“Notes” are sort of like Tweets – quick thoughts that are random and not fully formed; that I didn’t want to or haven’t yet put into a longer format.

  • What’s changed since Planes, Trains & Automobiles was released 36 years ago

    As we do each year we’re once again watching the classic (and my favorite movie of all time) Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Released on November 25 1987, the movie is now 36 years old. It’s fascinating to see how many bits and pieces of daily life in America have changed in just three decades’ time.

    Here are some things I’ve noticed that are different in 2023:

    Brands seen in the movie that are no longer in existence:

    A man waits for a cab in a crowded ew York City street with a Roy Rogers restaurant sign visible in the background
    A man walks across an airport runway with a TWA jet visible in the background.
    A man dressed in a suit and fedora talks on the phone

    Societal norms that have changed:

    • Smoking is widely illegal in US restaurants, airport lounges, and other indoor spaces
    • Paying with cash is becoming extremely rare
    • Men rarely if ever wear hats in professional settings

    Tools / Devices no longer in wide use:

    • Pay phones
    • Imprinter / swipe credit card processing machines
    • Printed, folio-style plane tickets
    An old credit card 'imprinter' tool used to process credit cards
    A man opens the driver's side door of a green car with wood paneling on the sides

    Other things that are different:

    • The movie has a notable scene with New York City taxi cabs, in a time when Uber and other ride share companies didn’t exist.
    • There are no more vehicles with fake (or real?) wood siding – bring those back!
  • My Notion wishlist, March 2023

    I love and use Notion throughout my day to manage my personal tasks and goals, keep a journal, and much more. As a daily user and big fan, I’ve been building a wishlist of improvements I’d love to see Notion implement in 2023.

    Since I built my own personal Notion journal/task/goal tracker system in January 2020 (related: see my 2023 mantra post, which ties into my Notion goal tracking), I’ve expanded and refined it continually, incorporating more advanced features and trying out new features as they’re released to see how they might integrate into my system.

    While I welcome Notion’s focus on AI tools towards the end of 2022 and into 2023, I do think there are some important standard and advanced features that would benefit the continued growth of Notion for casual and power users.

    Based on that experience, here’s my Notion wishlist, current as of March 2023:

    Populating relational values dynamically based on formula or rollup values.

    The #1 feature on my Notion wishlist for 2023 is the ability to populate relational properties dynamically based on formula or rollup values. This would be a huge unlock for power users who are making use of multiple related databases to connect content together. While it’s admittedly much less useful for regular users, I think the amount of innovation that would be created would fuel Notion’s growth from the amount of more integrated, user-friendly template systems that would be built.

    Sample use case case: Imagine the use case of a daily journal, where a recurring database template is triggered each day at midnight. There’s a relational field called “Related Weeks” which links back to a “Weeks” database. Instead of manually updating the daily journal recurring template each week to associate it to the new week page in the Weeks database, the “Related Weeks” property could automatically be updated to reference the most recent entry in the Weeks database, for example.

    Improvements to the default Name field

    Next up on the Notion wishlist is making improvements to the default Name field. I’d love to see Notion enable either auto-population of the Name field based on formula, or enable the designation of another field as the default field in the database. Again, while this is primarily a power-user-centric feature, I think it would make Notion more accessible for casual users by again enabling more “ready to use” Notion templating systems.

    Sample use case: imagine being able to auto-populate the name of a recurring daily journal template with the value of a date field (such as “July 14th”), thus saving users the step of having to name their journal entry with the current date.

    Auto inserting date for recurring templates

    Notion launched recurring database templates in late 2022, and it’s already become an essential part of my routine and my Notion workspace. From auto-creation of my daily journal page, to weekly tasks, I’m using it more and more. While I love this feature, I think it’s missing a pretty huge feature. The ability to automatically populate a date property with the date of the recurring database entry would make it even better.

    Take the example of a database called “Tasks” which uses a combination of manually created tasks and recurring templates triggered on certain dates (such as a recurring template triggered weekly on Thursdays for “Take out trash”). Right now when a recurring template is triggered, it doesn’t include the option to define a date, meaning that any filter view based on date– which is extremely common for task management systems and other types of databases — requires additional properties or other work-arounds to ensure that the recurring task appears in the task list correctly.

    By enabling the ability to define a date property to be populated when the recurring template is created, recurring templates can become an even more powerful part of any Notion setup.

    Enable customization for selecting relations

    Database relations — being able to link together things like a list of tasks with a goal, or a list of people to a team, for example — are an essential part of Notion’s success, to the point where they promote it to users of all experience levels.

    However, as any Notion users knows, when your list of database entries gets long, the current UI for selecting and associating database entries becomes less effective than it could be.

    When selecting values to relate to a database, the UI can become cumbersome when there are a large amount of values to select from.

    While the built-in search control is useful, it would be fantastic to be able to define some customizations filter views at an individual database level. Notion already has the UI element in place (the 3 dots icon in the top right of the example image above), so expanding it with some more controls would be great.

    Adding a personal library for spell check

    Notion’s built-in spell check is useful, but also annoying when you see it underlining page titles or other important UI elements that you are choosing to spell “wrong” (such as proper names).

    In this context, it would be great to be able to add items to a personal dictionary, exactly like other spellcheckers do.

    Updated UI for managing the Trash

    I rarely use the Trash in Notion, but when I do I’m usually anxious and focused on recovering something that was inadvertently deleted.

    With this context in mind, it would be great to see the current trash UI expanded beyond its current position as an overlay that appears when you click the Trash link.

    An expanded UI — such as it its own full page — would enable more options such as filtering by date, database type, and other attributes. Add to those filters bulk management of items in the trash (such as bulk delete/restore), and this would make a potentially stressful experience easier for users.

    Modest UI enhancements

    Bulk edit multi-select properties

    Many multi-select properties only contain 3-5 items, making them simple to manage. However, in some cases where a multi-select property may contain a large number of properties, an improvement would be the ability to bulk edit multi-select attributes.

    Add the ability to wrap property names in table headings

    Enabling wrapping of all table columns is a huge benefit to creating organized table displays that are easier to read and thus more intuitive to interact with.

    To go a step further, it would be equally nice to enable wrapping of table headings, which would make it even easier to create well-designed tables that fit into specific settings witout needing to modify property names to be short enough to fit.

    Truncation of percentages in properties

    The ability to display number fields or (formulas outputting numbers) with visual enhancements such as colored rings or bars is a great recent addition to Notion. There’s just one small downside to this feature that could be a “quick win” to further enhance its visuals.

    By either automatically, or via setting, truncating percentages in number fields, Notion can reduce visual clutter, especially for most common use cases.

    That’s my Notion wishlist as of March 2023. If you have any feedback on these, or think of any I’m missing, let me know in the comments!

  • Movement Creates Motivation

    Each year since 2021, I’ve chosen a mantra to help focus my mind for the year.

    In 2022, it was “I have no enemies”, inspired by a dharma talk by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. This mantra was largely inspired by the atmosphere of vitriol and tribalism in communities, the media, and the world. It also helped to remind me to speak ill of others less, approach challenging people and situations with more understanding and empathy, and even remind myself that my own challenges (such as fear or anger) are not my own enemies.

    In 2021, it was “Strong back, soft heart”. This mantra reminded me that I can both live by my values with strength and confidence, but also be able to simultaneously display compassion for myself and others. In other words, we don’t need to choose between strength and vulnerability; we can be mindful in selecting which approach is right for each situation.

    In 2023, my mantra is “Movement creates motivation”. This is inspired largely by own personal struggles with energy and focus over the past two to three years. As I’ve struggled more with lethargy and jumping around from goal to goal without seeing any one item through, those actions have given rise to strong, recurring feelings of guilt and disappointment with myself. Not working with these feelings feeds a vicious cycle wherein I blame myself for not feeling the “spark” I need to suddenly feel like taking focused, productive action.

    Inspired by my wife Heidi’s rock-solid habits, reading about others like painter Henri Matisse, and through testing the theory in a variety of ways, I’ve come to learn that sitting and waiting for energy or motivation to strike is a failed strategy.

    Instead, the times when I’ve started with simple movements even when I didn’t feel like moving resulted in an increasing build-up of energy and motivation. Instead of a vicious cycle, this created a virtuous cycle wherein I saw progress, felt confidence arising, and then ultimately felt motivation to continue going down whatever path I was on.

    Once in a while a magic spark does come along and get me out of bed early, but I’m increasingly learning that by building the habit of initial actions, I can give rise to ambition and motivation myself.