Trouble with Task Managers

I’ve been using Omnifocus for over 3 years now. It’s effectively become my second brain at this point. But lately, I’ve been running into a few hiccups.

Design

For anyone interested in GTD or task management, I doubt I need to mention how gorgeous Things 3 is. Looking at Omnifocus feels like I’m looking at a complicated spreadsheet now. I’d switch to Things in a heartbeat, but it’s lack of sequential tasks or perspectives are deal breakers. I also find that the sidebar gets quite overwhelming fairly quickly if you use a task manager to the extent that I do. If they’d add the ability to have headers in Areas, I’d be thrilled.

Sharing Lists

Now that I’m sharing tasks with another person, mainly my grocery list, I’ve had to look elsewhere and abandon my wonderfully organized list in Omnifocus. I’m back to using Reminders for now. For a brief time, I explored GoodTask and 2Do which both sync with Reminders, but found GoodTask lacking in features and 2Do just too complicated.

Tags

Testing out Things 3, GoodTask, and 2Do really opened my eyes to how valuable a tagging system could be. While not critical to my workflow, I do think there is value in being able to assign things like energy levels, priorities, or people to certain tasks in addition to just their context. Multiple tags is on the roadmap for Omnifocus 3, but it is yet another thing to be desired in my current set up.

For now, I’ve resigned myself to keep using Omnifocus. Tags are at least on the roadmap, and sharing of lists has at least been hinted at so it seems like my best bet is to keep waiting. Hopefully, the next version will feature a simplified design as well and the wait will be worthwhile. Until then, it seems like I’ll be dealing with a little more friction when it comes to my task management system then I’d like.

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The Lazy Man’s Pomodoro Technique

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Pomodoro Technique has always appealed to me. I had visions of furiously working away in short bursts with a cute little tomato timer sitting on my desk, but the reality is it has never worked out for me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s a time management method where you work in intervals. Traditionally, those intervals, called a Pomodoro, are 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break. After 4 Pomodoros you get a longer 15-30 minute break. Those who like it say it helps stay on task and avoiding distractions.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been experimenting with what I like to call the “Lazy Man’s Pomodoro Method.”

Instead of the traditional intervals, I work for 35 minutes and then take a 5 minute break to get up and walk around. When I return from my break I have 20 minutes to do whatever I’d like, and then I repeat.

Much to my surprise, it’s actually been working, and I’ve been getting a LOT more done each day.

So why lazy?

  • It’s a lot fewer intervals to worry about. Pomodoros always seemed fussy to me. With this “lazy” interval, provided I start the interval 15 minutes into the hour, the break to get up falls right at my Apple Watch’s reminder to stand up. Once I get back to my desk after my break, I just need to set a 20 minute timer. (I’ve been using Gestimer on my Mac for anyone that’s interested.) Setting one timer vs six is a win for me.
  • I get rewarded for getting up every hour. I know it’s bad to sit down all day, but even with my Apple Watch reminding me to get up, I still have a tendency to stay sitting at my desk for too long. Knowing I get to come back and check my RSS reader for new articles, or read the book I’m currently reading helps to reinforce getting up each hour and hence keeps me from being lazy.
  • Lastly, I don’t feel guilty about procrastinating. Let’s just be honest, we all procrastinate. Having a time limit on my time wasting things on the internet is good, but I also know another one’s coming in an hour, so I don’t worry about when it ends.

Since I’ve modified the Pomodoro Technique to fit my lazy personality, my to do list in Omnifocus has shrunken considerably, and I feel a lot more productive each day because I’m not wasting my time on things that I shouldn’t be doing. Maybe it might just help you out too.

 

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How I Organize Evernote

Photo by Lauren Mancke

Over the past couple years, I think I must have tried every sort of “everything bucket” personal knowledge base app available for Mac. I’ve spent hours setting up the “perfect” system only to realize it didn’t work a day later. I read about and watched countless setups posted by people who had working systems they swore by. They all seemed to be suggesting the same things:

I read about and watched countless setups posted by people who had working systems they swore by. They all seemed to be suggesting the same things:

  • an inbox for incoming notes
  • a reference notebook
  • a small number of notebooks for active projects, if at all
  • and use tags extensively

But for some reason, I kept hitting a wall. No matter which app I used, the “tried and true” system just wasn’t working for me.

And then it hit me.

Isn’t everything I’m putting into my knowledge base reference material?

Everything I’m saving in Evernote is getting saved because I want to refer back to it.

So I scrapped the big Reference notebook and went with a simple plan. I’d keep the inbox, and create notebooks for each Area of Focus (area of my life, if you’re not a GTD person).

Suddenly everything clicked. There wasn’t any friction when deciding where something should go. Everything I store in Evernote falls neatly into one of the distinct areas of my life and, therefore, fits within one notebook.

Admittedly I’m still working out tagging, but thus far, the search function is working so well, maybe I don’t need to worry about complicating things more.

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My Rules for Posting on Social Media

Photo by William Iven

This week on MacPowerUsers, Katie and David chatted about how they’re using social media, and it reignited my thoughts on social media as well. In particular, I’ve found it helpful to consider a few rules when deciding what to post and where.

Slack

I use Slack primarily for work and try to reserve it only for time-sensitive or urgent matters. Slack has the benefit of being able to reach a number of people at once easily which is important when a server goes down and the phones in my office start ringing off the hook.

For anything work-related that’s not time-sensitive, I defer to email or just save a reminder in Omnifocus to discuss the topic the next time I see the person or group.

My hope is that enacting these boundaries in my own use will subtlely affect how others in my workplace view these tools as well, but for now, it’s a work in progress.

Facebook

My Facebook account is reserved for communicating with friends and a few family members. I don’t post all that frequently, but it is the place I try to share a few vacation or holiday photos. Otherwise, Facebook is primarily used for staying connected to a few groups and finding interesting events to attend in the area.

Instagram

I made the decision to keep my Instagram account public on the basis of one rule. You won’t find photos of my friends or family. Cliche photos of cats, food, concerts, and sunsets, yes, but I make it a point to not share photos of anyone I know personally. It’s by far one of my strictest social media rules, and I’m not entirely sure where I got the idea, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed sticking with.

Twitter

I’ve always felt like Twitter’s own rules have dictated much of its culture. The character limit, ability to easily retweet, and its generally snarky disposition leads me to be a little less professional than I probably should be. That being said, unless there’s an Apple event, it’s rare I tweet anything original. I use Twitter primarily as a news ticker showing me what’s going on in the world.

Do you have any rules or considerations you make when deciding where and what to post online?

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What’s on my iPad Pro Homescreen (2017 Edition)?

I’ve officially had my 10.5″ iPad Pro for 100 days now. I love it and use it every day, but I have to admit finding the best way to organize my home screen is something I’m still struggling with.

iOS 11’s dock has made the home screen feel second-rate. To take full advantage of multitasking and drag and drop, any important apps really need to live in the dock, but not every app can live there unless you use folders.

Making things more frustrating, switching between landscape and portrait orientation completely changes the app layouts since portrait supports 4 apps across while landscape support 5. I spend a lot of time hunting for apps because they move around depending on how I’m holding my iPad.

I truly hope that Apple has a revamp of the home screen in store for future updates, as it really feels like a waste of space on the iPad at this point.

For now, here’s what my home screen looks like:

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In the dock, you’ll find the apps I use most often for multitasking:
Gladys (a shelf app I’m trying)
– Files
– Safari
Google Docs
Evernote
Noteshelf
Omnifocus
Airmail
– Messages

On the home screen itself, I try to keep most things in folders, but a few that I use regularly, but not in conjunction with other apps have earned spots directly on the screen. Calendar is there only because I like to see the date.

Everything else lives in the following folders:
– Apple (obligatory Apple junk drawer)
– Communicate (social media apps)
– Reference (cloud storage apps and other repositories like Paprika)
– Media (any sort of video app)
– Play (games)
– Utilities (tools like Screens and other background utilities like content blockers)

Have you discovered any tips or tricks for organizing your iPad home screen? If so, I’d love to hear them.

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An Update on Notetaking with iOS and MacOS

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Image Courtesy of  Dose Media

Now that classes are back in session, I’ve had a few weeks to fully test out my notetaking set up. While a number of things worked well, others needed definitely needed work. I realized quite quickly that the multi-app notetaking lifestyle did not work for me.

Evernote

2048x2048bbEvernote has become the backbone of my personal knowledge management system.

I’m really not a fan of Evernote device limits, so I’ve tried incredibly hard to avoid using it over the years, but I recently caved and bought a premium subscription (thanks to an educational discount). The ability to easily add and tag any type of information is something other apps, like DevonThink or Bear, haven’t been able to match.

Anything I think I might need to recall later like important emails, meeting notes, interesting articles, screenshots of error messages, and common troubleshooting steps all end up in Evernote. I also keep any annotated PDFs and notes from classes or quotes from books I’ve read here.

Noteshelf

2048x2048bbEvernote falls incredibly short when it comes to taking notes with the Apple Pencil. Writing or annotating within the app is laggy and requires more mode switching than I’m willing to put up with.

I’ve ditched GoodNotes, Notability, and MyScript Nebo all in favor of Noteshelf due to its ability to sync directly with Evernote. Its organizational structure is very similar to GoodNotes and offers a writing experience similar to what I enjoyed in Notability. It also offers the ability to draw perfectly geometrical shapes which was one of my main reasons for using Nebo. I found Nebo’s handwriting to text conversion more of a really cool gimmick than actually useful in practice.

My one gripe with Noteshelf is its lack of support for iCloud Drive, which is my primary cloud storage for any active projects. For now, this means an added step of needing to use the share sheet within the Files app to add any PDFs rather than using the built-in import feature. Hopefully, they’ll add it in the future.

Annotating PDFs and Taking Notes in Class

For class, I’m using Noteshelf in conjunction with Evernote.

Before class, I import the PDF copy of the assigned article and annotate as I read. During class, I use split screen to continue marking up the article we’re discussing on one side of the screen in Noteshelf while taking any text notes in Evernote. After class, I add the annotated article (synced to Evernote) to the text note created in Evernote so that everything’s stored in one place.

Interviewing Employees

I’m also using Noteshelf for employee interviews. Like GoodNotes, Noteshelf allows me to have a single notebook for a round of hiring. The system my university is using for on-campus jobs allows me to receive a single PDF booklet of resumes for every round of hiring. Prior to the interview, I insert a template page for taking notes behind the resume. Once the round of hiring has finished, I export the entire notebook containing resumes and interview notes to Box for archival purposes.

Apple Notes

2048x2048bbWhile Evernote is my primary location for storing any sort of reference material, I’m still using Apple Notes for things I need to quickly access such as carryout menus, wishlists, and other lists I’ve shared with friends and family.

In all honesty, if Apple adds tagging and a more robust organizational system, I’ll have a hard time sticking with Evernote, but for now, this is the combination that seems to work best for all my needs.

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What’s on my home screen? (2017 Edition)

I try to post an update on my home screen at least once a year, but admittedly it has remained fairly stable… at least up until now. This year, I actually have a few new apps to show you! So without further adieu, here’s my home screen for 2017.

The top row still serves as a gauge for my day, but this time around all of the apps are new. I’ve switched back to the stock calendar app (read more about why here). Carrot Weather has replaced Dark Sky, due to it’s superb Apple Watch complication. My Ulla obnoxiously blinking at me is still my biggest motivator to stay hydrated throughout the day, but because it lacks any sort of tracking capability, I use Waterminder to track what I’m drinking throughout the day. I like it because it includes other types of fluids (even soup). Streaks is in the last spot, and I use it to keep track of well… streaks… It’s nice to keep tabs on various habits I’m working on (mindfulness, daily exercise, steps taken, hydration, etc) over time. Streaks and Waterminder are both rare apps that are deemed important enough to break my no notification badges rule.

The next row is my row of folders which serves as a nice visual barrier on the screen. Following a tip from CGP Grey to relocate any lesser used apps to the second page of a folder, I keep only the essentials here and rely on search for getting to the others.

The third row, my Media row, has remained relatively unchanged over the years. These apps seem to be here to stay.

The last two rows are a collection of miscellaneous utilities and things I like to incorporate into my life. 1Password and Waze always get a spot on the home screen. Notes is primarily used for quick access to carry out menus. Given that I still haven’t officially started classes yet, I’m still working my way through some TV shows so Television Time is being used fairly heavily at the moment. To balance it out and serve as a reminder to meditate, I also have Meditation Studio on my homescreen.

My home row, like my media row, hasn’t changed at all. Messages, Airmail, Safari, and Omnifocus are definitely her to stay as well.

Stay tuned for an iPad Pro version coming soon.

 

 

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Learning from Everyday Activities with Exist

I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker regularly for the last several years. Every single tracker I’ve worn (Fitbits, Jawbones, and now my Apple Watch) has had one problem – they just track numbers. Eventually, you reach a point where the numbers become predictable. You know how many steps you usually take and how much sleep you get. Yet we keep wearing them, so what’s next?

Meet Exist. Exist lets you connect a number of web services together, not to track numbers but to help you find trends.

Right now, Exist is pulling in data from my Apple Watch, my weight and body fat from my Fitbit scale, events from Google Calendar, how I’m using my computer from RescueTime, emails from Gmail, weather from Dark Sky, my Spotify listening history from Last.fm, and posts from Instagram and Twitter.

Once you’ve had everything connected for a few weeks, that’s when things get interesting. Even for someone like me who’s used fitness trackers for years, you start to see new and surprising patterns emerge. It might let you know you’re walking less 20% this month, and maybe that’s because you spent more time sending emails. Sending more emails is also correlated to your weight going up. While those may seem fairly obvious, what about knowing your weight tends to be higher when you listen to certain music? Exist can let you know. (If I have any hope of reaching my goal weight, I should listen to less Lana Del Rey and Florida Georgia Line.)

Here are a few other correlation’s Exist has found. Apparently, Tweetbot and Instagram aren’t as detrimental as I thought.

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One of the areas I’ve been paying considerable attention to is Exist’s mood tracker and the recently added custom tracking. Each day, Exist’s iOS app can prompt you to rate your day on a scale of 1-5. Within that same prompt, you’re given an opportunity to write a quick recap of the day and add any custom tags for further tracking.

While it’s still too early to see any correlations for custom tracking, I’m excited to see if any new trends emerge. Does meditation actually lead to any noticeable changes in my mood or productivity? How does that afternoon Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks affect my sleep? Being able to track anything, the possibilities are endless – although right now, tracking is limited to binary yes/no options.

Thanks to Exist, I finally feel like I’m getting something out of all of these areas of my life I’ve been tracking. Exist is free for 30 days and $6/mo or $57/year after that. You can get an additional free month by using my referral link.

Creating Keyboard Shortcuts for Websites with Keyboard Maestro

I’m a huge fan of keyboard shortcuts. If you’ve never taken the time to explore the keyboard shortcuts in your most used apps, I can’t recommend doing so enough. The amount of time you’ll save yourself is more than you’d think.

{Tip: If you’re looking for an easy way to discover keyboard shortcuts in a Mac application, check out CheatSheet. Once it’s installed, just hold ⌘ for a second or two and you’ll get a list of all the keyboard shortcuts in the app you’re using.}

As amazing as keyboard shortcuts are though, many of the things I do on my computer regularly don’t have shortcuts. The Request Tracker (RT) ticketing system I use at work, for example, has some shortcuts, but they don’t actually work once you get inside a ticket where I actually do most of my work.

 

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RT’s limited selection of keyboard shortcuts

 

Thankfully, there’s the ever useful Keyboard Maestro. With Keyboard Maestro, you can easily set up a keyboard shortcut (or hotkey) to trigger just about any action on a website.I reply to, comment on, and transfer tickets hundreds of times a day, so having keyboard shortcuts for these tasks is incredibly helpful. Below is an example of my shortcut to reply to a ticket. I could have easily just had the shortcut open up the reply screen, but why stop there? Adding an action to select a Safari field also puts the cursor in the correct place for me, so all I need to do is start typing my reply. It may seem trivial to set this up just to save a few clicks, but when you perform the same action over and over, those clicks add up.

Below is an example of my shortcut to reply to a ticket. I could have easily just had the shortcut open up the reply screen, but why stop there? Adding an action to select a Safari field can also put the cursor in the correct place for me so can immediately start typing the reply.

 

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My macro for replying to a support ticket via a keyboard shortcut

 

It may seem trivial to set this up just to save a few clicks, but when you perform the same action over and over, those clicks add up. Plus, once you have one set up, setting up macros for other actions is pretty much the same.

I also set up a few keyboard shortcuts to take me to frequently visited locations in the ticketing system like my own support queue or the ticket creation screen. For example, “^N” opens the page to create a new ticket. These are even simpler to set up because they only require the Click Link action.

 

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My macro to take me to my ticketing system’s home page

 

As an added bonus, I created a simple workflow for Alfred, my app launcher of choice so that I can get to these common destinations even when I’m not using Safari. Typing “rt new” into Alfred also brings me to the page to create a new ticket.

 

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Simple Alfred workflow to launch a URL via a keyword

 

Right now, I’m still breaking my muscle memory of using the mouse, but already I can tell these improvements will save me a considerable amount of time each day. If nothing else, they’ll save my wrists from the impending carpal tunnel.

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One Month with the 10.5″ iPad Pro

Today marks officially 1 month with my 10.5″ iPad Pro, and unlike my previous iPad, this one is actually still being used. It hasn’t evoked any magical feelings like my Airpods did and still continue to do, but it’s certainly a device I know I don’t want to live without.

Accessories

I quickly realized that in order to make the most of the iPad Pro, it needed accessories – lots of them. I can’t even imagine using the iPad Pro without the Smart Keyboard or Apple Pencil. Keyboard shortcuts alone immediately made the iPad more usable for me, and the Apple Pencil has converted almost all of my note taking (and coloring) from paper to digital.

Not wanting to ruin the gorgeous edges of the iPad, I picked up a MoKo Translucent Slim Hard Plastic Bumper Protector. I’d prefer to have something with more color, but the options that work with the Smart Keyboard thus far are slim. I also picked up a magnetic sleeve for the pencil which allows me to stick it to the Smart Keyboard. Looking for a bit more protection for when the Pencil is thrown in my bag, I bought a Belkin Carrying Case and Stand. Unfortunately, the Pencil doesn’t fit into the case with the magnetic sleeve though. For now, the case lives on my desk at work, providing a nice place to rest my Pencil as I work, as well as, storage for the extra tip and adaptor.

Use Cases

One of the most surprising things about getting the iPad Pro is how quickly and seamlessly it replaced other devices in my workflows. I find it much less of an inconvenience to work from my iPad Pro than my Chromebook or Dell laptop when installing updates on my Macbook Pro. All of my favorite apps are available and ready.

Additionally, my iPad Pro has become my go to devices for nearly all meetings unless there’s no table for me to type at. I bring up the meeting agenda in Google Docs on the left half of the screen and use Evernote for my own personal notes on the other half of the screen. I’ve not missed my laptop once in these cases, but if the need were to arise, I could access it using Screens.

The iPad Pro has also become my go to “couch-surfing device”. Not only is it an incredible smart remote, thanks to the Harmony app. I can use apps like TV Cast to stream video to my TV or just use it to play games like Mini Metro in my spare time.

I even find myself using it to read Kindle books. I still prefer reading on the Kindle, but the iPad’s in my hands more often, therefore it gets used more often.

Where It Falls Short

I love this device, but I simply can’t use it as a primary device yet. The Smart Keyboard just doesn’t work well for typing on anything but a solid surface. Therefore, I find myself still resorting to my laptop in cases where I need to do work and don’t have a stable surface available.

Another limitation is with automation. As a heavy Keyboard Maestro user, I rely on automation to perform many day to day tasks on my Mac. With no Keyboard Maestro for iOS, it’d take significant effort on my part, which I’ve yet to invest, to configure these in an app like Workflow. That being said, a big portion of my Keyboard Maestro use is text expansion. Working in customer support, text expansion is essential to my workflow, so much so, I even considered switching back to TextExpander. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow third party keyboards to use the Smart Keyboard, so for now, I’m stuck doing a good portion of my work on my Mac.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the iPad Pro is AMAZING as a general use computer. As far as using it for anything more, it’s getting there, but it’s not quite there yet.