordPress to notice this and let me know about it. Thereafter, for the next 108 days (as of this writing), WordPress has sent me a daily reminder of my posting streak. I was happy with the alert at 100 days. I appreciated the notice at the 200-day mark. But every day? After a while, the weight of a streak becomes a stressor itself.

My folks visited recently and while my Dad was here, he mentioned that his streak of 600 days of walking was finally broken–on the 600th day.

Streaks are good ways to form habits. As I write this, I am on a 45 consecutive day streak of meditating each morning.

“Don’t break the chain,” sometimes referred to as the Seinfeld Method can be a powerful incentive for people to do whatever it is they want to do. Following that method is what got me my 825 consecutive day writing streak that ran from 2013 in 2015.

Heat map of my 825 day writing streak
Heat map of my 815 days of my 825-day writing streak.

I voluntarily ended that writing streak. I learned a lot from it, and not all of it was about writing. The most important thing that I learned is this: performing an activity just to keep a streak alive is a bad reason to perform the activity. For me, my writing became about the streak, and not the writing. When that happened, I woke each day feeling the weight of the streak press down on me. Each morning that streak was one day heavier. Streaks can be nerve-wracking as they build up. Winning streaks in sports sometimes built on their own momentum, but ultimately crash under the pressure of their weight. I often wonder how Joe DiMaggio felt each time he entered a game during the later part of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941.

For me, a streak is a precarious thing, balanced on a knife edge. I am fine if I keep it going, despite the pressure. But I can’t miss a day. If I break the streak, I am not likely to get it started again, and that is bad.

These day, I try to treat streaks not as tools that keep me going, but as side-effects of activities that I enjoy. Thinking about a streak in this way puts it in a different perspective. If I miss a day, it’s no big deal, I’ll get back on it the next day. There is no disappointment in breaking the streak. It’s not a crutch and I can get along fine without it. That was a difficult mental pivot for me to make.

My writing streak taught me that I could be disciplined about my writing. Yet I think the pressure to get something written every day diluted the quality of what I wrote. Sometimes I was just worn out and had nothing to say, but forced it anyway. That’s no way to do it, at least not for me.

What of the current streak I have going here on the blog? This post marks the 210th consecutive day I’ve posted on the blog? How do I handle the weight of that streak? Well, it isn’t really a streak. Yes, I have had a new post up every day for the last 210 days. But I haven’t written every day during that time. Often, I’ll write more than one post during my morning writing time. Usually, I am 2-3 days ahead in scheduled posts. That way, if I need a day off, or circumstances prevent me from writing, I’ve still got several days worth of posts already scheduled. (More about how I manage the blog is coming next week.) I’m slowly trying to work my way up to a 7-10 day lead time. Just knowing that I can skip a day or two of writing if I need to means that there really is no writing streak weighing me down here, even if posts are appearing every day.

More important than a streak is finding the joy in whatever it is you are trying to do. That, it turns out, is more motivating than any streak I might find myself in. I really enjoy writing here. It is the most fun I’ve had of any of the writing I’ve done, including writing that I’ve been paid for. Joy, not streaks, is my real motivation.

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Failed Attempts at Digital Journaling

My Moleskine paper journals

It is important to know what you are not good at, if for no other reason than to decide either to improve, or to stop wasting time on them. Over the years, for instance, I have made several attempts at keeping my journal in digital form, instead of in notebooks of various kinds. My reasons for doing this always seem pure. I type faster than I handwrite. It My typing is not illegible when I type faster. My hands grow less tired when I type. I think this means I’ll write more on a computer than I would in a notebook.

But it never works out. Take my most recent foray into digital journaling. I was looking for small efficiencies in my day. I thought that by being able to type my journal, I’d get it done faster, possibly write more, and also have a place where I could easily search my journal for what I was looking for. All of these were perfectly sensible. And still, things turned out much worse than if I just stuck to writing in my Moleskine notebooks.

This most recent adventure began about a month ago, and at first, it seemed to work well. Between June 29 and July 16 I banged out nearly 7,000 words in my digital journal, far more than I probably would have written on paper, although I’m not completely certain of this. So far, so good, right? Well, since July 17, I haven’t written a word–the longest stretch I’ve gone without writing in my journal since possibly 2017.

This is part of a recurring pattern. Ever since I first started keeping a journal in 1996, I’ve been repeatedly fooled by the paradox of journaling, in much the way Charlie Brown is lured by Lucy’s promises that she won’t pull the football away this time. Every now and then, some whisper in my mind tells me it will be much easier if I type it into a computer than writing in a notebook. It hints at time saved; it hints at the ability to search my journal using regular expressions. It is an alluring voice, the dark twin of the call of the wild. The problem is, I can never sustain it for very long, and ultimately give it up.

I cannot explain why this should be. When I write in my notebooks with pen and ink, I can go for years without skipping a day. It took all of two and a half weeks for me to give up my digital journal. I’ve tried to think about what causes this. The answers I have thus far are weak and uncertain, but two are worth contemplating

  1. I spend enough time on computers that I want to be done and so I don’t put in the extra time to write my journal.
  2. I somehow feel that there is more permanence to what I write in a notebook, and am therefore more committed to it as a lasting repository of my writing than digital media.

I think the latter point may be the crux of the issue for me. When I read Walter Isaacson’s fantastic biography of Leonardo da Vinci, I was impressed by a point Isaacson made the importance of which seemed all out of proportion with the rest of the book. Isaacson wrote:

[Da Vinci’s] mind, I think, is best revealed in the more than 7,200 pages of his notes and scribbles that, miraculously, survive to this day. Paper turns out to be a superb information-storage technology, still readable after five hundred years, which our own tweets likely won’t be.

Somehow, I have internalized this. Indeed, I’ve had the experience where some of my digital writing is forever lost to the ether. While I have most of the stories I’ve ever written going back to 1992 in digital form, I have nearly none of the digital journaling I’ve ever done. Instead, I have diaries and notebooks filling with my journal writing. The one exception to this strange rule is my writing here on the blog, which covers a span (as of this writing) of 16 years and is, in some respects, a kind of public-facing journal. Still, I have this suspicion that because my physical notebooks have weight and texture, they, and what they contain, are more valuable than intangible bits stored in clouds.

I suppose that if you were to search this blog, you’d find among the nearly 7,000 posts, a few where I confess this problem, only to write later on about yet another attempt to migrate my journal into the digital realm. This is me in the role of Charlie Brown, to the digital world’s Lucy, holding a virtual football, and then pulling it away at the last moment. Sometimes, even when I recognize my mistakes and failings, it is hard not to repeat them.

All of this to say: as of this morning, I am back to fountain pen and ink in my Moleskine Art Collection large sketchbooks.

In the future, if you see me eagerly writing about how I am once again going to move my journal into digital form of some kind, kindly drop a comment on that post with a gentle reminder of the inevitable results. I think a simple, “Good grief!” would do the trick.

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One Last First Trip to the Library

One of the great pleasures of having a child five years younger than the next oldest child is that I get to revisit things that I did with the older kids, and maybe savor the moments a bit more than I did the first times around. Yesterday, for instance, I took the Littlest Miss to get her very first library card. She will turn five next month, and I’ve been promising to take her to the library for several weeks now. I’d been busy with work and other activities, but told her that we’d do it yesterday. She woke up excited to go to the library, asking over and over if it was time to go yet.

Libraries are incredibly important to me. My mom took me to our local library when I was about the same age as the Littlest Miss, and libraries have made a huge difference in my life. I learned to read in grade school. I learned to think critically in high school. I learned how to learn in college. But books gave me knowledge, took me around the world, deep into the atom, and far into space. The library I frequented in Los Angeles as a teenager even provided a haven during the hot summer months. I could walk there under the blazing sun, and then explore the rows of books for hours in the cool air conditioned space.

So I set out for one last first trip to the library. I took both my daughters to our local branch of the Arlington Public Library, my younger daughter to get her first library card, my older daughter to renew hers. The Littlest Miss could barely contain herself as she emerged from the car. Holding my hand, she pulled me along the sidewalk, down the small flight of stairs, and into the main entrance. It was hot and muggy out, but the air inside was cool and dry.

We went first to the circulation desk where the girls obtained their new library cards. They were given a choice of colors. The Littlest Miss chose pink. The Little Miss chose yellow. Once they had their cards, the Littlest Miss asked the librarian at the circulation desk where she could find the kids books. Then it was off to the races. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the rows and rows of books. I expected her to wander the aisles, trying to figure out what she wanted, but in less than a minute she had a book in hand.

The Littlest Miss among the books
The Littlest Miss among the books

“Can I get this one?” she asked, holding up a copy of Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway by Tim McCanna (and illustrated by Tad Carpenter).

“Of course,” I said. “Do you want to get another one, too?”

“Can I?” said said, eyes wide.

“Sure.”

So she quickly picked out two more books. Meanwhile, I helped the Little Miss locate a book that she was looking for. When they were ready, we headed over to the self-checkout station. I showed them both how to scan their library card, how to scan the books, how to get a receipt so that they know when they need to return the books. The Littlest Miss was delighted with all of this, and wanted to do it all herself. We thanked the librarian for his help, and then we headed back into the hot, humid air for the drive home.

I’m not sure what the Littlest Miss was more excited about, getting books, knowing that she can get more books when she is ready, or having her very own library card, which she put in her backpack so she’d know where it is.

Kids are so busy with activities these day that I suspect mine won’t spend nearly as much time as I did in the public library. But I try to encourage them to use it, and it was certainly an exciting morning for one little girl in particular. It is nice to see the kids excited about something that isn’t a YouTube or TikTok video. Over time, I’m hoping they find that the library is more than just a place to get free books. It’s a place to learn new things, read about people and places that they may be unfamiliar with, and maybe even discover a passion that they didn’t know they had. This is the real value a library provides: discovery–about the world and about themselves.

I’m grateful that I had one last first trip to the library.

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Milestone: 3 Million Views on the Blog

Over the weekend, the blog passed a major milestone: 3 million views over its nearly 16 years life. It is creeping up on a second milestone, 1.5 million unique visitors over that same period of time.

When I started the blog (on LiveJournal! remember that?) I had no plan. I just thought it would be fun to have a place to write in public. The blog migrated from LiveJournal to WordPress (self-managed) back in 2009, and more recently to WordPress.com earlier this summer.

In the early days on WordPress (circa 2009), I remember getting 10 or 20 views a day and being happy that there was a handful of people out there enjoying what I wrote. Over the years, those numbers steadily climbed. I didn’t do much that I am aware of to make that happen. I just tried to write things that interested me. I remember when the daily views hit about 100/day that I was thrilled. After I began writing my Going Paperless posts, things really picked up and for several years, I was seeing 3,000 or 4,000 views per day on average, something that astonished me, but that also made me nervous. I knew most of those views were for the paperless posts, but I still wanted to write about whatever interested me.

As life got busier, as more of my attention was taken up with my kids and family, I wrote less. I “retired” as Evernote’s paperless ambassador, and retired the paperless column, which had always been an experiment in my mind. Readership went down on the blog and along with it, the daily views. I think last year (2020) was a low-point for the blog. I wrote less than ever before, and I missed writing here. That is part of the reason that I decided to try to write here every day in 2020. These days, the daily views on the blog are a tenth of what they were at the blog’s peak readership, but I’ve noticed a definite trend upward, and that pleases me because I am writing about what I want, and not trying to focus on one niche.

I used to obsess over the blog stats. I try not to do this anymore but sometimes, I can’t help it. I’m amazed that the blog has lasted as long as it has, and I’m grateful for all of my readers, especially those who have been around for a very long time. I’ve never tried to compare my stats with other sites, so I don’t know where I stand. I’m sure there are sites out there that get 3 million views in a single month (and possible in a single day), but I’m happy with the slow-but-steady accumulation I’ve managed over the last 16 years.

The first million views could have been an accident. The second million maybe showed that I was on to something. The third million just helps to convince me that there are people out there who enjoy what I write. What can be better than writing what you enjoy for people who enjoy what you write? I am eternally grateful to everyone that comes here to read what I write, who leaves a comment, or emails me with kind words, or questions. You have all made this more fun than I could have possibly imagined when I started out.

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Adding Pins to the Map

Later this summer we will be heading on our annual summer road trip, or what I like to call “adding pins to the map.” For our tenth anniversary, Kelly got me a framed map of the United States that came with a tin of pins. The title at the bottom of the map is “The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly.” I decided that I would only put pins in places that Kelly and I have been together, either with or without our kids. Over the years since we’ve added pins here and there, and I’m excited to be able to add some more pins later this summer.

The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly
The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly

The map hangs on the wall of our dining room. When people see it, they often ask, “What do the colors mean?” I have to explain that they don’t mean anything. They were the colors that came in the tin of pins that accompanied the map. I’ve had to explain this enough times to where I’ve been tempted to put a label in one corner of the map with a legend, “Pin colors carry no meaning.”

We’ve done a good job covering much of the east coast together and with the kids. We’ve been to L.A. together, and to Seattle with the Little Man. We’ve also been to San Antonio with the Little Man. I’ve been wanting to gradually make our way west on our road trips. We drive down to Florida several times a years and I’ve used string to measure out the distance from our house to southern Florida, and then mapped out a circumference to show that same distance spread out to the west. We’ve gone as far as Nashville in our road trips.

Usually, we will head up to Maine in the summer, but every few years we decided to do something different. This year we are planning a trip up to Niagara Falls. Neither of us have been there before, and the kids should enjoy it as well. On our way up, we’ll stop to see friends in Albany, NY. We may hit Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As it is mapped out so far, our trip is a kind of circle around central New York, eastern Ohio, and Pennsylvania, so we will definitely be adding pins to the map, which is always fun.

I sometimes wonder what this map will look like by the time all of our kids head off for college. I hope that we can fill more of it up before then. Traveling the roads together, going to interesting places, getting the kids out to see things they might not otherwise see is a real treat, and something I am always grateful that we can do. Most of our vacations are road trip vacations of one form or another, and I like that because it frees us to up go at our own pace, and change our minds along the way if something of interest catches our eye. (This happened on the way to Nashville a few years back, when we detoured to the Hermitage, to see the home of Andrew Jackson.)

Another thing I like about this map is it quickly answers the kids’ question, “Have I ever been to…?” All they have to do is glance at the map to know if we’ve been to a place.

Next year, we may need to add a world map, as we are planning to head to Europe with the kids. Then we can look forward to adding pins to that map as well.

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Trailhead: My Newest Field Notes Addition

As part of my Field Notes annual subscription, I get a quarterly shipment of the newest Field Notes notebooks. Yesterday’s mail brought their 51st quarterly edition, “Trailhead.” This edition’s theme, as you might guess from the title, are the great trails of the United States. Each 3-pack of notebooks comes with a different trail printed on the back, and facts about the trail on the inside back flap of the notebook.

My new Field Notes "Trailhead" notebooks
My new Field Notes “Trailhead” notebooks

These editions contain lined pages. I prefer squares or dotted squares, but I like that these pages are an off-white. As with most of the subscription packs, this one came with an extra goodie: a Field Notes “Blaze Your Trail” patch.

Field Notes Blaze Your Trail patch

This quarterly shipment is the 17th consecutive quarterly shipment I’ve received from Field Notes since I began subscribing back in 2016. I began my subscription with their 34th quarterly edition and the Trailhead edition marks Field Notes 51st quarterly edition. Despite having filled more than 30 notebooks at this point, I still have more coming in than I can fill at any moment. I have a section of shelf in my office dedicated to a wide variety of fresh notebooks to choose from once I fill one up:

My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.
My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.

I have a tendency to use whatever the latest notebook is as the next notebook, so chances are good I’ll pull out one of the Trailhead notebooks when I finish with my current notebook–which happens to be a United States of Letterpress edition.

It’s fun to occasionally go back and flip through the old notebooks. There is all kinds interesting stuff in them, like when I had to locate the name of a beer I liked. I recently began an experiment of scanning in the old notebooks to make them easier to search no matter where I was. I scanned in one as an experiment. Now I have to go back and scan in the other 29 that I have already filled. I’ll get to that eventually. Filling a notebook is much more fun than scanning one.

It occurred to me that while I know of friends and a few other people online who have told me that they also use Field Notes notebooks, I’ve never run into anyone at the grocery store, or a conference, or anywhere else I can think of that has a Field Notes notebook in their pocket, and is pulling out the notebook frequently enough for me to notice that they are using one two. I see people with Yankees hats all the time. How come I don’t see more people with Field Notes notebooks (or any notebook) for that matter, jotting things down? Does everyone use their phone for this stuff these day? I still find taking notes on my phone way too cumbersome and time-consuming.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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Audible Stats for the first Half of 2021

Audible was kind enough to send me an email highlighting some of my listening stats for the first half of 2021. Here is what they sent me:

That 24,063 minutes amounts to about 400 hours of listening time so far this year. Keep in mind that the 76 titles is how many titles I’ve started, not how many I’ve finished. According to my own records, I’ve finished 48 books so far this year. I’m about 7 books behind my pace of 100 books for the year. The main reason is that I’ve sunk a lot of time in catching up back episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast.

I love Audible, but they are owned by Amazon, and as I have pointed out, Amazon is terrible at predicting what I want to read based on what I have already read. In this case, the message from Audible was that “mysteries & thrillers are your jam.” Actually, I’ve read far more books on information theory this year than I have mysteries or thrillers.

This was actually a useful reminder that I need to get back to my usual volume of reading. I’ve slowed down a bit, but it’s about time that things returned to normal.

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I Dream of In-n-Out

I have a confession to make: it has been 730 days since my last Double-Double. If that number sounds familiar it is because it also happens to be the same number of days in exactly two years. Yes, two years ago today was the last time I had an In-n-Out burger.

My last In-n-Out meal in July 2019

I’m not going to debate the relative merits of whether In-n-Out burgers are better than, say Five Guys, or Shake Shack. For me In-n-Out burgers and fries are superior to all other chain burgers and fries I’ve ever tried and that’s good enough for me. But I will recall here a recurring day-dream I have. It goes something like this:

I wake up in the morning, and grab my phone to scan the news. After scanning the headlines, I usually checkout the local Patch site for local news. On this particular morning, the top story on the Patch news for my town is a banner headline that reads:

IN-N-OUT TO OPEN LOCAL FRANCHISE

In my reverie, this is some of the most exciting news I’ve ever heard. Forget election results, or billionaires in space, I am just giddy over the fact that there will be an In-n-Out nearby.

Some people imagine winning the lottery and what they’d do with their fortune. I prefer to daydream that an In-n-Out opens nearby. That would be like winning the lottery to me.

I never take my day-dream beyond the discovery that an In-n-Out will be opening locally. I know everything after that will be something of a disappointment. The food, of course, would be fantastic, but I could only imagine the crowds that a local In-n-Out would attract. People would wait hours to get a burger. Parking would be impossible. It would, in all likelihood, be a tease. The restaurant there, within reach, and yet impossible to get food from thanks to crowds and parking problems. It might as well be in Santa Monica for all of the good it would do me.

The reality is, I’m glad there is no In-n-Out anywhere near where I live. It makes the rare visits when I am back in California for work all that more special.

I have a good imagination, and when I have a clear vision for something, I usually manage to achieve it. I’m confident that I’ll get to have another Double-Double someday. For now, I’m happy just dreaming about it.

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204 Consecutive Days of Posts

I missed this milestone a few days ago, so I’ll mention it now. Today is my 204th consecutive day of posting here on the blog. My goal at the beginning of the year was to get back to writing and posting every day here, and so far, more than halfway through the year, I seem to be meeting that goal. In 204 days I’ve written 225 posts totaling 137,000 words, and averaging about 600 words each. It amounts to four times what I wrote for all of 2020.

Consecutive days of posting in 2021

It is not always easy. Sometimes I am at a loss of what to write about, but I sit down anyway and write. Some posts are better than others, and some posts that I think would get more attention go almost unnoticed. But I keep it up, and it is one of the highlights of my day when I sit down to write here.

I just bought myself a celebratory beer and am enjoying the milestone. And I’m looking forward to the 161 days remaining in the year, wondering what the heck I’m going to write about to make my quota for each day. Of course, thinking about what to write is one of the best parts.

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The Weekly Playbook #4: Finishing a Notebook: Transcribe or Scan?

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. Several times a day, I pull out my notebook to jot something down: an idea for a post; notes from a podcast; the names of people I meet; items to pick up at the grocery store; the name of the server in the restaurant we ate at; funny lines I hear at a gathering. I do this so that I can remember these things later. Some of them find their way into posts I write, some into stories. Other things are more ephemeral, but even a server’s name in a restaurant can be useful if I am searching for a character name in a story.

I’ve filled more than 30 of these notebooks since 2015. They sit in a nice row on a shelf in my office. Occasionally I go back to them, to look for something, like when I was searching for a particular brand of beer recently. The problem is, I only have access to them when I am sitting here in my office. It would be nice to have access to them no matter where I was.

my 30 completed field notes notebooks with an index notebook on top
My 30 completed Field Notes notebooks, with an index notebook on top.

This weekly playbook is a kind of experiment. I began with the idea that I wanted to be able to access these notes anywhere. I had two ideas:

  1. Transcribe the notebooks into Obsidian, where my other notes live, or
  2. Scan them into Evernote

I decide to try both in order to see what worked better for me. The playbook section below has the procedures I followed for each. In each case, I used my most recently completed notebook, book #30. I’ll describe my findings in the commentary.

Playbook

Transcribing notebook into Obsidian

  1. Create a Field Notes folder in Obsidian
  2. Create a new note called “Book 30 – March to June 2021.
  3. Begin typing in the notes using the following guidelines:
    • Make each “day” a header in the notes
    • If my handwriting is unintelligible, put question marks and move on.
    • Wherever I have a dividing line in my notebook, include a divider in the notes file
    • Use only one file per notebook

Scanning notebook into Evernote

  1. Create a Field Notes notebook in Evernote.
  2. Using the Scannable app by Evernote, scan in all 48 pages of my notebook #30, including the cover and inside cover.
  3. Once scanned, put the note in the Field Notes notebook
  4. Title the note “Book 30 – March to June 2021”
  5. Set the create date of the note to March 1, 2021
transcribed notebook page in obsidian
A transcribed notebook page in Obsidian
scanned notebook page in evernote
A scanned notebook page in Evernote

Commentary

It probably took me an hour to transcribe the first 15 pages of the Field Notes notebook into Obsidian. After an hour I stopped. It is easy enough to estimate that a full notebook would take me a little over 3 hours to transcribe.

On the other hand, it took about 15 minutes to scan the entire notebook into Evernote using the Scannable app. (I think Evernote’s Scannable app does a slightly better job at scanning than the regular iOS app does.)

For me, the Evernote scan is the better over all option. There are several reasons for this:

  1. It is quick enough to make it worthwhile. Investing 15 minutes to have the contents of the notebook available to me anywhere is a worthwhile investment of time. 3 hours is a little much. I am not likely to invest 3 hours, but 15 minutes is no big deal.
  2. The notebook really is available anywhere. The screenshot above is from my phone. I can flip through the pages just as I can with any PDF.
  3. Scanning preserves everything in my notes, include occasional sketches and diagrams that I make.
  4. Evernote uses its AI to attempt to make the PDF searchable. It is supposed to be able to recognize handwriting. I made several attempt, but I think my handwriting is too messy. Still, for people with very neat writing, the notebook is searchable. I keep the notes in their own notebook in Evernote for this reason: when I want to search for something in a Field Notes notebook, I can limit the search to notes in the Field Notes notebook so that I don’t get results from other sources.

There are a few cons to using Evernote over Obsidian:

  1. The notebook is not as searchable as it would be if I transcribed it into Obsidian. I could probably find things faster in Obsidian.
  2. My notes would be in plain text format and could be manipulated like any plain text.
  3. I could do more dynamic linking of my notes to other notes using Obsidian. (You can link to other notes in Evernote, but there is no practical way to do this in scanned documents.)

Another consideration is that I want to get my entire backlog of notebooks in a format that I can access anywhere. Transcribing 30 notebooks into Obsidian would be an investment of nearly 100 hours of my time. Scanning 30 notebooks into Evernote is an investment of 7-1/2 hours. From a practical standpoint, this is a no-brainer.

Then, too, since the notes already exist, they fit into the model of using Evernote for curation and collection, and using Obsidian for creation.

Remember, my goal at the outset was to be able to access the notebooks from anywhere. My goal wasn’t to make them as searchable as they could be. I’m fine flipping through a PDF to find what I am looking for. It usually doesn’t take very long, so it seems like the investment in time to manually transcribe all of my notes would be overkill.

Going forward, when I finish a notebook, I’ll follow the procedures for scanning that notebook into Evernote.

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