Capturing Workflow. How I am most effective.

I have been organized for quite some time when it comes to collecting information and then digging it up at a later date. From complex file structure, to more simplified apps that manage files, I have gone from one end to the other. For the most part, over the last 5 or so years, I have relied predominantly on Evernote and OmniFocus to store everything in my life that I wanted to retrieve later. To be completely honest, it has always been a pretty good solution, but it was never 100% perfect. I don’t really blame Evernote, because managing an app of that scale, which actually runs on damn near every platform under the sun, is no easy task. Slowly over the years, however, I began thinking about what other options there were for capturing and storing my life. Both Evernote and OmniFocus are great tools, but I was thinking they may not be the right tools for me. Starting in January of this year (not a ‘new years resolution’, just a convenient time to transition), I decided to start looking into some alternatives. I wanted to use the month of January to explore new options since the month is generally pretty slow and if things went horribly wrong, I would not be in the middle of major projects, etc. After trying some different setups during the first 1-2 weeks, I pretty quickly fell into a new flow that was working really well, and most importantly was really easy to maintain!

The great thing about Evernote was the ability to store everything and search for it. The problem I ran into more times than not, was actually being able to find the stuff at a later date. It seemed that the more stuff I put in, the harder it was to find something to get out. Speaking of getting things out, it is super easy to get things in to Evernote, but getting them out is quite a different story, and not a fun story. As for OmniFocus, it is a fine tool, but there were two reasons for me switching away. The first was that it was not the right tool for the job: it had way more bells and whistles than I needed. The second issue had to do with the apps. They do have an app on each of the platforms that I use (Mac, iPhone, and iPad), but the issue I have is that each of the applications looks completely different. Functionally they are pretty much the same, but when I am looking to capture tasks and get through them quickly, having to remember how each version works is not what I want to be focusing on.

The end solution for me became a more simplified approach. All my notes are captured as plain ‘ol boring text. It seems kind of weird and ancient, but turns out to be very effective and much easier to work with. There are a bunch of way more famous internet people than me who tout the virtues of plain text, so I will leave it to them to teach you the ways! I have to say though, I was skeptical for a while, thinking that there is no way that plain text would be ‘powerful enough’ to capture everything, but in reality, it absolutely is. The flow of plain text makes for a much easier means of capturing, organizing, parsing, and archiving information. The biggest key to this process is having access to the same repository of text from a number of locations. The fact that plain text is readable and editable by pretty much everything, adds to its power. By keeping each note as a single file in a single repository, you can then act on those files from a number of different applications and locations, and always have the latest information available to you.

If you have a system that is working really well for you, don’t switch; there is no reason to. If you have a system that is kind of working but you think, “there must be a better way”, this may be worth looking into. Most importantly, if you are driving yourself crazy because you can never find what you need, when you need it, definitely look into this type of system –or any system– before you completely lose your mind!

The tools I use to be the most effective.

27" iMac (home) / 11" MacBook Air (work)

  • nvALT – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading

iPhone 5s

  • Notesy – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Drafts – A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

iPad Air

  • Notesy – Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Byword – Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder ‘Notes’)
  • Drafts – A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Things – My master ‘to do’ list for short term and long term projects
  • Dropbox – Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket – Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Paper – Sketching and drawing
  • Paper Pencil – Hardware stylus used for drawing / sketching ideas
  • Reminders – Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

Non Digital

Looking for an insane comparison of pretty much every iOS text editor in existence!? Brett has you covered! iTextEditors

UPDATE 2014-06-20
I am back with Evernote! I think what I needed more than anything was a fresh approach and look at how I was doing everything when it came to capturing text. Nothing wrong with plain text, in fact that is still the way I keep most of my notes in Evernote (in markdown too). An important thing to remember is that just because you can keep everything in Evernote, this doesn’t me that I have to.

UPDATE 2014-10-01
I have now also reverted back to Omnifocus! Kind of makes this post weird huh? Well, after using the beta of Omnifocus 2 for a while, I really liked the changes. Once version 2 made its way onto the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, I was ready to start using it fulltime. I did a migration of data and some clean up and haven’t looked back. They have really got a lot right here in this new version 2.

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