Dismantling

Usually every summer, I’m going through a clearing of my life. It initiates in the spring, continues through summer, and then I start getting things back in order in the fall. I’m not sure why this happens, but it does. Rather than trying to fight it, I have learned to go with the ebb and flow of it all.

One big area of this is apps. I always try to reduce the number of apps that I use at any given time and cutting the reliance on multiple services when and where possible. I started using Slack as a personal information center last year, which prompted me to create a workflow that put my daily agenda front and center (when I would remember to run the workflow at night). That evolved when I got my watch, where I modified the workflow to run that morning to give me today’s agenda. And that worked well for a while.

Then, there was a change to the way Slack ran groups: the ability to delete archives went away. For one reason or another — ok, multiple reasons — this didn’t sit well with me, especially when I’m pulling in personal data into it. I’m not going all tinfoil-hat paranoid on this one, but if it’s going to be my personal Slack channel, I’d like to have the control to wipe out channels without archiving them.

This got me thinking about what I’m really using my personal channel for, and it really came down to several key things:

  • Alerts for Calendar events on Google Calendar.
  • Alerts for my local township news.
  • Image sources (NASA, Unsplash, etc) to get some cool images.
  • My RSS and feeds.

All of the rest that I was using it for didn’t seem so important. There was a sense of tinkering that I enjoy like when I used to build with Lego when I was a kid. I liked putting all of the pieces together because it was fun. And maybe the Slack thing was ultimately more fun than useful with all of the tinkering I needed to do to make it right.

So, I started looking around for other ways that I could accomplish those specific items. I realized that I probably couldn’t just use a single app for this, and although I like minimizing my apps, this sat well with me. What I started to realize that I was doing some tinkering again, but this time with the built in features of iOS. We’ve been accustomed to having dedicated apps for things that we often overlook the built-in solutions that have come a long way.

So to satisfy my needs and my desires, I started tackling these items one at a time.

Calendars

I’ve wanted to get away from using Google Calendar for a while. So the timing seemed right, and I moved my entire family over to iCloud calendars. With this change, I get the alerts where events have been added, changed, deleted, etc. There isn’t any special integration that I have to pipe in, and I don’t have to wait a while for the notifications to arrive. The speed of iCloud sync appears to be faster. I’ve removed the Google Calendars from my devices now, and things are going smoothly.

RSS & News

I’ve used RSS readers in the past. The problem with them is that I wanted two different things: a curated list of specific websites I want to follow, and the news. I don’t subscribe to a plethora of websites in my RSS, so using a dedicated app didn’t seem right.1 Up to this point, I had never tried using the Safari Reading List feature. Within the bookmarks area of Safari, there are two other options: Safari Reading List and Subscriptions.

I took all of my RSS feeds from Slack and have started to use the Subscriptions feature. Now I have my curated list in a single place, and I can add and remove them as I need.

For my read-it-later service, I’m using the Safari Reading List. Not only is this a native part of the OS, thus eliminating a need for a separate app like Instapaper, but I can also add a link to the reading list from nearly everywhere, including from Mail.app. This means that when I get the Club MacStories newsletters, for example, I can tap and hold on the link in the email, add it to my reading list, and continue on processing my email.

I’m also using another native app — News.app — for getting the news. I have thoughts on this, but I’m going to save that for another post. But in short, I like using it, even if I need to get better at doing so.

Local Alerts

Apparently my township website has a handy link to alerts; they have a service for text alerts through a service called Nixle. There aren’t too many messages that get sent, but if there’s an accident and I need to avoid a specific area, I get a text. If there are downed power lines, a fire, or some other emergency, I get notified through that system as well. It relies on the men and women in our police and fire departments to send in the alerts, but they are really excellent at doing so. I’ve also added the local government RSS feed to my Subscriptions so I can stay up-to-date on township news.

Images

I don’t usually subscribe to an image of the day type of service. But with all of the exploration to Pluto and Jupiter as of late, the images of space are amazing to see. We are witnessing some history, and I like seeing that as often as it comes. So I’m using the subscriptions feature in safari to handle this also. Image sources are piped into Subscriptions and are bookmarked as well.


Dismantling my personal Slack has been an interesting endeavor. I’m usually a fan of single apps, piping in a bunch of information. But as the native apps have gotten better and better, I’m starting to utilize them more often. I’ve replaced the complexity of Slack with Safari, News, and Calendar – three native apps. I’m not relying on a middle-man anymore, and that feels better to me. Even with my current task manager, Things 3 for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, I can use the Reminders integration with Siri and Drafts actions, which feels more native than a custom sync solution.

As time is going along, I’m finding that in general, the basic solutions work for me. I don’t need complicated workarounds. Even though the same information I was gathering before in one place has now spread amongst several places, my perception is that it’s lightweight, cleaner, and better. Sometimes your perception of something being better is all you need to make it reality.

  1. And it would ruin the Feng Shui of my homescreen.

Building Habits

Habits are difficult. It is very easy for me to build bad habits, and I struggle to build good habits. The positive/negative effects of habits can be far reaching, depending on the scenario. One thing that I often struggle with is my weight. I’m not morbidly obese, but I am fat. This is due to bad habits that I’ve maintained over a number of years: stress eating, bored eating, poor portion control, poor diet, not enough exercise etc. The long story short is that I don’t do enough to monitor myself and don’t exercise nearly enough; I’m not doing a good enough job at taking care of me.

In admitting to myself that I have a problem, I talked about this with Seth on our podcast where I told him that I eat my feelings. And while I understand that a lot of people do this, it’s not a sustainable thing for me to do. There are a number of reasons why I personally wanted to devote an entire episode about it, but there were two big reasons: that 1) Seth had gone through something similar before, and has spent some time building good habits which he maintains today; 2) I needed to gain some accountability.

It kind of sounds stupid when I start thinking about it. Why do I need to be accountable to the listeners of a podcast that I do? Why do I now need to be accountable to the people that are reading this?1 Why can’t I be accountable to myself and to my family? When it gets down to it, I really need to be accountable to my family the most: my wife and sons count on me, and I need to be around for a long time to help them through life. I also want to be a good role model. So this isn’t a question of something that I just want to do: I have to do it.

One of the things that I talked about on the show was time management. I needed to set aside some time to do this. And with as busy as my life can be at times, the morning is open. It just requires that I wake up earlier. And since I’m going to the gym, I can just get ready for work and leave from there. The only thing that I need to do is prepare my workout and work bags the night before, plan my meals/snacks for the next day, and get to bed early. The more I think of this, it’s really coming down to time and task management: setting aside the time to do it, and completing all the steps.

Since we recorded that show, I’ve been to the gym at least 3 times a week; I’m now in the fourth week, and I feel like the habit is there. I’m getting things set up the night before with my bag and clothing, and getting to bed earlier. I’m not seeing significant weight loss yet, and I don’t expect to anytime soon.2 But what I am feeling is more energy throughout the day when I work out; the off days aren’t as energized, but I feel better than I did before. I’m generally feeling better with everything in life. I’m able to handle stress better. I just feel better.

I’m going to follow some of what Seth said, even though he isn’t a nutritionist or personal trainer. He’s more of a personal productivity advisor and life coach.3 I’m not setting out to hit quantitative metrics: I don’t care about tracking my calories; I don’t care exactly how many minutes I’m working out; I’m not tracking my weight every day/week/month. I’m going go by qualitative goals rather than quantitative: Do I feel better? Do clothes fit better? Do I have more energy? Do I have less anxiety? Am I building stamina in my workouts, and improving my fitness overall? If I’m hitting all of those, I’m doing the right thing. Hopefully over time, I can build the healthy habit to get healthier and more active. And if I can accomplish this and stick with it, then that takes all of the things I once thought to be impossible in my life and makes them possible if I want them to be. I’m really enjoying this renewed focus in bettering myself. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

  1. Hello, dear listeners/readers.
  2. I am down 5lbs in 3 weeks, however.
  3. Seriously, he’s amazing at advice. Well, most of the time…

The One That Got Away

There are many thoughts I’ve been having since WWDC. I’m mainly lamenting the choice I made by buying an iPad Pro 9.7″, 3 months before the new 10.5″ was announced.1 But somewhere in the mix of all of my feelings and re-watching some of the keynote, I had some really awesome thoughts about some amazing productivity ideas.

One of the biggest improvements for iPad productivity is drag/drop when incorporated with Split Screen. For simplicity, I’m going to denote the apps side-by-side by writing app | app for each scenario below. The main part of this centers around Workflow. It’s an app that I’ve had a love affair with for a long time now. It’s so useful, but I can’t help think of the amazing things I’ll be able to do. Imagine these simple possibilities:

Quick Memes

Workflow | Safari

I do a search in Safari, searching for the perfect image for a meme idea.2 Now, imagine if you could drag that image over to a specific workflow in Workflow, one that makes quick memes. The image automatically gets added as a variable into the workflow, you type the joke, and you can share it wherever you’d like.

Tasks

Workflow | Drafts

Let’s say you’re taking meeting notes in Drafts. Now you have a list of actions there, and you need to move them over to something like OmniFocus. You could simply drag/drop them over to your Inbox within things. But what if you want to add dates/times/contexts/etc. for them? Well, now imagine if you could drag that list of text over to a specific workflow that would parse each task and allow you to add those elements, then send them to OmniFocus?

Combining Screenshots

Workflow | Photos

You have several screenshots that you want to put side-by-side to show a point. Using the multi-touch gestures with drag and drop, you can tap and hold one image to initiate drag/drop. Then you use a different finger to add another screenshot. And another. And another. Now, imaging dragging them over to the combine images workflow you’ve created to put them side-by-side, complete with spacing. All of this is done as soon as you drop the images on the workflow to run it.

Pretty sweet, right?

Now, here’s the thing to remember: none of this will happen with Workflow because the app isn’t being developed with new features. Yeah, it’s kind of a gut punch for me too. This is an example of an opportunity that will be missed.

But maybe, just maybe, someone at Apple will read this, see the merit, and push to update Workflow for iOS 11 while Apple figures out how to best integrate what Workflow brings into iOS. If it doesn’t happen, this is going to feel like the one productivity feature that got away…

  1. Not the worst thing in the world, but it kind of is a kick in the dick.
  2. I love jokes. Don’t you?

3 Things About Things 3

I recently picked up the iOS version of Things 3 for both iPhone and iPad. And there’s a lot to love about the new version: the new look is great; the simplicity of the layout is fantastic; and all of the small, purposeful animations are phenomenal.

As an app developer, giving users options — even if your own opinions don’t match those users’ thought patterns — is ultimately the best way to go forward. This doesn’t have to be tweaks to everything in the app and giving the user options upon options. But often, these features would benefit the app for both novice and power users, increasing the flexibility and functionality of the app. And I believe that there are some very meaningful changes that could be made in Things 3.

Here are 3 things I want to see in Things 3:

1. Complete Feature Parity

At this point in macOS and iOS development, the feature parity between the Mac and iOS apps should be the same, except where Apple places a limitation. And when there is a redesign of an app, there really shouldn’t be any difference between the two. As more and more users are going iOS only, the functionality of the app should not depend, in any way, on having a Mac. And there are several examples of ways that the Things iOS apps are not on par with the Mac app.

Things 2 had several keyboard shortcuts in iOS. If nothing more, they allowed a user – more specifically iPad Pro users – to quickly create a new task via the ⌘ N shortcut. And it’s a big omission for the growing base of iOS-only users. They exist in the Mac app, I would like to see these get added to iOS, as to make the app more usable when using an iPad Pro and an external keyboard.

The Today view is a great way to view your tasks for Day/Night. But one advantage that the Mac app gives you is the ability to sort based on Area; once set on the Mac, this option syncs over to iOS. It’s an odd choice that you can set it on macOS, but not set it on iOS. This could simply be another sort option placed in the upper right carrot icon, where you find the sorting by tag, select, and share options.

Speaking of tags, there should be a proper way to manage your tags on iOS. As of now, the only way to manage tags would be when editing a single task. What I would propose is an added menu item in the settings list, so that tags can be managed outside of tasks. This will allow you to organize your thoughts on them in one clear list, group them together, and become more useful as you manage your tasks going forward.

2. Dark Mode

The look of Things 3 is clean. Bleach clean. Almost too clean. And while that’s awesome at times for clarity, it is almost too much white. I would love to see a dark mode added. The development cycle has been slow and deliberate with Things, and I feel like this was a miss for some polish and user-facing customization.

As much as I don’t like it, there are are many times that I will dump tasks into my inbox just before bed, because I’m thinking of them and I need to remember them for later. Having the dark mode/theme added would be a welcome change. There are elements of it already on watchOS, and something I’d like to see carried into the app.

3. URL Scheme Support

I am a huge proponent of iOS automation. I am constantly using Drafts and Workflow to get things accomplished on iOS. But there aren’t too many URL schemes available.

What I would like to see them do, at the very minimum, is open up the app from a URL standpoint to allow the use of an x-callback-URL perspective. This will allow other apps to chain into task creation. Rather than send a list from Drafts to Reminders to Things, I could send that list over iterations from Drafts.

Once that is added, adding additional items like due/reminder times, tags, etc. would be easier. There are many reasons to do this: if you’re a new user, you can simply import a text list of items into the app and get going; if you have meeting minutes, you can export the tasks for further processing in Things; and you could build templates outside of the app for importing, similar to how OmniFocus and 2Do currently support. It would make it more powerful while remaining simplistic, which is really what this app strives to be.