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Shawn Blanc’s Ulysses Setup

When it comes to writing and being productive, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years.

And one of them has to do with relentless capture, organization, and doing the work.

As I mentioned last week, I stole a trick from Jeff Goins’ workflow. And, in the process, I discovered that bits and pieces of my writing were all over the place — strewn about in all sorts of different apps. Ideas, working drafts, finished articles, bits of inspiration were all roaming wild and scattered about.

You see, not only did I set up the 3 buckets that Jeff recommends, but I also consolidated just about everything into Ulysses. And it’s been liberating.

If you’ve been tracking with my progress of using Ulysses the past several months, you know that it has become the central library for where I store all my notes, research, and other tidbits of inspiration. It’s also the spot where I toss all my writing ideas, and it’s where I actually do all my writing.

Having a place for everything, it turns out, is incredibly productive.

Side note, we’ve got an awesome course that dives deeper with Ulysses here.

Folders and Groups

Quotes: This is a group I keep in my Ulysses library for saving quotes and other tidbits of inspiration.

Ideas: Things I’d like to write about some day. These sheets can be as short as one line, or as long as a whole slew of unordered thoughts on a particular topic. Some of them also include attached photos, screenshots, etc.

Ready for editing: When I take one of my aforementioned ideas and flesh it out into a rough draft, then all that’s left to do is give it a round of editing. So I move it from the “Idea” group to the “Edit” group.

To Publish: Articles that have been edited and are now ready to publish.

Archives: Anything that’s been published to my website or newsletter is now, obviously, longer an active piece of writing. So I move it to an archives group. It’s still available via searching and filtering, but it’s out of sight from any of the other groups.

Book Notes: Whenever I read a book, I take voracious notes and highlights — creating my own “alternate index” of sorts. Then, afterward, I copy all of those highlighted quotes, takeaways, and other notes out of the book and into Ulysses. Tagging each one the relevant keywords.

Instapaper Highlights: I have things set up (thanks to IFTTT and Dropbox) so that whenever I highlight a passage of text in my Instapaper, that text is automatically saved to a folder in Ulysses.

Simple Notes: A catch-all for any and all non-specific tidbits of information that I want to write down but don’t really know where they go or what to do with them.

$Ideas: This is where I jot down all the ideas I have for future products, services, and other things related to growing my business.

Individual groups for other projects: Any specific project gets its own folder. This is where I store all the writing and other reference material for that specific project. I’ve got about half-a-dozen of these right now

Miscellaneous Notes on the Above

  • For each of the above groups I have a unique icon. It’s fun to do this and I think it helps a bit with quickly finding whichever group it is I’m looking for.

  • I have a custom filter set up that shows me all the sheets I’ve been working on in the past 24 hours, no matter what group they’re in. (There is a LOT you can do with custom filters, by the way.)

  • Ulysses has this awesome feature where you can “glue” multiple sheets together. Gluing sheets is different than merging them. With the latter, you would take two or more sheets and then merge them all into one single sheet. But with the former — gluing — you can stick multiple sheets together while still keeping each sheet individual.

    This is an excellent way for managing multiple highlighted quotes that all come from the same chapter of a book. Each quote can have its own individual sheet but all the sheets that are from the same chapter can be glued together.

  • On the nerdy side… There are times when I want to have more than one window open at a time so I can view multiple documents side by side. This is easily doable in Ulysses, but it’s done a bit differently than the basic text editors you may be used to.

    Moreover, I’ve found that most of the time when I want to have multiple Ulysses windows open, I don’t want to see the library our group list sidebars. So I created a Keyboard Maestro macro that automates the steps needed to create a new blank sheet, open it in its own window, and then resize it to something a bit more tall and narrow (since I want to hide the Library and Sheets list, showing only the text editor itself).

  • I write with Markdown XL enabled, and my theme is a slightly modified version of the Yosemite theme. I’m using Whitney as a custom typeface (the same typeface we use here on The Sweet Setup). You can use custom themes and typefaces on the iOS apps as well though I haven’t yet set that up.

Ulysses in it's dark theme with a minimal writing mode

Ulysses in dark mode with just the writing window viewable.

Next week I’ll share my seven favorite “Ulysses Superpowers”.

The more you use Ulysses, the better it gets. The app is already a fantastic text editor in and of itself, but there is a virtual cornucopia of additional features that truly make Ulysses great. (It won’t be easy for me to pick just seven superpowers.)

Also, a brief side note, we’ve got something awesome that’s related to Ulysses…

Stop losing your ideas and notes to multiple apps…

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An online course to help you save time, organize your notes, and master the best writing app for Mac and iOS: Ulysses.

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