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.
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. 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.
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.
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.