“A Routine Makes a Huge Difference in Being Productive”

David Chartier has been a tech fan since highschool – and so he made explaining tech his profession. In our interview David chats about writing, the tools and techniques that keep him productive, and his Ulysses workflow.

David Chartier

Please tell us something about you and what you are working on.

I’m a tech writer, content strategist, and consultant. I work with app makers to help them talk about their products and to customers, and I’m building a consulting business as well. I started in the tech industry as a writer for publications like Macworld and Ars Technica, and I currently have a column in MacLife magazine called The Shift. I also run my own website, Finer Things in Tech.

Which role does writing play in your life?

Writing is central to a lot of what I do both professionally and personally. I write in a number of capacities for a living, but I also have a few blogs for personal interests and I journal for myself. Like many people, writing is a key way that I communicate with others and also myself.

What made you start writing in the first place?

“Writing is a key way that I communicate with others and also myself.”

I developed a love for tech when I got my first PC in freshman year of high school, and I had a knack for teaching what I knew to others and a patience to help them learn. Once I got a Mac in college, discovered NetNewsWire, and dove head-first into the Apple community, something clicked.

I started reading dozens of sites like Macworld, Ars Technica, Daring Fireball, and many of the community’s individual blogs, and I wanted to try my hand. I wanted to help explain what’s going on in tech, what matters, and how to get more value out of the products we all use.

Which topics do you like to cover the most?

In the beginning it was news. But these days, professionally, I thoroughly enjoy explaining how consumer, prosumer, and SMB products (editor’s note: SMB refers to small and midsize businesses) work, and how to get more out of them. Personally, I’m very interested in social issues, especially those that affect people who need help the most, as well as video games and their evolution into what I feel is the most powerful vehicle for entertainment, expression, and education that we’ve ever had.

Which tools and apps do you use?

I’ve bounced between writing tools over the years, starting with MacJournal back in my TUAW and Ars Technica days, up to a mix of Byword, 1Writer, and others until I found Ulysses. Now that it’s coming to iPhone, I do nearly all of my professional, client, and personal writing in Ulysses.

“I do nearly all of my professional, client, and personal writing in Ulysses.”

When it comes to collaborating with others, I prefer to start in Ulysses, then copy into something like Quip or, if I must, Google Drive. If I publish online myself, it’s usually WordPress or Tumblr. If I submit a piece to a publication, I usually put it in Quip or email it, and they work their magic with their CMS.

What else is important to keep you productive? As an example, do you work in a certain environment or follow a timely routine?

As a freelancer who works at home or, more often, around town in coffee shops or office co-ops, I’ve found that some sort of routine is essential. I highly recommend picking up a system from your favorite writer or finding what works for you.

I do use a general routine of getting at least a small breakfast (if only a piece of fruit or toast), checking inboxes for anything critical (but leaving the rest for later), and tackling some kind of a writing project right away, whether it’s something for a client or my Finer Things in Tech site. Then I’ll tackle my email for a bit, then get back to working.

For me, I’ve found that cadence between tasks helps to keep me fresh and energized. Some kind of a walk or other basic exercise is also a must to keep the body moving.

“Some sort of routine is essential. I highly recommend finding what works for you.”

When work is on the heavier side, I use an app on Mac and iOS called BreakTime. It’s essentially a repeating timer that reminds you to take a quick break and step away from your devices. On the Mac it can be configured to practically lock you out of your machine for a specific amount of time, if you need something that drastic.

But the core idea here is that humans are creatures of habit. A routine makes a huge difference in being productive, regardless of your craft.

Could you describe the way you’re using Ulysses, your typical workflow?

David Chartier’s Ulysses Library
David Chartier’s Ulysses Library

I make good use of folders and sub folders which is probably fairly standard for anyone who is decently organized. However, I also make great use of the Favorites feature (one of my, um, favorites!) and I created my own archiving folder system to get old work out of my way. Oh, by the way The Soulmen, we could really use some archiving features. ;)

I have top-level folders for major projects like “FT” for my Finer Things in Tech writing, “MacLife” for my column pieces, and “Tumblr” for my personal blog. I then have a “clients” folder with a bunch of sub-folders based on current clients. Probably nothing new there, but a ProTip: I also am sure to customize folders with Ulysses’ built-in icons to make them more identifiable.

Since I’m usually working on pieces across multiple projects at a time, I mark in-progress stuff as Favorites (On iPad, swipe left on an item in a list, tap More, then Mark as Favorite. On Mac I think it’s a right click). All Favorites from all folders appear in the Favorites section at the top, so it’s really easy to get back to current projects. I’m also proactive about removing things from Favorites when they’re finished to keep myself focused.

Finally, I created an “archive” folder at the bottom of my sidebar, and then sub-folders named after all my projects (like “FT archive”). It was a little tedious, but this way I can move older pieces out of my way, yet keep them around for posterity or if I need something down the road. Of course, I’d rather see Ulysses get a built-in archive option so I don’t have to maintain this part, but it works for now.

What do you like best about Ulysses? Do you have a favorite feature?

“The Favorites system is one of the best features for keeping myself on track.”

Hopefully you’ll let me list four things. To start, as I just mentioned, the Favorites system is one of the best features for keeping myself on track across multiple projects and clients. I love the right sidebar with notes, keywords, attachments, and the word count. Those features are incredibly useful and I recommend everyone explore them.

I also have to separately highlight the word count features in that sidebar. They are a great, flexible way to keep myself on-task and within requirements (and the social media sharing options are a clever touch!). Finally, the custom character keyboard on iOS is the best I’ve seen in an app. I often write in Markdown, so the well-organized list of character shortcuts are a big timesaver.

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Rebekka Honeit

Blog-curating writing maniac and public relations person. Loves coffee, chocolate cookies and literature. Finds peace in tweaking press copy.