Growing Pains with Things

Hi everyone, I’m back from a nice little 4 day vacation in Atlantic City with another post about Omnifocus vs. Things. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve outgrown Things. So what specifically started bugging me?

Things is loosely based off of GTD. This is both a blessing and a curse. It did mean I got right into using it because there was no learning curve. It’s also meant it failed pretty quickly because I didn’t think of how I should set it up.

My first struggle was with Things’ Areas of Responsibility. Because it’s loosely based off GTD, Things doesn’t have traditional “contexts.” Instead, it has Areas of Responsibility which according to Cultured Code, “allow you to group both projects and to-dos according to your responsibilities.” Areas of Responsibility to me meant things like Personal, Work, School, etc. which is how I initially set everything up. The problem is, when I’m deciding what to do, I don’t necessarily care what area of my life it’s for. I’m more worried about whether or not I have the resources to do it. In some cases, personal tasks do mix in to my work day and vice versa. For instance, if I put off calling my doctor until after I get home, they’ll probably be closed. So, using Areas of Responsibility as I initially had gave me lists of tasks categorized based on parts of my life, but with no particular regard to what I needed to actually do those things.

I took a second go at Things, and redid my Areas with more traditional “contexts” in mind. I ended up with Work, Computer, Errands, and Home. After all, I have certain tasks I have to do when I’m either at work or at home, things that I need my computer for, and things I need to do when I’m out and about. This was better, but my Today view still showed me EVERYTHING regardless of whether I could actually do those things. If I’ve learned anything from all my planning OCD, it’s that having a task in your face nagging you that you can’t do is draining. For me, sitting at work seeing that I needed to clean 6 things at home distracted me from the 2 things I needed to make sure I did while I was working.

Contexts, or Areas, weren’t my only issue though. Things seemed to lack organization in general. Again, this is makes Things incredibly simple to start using, but the more I used it, the more I struggled with it. Active projects are all kept together. My school projects with hard deadlines were mixed in with remodeling my room which is just something I’m tackling on the side. Moreover, when it came time to my class which I broke down into a project for each week, I either needed to manually schedule every one to appear x days before a certain day, or choose to make the projects inactive and manually activate the next one as I finished each week.

The issue I had with scheduling my projects leads me to my last gripe. Tasks can only be assigned a date not a time meaning, if I had to do something by the end of the day but couldn’t start it until 3PM, I still had to stare at it all day (again nagging me making me resent it). This created constant friction in deciding whether to put time-sensitive tasks without due dates on my calendar which I try to avoid, in a separate app which I also try to avoid, or just live with it.

All in all, my struggles led me to Omnifocus which has solved all of the issues I had with Things. It’s not perfect, and I’m still tinkering, but my next Omnifocus post will be about how I’ve organized my projects and contexts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and thank you for stopping by.

Signature Update

A Month Without a Paper Planner

Hello everyone! Happy Monday!

It’s been about a month since I decided to move from a paper planner to a cloud based system, so I thought I’d give a little update about how it’s working.

It surprisingly wasn’t as easy as I had thought. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I actually went through a bit of paper planner withdrawal which is a bit scary to be honest. There were definitely days where I wanted to have a planner with me {for what reason, I don’t know. I didn’t have anything to write in it, and I wasn’t going to use it. I just wanted to have nearby.} There were also days {or weeks…} where I scanned Flickr, Pinterest, and Youtube for planners, and Philofaxy’s Webfinds are still a staple in my blog reading. I’ve just kept reminding myself that it’s all in my head.

I guess the most shocking thing, after I got the whole withdrawal thing out of the way, is that it actually worked! I did have to tweak Things a bit, but I’ve probably gotten more done this past month than I have in a while. I think a big part of the issue was that before I got rid of the paper planner, I had things scattered everywhere. Some tasks were in Things and others were in my planner, so I was never really using one system fully. Now everything is in Things and Google Calendar. I only have one place to check, and I only have it put it there once.

I’m not sure what the future has in store for my planning situation. Clearly going all digital works for me right now, but I still have some weird attachment to paper planners even if I don’t seem to use them.

Should I decide to go back to paper planners, my next experiment will likely be a Filofax Flex sort of set up with a monthly notebook and either a weekly or daily book that I’d use to implement my Bullet Journal + Life Mapping combo. Size and colors and books are all still up in the air.

Thankfully, for now, I have a system that works. I’ll be sticking with it at least until the end of the year {mainly for my wallet’s sake}.

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Rethinking Things

Over 6 months ago I first posted about using Things for Mac/iOS to manage my tasks. For those of you who don’t know, Things, is a beautifully designed task manager loosely based of the GTD system available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. For me, it’s been one of the few constants in my planning set up, but it took a really long time for it to get there. {I actually hated it at first. True story.}

The Things app for Mac is set up with 4 main areas {The iOS apps don’t actually label these.}:

  • Collect – for your Inbox
  • Focus – for Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, or Projects
  • Active Projects
  • Areas – Contexts in GTD

Now Things is designed with GTD in mind, but I never actually used it that way.  I set up my areas based on “areas of my life”, like my Google Calendars are set up, not based on actual physical areas. These were the areas I was using: Blog, Work, Personal, Cleaning, Pets, Media, and Shopping.

ThingsOld

The more I started using Things, the more I realized that these “areas” really didn’t work that well. When I opened Things to the Today view, my first thought was “I am at this location. What can I do right now?” I wasn’t concerned with what kind of task it was. I just wanted to see what I could do based on where I was quickly, so I changed my areas to reflect actual physical areas:

ThingsNew

  • Home – Personal things, pet things, cleaning, and anything else I need to be at home to do all go here.
  • Work – Work-related tasks go here. {A lot of these tasks are technically computer related tasks, but I really prefer to keep my work tasks at work, so computer-related or not, they go into work.}
  • Computer – These are things I need a computer to do like watching a video, buying something online, filling out a form, etc.
  • Errands – And this list is for things I need to leave the house to do like pick up something from the store.

Things also has tags. Using the 4 areasalong with tags gives me a really great set up. Cleaning tasks in the Home area have a cleaning tag, so I know I have to be at home to do them, but if I want to see all my cleaning tasks, I can view just that tag. Tags really shine in terms of shopping. Whether I want to buy something online {in the Computer area} or in a store {Errands}, I can filter by the shopping tag and see everything on my shopping list. Even better, I can add a tag for a specific store, so the next time I decide to go to Target or Walmart, I can filter by the store name and see everything I need to get while I’m there.

When I first installed Things and started playing around with it, I never imagined it’d be such a huge part of my daily routine. I also never imagined, my set up would evolve to where it is now, but through a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to get Things set up in a way that really works wonders for me. {I’m talking my daily to do list is now 2-3 things vs. 20 things I put off doing for the past week.}

By the way, please check out the wonderful campaign going on for the BlueFit bottle over at Indiegogo. This awesome bottle reminds you to drink water throughout the day and links to your smart phone to track your drinking habits over time. They have 14 days left to raise another $84,000, so please consider contributing if you can.  They’ve been running quite a few referral promotions over the past couple weeks with great prizes so pass along the campaign and you might just be able to score some free prizes as well.

Signature Update

Paper vs. Digital Planners

It’s no secret that I love planners. It only takes a quick glimpse at the blogs I read, the pictures I’ve favorited on Flickr, or even this blog to notice.  It’s also no secret that I love technology. I work for an IT department, and have even been referred to as iAndrea for having so many Apple products. {I’m not even joking.}

In high school, I practically lived out of my monthly/weekly planners the school provided. Ever since then though, I’ve been buying planner after planner hoping one would magically solve all my planning needs. Clearly I haven’t come across one yet, because I’m still struggling in the paper planner world, but if I do find one, I’ll be sure to let everyone know.

Before I continue, I want to clear up one thing. I write about planners a lot, and I have a LOT of calendars and a LOT in my calendars for that matter. I have had some people in my life claim they need to book an appointment with me just to hang out after hearing about it. {Think 27 Dresses, where the guy penciled himself in throughout her Filofax.} That’s not me. My Filofax/planner/whatever does NOT rule my life. In fact, I’d say 90% of what I write down with the exception of work related meetings doesn’t even get done. I just like to {pretend to} have a plan about where I’m supposed to be or supposed to be doing. It’s my way of dealing with anxiety, and I also like going back seeing what I’ve done or written down. It is by no means some minute-by-minute guide for my life.

Anyway, with that rant out of the way, I’ve been carrying my Filofax with me everywhere for months even though I rarely even use it anymore. Don’t get me wrong. It makes me feel incredibly fancy when I grab my Osterley out of my bag, and it makes me look crazy organized even though nothing’s written in it, but looking pretty isn’t what an organizer is actually for. Lately, I’ve actually started thinking that maybe I’m not in planner fail at all. {Crazy idea right?!} Maybe I just don’t have a use for a paper planner anymore. Maybe I’m just trying to use it because I’m used to carrying it around. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. I mean, before I got to college, phones weren’t allowed in school, and laptops were almost taboo until senior year. Tablets weren’t even a thing yet. I HAD to use a paper planner. Ever since then, there’s been nothing stopping me from using my phone/iPad/laptop instead.

With that in mind, I started to think about what I gravitate towards when I do need a planner.

  • When I’m at work and have to schedule a meeting with someone, I open up Google Calendar on my computer.
  • When someone wants to schedule a meeting with me, they do it through Google Calendar, and I get an email invitation.
  • When a friend asks me to meet for dinner, I add it to Google Calendar from my phone.
  • All of my recurring tasks are in Things.
  • Anything I think of spur of the moment usually gets put into the inbox in Things.
  • Outside of that, my other to-dos are either in my email or in Pocket/Readkit.
  • And meeting agendas are in Google Drive.

Nothing is on paper. Everything is digital, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t check my Filofax. My Filofax ends up being just another place I have to write things down, and being the efficient person I like to be, why waste time doing that if I’m not getting anything out of it. Even the other things people track like health, books to read, or wishlists are online for me using my Fitbit, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

So here’s what I came up with about why I prefer using a digital calendar instead of a paper planner.

  • One device is all you need. At the very least, I have my iPhone with me, and that’s all I need. My events aren’t in a planner while my contacts are in another.
  • I can color code without toting around multi-color pens and highlighters.
  • I don’t need to rewrite things. Whether I check it at home, at work, on my phone, iPad, or computer, it’s the same everywhere.
  • I can switch between daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly views whenever I want without adding any bulk, having to rewrite things, or spending any money on inserts.
  • When plans change or I make a mistake, I don’t need to worry about whether I wrote it in erasable pen or how I can cover up the wrong information if I didn’t. I just have to edit the event. For a perfectionist, this is a huge win for me.
  • When I need to schedule an event well in the future, I never have to worry about where to write it down until I get next year’s inserts.
  • If I want to remember when something happened, I can search for it immediately rather than worrying about whether I removed inserts and if so where to look for them when I get home.
  • On a similar note, there’s no need to worry about where or how to store inserts or planners that you aren’t using. {I usually end up putting them in an old empty Birchbox and then losing the box in the pile of other boxes I did the same thing for the months before that.}
  • I don’t have to keep writing recurring events. When 90% of your life is routine, recurring events, it’s nice to not have to waste time rewriting them every day/week/month. It also keeps me on a regular schedule for appointments with doctors or when I need to get my hair done. {I will forget and it’ll be years before I go otherwise.}
  • Google calendar reminds me of events I might forget. If I have a meeting after lunch, you can bet I’ll forget about it if I don’t have a reminder, even if I wrote it down in my planner that morning and saw it on my calendar about 20 times. With Google Calendar, I get a reminder 15 minutes before my event which is enough time for me to get nearly anywhere on campus in time for the meeting.
  • It allows other people to tell me when they are available or unavailable. My coworkers share when they are leaving early or when they’ll be out. Similarly, my mom shows me when she’ll be away, and I need to watch her dogs. Simple.
  • I can choose which calendars I want to see. Some days I want to see when the Ravens are playing more than my Workout calendar. Some days I may want to check the dates on my university’s academic calendar, and other days I may want to see how my appointments line up with my daily routine. With Google calendar, I can choose to look at one calendar, a few of them, or all of them. I don’t always need or want to see everything, but it’s there if I ever need it. You can’t say that with a Filofax. It’s either there or it isn’t.

I’m sure some of you planner people are cringing at the idea digital could be better than paper, but for me it works. One of the most common things people mention in the digital vs. paper debate is battery life, but for someone who carries a battery pack and a car charger nearly everywhere, I’ve only once or twice been in a dead phone situation, but that was my own fault for not bringing the battery. Even so, I’m never going in a situation when my phone is dying {usually around 10pm} and I have somewhere to go to on foot. Moreover, phone numbers aren’t an issue for me either, because I rarely use the phone, and for those people I do call, I have memorized their numbers.

So for now, I’m actually thinking of leaving my Filofax home, and the thought of it makes me uncomfortable. Even though I’m not using it, I’ve carried a planner for so many years {since I was in elementary school really}, not having one to carry makes me feel like I’m forgetting something.

However, the point that proved I don’t need to be carrying it was that my first concerns were where would I keep my pen and store reward cards – two things I wasn’t carrying it around for. The pen is now going to live in the pen loop of my purse organizer, and I am relocating my cards back into my Vera Bradley wristlet. Problem solved.

I don’t plan on abandoning the planner world. I still very much enjoy reading about and seeing everyone’s lovely planners, but right now, it’s just not for me.

Signature Update

What’s on my iPhone?

I’ve got a bit of a tech theme going on here lately, so why not continue it with a post about what’s on my iPhone?  And why not on the day Apple announced the newest iPhone models?

It takes about 5 seconds of knowing me to know I’m an Apple girl. I’ve been using Macs since I was 2, and while there were a couple years that I used PCs, in high school, I went back to Mac and never looked back.

I’m now on my 3rd iPhone, so I’ve tried my fair share of apps over the years. I had originally planned to go over all the apps on my phone, but despite being pretty strict about what apps stay on my phone, I still have over 90 apps – much too many to review each and every one, so I figure I’ll give you an overview of how I organize the apps on my phone, and then I’ll go over some of my most used apps.

Let’s start with the home screen. These are apps I like to have quick access to or be able to glance at quickly.


iPhoneHome

  • Across the top row you’ll find Calendar, Weather, Things, and Fitbit. These are all apps I like to check in the morning when I’m getting ready.
  • Next is Clock, Calculator, Phone, and 1Password. These are all tool/utility type apps I like to have quick access to.
  • The next two rows don’t exactly have a specific category. They are just apps I use frequently or like to have on my home screen. So here, you have Pocket and Reeder. Camera+, Light, and Waze.
  • And of course you’ll find the App Store and Settings.
  • In my dock, I try to keep apps I use most frequently or need quick access to in the car like Spotify.

Now onto the rest of the apps. I only have one page of apps aside from my home screen. Any more than one page, and I start freaking out. I also like to keep them all in folders mostly organized by activity.

iPhoneFolders

  • First up we have the Apple folder for all those apps Apple insists on putting on the phone and won’t let you remove.
  • The next folder is Files. This is where I keep all my cloud storage apps.
  • I’m not really into playing games on my phone much any more, but I do have a folder where I keep a few should I for some reason actually have nothing to do.
  • I keep any fitness apps in the Health folder.
  • Misc. is my folder for anything that doesn’t really fit in the other folders. When this folder starts getting full, it’s usually time to consider adding a folder or getting rid of some apps.
  • Any apps related to books or audiobooks are stored in my Read folder.
  • The $ folder has any shopping, bank, or credit card related apps.
  • Social is of course for social networking apps.
  • And last but not least Watch holds my video related apps like Netflix.

So which apps are my favorites? {By the way, I’m limiting this to non-Apple apps. If you use an iPhone you already know Apple’s apps.}

  • Spotify without a doubt gets used the most. I use it to listen to music in the car. I also use it stream music to my stereo when I’m at home.
  • Mailbox has revolutionized the way I deal with email. It’s also finally given me a way to take a break from work emails when I’m out of the office.
  • I’ve bragged about Things in the past. I’ve used this app for years on my phone, iPad, and Mac, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon. It’s my favorite task management app, and I’ve tried quite a bunch.
  • 1Password is by far the best password management app I’ve ever used. In fact, I love it soo much, it was first piece of software I ever paid for on my Mac. When the latest iPhone version was released, I even stayed up late to get it when it came out. {Not even embarrassed about it…}
  • I’ve posted about how Pocket has changed the way I read content on the internet. Spotify
  • Reeder is by far my favorite RSS reader for iOS, and I’ve tried quite a few.
  • My go-to navigation app is Waze. In fact, my car has a nav system built in and I still use this one. I also love trying to figure out who around me is using Waze when one of the little Wazer icons pass mine.
  • Health-wise, my favorite app is the recently released Blogilates app. It’s well worth the $.99/month to get the calendar. Every day you get a list of video workouts and you can check them off as you go. Super simple.
  • and last but not least, I’m a big reader, so I use GoodReads to update my reading progress and keep track of what I’m reading.

Well that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick tour of my iPhone.

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{Filofax Friday} Using a Filofax in a Digital World

I work for my university’s Information Technology department. I’m constantly surrounded by all things digital. As I write this, I have my 27″ Apple display, a Macbook Pro with Retina Display, an iPhone 5, and an iPad all within arms reach on my desk. Sitting next to them all is my Filofax though. So how does someone in IT use both?

I’ve already given you a tour of my Filofax. Part one’s overview showed how everything’s arranged. Part two’s diary section showed how I keep track of meetings and due dates, and Part three showed how I use my daily pages. But… there was one thing missing – the backbone and brain of my system – how I keep everything scheduled, and how I remember to do things. I’d be lying if I said that I was super organized and my Filofax did it all. {I wish.} My Osterley does keep my life running smoothly, but it supplements my digital systems. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to use just a Filofax or just digital things. {This post is a little text heavy. Sorry.}

The Backbone – Google Calendar

My university has a contract with Google through Google Apps for Education, so I use Google quite a bit for work, but I even use it outside of work, because this system just works for me. I have calendars set up in Google Calendar for categories similar to the ones in my Filofax:

  • Social (pink)
  • Finance (green)
  • Personal (blue)
  • School (purple)
  • Work (orange)

I also have a few extras that either don’t need to be tracked in my Filofax, or  if they do, they get color coded as one of the areas above in my Filofax:

  • Student Employee Schedule (I make the schedule each semester for our student employees and this shows up on their calendar as well.)
  • Holidays (both my university’s schedule, and general US holidays)
  • Sports team schedules (Ravens, Orioles, Capitals)

The Google Apps suite is essential to the daily workflow of my department. We are all spread across campus so Google Calendar allows us to see everyone’s schedules and set up meetings. We use Google Drive to store the meeeting agendas that get attached to the meeting entry on the calendar, and send out meeting invitations using Gmail. Since Google is such an integral part of how we work here, it’s a good thing that this system works for me.

Each week, usually on a Sunday, I sit down and copy any new events to the monthly and weekly pages in my Filofax.  The calendars automatically sync to my iPhone and iPad. Depending on where I am, I pick and choose which way to view my calendar. If I’m out walking to a meeting across campus, it’s easier {and less attention-drawing} to pull out my phone and figure out where the meeting is than it would be to pull out my Filofax. When I get to that meeting, I probably have my iPad in front of me so that I can follow along with the meeting agenda online, but my phone’s in my pocket. In my office or at home though, I probably have my Filofax sitting close by. Either way, they all have the same information so I’m not missing out on anything no matter what option I choose.

The Tasks

When it comes to recurring tasks, I’d be lost without the Things app. I have it on my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad so everything syncs. I’ll admit I hated the apps when I first used them. Little by little, I found ways to use it, and now that it’s set up properly, it’s fantastic.I use Things as my master list. I know some people like to write down a master list, but I don’t like how cluttered that can get. Pretty much anything I have to do goes into Things first, and then gets transferred to my Filofax each day. If I think of something I need to do, I can put it into Things and set a due date or when to follow back up on it. Every morning, I get a list of “things” that I need to do for that day from Things, and I write them into my daily pages because I like physically checking things off. Once they are done, I get to check them off in both Things which saves them to a logbook, and in my Filofax which looks pretty.

things copy

I have the following areas set up in Things:

  • Blog – Any posts that I post every week {My Filofax Weeks, Filofax Fridays, Sunday Socials} and anything I post monthly like goals are scheduled here. I also keep a running list of post ideas. When I’m looking for something to post, I can look at the list to schedule one of the ideas.
  • Work – I copy over any items from meeting agendas into this list right after the meeting. I also have recurring things like when to submit my timesheet or when it’s my week to complete a weekly review.
  • Personal – I’m a forgetful person, so here I note when I need to repaint my nails, whiten my teeth, change my toothbrush, refill prescriptions, etc.
  • Cleaning – I hate cleaning. Without a schedule, I don’t clean. I’ve tried Flylady, but it was so detailed it drove me crazy. I ended up setting up a less detailed cleaning schedule in this particular section and it helps to keep me on track. Everything is set to repeat “on completion” rather than a specific day, so if I don’t feel like doing something, it rolls to the next day.
  • Pets – Having three cats is a full time job in itself, but mine are spoiled so they get their own category to remind me to cut their nails, brush them, etc. {Random fact: they are toilet trained, *weird… I know* so at least I don’t have to worry about a litter box.}
  • Media (more about this further down)
  • Shopping – I keep a running shopping list and wishlist here so that I can check things off while I’m at the store.

As you can see, some areas mirror whats in my Filofax. Others are broken down a bit more. For instance, in my Filofax, cleaning and pets fall under Personal and are color coded in blue. I don’t know why I do it this way, I just like breaking it down more in Things. Also, since my school assignments aren’t recurring events, I typically don’t put them into Things, because I’ve found it’s a waste of time.

So if any of you are still with me, congratulations. You’re almost to the end.

I have a Media list in Things but it isn’t for recurring events or tasks. I subscribe to Netflix for streaming and BluRay discs. We also have DirecTV at our house, and I happen to have a DVR. Each week, I look to see if anything in my Netflix queue might be coming on TV any time soon. If they are, I set my DVR to record them and remove them from Netflix, that way I can make better use of my subscription. I put an entry into Things with the title and time of day and set the due date as the day it’s coming on. I also remove them from the queue if they are going to be available via streaming soon. On the day it’s set to record or be available to stream, it comes up as a task (which I don’t put in my Filofax). If it doesn’t record due to conflicts or some other issue, I know to add it back to my queue on Netflix.

So that’s the last part of my system that keeps me organized. I like using them both for their own reasons, but a huge benefit is that information is always backed up in two places (online and on paper). I hope you enjoyed reading. Tune back in next week for some Filofax enabling.

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