Thinking About Attention

CGP Grey posted an excellent video on Friday articulating something we’ve likely all noticed in ourselves and in those around us: a spiraling inability to focus our attention on things that matter.

The “attention economy” of today’s world rewards platforms that are engineered to hijack your attention. As Grey says in the video, “Who among us has not opened an app, looked around, seen everything new, closed it, then immediately reopened to check again?”

That’s troubling, and all too relatable.

If you find yourself struggling to focus, or even just to be alone with your own thoughts, it may be time for a break from Internet consumption.

Backups

I have become rather obsessive about backing up my data, and I tend to evangelize about it.

What if you lost your computer today, along with all of your most important files and treasured family photos? Hard drives die, phones go missing, laptops get stolen—and these things can be devastating if you’re not prepared.

Thankfully, backing up is easier than it’s ever been. Here’s a glimpse into my current system:

  • I use Time Machine to back up the files on my Mac to an external drive. Time Machine is amazing—it’s a total “set it and forget it” solution. It automatically keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months.
  • I use iCloud Drive to sync my Documents folder to the cloud, adding some extra peace of mind for my most important work files.
  • My iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch are automatically backed up to iCloud as well—which makes it quick and easy to load up a new device when it’s time to upgrade or replace.
  • Nearly every digital photo I’ve ever taken is stored in my iCloud Photo Library, which makes photo organization (and rediscovery) a genuinely pleasant experience.
  • Most of my web projects are powered by WordPress, and I use VaultPress for those. Hands-off, automatic offsite backups and security from Automattic, the company behind WordPress itself.
  • I manually back up my static websites, because they don’t change much. (My web hosts also have their own backup systems in place, but I try not to depend on those.)

I didn’t realize until I made this list just how Apple-heavy my backup regimen is. It wasn’t always that way—I used to be a Windows guy—but it all really does just work.

Whatever solutions you go with, make sure you have something in place to save you from disaster. And don’t wait! Today could be the day you lose all those precious photos, or your tax documents, or that novel you’re working on.

Back it up!

My Course Creation Workflow & Tools

I just finished producing a new video course, and I decided to document my process here for any geeks or creatives who may be interested.

When I’m creating a course, I tend to work as a jack of all trades: I write, record, animate, edit, and produce everything myself. This is not the most efficient approach, but it’s how I prefer to operate.

My workflow can be broken down into four distinct stages: planning, writing, recording, and animation.

Planning

The planning stage begins as a chaotic mess of notes and ideas that I’ve accumulated over many months. Often these ideas pre-date my intention to create a course—they’re just things I jot down because I feel they may be useful.

When I decide the course is actually going to be a thing, I start collecting these notes into a central location, like a Google doc. I make a list of things I’d like to cover in the course, and then I start doing research.

The research phase tells me what’s out there—what’s been done, what hasn’t; what’s good, what’s not; what people want to know about the topic, what doesn’t matter; etc. I also invariably learn more about the topic during this process, which I enjoy.

When the course transforms from a vague concept to an actual project, it’s time to start outlining.

The way I do this varies. In the past, I would create a long and convuluted bullet list in Google Docs, but that gets messy fast.

While outlining my latest course, I found that I really like the mind map format. I used FreeMind, a Java app, and despite some weird graphics issues on my MacBook Pro, it worked well enough.

Next time I’ll likely go with a native Mac app, though, as there are plenty.

I try to do the majority of the thinking work during the outlining process. By the time I have a completed outline, I feel I should be able to deliver coherent lectures on the spot, if prompted.

Writing

From there, I begin the writing process. Some people are surprised to learn that I write every word of my lectures in advance (though I often go off-script). I value preparation.

I do all of my writing in Google Docs, mainly for the convenience of cross-platform editing, not to mention the peace of mind that every change I make is saved automatically—revisions and all.

Writing, for me, is the most intensive part of the process. I’m obsessed with the details: articulating clearly, avoiding fluff and filler, packing in as much value as possible.

Recording

Once I’ve got a script, it’s time to record.

I record audio in Audacity with my trusty Audio Technica ATR2100. My tools and processes are almost exactly the same today as in my podcasting days.

Now, you would think four hours of content would equate to four hours of recording—but you would be wrong. Again, I’m obsessed with the details. I’ll often do six or seven takes on a single lecture, and I follow up with a meticulous post-production process. I don’t think I want to know the ratio of recording/editing time to finished content, but delivering an outstanding product is very important to me.

Animation

My last two courses have been animated, as opposed to the traditional slide deck format. I think it helps to keep people engaged.

This part is a lot more fun and laid-back, though I’m still very detail-oriented.

My animation software of choice is VideoScribe. It’s pretty easy to pick up if you’ve never used it before, but it still offers plenty of advanced functionality.

I also use Screenflow for screencasts and some post-production work, and I’ve been quite happy with it.

So, that’s my process in a nutshell. Definitely an oversimplification, but it shows what I’m actually doing when I disappear to work on one of these projects.