By Jason Snell
February 28, 2017 4:32 PM PT
What I Use: Getting Organized
I was inspired by Dan’s By Request column to write a similar article about the tools I use to organize and prepare for podcasts.
My approach in preparing for podcasts is similar to Dan’s, though I don’t fret so much about finishing a required work right before an episode of The Incomparable—I can hold that stuff in memory well enough, though I do try to take notes when I’m watching a movie or TV show that I’m about to podcast about.
I use Apple’s Notes app for all of my Incomparable note-taking, usually in the form of typing into my iPad while I’m watching a movie or TV show on my TV. However, sometimes I go all-iPad for the endeavor, as I did with a recent episode about a terrible movie from the 1960s called “The Wizard of Mars.” I watched that movie while in transit home from Los Angeles, so I played the film back in a Picture in Picture window on my iPad while I had Notes open. I positioned the PiP window at just the right size and location so that it didn’t overlap my typing area. It worked surprisingly well—and I definitely didn’t miss any extra visual nuances by having the low-budget film in such a small window. (I do wonder sometimes about what the filmmakers would think of their work, which they envisioned being enjoyed on a big screen in a packed movie house, being consumed in a postage-stamp-sized window at an airport gate. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t approve.)
For Upgrade, Liftoff, and Free Agents, my co-hosts and I share Google Docs with notes for the upcoming episode or episodes. Usually on Sunday afternoons I’ll drop in to the Upgrade document to see if Myke’s put anything in yet, and will sometimes suggest some topics. Monday morning, usually while I’m drinking tea in bed, I will open up Google Docs on my iPad and see what Myke has worked on while I slept. I’ll pop in other topics and links and make changes then, a few hours before our usual recording time. For Liftoff, Stephen and I trade off on a show outline. For Free Agents, David and I agree on topics and then David takes the lead in outlining the episodes, since I do all the post-production. I pop in before we record the shows and make any additions or changes so that my takes on the topic are also addressed.
I should specify, we don’t actually write out a script for any of these podcasts—the most you’ll see are bulleted phrases and links to web articles. Not only would fully scripting a podcast be incredibly time intensive, but it would sound scripted. These sorts of podcasts are conversations, not pre-written dialogues.
For Clockwise and The Incomparable, I rely on Google Sheets. Clockwise’s sheet features a tab for every episode, with a list of the week’s topics. I share a link to that tab with our guests each week, usually on Tuesday morning, and ask them to fill out a topic by the end of the day. I add my topic last, usually Wednesday morning, so that my panelists get first crack at the topics. I’ll also sometimes use my topic pick to balance out the show, if—for example—most of the topics are very Apple centric.
The Incomparable’s Google Sheet is where I plot out future topics and recording dates. There are a lot of moving parts in planning a podcast with varied panels and topics, and we don’t record on a particular day of the week. I have to give panelists enough time to read the book or watch the movie in question, and of course we have to find common times for our recording session—for which I use Doodle. Future weeks are constantly in flux, as I come up with ideas for topics I want to cover. I generally list the schedule for the rest of the calendar, until very late in the year when I’ll add the first few months of the following year to give me a head start. When a show has been posted, I cut and paste it and it lives forever on a different tab.
Listeners to Upgrade will not be surprised to discover that calendars are an important part of my organizational system, too. My regular podcasts are recurring events on my personal schedule, which gives my week a nice shape: it all starts on Monday morning with Upgrade and ends on Friday afternoon with TV Talk Machine. (Though, to be fair, I usually edit The Incomparable on Saturday morning.) I also drop in recurring events for when I need to post my fortnightly podcasts, such as Free Agents, so I know that I need to make some time to edit those episodes.
Beyond podcasts, I have a special “routines” calendar that I use to block out time for specific, regular work: for Six Colors, for my weekly Macworld column, and for podcast editing. As for story ideas, I actually use a Reminders list called Story List to collect every story idea I think of, no matter where I am, on any one of my devices. Some of those stories pop up in Six Colors, others in Macworld. There are also a surprising number of stories that I added a long time ago and never got to. One of these days, for instance, I want to research how much it would cost to equip yourself for a trip to the past, because you’d need to acquire vintage money (or items that could easily be sold for local currency). Maybe someday.