Focusing (and getting technology out of the way)

Generating ideas and asking questions are not things I have ever had trouble with. I always have ideas running through my head, and I am always questioning and rethinking things. Of course, while this is valuable in theory, it can also have a very paralyzing effect. As a result I often find myself not doing things, or not making decisions, because I am constantly considering implications and options, rather than actually DOING things.

Nowhere is this tendency more apparent than in the realm of technology and digital tools. I have spent a lot of time pondering the merits of various tools for tasks such as blogging, other writing and taking notes, archiving and retrieving research, managing the things I need to (and want to) do etc. I am particularly concerned about relying on tools that may become extinct or substantially change their function, and leave me high and dry, or with a lot of work to transition away from them. I am also very drawn to the idea and value of open source projects.

The reality I face, however, is that some tools I find interesting and perhaps theoretically valuable and "good" introduce high costs in cognitive overhead to set up and maintain. In this category I would place Linux generally (especially in contrast to Apple's OS X), Wordpress (particularly the self-hosted variety, but even my site has never particularly made me feel warm and fuzzy), Zotero (which I think is an awesome idea and has potential, but has never been a seamless part of my workflow) and DevonThink (the "AI" of which is fascinating, but whose sync infrastructure and myriad features still seem to make me think too hard). Omnifocus is on the bubble for me at the moment; I find it a bit more involved that I want it to be, but it has some features and capabilities that I miss whenever I try to leave it behind.

The truth is I think all of these apps and/or services are great, and have wonderful features, but they have way more features than I need, and I find fiddling with them and tweaking them occupies far too much of my cognitive energy. Given the energy I have, and the other things that occupy my thoughts and time (children), I need to be very focused on what I am try to do right now: Write (and write better, and write things people read and, hopefully, will value...some day).

One tool I have been using on and off since 2008 (but more often on, lately) is Evernote (in fact I was apparently user 101,159 according to Evernote...which now has northwards of 20 million users). I have obviously gone back and forth on how I feel about Evernote, but I always come back to a few things I can't ignore:
  • Evernote is simple – understanding its interface and using it is intuitive and easy to learn, and it does useful things like OCR in the background;
  • Evernote is ubiquitous – Having notes synced across computers, platforms and devices just happens and I don't have to think about it;
  • Evernote is rapidly evolving – as the years go by, Evernote regularly gets features that make it more useful, particularly the smart things is does with related notes and searching my notebooks for related notes when I search the web, providing some of the functionality I liked in Devonthink.
Now, I am not a tech blogger, so what is the point of all this? Well, you will note Wordpress is mentioned in the list of troublesome tools above. And recently, a new service called has appeared, that integrates blogging directly with Evernote. The service is still developing, but the other benefit I see with its integration with Evernote is that it will likely grow and develop with Evernote, and benefit from the features added to Evernote; I can particularly imagine the usefulness of "related notes" being a natural back-end for "related posts." And an added bonus of Evernote is that, since my posts are synced automagically to all my computers, devices and the web, I have a decent back-up of all my posts should anything tragic ever happen to the service.

Because Evernote makes my life easier, and because makes Evernote more useful for me, and because I WANT my life to be easier, I am going to be moving to post haste. For now, my old posts will still hang out here (a Wordpress import feature is "coming soon" to, but at the very least I can always copy my posts into Evernote at some point). I may still use Wordpress down the line, once I am a fancy, successful writer, and need a more comprehensive web presence, but for now all I need to do is blog. As simply as possible.

(As an aside, I think creating this experience – of being able to use technology to do what you want, as simply as possible – is something that Apple also does exceedingly well, which explains why I continue to live in the Apple ecosystem, despite my theoretical interest in open source and Linux. Any trade-offs I make by "drinking the kool-aid" are massively offset by how little I need to think about keeping my stuff working.)

So, while I am not a tech blogger, I may write more about this experience at some point. I think, as technology become more ubiquitous, a critical issue will be balancing transparency (users need to know what's happening with their "stuff") and ownership (users should not have to lose control over, or ownership of, their information by using a service) with ease of use. I think, right now, Evernote balances these pretty well, which makes me happy. We'll see what the future holds.