Some Tips for Working from Home

As I’m sure many of you also are, I’ve been working from home due to the current COVID-19 pandemic for a little over 2 weeks now. Previously, I’d been teleworking one day a week, but working from home full-time is an entirely different experience. While I adapted quickly to teleworking, I quickly realized working from home was going to take some extra considerations on my part, so I figured I’d share some of those tactics I’ve been using with you all.

Get Dressed Every Day

While it’s tempting to wear comfy clothes all day, I’ve made it a point to still get up and get dressed as though I’m going to work each morning. I get to sleep in a little extra because I’m not actually commuting, but I’m still at my computer every morning at 7:45AM ready to work and also ready for any surprise Webex meetings.

Fake a Commute

Two issues with working from home are the tendency to sit all day and also the lack of a concrete beginning and end to the workday. To solve both of these, I’ve started hopping on my spin bike for 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day. It not only closes my Apple Watch’s exercise ring for the day, but it also creates a beginning and end to my workday that has been sorely missing now that I’m not driving to and from work each day.

I also rigged up a makeshift laptop stand for my spin bike with some random things lying around the house, so if I’m feeling restless during the day, I can get a bit of additional activity in.

Engage All the “House Bots”

I think I got this idea from CGPGrey, but it’s simple and oddly effective. If needed, I try to start my dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, and/or robotic vacuum before I start working. It seems sad to say but I almost feel a sense of guilt for not working if they are. I also employ this on particularly lazy weekends or sick days, with the understanding that even if I feel like I’ve not done much, the “house bots” have at least done something to keep things moving.

Create a Dedicated Workspace

This one seems obvious, but I honestly put off having a dedicated workspace for much longer than I should have. When teleworking just once a week, I didn’t really see much of a point. I just grabbed my laptop and rotated through several locations (couch, patio, dining room table, etc) depending on the time of day and lighting in the house.

It took about a week of working from home full time to realize I missed some of the things I had at work like my extra monitor. I also realized how darn uncomfortable my dining room chairs are for sitting any longer than about an hour. Buying a chair cushion and pulling my old Apple Thunderbolt Display out from the depths of my closet were a must.

Do a Daily House Reset

This is a habit I got into before having to work from home, but I’m glad I did. Each day, I make sure to do a few basic things to keep the house in order. I don’t do them all at once. I generally spread them throughout the day whenever it makes sense so it doesn’t feel like a lot but doing them makes spending all day every day at home a little more tolerable.

At a minimum, these are some of the things I do as part of my daily house reset:

  • Make the bed when we wake up (This is actually possible right now since the other half is waking up with me.)
  • Scoop the cat box while I’m in the bathroom getting ready.
  • Empty the dishwasher while making my morning coffee.
  • Pick up anything that’s out of place as I’m walking around the house. I try to drop it off as close to the room it does belong in on my way to wherever I’m going. Our condo is essentially one long hallway so things are generally going one way or another down it.
  • Before bed, pick up any dishes and start the dishwasher.

Practice Self-Care

Let me start by saying I hate the phrase self-care. At the same time, I feel like we all really need it right now. For most of us, our lives have been upended by what’s going on. We’re having to deal with the reality of an awful pandemic that’s affecting just about everyone we know and love. We’re having to find creative ways to socialize with friends remotely. We’re learning to cohabitate (read: not fight) with housemates in closer quarters than usual, and if you’re like me, you’re also probably having to rebuild your entire work-life remotely in a time when work doesn’t always seem quite as important as everything else going on. None of this is normal, and it can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t take time for yourself.

I realized it’s way too easy to get caught in a cycle of scrolling through news, and if that’s the only thing you do, things start to look pretty grim. I’ve made it a point to carve time out of each day to practice mindfulness and think about what I’m grateful for, while also intentionally limiting my news consumption. I’ve also lowered some of the expectations for myself during this time. There are more important things to worry right now about than depriving myself of a piece of cake after dinner.

I hope everyone is doing well. If there’s any way I can be of help during this time, don’t hesitate to reach out.

More Efficient Meal Planning, Part Two

Today I wanted to check back into a post I shared recently about how we’ve been approaching meal planning.

We’ve been using the Cook Once Eat All Week cookbook for 8 weeks now. I feel like I can count the number of things I’ve stuck with for 8 weeks over my entire life on one hand, so to say that we’ve stuck to this for so long says something about how well it’s working for us.

As I mentioned in the prior post, each week we pick a week that’s in season from the book. I actually wrote the seasons directly in the book so it’s easily accessible but she offers a Seasonal Guide chart as a downloadable PDF when you buy the book. Admittedly, now that we’re several weeks in, it’s becoming more challenging to pick a week that’s in-season that we’d both like that doesn’t seem like something we just had, but with a little compromise, we’ve been able to make it work.

One of the things I also mentioned was that I’ve been keeping a log of sorts in Evernote to capture our thoughts on each of the weeks we’ve tried. In the log, I include a link to a separate note containing photos of the recipes and meal prep instructions (more on why below), the main ingredients, when the week’s in season, how easy or hard the prep was and how we liked each of the meals. At the end of the week, these give us a pretty good idea as to whether we would make the week again, so I color code the week accordingly.

Our Evernote Log

One of the unexpected benefits of keeping this log is that it’s allowed us to see that many of our favorite recipes, despite being from different weeks, still share similar ingredients. With our confidence in meal prepping increasing with each week, we’ve started toying with the idea of our own custom “weeks”. (Side note: I realize the concepts of meal planning and prepping aren’t new, but they are fairly new to us, so the concepts in this book have helped teach us the basics without seeming overwhelming.)

I was already saving our favorite recipes from each week into my recipe manager, Paprika, for safekeeping, and Paprika’s built-in menu feature makes creating custom weeks almost as easy as having them in the book. To make a custom week, I pick 3 of our recipes with similar ingredients to add to the menu. In the description section of the menu, I note any meal prep instructions specific to those meals. Since many of the ingredients are similar, we can still take advantage of prepping in bulk ahead of time.  As far as the grocery list, Paprika does all the heavy lifting to combine like ingredients and generate a grocery list that can be sent directly to our shared shopping list in Reminders.

Custom Menu in Paprika

Our Shopping List in RemindersSpeaking of our shared shopping list, for weeks we pull directly from the book, I’ve been saving time by copying them from the ebook (If considering the ebook, be sure to see my note below). Each week, I copy the week’s grocery list and paste it into Drafts. Unfortunately, this removes all the line breaks, so do I have to go back and add them back in, but from there, I just use a Send to Shopping List action to send everything directly to our shopping list. As an added bonus, the sections Cassey breaks the items into tend to map quite closely to our local Aldi’s layout, so I keep them and indent the ingredients as sub-tasks to organize the list.

A note on the Kindle version: As someone who prefers cooking from my iPad, I bought a copy of the Kindle version of the book thinking I’d be able to use it while cooking. However, the Kindle version strips out all of the formatting that makes the physical copy of the book so easy to follow. (This is the reason I’ve been snapping pictures of each week’s recipes to Evernote.) If you’re an e-book person like myself, I strongly recommend NOT getting the ebook version of this book.

In my first post about how we were meal planning, I shared a few of the benefits we saw right away (mainly focused around keeping our kitchen cleaner), so before I go, I wanted to wrap up by sharing some of the other benefits we’ve noticed now that we’ve been doing this for a couple of months :

  1. Because we have a plan for the week, impulse buys have pretty much stopped. Don’t get me wrong, we still grab the occasional ice cream or candy, but our pantry, fridge, and freezer are no longer bursting at the seams with random ingredients we picked up thinking they might be useful for a meal one day.
  2. We have a better understanding of what we actually have. Without all the random ingredients, it’s easier to notice the extra chicken in the freezer, which means we reduce the amount of chicken we buy for the week accordingly to use up what we already have.
  3. We’ve started making better use of our freezer. Another benefit of having a freezer that’s not overflowing with freezer meals is that we actually have room to freeze leftover ingredients and meals, instead of letting them go to waste.
  4. We’ve reorganized our kitchen. In most cases, this was as simple as relocating things we use regularly to be more easily within reach, but we did spend a few dollars on things like lazy susans or bins to make better use of our space as well. As a vertically challenged person, not having to get out a step stool to grab things is a huge time saver.
  5. We’re learning which tools we use, which we don’t, and most importantly what’s worth upgrading. For example, I had been thinking about replacing my cheap set of kitchen utensils for a while, but it turns out, nine times out of ten, I reach for my favorite spatula when cooking. I ended up just buying another spatula instead of a full set.

One last thing of note, while you can buy a spiral-bound copy of the book, the copy we have is the regular paperback version which has a tendency to close while we’re cooking if we don’t weigh it down. Recently, however, I saw someone who had rebound their copy using discs and seeing as how I still had a disc binding punch leftover from my paper planning days, it seemed like a logical upgrade for our book as well, so wish us luck in performing a bit of surgery on our copy.

More Efficient Meal Planning

I wanted to take a bit of a detour on the blog today and share something that I’ve been trying out recently to simplify things at home and save us a bit of money in the process. (Added bonus, it’s also helping me be more healthy so it’s also contributing to my year of health).

I received a copy of Cook Once Eat All Week for Christmas, and it’s been getting used just about every week since.

In essence it’s a cookbook centered on meal planning, but if by meal planning, you’re thinking you have to eat the same thing packaged into containers for a week straight, think again. The recipes are each quite different.

Meal Prepped Food In Containers

Prepped Ingredients from Week 1

The title itself is actually a bit of a misnomer. You don’t actually cook once. You actually cook throughout the week. What you actually do once is most of the meal prep, which cuts the time you spend on cooking during the rest week down to 10 or 20 minutes.

There are a few things about the book that have made it work for us more-so than other cookbooks or recipe services we’ve tried in the past:

  1. Each week is based around 3 main ingredients (usually a protein, a veggie, and a starch). This means we can save by buying things in bulk even though we’re only a household of two with limited freezer space.
  2. Each week features 3 recipes that serve 4-6 (plus two bonus meals). Well before this book, I found that planning for 3 dinners at home is the perfect amount for us each week. Three dinners (plus our usual night or two out or ordering carryout) usually leave just enough leftovers for lunches or nights when only one of us is home without throwing away a ton of food. This has taken a lot of the guesswork out of which meals to make each week. I just pick a week and those are my three meals. For larger families or those who prefer to eat in every night, I realize 3 meals isn’t enough, but for us, it’s just about perfect.
  3. Grocery lists are already made. Each week also comes with a pre-prepared grocery list meaning as long as we stick to those 3 meals, our grocery list is practically made for us give or take a few usual extras like milk, coffee creamer, or some time of fruit.
  4. Ingredients are straight forward. I’ve tried meal planning services in the past, and the one thing I couldn’t stand was always having to buy some obscure ingredient. Not only did this require a special trip to a grocery store other than Aldi, I often never used the items again. This book seems to feature pretty common ingredients. There have been a few items Aldi hasn’t stocked but they’re often pantry items I’ve reused in subsequent weeks. As we start to stock our pantry properly, I’m finding that our grocery list is becoming mostly just meats and produce.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found a couple unexpected bonuses as well:

  • Prepping everything on a single day means the kitchen only gets really messy for one day versus multiple days. Most of the messy steps requiring pots, pans, knives, and cutting boards have already been taken care of prior to cooking during the week.
  • It simplifies trash and compost. We tend to do our shopping and meal prep on Sundays or Mondays which happens to be around the time we set out our trash to get picked up for the week so most of the packaging gets thrown out almost immediately. I also keep our compost bin out and open while prepping so the bulk of our scraps get tossed into the bin all at once rather than having to open it several times throughout the week.
  • Last but not least, I find I’m getting more confident in the kitchen. I don’t mind cooking, and I’ve never been told I’m terrible at it. That being said, I tend to gravitate towards making what I’m comfortable with and that tends to be some variation of a cheesy chicken casserole found on Pinterest. This book has pushed me out of my comfort zone both in terms of flavors but also by helping me improve overall skills.

The book is composed of 26 weeks of recipes. Rather than working straight through from Week 1-26, we’re working through the weeks based on what’s in season (based on a chart included as an online extra). Thus far, we’re halfway through our 5th week and have made Weeks 1, 3, 4, and now 8.

Food in Casserole Dish

BBQ Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole Before it went in the oven

Admittedly, some weeks have been home runs (e.g. Week 1) and others not so much, so I’m recording our thoughts on each week in Evernote in hopes that I can find at least several to rotate through. As an added help on my part, I’m also snapping photos of each week’s worth of prep and recipes and including them in Evernote as well. Not only does this allow me to have the recipes on my iPad while I cook, which I prefer, I can also pull up the recipes or prep instructions while I’m away from home if I need to. For our home run recipes like the Loaded Cauliflower Casserole from Week 3, I’ve also added just the recipes themselves directly to my recipe manager, Paprika, in the event we just want to make the recipe on its own.

All in all, this book has taken most of the guesswork out of cooking for the week. Cooking is almost fun again. We’re eating at home more and we’re eating much better too. Two thumbs up for this book from me.

One Word for 2020

Each year I try to set a one word “theme” for the year. It’s not a goal, but more of a guiding principle to keep in mind.

Another yearly tradition I try to do is recap the previous year and post the current year’s focus to the blog. In my mind, this is something I do every year, but in looking over my past blog posts, it seems to be less of an actual tradition than I thought. Whoops! (Note to self: Add “Post Yearly Theme Post” task to Things)

So since I didn’t post my theme for last year, I guess I’ll start my 2019 recap by sharing that it was “Intention.”

I had started feeling as though I was just blowing where ever the wind (or people in my life, rather) wanted to take me. As a type-A person, the added spontaneity was initially a breath of fresh air, but over time, my days became increasingly dictated by what other people wanted to do. As a result, I lost any sense of where I was heading. I figured that by being intentional, I’d regain some sort of control and hopefully find some sort of direction in the process.

In hindsight, I think a better name for the year’s focus would have been “boundaries”. It took the better part of the year for me to realize that I was blowing wherever the wind took me because I’d failed to set boundaries. While it seemed easier to go along with what other people want to do, I was losing my own life in exchange for everyone else’s in the process.

If I could pick the most significant takeaway from 2019, it’d be relearning how to “take up space” (as my therapist calls it) in my life again.

I started really thinking about things like:

  • What do I want in life?
  • What do I need?
  • What things am I only doing because other people wanted me to do them?

I still don’t have entirely clear answers on them, but I am learning to be honest with myself and others about what I will and won’t spend time on. This has meant saying no to more things, accepting that not everyone will be okay with my decisions, and most importantly reminding myself that saying no isn’t selfish or rude.

An unintended consequence becoming more comfortable with what I want in life is that I may have indulged myself a little too much towards the latter half of the year. I’d set a well-meaning intention to relax after a long week, but I’d do so by spending the day on the couch mindlessly shopping, snacking, and watching YouTube followed by going out for drinks and binging on mozzarella sticks and nachos while doing so only to feel awful the next day. Comparing my couch-potato tendencies to that of my significant other, who often spends his days playing hockey and ordering salads whenever we go out, only left me feeling more and more sorry for myself.

It was so obvious I needed to start exercising again and start eating better foods, but I’d reached a point where I felt too tired to do either. Instead, I spent more and more time on the couch feeling sorry for myself. By the end of the year, I’d stopped working out entirely and spent the bulk of my 2-week break on the couch.

So with that in mind, my focus for 2020 is health – both physical and mental.

I realize health is a pretty generic theme. Everyone wants to lose weight, go to the gym, eat better, and meditate more in the new year. It’s probably the most cliche theme I could pick, but considering where I ended 2019, I didn’t see any other option.

This year I’m not setting resolutions or goals to work out x number of days or lose a set amount of weight.

I’m simply asking myself, “What would a healthy person do?” whenever I find myself feeling resentful about my behaviors.

Would a healthy person watch YouTube on the couch all day?

Probably not.

But I’m also way too addicted to Gourmet Eats at this point to give up watching it completely. I could swap sitting on the couch for watching it while on my spin bike instead though.

Would a healthy person eat pizza rolls for dinner 5 days a week?

Probably not.

But I’m also generally exhausted after work. Expecting a gourmet meal every night isn’t realistic, but I can stock my kitchen with healthier options.

I usually wrap up my yearly focus posts by listing my specific goals for the year, but as I’ve already said, I’m not doing that this year. In fact, as I’ve gotten better at using my yearly focus to guide my decisions, I’ve been reducing the number of goals I set over the years.

There are a few I still do set like a yearly reading goal, and I obviously can’t ignore my work-related goals set by my supervisor. Aside from that, however, I’ve only set one goal for 2020.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you may have spotted a hint already in a post from the summer, but I haven’t actually shared anything on this blog yet mainly because I try to keep my private life private.

In any event, my better half proposed last summer, so that’s my one and only goal for this new year – to get married.

Do you set goals or a yearly theme for the year? If so, I’d love to hear what yours are!

Using Anytime as a Next Actions List in Things 3

It’s crazy to think I’ve been practicing GTD for over a decade now. My system today looks nothing like what I started with (feel free to venture back to some of my older posts to see what I’m talking about), which comes as no surprise since my life today is drastically different from when I was in high school. Life changes aside, one of the reasons my system has changed so much in the past year or so is actually due to Things 3.

Now that sounds like a bad thing, but coming from the virtually unlimited possibilities of Omnifocus, switching to the much simpler Things 3 and working within its constraints has actually strengthened my understanding of GTD.

One of the concepts I’ve been rethinking in recent months is projects.

David Allen’s concept of a project is anything that requires more than one action, but I’d long resisted that idea. It seemed pointless to clutter my system with overly fussy projects for seemingly simple things like buying a new jacket.

Instead, I’d just toss “Buy New Jacket” onto a list where it’d inevitably languish because, just as David Allen warned would happen, the next action wasn’t to buy the jacket but to first figure out what size my previous jacket from the manufacturer that fit so perfectly was.

Once I loosened my grip on projects needing to be 10+ actions, it became quite clear that even after years of using GTD, I was still relying on my mind to track a LOT of things. I had a lot of open loops I wasn’t accounting for.

So as pointless as it seemed to introduce clutter into the Things 3’s sidebar, following the more than one action definition of a project actually has gotten me closer to a “mind-like-water” state, as David Allen would say. If a little added clutter means less stress overall, that’s a trade I’m willing to make.

It also turns out that a more fine-grained approach to projects lets me use the Anytime view in Things as a de-facto Next Actions list.

The key is to

  1. Be intentional about keeping only things I can and also intend to do within the next 2 weeks in Anytime, and
  2. Limit the view to only display 1 Next Action Step (View > Next Action Steps).

With that, Anytime becomes a list of only currently actionable projects with their next actionable step I can take to move each one forward.

If you’ve read Getting Things Done as many times as I have, you know David harps on how freeing of a feeling it can be to have a grasp on your “open loops” at this level, but reading it and experiencing it are two totally different things.

I now have the clarity of being able to see exactly what I can to do to move a project forward. Ambiguous, overwhelming tasks end up being pretty easy. Moreover, I’m more cognizant of making sure there’s always a next actionable item on my part (even if it’s following up with someone else in a few days) so that the onus is on me to make sure projects I’ve committed to continue to move forward.

Both of these together mean I’m finishing more projects, doing them more quickly, and feeling less stressed about them. It also makes providing weekly updates to my colleagues a breeze since everything’s right there.


And with that, this will be my last blog post of the year. I’ll be taking off the remainder of the year to decompress, plan for the upcoming year, and spend some much-needed relaxation time.

As always, I want to give a big thank you to my friends and family, and most of all, you wonderful readers for supporting me and encouraging me to continue blog over the past year.

I’ll be back in the new year with my annual yearly update and goal post and plenty more content.

-Andrea

A Few Ways I’m using NFC Tags Lately

With iOS 13 came the ability to natively trigger actions via NFC tags using Shortcuts. This seems cool, and it is, but figuring out what to use them for is another story. I knew they’d be handy but handy for what?

It took browsing a bunch of examples from other people online before I knew what to use my own for, so I figured I’d share a few of mine today.

For brushing my teeth

Call me insane, but I now own a Bluetooth toothbrush. Was it worth it? Probably not, but I enjoy the feedback I get from it. It turns out even as an adult, I occasionally do brush too fast or too harshly. The catch is because it’s Bluetooth, it only works if the app is open. (Note to anyone buying smart devices, always pick one that supports Wifi over Bluetooth so you don’t need to worry about opening an app every time). I’m ashamed to admit that remembering to brush my teeth twice a day is sometimes hard enough. Remembering to open an app beforehand, is just one more thing to remember.

Insert NFC tag.

I have a white NFC sticker stuck to the light switch in my bathroom. Because the switch plate is white, it’s nearly undetectable unless you know it’s there, but tap my phone to it and my toothbrush app opens automatically. It’s easy, and I dare say almost a little fun to do.

For turning the light I forgot to turn off from bed

There’s nothing worse than climbing into bed only to realize you left a light on. What’s worse is when the light is in another room. Rather than screaming “Alexa, turn off the light”…

Insert NFC tag.

Once again, I have a white NFC sticker stuck to my headboard. My bed is also white, so it blends in. The shortcut it triggers does a few things by launching a menu, but one of the most useful things it does is allow me to turn off the lights in the living room without getting back out of bed. One of the other useful items on the menu is for turning our white noise machine on or off.

For tracking my hydration

This one actually makes me smile a bit every time I use it because it feels a little bit like magic. I have a coaster on my desk at work. Little does anyone know, it’s got superpowers.

If you didn’t guess… Insert NFC tag.

Unlike the others, this isn’t a sticker. It’s just a plastic NFC chip sitting under the coaster. Whenever I finish a drink, I can tap my phone to the coaster, and via the NFC chip, I’m prompted with a shortcut to select my drink type and an amount to log with Waterminder. The shortcut is actually faster than logging water with the app itself or even the widget I have on my phone because I can simply type rather than scroll to select an amount.

I have a few other NFC stickers around such as the one on the light switch by my front door to turn all the smart lights in the house on or off, but I do have a few other ideas brewing, such as putting one on our back door frame to turn on our patio lights. I also recently purchased a set of black NFC stickers, which I intend to use in my car to launch directions and/or open Castro/Spotify. Last but not least I plan to put one of the NFC chips into one of the arms of our couch (don’t worry, they have removable covers) to trigger things like turning on our tv, fireplace, and lights from the sofa.

If you have creative uses for NFC tags, I’d love to hear them.

On Leaving Facebook

For those of you who follow this blog on Facebook, you may have noticed the page is no longer active. That’s because last week I made the decision to deactivate my Facebook.

I don’t think I need to go into the details about why my trust in Facebook has been waning, so I won’t.

I will say that this move has been a long time coming regardless of any privacy concerns. Long before Cal Newport popularized the concept of Digital Minimalism, I had already made the decision to remove social media apps from my phone in an effort to be intentional with how I spent my time and attention.

Not having Facebook on my phone changed how I thought about the service. I stopped seeing it as a place to mindlessly scroll through friends’ updates. Instead, I came to rely on Facebook for event discovery. Whenever I had a free afternoon, I’d use it to look through nearby events and inevitably find one or two that looked interesting enough to check out. For that purpose alone it was great. Unfortunately, over time the quality of events declined, and I found myself back to mindlessly scrolling through events just as I used to do with status updates. Eventually, I stopped using it for events as well.

Over time, with no real use for it, Facebook faded into the background. I almost never felt a need to check in to see what others were posting or post my own updates, and because I wasn’t checking in regularly, friend requests, event invites, and all the other ways people can reach me often went unanswered until someone mentioned them to me in person.

Whenever this happened, I did my best to explain that I wasn’t ignoring them intentionally – I just didn’t check Facebook regularly, but it turns out when people see that you have a social media account, there’s an expectation that you use it to be social. Eventually, I switched to saying that I didn’t use Facebook at all, but that usually fell flat. Once someone searched for me and saw my account pop up, it seemed as if I was lying to them.

I grew tired of trying to justify how I did or didn’t use Facebook. I came to the conclusion that the only way I could stop people from thinking I was hiding things from them (which a few did) was to deactivate my account entirely. I put it off for months, hoping there’d be another way, but really more concerned that it’d be too much of a hassle.

How would I share pictures with people without Facebook?

How would I find out about events – both from nearby locations and from friends?

It turns out none of these were actual issues.

For starters, it turns out Facebook isn’t the only way to share photos. Messages, AirDrop, and iCloud work just fine.

I also realized that I can keep up with nearby events and family and friends through Instagram. Yes, I know Instagram is owned by Facebook. No, I’m not thrilled about it, but unlike Facebook, Instagram does serve a need for me, and it’s not just to broadcast my life.

Instagram gives me a platform to share my life in a creative way. Because my account is public, I pay more attention to what I share, and more importantly who I share on it. For example, I try to avoid sharing faces of friends and family as much as possible, which has encouraged me to come up with some very clever ways of capturing the moment (e.g. shadows doing something cool instead of the actual people) that I’d otherwise not have thought about.

As for my friends’ events, I wasn’t checking Facebook regularly as it was, yet somehow I still managed to find out about their events. Once again, Messages and in-person conversations work just fine.

All in all, I feel like a weight has been lifted since I deactivated my account. I have no regrets whatsoever, and I’ve not missed it one bit. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and say you should stop using Facebook as well, but if you are on the fence, it may be worth reconsidering why you’re sticking around.

If nothing else, my hesitancy in deactivating Facebook painted a worrisome picture. Using Facebook has become so ingrained in the daily life of most people that I actually felt as though I should keep using it for others even when I was no longer getting any use out of it.

Quirks with the Things 3 Sidebar

by default 2019-10-29 at 8.54.29 AMToday I wanted to take some time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last few months, and that’s Things 3’s sidebar.

I’ve raved on here in the past about how much I love the design philosophy of Things. The top part of the sidebar really does make sense in terms of guiding you to prioritize your work using the GTD methodology. I’ve come to realize the way it handles areas and projects could use some serious rethinking though.

For starters, if you adopt David Allen’s definition of a project where anything that takes more than two steps is a project you end up with an unwieldy sidebar of projects. I’ve tried breaking my areas down further, but then you just end up with a bunch of areas as well. While not as big of a deal on macOS, it certainly makes managing things on iOS cluttered and complicated.

Another perplexing choice is the progress pies. At first, I loved them, but now I’m just not sure what their purpose is. I’ve already mentioned my desire to have them be optional to allow for sub-areas, but there’s a bigger issue at play.

By not allowing for task dependencies, Things 3’s design encourages you to adopt a strict adherence of GTD where only next actions exist for projects and subsequent actions are stored elsewhere. If you do this, Anytime becomes a functional “Next Actions” list, but it also means your progress pies will be never accurate. A project will appear to be almost complete when in reality it could have 20 more actions, they’re just stored elsewhere.

I’m not really sure what could be done in terms of rethinking the sidebar, but for now, I’ve basically stopped using it. When it’s not completely hidden, my areas are almost always collapsed, and I work from the main area view. This has some limitations because you can’t drag a task into a project within that view – only via the sidebar. Why this is, I have no clue…

Progress pies have entirely lost their intended meaning in my workflow. Instead, what they’ve come to symbolize are stalled projects. If a progress pie is full, that doesn’t mean a project is complete but rather that it is missing a next action. Progress pies on my areas reflect how much I’m spending on them – the fuller the circle the more I’m accomplishing in those areas.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love Things, and I’m using it every day with no plans to move anywhere else. It has just been a surprise to me that an app so focused on its design has ended up with some oddly thought out quirks.

My Current State of Notetaking

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A number of people have been asking what notetaking system I’m using lately. I’ve written about it in passing like when I explained why I was no longer using DevonThink or why I didn’t renew my Agenda subscription, but I wanted to give a more concrete answer.

First things first, I’m back to primarily using Evernote for my notes and have been for quite some time.

I say primarily, because I’m still using Apple Notes for things I need to share with my other half. There’s just no way I’d be able to get him to become an Evernote user, whereas he was already using Notes on his own when I met him. (Props to him!)

If Apple decides to add more to Apple Notes down the road, I’m certainly interested in switching back to Apple Notes, but right now that list of features to add is pretty significant:

  • Tagging
  • Saved Searches
  • Note Links (Apple Notes has this, but I pretend I’m sharing a note with someone to get the link.)
  • Integration with my email client, Spark
  • A better web clipper – Evernote’s web clipper is simply miles ahead of Apple’s share extension.

With that out of the way, I also wanted to quickly update how I’m structuring Evernote because it’s changed since I last posted about my set up.

I’m still very much a fan of Tiago Forte’s P.A.R.A. system. However, my current notebook structure is much more reminiscent of my set up in other applications like Things, making it easier to mentally switch between systems.

Instead of stacks for Projects, Areas, Resources, I now have a stacks for each of the main area of my life: this blog, Home, Personal, and Work. Then, within each of those stacks, I have my notebooks for my active projects, areas, and resources.

I do still maintain an Archive stack, and within it, I have a notebook for each of the areas mentioned above. (As with before, as projects are archived, I’ll tag all the notes with the name of the project and move them into their respective area’s archive notebook.) The main reason I kept my Archive notebooks separate from my area stacks is because I do have a few areas (like my Undergraduate and Graduate School notes) that are no longer active with content I still wanted to hold on to.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Update & Brief Posting Delay

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I’m popping into the blog today to briefly explain my posting absence.

As some of you may know, my primary job is managing a help desk at a university. Our Fall semester started about three weeks ago which means I’ve been knee-deep in our busiest time of year.

Somewhere in those three weeks, there were also a number of events including celebrating my 29th birthday. (Happy belated birthday to me!)

Then, just as I seemed to be reaching the end of my busy season, I was thrown an unexpected curveball when a neighbor above me called a plumber to unclog a shared pipe in the building. It wasn’t until later that night that I discovered the plumber unknowingly unclogged the pipe by pushing it straight into my condo, and by that time, there’d already been extensive water damage caused in both my condo and the unit below me.

Thankfully, the issue was due to a shared pipe, so I was not responsible for the damages. It did mean, however, that for the better part of the past week, I was forced to deal with with a few sleepless nights, having to take off work, daily visits from a remediation company, almost deafening dehumidifiers and fans running constantly, and worst of all – watching along in horror as the flooring I was so thrilled about having put in when I bought the place were ripped up.

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While it doesn’t look all that bad in the photo, and admittedly it could have been a LOT worse, the concerning issue is that the flooring, which is now discontinued, runs throughout my condo with no breaks. Unless the pieces they gingerly removed are salvageable, we will be in for a lengthy fight and headache to have our homeowner’s association replace the floors entirely.

Normally, I try to post here every other week, but, admittedly, this is one of those cases where life even my best laid plans have been completely thrown out the window. Expect a new post in 2 weeks or so, as I get things back in order.

Top Photo by Oliur on Unsplash