Apple Music is good

As I write this to you, it’s about 5am and I realise I’m not in the mood to listen to any music. More often, though, if I’m here working away on my own and most especially when I have to really concentrate on the job, I will be playing music – and now I think that means I will be playing Apple Music.

Certainly for the next three months while it’s free, anyway.

Apple Music is like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many other services: you can listen to just about any music you like, just about whenever you like. Streaming music should be a familiar concept to me because that’s surely what radio has always been yet somehow I find it hard to get used to the idea. I’m so used to buying music, whether that is on vinyl, CD or download, there is the choosing and the buying and the playing.

Now there’s really just the playing as you don’t buy an album per se and I think you don’t choose in quite the same way. You explore, you sample, you don’t think about whether to invest some cash in this artist or that album.

I’ve liked the idea enough that I got a free Spotify account to try it all out and for over a year I’ve been playing it a lot in the car. Only, Spotify defaults to trying to recommend music to you and I always disliked or even loathed its choices. They made me feel very old and I don’t need any help feeling very old.

Spotify stops recommending stuff if you create a big enough playlist of favourite choices. I created such a playlist: 50 or so tracks that I like a lot. Only, I’ve ended up playing just those 50 over and over. I’m not unhappy: sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not.

It’s not as if I play the same 50 in the same order: unless you pay for a Spotify account, you can only play things on shuffle. It did just feel that some days Spotify got my mood exactly right and other days it didn’t.

You also get ads on Spotify every three songs or so. I got very used to those and, I don’t know, maybe I got close to paying for an account. That would remove the ads, that would allow me to play the song I wanted when I wanted, it would let me play an album in sequence.

I’ll never know how close I came, not now. For if I do end up paying for a streaming music service, it will not be Spotify. Not any more. It will be Apple Music.

I’m just trying to define why. Writing for about it, I concluded that I and we like it a lot:

We’d say love, but come on, the paint’s still wet, let’s take this affair a little slow for a time: we’ve got three months of dating before we have to make a commitment.

Hands On: Apple Music (iOS, OS X, Windows) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece for more specifics about how it works and what’s good but after a night’s reflection, I think it comes down to two things that will help me while I work.

I think.

There’s the way I could just leave it running playing fairly random tracks but generally ones I like or am going to like: you give it some nudges about what you’re into as you set it up and it seems to do rather well with that information. That’s good.

But there is no question: the ability to just say aloud “Hey, Siri, play ‘Life is a Celebration’ by the Kids from Fame” and have it do that, that is startlingly great. Siri doesn’t work on Macs, which is going to be an issue as that’s where I spend most of my day, but using it via my iPhone and iPad for one day, I’ve become addicted to this feature.

They used to do this on Star Trek: “Computer, play some Bix Beiderbecke”. And it’s here.

My iMac returns home later today from having a repair done: when it’s here and I’ve updated iTunes, I’m going to see if I can use Siri to control it via my Apple Watch. My entire working day may change if it works.

NOTE: To play Apple Music, you need iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC, or an iPhone or iPad. Android stuff coming later.

Making a space to work in

I did a thing on Saturday, running a little writing session for some children in Birmingham, and for the first part of it, I got us all hiding under the tables. “I don’t want Santa to hear this,” I said. And I was in full-on performance mode, loads of ideas, all ready to fire, when I realised that the tables reminded me of something.

When I was the age of these same children, Blue Peter used to have a regular feature about toy trains. Even then I used to wonder what could you say in episode 2. And I’m not into trains. All power to you if you are, or at least all steam power. But I loved the desk they had it on.

It was big and enclosed: you had to clamber underneath and pop up in the middle. That’s what I was minded of on Saturday.

And it made me realise that I have lived with how much I loved that idea for all these years. Because my office may not have this circular desk but it has half of one. The desk goes down one wall and curves around the side. I work mostly in that curve. And admittedly the rest of the desk is a mess. But that curve matters to me.

Mind you, so does the iMac.

But the space you work in matters. I used to believe I could write anywhere and in fact right now I’m writing to you from my living room when I really should be in my office on a deadline. So plainly it’s not so wonderful that I’m drawn back to it irresistibly. Still, at 5am tomorrow morning I will sit on my Captain’s Chair (it’s a thing, that’s a type of furniture, it’s not a Star Trek reference) and I’ll pop headphones on and I will feel like I’ve climbed into my writing space.

All of which comes up chiefly because of Saturday but also now because of two completely different podcasts that just happen to cover this topic. They cover it in completely different but interesting ways. First up, MacPowerUsers interviews ex-Macworld writer Jason Snell on how he set up his home office now that he is indeed ex-Macworld. Listen to MacPowerUsers.

But then there’s 99U which was devoted an entire edition to Building the Perfect Workspace.

Work like you’re going on holiday

I’m feeling this. Before I went away for my 20th wedding anniversary holiday, you know that I had to work like crazy. You do exactly this before any long break. And then you know that when you get back you’re going to be working like mad to catch up – plus you’ll find it hard to ramp back up to normal working speed.

It’s enough to make you ditch holidays.

But 99U suggests you pretend you’re going on more holidays and says:

The average worker’s backlog is around 30 hours, or roughly three or four days of things that are begging to be finished. How can you power through this nagging heap? Simple: treat it like you’re going on vacation.

Think of all the things that you do before you’re about to go on vacation — you rush to define the priorities, necessities and back-up plans to prepare your clients and/or team for a period of time in which you’ll be “off the grid.” Work like you’re about to go on vacation and you’ll be able to de-clutter and step far away from your projects without worry.

Backlogged? Work Like You’re Going on Vacation – Hamza Khan, 99U (8 August 2014)

I’m not sure I could keep up the pace myself. But Khan’s full piece includes advice about what to do in this faux pre-holiday time and how to manage it without burning out so much that you need a real break.

Coffee shops may not be the best place to write

Or they may be. O-kay. It comes down to specifically how noisy yours is and whether you also need silence in which to work. If you need silence and you’ve gone to a coffee shop, the best that can be said for you is that you’re thirsty.

That kills half this article from Working from coffee shops could be destroying your productivity – here’s why. The site takes a couple of research studies and reports:

What they found was pretty interesting: when ambient noise was set to 70 decibels — coincidentally, the same noise level found at an average coffee shop — participants performed about 35% better than those who worked in quieter settings.

So, theoretically, working from a coffee shop can help boost creative thinking. If your coffee shop is “average” when it comes to noise level.

But what about actual productivity?

First of all, in that same study, performance plummeted once the noise level reached 85 decibels.

85 decibels is about the same as hearing downtown traffic from inside of your car. So, not at all unreasonable for a particularly busy coffee shop.

Or, one with an army of super-duper-important business people talking loudly on their cell phones.

Working from coffee shops could be destroying your productivity. Here’s why – Len Markidan, (approximately 23 July 2014)

Conclusion: it’s up to you. Len says go to a library. It’s a good point. Read everything else in the full and long article.

I did none of this

Barely slept last night but was so tired I couldn’t focus. There’s an email I want to reply to but I’ve had to leave it because its words just were not going in to my head. Now that there is daylight and I’m full of tea, I find this which might help either of us if this happens again:

Regardless, those hours of wakefulness at night can be spent in panic or paralysis, or you can do something productive about them.

“What is insomnia, but the gift of more time?” says Michael Perlis, associate professor of psychology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Perlis is not advocating for purposely losing sleep, but if faced with short-term insomnia, he says, it’s best to treat the time productively rather than tossing for hours in bed. Think of insomnia as an opportunity to get stuff done.

How to Turn Your Insomnia into a Productivity Tool – Jane Porter, Fast Company (21 January 2014)

Porter’s full advice boils down to not spending too long trying to get sleep, grab a pen and do some writing work instead. She has a point of course but right now I dread to think what peculiar words would’ve come.