peter evans

Tools of the Trade

I have to make a confession: whenever someone generously shares any part of their kit, anything they use to make things, or organize things, I have to stop and read their notes. It’s like catnip to me, like the promise of paradise: here, maybe, is one weird trick that I can use to boost my productivity.

Often, it’s something I don’t need, or don’t want, or can’t use. And that’s fine. But, conscious as I am of wanting to learn from everyone else’s setups, I present to you my own.

Editing text

I’ve been using Vim since the early 2000s. Vim, and its original iteration Vi, is like a weird language; you learn to express movements and changes as terse sequences of keystrokes. j is down, k is up, ^VjjjjjI inserts some text at this column for this line and the next four lines after. It feels like tapping into the essence of programming; even if, originally, it was an editor Bill Joy wrote at Berkeley to let him work on code over a terrible modem line.

Fonts

I am very particular when it comes to fonts. Although you occasionally run across the bizarre few who prefer variable fonts for their work, monospaced fonts are the way to go.

I do not like ligatures in fonts.

Good fonts:

Notes

I keep sets of analog and digital notes. I find it useful to brainstorm in plain notebooks (usually spiral-bound), where I can write anything down, draw anything, whatever seems interesting. For to-do lists that lack structure, and must simply be done ASAP, I use Field Notes Steno Pads. For almost any writing these days, I use Blackwing pencils rather than pens.

I like whiteboarding a lot. In cases where my notebook isn’t enough, or I need to coordinate some kind of freeform notes for a group, I’ve been using Jamboard lately. It’s good-enough.

I write most of my digital notes in Markdown. I manage directories of markdown notes files for various things, from work to cooking recipes. I tend to avoid software that are meant to organize your notes in favor of plain text files that I search using find, pt, and fzf.

Lately I’ve been testing Typora for editing Markdown files. Mostly for note-taking; that way, I can keep my Vim instances for coding.

I use pandoc for any kind of text-to-text transformation. This site is generally a bunch of markdown files that have been reconfigured into HTML in some meaningful way.

Organization

I am a huge fan of organization, both of self and of notes. I use my Field Notes steno pad for immediate to-do items, something that I should plausibly be able to just handle when I can get to it. I have a work pad and a home pad (although, in a WFH environment, it all combines into one). The tactile nature of written to-do items feels very pleasant to me.

For meetings, I store notes in a markdown file broken down by year, month, and context. That could be a one-on-one, a standup, a one-off meeting; anything. This lets me keep something for later without having to clutter up my to-do list with things I can’t immediately do, but must still organize.

For more long-range items that I must iterate on, like strategies, I have lately been using Monday, although to some degree a markdown file could suffice if I never needed to share it with anyone. I group items under the broadest possible concerns, then break down into sub-items if possible. I often use this to guide myself toward what I think I should care about today/this week/etc.

Technology

I’ve been using Unix for decades–starting with one of those giant books you could get at Best Buy, trying out daemons before I went back to rastermen and gnomes. And, lately, macOS–which is, after all, the best window manager for Unix I’ve ever used.