The annual list of keeping my flow in check
I cannot put into words how happy I am that 2016 is finally over. This has been one crazy year (which seemed to start when David Bowie passed away) — the universe appeared to go into a complete backspin the last 12 months, and I’m just glad 2017 is finally here. On the device/workflow side of things, I continued to streamline my processes for managing information when I did my annual “audit” of the applications and workflow that make up my every day. I continued to modify my everyday carry (EDC) while maintaining the ability to get everything i need to done using a minimal set of software that was any device that I had with me.
Some of the general advice I follow on auditing your tools/apps to keep it fresh and clean:
- Look at the apps on your phone and laptop — have you used it in the last 2 months? If not, you probably don’t need it
- Do you need all those documents/movies/music on your phone or laptop with you? I have found storing things away in iCloud keeps my devices light
- Do you have time set aside for writing in your journal every day? Do you have a few hours aside a week for learning? Do you read enough?
- On the day to day — what is the best way to manage your day, get thru your to-do list, how to deal with the landslide of email, how to optimize reading for content that is most interesting?
I find if I keep auditing myself, I’m able to get thru mundane tasks, and have plenty of time to learn, expand and grow.
On the device front, I’m still stuck in what seems to be a never ending loop. I get down to 2 “devices”, then something new comes out that causes me confusion and questions around my gear.
This year, it was the iPad Pro 9.7” — which became my primary travel device for a good portion of the year. I ended up upgrading the laptop in November to the new 13” MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar — which is a fantastic machine and solves most of my complaints with the 12” MB Retina (ports, iSight camera, speed), but it’s just to heavy to lug around on trips.
With my “only carry 2 devices” rule, I ended up 2016 with the following setup:
- MacBook Pro 13” w/ TouchBar — Rarely leaves the desk.
- iPhone 7+ — Goes with me everywhere
- iPad Pro 9.7 — Goes with me for travel, to the office, on the couch
I may try a trip or two with the 13” pro and phone only.. But this is something that I constantly find myself struggling with — the only constant is that my phone is always with me. Always. I am crippled without it. The “second screen” is really my problem that I can’t get satisfied with.
Right now, I am settling into one of two methods of travel that I’m still working on to determine which is best:
- 13” CargoWorks EDC — small bag which can hold either the MBP or iPad Pro and a travel “sack”.
- CargoWorks EDC Sleeve and Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack — A bit roomier, but also more weight.
I’m still trying to figure out which I like more.
As for gear that I have for my EDC:
- Powerbeats3 Wireless — A recent addition, but these are great wireless headphones (which I have switched to instead of the Bose) which have the Apple W1 chip in there for insane battery life (12 hours).
- RavPower 6700mAh Battery (2.4A output)
iPad Cable Bag — I have a bag for ‘iPad travel’ which consists of:
- Tom Bihn Small Halcyon
- iClever BoostCube 4.8A 24W Dual USB Charger
- Amazon USB Lightening Cable (3ft)
- Anker PowerLine Micro USB (1ft)
- PortaPow Data Blocker — important to protect yourself from getting Hacked From a USB Charge Port.
- Apple Lightening HDMI Adapter
Mac Cable Bag — I have a bag for ‘Mac travel’ which consists of:
- Tom Bihn 3d Organizer Cube
- MacBook Pro 13” USB-C Charger
- PortaPow Data Blocker — important to protect yourself from getting Hacked From a USB Charge Port.
- Anker Powerline+ C to C 2.0 cable (3ft)
- Apple HDMI USB-C Adapter
- SanDisk 32gb USB-C/USB Stick
- Mini 12W 2.4A Dual USB Port Wall Charger
- USB-C to USB 3.0 Mini Adapter
- 3FT Tangle Free Lightning and Micro USB Nylon Braided Charging/Sync Cable
Either travel bag is designed so I can just pick up one and go, depending what “second” device I’m bringing with me. As you can see, even though there are multiple items in there, they’re actually very small and light and fit in a tiny EDC.
Continuing the general rule that I would not let email overwhelm me for the last 4 years, I have been successful at having my Inbox below 10 items before the end of each day. It’s amazing how liberating this is.
How I managed it just needed a simple flow for every mail that comes in.
- If I can delete it, I delete it immediately.
- If it’s something that I just need for information or later, quickly goes into the 2016 folder.
- If it’s something that I can answer immediately, I do, and then it goes into the 2016 folder or deleted.
- If it’s something that I need to think about, or take action on, I shoot it over to OmniFocus as a to-do item, with context, a project and a due date. Then it goes into the 2016 folder or deleted.
The process is simple. With extensions on OS X and iOS, the flow is very quick — my inbox is never a dumping ground for tasks.
RIP in 2016
As I am always auditing how I work, the following software was added to the kill list this year:
- Evernote — Due to the price increase and Notes is now a suitable replacement. Killed.
- Flipboard — I hate this app. Killed.
- Amazon Fresh — never used it. Killed.
- Copied — Clipboard Manager replaced by built in functionality. Killed.
- CNN (iOS) — Frankly, i use this more for “notifications” of news events. I never read inside the app. Using News app with channel notifications instead. Killed.
- Dwell (iOS) — Great modern home design magazine — only really relevant currently with the new house in construction. Killed.
- Duet (iOS) — Allow your iOS device to be a second screen for the laptop. Haven’t really used; still thinking this may be useful at some point in time, but is on the short list to kill. Killed.
- VMWare Fusion (OS X) — Never really used it. Killed.
- Paper (iOS)– Facebook finally killed it; bummer. 🙁
- Hangouts (iOS / Web) — Terrible. Dead. Killed.
- Trainer Road (iOS / Web) — Bike workouts and structured training — never used it — Virtual Trainer and Zwift are far superior. Killed.
- Workflow (iOS) — Never used it. Killed.
- Tickle (iOS) — Never used it. Killed.
- Dash (Both) — Apple threw em out of the iTunes Store….
- Foscam Pro (iOS) — Switched cameras to the Nest. Killed.
- MS Foldable Keyboard — iPad Pro w/ keyboard killed this.
New for 2016
New: Home Storage
Replaced the USB connected hard drives with a Synology DiskStation 416 — its a wonderful device with an incredibly powerful interface. All of my system backups, media storage, files, etc., are all stored here now. In addition, I have this box uploading to Crashplan for offsite storage. I don’t use the DiskStation to it’s full “capacity”, but you can even have this thing be your home mail server, camera monitoring, note taking system, etc.
On my home network, I moved the Time Capsule/wireless network behind a Synology Router. The basic idea is that the Synology is connected to the cable modem, provides me a firewall as well as Intrusion Detection System functionality, as well as a VPN portal into the house. I have a 24 port gigabit switch that the internal wireless (Time Capsule for wireless) plug into. But this setup isolates my internal network from exposure on the outside.
In addition, I dropped Dreamhost this year for my domain/web/mail hosting — I’ve moved this all under Google.
New: Home Media Mangement
Plex — In addition to having all of my movies and TV content in iTunes, I have started running Plex on my home network. All my media is stored up on the DiskStation, and is served inside the house to AppleTV’s, Tivo’s, Xbox, Mobile devices, etc., via Plex. I do not open this up past my firewall though, but could theoretically stream this content anywhere if I punched a hole into my network from the Internet
New: Communications / Tools
Who isn’t using Slack these days at work? I’ve been moving more and more of my daily communications here, rather than email.
MindNode is a relatively new tool that I have been using in my workflow, specifically when I need to sit down and think about a new project that has many interdependencies. From their website: “Mind maps are a visual representation of your ideas, starting with a central thought and growing from there. This allows you to brainstorm & organize your thoughts in an intuitive way, so you can focus on the idea behind it.” .. I have found value in being able to quickly draw these out, then export a completed task list into OmniFocus. We’ll see if it sticks.
New: Mobile Coding
Pythonista — has been a complete joy this year. While I would much rather have a full Xcode on the iPad, I have been able to write incredibly complicated (and useful) scripts that are fully executable on my mobile devices. I am still in shock that Apple allows this tool into the AppStore.
New: The Commonplace Book
Over the years I have used Evernote (and now Notes) as my general note taking system, Pocket for article storage, etc.. These are still in place, but I now have one very special folder called “Commonplace Book” in Notes.
“A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”
I view the Commonplace Book as an uber-repository for the nuggets of life that I want to keep for years to come, and pass on.
It is the archive of knowledge I want to pass on; the archive of archives. Every month, I go thru my Pocket articles and Day One journal entries, and only after the utmost scrutiny does an item make it into the Commonplace Book.
Daily Flow / Knowledge Management
Daily Flow / Personal Knowledge Management
- Day One (Both) — For the last year, I have been using Day One to journal. While I enjoy the tactile feel of a physical notebook, I love using Day One as a simple place to jot down something every day. Anything: A mood. A feeling. An idea. The app is simple, reminds me every morning, and grabs “context” around what I’m doing when I take a note. Getting these thoughts off my head helps feel like less stress on my brain.
- MindNode (Both) — Used across devices to MindMap and eventually get tasks into OmniFocus. See above.
- Pocket (Both) — This is my article storage system. Every app I use — Tweetbot, Feedly, Safari, has the ability to store articles that I am reading here. I use tags pretty extensively, but it enables me not to clutter up my inbox with things to read later on. I tend to leave everything in Pocket and have a recurring (every quarter) OmniFocus task to clean it up.
- Notes (Both) — Notes, as mentioned, is my new 2016 central note taking system. With the introduction of sharing in iOS 10, it was enough to push me over the edge and dump Evernote. I have also moved away from “tags” as Notes is just integrated into Spotlight on the device and Mac, so I don’t need any type of organizational system outside of high level folders. Late Update: I may move back to Evernote if iCloud continues to be inconsistent with sync — my Mac has stopped syncing to Notes for some completely random and unknown reason.
This has been my organization strategy for the last several years, and it works well.
- @Inbox — My “inbox” — use the @ symbol as it always floats to the top — things don’t stay in here long
- Commonplace Book — see above
- Personal — personal stuff — training schedules, discounts, house projects
- Thinking — my “idea dump” — typically there are research projects or ideas for next generation tech that I want to hack around with later
- Code — code snippets, api samples
- Manifestos — long form writing. I often will write in another tool such as Day One then put it into Evernote
- To Do’s — ideas, things to do, etc
- Work — work related items
OmniFocus is the way I get things done. Since 2014, I’ve been using OmniFocus, but I did a radical change midyear in how I was using it. That’s one the best things around Omni — it’s flexible and can be as complicated as you want it to be. I first used Contexts as “energy”, but I decided to change my context system to something even more simple.
- Every item that I need to take care of, to-do item, etc. goes into OmniFocus
- Daily repeating task to spend 10–15 minutes and make sure everything is up to date. Monthly “review” on all items to ensure things still are valid.
- Goal — things I want to do, but not that will ever have a timeline associated with doing them. If I accomplish them: awesome. If not: no big deal
- Important — the most important tasks to me
- Urgent — something that is urgent, simply means something that must be done on the day it is due. Something that I have to do, but perhaps not something that I want to do.
- Minutiae — annoying little things that have to be done, maybe you don’t want to do them, but also the world won’t end if you don’t do them
- Agendas — I have a sub-context for each person that I have items to discuss with. For example, say I have 3 or 4 things to chat with “Bob” about next time we meet — I create a series of Actions under “Bob” in the Agenda context
- Waiting For — This is one of my favorite ones — I have a sub-context that is “on hold” for EACH person that owes me something. When someone promises me something or has a deliverable, they get a task in here with a date. When the date hits, I can easily see what they owe me in the Forecast view (which I use daily)
Other OmniFocus Perspectives
- Projects — Traditional breakdown/folders for tasks
- Forecast — I lived in this view previously, but now its more of a calendar tracker with the new system
- Today Perspective — Everything that is flagged or forecasted to be done today
- Plan Perspective — Things that I need to plan that don’t have dates
Late this year, I’ve been keeping an eye on 2Do (http://www.2doapp.com), but it’s sync options right now (Dropbox only — yuck) keep me from moving forward with it.
Reading / Watching / Listening
There are only a few places where my online reading takes place: Reeder (iOS/Mac client that hooks to Feedly), Apple News, Medium and News 360. Due to various acquisitions and discontinuation of services (Prismatic, Zite), I finally just migrated my favorite topics into Apple News for “discovery” of interesting related content. I’ve been pretty happy with the articles and content that I’ve been discovering across all of these apps, but it does require a bit a tailoring to make sure you’re not getting a lot of “noise”, and really the content that you’ll get value out of.
Another things that I have consciously been making time for this year is scheduling time for reading and learning. 2 hours a week for learning, and at least 30 minutes a day to read.
My flow here pretty much works the same as it did last year — whatever I want to keep or read later goes to Pocket. Every quarter, I do a cleaning of Pocket and delete things that I’ll never look at again, occasionally archiving the most important bits in my Commonplace Book. This keeps articles from piling up in my personal mailbox.
Apps for Reading
- Medium (iOS / Web) — I read so many articles on Medium, I use the native application
- News 360
- New York Times
- Apple News
I have been trying to listen more to podcasts this year, especially when I have a morning commute.
- Hacked: http://www.hackedpodcast.com/feed/podcast/
- Zwiftcast (if you ride Zwift): https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/zwiftcast/id1063161736?mt=2
- Southern Fried Security Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/southern-fried-security-podcast/id349417657?mt=2
- Cyberwire: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cyberwire-your-cyber-security/id1071831261?mt=2
- TV/Movies: Tivo, HBO Go, Netflix, ABC, Amazon Instant Video, Xfinity TV, WatchESPN
- Music: iTunes Radio/Apple Music, Sirius XM
- Keynote, Pages, Numbers (Both) — presentations, writing long for documentation
- Photos (Both) — Photo editing/library
- iMovie (Both) — Video editing
- Comic Life (Both) — I sometimes enjoy putting bubbles of text in a comic format on top of people
- Over (iOS) — I like this app — basically for putting text over images and creating “manifesto” posters
- Pixelmator (Both) — image editing, nice and small compared to Photoshop
- Skitch (Both) — Integrates (and now is owned by) Evernote, but allows you to annotate screenshots
- Enlight (iOS) — Hands down the best filtering / photo app i’ve found on iOS
- Camera+ (iOS) — On the short list these days as Enlight is the new king for filters
- Ulysses (Both) — Unsure of this one so it’s on the shortlist; I’ve had it installed for awhile now, and it is apparently the best “focused” writing solution on both iOS and Mac; but I really haven’t used it as much as I had expected.
- Annotable (iOS) — Mark up photos, draw arrows, etc
- PDF Viewer (iOS) — Mark up and annotate PDFs.
- 1Blocker (iOS) — I’ve tried several, but 1Blocker seems to have the best mix of configuration, control and whitelisting
- Ghostery (OS X) — Best I’ve found on the Safari side
- 1Password (Both) — password management. After getting hit one to many times where a website has been breached, I pretty much have a different password that is at least 20 characters (including whitespaces) on each site — I couldn’t do this without 1Password being the “brain” where I store everything.
- Duo (iOS)— best multi factor authentication out there (work)
- Signal (iOS)— Encrypted messages
- AirServer (OS X) — so I can Airplay video directly from iOS to my Mac
- AppFresh (OS X) — scans the Mac, tells you when new versions of software are available
- Bonjour Browser (OS X) — scans the entire local network for bonjour clients
- Charles Proxy (OS X) — fantastic tool for analyzing network traffic and man in the middle attacks
- DaisyDisk (OS X) — determining if I like this one or not, but it analyzes what is eating up space on your hard drive
- Microsoft Remote Desktop (Both) — SAP client 🙂
- OnyX (OS X) — system cleaner — removes old crufty files, keeps the system up and running and fast
- Wifi Explorer (OS X) — scan all available Wifi networks, return information, etc
- Screens (Both) — Remote desktop client
- IP Scanner (Both) — Scan the wifi you are connected to — very useful for setting up and securing my IOT devices around the house
- Net Analyzer (iOS) — Various network tools for IOS
- HTTPea (iOS)– Make HTTP / HTTPS requests, inspect responses, etc
- SpeedTest (Both) — Like to see what speed things are running out
- IFTTT (Both) — If this then that. I have a few basic “rules” set up — automatically notify me of drastic stock changes, etc.
- Documents (iOS) — Read, view, annotate almost anything. What I really like about Documents is that i can connect the major services I use (Box, iCloud, etc) and shift where things live effortlessly.
Communications / Social Networking
- Tweetbot (Both) — Twitter client
- Feedly (Web) — I subscribed to the professional version, as I read feeds multiple times a day
- Reeder (Both) — Feedly/RSS client on iOS and Mac.
- Skype (Both)– I use Skype every day — my work “number” is a Skype-In number so that folks can reach me on desktop, mobile, etc., no matter where I am.
- Facetime, iMessage (Both) — Essentials
- BlueJeans (Both) — VTC/Conference client for work
- Slack — Slack has become an essential communications tool (and is starting to replace massive email chains) for persistent chat at work
- Instagram — new for me in 2016, but it’s what all the kids are using today
Storage / Documents
- iCloud Drive (Both) — I’ve consolidated all my personal drive storage onto iCloud Drive. Nothing is left in Google Drive, and only work stuff is in Box.net
- Yep (OS X) — the iTunes for scanned documents. Since I live pretty much a paperless life, Yep is a major part of that. All my documents are scanned here, tagged and organized. I can quickly find everything from my mortgage to my health documents to the last time I did emissions. Originally I was using a fujitsu scansnap 1300i as my workhorse, but Scanbot on the iPhone has started to replace it. Want: need to figure out a safe way to put this stuff into the cloud so I can also access on the go on iPad — may be able to configure to use in iCloud Drive shared folder…
- Transmit (Both) — SFTP/WebDav/External file manager
- Box.net (iOS / Web) — all my work files that I need “in the cloud” go here
- Crashplan (OS X) — All of the machines on the home network are backed up in TimeCapsule. The home server (used to essentially power the Apple TV’s) is backed up on an external drive (connected to the Time Capsule) and stored off-site over at Crashplan.
- Scanbot (iOS) — Best scanner/OCR app out there.
Most of the usual suspects here:
- Amazon, Amazon Fresh, Prime Now (iOS / Web)
- Apple Store (iOS / Web)
- Starbucks (iOS / Web)
- Fandango (iOS / Web)
- Disney Store (iOS / Web)
- Deliveries (Both) — For tracking how many Amazon boxes show up at my house.
- Garmin Connect (iOS / Web) — Tracking for the Garmin 920XT and Garmin 520 bike computer
- Wahoo Fitness (iOS) — Wahoo SNAP trainer control
- Strava (iOS / Web) — Swim/Bike/Run social tracking with tri-team
- Training Peaks (iOS / Web) — Best app for tracking workouts and coordinating with my coach
- Zwift (iOS / Mac) — Incredibly fun bike workouts
- Heart Watch (iOS) — Trend analysis for heart rate, alerts when outside of normal averages, etc
- MyFitnessPal (iOS / Web) — Tracking my calorie intake
- Alaska Airlines (iOS / Web) — Airline of choice
- SPG (iOS / Web) — Hotel chain of choice
- TripCase (iOS / Web) — I use TripCase to keep track of my trips, plus — corporate travel automatically syncs upcoming travel with it
- National (iOS / Web) — Car rental of choice
- Yelp (iOS / Web) — For finding / bookmarking restaurants I have enjoyed and want to share
- OpenTable (iOS / Web) — For making reservations — after 2 years, almost enough reservations to actually earn a dining credit. 🙂
- Sky Guide (iOS) — Just interested when I travel what’s up in the air
- Dark Sky (iOS) — Best weather app hands down
- WSDOT (iOS) — Seattle traffic and San Juan island ferry information
- TideGraphPro (iOS) — As I’m often in the San Juan’s now, tides have become somewhat important 🙂
- ETA (iOS) — Great little utility app to send messages for how long your ETA is from your current location.
- Coda (Both) — Great lightweight HTML/PHP editor for websites
- Xcode (OS X) — duh
- Base (OS X) — MySQL and sqlite client
- Kaleidoscope (OS X) — Diff tool for images and code
- Hopper Disassembler (OS X) — For Hacking 🙂
- Power JSON Editor — nice and simple json editor
- Paw 3 (OS X) — HTTP request interface — enables me to make queries to HTTP/S endpoints, see the responses. Nice feature is that it will automatically give you the corresponding curl request, NSURLConnection code, etc.
- Tower (OS X) — git client
- Prompt (OS X)– SSH Terminal so I can shell to various machines, work
- TextMate (OS X) — Been on it for years, have tried Sublime and everything else out there — this just works for me
- Textastic (iOS) — Text Editor (similar to textmate on desktop)
Been spending time in 2014 “automating” the house with several apps.
- ADT Pulse (iOS) — Alarm system
- Nest (iOS / Web) — Smoke alarms and thermostat. This year added the cameras
- WeMo (iOS) — Lights in the front/office and in the bedroom.
- AiO Remote (iOS) — For my printer — can scan/print from anywhere
Finally, to wrap things up, here is some of my favorite travel gear companions of 2016:
- MiniBoom UE — really small and great sounding bluetooth speaker. I often bring this with me when I travel for races — it’s a great form factor for keeping the tunes going.
- Tom Bihn — Can’t say enough of the Tom Bihn gear. I have tons of their bags and travel cases that I use for cable/clothing management:
- Aeronaut 45 is my standard multi-day travel bag
- Smart Alec is my standard 1–2 day bag
- Packing Cubes — These are great for packing a suitcase, the SmartAlec or Aeronaut.
- Pouches (Cable Organizers) — I always seem to run out of these little bags, but they’re great to carry cables, or to organize any junk I need while travelling.
Lots of the usual suspects in the Dock..
Seeking a Change in 2017
Exchange Mail client — simply hate Outlook on the Mac. No support for tags, terrible mail client.
PDF / Scans — Need something that integrates to Yep on the desktop — 4 years in on this, may move to something that just scans to Evernote and use that as a scanning repository
Notes — Late in the year, I’ve been hitting sync problems with iCloud. Not sure what is going on here, but given note taking is one of my most used scenarios, I need to get a system in place that is reliable. May be back to Evernote — we’ll see.
OmniFocus — I may switch to something lighter, such as 2Do, in 2017. Right now, the system works, so the jury is out. 🙂
And that’s a wrap for 2016! Happy holidays!