Greg Morris

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My Adventures With A Commonplace Book

Stray too far into self-help or productivity circles, and you will soon come across this idea of a commonplace book. The practice of writing everything down and keeping it in a place you can access later is held up as the reason people are successful and a way for you to get the most out of life. Although people like HP Lovecraft, John Milton and even Leonardo do Vinci kept one by their side, it is a practice that can be hard to stick too in the modern world.

Commonplace books are a tradition spanning from the Middle Ages, but one that seems improper in the modern world. Despite all the obvious benefits of manual tasks, the avoidance of feeling out of place is often a powerful feeling. One that I frequently can’t be overcome, I just don’t want to be that guy. There’s just no getting around the fact that carrying around a notebook in a digital world appears strange to most people.

As such, my first effort at keeping this ‘book’ had to be digital. It makes the most sense as I have my phone or my watch on my wrist nearly all the time, or I am sat at my computer working. Not to mention, all the things I save are then searchable and referenceable easily from all my devices. Saving digital things just makes sense.

An app such as Evernote would make an excellent digital commonplace book, in fact, numerous people I know have been doing this all along without even knowing it. Storing photos of notes, whiteboards, web clippings, meeting briefs and all sorts of things in the app to refer to later. Not wanting to spend money on Evernote after being burnt before, I opted to use Apple Notes instead.

The main reason for doing this was to make sure I carried things that I wanted to remember. That I got myself into a better state of working though my ideas and working on them later. So, I built a Shortcut to help me on this journey. To capture quotes from articles I read, thoughts that I could dictate from my Apple Watch, and also anything else I stumbled across.

The premise was simple. My iCloud notes now contained a folder titled commonplace book. Each time I wanted to capture something, the shortcut checked for a note titled with the current date, if it was missing, it created it along with a time stamped entry. If the note already existed, it appended a time stamped capture to the note.

This folder started to fill up with all sorts of things. Quotes, ideas, web clippings, photos and any number of random things. I became quite obsessed with saving things, but I am sure you can already see where this was going. I was absolutely dedicated to saving things in my new commonplace book, but I never went back and looked at it. Never browsed the notes for any other reason than vaguely remembering saving a quote I wanted to reference in some writing.

The digital folder was a great idea, but it was tucked away. It wasn’t in front of me to be able to look at, flick through and review the entries in it. Although I have confidence, some snippets saved would have been used at some point though searching my phone — I just didn’t get any use from it. It became obvious quickly that the whole point of a commonplace book, for me at least, was physically writing things in it.

A Note Book Instead

OK, I am a little obsessed with notebooks at the moment. Since reviewing my plan for 2023, and reading Revenge of Analogue, I’ve adopted more manual processes. This means writing more with a pen and paper, as well as being aware of the enjoyment gained from tactile things. I even bought a mechanical keyboard, clicky!

So, my journal evolved into a commonplace book. There’s a certain level of worry that comes with even mentioning that you have a commonplace book. Most of the questions I see online are variations of “what do I write in this thing” and these exact questions come whenever you get out your notebook. You have to be prepared for this and answer them with confidence. The practice has existed for hundreds of years, and will do long after you are gone, so don’t worry.

Oh, and much like with the digital notebook, the answer to what you write in it is everything. While these practices make me much more satisfied in a sensory sense, it isn’t perfect. The fact that everything is written down manually, means that you lose all the advantages that digital note bring. They are not searchable and take up physical storage space.

I tried out indexing one of my notebooks, using a tag system to allocate areas in which they may be stored if I were to use the PARA system for Building A Second Brain. Given that I never referred back to it ever again in that way, I didn’t bother with the next couple of notebooks I have used. I tend to flick through them and pick up ideas and thoughts as and when I need to. This serves as a nice reminder, a diary of sorts, but also a way to review information to help with memory recall. Thats a Win/Win in my (note)book.

Micro Blog

Great to see blocking finally rolling out to, seems crazy that it wasn’t there before.

I really need muting words though.

Being At Peak Apple Product Is Awesome

At the iPhone phone launch last September, a thought started to blossom in my head. As they presented all of their new devices, that no doubt they toiled away for months to create, I couldn’t shake the feeling of melancholy. Sure, they are nice and everything, but we might just have reached the pinnacle of what Apple’s current technology can offer.

The truth is, collectively we realised this with smartphones at least a couple of years ago. The iPhone 13, was mostly the 12, that in turn was a more square version of the iPhone 11. You can track the slow and steady ticking forward of the Apple iPhone from the very first one, but what’s inside and what it can actually do tended to take strides forward at least every other year. Now, not so much.

There is a limit to what can be achieved from a rectangle of glass and metal, and there’s something to be said for Apple’s consistency instead of Samsungs spaghetti at the wall approach. Unfortunately, for Apple, the downturn in creativity and technology improvement is also shaping into other devices. I’m not kidding either, Apple Watch, iPad, AirPods, MacBook, they are all pretty meh - and thats a good thing.

You Cant Do Real Work

Apple’s most contentious device, the iPad Pro, is the perfect example. There has been very little need to upgrade your device since 2018. The current model features very little upgrade past a more powerful processor, making it a little better on battery and more able. Which is great, until you realise that most things you do on your iPad don’t even tax older iPads. The only thing that has changed a lot is the camera if that’s your thing (it really shouldn’t be).

The same can be said for Apple silicone MacBooks. The launch of the M2 MacBook Pro went by with none of the clamouring that the M1 Pro devices got. The tick that had followed the massive tock of desktop devices leaves very little need to upgrade depending on your use case. The M1 Pro powered MacBook that I do all of my work on still feels like it has headroom in every task I throw at it.

So, we’ve rubbished the upgrades for what’s in your hand, and potentially what’s in your bag, now let’s look at the Apple watch. A device that, once Apple sorted out what they wanted it to be, hasn’t seen a meaningful upgrade in years. Each year, the device gets a little faster and a little better on battery, but you’d have to jump up from a device 3–4 years old to see any improvements. Even then, the argument could be made that it wouldn’t really mean a lot.

Whilst presenting the newest version last year, almost each proposed upgrade covered could be attributed to software improvements, many of which would be rolled into older devices anyway. Thank god for the Apple Watch Ultra, one of my favourite devices for a few years, for at least a little excitement. I have a feeling that many purchases, my own included, were fuelled by the desire simply for something new.

I do think this is the right move though. No one wants to be updating their watch every year, and by providing even smaller updates there is less desire to, and less for Apple to shout about. Apple does indeed make devices more aimed towards periodic upgraders than early adopters. Those that get a free phone with their new plan every 2–3 years, rather than us hardcore upgraders.

Apple doesn’t make devices like it used to. We can’t fit them on a table as Steve Jobs said they should do, and they don’t always appeal to everyone. The devices are at the peak of what is a feasible upgrade, and that is becoming less and less about headline features. There’s less to crow about but more to love, the devices have peaked and that’s fantastic for all users, and our bank balances.

The Apple VR Headset May Miss The Boat That Never Arrived

One of the biggest leaking Apple products I can ever remember might actually see the light of day at WWDC next month. You read that right, it looks highly likely Tim Cook will take to the stage on the Keynote for Apple’s develop conference and finally utter the words Reality Pro. Unfortunately, the long-rumoured VR experience from Apple has already missed its chance to make a splash, and will be launched into a market that doesn’t really exist.

Since at least the mid-80’s at various volume levels, futurists have been telling us virtual reality will be a massive thing. The slightly dystopian predictions are that we will at least strap things to our faces instead of staring at screens, and if you listen to some people, we might live a portion of our lives in a virtual world. However, that reality has never really panned out.

It has to be said I am extremely negative towards putting any computer on your face, but still open to the possibility. In many respects, it makes sense, perhaps not to live in a virtual world, but consuming content or playing games is a realistic current and future bet for VR devices. This is where Apple sees its headset fitting in, running iPad type apps and not diving into a metaverse. Being able to put on oversized goggles to be able to watch or use a gigantic screen instead of needing a large panel appeals to many demographics.

Image credit: Marcus Kane/Sketchfab

You Missed It

The issue is that the market for this kind of device is already exhausted. Either physically or metaphorically. Niche gaming sections are saturated with cheaper Quest or PlayStation devices. With others completely turned off to the idea due to a bombardment of Meta né Facebook insisting on the future taking place in their world. The truth is Apple scrambled to build a device to fit into a potential market that was promised for years on end, but no longer exists.

Whatever Apple’s entry into VR looks like; or whenever it arrives, it looks set to miss its market bar early adopter Apple fans with too much money. Granted there was a time for about 6 beautiful months where this device made sense. After months of not being able to navigate the web without being inundated with the word metaverse, that time has gone. That time may arrive, but like having business built around web3 in 2023, there’s not much hope currently.

That is the issue with entering into markets that are still emerging. You risk making the wrong bets. Wasting considerable amounts on money building devices that fall flat rather than sail the current wave of hype. This was something that Apple were notoriously good at. They waited, watched and launched their product a little later than others, but well-rounded and pushing industries forward. You only have to look at products like AirPods as an example of Apple usual ‘wait and see’ market tactic.

Which makes Apples VR device all the more strange, and something that no doubt is making them pause and think a bit longer. However, it can be said that we are not dealing with the same Apple any more, and even they can make mistakes – huge million-dollar mistakes. Just don’t mention AirPower.


A fairly simple word. Loaded with meaning and a fair bit of woo woo. Who doesn’t intend to do things? However, you’d actually be surprised the number of things you do without really thinking about them. With your mind either wandering around or focused entirely on something else. With a little practice and a lot of thought, intentional actions can spark new feeling and improve mental health.

I do numerous things each day with little to no thought. Due to my daughter, and me being a bit of a control freak, I wake at the same time, do the same things and my day doesn’t really start deviating from that same path hours later. In many ways, this period each day, I have very little intentionality. I am not thinking about specifically doing these tasks, but know they need to be done. I’m on autopilot and the time just slips away, but the tasks get done.

There’s another side. A darker loss of intentionality that robs my time and doesn’t achieve anything. Social media muscle memory means that despite having no intention of doom scrolling, I am there before I realise it. I intended to do something else, but now the time is gone, and I feel bad about the world.

Even when I complete tasks that I enjoy, that I look forward to, I am often not present. Not intentional with the moment, not spending my time paying attention. I am on autopilot. Thinking about something else entirely and not enjoying what I am doing. No matter what is happening, it’s far too easy to be distracted, to not pay attention, to spend time in your head instead of in the wider world.

When you are paying attention, you can find enjoyment and interest in places you least expect to find it. When you actually look at things and do things intentionally and think about them while you do them, you get much more from the activity itself. If you are not intentional with your time, you will spend it too fast, and you cannot get it back again.

Not Chasing Perfection

I read Matt Birchler’s post on The Sweet Setup as soon as it appeared in my feed. Anything he has to say usually leaves me better after consuming it, and it also mentioned Todoist, which I have a soft sport for after becoming a brand ambassador a few years ago. It really is a great post, and one that I’ve been able to feel swirling around in Matt’s head for some time, but it touches on two points that I really wanted to stress.

As early as the second paragraph, he points out that chasing the perfect app is a fool’s game. It is, as Matt puts it, “a path that leads to madness” and will result in you just going around from app to app and not actually using the thing to get anything done. I’m a scholar of this pathetic chasing, so I think I can speak from experience when I wholeheartedly agree with Matt.

He’s clear on this, and does a fantastic job of pointing this out. He is no doubt aware of the sway his posts can have over people (my self included), so this declaimer of sorts is even more worth paying attention to. If you take absolutely nothing away from the post apart from this, then it will have been a worthwhile read. If, however, you have now downloaded Todoist, or Things, stop and just use what you have.

There Are Feelings Involved

The second point that is hinted at several points in the post, and then downright stated towards the end, is that you have to pay attention to the way things feel. It’s an important trait to be aware of and something that you may not be able to put into words, but even the best app or system in the world can feel wrong. If it does, don’t be afraid to leave it alone despite everyone else evangelising for it.

It turns out that the generally joyful UI of Things was more important to me than I realised, and a longer feature list couldn’t win me over — Matt Birchler

Matt speaks of his yearning for change, and whilst it’s essential to take into accounts what other apps can do, if the app you are using just feels better, stick with it. Unless you are hitting walls and cant do things because features are missing, you won’t gain anything by messing around.

If you get a better feeling from the app you already have you will use it more, something particularly critical if that app you are using needs you to use it to get things done. It is one of the reasons I now just use a notebook. Everything in my logical brain tells me it’s worse, possibly in every single way, but the feeling of using it and writing in it trumps all.