I’m not sure why, but Apple was unable to follow up on the gains we got in iOS 12 with the screen time function. This was something that seemed like they were finally listening to users on this front and gave us a way to really track or usage and keep from excessive time on the phones. This also helped parents maintain their child’s device time and make sure they weren’t using them to much either.
I was a big fan of screen time, but the lack of full controls and bugs still when controlling someone else’s screen time made me hopeful that iOS 13 would have some new updates. That is not really the case. We got 30 day screen usage history, but I minimally looked at 7 days so this is probably overkill for me. We also got a bit more granularity on grouping apps for limits and communication limits is a nice addition for parents, but have to see how it works.
The last update was adding MacOS into the screen time total. This will be nice to make sure I stay on task on MacOS where I primarily work. That said I would have liked to see much more granularity that we got. I want to set hard limits that cannot be overridden by “asking for 15 more minutes” I do this and immediately wonder why I even set the limit.
I think Apple of 5 years ago would have grown Screen Time more since their main income and business was selling iPhone, but now in 2019 Apple is turing to a services model and if we are not using our phone we are not buying their services. Now that Apple has shutdown many iOS apps that control or track phone usage Screen Time is our only choice, but it would be nice if Apple showed a commitment to it that some of us would like.
I’ve created a new post on Medium as I try putting some of my work there is now live. Check it out if you will and let me know what you think there.
Don’t Rely on Apps to Save your Mental Health
I’m a big fan of David Allen’s GTD setup and if you’re not familiar I suggest reading his book on the topic. The basic idea and the central idea is your brain is a terrible system for remembering what you need to get done. Any system that tracks these tasks, ideas, emails, etc is much better than a mental system.
So I am going to go over just the model for how I do this and what systems I use to make this as easy as possible. I use primarily Apple hardware so expect that to be central to this system. I also uses systems from independent developers if they fit my needs.
First up is what is known as you’re inbox. This is where you capture everything that pops into your head the instant it happens. I do this in several ways. The first is a paper notebook. I find just once or twice a day just sitting with a nice pen and a field notes notebook I can jot down a handful or more of ideas that I’ll need to think about later, but it seems to help get ideas going.
The second is Drafts, which I have on my work Mac, my iPhone and my iPad. I just open the app which defaults to a blank note and write my ideas one after another. Once I complete it I just close the note for the moment. Later I have an “action” that can forward each line as a task to my inbox of my task manager. An action is a quick function that Drafts does with just a simple tap. In this case to Things 3 and deletes the note although you can have Drafts save, archive or do noting to the original note as well.
I also have Things setup to collect all tasks entered into my Reminders list on iOS so when I have a quick thought I just tell Siri to remind me about it and boom it’s in Things. I also do the same thing for any email that needs some followup, I just hit forward and send to my Things email and now it’s there.
Thats’s a lot of ideas, but the central system is get the idea out of my head ASAP and move it along to Things 3 inbox from whatever system it’s in. Once it’s all collected it’s time to figure out what to do with it. Every morning and maybe once more on the train home each day I review the inbox. This shouldn’t take long and is just categorize and set deadlines as needed.
Some items once seen a second time either don’t hold up or don’t really need an action. I just mark them done and move on. Others that can be done quickly (5 minutes or less) should be done then if possible. Lastly anything else gets a deadline and gets filed where it belongs.
I use deadlines for anything that’s not a recurring tasks. This way it’s listed in someday and anytime until the deadline when it’s in the Today. This way when I review these lists I can do it early if I have time to. Using Anytime as a way to find tasks that aren’t due today but can be done when available is a big benefit of using Things 3.
So Things 3 is where I review everything I need to do each day. Each morning I look at each recurring task I’ve entered and make sure I will be able to do that and then look for anytime tasks for work and home that can be fit in as well. My work is fairly familiar, but with the studies I run taking many days to complete I have to remember specific tasks on each days, so this is all deadlines and ready to go on the day it’s needed.
The purpose of these systems is to know all the ways you might be able to record your ideas, but also how to get them quickly into the SAME inbox for all of them. I use many tools to get the ideas and tasks out of my head as quickly as I can, but they all flow into the Things 3 inbox. That way I know where to go everyday and how to find everything I need to work on.
Everyone will have a different system, but the central idea is the same. Get your thoughts down and then organize them where you need to so you can get back to them later.
It’s been awhile now since we entered the world of app subscriptions and while the future of subscriptions is still up in the air, I feel where we are is a very good place for users. I’ll leave developers to discuss what they think of them.
I know I have my complaints still. Like how a family group on iOS could buy an app like Fantastical and the whole family could use the app. Very much like if I bought Mac software anyone in my family could also use it. This is no longer the case with subscriptions. If I subscribe to Bear for my notes app that does not carry over to my wife and kids, but If I pay for an app like Goodnotes then we can all use it.
I think this is still something Apple should contemplate much like allowing families to share iCloud storage we should be able to share app subscriptions. I can’t say how developers feel about this one, but my guess is it increases the number of paying subscribers, but just not as much as the number of users that gain use of the app.
Back to my main point in that a user deciding to pay for an app to use must require and app that can prove it is more valuable than the included apps from Apple and better than any free apps on the market as well. I think that limits what an app can cost as well as how many do this. I’m also ignoring apps like exercise and video apps that require a subscription.
I’m currently am still using a few lower cost apps in my iOS lineup. I have used Bear off and non for my notes, but still don’t have the workload of writing that requires that service. It’s a great app, but I’ve found better places to put my thoughts and don’t keep enough long term notes that the tagging system is not a must for me.
The apps that are must sub for me right now are Parcel, Drafts 5 and Carrot Weather. Two fo these are under a yearly sub model and right now I’m on the monthly sub for Drafts, but now that I’m pretty established with my setup I think I’ll need to change to yearly on Drafts as well.
An app needs to be integral to my day for me to decide to spend the money on it, but I think that’s how this should work. Drafts is now a must have for me and as a minimalist on my phone it’s basically the only “required” front page app. I could get through my day searching for everything else, but Drafts I need up quick all the time.
Parcel is great cause it gives me a central place to track everything in the mail and come holidays I need more than the free 3 shipment tracking. The share sheet function of adding shipments makes this a great one I’m glad to support.
Lastly Carrot Weather you don’t need to sub for, but to get weather notifications including rain starting soon I consider the annual $3.50 a solid investment in staying dry and dressing properly for the day. I could take or leave the snarky comments, but the overall design is what I stay for.
I’ve not included services I subscribe to that I pay for outside of the App Store like Netflix and Hulu, but those are things you should never do in the App Store anyway. You either pay a 30% markup to cover the Apple charges or you pay the service 30% less when Apple does take their cut. If you can subscribe outside of Apple always do so until Apple finally decides to fix their 30% fee on payments.
An idea from Derek Sivers to share what you’re doing now.
Currently reading “The Hod King” by Josiah Bancroft” and “How to Live: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer”. I’m about half way through The Hod King and find it good, but overall I’m really spent on a lot of fantasy tropes. I enjoyed Part 1 which has centered on the main character, but the second on Voleta has been less than thrilling so far. The second book I have just started and although I have never read any of Montaigne I saw this recommended by Ryan Holiday as a good book to introduce the ideas of his Essays.
I plan to get back to blogging this month as a secondary outlet along with my journal. I am now officially off all social media except for Linkedin, which I maintain only as a way to look for work in the future. This blog will be my outlet for sharing content.
My weight seems to have stabalized and I’m down 2-3 pounds so far. I’m using the Noom app to track my diet and been on track for four days so far. I think in regards to diet I’m getting there, but now I must work on exercise. I can’t just wait for the warm weather to get moving. I don’t like using my phone or simple apps for a 10-15 minute workout. I’d like to find a game on the switch that gets good reviews and gets me moving for that amount of time and gets my heart pumping. I also should find some more ice time or something similar like basketball.
As I said before I am no longer on social media. I’ve even deleted Instagram and have nothing on my phone. I’ve also downsized my phone to just the essentials and will just allow a few apps for things like posting here and getting around. Otherwise the phone should be put away. I’ll try putting the phone in my desk at work and maybe even using my laptop for music when I need it.
If you’d like to contact me you can do so here.
Not all things work as intended and I realized that shortly into my “simplification” attempt by finding apps for my phone that did multiple things. As of today I’ve walked a few of those choices back and I’ll try to describe why I’ve done that and what I’ll need to make choices in the future.
First up was my attempt to move my podcasting to Spotify so my music and podcasts were in the same app. This was the hardest and while I listened to less podcasts and did a bit more music I absolutely hated the podcast interface in Spotify. It shouldn’t take so many taps to get to my shows, shouldn’t be hard to find out if I already listened to a show and if I’m in the middle of a show keep ip on the home screen till I’m done.
Those were the big complaints, but the little one that made my choice final was the lack of silence trimming and per show speed settings. I listen to shows at a slight speed increase of 1.1 and love Overcast for it’s silence cutting. Honestly until this week I had never listened to Back 2 Work under normal settings and the pauses were completely distracting and why I finally switched back. I did cut back on the number of shows I follow but Overcast is back in my app folder.
The next up was a calendar and at the same time email. I tried simplifying by using Outlook for both and found the interface was not very helpful and often got things misplaced or questioned what email address I was in. I made the switch back to Apple Mail as this has the easiest activation and no concern of third party issues. That said I want some better calendar layouts so I’m currently trying google calendar. I haven’t tried event entry so not sure how easy that is, but otherwise I like it.
Lastly is my to do manager. I’ve tried everything and anything to solve this. I’ve done stock, Things, Due, 2Do, Todoist, etc, but nothing checks all the blocks. The last time I stuck with anything was when I used Wunderlist. Sure it’s dated now but I wish that app wasn’t destined for the trash bin. So shocked as I was to find Microsoft had shipped an update to the Mac version a week ago. Hey I might as well jump back on until it’s really dead. So for now I’m back on the Wunderlist train and guess I can import to Things if I have to in the end.
So while I found simplifying apps to largely be a loss I’m glad I tried to see what does and doesn’t work. I am still keeping my home screen simplified and accessing everything by search and will perhaps post something on that in the near future.
So many times you see articles today about minimizing your phone and downsizing your apps. By the time they’re done you essentially have a dumb phone, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. I’m going to lay out the apps I think you can eliminate and use in other ways and apps that incorporate multiple apps into one.
First up is get rid of anything that is single usage and can be easily done on safari or chrome. I’m talking about Goodreads, banking, maybe some social like reddit and anything that is nothing but a web wrapper made into an app. Is having your bank app convenient? Maybe, but there is no reason you can’t have safari hold a bookmark and click that link to go to your bank. Same for content tracking websites like goodreads and the like. The app does not do any function except make an easier link to their site.
Get rid of any app that does not require your phone to function when doing this. Things like home control apps like Hue and the like are good examples. These might be necessary to control the lights, vacuum or front door to your home. Keep these for sure.
The other way to downsize your phone content is to consolidate apps. For the last 10 years we’ve seen apps get more and more specialized. An app that just removes you from newsletters, an app just for a certain weather report or whatever you want you can find an app that just does that.
That’s no way to use a phone having multiple apps just for things like the weather or email. I’ve done this by thinking about each function and how to better consolidate. So far I’ve done the following.
- Outlook- This one is easy as my work already uses it so I include my iCloud and gmail in the app as well, but Outlook includes a calendar as well that functions very well for me and includes easily all my work and personal calendars. The app also gives easy access to most cloud storage for attaching files to an email.
- Spotify or Google Play Music - This is one I spent a long time avoiding. I love Overcast as an app, but I pay for Spotify family and it has access to all my podcasts. I wish it displayed them a bit better or even included a podcast tab on the bottom on iOS, but combining my music and podcasts is an easy choice. Google also does this in Play Music, but can’t comment on layout or usage.
- Google app - Why would I have the google app when I already have safari on my phone? The Google app giving access to the Google now cards is a huge one for me. The google app is rarely a web browser for me and more often a News, Sports scores, weather and google content. I have replaced so many apps using this app and thinking of any more it could also replace even now. The only wish I could have is an RSS or similar system in it would be nice.
- Drafts - I know I’ve mentioned this app before, but this thing can do anything. It’s where I’m writing this and it’s where I start all my writing. E-mail, text, journal, notes, weekly planner, tasks or anything else you can think of. You can tag items, save, archive or trash them. It can handle being a note system or just where you write your notes. It works in markdown which is an amazing system for writing and being a keyboard only user.
These are just the start of consolidating my apps as I think about how to work with what makes my life easiest. I’ve had to allow Google more access to my web history to make the Now cards more valuable, but it’s a trade I’ve found myself willing to make now.
I know music and streaming is a saturated topic in this age, but I feel like it’s still so tough to find new stuff to listen to in this day. In the 90’s or even the 00’s you either had the radio or a “sherpa” to lead you to what was in. I found all my favorite bands during this time and still listen to them to this day.
Currently though I know I try to fall back to algorithms to teach me what I’m missing out on and I so often feel like that the algorithms miss the mark or succeed so rarely that I often don’t think to use them. Spotify is considered the best for finding new music, but nine times out of ten I reach the end of a “for you” playlist and it was all the songs I added already or songs that just don’t catch.
Then when I think of the bands I love like Frank Turner, Dave Matthews Band or even Judah and The Lion I think how I found the band on the radio first. Perhaps human touch with listening is still the better option. Other bands I’ve found have just as often come from friends or even opening acts for bands I love.
Maybe I’m getting old and snarky about it all, but when I find the right human playlist I listen for hours. This playlist by YouTube MKBHD is one of my favorite right now. It’s a mix of great beats that he’s used for his video openings and great for just listening.
Now the bad news is the radio is probably not the answer anymore. I can still find a few dance hits or sing alongs, but our local radio rock scene is pretty dead. The last true alternative station went classic rock just this past month making finding alternative a stretch for me. I mean sure most of my music is now “classic rock” in a 2019 sense, but I still like finding new artists and now that seems tougher than ever. Well guess I’ll have to see who’s opening for Judah and the Lion in September.
I’ve mentioned previously that I was trying to use a simple txt formatting to my blog, but I found it resulted in poor formatting on Blot and also did nothing to simplify my process. I still had to upload to Dropbox manually and then go to Dropbox and move to the proper folder which automatically posts to the blog.
That was about the same number of steps as my previous system, but again resulted in poor formatting and having to make post edits to solve issues. I thought about trying the Paper app to edit files directly on Dropbox, but I use Dropbox only because it is the system Blot uses and not because I like using it.
This left me searching for a simple upload system, but hoping for one that works in Markdown. I tried Bear on iOS, but found the upload to Dropbox was not what I wanted. I guess I could have tried to build a workflow to save that, but preferred an approach that could work on iOS and MacOS.
This week I think I found my answer. I got back on Drafts made by Greg Pierce known as Agile Tortoise. I’ve used this app off and on since Drafts 4 (It’s currently Drafts 5). The system is basically a home for typing on iOS, but recently they released the Mac version and it’s amazing. Basically the system is where you can start anything.
You can draft a text message and if it suddenly is email length instead you can send it by email. Perhaps you have a quick note to type, but it becomes a task and want to put it in your todo app. Those are the easy options though. You can write your entire shopping list and have it put it in your shopping list each as their own checked item. You can input Calendar dates, save notes or make templates for other apps.
Something else I find great is you can make the app preset to save, trash or archive your “drafts” after each item. If you make a shopping list and move to Things/Todosit you can make it archive that list incase you need to review later. Perhaps you send something to Messages to send to a friend, have text action delete that draft automatically.
Obviously I’m a big fan so why have I not always used Drafts? There is a subscription if you want your actions to be extra customizable (free version is fine for most, but not what I’m about to explain) and I was only scratching the surface of the app.
Once I had setup my sub to Drafts I was able to import a action that allowed saving to Dropbox and specifying a custom location (You can add the function to the free version, but not set the folder). This location is now set to my blot folder. So my workflow now is to start typing a post in my iPhone, iPad or Mac and then when it’s ready push it to Dropbox and it’s done. At this time Mac does not yet support actions, but uses iCloud sync so I can type in one place and pick it up later and then post from iOS.
I can see this being an influence in increasing my blogging since it makes it easier and a better place to store and sync my ideas and current content. I’ll see how it goes but hopefully I can start posting more on a regular basis again.
I’ve tried a lot of habit building techniques and I’ve built some good habits as well. I read almost everyday, I walk an average of 10K steps on all weekdays and I eat well for the most part. There are still things I’d like to change though including more time working on learning a language, learning to play the piano and drinking more water, but find these to be taking longer to take hold.
I’ve tried apps and habit trackers in my journal, but these don’t seem to take as well as the others. I think part of it is attention and the other is trying to many at once. I’ve decided to try the X method and limit how many I try to do at one time.
The X Method uses either an app or index card or other system to mark off when completed the habit you want to add and attempt to mark for 50 days without missing. The system is based off the science that habits take on average 64 days to become permanent although that is variable with some as low as 18 days and harder ones up to a year.
I’m looking to add one task that requires time tracking so for that I’ll use the app Streaks which can record the time as you do it (I also use this as a step tracker). This is the habit of practicing the piano. The other two habits are to drink 64 oz of water a day and avoid snacks at the office.
For the second two habits that happen mainly at work I will be using the index card method by creating a 7x7 block to mark 49 days in a row to track the habit. This habit is much more visual, but requires keeping the index cards handy and remembering to track them as I complete the task or the day.
My current tasks/habits will complete on May 12th at 49 days so I will try and report then how it went and if I feel it worked. I will be adding a few more to the list if they succeed or perhaps trying a different system if it does not. Also tasks like Piano practice will gain a longer time.
FOMO All the Things
I’ve always had an addictive personality. Not so much for drugs or alcohol, but things like sports, video games, tech and entertainment. I find something and devour it for months at a time. I learn everything there is about the topic and then within no time I reach a burnout and move on to the next topic. The problem is there are always more things that fulfill this rush for me.
Even when I try to spend my time on better topics or virtuous content I tend to over do it as well and perhaps defeat the purpose. For example when I cut back on my digital usage I try to fill that time with reading. So I setup my Goodreads yearly goal and dive head first into as many books as I can. I fill the empty time with books and devour more than digest what I’m reading. It’s all about reaching the end and starting the next book.
Also in the same vain I have curated my subreddits and my RSS feed to be bastions of minimalism, stoicism and intelligent writing, but in the end I spend the equal amount of time researching tech just from the angle of limiting. While I don’t inherently think that’s bad it’s still amassing content in just a different form.
This week I’ve been thinking about how to combat this and change my habits. I decided the first thing would be to ignore my TBR pile. Pick out one of my favorite reads and so a slow engaged reread. So on Monday I grabbed a copy on the bookshelf of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This might be one of the best books I’ve read in the last 15 years. Honestly for the feelings it evokes only The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett and Harry Potter.
If a book can make me evoke pure joy, cry real tears or laugh out loud why should I not read it again instead of the new flavor of the month. Not to say new books can’t do this, but based on how many have it’s unlikely and I should at least spend some time revisiting those places once again.
I have the brain of a scientist and constantly want new information to satisfy my curiosity. That’s not a bad thing but in 2019 there is just so much available information about everything and anything that you can become so overloaded that I think at least for now I need a break from that drive and another chance to slow down.
I often wonder with the stark increase in content around cell phone usage are we reaching peak distraction. With people using their cell phones and digital devices more than 5 hours a day and studies suggesting college students are anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a day. Is it even possible to fit more time on them in our days?
With that said we also are by the day seeing posts not only in places like Medium, but now posts in the NY Times and other major papers covering ideas from digital detox and digital minimalism. You can also find plenty of paces on reddit to learn about how to limit your digital usage.
Is this a change or perhaps a blip before something else. I obviously hope for the prior option as people wake to the possibility that they are damaging their mental health, friendships and attention by all the time on their devices.