2.03: Clarity check-in

Not doing things, simplifying things, not “staying tuned,” and a few recs

And here’s month two. There’s a beautiful partly sunny sky outside but I’m instead staring at an iPad screen. Just kidding, I’m oscillating between the two because the outside is nice.

My theme of the new year was about striving for clarity, and reflecting on the first month of the new decade, forced weekly writing seems to be helping achieve this. I have a bit more clarity around how and why I think about things, what things I want to spend time thinking about, and how I want to convey them.

One thing I’m not thinking about is the Super Bowl, which is a waste of my time.

I have a few larger topics I’m noodling on for future posts, but for now I have some updates on how the year is going so far, and some things I’ve enjoyed along the way. If you want to follow along with my future updates, please:

Not doing things is doing things

I did write down some resolutions-of-sorts back on New Year’s Day, in the spirit of that theme. A few are progressing fairly well: writing regularly, being more present for my wife, stopping & breathing more.

Others… well, I have enough clarity to know I don’t care to move those forward at the moment. They’re simply not as important to me as the ones in focus right now. These are things I’m not doing:

  • Participating in a band/musician/songwriting group. I’ll probably write more about this later, but I’ve been rethinking what kind of music I want to make after becoming inspired more by ambient & solo piano music than recent popular music. This is an area for which I am working toward clarity but haven’t gotten there yet. Once I figure this out, I’ll explore this or whether it’s even going to add value to my music composition.

  • Finding something with which to spoil myself. I wrote this down at the behest of my wife who suggested I should do more for myself, and I agreed, but this has been difficult to give priority. I honestly feel like getting a puppy was a splurge.

  • Cultivating an online base/community/whatever. I see this newsletter as something to contribute here, but also I simply don’t care too much to self-promote — I’d rather just write what I feel and see if it sticks.

  • Reading regularly. I started a fiction book and it’s at my bedside, and every time I go to read it I’m asleep in five minutes. Damn you, comfortable mattress.

One area I’m still working through is more strategically defining my relationship with capital-w Work. Working remotely is wonderful and I’ve even grown comfortable with being a bit scattered about it, but I realized early this year that I was so excited about remote work that I neglected to think about what else I might want out of my job. To me, this is not about leaving my job for something better (because no job is perfect but working for Abstract is quite great), but ensuring that I’m being clear, proactive and assertive about what I expect out of the job and how I want to shape it. I’m circling around this idea now, and not sure how it will work out.

Quick aside: “Stay tuned” is an obsolete phrase and let’s stop saying it

I was about to end that last paragraph with “Stay tuned.” It felt immensely weird to say that, for two reasons:

  1. I loathe the idea of demanding my tiny reader base to be attentive to my bullshit

  2. When I publish my next update, an email will appear in your inbox. You don’t need to stay tuned at all; it will just appear.

“Stay tuned” is no longer a thing we need to do because, unless you’re on cable TV, our technology no longer warrants it. From Quora:

Back in the day of radio broadcasting, before the era of automatic frequency control (in the radio tuner) a station would ‘drift’ and the listener would have to move the tuner dial ever so slightly to hear the station loud and clear (remember the strength and clarity call out 5 by 5, in which each was evaluated on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the best). Atmospheric propagation would also cause the station to surge and fade at times.

…Now enter the role of the sponsors of the radio program. Each sponsor would be billed a certain amount based on the number of “ears” that the program would “deliver”. If the number of listeners dropped, the sponsor would pay less and the radio stations income would also drop. It was certainly in the radio stations best interest for listeners to stay tuned to the program - and it would sometimes take a dedicated effort on the part of the listener to ‘stay tuned’.

Internet people: Let’s stop saying this, k? It’s not relevant for our medium. Honestly, it makes us sound desperate for someone’s attention. Might as well say “don’t forget about me.”

BoJack Horseman is over and I’m sad, plus other recent great TV

Speaking of TV, I’ve started to more deliberately watch TV less and at specific times, which has admittedly been a challenge because there’s so much damn good TV. Just in the past 1–2 weeks, here’s what I’ve enjoyed a lot:

  • BoJack Horseman, season 6 part 2. This has been arguably my favorite show of the 2010s, and I’m sad to see it go.

  • The New Pope. The pace is slow, but the cinematography is beautiful and the premise is incredibly interesting to watch.

  • Servant. I haven’t enjoyed psychological thrillers much lately, but this one has just enough to keep intrigued, between the creepy nanny and the amazing food/cooking shots.

  • Broad City. This isn’t new and I loved this show when it was current, but Alicia and I began rewatching it as the show we could use to laugh out loud when no other show would… including The Good Place which ended strong but not hilarious.

I’ve noticed a recurring theme in these shows as being powerful and immersive, but still escapist. Little America on Apple TV+ seemed good, but it’s too real-world (and somehow feels problematic despite the intent) for me to enjoy right now.

If you like these recommendations and general thoughts, please:

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Ambient Essentials is the best playlist for not being distracted

The best thing — no surprise — has been shutting off the TV and instead listening to music. Turns out when something isn’t visually distracting you, you’re less distracted.

I truly madly deeply love music, but sometimes it’s also distracting. The one exception that has one-hundred-percent delivered on not distracting is Apple Music’s Ambient Essentials playlist. This is a wonderful mix of highly repetitive, calming pieces that both engross me and allow time to pass without me even noticing. Case & point: William Basinski’s forty-minute-long “dlp 6” and Ekkehard Ehlers' heartbreaking “Plays John Cassavetes II.”

Oh, also, sorry — not a Spotify user. There’s a comparable playlist there, though, for all you folks.

The fewer tools, the better

Like Viticci has been discussing recently, and Merlin Mann so eloquently put in a recent episode of Back to Work, I’ve felt a higher degree of clarity by resorting to basics instead of elaborate tools & systems when it comes to my devices & apps. I first tackled this for my online presence, which is no longer beholden to unreliable web hosting providers, and simpler too as a result. I already tweeted about this, so in the spirit of not repeating myself:

The biggest burden w/r/t tools has been how I plan & keep track of what I need to do every day. For a while I used Things to meticulously organize & track those things. It’s a beautiful and quite capable app, but it overwhelmed me constantly. So I pulled everything out of it and moved it all into stock Apple Reminders and Notes. I was already using these to share basic lists with my wife (groceries, shopping, some house project stuff), and when I realized I don’t need to hold myself to arbitrary deadlines for most things in my personal life, I realized the incredibly simple ecosystem I had for myself.

Things that must take place on a day or at a time are in my calendar. I religiously use calendar notifications, even for personal deadlines like posting this newsletter.

Things I need reminders about end up in Reminders (crazy). I don’t need a special methodology to organize and categorize those things to do. Notes acts as a reference, a system of record, things I occasionally need to look up: like house utility information, useful shortcuts tips, gift ideas. Sure, I could categorize and tag these things incessantly, but I can also just search for them.

Everything that isn’t obviously a task needing a reminder or a reference note starts in Drafts, which is the one exception to this first-party rule. I like Drafts for a few reasons:

  • Capturing an idea reliably from my Apple Watch is the best thing, and Drafts is the most reliable way to do this.

  • This app can format, merge move and prepare text for use literally anywhere, including Substack (on which this newsletter is hosted), which has neither an app or an API.

  • Virtually everything in this app can be organized as I like and done in one click or keyboard shortcut.

Drafts plays the role of my daily agenda, not unlike the pen-and-paper planners folks used to (and still?) use. I wrote a Shortcut that pulls reminders and events taking place today and organizes it all into a Draft — I run this every morning as part of a larger routine that shuts off the alarm system and turns on a few lights downstairs, so it’s ready for me as I’m starting the day. This prepared draft aggregates everything I need to do, everything that’s going on, into a single sheet. With the Taskpaper format, I can easily cross things off the list or add notes to go through later. For reminders that come up throughout the day, I can also check those off when the notification hits, or I can sync a matching thing on my Agenda back over and kill the reminder if I no longer need it.

This is still evolving — in some ways Reminders feels redundant with Drafts for things that are not time-sensitive, so I might move some of my generic lists over to Drafts, which seems like a common use case for this app. That said, simplifying how I go through my day has helped me take better notes while also feeling less overwhelmed or distracted by apps. It’s also been a fun tinkering exercise.

Here’s a link to the Shortcut, in case it’s helpful to you: Prep Daily Agenda


That’s all I’ve got. Bye!