On workflow, drawing and the new Flickr

How I’m Working
I’m putting some renewed effort into examining my workflows, particularly with respect to project management tools and ways to keep a “digital brain” in order to track the bajillion things I have on my list of things to do at any one time.

I initially started with Apple’s Reminders.app; it was easily available and uses iCloud to sync between my MacBook, phone and iPad. It has steadily improved since its first release, and the iOS6 version was pretty nice, but ultimately it was just a checklist. You made a list and added items that you could check off and move to a “done” list. The end. I wanted something a little more sophisticated.

My second attempt was to use Behance’s Action Method system — again, it used iCloud to offer seamless syncing between my various devices, but had significantly more features than Reminders. You can add color codes and make items orange, teal or gray; there’s a separate notes section where you can add long form written items that are organized by date (although the functionality for moving between notes from different days was pretty awful), and although I never got around to using this feature very much it had the option to delegate tasks to other Action Method users. I used Action Method for quite a while, until the pile of nagging little issues I was having with it (primarily, the iPad app was astonishingly crash, and the desktop app was written in Adobe Air, which meant more-frequent updates than I felt like messing with) reached the point where I wanted to seek an alternative.

After looking into a couple of different things I settled on Wunderlist, and right now I like it quite a bit. The app is just flat-out attractive; the devs are putting a lot of emphasis on look and feel, but in a way that supports usability of the app and isn’t just for show. It’s very Apple-like in that way. It really works for me; adding new items is amazingly fast, I have made excellent use of the ability to add task checklists to individual items on a list (for example, to build a checklist of distribution outlets for a news story’s to-do item), and there is a free-flow text area for adding long form notes to each to-do item. The one thing I miss from Action Method is the separate note-taking window for the long form notes, but in all honesty I should be putting those notes into Day One anyway, so they can be tagged and searched (I am dramatically under-utilizing the quite fantastic Day One, but that’s a post for another day).

Wunderlist is still pretty new, and the biggest issue I have with it is the lack of feature parity between the different existences of the service — the web app can do some things that the desktop app can’t do, which can do some things that the mobile apps can’t do. The developers seem to be working hard to keep the system updated, and this is still relatively new software, so for it to be as perfectly functional as it is right now is actually a solid achievement.

I discovered Trello today; our web team was using it for a demo they were giving us today. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with it yet, honestly, but what I’ve seen at first glance is pretty nice. The app allows for simultaneous views of a number of lists, but its very clever feature is that those lists can be expanded into a separate view that includes dramatically more information. Trello quite properly calls this piece of information a *card*. On the front, a quick overview of the to-do item – name, number of items completed and total number of items on a sub to-do list, little tabs showing the item’s color codes, number of messages that have been added to that item’s activity log, etc. On the back, a full view of everything associated with that item – a to-do list, a view of team members who have been assigned to work on that particular item, a list of actions that can be taken and logged in the activity list, item-specific attachments, a list of the labels and associated color codes attached to that item, etc. At first glance what Trello has done is impressive.

I also used Basecamp this year to try and manage my student writers, but honestly it was only marginally effective. It could do the very basic things that I wanted to do, which was give the students a framework for checking in with me and giving a “this is what I did during my shift” report for me, and as a handoff to the student taking the next shift, and to give us some rudimentary discussion boards for us to share screenshots and talk about how to handle certain social media situations that came up during the course of the year. But it just didn’t seem to be that robust; I couldn’t even tell you offhand what I wanted to do with it but was unable to do (I suspect because I sensed its limitations early on and didn’t even try), but I was only marginally pleased with it.

While Trello may not (will probably not, in fact) replace Wunderlist as my personal project management tool, it’s got a pretty good chance to replace Basecamp. I just need to kick the tires on it a bit more and see what it can do. But its expanded features for teams – Trello’s “pro” version, essentially – is only $200 a year. It would be a pretty cheap experiment to run student assignments off of it next year.

I want to get to the point where I stop experimenting with things and settle in on a set of tools that help manage my often overwhelming workflow and get me to a place where I’m more productive. With my current trio of Evernote, Day One and Wunderlist, I feel like I’m pretty close to having what I need. The only remaining task is to seriously refine how the tools are used and for what purposes, solidify how they work together in my routine, and account for the few outliers that I’m still monkeying with (like iA Writer) – which I really, really like, but it seems like the work I’m doing there for story drafts could be moved to Day One).

What I’m Drawing
About a week and a half ago, I started this; it’s my attempt to copy a photo of Megan Fox that accompanied an interview with her in Esquire a few months back. I have mostly been working on it in 30-minute bursts over my lunch hour, which has been a fantastic way for me to recapture some creative energy that tends to get expended pretty quickly in the mornings at work.

I struggled with a couple of little things early on – her chin wasn’t right, I worked and reworked her cheekbone a few times until I got it where I wanted it (and then discovered that a little fix around her eye that I initially didn’t see was enough to cure a lot of other ills), and her right eye took me probably seven attempts to get properly placed and sized. But I worked through those, and right now, I’ve gotta tell you, I’m pretty happy with the way this is progressing. In terms of size, this is the biggest drawing I’ve attempted in 20 years, and if it keeps going the way it has started, it’ll be a keeper.

Flickr’s big update
In conjunction with its huge announcement that it had acquired Tumblr for just over a billion dollars, Yahoo! on Monday also re-launched a totally overhauled [Flickr. Flickr has been one of the sad sacks of the social media world for a long time; it’s the grand-daddy of photo sharing communities, but Yahoo allowed it to languish and mostly ignored it. Photo-sharing features were implemented poorly and quite slowly, and over time it simply faded into “who cares?” territory for all but the hardcore pro photographers who continued to hang out there — most people simply shifted the destination of their camera-phone photos to Facebook or Instagram or something similar.

But this new Yahoo under Marissa Meyer seems to be serious about becoming a competitor to Google in the web services arena. The new Flickr is amazing; the redesign is beautiful and offers some genuinely attractive ways to interact with your photos. They’ve also added the now-ubiquitous cover photo to your profile page, are allowing high-res avatars, etc. It’s nice to look at.

The biggest news, however, is that every single user of the site – every one of them – has, entirely for free, one terabyte of image storage. A terabyte. Compare that to the five free gigabytes you get from Google Drive or Dropbox or the seven from Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Granted Flickr is only for images and three-minute-or-less videos, but still — a terabyte of storage. For free.

I put that into some perspective on Facebook Monday night. I recounted a story about driving from Manhattan, Kan., to Circuit City in Topeka when I was in college so I could spend $225 on a 1.1-gigabyte hard drive for my Xeos-brand 486 running Windows 95. That was a huge hard drive at the time; I think you could get them in the four- to six-gigabyte range at retail for several times what I paid for my single gig. Yahoo gave a terabyte of storage away for free on Monday; had I wanted to acquire one terabyte of storage space on the day I bought that hard drive, it would have cost me $210,000. That’s an amazing window into how much – and how quickly – technology has changed in the last 15 years or so.

It’s incredible. Legitimately, amazingly incredible. And comparing the price of that 1.1-gigabyte hard drive to a free terabyte of storage makes me wonder what astonishing things I have today will seem equally ludicrous in terms of their price-to-performance ratio in another 15 years.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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2 Responses

  1. Ken Baker says:

    Remember when having an Iomega ZIP drive was a big deal? I remember how excited we were to get the one that held 250MB in the sports info office at Allegheny.

  2. Y’know I think about Iomega all the time. It is amazing how they revolutionized storage with ZIP drives and then just vanished. They still make networked storage systems, but as a general consumer brand they are dead. Crazy. Then I think about how much data is trapped on ZIP disks in the bottom of somebody’s file cabinet.

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