Productivity Tools Overview

6 minute read

I find myself stumbling to start writing so thought it would be good to get started with a quick overview of my most used useful productivity devices and apps and how I use them. I’ll get into my ‘system’ in another post.

Devices

My iPad Mini and iPhone 4S

My iPad Mini and iPhone 4S

iPhone

My first iPhone was an iPhone 3GS and that got replaced with the iPhone 4S when that came out. Before that I had various flip phones but they didn’t help me to be more productive. I was still in the land of paper to do lists and occasional paper calendars and organisers. I was certainly not organised in any way.

The portability of the iPhone combined with the apps and always on connection are what really drive me.

It’s worth mentioning the Mobile networks I’ve been, I started with O2 on a pretty poor £35 per month plan. But now I’m taking the buy the phone then shop around for a good contract with unlimited data, Three and GiffGaff are the best options in the UK, although it’s not without problems.

iPad Mini

I got an iPad Mini as soon as I could, we had an iPad 2 in the house and I always felt it was a little too big. I kept reading about all these great apps on the iPad but I couldn’t use them. I even considered moving outside Apple and maybe getting a Nexus 7. But as with the iPhone, it’s all about the apps. The smaller form factor really sold me. I just wish I’d waited for the cellular version. More on that later.

iMac

Although I do have a Mac in the house (2007 iMac), it rarely gets used and has been relegated to an archiving / file server. I’m reluctant to buy any apps or spend time making it more efficient as I don’t use it unless I really have to. I’m typing this on my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard but did use the Mac for some of the fiddlier editing, like adding in affiliate links.

Apps

iPhone Homescreen

iPhone Homescreen

iPhone Homescreen

iPhone Homescreen

It’s worth mentioning a few of the apps I used in the early days, Todo by Appigo by is a worthy mention but I eventually dropped it in favour of Omnifocus. I used the Built-in Reminders app and loved the shared reminders functionality but that was about it.

Just a note on the apps I tend to chose, I prefer universal apps that sync.

Omnifocus

Omnifocus is my main task and project manager, although that’s project in the GTD sense. I resisted Omnifocus for a long time because I’m cheap but gradually after trying many alternatives I tried it out and found it was worth the money. First with the iPhone app which worked pretty well on it’s own for a while, but I was finding weekly reviews very difficult to do and I’d heard a lot of good things about the iPad app so finally got it with my shiny new iPad Mini. I’m so glad I did it has made things so much clearer combined with some best practices like using start date and putting everything I’m not working on, on hold.

And although I’ve used the trial version of the Mac app and I’m in the testing group for Omnifocus 2 it’s not very likely I’m going to be using it on the Mac enough to justify the cost. Although it does mean I miss some of nice features like archiving and custom perspectives.

Day One

I started using Day One the journaling app at the beginning of this year and although I haven’t kept my personal journal up very well I’ve found a lot of other uses for it including capturing my daily outcomes and progress against them and use Brett Terpstra’s Excellent Slogger. It’s definitely an app I want to make more use of.

Drafts

Drafts is bit of geeky app as it’s essentially a lightweight app for writing text and the sending it somewhere. This could be to Omnifocus (via Maildrop) or directly to an app. It’s also possible to write custom URL schemes to launch apps that support it. The main reason for using Draft is speed of capture, especially when you’re not sure where the text you’re typing is going to end up. My only criticism is the lack of shortcut keys for Markdown.

TextExpander touch

I haven’t used TextExpander for too long as it’s is limited to journal the templates and the occasional markdown snippet. As with Drafts I want to use this more. I’m sure as I blog more I’ll see more of a need.

Trunk Notes

After much research I chose Trunk Notes as my text editor of choice due to it’s markdown support, scripting and wiki functionality. It’s worked out ok so far, but the are some friction points.

iThoughtsHD

I’ve always found mind mapping a good way to get my thoughts out of my head but I struggled with paper mind mapping as they quickly became a complete mess. iThoughtsHD (on the iPad) helps with that and it’s one of those rare apps that is being actively developed and has regular updates.

Feedly

I consider RSS feeds an important part of my productivity as it’s one of the main ways I keep up to date with interesting and informative blogs. Feedly helps me to whizz through my feeds with a flick of my thumb. Feedly is my skimming app, I don’t do much reading in it and it got a lot more popular since Google Reader announced it was shutting up shop.

Pocket

Pocket is where most of my reading takes place and it usually happens on the iPad. If there are actions off the back of my reading it usually goes to Omnifocus as an action and rarely the whole article. I use browser plugins to get things into Pocket and it’s an important part of my research workflow.

DropBox

I don’t give DropBox a lot of credit but it does join a lot of things together for me, mainly iThoughtsHD and Trunk Notes.

Books

Getting Things Done

I first read Getting Things Done in 2004 and dived right into the whole framework, the only thing that really stuck with me was capture and processing. I’ve never been good at reviews and the longer terms goals. I sold the book last year and got an ebook version but I find it hard going adopting the whole system.

Getting Results the Agile Results

I can’t remember exactly when I came across Agile Results but it was probably through Lifehacker. What I like about it is the fact I can pick and choose which parts work for me. So I make a lot of use of the Rule of 3 and my week pattern matches their suggestion and I did try Hot Spots although it didn’t really work for me. I find it works well with GTD, although, as with GTD I haven’t gone that deep into it.

It’s All Too Much

Although not specifically related to productivity I’m starting to think de-cluttering is an important step.

What isn’t working

Life goals / Long term planning

I haven’t found a good workflow for Long term planning, perhaps it just because its really hard to do? Both GTD and Agile Result cover these, so I need to do some deeper reading. More on this in a later post.

Syncing

I use my iPad Mini a lot more than I expected to, and usually this means I’m using it outside Wifi and I can’t use tethering. Trunk Notes also has manual sync with DropBox and I often forget to sync and end up with 2 versions of a files. Omnifocus gets out of sync during the day so I tick things off on my iPad but they aren’t on my iPhone, although I use the location services on there quite a lot. Worst case this usually means repeating items are duplicated.

Bye bye Google Reader

Not a huge problem as Feedly looks like it has it’s own syncing in the pipeline.

I need some sort of drawing / notetaking app. Grafio is looking like the best contender or possibly Notability.

Thanks

That’s it for now, I’m sure I’ll update or add to this page, or maybe I’ll just preserve and see where I am in 6 months.

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