How I Set Up My Budget in YNAB

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In my last post, I shared how YNAB has helped me get a better handle on my finances. Today, I want to share how I’ve organized it.

When you start using YNAB, they pre-populate your budget with a selection of recommended categories. I’ll be honest, I didn’t find them all that helpful. Having not read the book yet, I actually found them confusing because the category group names, like true expenses or quality of life goals, are terms people generally don’t use outside of the YNAB community. Additionally, not all the categories were relevant to me. For these reasons, I deleted them all and started over.

I structure my budget categories and groups in a few ways:

  • Category groups are listed from highest priority to lowest.
  • Category groups are also arranged based on where the money lives (i.e. checking vs. savings).
  • Within each category group, categories are named with and listed in order of their due date.
  • Each category has a goal.

Structuring my budget this way allows for two things:

  1. I can fund my goals from top to bottom as money comes in, always knowing my money is going to the next most important area.
  2. I can verify how much money needs to be in my checking account or should be in my savings account at all times.*
  3. I can use the quick budget feature to not only quickly budget my money when it arrives, but also quickly estimate how much money I need to set aside each month.

*Technically YNAB will tell you that your budget is only a plan for your money and where you keep your money is irrelevant in terms of the budget, but given I don’t want to overdraft my account or miss out on interest I could be earning, I don’t buy into that.

So what are my category groups?

  • Current Baby Step – This is where I put my top priority savings goal according to Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. Currently, I’m on Baby Step 2, paying off my car, so this is where car payment lives. Once I’m done paying off my car (hopefully by the end of the year), this group will include building up my 3-6 month emergency fund. I separated this out to call extra attention to my main financial goal. Whenever I’m done funding the upcoming month’s goals, I dump any extra money I may have leftover towards this goal.
  • Credit Card Payments – YNAB automatically creates this category. Because my cards are paid in full, I don’t actually need to budget any money for these categories. Anytime I make a purchase on a card with the money I’ve already budgeted for, YNAB automatically moves that money to these categories so that I’m able to pay off the credit card when the bill is due.
  • Monthly Bills – This is where my fixed monthly expenses live (e.g. my mortgage payment, my Spotify subscription, etc). Anything in this category group is something that costs exactly the same amount and is due on the same day of each month.
  • Variable Expenses – I think of these as my cash envelopes. These are categories like groceries, gas, or eating out where I may spend more or less each month, but I aim to spend less than a certain amount.
  • Upcoming Expenses – These are fixed, recurring expenses that occur less than monthly, but will be due in the next 30 days.

I want to take a break here to point out that the category groups up to this point represent my checking account. Moving forward, the following categories switch to my savings account. As mentioned previously, I use this separation of category groups to quickly see how much should be in my accounts at any time and help me to know exactly how much to transfer between accounts.

  • Subscriptions/Recurring Expenses – The previously mentioned Upcoming Expenses and this category work together. Again, these are expenses that do have a fixed amount but occur less regularly (like my yearly Amazon Prime subscription). For GTD fans, these two categories essentially work as a tickler file. Once I’ve paid a recurring expense in the Upcoming category, I move it back to the bottom of my Subscriptions/Recurring Expenses category and reset its goal for its next due date. In this way, everything is ordered by date, so I always know which subscriptions are coming up next, how much to pull out of savings to pay them, and I can begin saving for them again right away.
  • Sinking Funds – This is where I save for expenses that will happen eventually. I just don’t know when they’ll happen or how much they’ll cost (e.g. home maintenance, health, vet bills).
  • Long Term Savings Goals – This category is where I keep future savings goals like my 3-6 month emergency fund, our house downpayment fund, and my future Tesla fund. (A girl can dream…) Right now, I’m focusing on other priorities, but I look forward to the day when I can actually fund these. (For now, this category group is hidden from my budget since I’m not actively contributing to them.)
  • Wish Farm – I’ll just link to YNAB’s explanation of a Wish Farm as it’s easier to let them explain what exactly a Wish Farm is.
  • Wish List – This is exactly what it sounds like. Anytime I want something I put it here, and eventually, it may make its way to my Wish Farm to be funded. (I also keep this group hidden to keep my focus on my current goals).
  • Gift Cards – This category keeps track of the money I have on my Starbucks and Dunkin cards that I use for rewards points. I also keep track of my Amazon gift card balance, as well as Apple Cash. Whenever I make a purchase using these categories, I move the money to one of the appropriate categories above to accurately categorize the spending.

One of the rules of YNAB is to “roll with the punches,” so YNABers (people who use YNAB) are actually encouraged to adjust their budget as needed, and I adjusted my categories quite frequently during the first month or so. I’ve since settled into a groove with this category structure, so that’s how I structure my budget in YNAB (at least for now).

I hope everyone’s doing well during this time. Well at least as best as well all can. Stay safe everyone. Until next time.

Photo by Katie Harp on Unsplash

The Last Frontier of Organizing – Budgeting with YNAB

In most areas of my life, I’d say I’ve always been fairly organized – maybe a little too organized if you ask some people. My budget, however, is one area that has lurked like a terrifying junk drawer in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember.

I want to start by saying that I realize I’ve been luckier than most to have gotten where I am without student loans. If it weren’t for that, I know I would be in a completely different situation financially, and I probably would have been forced to confront my financial situation sooner. I realize this is not the norm for a number of people, and I truly can’t imagine how difficult it must be to get by on a daily basis while also dealing with the amounts of debt I’ve seen some of my friends and family talk about.

With that out of the way, I will wholeheartedly admit, I’ve made a number of mistakes financially over the years by acting as if the money in my bank account was Schrodinger’s cat, and despite having a well-paying job, I still fell victim to credit debt, a car loan, a mortgage payment I could just barely afford, and impulse buys galore which ultimately resulted in me living paycheck to paycheck.

I’ve always had plans to pay off debt. I understood how debt payoff worked, but no matter what I tried (ahem… Mint…), I never became one of those success stories of paying off thousands of dollars worth of debt in 6 months.

This year, one of my goals was to really get serious about a budget. I decided to retry You Need A Budget, or YNAB as its users like to call it. I’m happy to say, this time finally clicked. Happy may actually be an understatement. If it weren’t for being in quarantine, I’d be singing its praises to everyone I meet. Until then, this post will have to do.

As a former Mint user, my #1 piece of advice for anyone trying YNAB has to be forget everything you know about managing your money with Mint or anything else.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend their videos and Nick True’s videos on YouTube enough. I have to credit them for retraining my brain for the YNAB way. (The book is also a good resource.)

I think of YNAB as a sort of “reverse” Mint. Instead of looking at your transactions to see how you’ve spent your money and trying to budget from there, YNAB asks you to look at the money you have right now and plan out exactly how you need to spend it down to the very last dollar – Give every money a job, as YNAB likes to call it.

The key to this is you’re not budgeting the money you expect to earn for the month, only the money you have available right now, which took quite some time to wrap my head around. Budgeting for all my expenses as I typically would have with Mint resulted in quickly being told I was over budget. I had to stop thinking in terms of hopeful money, and more in terms of what my actual money needed to do first and foremost until I got paid again.

By giving every dollar a job, suddenly things didn’t seem so grim. In fact, they looked surprisingly manageable. In fact, I could clearly see just how much money I had leftover after bills rather than mentally calculating whether I had enough for every purchase. I began to set that “extra” money aside for actual jobs (my car’s next oil change, my fiancé’s birthday, our wedding…). Suddenly opening my budget was less like opening a junk drawer and more like finding $100 in the couch cushions every time.

The YNAB website says that “On average, new budgeters save $600 by month two and more than $6,000 their first year.” I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn this until after I started seeing it mentioned on the YNAB subreddit. Had I seen it before I started, I probably would have dismissed it as a typical marketing ploy. I still want to, and yet in the first two months of using YNAB, I was able to find money to pay off not one, not two, but all THREE of my credit card balances in full (almost $4000). Of course, a big portion of that is due to a couple of windfalls (including tax refunds and a stimulus check) and not going out due to the current state of the world, but without YNAB, I’d have without a doubt blown that money on something stupid. Instead, I was able to use it to further my goals. (Oh, by the way, speaking of goals… Mint’s goal function had me thinking it’d be a struggle to pay off ONE card by next January…)

The other crazy thing is I paid off those card balances while still using those cards for bills and other expenses. This is IMO the real genius of YNAB. YNAB treats credit cards like debit cards, meaning you’re expected to budget for any spending (even credit card spending) with money you actually have. Once you spend in a budgeted category, YNAB automatically applies any that money to the card’s payment to cover your balance. This is what lets you account for paying off the existing balance AND any continued spending. As an example, say I planned to pay $400 towards my existing balance, and also charge $60 in groceries. As long as I’ve already budgeted $60 for groceries, YNAB will move that $60 of real money I had set aside for groceries to cover the additional charges on the card, increasing my total available for payment to $460. This was huge for me.

Debt repayment aside, YNAB has shown me the importance of setting up sinking funds for all my long term expenses, and yearly subscriptions, and other recurring expenses that I hadn’t included in my budgets before. Anytime I come across a subscription renewal or big-ticket item I will need down the road, I add it to the budget now. Not only has this forced me to come to terms with my subscriptions and recurring expenses, but I can also now budget for them little by little over the course of a year rather than having to come up with the money all at once.

I realize money’s a touchy subject, and budgeting is a little different in terms of topics I’d normally cover here. That being said, I’m curious if this is something you’d like to hear more about on the blog. Right now, I’m thinking it might be interesting to see how my categories stack up in YNAB, and how I typically budget a paycheck. Let me know if this is something you’re interested in or not in the comments below.

Also, if you’re interested in trying YNAB, you can score an extra month for free using this link.

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

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.

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

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.