Meeting Notes with Evernote and Things 3

When the makers of Agenda announced they were adding support for Reminders, I immediately began envisioning a future where action items were seamlessly captured and imported into Things via its Import from Reminders feature as I took meeting notes. Unfortunately, in practice, the process wasn’t nearly as seamless as I hoped.

When creating a reminder in Agenda, the developers’ expectations were that users would want to process the details of task immediately. In my opinion, there are two problems with this line of thinking:

  1. It’s often best to capture action items quickly and worry about adding in the details (due dates, sorting them, etc) later so that you can maintain your focus on the meeting.
  2. You may not have all the details of a task up front. You might need to reword it or you may need to spend time thinking about when to tackle it. Processing a task properly requires additional thinking, which is why it’s often a separate step in a planning process.

Another important but missing feature is a lack of any way to view all of your outstanding reminders in one place inside Agenda. You have to use the Reminders app. You can view dated reminders within the calendar view in the sidebar, but undated reminders only reside within the note. If you’re a Things user, like myself, any imported reminders are immediately deleted from the Reminders app after they’re imported to Things, so for my use case, they’re basically lost in Agenda. The suggested workaround in their forums is to not only create a reminder, but also add a tag to it such as #todo. By tagging the reminder, you could then create a saved search based on that tag to see any outstanding reminders, which is more work on my part.

Now before I continue, I want to say the guys behind Agenda are great. In fact, they already have a few solutions up their sleeves to solve the problems I mentioned above. Unfortunately, those features don’t have any definite release schedule, and with my premium subscription up for renewal, I wasn’t sold on paying for a note taking app I was only using for meeting agendas when I already pay for similar apps.

In the end, I decided not to renew my subscription and opted to move all my meeting notes back Evernote.

A few of you long time readers might be thinking, “But wait a minute, Andrea. You said you moved to Agenda because you like keeping your meeting agendas separate.” But in the time since that post, I’ve seriously rethought how I use tags, which has allowed me to create a saved search to quickly see all my active meeting notes throughout Evernote.

The saved search simply looks for all notes tagged with a “#meeting note” tag that’s not tagged with an “archive” tag. I’ve saved it as a shortcut so all of my active meeting notes are just a click away.

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And now you might be asking, what about your vision of a seamless integration with Things? Evernote definitely hasn’t added any integration for Things nor do they have plans to, but the ever-trusty Keyboard Maestro can automate just about anything, so that’s what I did.

I set up a macro triggered by typing the string “/todo”. By typing “/todo” at the end of a line in Evernote, Keyboard Maestro copies the current line of text, launches the Things Quick Entry pane, pastes the current line of text into the Quick Entry Pane and saves the task. It then returns me to Evernote where it formats the line as a To-do item. You can see it in action here:

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The whole process takes mere seconds, and instead of shifting my attention away from the meeting, I can remain focused on what’s being discussed in the moment knowing my action items will be waiting for me to process them in the Things inbox later. It’s exactly the seamless process I was hoping for.

Taking on the Chores CleanMama Style

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This week’s post is a bit of a divergence from this blog’s normal content, but these two changes in our house have had such an impact on my sanity, I couldn’t help but share. I’ll be back with a fun tech tip that leverages both Evernote and Things in 2 weeks.

 

I’d love to be able to tell you my house looks like one of those immaculate photos you find on Pinterest every day. Unfortunately, no house that people actually live in is capable of looking like that. More often than not, the kitchen counters are covered in that day’s meals. The dining room and balcony play host to a variety of hockey and music equipment, sofa cushions are thrown on the floor, and equal piles of laundry are sitting in the dryer, the hampers, and on the bed.

 

I’ve tried a number of methods to keeping the house clean over the years, but they all ended up being too complicated to keep up – even for me with my excessively organized to-do apps. (Spoiler alert: keep reading for a screenshot of how I’m using Things to manage household chores.) For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out something different, and it’s working.

 

Adapted from Becky Rapinchuk’s Clean Mama routine, the house certainly isn’t spotless, but by tackling a little bit each day, it has been getting consistently cleaner. Even better, I’m spending considerably less time cleaning which is actually kind of mind-blowing.

 

Getting Started

First things first, I set up the house for to be incredibly easy to clean. I tossed all the old cleaners. I also gave up on trying to be one of those people who makes their own cleaning products. It seems like a great idea, but eventually you have to make more, and the added step of measuring ingredients becomes another reason to avoid cleaning.

 

Under each sink in the house I have a spray bottle of Mrs. Meyers Multi-Surface Spray. Each of the bathrooms also have Mrs. Meyers Tub and Tile spray and toilet bowl cleaner. With only three cleaning products to choose from, it’s no longer a question of which one to use, and because everything’s right under the sink where it should be, there’s no longer any question of where the cleaning products are. I keep bins of microfiber cloths in both the kitchen and linen closet, both of which happen to be conveniently at either end of the condo.

 

Daily Tasks

Every day, Becky’s routine recommends the five following tasks:

  • Make the Beds – Admittedly we don’t do this. I’ve never been a bed maker unless I’m feeling extra tidy. It’s also a struggle when you share a bed with someone who wakes up before or after you pretty much every day. That being said, countless people recommend doing this to set the tone for your day, so go for it if it suits you.
  • Check Floors – Our Neato vacuum takes care of the majority of this for us every day. (Thanks Neato. 🙂) I do have a small broom and dust pan in the master bathroom to sweep up around the cat box, but since we use pellets instead of clay litter this is a 2 second job most days.
  • Wipe counters – I’m a bit surprised to say I’ve gotten into quite the habit of wiping down the counters throughout the house any time I use them. Having the Mrs. Meyers spray within reach helps.
  • Clutter – I try to put things away while I’m walking around the house throughout the day, but I also have a few bins and baskets scattered around the house now for corralling the other half’s things (and some of mine too) when things get out of hand.
  • Laundry – This is another thing I don’t do daily, but instead weekly. More on that later.
I’ve also added a couple of our own tasks to the list:

 

 

  • Scoop the cat box – This is a daily necessity in a multi-cat household.
  • Empty the kitchen sink (and, if it’s full or nearly full, run the dishwasher).

 

 

Tackling these daily tasks takes maybe 15 minutes, and since I tend to do them as I’m going throughout my day, I don’t feel like I have a mountain of chores waiting for me each night when I get off work.

 

Weekly Tasks

In addition to the daily tasks, Becky recommends adding in a 10-15 minute weekly task each day of the week.

 

Mondays are bathroom cleaning days. I used to dread cleaning them, but her method is pretty darn easy. (Spray everything down. Let sit for a few minutes. Wipe from top to bottom. I’m simplifying here, but not much.)

 

Tuesdays are for dusting. It only takes a few minutes to run through the entire house with a microfiber duster. I might even consider it fun if I dare say so. Once I’m done, it goes in the hamper to be washed with the towels later in the week.

 

Wednesdays are for vacuuming. We don’t have any carpet, and Neato does a pretty good job at vacuuming the floors for us every day, so I use Wednesdays to vacuum things other than the floor (furniture, cat beds, air vents, ceiling fans, etc).

 

Thursdays are for washing the floors. I have a spray mop that I can quickly clean the floors with for this. This is one case where I do still make my own cleaning solution, but it’s easy enough to do, and it lasts a while. (Side note if you’ve followed along, you’ll notice I’ve already dusted and vacuumed up said dust on the previous two days, so the floors are already ready for mopping. Genius!)

 

Friday is considered a catch all day for things like your weekly review or meal planning. This means there’s no major cleaning on Friday.

 

Saturdays are for washing all sheets and towels. While this routine probably works great for a family, when your other half is a musician, Saturdays for us are pretty busy.

 

Sunday is technically a free day, but it has always been my laundry day for as long as I can remember so it made sense to just keep it that day. I now also change and wash the sheets on this day rather than doing it randomly throughout the week. I’ve found that by doing all the laundry at once on one day, I’m more likely to get into “laundry mode,” and therefore I’m much more likely to fold/hang everything as it comes out of the dryer rather than letting it pile up.

 

If you’re wondering where all the other monthly/seasonal household maintenance tasks are, I just slot these in throughout the week as time permits. It turns out that you actually have time to do things like wash the baseboards and clean the appliances when you’re only spending 15-20 minutes on regular cleaning.

 

As promised, here’s what it all looks like in Things.
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I had my doubts when I started this routine. I thought to myself, I couldn’t possibly keep the house clean by just doing those few things. I seriously cut my Chores list in Things in half. Somehow it works though, and my house is tidier than ever. Moreover, I actually find myself wanting to clean, so I’ll call it a success in my book.

 

Distinguishing Sub-Areas in Things

A pet peeve of mine in Things is the inability to have sub-areas. In my eyes, you’re forced into categorizing your tasks into one of two ways – neither of which work all that great:

  • Option 1: Areas for all the things!
    Pro: You’re actually using areas and projects as Culture Code intended
    Con: In order to pull this off, you’ll likely have lots of areas which becomes overwhelming to look at, especially on iOS.
  • Option 2: Areas for higher level things, and projects for sub areas.
    Pro: Less visual clutter
    Pro: By using projects for sub-areas, you can take advantage of project-only features like headers
    Con: You’re not using the app as intended so you lose the distinction between actual projects and sub areas

While I’ve settled with Option 2 as the better option for my use cases, I’ve never been fully satisfied with my projects and sub areas being indistinguishable from one another.

Over the past several months of using Things, I’ve played around with a few characters to differentiate the two. The two that have stood out in my mind are the checkbox symbol (☑︎) and what Apple’s character palette considers a “Parenthesis Extension” (⎜). ( They actually have separate characters for both left and right extensions, but I can’t seem to find any visual difference between the two.)

I eventually settled with prefixing my sub-areas the parenthesis extension rather than prefixing each project with the checkbox.  The extension seemed to introduce the least amount of visual clutter, and I find the divide also visually indents the sub-areas nicely under their main areas which helps to further the idea of it being nested under the area.

I still wish Cultured Code would just allow us to selectively disable the “progress pies” for sub-areas, but until then, this is a nice way of quickly distinguishing sub-areas from projects.

How I Use Tags in Things 3

A couple people have asked me to post an update on how I’m using tags in Things 3. When I originally discussed how I was using tags last October, I had recently left Omnifocus (ironically due in part to its addition of tags and my inability to adapt to them). At that time, I was mainly concerned with trying to replicate my Omnifocus workflows as closely as possible. Now that I’ve been using Things for a while, I’ve had a chance to test out a number of different tags and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
In short, tags in Things help me to do three things:
  • Filter the default views (Today, Anytime, Upcoming)
  • Easily generate a list of specific tasks across all areas/projects
  • Automation
I’ve ended up with a set of tags comprised of 3 main groups:
  • Area
  • Location
  • When
Let me break down what each of those actually is a bit further.Things Tags.png

Area

Each of my areas (and sub-area projects) has a matching tag assigned to it. Once assigned to an area, tasks are automatically tagged with their respective area tags. Automatically assigned tags are also inherited so a task in Support get both the Support and Work tags. At first, this might seem redundant, but it allows me to filter the default views (e.g. Today, Anytime, Upcoming, etc.) by area – a feature that’s so powerful I’m not sure why it’s not built in.

Location

Locations are just what they sound like. They allow me to filter any list down to only tasks I can complete at the location I’m currently at. If I’m at home and only want to see the tasks I can complete at home, I can do so by selecting the Home tag.

When

I’ve discussed my Evening tag before, but as a recap, I use this in conjunction with an AppleScript as a workaround to automatically move some tasks to the Evening section of the Today view. 
Waiting is for any tasks that I’m waiting for either because they’ve been delegated to someone else or I’m waiting for something else to happen before it can be completed. I review this list each week as part of my weekly review.
There is one last tag that I haven’t discussed, and that’s the very first one, my Goal tag. I mainly use this as a pick-me-up by looking at the Logbook to see all the goal-related things I’ve accomplished.
Because Things doesn’t require tasks to have tags, it’s easy to forget to add them. With that in mind, I try to keep a few things in mind when using tags in Things:
  • Wherever possible, I try to assign tags at an area or project level so that tagging is done automatically whenever a task gets filed.
  • I’ve also learned it’s best not to add tags just because you can. More tags mean more tags you have to remember. If a tag isn’t useful for filtering down a list, it’s probably not necessary.
  • Occasionally it is helpful to add a tag temporarily. If you’re going on a trip, consider adding a location for that place or just “Vacation” so that you can filter your list to only what you can do while on vacation. My Shopping tag is another example of where temporary tags come into play. I frequently add and remove stores depending on where I shop. Just don’t forget to delete your temporary tags!
  • Lastly, it’s worth noting that filtering by tags in Things is additive. Filtering a list by both the Home and Evening tags won’t show a list of tasks I can complete at home OR in the evening, but rather only tasks that can be completed at home AND in the evening. This is something I wish Things would change but understand it’s not likely.

I’ve found tagging (in any app) to be one of those areas where people struggle with (myself included). Most people either don’t know where to start or jump all in and end up with a myriad of tags they never use. Regardless of which camp you fall into, the end result is usually the same – you end up not using them. Hopefully, my tags will give you a few ideas for how to implement tags in your own use of Things.

 

Prioritizing Things in Things 3

emma-matthews-1296167-unsplash.jpgIn recent weeks, I’ve developed a new appreciation for Cultured Code’s reluctance to add new features to Things 3 whenever someone requests them. Like going back to read Getting Things Done after you’ve been practicing it for a while, the more I use Things, the more I find myself understanding Cultured Code’s design on a deeper level. When used to it’s fullest, Things 3’s design almost tricks you into prioritizing your tasks without realizing it at least it did for me. Because it wasn’t obvious to me until recently, I wanted to share a bit about how I use Things each and every day to prioritize my tasks.

The Inbox

Every morning, I begin by processing my Inbox, which happens to be the first section of the app in the sidebar. Things that pop into my head as well as a few automated tasks usually make their way here every day.

Today

Moving down the sidebar to the next section, I start processing my Today list. I used to throw anything I hoped to do on this list, but I’m more judicious than ever about this list now. Only things I realistically need to do today stay Today list. Any tasks that I’m just hoping to get to get removed. Being ruthless about what appears in Today means that I can actually complete everything on the list most days, and I can go to bed feeling accomplished rather than defeated by the uncompleted tasks I didn’t get to.

Anytime (Maybe)

If, and only if, I complete everything in the Today list and I’m still in the mood to keep working, I’ll move down to the Anytime view. Once again, the key is to be strategic about what’s in Anytime. Things I would like to do but probably won’t have time to tackle anytime soon aren’t Anytime tasks. Only things I’ve committed to doing and can actually start right away appear in Anytime. Because I tag my tasks by location,I can quickly narrow down the Anytime list based on where I’m at, and know that anything being shown can be worked on right that moment. By ordering my areas and projects in order of priority, I also know the first item on the list is usually the most important which takes reduces any need to shop for tasks. I just work my way down the list.
That’s my daily workflow – process the inbox, work through Today, maybe move onto Anytime. Nothing fancy.

The Weekly Review

It’s important to not miss the critical step though. It’s a weekly review that keeps everything going.
Once a week, I will go through the Upcoming, Anytime, and Someday lists making sure everything is in its right place. If a particular date in Upcoming looks overloaded, I’ll try to move some things around. If something’s in Anytime, but I know can’t work on it anytime soon, it gets moved to Someday. If something in Someday can or should actually be started now, that gets moved back to Anytime.
By using Things more strategically, I’ve been able to counteract my tendency procrastinate on larger priorities by shopping for less pressing tasks in Anytime or Someday.

Optimizing a Quick Entry on the Mac

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I wouldn’t be able to do things I do on my Mac without the use of keyboard shortcuts. I use them constantly throughout the days and seem to be using more and more each day. Unfortunately, using more shortcuts usually leads to creating more complicated shortcuts to avoid conflicts, and more complicated shortcuts means more to remember.
The one keyboard shortcut I could never forget is Command-space, which I use to launch Alfred. Command-space is muscle memory at this point.
Need to open an app –> Command-space.
Need to do a quick calculation –> Command-space.
Need to open a URL –> Command-space.
Need to find a file –> Command-space.
Apple now uses Command-Space for Spotlight, so remapping it back to Alfred is one the first things I do on any Mac. Unfortunately, until now, I never really put much thought in what I was remapping Spotlight to, lazily picking Option-Space because it was close.
It only recently occurred to me that using Option-Space for a function I rarely use, was a  waste of a perfectly good shortcut. When I stopped to think what I could use it for, I started thinking of the apps I’m constantly dropping things into on my computer. It boiled down to three apps: Alfred, Things, and Drafts.
Things and Drafts both offer a quick entry option, but I’d never really used them because I could never remember their default shortcuts, nor had I bothered to change them. So here I was needing two memorable shortcuts, and there happen to be two memorable modifier keys right next to the command key – option and control.
I decided I could use the spacebar along with these modifier keys to create two memorable shortcuts just like Alfred’s Command-Space. I also decided that the more I used an app, the quicker it’s quick entry shortcut deserved to be to the spacebar, so I ended up with the following:
Alfred = ⌘Space
Things = ⌥Space
Drafts = ^Space
Remapping the quick entry shortcuts took only a few moments, but it’s already saved me countless hours of time. I love being able to quickly send tasks or thoughts that pop into my mind to their proper holding place without having to stop what I’m doing. It’s been one of those game changing, “Why didn’t I do that sooner?” moments.

Adding Some Spark Back to Email

I’ve been a long time Airmail user. It was the closest thing I could find to replace the now-defunct mail client Sparrow (RIP), but for as long as I’ve used Airmail, it’s never been without bugs. Even worse, those bugs seem to not get fixed. Over time, those bugs, mainly one where emails I’d already processed continued to show back up in my Inbox, started to irk me.

So when the Sweet Setup posted an update to their Best Third-Party Email App earlier this month, they caught my attention at just the right time.

They didn’t change their pick. It’s still Spark, and I’d tried Spark in the past but decided to stick with Airmail. Still, I found myself wondering if there wasn’t something to their recommendation.

It turns out, Spark’s grown up a lot since the last time I tried it – enough so that I’ve made the switch.

So what’s good?

  • I haven’t come across any bugs. Once I clear my inbox it stays clear.
  • Readdle, Spark’s developer, is a pretty big name, so I don’t feel worried about their ongoing development.
  • Search is incredible. I even have a few saved searches which have replaced any need for creating project-based labels.
  • It doesn’t add a bunch of extra labels to my Gmail accounts.
  • The smart inbox is pretty handy, although it does require some tweaking to get the training right.

And the bad?

  • Spark doesn’t have all the integrations Airmail had. For instance there is no DevonThink integration. (Airmail’s wasn’t great though.) Moreover, it doesn’t have a native share extension so I’ve been relying on Hook more to create links. It does have integrations with both Things and Evernote though.
  • Both Spark and Airmail create links using their own URL scheme so I’m finally experiencing the pain of email links being tied to a mail client.
  • I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Seen behavior in Spark’s Smart Inbox. If I happen to view an email without processing it, I wish Spark would leave it alone. Instead it either removes it from your Smart Inbox entirely or moves it to a Seen section.

So I’m still trying to understand Spark, but overall, I am happy with the decision to switch. What mail client do you use?

Practical vs. Pretty: Finding Balance Between Features and Design

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With all the buzz about Cal Newport’s latest book Digital Minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about intentional use of technology. It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind, but right now, it’s front and center.

As a self-proclaimed power user, I’ve always had a thing for finding the best apps. Finding the “best” app meant finding the app that let me accomplish what I want while spending the least amount of time doing it, which usually meant finding the “pro” app with the most features.

But something else recently slipped into my decision process – almost without me noticing.

“Best” is no longer just about what saves me the most time. It also now includes whether or not I enjoy using it. The Marie Kondo’s of the world might ask, “Does it spark joy?”

These days, I’m becoming less and less interested in the apps with the most features. Features mean nothing if I don’t enjoy using the app. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Almost weekly, I discover a former OmniFocus user discussing why he or she has switched to Things. Things is not only practical. It’s pretty. It’s the balance between practical and pretty that wins people over. It’s why people really enjoy using it.

Another example is something I’ve been struggling to write about…

In the tech world, once you write about using an app, there’s a belief that you’ll continue to use it in perpetuity. It’s an odd belief, really. Just because I blogged on LiveJournal when I was little doesn’t mean I should still be using it for this blog today. Our needs change. Our thoughts change. Technology does as well.

So with that disclaimer out of the way…

I’ve recently succumbed to DevonThink’s terribly outdated UI and moved back to Evernote. Like OmniFocus, DevonThink is still an incredibly powerful (practical) app that I highly recommend for archival knowledge management. For daily knowledge management, however, I just didn’t enjoy looking at it which kept me from using it to its full extent. To be fair, I don’t particularly enjoy using Evernote either, but based on the balance of practicality AND pretty, Evernote wins.

More and more, I’m finding myself swapping practical apps out for prettier apps, and I’m seeing others do the same. I can’t help but wonder if this is part of a larger trend of people really starting to rethink how they use their technology and why. If it is a trend, I’m excited to see where this new wave of both practical and pretty apps can take us.

Photo by mnm.all on Unsplash

Understanding Agenda

Today I want to give a shout out to the awesome folks over at Agenda. While browsing the Agenda community, I found a link to Alexander Griekspoor’s presentation at Do iOS 2018 in which he discusses how Agenda came to be.

In short, Agenda started as a running text file Griekspoor was using to capture notes, reminders, and events throughout the day. He added new items to the top pushing older items down further down. As text files grew complex, he started creating separate files for each project, eventually moving the whole system to Simplenote before making Agenda. Overall, this running text file isn’t too different than how my colleagues and I manage our shared agendas in Google Docs, which is probably why Agenda clicks for me today.

I’ve written about Agenda in the past. It’s been working great for keeping my personal notes from meetings sorted, but understanding the mindset behind Agenda has helped me understand how to use it even more.

In the past, I created reminders in my task manager whenever there was a need to discuss something with someone. The problem was that I don’t usually have my task manager open during meetings so things tended to get missed.

This is where Griekspoor’s initial inspiration for Agenda was useful. The idea behind Agenda wasn’t just an app for keeping track of today’s notes and past notes. Griekspoor used it for future notes as well. When needing to discuss something with someone, he put it at the top of the note in a sort of holding area that he later converted into the section for the date it was discussed.

That’s what I was missing.

All those reminders to discuss things that I was keeping in Things could actually go directly into Agenda and even be attached to our next meeting, so that the next time I meet with that person, they’re front and center.

Griekspoor’s presentation was incredibly insightful. If you have a bit of time to check it out, I highly recommend it.

Quick Condo Update

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I’m popping into the blog today for a quick post to explain my brief absence from posting.

It’s been quite a long time since I posted any updates on my condo. To be frank, not a lot has changed, so there haven’t been any updates to share up until today.

I’m pleased to say that a major project has been checked off my list in the past week.

My condo finally has new windows!

The builder-grade windows and patio door from the 70s that only served to keep the rain out have been replaced. The replacements already seem to be doing wonders for my energy usage. My Nest thermostat is already reporting my heat is running an average of 1-2 hours compared to 6-10 hours previously.

Of course, such a massive project has left my house and daily routines in shambles, so I’m still trying to play catch up to return to some sense of normalcy.

I’ll be back to my normal posting schedule soon.