Grounded & Steadfast

The journal of Chris Bowler, a collection of thoughts on faith, business, design, and the creative process.

Apr 17th, 2014

For the Love of Pen and Paper

As I have moved from one digital task management tool to another over the years, one habit has stuck with me consistently. That is the use of pen and paper in conjunction with my current app of choice. No matter piece of software is saving, archiving, and (in modern times) syncing my projects, my day to day tasks have been scratched out on paper.

Why? If the tasks are captured in my digital tool, why repeat myself on paper? Why take the time, a longer amount of it as I type much faster than write by hand, to copy them down on a dead tree? Simply put, because I like it.

Here’s why.

Time to Process

A large reason I’ve kept up this practice is because I appreciate the time it requires. Especially the way I keep this habit. It’s a sort of weekly review.

For me, the key is to take 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon or evening and plan my week. I start with a new page in my notebook and draw the days of the week out vertically (Saturday and Sunday share the last row). Then I start to review; first my calendar, then the page from last week, then OmniFocus.

For each day, I find two or three big rocks (Most Important Taskss) and write them on the left with a number beside. Then, I add a couple of less intensive tasks, administrative type things, to the right. Each of those has a letter beside.

This is my prioritization, but also gives me things to do in all moods and energy levels. There are never more than 3 MITs for a day (usually no more than 2 these days) because more will simply result in frustration as I know they will not be completed.

Now, I realize this could all be done in OmniFocus. I could tinker with perspectives and get a view that is very similar. But I cherish the exercise and taking the time causes me to closely consider each task and whether it’s a good use of my time. Sometimes the slow way is the better way.

A Good Filter

Another benefit is that every task considered and captured in the moment is not necessarily a good idea. Ideas will come, but not all a ones I want to act on. Some are triggered by caffeine, some from outside influences. Not all are worth my time and energy.

Check Patrick Rhone’s Dash Plus system. I’ve longed used it, with some modifications of my own. But an X beside an item on your list indicates that the task was not completed, but simply dropped.

At the end of the day, I like to capture all my ideas … but I also greatly enjoy scratching some of with an X beside. Paper is a good filter in that I take that 30 minutes on Sunday and contemplate each item. It’s at my most unplugged time of the week, which means I’ve been able to walk away from the firehose and remember where my priorities lie.

My tasks should mirror those priorities.

Manual Labour is Good for You

Writing with pen and paper is obviously not quite manual labour. The actual physical work and energy burned is probably the same as typing these tasks out. But still, there’s something about the act of using your hands with physical objects.

I take pleasure in writing with a nice fine tipped pen on a quality piece of paper.

Fetish Much?

On a similar note to the last point, I like notebooks! Finding a new brand of book with the right kind of paper and a nice grid is always a pleasure. And cracking open a new notebook is much more pleasing than starting a list or project in a digital tool like OmniFocus.

Each new book is filled with promise. Each new page has so much potential and can take a bad week and make the next that much better.


My “system” is truly hybrid. My day to day task management, for a large part, is done on paper. I’m not simply writing out tasks that I plan to work on, I’m also capturing smaller subtasks that arise from the work I’m doing. I love what OmniFocus does for me, but even planning out a larger project, I tend to brainstorm and sketch and get my ideas out on paper.

The digital tool keeps my up to date and synced across devices. But it’s my manual tools that keep me going.

Apr 10th, 2014

Singular Focus

With the recent announcements made by the Dropbox team yesterday, I wonder if the file storage genius has lost its way a little. As a user of the service who has been paying for an account for 3-4 years, I’ve been a free evangelist since I started using it. I still am today.

But as the news hit , I started to wonder if Drew Houston and his team have started to shift their gaze as they’ve grown. And whether or not that’s good news for the company and their customers.

Too Much Choice?

The primary cause for my thinking is the options that are now available. When I signed up for this service in 2009, there was one option. Just sign up. Your only choice was to use the free account with limited storage, or pay a monthly fee for a lot more storage. Today? My teammate Tim Swan summed it up well in our chat room yesterday:

Dropbox, Dropbox for business, Dropbox teams, Dropbox for personal and work… I’m getting awfully confused by Dropbox.

If a savvy designer who’s been using the service for years feels this way, how will Joe User feel with all the options. Maybe some of the options are not targeted at Joe User, but if Drew Houston wants to compete with Apple as a digital hub for consumers, they’ll have to focus on Joe and his kind.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. As a happy user of the service, whose needs have been met by the original, simple option, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the newer options that have come available the past two years. But if I were yo try to explain to someone the differences between Dropbox for Business and Dropbox for Teams, I’d be at a loss.

Perhaps that’s not an issue at all. Certainly, people who’ve used Dropbox in a team environment have felt the pain points, which is the driving force behind these options being available. But, like a man in a grocery store looking for that one option his wife sent him for, I feel a small bit of pain at the number of choices Dropbox now offers.

Carousel

Creating a separate app for viewing the photos you already store in your account is a no brainer for current users, simply giving them another way to view what’s there (I love that icon). And it’s a potential incentive for those free users, the ones on the 2GB plan, to sign up and pay and move all those photos to a backed up location.

But if you do not use Dropbox to store your photos, I wonder how Dropbox thinks this app will work. Of the three announcements they made yesterday, carousel was most focused on Joe User. The blog post from Drew yesterday was titled, A Home for Life, a clear indicator that the focus is on making the digital lives of the common American easier.

But what if you use Dropbox for work purposes? If you were to add your family photos to your Dropbox account, are they mixed in amongst photoshop comps and design assets for your website? Screenshots you made for that blog post? I guess this is where the Dropbox for Business option comes in handy, allowing you to use the service for both purposes, but with intermixing the two.

But that seems a tad complicated. Personally, I currently store my photo files in Dropbox as a part of iPhoto libraries. But I use Picturelife as a way to have another backup of those files, as well as a way to view the view photos themselves. Will Dropbox and Carousel make options like Picturelife redundant? Perhaps.

I’ve been so pleased with how Picturelife presents my photos to me, that I currently have no plans to stop using it, despite it being another monthly bill.

But I suspect that in time, many people will feel that mixing their file storage needs with their usage of consumable items (photos, movies, music) leaves a bad taste. This might be an example where two separate apps(services) might make more sense. Two options has the appearance of more complexity than one, but that can be an illustion when the one option requires complexity to attempt to meet multiple needs.

Mailbox for OS X

Last, they announced two additional versions of Mailbox. It’s available now for Android, and a long anticipated version for OS X is in the works. If tackling file storage can be considered boring and un-sexy, email is the next logical thing to tackle. And a desktop version is the next step.

Email clients are easily interchangeable as most of us user services that sit behind the client, accessed via IMAP (do people still use POP3?). For this reason, I’ve been looking forward to trying Mailbox on my desktop.

Although mobile email usage is king of the hill, I personally do most of my email work on have desktop, simply using my phone for reading and some triaging. It’ll be interesting to see if the features that made Mailbox popular will have the same effect on the desktop. Or, maybe the Mailbox team has some new ideas for the desktop.


As things currently stand, this utility application is the backbone of my computing setup and works like a charm. The changes yesterday can be a part of a larger focus; to be the hub of your computing setup. And if Dropbox has a vision to be a hub of all your computer usage, tackling file storage and email is a brilliant strategy.

But whenever I become uncertain of how the available options apply to me, I wonder about the overall focus or vision of the company behind them. But if there’s a team other than Apple or Facebook that has my confidence, it’s Dropbox. I have faith.

Apr 3rd, 2014

The Right Mix

When I first began to write online, I focused mostly on software and personal task management. Both topics fit well on a site titled The Weekly Review. Over the years, I’ve settled into my own comfort zone in regards to managing my tasks and haven’t dedicated a lot of time to writing on this topic.

But during this last year, I have to admit I’ve been searching once again for a task management tool that better suits how I work. While I’ve experimented with a few options, I’ve kept some notes on both how these types of tools are designed and how we try to mould to our personal habits.

Here are a few of my observations.

Making the Switch

First, changing from one task management tool to another isn’t quite as simple as switching Twitter or email clients. Those categories of software tie into a central source and simply display the same information is slightly different ways. It’s slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. I can easily switch from Tweetbot to Twitterific, or from Apple Mail to Airmail at the drop of a hat.

Task management tools take a little more work. But if, like me, you have a fairly lean way of managing your responsibilities, it’s an exercise that can take less than an hour.

Uniqueness

One thing that has caused me to try the many different options available (besides my fetish with software and a lack of discipline) is that none of them feel quite right. Why is it so hard to find tools that fit our personal needs?

Partly because the everyone is a little different and no developer or team can meet the needs of each individual. I would imagine that many developers write apps for themselves first, believing that others will have the same needs as them. Some teams build the tools to adhere strictly to a particular philosophy. Whatever the reason, it means that many tools will fit 80–90% of your needs.

But it’s that 10% that keeps you looking at the other options.

Include Your Vision

It can be easy to fit your concrete projects and their small steps into a task based tool. But what about your larger goals? Items like “Teach the children to be critical thinkers” or “Pursue my wife like we’re not yet married” are the kinds of things we think about at New Years, but they should really be meditated on over the year if you want to see progress. Why not include them in your tool of choice?

I’ve had thoughts in this vein over the years. But I’ve tended to have a regular review of items in my journal (paper or digital) to keep the higher level items in focus.

This recent video from Paul Boag discussing the OmniFocus 2 beta struck a chord with me (the pertinent bit starts at 7:15 into the video). He keeps his high level goals as the top most folders in OmniFocus. If a project comes his way and doesn’t fit into one of those folders, he asks himself whether he should really be spending time and energy on it.

Which is always a wonderful question to be asking of anything. Time and energy are limited; we have to choose where to spend it.

The Candidates

When I first became interested in this category of software, fresh off of reading Getting Things Done, the options were less plentiful. Much so. At the time, I was working in IT for a large corporation, meaning Windows was my daily OS … the options were almost nonexistent.

So when Things came along, it was love at first sight.

Over time, I tried all the options as the editor of a site focused on web software. Finally, I settled into OmniFocus and found the tool that best suited my workflow and habits. The iPad version especially; it’s the best task management tools I’ve ever used.

However, if found myself once again seeking other options last year. There were two causes of this and I hope I’m mature enough now to say that an itchy finger and curiosity were not included.

The first was that I now lead a team of men at my church in taking care of the building and grounds itself, as well as various legal and tax related responsibilities. OmniFocus (and most desktop based options in this category) is not well suited for sharing tasks with others. The second is that I am a little slower to update to the newest version of a piece of software these days. And with the entire lineup of OmniFocus apps due for a major version change and hence, a new transaction required, I knew I’d be paying more money to stay up to date.

And so I was back to looking for a better tool.

Teuxdeux

Late last year, I made the switch to using Teuxdeux as my primary tool for managing tasks. Coming from OmnFocus to Teuxdeux is a little like switching from a Swiss Army Knife, one with all the bells and whistles and toothpicks and nail clippers, to a simple pocket knife. Albeit a very well designed, quality pocket knife.

This is an application that has been designed purposefully. It’s intended to be minimal. It sports a clean design and the layout encourages you to only include the things you want or have to do each day. It fits my needs really well in one aspect. I tend to keep all my tasks and responsibilities in my tool of choice, but I work day to day off of paper. I always have. Teuxdeux fits nicely into that way of working.

Where it breaks down for me was the totality of everything I need to track. I really appreciate the design and if I had less going on in my life, it might have been the tool of choice for me. Here’s what I like about it:

Here’s what didn’t work for me:

To get into that last point a little further, I have several majors areas of responsibility in my life. Each of those has recurring tasks I have to remember (I used a single items project in OmniFocus to manage these) as well as various other projects that have a specific end goal. Teuxdeux includes lists at the bottom half of he interface that can be used for specific projects. That works somewhat well, but once the number of those lists grows large enough, the usage becomes problematic.

Overall, this is a great tool that I enjoyed. But the points of friction were enough to keep me looking.

Asana

Truth be told, I started to use Asana while still using OmniFocus and Teuxdeux last year. Why? It works very well with teams.

I gave Asana a look when it was first available, but no more than a glance. Over time, it matured quite nicely and being web based on focused on teams, it was a solid option for me to assign tasks to my guys at church. When I decided that Teuxdeux was not quite going to fit, I decided to try keeping everything in one place. Since I was using Asana for some of my church projects, trying it for everything was a logical choice.

Again, this is another well designed service that has been built purposefully. It’s intended for teams, completely.

Likes:

Dislikes:

On this last point, I found Asana less than ideal. I don’t keep a browser open at all times, so having to open Safari, type Asa, then add a task to the correct workspace was more cumbersome than other options. Asana does allow for emailing tasks, but it comes with problems. Each workspace requires a different email address to specify which workspace to put the task. If you forget to specify the correct from address in the email, the task can end up in the workspace. To make it worse, you cannot drag and drop a task from one workspace to another in Asana.

At the end of it all, the ability to quickly dump something from my head into my Inbox was vital. Any friction at all in that process was problematic … I hate needless tasks being in my task list, but it’s better than missing important tasks because they didn’t end up in the right spot. A good review will take care of tasks that don’t belong in there or aren’t worth my time and energy.

Again, this is another nice tool that works well for 80% of my needs. I’d recommend it to anyone who works in a team environment and it’s a nice alternative to Basecamp.

Full Circle

Here I am today, back to OmniFocus as my tool of choice. It’s ease of use on the desktop are top notch. And if it’s overkill for my needs, it’s designed well enough that the features I don’t need do not get in the way. And the improvements in the desktop version make it an even better choice.

I have no idea how Forecast and Review work on the iPhone … I’m still on version 1.

The sync between versions (and online backup) and easy entry alone make OmniFocus great. But the Forecast and Review features of the iPad and desktop beta versions are fantastic. I’ve yet to see another GTD type of tool that incporporates these concepts into the UI. I live in the Forecast view about 90% of the time I’m using this tool.

You could look at all this as a waste of time, but I consider it time well spent as it causes me to evaluate how I process my work and ideas.


I’m convinced that unless we all build tools for ourselves, we’ll never find ones that fit perfectly. That’s okay.

There’s always going to be a little elbow grease involved to mold our tools to how we work rather than the other way around. And as long as I’m seeing progress in my work, I’m happy to check out new options from time to time. I’ll get to the right mix one way or another.

Mar 29th, 2014

Memberships, Newsletters, and Hot Sauce

It’s been just over a year since I added a support page to this site and made it possible for readers to become members. In return, members would receive updates on my personal projects and the site newsletter. It’s pretty typical of site memberships — nothing radical.

Why earn anything at all off writing? Anyone who has run a site consistently knows the time and effort involved. It’s not mandatory — the content will still be published here. But if readers want to help out and feel the content is worth something, it’s nice to have the option available. So for the price of a coffee each month, you can support this site and my writing. I personally like to support the writers I enjoy when I can.

In year one, I was hoping to replace what I earned from having an ad on my site. And it did just that. This year, I’d like to make a more serious commitment.

The Newsletter

Last year, my newsletter was consistent. For about 6 months. It was monthly and I shared various items of note, plus the progress on various personal projects.

This year, it will be a weekly publication. I made the decision early in 2013 to remove link list style posts from my site, simply because those entries didn’t seem to have a lot of lasting value in that format.

However, I really enjoying pointing out various articles or resources and sharing short pieces of opinion with my online acquaintances. That’s part of what this newsletter will be. In addition to sharing items of interest to me, the newsletter will continue to give insight to my other work, as well as how to cultivate creativity in the midst of our busy lifestyles. As a father in a home with 4 homeschooled children, I hope I have some helpful tidbits to share.

So if you’re interested in a lovely email coming your way each Saturday to enjoy with your weekend coffee, here’s your chance!

The Giveaway

Another common tactic for promoting site memberships is to have some prizes. I like this approach for two reasons. First, as a reader, it gives me a chance to win a prize I’m probably going to enjoy. Since the people I read tend to have similar tastes to me, the prizes usually align with that.

Second, and more importantly, it gives me a chance as a writer to promote some of the services I enjoy or admire. It’s the community that drew me to using a Mac and becoming involved in the web & design world. So having a chance to point readers to the products and services built by great people is something I enjoy. And giving stuff away is even better.

So here are the prizes available for all existing members and anyone who signs up by midnight, PDT on April 16th:

A huge thank you to all my friends who were willing to support me by making these great prizes available. Hugs & kisses all around!


The fact that we live in a time where small, independent creators can be supported is wonderful. For all who’ve supported my writing over the years, I thank you. I’ll continue to do my best to honour the attention you give this space!

Join now: monthly or annual plans available

Mar 27th, 2014

Winning the Lottery

Driving to an appointment recently, I felt the familiar urge to check my email while waiting for a light to change. Ignoring for now the aspects of looking at our small screens while driving, there is a danger in this urge all on its own. The need to be up to date at all times is a lie. A myth. And it’s one that should be removed, ruthlessly, from your thinking.

This is not really a new idea. In 2014, most of us are self aware and recognize that the incoming stream of “updates” are probably not healthy. But how many of us have taken concrete steps to stop the habit? Judging by the rise if mobile when it comes to metrics such as online payments, email opens, and page views … not many. Most of us need some help.

A change in perception is needed.

The Problem

As many studies are showing, the updates we receive stimulate our brains in ways similar to playing the lottery. Dopamine is involved and seeking pleasure is the name of the game. Each new email or Twitter reply holds the potential for something exciting. A win!

Now that we’ve had the Internet ingrained into most of what we do, we’re experts at seeking out this potential. What’s wrong with all this seeking? The reasons are plentiful; overstimulation, poor sleep, lack of engagement, and inability to focus are a few. The last really hits home for me. Making anything of value takes time and mastering a craft requires deep concentration.

But the real problem here is not the technology itself, but our perception of value. We’ve elevated the mundane to the top of our priority list and allowed the possibility of news from someone else to take precedence over our own work. That scares me.

To change our habits, we have to change our values.

This is Not a Hack

There’s a reason the title of this article is not “5 Ways to Hack Your Brain”. The solution to this problem isn’t to trick your brain, as if it were an animal that needed training.

Instead, we need to believe that the value we receive from completing a piece of complicated, hard work is more valuable to us than the latest update. Or that a prolonged period of no stimulus is something to be enjoyed and savoured. That a lengthy deliberate conversation with a friend, neighbour, or child is worth our energy.

And if changing what we value more is the goal, the tool to make this change is not found in a list of bullet points. It’s self discipline, nothing more.

Do not read this the wrong way. Self discipline is not the goal — it’s simply what is required to help you start to change how you think. Once that change is in place, the discipline is no longer required because you seek your own pleasure. That’s what we humans are the best at.

As adults, we learn to appreciate many acquired tastes. How many of us enjoyed that first cup of black coffee, or the first beer? Appreciating silence, purposeful periods of being unplugged, or deep concentration is something that can be learned. But it usually requires discipline at first to make yourself create the opportunity.

So give that to yourself. Take half a Sunday to unplug and take a walk. Or read a book. Or write something several thousand words long. Whatever you enjoy. Just be sure that you give yourself a long enough period of time that your mind says, “What’s next?” And you answer, “Nothing … we’re staying right here!”

Once you acquire the taste for depth, your perception of what is shallow will change accordingly.


I’m as bad as the next guy, but I’m learning. I do my best to squash that urge that comes when I’m waiting for the light to change, the line to move, or every time I have two spare minutes in my house. And batch email processing, scheduling social media breaks, and turning off the router at night all help.

But most of all I desire to have higher values.

Mar 20th, 2014

Publish with Day One

Last week brought the launch of Publish from the folks at Day One. It’s not a new app, but simply a new feature of their existing app. And although I haven’t used it yet, I must admit it feels like a potential big change, one that could move this fantastic tool in a new direction. Or, allow it to be used in a completely different way.

I’ve known it was coming and liked the potential of it. It’s had me thinking about the implications of a personal journaling tool that allows for the creation of public entries. Is it good? Bad? Something I would never use? Will this type of thing take the focus of this team off the original purpose of this app?

I don’t have those answers yet. But many users have now stated that this feature is something that will get them writing more, or using Day One as a blogging tool. This gets me thinking about the purpose of the app itself.

Everything Buckets

As I have begun to use Day One for an increasing number of different types of writing, I’m hesitant to make it an everything bucket. I do love the flexibility of the tool, but I’ve learned over time that I prefer to use the best tool for each job, rather than use a tool that serves multiple purposes decently well.

For an in-depth look at how I use Day One, check this interview yours truly on their blog.

To date, I’m using Day One for personal journal entries, logging home maintenance tasks, and for tracking progress (the lack thereof) of personal projects. I’ve considered using it for other purposes, such as writing draft blog posts, because Day One is a good writing environment.

But haven’t taken that step to this point. Partly this is due to my hesitancy, but it’s also partly due to the fact that I already have great software applications that are more specifically suited to those tasks. I still write mostly in iA Writer. And although I can see the utility of sharing personal journal entries with just family members, I already do that with Notabli.

A Blogging App

Shawn Blanc mentions that it’s been an impetus for him to journal a little more often, in order to share entries. But what about just writing and publishing those items on your blog? Does adding a second place to write and store your shared thoughts add value or complexity?

I admit, when word of Publish first came out, I was excited about the potential. Time has caused my excitement to wane. But there are both positives and negatives to using Day One in this way.

Positives
Negatives

I’m hesitant to use it as a full blogging tool, but I can see myself sharing the occasional entry for now.


Full disclosure: these are all thoughts from one who has not even used the feature to this point. My mind my change, but I’m confident I’ll stick to keeping personal stuff in Day One and keep posting items I wish to share right here or on Twitter.

But imagine if Day One ever included the ability to push content to other services (WP, tumblr, etc) à la Mars Edit. That would definitely push this tool in a new direction.

Day One is one of my favorite apps and I will continue to use it every day. How I use it is where I’m less sure.

Mar 13th, 2014

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I love the idea of this service. The fellow behind it is one of the good guys who has a real feel for what the design community wants and needs. Be sure to give it a good look — the hosting savings alone are worth it.

Mar 13th, 2014

Remote(ly) Working

Remote working has become so familiar that even more traditional and conservative entities like banking and government agencies are starting to pay attention. But despite all the talk about how to run a successful remote team, there’s a lack of focus on what it takes to be a good remote employee.

What does it take to be a good remote worker? Like most things, the answers are varied and flavoured with a healthy dose of ‘it depends’. But my experience as a business owner with a small remote team and as a remote employee have led me to a few conclusions.

Overcommunicate

This is a no brainer, for sure. And every article on remote working will mention this idea. That said, it does bear repeating.

When it comes to digital communication, every point, idea, or decision needs to be repeated.

The statement deserves its own paragraph. The reasoning for this repetition is twofold; visibility and spirit. The former is critical for there is no communication when one party has not received, seen, or heard the message. The second is only slightly less vital to a successful exchange; it’s what ensures that the receiving party correctly interprets the intention of the message as well as the message itself. And because remote working out of necessity uses digital communication as the default, the spirit of the message is that much more important. The likelihood of miscommunication is that much greater when 95% of the cues in communication are not present.

And so I’ll say it again. Communicating is the hinge pin of a remote team. If you’re a remote employee, both your employer(s) and your teammates will need communicate with you. Whether it’s water cooler talk and animated GIFs in the chat room, design comps to your creative director, or weekly summaries to the CEO, your better off sending each message more than once.

Overreaction is a Killer

Due to the possibility of communication going pear shaped, overreaction is one of the primary hazards of a remote team. All it takes is to read one email or one sentence in the chat room in the wrong tone and your entire day is shot.

In this circumstances, assume the best. If you’re not sure of what a person’s saying, ask. Reacting negatively (with anger, or hurt) when you’ve misunderstood is a waste of energy. Be sure that what you think you heard is indeed what they said.

And if in fact what they have to say is hurtful or makes you angry, you’re still better off underreacting and overcommunicating. Talk it through.

Participate

Another issue with remote teams is the ease with which a team member can slip away. Not in the “gone-to-the-bathroom” sense during the day, but a slow removal and of themselves from the team over weeks, a gradual switch from engaged and participatory to silent and isolated.

It’s not a secret or surprise that mental health issues are a concern in the design and development industry (and every other industry). But with the increase in online connections, it’s easier now for humans to slowly detach from face to face relationships. We know this is unhealthy and damaging — human touch and looking others in the eye are essential to a happy life. But the transition can be slow and largely unnoticeable from up close.

In remote teams, we need to watch for signs that this is happening. In the busyness of the day with emails, support tickets, tweets, and IM, this can be hard to do. If you work on a remote team, you can help by making sure you participate in the team’s activities.

You don’t have to join in every session of GIF bombing or each linkfest, but be sure to chime in at least a couple of times through the day. Take time from the queue to comment on the latest feedback request on the company intranet. Or just share one improvement you were happy to see with one or more of the team members who were responsible.

And going beyond your own participation, watch for teammates who’ve gone silent. Give them a private message, ask them about their lives, or just say hi. Because we’re separated by space and time, we often have little insight into what’s going on in the lives of our teammates. One word of encouragement can be just what the doctor ordered to brighten up that person’s day and stop the downward spiral.

Iterate on Your Environment

Another danger with remote teams can be what you do with your time. Because your team and your supervisors are not in the same space, it’s easy to get away with blowing away the time. It doesn’t even have to be watching the last episode of Game of Thrones or trolling Reddit … working on your own side projects can be a temptation when you’re on the company dime.

This statement is made on the assumption that your team gives employees on every team the opportunity to work on projects that may not be 100% related to the job you were hired for. If that’s not the case, do what it takes to make that a reality.

On way to battle that temptation is to be constantly looking for side projects that can improve your team’s ability to create a better experience for your customer. And the options are so various that you can find a piece of work that suits your interests. On our support team at Campaign Monitor, we have this opportunity and the activities can range from writing a post for the company blog, mocking up an improvement to the application, improving your internal documentation, or taking a course on using APIs. The opportunities are there — a good remote employee is looking for them.

You can most likely do an adequate job all while keeping one eye on Buzzfeed all day. But to excel as a remote employee, find something that enables your teammates to do their own jobs better.


Again, there are probably a multitude of other ways to be a great remote teammate and employee. These are the ones I’ve observed in running a completely remote company as well as working as a part of a larger, hybrid team. The benefits of this type of job situation are so very amazing that I personally have a desire to make it as good as possible.

For me, that starts by recognizing what I can do as an employee and keeping those points in mind throughout my week.

Mar 7th, 2014

Using iCloud for File Storage

As a long time paying Dropbox customer, I’m quite accustomed to not having to to think much about saving my files in the cloud. It just happens. And so when I find myself in a situation where I have to use iCloud instead, I notice the differences.

It would seem that Apple has plans for iCloud to be the type of service customers depend on for their every day storage needs. From my experience, it’s not yet at a place where I can make it a major part of my computing setup.

Application Focused, Not Documents

iCloud is configured to fit Apple’s vision of simplified computer usage. So the file system is something not easily accessed by the user. Where as Dropbox is a complete sync of your file and folder structure, iCloud simply stores files by application and the user is not presented with the file system at all when saving or opening files.

I can admit that there are certain scenarios where this would work for me. And there are many people for whom this is adequate. But when I’m working on something that requires multiple files in different applications, I find myself wanting the “old way” to be available.

App Specific

Two recent scenarios have been a trigger for me thinking about this subject again. I’ve been teaching adult Sunday school classes since January, so I’ve been using Keynote a lot. And this was about the same time that I started using Writer Pro on my iPad. The latter does not yet support Dropbox (it’s coming). And while the former can make use of Dropbox and the file system on OS X, the iOS version does not.

This really hit home for me when I was at TypeCamp in January. I really wanted to go over my slides on the plane ride home using my iPad. Being able to do so was great, but the steps required to get it there were onerous.

The task itself does not sound onerous in and of itself. But this only works with a small number of documents. If you have more than 10 files, this process is unfriendly.

You have to save the file to iCloud within the desktop version. Then, on your iPad, refresh the list of iCloud files. Once you see the one you’re working on, open it on the iPad. Not, now only is the process less than ideal, but you lose any sort of special formatting with your slide deck. Typography being the big area where you lose out.

All of this could be overcome if the benefit of reviewing and editing my slides were beneficial enough to be done on the iPad. But because it would cause me more work in the long run, I’ve not made the step.

Of course, this is only one application. And as slide shows are very personalized (or, they should be), perhaps it’s a poor example to use. But it’s simply one of the tasks where I’ve actually had the desire to use the iPad as a content creation device. And the experience was lacking overall.

The example is also more on the subject of creating with an iPad rather than iCloud storage. But without the one, the other is not required at all. I’ve simply continued using Dropbox with my slide decks rather than iCloud. There are no benefits to do so, only drawbacks at this point.


I certainly appreciate iCloud and the amalgamation of OS X and iOS. It’s made certain areas of my computing life much more lacking in friction. But the improvements have come at the same time as Dropbox (and other web services like Rdio), so it can be hard to differentiate between the improvements overall.

In the end, computing for a Mac user has been simplified. That’s a good great thing.

Mar 6th, 2014

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