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For those of you who haven’t read my About page, I’ve spent the last 4 years slowly completing a Masters degree, 1 class at a time. Well, I’m happy to report that the 14 hour days of this past semester are behind me (7:10-9:40PM classes should really not be a thing), and more importantly, so is my degree.

Ironically, the defining moment of finishing my degree wasn’t walking out of my final class or applying for graduation. For me, the strangest milestone was checking off my final task in Things and removing my School area, which marks the first time I’ve not had a School area in any task manager.

Now that I’m done my degree, the logical question is “What could I possibly do with all my free time?”

Of course, this question couldn’t come at a better time since I like to spend December reflecting on the past year and planning for the next. Thankfully planning comes after reflection because if anything’s clear, I did not slow down as I had intended. If anything I did the opposite, and I’m feeling it as we wrap up the year.

So for 2019, I’m going the opposite direction. I’m purposely keeping things simple.

My focus is on intentionality.

Instead of committing to new things, my intention is to focus on things I’ve already committed to – like all those house projects that have been on my to-do list since I moved in. (Hello, kitchen cabinet doors that are still sitting in the corner waiting to be painted.)

With that in mind, I will be taking a few weeks off, so this will be my last post of 2018.

Before I leave though, I want to say thank you to everyone who’s read this blog over the past year. A year ago, this blog was just another thing to check off on my path to maybe becoming some sort of writer in the distant future. Thanks to some major encouragement from my boyfriend and all of your amazing feedback, I couldn’t even begin to imagine this blog would be where it is today.

Thank you again, and warm wishes for the holidays.

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Maintaining Focus with Keyboard Maestro

About a week ago, I decided to move Instagram to the second page of a folder on my iPhone. I didn’t really think I had any sort of problem with Instagram. I just wanted to be more intentional with how I used my phone after seeing my weekly Screentime reports. Little did I know, just seeing the Instagram icon (even the tiny one inside a folder) had become an incredibly strong cue to unconsciously open the app whenever I picked up my phone. A week later, and Screentime is already reporting my phone usage is down 36% just by moving the app!

Features like Screentime and Downtime are great for iOS devices, and that 36% is huge, but the 19 hours I spend on my iOS devices pale in comparison to how much time I spend on my Mac. I couldn’t help but not think of how many cues on my Mac were stealing my precious time without even realizing it. For now, there is no Screentime for Mac, but services like RescueTime work similarly to give you a good idea of where you’re spending your time so you can start seeing where you need to cut back.

That being said, breaking bad habits requires more than just knowing where you’re spending time. If you want to actually change those habits, you also need to disrupt your behavior patterns. Plenty of apps can block apps and websites during specific times. Unfortunately, most of the ones I found require subscriptions, and as much as I want to support developers, paying for another subscription is just not in my budget right now.

As I thought through my options, I realized I had already broken a pretty well-conditioned habit of compulsive email checking using a fairly simple Keyboard Maestro macro paired with Marco Arment’s Quitter app. The Keyboard Maestro macro just gave me an alert every time I opened my email client just to remind me I was opening it. Usually, the notification was jarring enough to make me stop and realize what I was doing. The Quitter app quit my email client after 20 minutes of inactivity. Within days, the combination opened my eyes to just how often I was opening my email client throughout the day and also kept me from being pulled back into email when I forgot to close it.

It worked so well that I’ve gotten checking my email down to 3 times a day while at work (8AM, 12PM, and 4PM). In fact, I had to create a new Keyboard Maestro macro that opens my email client at those times because I often forget to check my email. For added fun, I recently added an option to the macro that lets me delay opening Airmail for 5 minutes if I happen to be occupied with something else.

With how well this worked for breaking compulsive email checking, I figured I could apply it to other applications, so I set back to work in Keyboard Maestro. Having recently learned how to incorporate times into my macros, I was able to come up with a vastly improved macro that lets me “limit” certain apps during certain hours. I’m using the term limit loosely because I didn’t want to be completely blocked out of an app if I didn’t need to be. If a predefined app activates during the hours I’ve set, I get a notification reminding me I probably have more important things to do, along with 2 options – to quit the app or accept the notification and open it anyway. More often than not, just as with my email app macro, just the alert is enough to snap me out of my muscle memory.

I’ve only been using it for a week or so, but it’s been working so well, I wanted to share it with you. The macro first sets the variable Time to the current hour. If it’s between the hours set, it will pause briefly to allow the app to load and then prompt you with a notification. Clicking Quit continues to the next action of quitting the frontmost app. Clicking the other option cancels the macro.

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Of note, instead of referring to specific apps within the macro, I made use of the variable %Application%1% which refers to the front application. I’ve created macros to refer to the “Front Application” in the past, but until recently, I didn’t know you could pass the front application’s name as a variable as well. This lets me avoid hardcoding any of the applications into the macro’s actions and dialogs so that adding new apps just a matter of adding a new application trigger at the beginning.

Have you set up anything on your Mac to keep you on track? I’d love to hear what others are doing.

Getting Things Done with Things 3

Switching to Things 3 has greatly simplified how I work. Whereas with OmniFocus, I worked out of a handful of custom perspectives, with Things I just work out of the built-in Today view. The Today view shows what’s on my calendar for the day followed by a list of everything with a start date or deadline of today or earlier. I’ve come to appreciate this much more than Omnifocus’s way of interleaving tasks and calendar appointments.image.png

The Today View in Things is a big change from my carefully tailored (and fiddly) perspectives in OmniFocus, where I could also set times for both deadlines and defer dates. With OmniFocus, the only things on my list were things I could do at that very moment at that location. Things doesn’t account for start or due times, which means anything you have to do that day shows up, even if you can’t do it until later. In some ways, I appreciate having a clear picture of everything I need to do each day (something that actually made me leave Things 2 years ago). There’s no more forgetting to check the Forecast perspective, only to be blindsided by 5 tasks showing up right as I sit down to relax for the evening.

That being said, there are some things I really can’t do until later, and for that, Things has the This Evening section of the Today view. Unfortunately, there’s no way to set a task, like setting out the trash on Monday nights to appear in This Evening by default. However, I’ve found a clever workaround through the use of Keyboard Maestro and a handy Applescript. Each time Things activates on my Mac, Keyboard Maestro triggers the Applescript which scans for any tasks in Today tagged with Evening and moves them to This Evening. It’s so quick, I don’t even notice it running. The only downside is it only works on my Mac.

Note: When you create a recurring task Things creates the next instance of a recurring task and a separate template task, so if you want any changes to stick to the entire set of recurring tasks, make sure you’re applying them to the template task. Otherwise, your changes will only apply to the next instance.

With start dates, deadlines, and my evening script running automatically each time I open Things, my Today View is already in pretty good shape when I open the app each morning. From there, I tag my three most important tasks as “Top 3”. I find it’s a nice way to mentally set my priorities for the day. I also reevaluate whether any tasks should be removed from Today. I’ve been doing my best to move these tasks back to Anytime rather than setting arbitrary start dates in the future to keep my Today view from growing too unwieldy. Lastly, I take a few moments to rearrange my tasks into a rough order of when I plan to complete them throughout the day. This is something I couldn’t get from OmniFocus. From there, the rest of my day is spent completing tasks.

Interestingly enough, taking the complexity out of my task lists has led me to complete more, and I now regularly find myself browsing the Anytime view in search of additional tasks to fill out my day. It’s also led me to a tagging system that truly makes sense (something I struggled with with Omnifocus 3).

image.pngI use tags to filter my Today view down at various times of the day. For instance, I can easily filter my list to my Top 3 tasks for a quick priority check, or I can use tags to batch my tasks.

I have my tags broken up into 4 main groups, which Things display’s quite nicely at the top of the Today view:

  • Area of Responsibility – I picked up this tip from Shawn Blanc’s All the Things course at The Sweet Setup. It seems a little redundant to recreate your Areas as tags, but it’s actually quite handy to be able to sort your Today view by Area of Responsibility. Each of my areas gets tagged with its respective area tag causing any task within an area to automatically inherit its area tag.
  • Location – These are my traditional GTD contexts (e.g. Anywhere, Home, Work, Errands). Unfortunately filtering by multiple tags is additive in Things, so these don’t completely replace my custom perspectives in OmniFocus, but they come close enough.
  • When – This is where my Evening tag mentioned above lives. I’ve also added Morning and Afternoon tags. This comes in handy on busier days when I want to break up my Today list into more than just Today and This Evening. I have my fingers crossed Cultured Code might consider allowing users to break up their Today view in the future, but for now this works.
  • Action – This is where batching comes in. I have tags for various activities I do regularly (email, research, chores, etc.) As someone who tries to avoid keeping my email client open all day, being able to work through all my email related tasks at once is quite handy.

Lastly, I have 3 straggler tags that don’t fall within any group. This includes the Top 3 tag I mentioned earlier, a goal tag for tagging any tasks related to my yearly goals, and a Waiting tag.

With regards to tasks I’m waiting on, Things doesn’t offer stalled tags like OmniFocus, and I still haven’t quite worked out how best to handle waiting for tasks with Things. Setting a task to Someday with a deadline creates a really nice visual distinction by graying out the task’s checkbox while still reminding me to follow up on the task, but it goes against my rule of setting arbitrary deadlines. For now, I’ve gone with the lesser of two evils, and have been setting an arbitrary start date as a reminder to follow up on the task.

Again, Things 3 has made me once again realize how easy it is to overcomplicate things over time. Sometimes simpler is actually better.

 

Saying Goodbye To OmniFocus

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One of the key things for any productivity system is that you have to trust it. For me, the center of that system has been OmniFocus. To say it has run my life over the past 4 years is an understatement, so it was a no-brainer to purchase OmniFocus 3 when it was released for macOS a few weeks ago.

Then the unthinkable happened. I have to be honest, never in a million years did I expect that I’d be writing this post.

I can’t really pinpoint where trust in my system started eroding with OmniFocus 3. Maybe it was the constant threat of tags teetering on the line of becoming out of control, struggling to adapt my perspectives in meaningful ways, or maybe it was just a feeling that my projects were staring me down. Within a matter of weeks, it became overly clear that OmniFocus was no longer a joy to use, and I found myself opening it with dread.

Being a natural planner and someone who’s been using OmniFocus to manage every aspect of my life for years, not trusting that system sent me into a spiral of chaos fairly quickly. Before I knew it, I was 2 hours into setting up a trial of Things 3 on my Mac.

Yes, Things.

I was a Things user before switching to OmniFocus. I actually wrote about it on here many years back. Many of my gripes with Things 2 have been corrected with Things 3, but Things 3 isn’t perfect just yet. There’s a lot to love, but there’s also a lot lacking when you’re used to a task manager as powerful as OmniFocus.

What’s changed?

My experience with Things 3 this time around was a little bit like rereading a book later in life. My life isn’t drastically different. I still have the most of the same responsibilities and projects, with a few more added (Hello, condo and management position), so my needs haven’t gotten simpler. My mindset around managing tasks, however, seems to have. A task manager at its heart should help you accomplish tasks, and OmniFocus had led me down a road of managing tasks instead.

Migrating to Things wasn’t without its challenges though.

First and foremost, my project list had to change.

OmniFocus lets you organize tasks in a number of ways. For one-off tasks, they give you Single Action Lists (SALs). These most commonly end up being used for tasks related to the ongoing roles of your life (e.g. health). For traditional projects in the GTD sense (a completable task comprised of more than one action item), they give you sequential and parallel projects (depending on whether actions are dependent on each other.) SALs, parallel projects, and sequential projects can be grouped by folders (typically used for Areas of Responsibility). This gives you several levels of hierarchy to organize your tasks.

Things 3 only gives you two – Areas and Projects.

In the past, I struggled to find a way to migrate my project list from OmniFocus to Things because of this. I tried to either abandon my high-level folders entirely (resulting in a ton of areas) or I tried to collapse my SALs into a single area (requiring a ton of tags).

The key mindset shift here is that Things 3 is only loosely based on GTD. As soon as I loosened my definition of a project, I opened the doors for projects to be used as sub areas, just like my SALs in OmniFocus.

There are a few additional benefits to Things’ project lists. Areas can have their own tasks allowing me to get rid of my “General
tasks” SALs. Projects can be organized by headings allowing me to organize my lists in ways I’d never been able to before (e.g. breaking my cleaning list down into daily, weekly, monthly chores). Lastly, projects are denoted by completion pies. Since I’m using projects as both SALs and actual projects, it remains to be seen how useful this will be, but for now it’s a good visual representation of where I’m focusing most of my attention (a more complete Health pie means I’m spending more time on my health than a less complete Car pie).

A second mindset shift was about complexity.

Much like Things’ vastly simplified project list, how you work with your tasks is simplified. Forget stalled projects or tags. Forget setting times on your tasks. Forget action item dependencies. Tasks are available unless you set a start date or set the task to Someday.

In some ways, I miss Omnifocus’s attention to detail. I can’t set my task to take out the trash to only show after 5PM, and projects with sequential actions require a bit more thought. However, thought, in this case, isn’t a bad thing. Omnifocus’s ability to fine tune tasks gave me the option to get fiddly without realizing it. Migrating to Things forced me to reconsider just how bad it had gotten. Most of my sub actions could be removed entirely or accomplished with Things’ barebones sub-action feature of checklists.

My third mindset shift is probably the most difficult – giving up custom perspectives.

I lived out of my custom perspectives in OmniFocus. Being able to easily bring up a list of all my available Work tasks was great. Things isn’t quite there yet, but because I’ve simplified everything so much in switching to Things, I can truly work out of the built-in Today view (filtering by my location tag if necessary). The one thing I can’t do is filter by multiple tags at once (e.g. Office OR Anywhere). Things treats selections of multiple tags as an AND operator, but overall this hasn’t been a deal breaker.

What I’m loving about Things:

  • The interface is incredibly simple. Seeing my tasks in OmniFocus vs. Things is a staggering difference, but now my focus can return to tasks, not the interface.image.png
  • Despite the simplicity, there’s incredible attention to detail. Tasks with deadlines even include a handy countdown letting you know how much time you have left.

What I’m missing (and hoping for) with Things:

  • Dates are just dates. There are no times. The only option to defer to a later time is to set a Today task to This Evening.
  • Task dependencies are a huge loss. Having to set arbitrary dates to overcome the lack of sequential actions is a bummer.
  • I’d also love to see Headers (currently only available in Projects) be made available in Areas or the Today view. Headers in areas would give me the true distinction of Areas, Sub-Areas, and Projects I am hoping for.

Things 3 has been a refreshing switch for me, and I’m interested to see where it takes me going forward.

Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

September Apple Updates

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September is quickly becoming a contender for my favorite month of the year – not only because it’s my birthday month, but because it seems like Christmas comes early for Apple users. This has been a big release month for Apple, so I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about the good and bad.

iPhone XS

Last year I upgraded to the iPhone X, so I really didn’t NEED to upgrade to the XS. The keynote sold the iPhone XS as a minor “S” release. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great phone, but it is admittedly a hard sell for most early X adopters like. That being said, I’m on the upgrade program, so upgrading was still on the table since I could either keep paying for my X or pay the same price to switch to the XS.

I opted to switch to the Gold XS (which is really more rose gold) and couldn’t be happier. I had considered going with the XR but the larger phone was a no-go for me. Like all the reviews say, the camera on the Xs really is better. Face ID seems snappier as well (maybe even as snappy as Touch ID), and can we just talk about the gold color? I smile every time I pick up the phone (5 times an hour according to Screentime). It is a beautiful phone.

Side Note: I absolutely hate the naming scheme of the new X line. I am forever correcting myself from calling it the “ex S” and not the “ten S”. Apple missed a great opportunity to keep the X but switch to numbers. X2 would have been such a cool name.

Apple Watch Series 4

I was getting increasingly annoyed with my Series 2 watch. There were days when seeing “I’ll tap you when I’m ready” for the 5th time in one day or waiting for the Workout app to catch back made me want to throw it across the room, and I also found myself waking up to a nearly dead watch more and more frequently. As far as I was concerned, Apple could have released a watch with only minor spec bumps and I’d have bought one.

Thankfully the Series 4 Apple watch is no minor spec bump. I got a 40mm Gold Aluminum (sans LTE) model. Again, I don’t know who at Apple is deciding the gold finishes, but like the iPhone XS, the gold on this one is a more rose gold – which I prefer. The extra 2mm are barely noticeable on the wrist (and I have tiny wrists), but boy do you notice them when you’re using the watch. All of the touch targets seem massive (and way easier to hit) compared to the Series 2. I also appreciate the speed jump. No more waiting for the Workout app to catch up before I can begin a workout.

iOS 12

iOS 12 seems like it was a release made just for me. I’m always trying to reduce the time I have to spend using my phone. (Note the use of ‘have’ there. I’m fine with wanting to use it, but I don’t like having to be tied to my phone.) iOS 12 brings revamped notifications meaning my phone bugs me even less often. It brings Screentime and Downtime offering insights into how I use my phone, which apps are pestering me most, and the ability to dim apps I don’t want bothering me (and their badges) during certain hours. And of course who can forget Siri Shortcuts. I’ve already made a handful for seemingly mundane tasks I do on a regular basis (checking the boyfriend’s hockey schedule, starting a Headspace meditation, launching my shopping list, or viewing my the day’s office schedule). One of my favorites is a shortcut for creating appointments in my calendar, which creates two events (one for the actual appointment on my personal calendar and another to block off the time in my work calendar).

MacOS Mojave

Mojave is a smaller update, but there are still worthwhile changes. Let’s just get the elephant out of the room and say Apple’s key feature, Dark Mode, is terrible. Just turn it on, open a website, and you’ll see why. (If anyone tries this, I apologize for burning your retinas.) Quick actions in the Finder are nice, but I’ve admittedly not had much of a chance to use them yet. I do appreciate being able to mark up an image quickly though. The one feature I can’t wait to use is the ability to scan or snap a photo directly to your Mac. Airdrop and the scanning feature in Notes on my iPad were already saving me from having to walk a few steps to the office scanner, but now I can cut out another step and scan from my iPad directly to my computer.

 

Photo by Michał Kubalczyk on Unsplash

Workflow Changes with OmniFocus 3

by default 2018-09-11 at 10.38.46 AMMultiple tags first came to OmniFocus 3 for iOS in May of this year. I hoped that multiple tags would mean drastic improvements to my workflow, but with most of my Omnifocus work done on a Mac, I was stuck waiting until tags also came to OmniFocus for the Mac.

As of last Friday, I was invited to test the beta version of OmniFocus 3, so my wait is officially over! For the rest of you, it should be out later this month.

Looking back to my initial tag list for OmniFocus for iOS, much of my tag system is still intact.

Part of this because I restrained myself from going crazy with tags and opted to stick with tag groups that mapped to David Allen’s four criteria for determining priority: context/location, energy available, priority, and time available. (Note: For Time Available, I use Omnifocus’s estimated duration field, not a tag.) I also have two “On Hold” tags for tasks I’m “Waiting for” or any “Someday/Maybe” tasks I’m considering.

In addition to traditional GTD tags, I’ve also added a few additional tag groups related to people (e.g. boyfriend, boss) and actions (e.g. call, email, read), as well as, one called “Today,” which I’ll discuss in more detail later in this post.

To be honest, my hopes of tags significantly altering my Omnifocus workflows and therefore supercharging my productivity didn’t really pan out.

Despite all the improvements to custom perspectives, there still isn’t a way to create the perspectives I was hoping for. I had hoped to create perspectives that show any tasks I can accomplish at a specific location (e.g. Home, Work, Errands) but also have them grouped by another tag group (e.g. by Energy Level or Priority).

Unfortunately, there is no way to filter by some tags and also group by another. A perspective that shows tasks tagged with Location:Home or Location:Anywhere and also tagged with Priority:High or Priority:Low doesn’t give you a list of tasks sorted by priority. Instead, it gives you a list of all tasks grouped by ALL tags given to those tasks meaning you actually end up with groups like “Anywhere, Today, Read” and “Home, Today”) which actually isn’t that helpful.

Because of this limitation, most of how I use OmniFocus has remained relatively the same. Multiple tags simply provide additional ways to filter my tasks within my existing custom perspectives on an as needed basis.

There is one aspect of my OmniFocus workflow that tags did change for me though.

I’ve mentioned in past posts that I work from 4 main perspectives (Today, Work, Home, and Errands). These perspectives show me any tasks I need to work on based on where I’m working from. With Omnifocus 2, this meant a perspective that showed any due or flagged task within a certain set of contexts grouped by project.

With Omnifocus 3, my 4 main perspectives now show any available tasks that are due, flagged, or tagged “Today”, grouped by project and sorted by flagged. Essentially, the Today tag has replaced how I was previously using flags, leaving flags open to be used for what they’re truly made for, denoting importance. Sorting by flag means my most important tasks are at the top of every project. Using flags to denote importance also means I can look over my perspectives, and quickly see what’s most important (e.g. flagged and or due soon).

So the jury’s still out on Omnifocus 3. I don’t plan on switching applications any time soon, but until perspectives can be customized at the level I’m looking for, I probably won’t be seeing any of the drastic improvements I had been hoping for.

Keeping Track of Meeting Notes with Agenda

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I love finding apps that make my life easier, but somewhere along the way I also developed a habit of trying to consolidate apps. Purpose-built apps were abandoned in favor of apps that could be used for multiple things. In doing that, I ended up with fewer apps that did most things but not all of them did everything all that well.

My desire to eliminate purpose-built apps went away after reading Take Control of Your Productivity by Jeff Porten. In his book, Porten mentions that it’s perfectly acceptable to use multiple purpose-built apps as long as you feel they’re the best tools for the job. After thinking about that point for a bit, I realized I still use plenty of purpose-built apps (OmniFocus for tasks, 1Password for logins, Paprika for recipes, and Pocket for long-form reading, etc), and they’re essential because they serve their purposes incredibly well. The key is not finding that one app that does everything but tying all of your best apps into one cohesive system.

I originally heard about Agenda and its new take on notes on Macstories around the time I was experiencing Note-Fail, so I decided to try it. I tried it a few times actually, but I had a hard time figuring out why I should use it instead of one of my other apps. Then I realized I was thinking about Agenda all wrong.

Agenda isn’t there to replace your everything bucket apps like Evernote or DEVONthink. It’s not there to replace your notes app, your calendar, your task manager, or your email either. Instead, Agenda is there to live on top of all of them as the glue holding your projects together. It compiles the narrative of a project from beginning to end, making sense of all the notes you’ve taken, meetings you’ve endured, tasks you’ve completed, and emails you’ve sent and received. With this shift in thinking, Agenda not only made sense, it became essential to my organizational system.

Browsing Agenda’s forums, it seems I wasn’t alone in my struggle of using the app, so with so many people trying to figure out how to use Agenda, I figured I’d share how I’m using it.

First off, Agenda’s primary function is to store what else other than my agenda notes. There are short dated bulleted lists and action items I take while in meetings. I’d already been keeping them separately within my organizational system for a while so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to move them to a separate app.

Within Agenda, I created 3 categories: Personal, Work: Current Projects for current one-off projects I’m collaborating on, and Work: Ongoing for regularly scheduled meetings pertaining to my roles at work.

Each category holds projects containing a collection of notes. In my old system, I’d either append my meeting notes to a single running document for recurring meetings or create individual notes for project-based meetings. With Agenda, every meeting gets recorded as its own note.

Within each project, I also have a pinned note at the top (a premium feature) titled Resources that holds links to related files and other items such as shared running agendas in Google Drive, corresponding projects within Omnifocus, or groups of resources in DEVONthink. Having the pinned Resources folder really helped me see Agenda as the central hub of my organization system that ties projects together rather than just being another spoke on the wheel of tools.

It’s also worth noting I use linking throughout the meeting notes I take, linking to Google Docs, resources archived in DevonThink, emails within Airmail, and data in any other app that supports linking in that way.

Now know having a project with linked notes isn’t particularly game-changing. I could easily have used Omnifocus’s notes field or a note in DevonThink to link everything together, and to be honest, I do just to make my life easier. but what sets Agenda apart is the ability to tie notes to a calendar event. Not only are my notes chronologically ordered within each project, I can also see my notes chronologically ordered across projects (e.g. view all my meetings on August 3rd). Agenda also supports tags, meaning I can type @NameofPerson to tag someone in a note, and then later find all notes with that person. When you’re working with people across projects, this is incredibly helpful.

Another feature of Agenda is a section called “On the Agenda”. You can set Agenda to add any new note to this section automatically. I use this more like a flag to keep notes on my radar until I’ve had a chance to copy any action items into OmniFocus.

In moving my agendas outside of DEVONthink, the only thing I needed to figure out was what to do with one-off projects once they’re completed. Typically I archived them into a Reference folder within my note-taking app, but Agenda does not have any archiving feature at the moment (although they say they’re working on it). I didn’t want to just delete everything either. Thankfully, Agenda makes it easy to export content. When a project is completed, I simply export the entire project as a single Markdown file (another premium feature) and import it into DEVONthink. Quite nicely, the exported Markdown file preserves all the links and even tags allowing me to open the file in an app like FoldingText maintaining all its functionality.

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

Notes – My New Version of Planner Fail

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When I first started this blog years ago, I wrote mainly about paper planners. I was a bit obsessive about my Filofax(es) and switched up my “system” just about every week. For anyone in that community, planner fail isn’t uncommon. In fact, Filofaxes almost encourage the behavior, but when I went digital, I thought my days of planner fail were behind me.

Then, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how thrilled I was to abandon Evernote and consolidate all my notes into Apple Notes. Well, it took me about 2 weeks to realize that probably wasn’t the smartest move after all. As much as I thought I’d like having my notes all in one place, in practice, it actually frustrated me.

Now I will say, none of this was a fault of Apple Notes. Apple Notes is surprisingly powerful and handled everything I threw at it. My frustration was due more to how my brain works than software limitations.

Apple Notes originally won me over with its simplicity, but once you add a few hundred notes, it turns out Apple Notes or any system for that matter stops being so simple. Having everything in Apple Notes forced me to accept that I actually prefer having some sort of distinction between my active notes and reference notes.

And this is where planner-fail returns… but as notes fail.

I didn’t go running back to Evernote. I’ve actually enjoyed my time without the green elephant and even turned off my subscription. I also didn’t abandon Apple Notes – at least not entirely. Apple Notes continues to be the home for “active” notes that I access regularly – my heavily-used collection of carryout menus, jotting down quick notes, and things like the list of things to do that I share with my boyfriend.

The rest of my notes, the reference and project-based notes, all now live in…

drumroll

DEVONthink Pro Office!

As a self-proclaimed Mac Power User, the move to DEVONthink has been a long time coming. I’d just been avoiding the learning curve and let’s be honest the price (although the education discount helped!).

While I still don’t care for the dated interface (which I hear may be getting a facelift in the future), there are a number of things I do enjoy.

  1. I get to pick where my data is stored – and it doesn’t belong to Evernote. I have 3 separate databases. My personal database is synced via iCloud. My other two databases, Work and School, are synced via my university’s Box cloud storage.
  2. Getting data into DEVONthink is about as easy as it was with Evernote (and much easier than Apple Notes). DEVONthink’s browser extension does what I need it to for archiving websites, and I can archive emails from Airmail directly to DEVONthink as well (although they’re plain text – Airmail team, if you’re listening, you could do better!). Airmail had no integration with Apple Notes
  3. I can search my notes with Alfred. Alfred couldn’t search Apple Notes which forced me to use Spotlight.
  4. I get to use my favorite apps. Plenty of apps integrate with Evernote and Apple Notes as far as saving things into them, but once something is saved, you’re limited to editing a note within the Evernote or Apple Notes apps. With DEVONthink, I can use the Open with Feature and edit saved files within my favorite apps. (I’m writing this post in FoldingText, but it’s actually stored in DEVONthink.)
  5. Artificial Intelligence – This is a feature I didn’t really think much of when I bought it. It sounded cool, but I figured it’d be a gimmick like Evernote’s, context feature. My main motivation for having a central place to store notes was to hopefully be able to find connections between things I’m storing, and DEVONthink’s AI feature does this automatically! Looking at my book notes for Yuval Harari’s Sapiens, I also get suggestions for notes I’ve taken on his other book, Homo Deus. It even makes suggestions for books I would have never even made connections to like Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. This is a game changer (and it may be enough of a game changer to sway me into continuing on for my Ph.D.).

DEVONthink isn’t perfect. I’ve had to make a few changes to adapt to its interface and storage methods, but I’m pretty confident that DEVONthink is here to stay as part of my tool bag of pro apps.

Lastly, if you’re on the fence about DevonThink or were like me and downloaded the trial a handful of times only to delete the app out of overwhelm, I highly recommend reading Take Control of Getting Started with DEVONthink 2.

Photo by Delano Balten on Unsplash

Making the Switch to Wireless Charging

Before I got my iPhone X, I never really saw the value in wireless charging. I mean, is it really “wireless” if you’re still tied to a charging pad that requires a wire, and how is having to leave your phone on a charging pad any better than having the wire plugged directly into your phone? At least with a charging cable, I can still use the phone in my hand.

And yet, as I write this, I’m more than giddy about having just received my FOURTH Qi charger in the mail.

Wireless charging isn’t more efficient. It’s pretty slow. Wireless charging doesn’t help if you want to use your phone in your hand while it’s charging. In fact, none of my initial thoughts about wireless charging have changed. If you’re looking to charge your phone fast, a cable is the way to go.

If you’re not that concerned about fast charging, what wireless charging does offer is simplicity. There’s no fiddling with cables and ports. You drop your Qi-enabled device on the charger, and it charges.

I first hopped on the wireless charging bandwagon by putting an Anker Qi charging pad behind my bed. My habit of dragging a lightning cable into my bed to facilitate late night browsing always seemed a bit unsafe, but getting back out of my bed to charge my phone never seems that appealing once I’m in it. Putting a charging pad behind my bed allowed me to charge my phone without fear of being choked by a lightning cable. It turns out this particular location was also perfect for charging my Kindle, which I added wireless charging to shortly after.

My next round of Qi chargers replaced my beloved Fuz Everdocks – one on my nightstand and the other at my desk at work. (Note: The Everdock is probably one of the few tech accessories that has stood the test of time, my two having been with me since my very first iPhone[4]. They don’t make them anymore, and I couldn’t possibly throw them out, so they’re being relocated to other places in the house.) The beauty of Qi charging docks is that, like the Everdock, they don’t care what phone you have as long as it supports Qi. Unlike the Everdocks though they don’t have the friction of having to align ports. If you’re curious, these are the ones I picked up.

And this brings me to my most recent purchase, which is the real game changer in my opinion.

The layout of my home means the most logical way to arrange my living room is to float the sofa in the middle of the room. Not having your sofa against a wall means missing out on the obvious lifehack of hiding a charging cable in your sofa. Instead, my solution up until now has been to run my Macbook Pro’s USB-C charger across the floor with a USB-C to Lightning adapter. It’s not only unsightly, but it’s a tripping hazard which I tend to fall victim to almost weekly.

My living room is also the entrance to my house, so I always felt that the landing zone cabinet between the front door and tv would be a perfect spot for a charger, and now there will be one. This isn’t just any charging pad though. It’s also a wireless charging battery pack, which means instead of dragging a cable across the floor to my sofa to charge my phone, now I can simply bring the battery pack. It was the priciest of all my chargers, but for something that sits out on display, I’d rather have it look nice. You can find it here.

Whenever people talked about the future of wireless charging, the world was going to be full of chargers – charging tables in restaurants, charging consoles in cars, charging bags, etc. For a while, this seemed like a far-fetched dream, but as I look around my house, that dream might not be as far off as I thought.

The last place to switch to wireless charging is my car. The vent mounts I’ve found haven’t been compelling enough to replace my trusty Kenu Airframe, but thankfully that wait is nearly over as Kenu has announced their Qi-enabled Airframes.

What do you think about wireless charging? Love it? Hate it?

Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

The Current State of Apple

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I’ve been using Apple products since I was two. I choose Apple not because I’m anti-other-brands but because the products work for me. Now I didn’t say they always work. Apple products, like any other, break from time to time, but when they do, I can usually count on Apple to make it right, quickly and easily.

Unfortunately, I’m starting to see that Apple fade, and it has me concerned.

It doesn’t take a lot of internet sleuthing to find people complaining about hardware and software woes of recent Apple products and services. Apple just implemented an extended repair program for keyboards on all of its current Macbooks because they’re failing at such high rates, and they are refocusing the next OS releases on stability because of such a high rate of bugs.

Thankfully, I’ve missed out on most of these bugs and hardware issues even being on the betas and not being afraid to buy the new models, but then there’s my iPhone X.

I love my iPhone X, but it’s certainly had its share of frustrating but tolerable bugs. Occasionally the screen would just stop responding or it wouldn’t wake from sleep by tapping the screen. I adapted and just knew to press the lock button in either situation. Looking back now, I should have seen these as red flags to begin with, but what happened next was certainly a red flag I couldn’t live with.

I arrived in Austin two weeks ago for a week-long vacation. That first night, I noticed my phone was behaving erratically – opening apps, typing, swiping, etc. People around me must have thought I had some next-generation FaceID where I could control my phone with my eyes. The next day, it was worse. In fact, it was actually locking me out of my phone because it was typing in passcodes. Really fun when you’re on a vacation.

I started planning an impromptu trip to an Apple Store, but then it stopped – for a few days at least. Instead of erratic behavior, now the middle of the touchscreen wasn’t responding to me at all. This was at least tolerable until I could get home as long as I used Reachability to move things to a working part of the screen.

Once I got back home, I did a little digging. It turns out this is actually a fairly common issue on the iPhone X. I got in touch with Apple who asked me to do a system restore on my iPhone before determining it was definitely a hardware issue and that I’d need to take my phone into an Apple Store.

Friday evening after work, I waited for 30 minutes beyond my appointment in a crowded store to have them insist on running more diagnostics to ensure there was actually a problem. Nevermind that by this time, the phone was sitting on the table untouched opening the News app and toggling the Zoom feature repeatedly. I was told I needed a screen replacement which would take an hour and a half. I didn’t have an hour and a half to wait, so I had to leave with my broken phone for another day.

Here’s where it gets fun. When trying to reschedule an appointment, I was told that the next appointment available wasn’t until Thursday at a store 3 hours away from me. My other option was to get an express replacement which would have taken a week to get to me. So much for express.

This phone is my main communication device for both family and work, not to mention, I’m part of the Apple Upgrade program so I’m paying $50/month for the phone. Not having it functioning for another week was just not going to work.

Somehow I managed to go to my local store and get a walk in appointment. That hour and a half estimate for the screen replacement actually took around 3 hours because I had to wait around for technicians, but all in all, I now have a working phone again.

Now here’s where my gripe is. This is a $1200 phone, made by the richest company in the world, that failed in under a year under normal, careful use. Even then, I get technology fails and I was understanding.

However, a couple years ago, I could have walked in with a glaring well-known hardware issue and a Genius would have gone in the back and brought out a refurbished device, my device would have been fixed for the next person, and I’d have been on my way that very first night. Apparently, whether to replace or repair a phone is now up to the technician, and I just got the unlucky fate of having one that wanted to replace the screen, so I got stuck waiting.

Apple used to symbolize quality both in terms of hardware and service. Paying the Apple premium was okay because you had the peace of mind that you would be taken care of if something happened to your device. You wouldn’t be given the runaround at one of the other electronics stores. Now they are just another one of the electronics stores.

Here’s to hoping the next year or so is a year of improvement for Apple and not just more of the same.

Photo by Medhat Dawoud on Unsplash