Doing.

Keeping track of everything that needs to be done is no easy job. Some people are able to (at least they think they can) keep track of all their responsibilites in their head. Even if this were truly possible, what is the benefit? The mind is a great place to solve problems, but not really ideal for the mass storage of tasks to be completed.

I am by no means an expert in organization or organizational systems, like Getting Things Done (GTD). I do feel I have gotten pretty good at both over the last seven or so years, as I have been practicing and honing my skill set in my personal and professional life. I was finding that ‘getting things done’ was not the problem: it was more of an issue with getting the right things done in the most efficient and meaningful order.

The way in which you get things accomplished is a system of sorts, and like most systems, there is no magic bullet. Everyone is different, and this, of course, translates to each system being slightly different for each person. This was the largest problem for me when I started defining a system for myself. I did a lot of research into other people’s systems and tried to shoehorn them into my life. This was a big misstep. There was a lot of wasted energy trying to force the system, rather than letting the system work for me.

Over the last seven years I have tried various systems and applications to aid me in productivity. The first application I got really serious about was OmniFocus for the Mac. The next big move was to an application called Things, which was also for the Mac. After using Things for a while, OmniFocus 2 was released and this release intrigued me enough to switch back. Returning to what I touched on earlier a bit, as good as OmniFocus is, it was not really the best choice for me personally. That is not to say there is something ‘wrong’ with the application, it just wasn’t the best possible fit for my personal and professional needs. So where did I end up after OmniFocus 2? The landing zone was a cross platform solution by the name Todoist. It is not a new system, but has come a long way over the last couple years. Todoist is a very feature complete to-do system for not only individuals, but teams as well, since it has sharing and and the ability to assign tasks to others.

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Todoist Karma System

Todoist has applications and access from just about any possible platform. I use the Todoist application on an iMac, MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and an Apple Watch. Aside from the apps, I also use the web client from time to time, which is great if you need to access your stuff when away from all of your devices.

You can use Todoist for free as long as you want, but they do offer a premium service as well. After using the free version for a month or so to see if the system fit me, I upgraded to premium. There are some cool features you get with premium, but the main reason I upgraded was to provide monetary support to the service that is helping me keep my sanity! Free services don’t last. I don’t work for free, and I don’t think the developers and maintainers of this great service should have to either. As long as I use the service, I will be paying for premium.

The last thing I wanted to touch on was sync. When you use a service on this many devices, sync becomes a potential deal breaker if not done well. Todoist sync is great. My lists are up to date no matter what device I access them on, and the syncs are very fast and done in the background. I have never had an issue with sync conflicts or had to force a sync. I can definitely not say the same of other systems, where I would find myself having to force a sync every time I opened the application on a different device.

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Apple Watch – Overview Screen

Is this the last system I will ever use? If history is any indication, it surely won’t be. It is the best solution for me personally right now, but the great thing about the future is change. I am not advocating changing your whole life and organizational system around in a whim, but as you go through life and grow, the things that you focus on in your life will grow and change as well. As a young professional you may focus on work, and shift more toward family life and personal interests as you get older. No one system works for all the stages of your life. Changing organizational systems is not easy, but it can become necessary over time. Use the system that is right for you, and makes your life easier. Don’t waste time and energy trying to figure out why someone else’s way of organization ‘doesn’t work’. Explore all the options out there, and choose what fits your personal needs during this stage of your life.

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Todoist – Overview of your productivity history

 

Taking A Step Back From Google

I have been on this here internet for a good while. For the vast majority of that time, I have used a mixture of Google products, and historically, there have been few good reasons not to. Search was of course the big draw to get people using Google, but email, calendaring, and other services came along later as well. For a long time, Google’s search has arguably provided the highest quality results in general, and their style of email is usually either highly praised or adamantly disdained, with little room in between. Even more than the quality of their services, the real big draw for many is the price: free. Free, at least in terms of dollar value. It costs you nothing to do a search, send an email, or create a calendar event. Google’s goal is to create products that give the user value in exchange for you being the recipient of ads and ad tracking.

Up to this point I saw no reason to venture outside the Google walls. But, in my typical fashion, I thought it would be interesting to see what else was out there in the various arenas that Google was a part of. In years past, there really weren’t any alternatives that were on par with Google’s offerings; but that was then, and times are a bit different now.

As of yesterday, I was using a Google Apps account to host email, calendar, and contact data for my wife and I. Neither one of us were particularly in love with the overall solution, but it worked ok in a general sense. The event that triggered this Google cancellation was actually a switch in search providers. As I said earlier, Google had been my go-to in the area of search for a while, but that changed a couple weeks ago when I started using DuckDuckGo. This search provider is not new, and I have, in fact, used it in the past. Problem was, it was not available as a default provider within browsers in OS X or iOS, so using it was cumbersome. However, with Safari’s latest updates in both OS X and iOS, DuckDuckGo is now fully integrated, which meant I could finally give it a fair tryout. Somewhat long story short, I have now been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks and am very happy with the service; it has completely replaced Google search for me. The removal of ads and tracking have been a welcome change, to say the least. I would, however, like to see some way for me to compensate DuckDuckGo to help ensure its resilience in this brutal marketplace.

Changing my search provider was the pebble that started the snowball that has become the diversification of my online life. After this small win, it was time to tackle “the personal service trifecta”: email, calendar, and contacts. Because I use OS X and iOS exclusively, Apple’s iCloud was a good place to start looking. I do, however, want to use a custom domain for my email, so I was only really looking at iCloud for calendars and contacts. The service works really well for those items, and I have not yet had any issues. Email tends to be the difficult one (if you want to use a custom domain). After trialing several solutions, I actually ended up with something I already had access to, but forgot about. I register new domains with Hover, and have moved all of my previous domains to them as well. Hover also has email services, and being that the domain is registered with them, adding email service to the domain was very easy.

In a nut shell, that’s it. I now use the below configuration of services and devices, and don’t rely on Google for anything. I am also now not being tracked or subjected to a barrage of ads through Google search. I have to be clear, I am not faulting Google, or accusing them of wrong doing. I simply do not find their business model to be in line with my best interests.

Service OverviewMail: Hover IMAPCalendar: iCloudContacts: iCloudSearch: DuckDuckGo

DevicesiMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook AirMail: Apple MailCalendar: Apple Calendar, FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

iPhone 6Mail: Apple MailCalendar: FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

iPad MiniMail: Apple MailCalendar: FantasticalContacts: Apple ContactsBrowser/Search: Safari & DuckDuckGo

Opinion: No More Carry On Bags

Dear Travelers,

Air travel sucks nowadays. This is not news to anyone, and it didn’t just start sucking last week, it’s been gradually getting worse. This is not the main reason for this post. There are many aspects to flying that make it miserable that cannot be changed no matter how much people think they can be. There are fortunately, I think, a few areas that you can actually change to make things a little more tolerable.

  1. Waiting in the endless security line. This is your first or second step upon arriving at the airport, and often one of the worst experiences. Poor treatment, rude people, and de-humanizing acts. The only way around this is to get a Known Traveler Number which gets you into the TSA Pre Check line. Basically this is what it was like to fly in the 1990’s. It does feel a bit like extortion, but it is well worth the money in my mind. Also if you fly internationally, you can go through the process of joining the Global Entry program which is basically Pre Check for international travel. Getting Global Entry will also get you Pre Check for US travel.

  2. Stop bringing your giant “carry on” bags on the plane. That bag is huge, not a carry on, and you know it. Check the damn thing and make everyone’s life easier. Pay the baggage check fee, or join an airline program that gives you free checked bags. The entire flight should not suffer and wait while you find a place to fit your bag that takes up the entire overhead bin, plus your overstuffed backpack, and miscellaneous bag of tourist stuff, because you didn’t want to check your bags like you should.

  3. Learn some manners and be respectful of others. An airplane is small, cramped, and you are no worse off than everyone else. It’s an airplane, not your house. Clean up your stuff, be quiet, and quit bothering people. Every action you take is magnified by 100 because you are in a small, loud, smelly tube with 175 other people.

The last thing I want to say is that I know “all airlines suck”, and of course there are definitely some scenarios where they REALLY do, but I wonder how much of it is directly related to the passengers. Be cognizant of your actions when you are at the airport and on the plane. If everyone can just think about their actions, we may be able to get this process moving a bit smoother to our next destination.

For what it’s worth, I fly Southwest for the most part, and find them to be generally good.

State of Mobile Apps. Please Trend This Way.

It is no secret that the state of mobile application software has been trending into a dark and terrible place in the last few years. This is, of course, hugely driven by consumers with warped perceptions of the value of quality software. A large population of app consumers feel that a developer’s time is worthless and everything on the internet, including apps, should be free, and this is the number one reason why the internet at large is a trashy ad filled gutter of filth. Because of this lack of perceived value, developers are now pulled into this terrible practice of lacing an application with ads, or being forced to give the app away by limiting the full experience and enjoyment of the app with in-app purchases. These practices do nothing but further degrade the value of software as a whole. These trends are starting to jump the gap over to desktop software as well, because to most people, software is software no matter the platform. To the uninformed consumer, a shoddy free mobile game is the same as a PC game which took 10 months to create. I do hope that this trend changes, and in a hurry! Every so often I come across a game or application that is doing it right and it is a glimmer of refreshing hope. Most recently the game Monument Valley landed on my iPad. This game is beautiful, intriguing, fun, and something that felt like truly a new idea. Best of all, they are charging $3.99 for it and it is quite popular! It is a one time purchase, no in-app purchase crap to unlock levels or “pay to play”, just a quality game at a very fair price. I hope this type of transaction becomes the rule rather than the exception as we move to a more mobile world.

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.