Organising the Nexus 6P

The adjustment from iOS to Android isn’t as significant as it used to be. As I said previously, Android is now a lot more polished as an OS and there are so many more cross-platform apps available.

One of the big differences that still exists between the two platforms is the flexibility of the Android interface. You can choose your own launcher, layout, colours, default apps and a ton of other settings that iOS keeps firmly under lock and key.

You could spend far too much time on setting all this up, but I’ve just had a look at the apps I use the most and organised them into some on-screen folders under what I think is a logical categorisation.

(If you have no interest in reading about other people’s mobile phone settings, you may as well stop reading at this point. And frankly, what sane person would blame you.)  Continue reading “Organising the Nexus 6P”

Add tasks to ToDoist from Slack

A nice integration of Slack and ToDoist – both excellent tools! You can now add tasks to ToDoist straight from Slack. As I spend a lot of my working day messaging colleagues from within Slack, I’m definitely going to be trying this out.

Check out the short video below for the (very simple) details on how to do this.

Is everyone leaving Evernote?

evernote-logo

Is everyone leaving Evernote? Seriously. I have to ask.

I’ve noticed a slightly disturbing trend in the tech news: the growing number of destinations available for exported Evernote content.

First, there was Apple – you can import Evernote content into the Apple Notes app. Next came Microsoft, with a (PC-only) importer for their OneNote app. And this morning, I read on Twitter that DayOne are considering an importer too!

Continue reading “Is everyone leaving Evernote?”

An excellent ToDoist update

The latest update to my task management app of choice – ToDoist – has brought with it something I’ve craved since the introduction of 3D Touch to the iPhone: adding new tasks via force touch.

This update might sound like a small improvement, but it’s something I’ve wanted for a while. I’ll admit I’ve been force-touching the icon each time there’s been a ToDoist update, hoping that ‘this time, it’ll work’. Well, it finally does – thanks guys!

Force-touching the ToDoist icon now brings up three options: 1) a view of the next 7 days, 2) a view of tasks due today and 3) the option to add a new task. Tapping the latter takes you straight into the ‘Add+’ screen. You can also search the contents of your ToDoist task and project database via Spotlight, putting searches just a quick swipe away.

You can see details – and demonstrations – of all the most recent ToDoist updates for iOS and Apple Watch via their latest video below:

The smoother and easier it is to enter a task into an app like this, the more likely you are to use it – at least, in my experience. Making task entry as easy as a force touch of the app’s icon is a great example of this. You remember something important and all you need to do is tap and type.

Just one more reason I like ToDoist – an elegant blend of simplicity and power. I just wish all my other iOS apps were as satisfying to use. I’m looking at you, Evernote!

Day One 2.0 is coming!

My favourite journalling app for the Mac and iOS is getting an update!

In the next few weeks, the guys at Bloom are going to release a 2.0 update for Day One which has been in development for several years. This is going to include some handy bits of functionality like adding several photos to a single journal entry, maintaining multiple, separate journals and so on.

I’m really excited to see all of this come to fruition. The introduction of their own sync service last year was the start of something really big. I can’t wait for it to work with other services, so I can (for example) automatically include checkins, Facebook mentions, Tweets, fitness information and so on. All the stuff my iPhone has at its disposal could – in theory – be automatically added to my Day One journal to give me a real ‘life log’.

The update won’t be free – but how else can we expect companies to continue to produce quality software if we don’t pay for what they develop? I’ll be happy to buy my upgrade, as soon as it’s available.

If you like to keep a journal, you may like to check out Day One. Accessible on all the platforms I use (including Apple Watch!), it’s a great way to record your thoughts and experiences. I’ve previously blogged about it here and use it daily to track what’s been going on. Sometimes more than once per day, depending on the madness around me. I have a daily reminder set up in ToDoist to ensure I never (rarely!) miss a day.

Maybe you’ll be inspired to start the habit when you check out these examples uses for the app.

 

The Apple Watch: eight months in

I got my Apple Watch just over eight months ago. After the initial excitement died down, it continued to be a useful addition to my ongoing collection of gadgetry. However, not all tech continues to deliver, especially after the original excitement and glee has subsided.

Sometimes, as soon as the product fails to live up to expectations. Sometimes as soon as a new model is released. And therein lies the world of FOMO and time spent in line at the Apple Store.

But for me, the Apple Watch bucks this trend and continues to be a great little device. I thought it would be timely – now that pundits are already talking about the Apple Watch 2.0! – to review how it’s working out for me.

So how do I use it?

It’s fair to say that I use some of the Apple Watch functionality much more than others. Eight months in and my daily use focuses on the following:

  • Fitness – I keep an eye on my fitness goals through the day and having the watch has motivated me to simply walk more on days when I don’t make it to the gym. Even now, there’s something great about getting the notification that I’ve met all three of my fitness goals for the day. And it’s not just exercise, but movement in a more general sense, as the reminders to stand up and move around are particularly useful in my extremely sedentary job.
  • Alarms and timers – I use the alarms and timers for everything from cooking to managing meeting times. The subtle vibration on my wrist helps me politely end appointments without actually looking at my watch, keeping me on schedule and reducing the time I spend dashing from one meeting to the next.
  • Notifications – notifications from a small, select group of apps keep me up to date through the day. I have intentionally kept this selection small so I don’t spent my day flicking my wrist to find out what’s going on. The main notifications I accept are breaking news from the BBC and Guardian, reminders from ToDoist and when I’ve been “mentioned” in Twitter.
  • Messages – one of my favourite apps on the watch is Messages. I tend to read text messages on the watch and many can be responded to with a predetermined strong of text (e.g. “Yes”, “Thanks” or “Can I call you later?”) Or an emoji. Quicker than digging my iPhone out of my pocket and unlocking it. And easier to do while walking down the street.
  • Calendar – the main way I use Calendar on my Apple Watch is to check the addresses or other meeting details for appointments. This includes the reference numbers for rail tickets I need to pick up or the postcode of an office I haven’t been to before. I’ll also confess to checking the names of people I’m about to meet and whether an agenda for the meeting was included in the meeting invite. Calendar is probably the most versatile of the apps on my Apple Watch, purely based on the kind of information in calendar events.
  • ToDoist – my task management app of choice, ToDoist is a star on the Apple Watch. Reminders pop up in a timely manner and I can access today’s priorities, tasks I can do based on my context (via the ‘Labels’ shortcut) and make really good use of ‘dead time’ between appointments or calls.

Functionality I hardly ever use

Even though the Apple Watch can do a a plethora of things, I don’t find them all equally useful or helpful. I realise this is a very personal and subjective perspective, but all the same here are the things I’ve stopped using over time:

  • Phone calls – I’ve made a grand total of two phone calls from my Apple Watch and stopped after these brief experiments as I felt so embarrassed. For me, it’s the equivalent of Facetiming without earphones, where everyone around you can hear the entire conversation. I’m sure plenty of Apple Watch owners find it useful, but right now, it’s not for me.
  • Sketches / heart beat – again, after a couple of quick experiments, I’ve not sent any more ‘sketches’ or shared my heart-beat. It’s a nice gimmick, but it’s still a gimmick. The screen is two small to send anything bar the simplest of symbols and I find sending an emoji via Messages to be much easier and less likely to be misinterpreted.
  • Email – I’ll admit, there have been times when I’ve checked my email via my watch. It’s when my iPhone has been tucked away in a pocket in my backpack and I’ve had a few minutes to spare. But I’m actively checking my email less frequently (and don’t have it set to ‘push’ anyway) so this isn’t as useful for me. The screen is too small to read much and you can’t respond with anything other than the briefest of messages, which could lead to confusion and even more emails.
  • Music – While I’ll control music (and podcast) playback via the watch, especially when out running, I don’t keep any music on the watch. For me, this means just one more device to keep in sync with my music library, which is an absolute no. I’m never without my iPhone when I want to listen to music, so it’s just not relevant for me.
  • Apple Pay – Again, while I occasionally use my iPhone to pay for things, I’ve never used my Apple Watch. If I’m honest, it’s about being self-conscious, but also a level of control. Not every payment with my iPhone has gone smoothly and if there’s one thing I don’t like doing (living in London), it’s slowing down a queue. Maybe with the next iteration of the Watch OS, but not for now.

My top tips

So with several months of consistent Apple Watch use under my belt, what are my recommendations to others? Just two things, really.

  • Be cautious about notifications – I can’t emphasise this enough. If you don’t control the number of apps you give permission to notify you via your Apple Watch, you’ll have nothing by buzzes on your wrist all day long. Have a think about what you really need to get notified about and take it from there. Less is most definitely more in this case.
  • Buy a spare charging cable – the Apple Watch battery does get me through an entire day, and then I charge it overnight, every night. I travel a lot and find it helpful to have a spare charging cable in my bag. As I now find the watch so useful, it would be a real headache to be in another country without the ability to recharge it.

Is the Apple Watch for you?

This is really an impossible question for me to answer. Essentially, the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone, albeit an extremely convenient and useful one. So if you were to ask me “Do I need one?”, I’d have to say “It depends”. If you’re a heavy iPhone user, you might find it quicker and easier to glance at your watch instead.

If you’ve never had a smart watch before, might a Pebble be a better option? The entry price is a lot lower and although its functionality is a lot more restricted with the iPhone, it could represent a relatively cost-effective way of experimenting in the world of smart watches – without going all in and buying one from Apple. I had a Pebble and found it to be a great device. Getting an Apple Watch was an upgrade, but that won’t be an inevitable path for every Pebble user.

Do you know anyone with an Apple Watch? Maybe you could get an honest opinion and review from them. Maybe someone slightly less technology-obsessed than I am! Understanding what someone you know does with their watch could be the best preview of how you might use it.

That said, it’s still a personal choice and usage can really vary based on your daily routine and approach to technology. I’m definitely not advocating that everyone goes out and get one!

Apple Watch: my verdict

All that said, for me the Apple Watch is definitely a keeper. I’ve found it to be a really useful addition to my tech ‘arsenal’ since day one and it’s made a lot of things easier. On the other hand, I’m realistic and can see its many drawbacks. As it’s a 1.0 model, I’m sure version 2.0 will come with a host of improvements.

What am I looking for? Nothing outrageous, but what I think represents a list of realistic and much-needed improvements, including:

  • Better battery
  • Sleep tracking
  • A snappier interface
  • The ability to track a wider range of exercises

I’m interested to see what direction Apple Watch 2.0 will take and hopefully pricing will come down to make it more accessible to more people. My watch no longer attracts a lot of interest (or derision) so based on that experience, I think we’ve entered a phase where smart watches are no longer weird or terribly exclusive. Which is great!

 

 

OmniFocus: about turn!

Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying my return to OmniFocus. Yet today, I find myself back using ToDoist.

If I’m honest, the OmniFocus experiment only lasted a couple of weeks.

What’s wrong with OmniFocus? Nothing. It’s a superb app. But after using it intensively for work and personal projects, I realised that all its amazing functionality was slowing me down. I was spending too much time setting up custom perspectives and trying to figure out how to set it up ‘just so’.

It’s complexity was – for me – its downfall.

I took an evening to get slip back into ToDoist and (cliche alert!) it was like stepping into a favourite – and comfortable – pair of shoes. While ToDost doesn’t have all the whizz-bang of OmniFocus, it makes life easier for me.

And isn’t that the point of these apps?

I’ve realised that I need a quick and simple task management app, not an app that can launch a thousand ships. I’ve also realised that I really like sharing projects, something that isn’t possible with OmniFocus and is just a couple of clicks away with ToDoist.

In fact, last week I upgraded to ToDoist for Business, so that I can use it with colleagues on a project-by-project basis. Great for delegation!

Another difference that I really noticed was that OmniFocus uses tags very differently. I’d built up the habit of assigning multiple tags to tasks in ToDoist (e.g. ‘phone’, ‘5mins’ and so on) which allowed the task to appear in various perspectives. OmniFocus forces you to chose a single tag and I realised this was causing me to slow down and spend time considering which was the most appropriate tag.

Really counterintuitive for a ‘productivity’ app.

In ToDoist, I use tags (or ‘labels’) with abandon, so I can understand the perceived difficulty of a task, what tools I’ll need, where I’ll need to be and who else is involved. I work in various locations and with a lot of different people, so this is very important to me.

Flicking through the labels column allows me to see what I can do where I am or who I’m with. This gives me incredible flexibility and is the very opposite of a static ‘to do’ list on paper, where tasks appear based on the order in which you thought to write them down.

So, while OmniFocus thoroughly deserves all the accolades it’s received over the years, it’s just not for me. ToDoist helps me get more done and it’s only by trying another app that I’ve realised it. A slightly inefficient and time-consuming exercise, but worth it in the end, I think.

All of which for me means that there is no one, perfect task management app. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. And when considering which one to use in 2016, maybe try a few different ones and see how they work for you. On top of all the apps’ functionality, there’s one very important metric: do you want to use it? If you don’t, it’s going to sit unused on your computer/smartphone and you’ll fall back on your memory.

Which is never a good idea.

Back in the OmniFocus club

It’s been a while now, but I’ve finally moved on from ToDoist and gone back to using OmniFocus. Well, I say ‘gone back’, but the app has evolved so much since I last used it, it’s almost unrecognisable.

My move from ToDoist isn’t a slight against that app – I still stand by everything I’ve said about it in the past. It’s easy to use, speedy, multi-platform and superb value. But in the last couple of months, I realised I was spending too much time working around its various limitations and it was beginning to grate.

So I had a peep at the various alternatives and eventually made my way back to checking out OmniFocus. I’ve previously described it as the nuclear option of task management apps, purely because it can do so much. Yep, you could just use it to store a list of things you want to buy at Waitrose, or a list of films you want to see… but this is a little like using a Ferrari to drive to the end of your driveway and back.

It’s really not just about managing tasks, but can handle tasks, projects, entire areas of your life. All via an easy to use interface. It’s only available for iOS and Mac OS and is far from cheap. You need to buy it separately for Mac OS and iOS. But I’m glad I invested in it – even in the last two weeks, it’s been worth every penny.

Since I last used OmniFocus, it’s developed into an app that much more flexible, has an interface you actually want to interact with and even appears on my Apple Watch. Yes, you can speak into your Apple Watch and dictate tasks, which then appear in the in-box of OmniFocus on all your other iOS and Mac OS devices through the magic of background sync.

In no particular order, the things I love about OmniFocus now are:

  • The weekly review, which guides you on a walk-through of all your various projects, keeping you up to date and ensuring nothing falls between the cracks.
  • Being able to multi-task with OmniFocus on my iPad Air 2 – I can keep it open on one side of the screen, while looking at something else (e.g. Evernote) on the other side.
  • Being able to create custom perspectives, so that only what I want to see is on-screen at any one time. Right now, I have 59 projects in OmniFocus, so it’s important I can focus on what’s most important at any given time.
  • Getting notifications from OmniFocus on my wrist, courtesy of my Apple Watch, and being able to see what needs doing via the notifications screen on my iPad and iPhone. It means my projects and tasks are always just a click or a swipe away.
  • Emailing content direct to OmniFocus, which turns each email into an action in my inbox. This saves a lot of typing and ensures I get to inbox zero every day.

It definitely takes some getting used to, but there are so many online resources with great articles and videos to lead the way. I had to adjust how I do things after being so reliant on ToDoist, but it only took me a couple of days of solid OmniFocus use to get back into the swing of things.

This probably shouldn’t be your first task management app. That’s likely to just scare you away! But if you’ve felt the limitations of the other apps out there, I’d seriously recommend giving OmniFocus a try. And you can even try it for free for 14 days, courtesy of Omnigroup.

They have a great selection of short videos – check this out for a start.

We need to talk about Evernote

Those who know me in real life know I’m something of an Evernote fan. An Evernote evangelist, even. I’ve used the app for years and spent quite some time singing its praises on this blog and elsewhere.

Over the years, Evernote has helped me get more organised when traveling for business; it has helped me complete my doctorate in psychology; it has even helped me get more reading done. It’s just an incredibly flexible and useful application.

But recent developments have me worried.

Evernote seemed to venture out into unconnected areas of app development (an app to track your meals?) and launched a bunch of physical items like bags and desktop organisers. It’s all very well to diversify like that when your core product is working (and selling) like a dream.

Evernote, however, is still a work in progress and is far from perfect.

Recently, they lost their CEO Phil Libin and his replacement fired over 10% of the workforce and seems to have put in place some cost-saving measures, including office closures. Talent is apparently leaving the business in droves and while the app is wildly popular, only a minority of users are actually paying for it.

It’s not all bad news, however. The new CEO, Chris O’Neill, has written about his plans for the company and it sounds like they’re planning a return to their core focus:

I joined Evernote as CEO two months ago because I saw the rare opportunity to help transform a product I rely on into a world class business. Since starting, I’ve gotten to know the amazing people here and have met many of our loyal users. This team has achieved three incredible feats: they’ve created one of the most important productivity tools in history, established one of the strongest personal success brands, and built a real revenue-driven business. My goal is to dramatically increase the impact of this solid foundation.

Evernote’s strength is in its core: notes, sync, and search. That’s where we’re going to focus. Achieving that focus means making some difficult decisions. Today we let go of 47 people from the Evernote team and announced the closure of three of our global offices. We are grateful for the immense contributions of each and every affected person.
I believe that a smaller, more focused team today will set us up for growth and expansion tomorrow. Here are two things that you can expect from us over the next several months: we will launch major foundational product improvements around the core features that you care about most, and we will pull back on initiatives that fail to support our mission.

Sad job losses aside, there’s a glimmer of hope in that message. A return to focus on what made them great and planned improvements to the app across platforms.

Why such passion and anxiety for a computer app? I suppose it’s because I use it so much and it’s become so central to how I organise my life. Knowing “stuff” is in Evernote reduces my stress, allows me to keep on top of work and really (I’ve said it before) serves as my “outboard brain”.

For someone whose epilepsy has left me with a less than perfect memory, an app like Evernote is more than handy. It’s crucial.

When Apple announced the massive upgrade to their own Notes app, my first thought was “that’s nice… but it’s no Evernote”. Maybe in time, it’ll become a realistic alternative to Evernote, but I suspect it’ll always remain on the Mac and iOS platforms. Evernote is basically platform agnostic and therein lies a good chunk of its flexibility.

As someone who organisations pay to advise their employees on personal productivity, I can attest to the difference an app like Evernote has made to employees’ ability to keep on top of workload and the psychological release it gives people. Yes, maybe a well-organised list on paper would have the same effect, but I’ve yet to see it.

My plea? Well, I hope Evernote follow through on their CEO’s promise and work hard to improve the stability and functionality of their core note-taking and information-organising app. All of that should come before new apps and any other diversification. I also hope that all of you who find Evernote to be useful think about upgrading your account to pay for the tool.

That will make Evernote the sustainable business it needs to be, for some time to come.