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I like my Mac; there, I said it out loud

upgrading on a budget

I actually made the decision fairly quickly, but it’s taken me a while to say it out loud. It’s hard to admit. Granted, it’s not like I’m having to say that like cats. That would be too much. But, still.

A while back I confessed that I had purchased a Macbook Air 11 and that I had two weeks to decide if I was going to keep it. That was three weeks ago. I still have it. It wasn’t a hard decision.

Actually, the first several days were a bit rough. I haven’t used a Mac regularly since I was an undergrad. What is the stupid “option” key for again? Why are all the “close window” buttons on the left? And, I nearly screamed the fifteenth time I hit what I thought was the windows key to open my start menu, which, of course, doesn’t exist on a Mac.

About two days into my grand experiment I came to the following conclusion: anyone who thinks that Macs are more “intuitive” obviously grew up using Macs.

Nonetheless, I persevered. A few weeks later, I still can’t say I know where everything is. But, at least I’m not frustrating myself at every turn. The learning curve has started to flatten out.

But, why persevere? Why didn’t I just give up and slip back into the familiar PC world?

First, and most importantly, this is the first laptop I’ve found that does exactly what I want the way I want.

Keyboard. I’m very particularly about my keyboards. Earlier in my journey toward the perfect laptop, I returned at least three simply because I didn’t like the keyboard. I like my keyboards responsive, quiet, and solid, with very little travel. And, many smaller laptops fail on one or more of those. But, I could type on this keyboard all day long. Indeed, I’d intended to buy an external keyboard for home use, but I haven’t done it yet. It’s hard to pull the trigger on another purchase when I like this one so much.

Trackpad. The multitouch trackpad is fabulous. I’ve used a few PC laptops that have tried to implement their own version, but they don’t come close.

Size/weight. I knew going on that this laptop was the perfect size for me. But, having taken it on one plane trip confirmed it. The best thing about that trip was watching the guy in the seat next to me trying to use his full-sized laptop. In coach. He had it propped halfway up his chest and was typing with his hands at an angle that would make a physical therapist cringe. Meanwhile, I’m working happily on my little MBA with room to spare on my tray for my coffee and pretzels. It was perfect. And, it’s light enough that I’m thinking about getting a new briefcase. It seems silly to carry such a light laptop in such a heavy bag.

Speed. This is a fast, little laptop. Granted, I don’t do video-editing or other CPU-intensive tasks. So, as long as a laptop can handle having 7 or more applications open at the same time, most of which will have multiple tabs/windows open, without slowing down, I’m happy. And, this laptop handles that setup better than any of the others I’ve tried. And, although waiting a little while for your laptop to start up isn’t that big of a deal, having it start almost instantly is fantastic. Solid state drives rock.

Integration. Since I’ve also decided to keep my iPad (another post on that sometime), having a Mac is perfect. The two play so nicely together. Now I just need to get an iPhone to make my conversion complete. Sadly, that won’t happen for a little while yet.

So, the machine by itself would have been enough to keep me in the Mac world. I know there are some nice PC laptops out there. But, I honestly couldn’t find one in the same price range that I liked anywhere near as much.

On top of that, though, I’m beginning to like the Mac environment itself. (Granted, maybe it’s just my subconscious at work trying to justify keeping the laptop.) I don’t see myself becoming a Mac fanatic, arguing that the Mac environment is inherently better, and wearing Apple gear all the time. I’ve used PCs long enough to know that there are some great programs out there that I’ll probably miss. But, the Mac programs I’ve used so far are pretty sweet. So, it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on all that much.

Again, I’m only a few weeks into this transition, so this may change. But, here’s what I’m using at the moment:

Microsoft Office: I know, it’s probably some kind of sacrilege to use Microsoft products on a Mac. But, I work in a Microsoft world. And, although I used some great non-MS products, it just didn’t make sense to switch back and forth constantly. So, I’ll stick with Word and Excel as primary tools.

Scrivener: When I want to switch into pure writing mode, though, I think I’ll stick with Scrivener. I’m still in the trail period, so I don’t have to decide yet, but so far it’s a keeper.

Accordance: The nice people at Accordance sent me a review copy, so I’ll be posting a thorough review a bit later (along with a review of Bible Works 9). But my initial response is very positive. It’s a great tool that has been very easy to adjust to.

Evernote: I love Evernote. And, the fact that it’s a cross platform product makes it a no-brainer.

Dropbox: Another cross-platform tool that is very helpful. And, since I’m using MS products as my primary software tools, it’s easy to move in and out of my most common files on both my Mac and PC machines. (By the way, if you want to sign up for Dropbox, let me know. I get extra storage space if I refer people, and I’m always in the market for more space!)

Cloud Apps: And, of course, I use a number of cloud-based programs that don’t care what kind of laptop I have (gmail, Google calendar, WordPress, etc.).

So, the software switch hasn’t been anywhere near as difficult as I thought it would be.

All that to say, I’ve been thoroughly corrupted. I still don’t mind working on a PC in a Windows environment, but I’ll definitely be keeping my Mac. If nothing else, I like finally being able to join those Mac users at the coffee shop who get to give each other knowing glances as we look down our noses at everyone else.

Now if only I dressed more hip and drank anything but black coffee.

How to get more done by pretending you’re on an airplane

I get more work done when I’m flying. It’s as simple as that. I can spend two hours on an airplane and accomplish almost as much as I can in an entire day in my office. What’s that all about? And, more importantly, how can I be that productive even when I’m not on a plane? I’d love to tap into that level of productivity on a regular basis.

So, why do I get more work done when I’m flying? It’s really pretty simple.

1. No internet, no internet, no internet. I have a laptop and a smartphone. So, wherever I am, the internet constantly beckons. Even when I’m not actually on the internet, “I’ll just…” lurks in the back of my mind, draining some small part of my mental focus. If nothing else, I have to assign a few brain cells to guard duty, constantly saying “no” to that ever-present temptation. And, if I give in, say goodbye to at least fifteen minutes. More if you count the time it takes to re-engage whatever I was working on. But, on an airplane, it’s gone. Not just the internet, but even the temptation. (I’m way too cheap to be even slightly tempted to pay for in-flight access.) So, flying equals instant productivity boost.

2. No Email. One of the great benefits of being in an office that uses Outlook for email comes from the fact that I don’t have Outlook installed on my laptop. When I’m away from the office, I need the internet to access my email. So, of course, no internet means no email. And, no email means that I can actually get some other things done. Granted, I’ll have to face those emails eventually. But for now, pure bliss. (I’m sure many love not being able to use their phones. But, I since I rarely use my phone as an actual phone, that’s not much of a benefit for me.)

3. No Drop Ins. Western Seminary is a great place to work. Faculty, staff, and students enjoy spending time together, and faculty always have their office doors open so people can drop in and chat for a bit. It makes for a wonderful work environment. But, it does take a toll on productivity at times. On an airplane, of course, drop ins are a bit more challenging. As long as I don’t end up next to someone who can’t figure out that the laptop, book, and headphones I pulled out of my briefcase when I sat down probably means that I don’t want to chat, I don’t have a problem with social interruptions.

4. Nowhere to Go. Unless you’re more talented than I, you can’t really go anywhere on an airplane. I suppose you might need to visit the bathroom on occasion, but that’s about it. You can’t run errands, go for a walk, visit another office, or frolic in the fountain. (I’ve never actually done that, but it sounds like fun.) You’re stuck. That’s probably not good for too long, but in short doses it’s fabulous.

So, planes are great for productivity. But, that doesn’t really help unless I want to start flying even more than I already do – which would eventually result in me writing a post on “5 Things I Learned about Why Flying All the Time Is Bad for Your Marriage.” The question, then, is how to replicate that kind of productivity when I’m not flying.

To that end, here are four things that I’m going to try implementing in my regular routine.

1. Find my peak productivity place. Other than airplanes, where do I get the most work done? It clearly isn’t my office. And, working from home is nice, but it’s hardly more productive. And, I can’t afford to buy a cabin in the mountains somewhere. So, the next best option for me is a coffee shop. Next to airplanes, coffee shops have long been my second most productive environment. But, now that they all offer free wifi, they’re not as good as they used to be. (BTW – If anyone knows a good coffee shop near Western Seminary that does not have free wifi, let me know.) So, I need to do a few more things to make a coffee shop my perfect productivity place.

2. Turn the wifi off. This isn’t quite as good as not having wifi, but it’s a close second. For some reason, actually turning the wifi off on my laptop removes some (not all) of the temptation. Granted, I can easily reach over and turn it on again, but that extra step is just enough of an obstacle to make me more likely to leave it off. And, the longer it stays off, the more work I get done.

3. Use “airplane mode.” This one’s actually a little harder. I use my cell phone. A lot. I’m one of those people who is constantly fiddling with their smartphone. So, if I’m going to get some good, focused work done, the cell phone must go. I could turn it off completely, but I don’t like waiting for it to start up again. So, “airplane mode” it is.

4. Use a “distraction free” writing program. The first three steps will work just fine if I’m just reading. But, when I want to get some writing (or note-taking) done, I’m going to try something else. Lately I’ve been doing most of my writing in Evernote, and it’s great. But, for maximum productivity, I’m going to try one of the newer “distraction free” writing tools. The idea behind these programs is that they go full screen and prevent anything on the computer from interrupting your writing experience. Once I’ve killed the internet, I’m not sure what else could pop up to distract me, but now that I’ve created a great work environment, I don’t want to take any chances.

So, that’s my grand experiment in increasing my personal productivity. And, so far so good. I wrote the first half of this post on the airplane this morning. And, I finished it this afternoon in a coffee shop using every guideline except the distraction free writing program. (I haven’t decided which one to use yet.) We’ll see if I can manage to make it a regular part of life rather than just an isolated afternoon. If I succeed, I’ll come back and let you know how it went. Stay tuned.

[If you’re interested in this, you may also want to check The 7 Habits of Serious Writers. Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]

Where do good ideas come from?

This is a very interesting video on the nature of creativity and the most conducive “environments” for producing good ideas. The video is really a summary of Steven Johnson’s upcoming Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, in which he explains how many of the best ideas ideas really start as “hunches” that need to incubate for long periods of time, and really don’t reach their full potential until they come into contact with other people’s hunches. And, that’s why Johnson thinks that the internet has been so influential for developing good ideas. Although the internet can be a distract influence, it has also provide a critical environment for exchanging, borrowing, and engaging other people’s hunches so that ours might reach full fruition.

Besides that, it’s just a very well-done video that’s worth a few minutes of your time. Check it out.