Evernote for iOS: simplified!

I’ve only spent a few minutes toying with the new version of Evernote for iOS, but I have to say I’m impressed. This newest version (Evernote 8.0) seems to be a complete rebuild of the app on iPhone and iPad and is a big step forward.

For me (and others, if you simply google it) Evernote was getting a bit slow, cumbersome and unwieldy. Alternative note-taking apps like Apple’s own Notes and Google’s Keep seemed to be snapping at its heels. Both are lightweight, fast and responsive.

But this upgrade to Evernote makes me glad I kept up my subscription. Using it on my iPhone 7 Plus is a pleasure. The interface has been pared right back to the essentials and all you get on launch is a list of your most recent apps, along with a massive ‘plus’ button at the bottom of the screen so you can start a new note.

It’s a vast improvement.

And it’s also prompted me to do some pruning and simplifying of my Evernote set-up. On reflection, I saw that I’d set up too complex a hierarchy of notebooks, themselves organised in thematic ‘stacks’. It seems after a little online research that ‘power users’ (no, I don’t like the term either) seem to make maximum use of tags and minimal use of notebooks.

It’s a bit like organising your emails into countless folders, when all you really need to do is use the search function in your email app.

So I’m re-organising things so that the only notebooks I have are those organised around:

  • My personal life
  • Job #1
  • Job #2

Everything should be able to fit into one of these and I’ll find content by using the tags I’ve been consistently applying to my notes for years. This should keep things nice and simple, especially when using the app on my phone.

Well done, Evernote. I’m looking forward to seeing how you shape up Evernote for macOS next.

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.

Creating a reading list with IFTTT, Instapaper and ToDoist

I’m a big fan of both Instapaper – a great tool for saving interesting reading materials for offline reading later – and IFTTT, the system that allows you to connect your various online accounts and create magical automated workflows. And, as any reader of this blog knows, I love me some ToDoist action.

Lately, I realised I was saving tons of interesting content to Instapaper with the intention of reading it – but never getting round to it.

Sad face

So, I set up a really simple recipe in IFTTT which means that every time I save something to Instapaper, it adds a task to my in-box in ToDoist with the title of the article and the tag ‘@Reading’. I also have a recurring task every couple of days to check out my Instapaper reading ‘queue’. Hopefully this will mean more reading and less forgetting.

These simple tools are so powerful. If you’d like to do the same, you can use my recipe on IFTTT.

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!

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.

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.

Still doing with ToDoist

This post, from over a year ago, has turned out to be one of the most popular on my blog. In it, I describe how in my move from iOS to Android, I was looking for a replacement for OmniFocus. After evaluating some options on the Google Play store, I opted for ToDoist.

Well, a year and a bit later and I’m still using ToDoist. I’ve since moved away from Android (which was strictly a temporary arrangement!) yet still use ToDoist despite being once again able to rely on OmniFocus.

Why?

Simplicity. ToDoist is my favourite productivity app (closely followed by Evernote) as it allows me to make life as simple or a complex as I want. Hierarchical ordering of projects, colour coding of prioritisation, sharing of projects. It’s all in there.

And after a year of solid use, I can say quite confidently “I’m hooked”.

It’s on my iPhone, my iPads, my Macbook and my iMac. Basically, every screen I look at during the working day has access to this app. it’s that useful. When I set up my new Macbook the other day, it was the very first app I installed! Anything I want or need to do gets added to Todoist within seconds. Either by typing in a reminder to myself or simply forwarding an email to a unique email address.

Using ToDoist, I can stop “remembering to remember” and just focus on what’s in front of me now. I can manage my workload, get reminded of what needs doing when and maintain a sense of control when it’s really important.

ToDoist is the first app I open in the morning (yes, even before I look at email) and the last thing I look at night. Seriously.

In a world of seemingly unending choice when it comes to managing your tasks, ToDoist wins it for me. If you’ve not tried it out and feel the need to start keep track of your life, then give it a go. It has both free and premium versions.

And I’m in no way affiliated with them – just a big fan 🙂

And as of a couple of hours ago, it’s also available on the Apple Watch:

Review: Knomad Mini Portable Organiser

I’ve been using the very lovely Knomad Mini Portable Organiser from Knomo for the last week. It’s something I’ve had my eye on for some time and, after a good month on the work front, I decided to treat myself.

What is it?

It’s built to carry an iPad Mini, along with the carious other things you might stuff into your pockets. In the photos below, I’ve shown what I carried around last weekend: iPad Mini (behind which is a Moleskine notebook for work), business cards, USB memory stick, pen, smaller notebook (three for £2 from Hema!), passport and my iPhone 6 Plus (not shown, as I used it to take the photo).

It folds up into a kind of canvas envelope which you can either carry around by hand or pop into a bag. I’ve used it for the last week while working in Amsterdam and it was perfect for taking into various meetings and workshops.

I had my agenda and meeting prep notes on the iPad Mini and a pen and paper to jot down any thoughts as they occurred to me. Definitely lighter than toting a laptop around and avoids you stuffing your pockets and ruining your trousers.

Flying to and from Amsterdam, it was all I had in my hand on board. iPad Mini for reading, notebook for notes and passport for the last minute security check at Schiphol airport, which I always forget about until the last minute!

Would I recommend it? Well, it’s high quality and built to last. I’ve had a few Knomo bags over the years and they’ve all taken the daily commuter abuse very well.

It looks nicer than bulging trouser pockets and is a really handy way to carry around some commonly used items. I admit my iPhone 6 Plus is a definite squeeze into the mobile phone pocket, but it’s canvas, not plastic and so there’s some stretch in there.

It would comfortably take most “normal” sized mobile phones. There’s also a space for a mobile battery that Knomo sell. I’ve not bought one, but I may well invest, as I have a morbid fear of being without device power while away from home.

If you’re like me and can’t leave the house with a selection of “stuff”, then you might find it useful. The sides of the Knomad are open to the elements though, so I’m not sure how it would cope in London’s typical wet weather.

I also have the smallest of small wallets, so this is a great place to keep various loyalty cards and assorted scraps of paper that just don’t fit into my card case. I’ll definitely be carrying mine around this summer. And it allows me to carry so much more information that any of my A5 Filofaxes, at a fraction of the weight.

(And dare I suggest it looks slightly more socially acceptable than a “formal” leather A5 Filofax?)

The Knomad comes in multiples styles and sizes (including one for the iPad Air and one for the Microsoft Surface).

Here’s the promotional video from Knomo, illustrating how they think you could use it:

Mixing digital and paper…again

While out at Ryman’s stocking up on home office supplies, I stumbled across this little beauty. It’s a combined Filorax / iPad Air case and I snapped it up immediately.

(My 20% off coupon, courtesy of @FrankDJS, made this decision a lot easier).

It takes A5 Filofax paper and accessories, which fit into a completely removable ring-binder. It has a zip enclosure which keeps the internals secure, with a single external slip pocket.

Underneath the removable binder, there’s a handy see of card slots and pockets. There’s also a lot to hold an A5 pad which will accommodate any pad that sits vertically. Importantly, this doesn’t need to be Filofax paper, which is useful as I recently acquired a stack of very, very cheap HEMA A5 pads which are perfect for scribbles, notes and scratch-paper.

While it’s bigger than any other Filofax I’ve owned, I like it a lot. For me, it represents a useful mix of paper and digital productivity. I got an iPad Air while in Tokyo last month, primarily because it’s so light. (That and the virtual redundancy of my iPad Mini once I had an iPhone 6 Plus).

The iPad doesn’t add a huge amount of weight to the Filofax and, as long as I’m choosy as to the paper that I keep in the binder, it shouldn’t get too heavy. For a start, I took out the diary and contacts pages that were included. This short of information is covered by my iPad. The binder is now set up with various kinds of note-paper, which I’ve divided up according to the projects I’m working on right now.

In terms of keeping paper to a useful minimum, I spent a useful couple of hours yesterday emptying my various binders and notebooks of contents I want to keep: notes, conference materials, flyers etc. All scanned into Evernote and then shredded/binned as appropriate. My A5 Original was half its weight by the time I’d finished. So it’s probably a good idea to do this weekly, at least.

Will this replace all my other Filofaxes?

No, because sticking to the A5 size means it’s easy and very quick to move between one and another. My A5 Original now seems to be my lightest, followed by the A5 Finsbury. You could argue that a man really only needs one Filofax. But that is rational thinking and, as we all know by now, my relationship with paper and Filofaxes in particular is not at all rational!