Top 4 Favorite Podcasts

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Taking a page out of Tiffany and Marco Arment’s podcast, Top Four, I thought it might be fun to do a quick run through of my top 4 podcasts right now.

I can’t remember what podcast actually started me down this addicting habit, but what an addiction it’s become. I listen to way too many podcasts these days, so many in fact, I do so at a cringe-worthy 2x speed just to get through them all. If I’m wearing my AirPods, you can almost bet I’m listening to a podcast. (By the way, my podcast app of choice is Overcast, and it’s free.)

Looking over my list, a few trends have emerged:

  • My tastes have definitely changed. My favorite podcasts used to be full of productivity tips and tech news. These days, my favorite podcasts tend to feature interesting stories and conversations between people I really enjoy listening to.
  • I may have a slight obsession with some podcasters.Merlin Mann and CGP Grey fascinate me. Not only are they incredible storytellers and conversationalists, some of the best tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years have come from listening to them.

So here we go.

#1 – image.pngDo By Friday – Discussions about current events, lots of laughs, absurd weekly challenges, and a whole lot of internet randomness brought to you by two of the folks behind Cards Against Humanity and Merlin Mann. What’s more to love in a podcast. I look forward to Alex, Max, and Merlin’s antics every Friday morning. Note to new listeners: this show has quite a few long-running bits so you might want to listen back to understand Powder Nation, Gary the Privacy Clown, scoot scoots, and plenty of jazz breaks.

#2 – image.pngCortex – If there was every one person’s mind I wanted to pick apart more than anyone else’s in the world (not in a creepy way), it’d be CGPGrey. The intentionality he lives by is incredible, and the relationship he has with Myke is great. (Pro Tip: Someone on Reddit shared a Google Doc listing all of CGP Grey’s tips over the episodes. It’s pretty amazing.)

#3 – image.pngBack to Work – Another Merlin appearance – Merlin and Dan are just incredible in this podcast. Don’t let the title fool you – it’s really not about work these days. Just two good friends talking about whatever strikes their fancy – Apple news, decluttering, comics, anxiety, and managing to survive without losing your mind in the world of today.

#4 – image.pngReconcilable Differences – Speaking of great relationships, I’ve really come to appreciate the conversations between John Siracusa and Merlin Mann. Topic wise, I’d compare this with Back to Work – meaning they cover everything and anything, but their banter back and forth is what makes the show.

Honorable Mentions

image.pngHello Internet – Another CGPGrey podcast. This one is a bit more topical. If you couldn’t tell by the title, it’s a show about random things on the internet (plane crashes, sports, hot stoppers, emoji, and Youtube) with a pretty dedicated group of listeners and long-running bits (that, unfortunately, include hating on the Maryland flag) just like Do By Friday.

image.pngReply All – This podcast has featured some of the most entertaining stories I’ve ever heard on a podcast. From tracking down those pesky tech support scammers all the way to their office in India to the mysterious person behind Pizza Rat, they never seem to disappoint. Their recurring bits of Super Tech Support and Yes Yes No are also surprisingly informative.

image.pngThe Girl Next Door Podcast – This podcast has become quite a guilty pleasure of mine. Kelsey and Erica talk everything from household duties and relationships to makeup and neighborhood gossip. Plus every episode starts with a cocktail. Cheers!

 

Photo by Barrett Ward on Unsplash

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My 3 Non-Negotiable Rules for Technology

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Nine times out of ten, when someone finds out work for an IT department, the inevitable follow up question is “Oh, so you can fix my computer?” While the answer is most likely yes, I actually try to avoid fixing computers for family and friends wherever possible because I don’t want to become their go-to person or liable for anything that may go wrong (or they think has gone wrong). Thankfully over the years, my job has transitioned to less tech support and more management, so I have an easy out, and can simply say “Actually, I don’t fix computers,” which usually ends the conversation.

With that being said, I’m not against providing answers or insight as to good technology practices or app recommendations. In fact, that’s the part I truly enjoy about supporting technology – helping people use technology smarter.

A few days ago, I realized I’ve managed to distill my tech advice into 3 non-negotiable rules:

  1. Buy as much RAM and HD space as you can afford. – You won’t regret having the extra when you need it.
  2. Back up, back up, back up. – Having a local back up like TimeMachine is good. Having a local back up and a cloud back up like Backblaze is even better.
  3. Practice good password hygiene. – Don’t re-use passwords or variations of passwords. Use a password manager like 1Password.

Following these three rules surprisingly cover a good deal of questions and complaints I get about technology. Moreover, they reduce the likelihood of the major catastrophe events that always seem to crop up – slow computers, not being able to install app updates, losing precious photos, compromised accounts, forgotten passwords, etc.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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Archiving Notebooks in Evernote (and a few thoughts on Tags)

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I’ve discussed how the way I organize Evernote has evolved recently. One of those more recent additions is that I’ve started creating notebooks for active projects, but I hadn’t come to a decision on what to do with them once they were no longer active.

Having just returned from Ireland, making my “Trip to Ireland” project inactive, I had a decision to make. That decision was that notes from inactive projects would get tagged and collapsed into their respective Reference notebook. In the case of my “Trip to Ireland” notes, I tagged them all with Ireland and moved them to my Personal reference notebook. They’re all still easily accessible in case I get the opportunity to go to Ireland again or someone asks about it, but otherwise out of the way.

Interestingly enough, shortly after I made my decision, Stacey Harmon came out with a post suggesting that very same thing:

Collapsing or archiving notebooks. If you’re regularly managing your notebooks (see above), you can use tags to convert your Notebooks to tags when you’re no longer using them. Simply tag all the data in that Notebook, and put it into an Archive notebook.

Her post is a great read if you’re having trouble with deciding how to organize Evernote. While I don’t follow her method, I do agree with her on why tags shouldn’t be your primary way of organizing Evernote. That being said, what I find most interesting about the Evernote community though, is how quickly and adamantly the user base divided into two camps: using tags is the only way to go or using notebooks is the only way to go.

My system has developed from a mix of ideas from GTD, Tiago Forte, and Stacey Harmon. New items go to the inbox (GTD) where they’re then filed away in their appropriate notebooks based on how often I’ll need to be using them (Forte and Harmon). Tags are used to identify overarching themes or topics (e.g. Buddhism, Ireland, accessibility, quantified self, etc.) allowing me to browse by topic if need be, but Evernote’s search is always my first instinct. It works without all the fiddly effort of managing a complex tagging system.

My Grad School Notetaking Workflow

Now that I’ve had my iPad Pro for a while, I’ve finally settled into a routine for managing my course notes. I rely on two main apps (Goodnotes and Evernote) and both my Macbook Pro and iPad Pro.

Setting Up for the Week

Each week before class, I duplicate an existing copy of my weekly course notes to save time typing out my preferred format. It’s broken down into Administrative (typically action items or important information about the course), a list of assigned readings, an area for taking notes during that week’s lecture, and a place for the lecture slides.

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(Note in the screenshot above I have two reminders listed in the sidebar. They serve as a workaround to pin notes to the top like Apple Notes. Until Evernote decides to add the feature, this is the next best thing. I just turn off notifications so I’m not pestered by dates.)

Next, I download the assigned readings for the next week as well as the lecture slides from the previous class from the course site on Blackboard. Newly assigned readings get put into Goodnotes on the Mac. While I’m in Goodnotes, I also export any readings from the previous week to PDF and delete the previous week’s category.

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Back in Evernote, I create notes for each of the new readings and link to them in the weekly note using the Copy Note Link feature. I used to include my reading notes directly in the Weekly notes, but after noticing a few of the assigned readings were papers I’d already read for another class, I switched to keeping my notes directly with the papers themselves, linking each class to the single note for the paper. It makes noticing connections a lot easier.

The last step in preparing for the week is to create tasks in Omnifocus. I typically prefer to have all the assignments plugged in at the start of the semester, but for this class, it’s easier to enter them on a weekly basis.

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Reading

With set up done, I switch to my iPad Pro for reading and annotation within Goodnotes. If something seems particularly noteworthy I make note of that in the stub note in Evernote, but for the most part, the annotation is sufficient.

In Class

During class, I use my iPad Pro to switch between typing notes into Evernote and making additional annotations in Goodnotes.

Tidying Up

The day after class, I make sure my weekly note for the previous class is complete by adding the final annotated copy of the readings into the stub notes I created for them (they’re already linked to the main weekly note), adding the lecture slides. I end up with something that looks a bit like this.

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And then it’s time to start this whole process over for the next week!

 

One Word for 2018

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Like most everyone else, January is my time of thinking ahead for the year. I typically take off either the week before Christmas or the week after New Years to reflect, regroup and plan out the upcoming year. It’s a tradition I look forward to more and more every year.

Looking back over 2017, it was a crazy year that far beyond anything I could have planned. My word for 2017 was “acceptance,” and I hoped to get better at accepting all the things in my life I simply can’t change. Mindfulness played a big part, and in many ways, I’d say my year of acceptance was a success. Fewer things trigger my anxiety, but it’s still definitely a work in progress.

For 2018, my one word is “slow.”

Mindfulness has allowed me to notice that a great deal of my stress is simply due to my tendency to rush from one thing to another. Rushing leads me to feel as though I’m barely treading water, and it’s downright exhausting.

My year of slow will be focused on being present and intentional in the things I do. That means more paying attention to how I feel throughout the day, more focused attention on what I want to accomplish, and taking some time to enjoy all the incredible things I actually get to do.

Now, onto being present in the rest of my day.

 

A Few Improvements to my Evernote Organization

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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

 

A few months ago I wrote about how I’m organizing Evernote. Have no fear! I’m still loving my basic set up, but I have made a few additions to keep important information at hand.

I’m not sure which podcast introduced me to Tiago Forte, but in the weeks after learning of him, I spent hours reading into his P.A.R.A. method – a “universal system for organizing digital information.” His idea is simple – The tools you use aren’t important as long as you have a system to organize things. Of course, any mention of systems has my attention.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but P.A.R.A. stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. He has a 4-part series if you’re interested in learning all the details. Unfortunately, the posts are now behind a paywall though, so here’s an interview he did with Evernote that goes over the basics.

I’ve not adopted his system fully, but I did walk away with a few insights.

Take Away 1: Projects vs. Areas of Responsibility

Coming from a GTD mindset, projects and areas of responsibility seem fairly straightforward, but I was surprised to discover I was mixing them up just as Forte mentioned. He describes a project as “a series of tasks linked to a goal with a deadline,” whereas an area of responsibility is “a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.” Projects can be completed. Areas of responsibility are ongoing.

Forte argues that when you mix the two together, it’s difficult to see everything you’ve committed to, and I couldn’t agree more. Clarifying the commitments required by my ongoing areas of responsibility has given me a better understanding of just how feasible taking on that extra project might be.

Take Away 2: Make Most Used Information the Most Accessible

It’s no surprise that information isn’t equal. Some notes are used more than others. Part of Forte’s P.A.R.A. method includes keeping your notes organized hierarchically so that your most used information is easily accessible. More actionable information flows up to the top Project level, whereas lesser-used information flows down to Archives.

Forte suggests moving everything into Archives to start. As you need to use notes, move them to their appropriate level, and they will gradually end up in their respective areas. I actually tried this, but quickly found his distinctions between Resources, Areas, and Archives too arbitrary for my needs.

Instead, I settled on a simplified system. I created two stacks – one for Current Projects and one for everything else, Reference. Like, Forte suggested, I just moved my existing notebooks into a Reference stack. For any projects that require supporting documentation, I create a notebook under Current Projects. Once completed, their content will be archived to their respective area under Reference.

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(Side note: I’ve also made two other changes: Agendas now live in their own notebook for easier access, and I created a separate Reference notebook for book highlights.)

Take Away 3: Review and Improve your Notes as You Use Them

A lot of people seem to treat Evernote as a junk drawer. I’m guilty as well. Forte has a whole system for randomly resurfacing his notes and annotating them. As cool as it is, I simply don’t have time to review and revise notes each day. Moreover, I find his rules for when to highlight versus bold a bit fiddly. Instead, I’m simply trying to make a point to improve my notes each time I use them. As I use a note, I’ll clarify or highlight the portion I used.

With these three takeaways, my notes should become more and more useful over time. I’m sure that the system will evolve, but for now this seems to be a nice blend of simplicity and functionality.

 

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A Simple Solution for Integrating Goals into Omnifocus

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Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

As each year wraps up, I, like many, start thinking about my goals. What did I set out to accomplish for the year? How did I do? Admittedly, I did pretty well, successfully completing 12 of my goals for 2017.

But there were equally as many that I didn’t get to. A handful of them are simply still in progress or wrapping up, but it was clear the others failed because I just wasn’t tracking them.

This makes me laugh because anyone who knows me knows I track just about everything: tv shows, tasks, activity, sleep, habits, how I spend time on my computer, water consumption… the list goes on…

For 2018, I set out with a plan, ensuring each goal had a way to be tracked. How to track progress on some things were a no-brainer. Tracking my weight is done automatically with Fitbit scale provided I remember to stand on it. Meditating regularly is something that Streaks can track automatically as long as the app sends the data to Apple Health.

It was the larger objectives I was having trouble with – my reading goal, financial goals, interpersonal things. They were things I really wanted to work on, but without some sort of accountability, ensuring steady progress on them was easily forgotten during the day to day activities.

Seeing as I run my life out of Omnifocus, I figured that was the best place to start, but I had a few problems:

  • I didn’t want my goals to get buried amongst my ongoing responsibilities.
  • I didn’t like the added visual clutter of prefixing each project with something like [GOAL]
  • Some of my goals like posting to this blog regularly were just tasks, not full blown projects.
  • I wanted them to live within my existing folder/project/context structure of Omnifocus.

My solution was quite simple. I simply added #goal to the Notes field of each project or task relating to a goal. With that, I created a custom perspective (project-based, grouped by folder, showing any remaining tasks that included the text #goal). The perspective gives me a list of all tasks related to my goals (at least the ones being tracked in Omnifocus) in one list.

I’ve added the perspective to my toolbar, so that whenever I’m in Omnifocus, I can see all my goals in one list. It’s become a valuable part of my daily planning and keeps me focused on ensuring I’m always making progress on my goals.

Trouble with Task Managers

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

Design

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

Sharing Lists

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

Tags

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

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

The Lazy Man’s Pomodoro Technique

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

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

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

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

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

So why lazy?

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

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

 

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How I Organize Evernote

Photo by Lauren Mancke

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

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

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

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

And then it hit me.

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

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

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

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

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

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