America’s hidden gems: a review of the Roadtrippers app

A review of the app Roadtrippers- this app is worth your attention on your next trip!

header.png

Our family recently moved across the country.  Having done this twice before, we wanted to take “the Road Not Taken” as Robert Frost might have exclaimed- “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” The problem is that most mapping software is programmed for other things- the shortest overall distance, the one with less tolls, the one with less traffic. What about the route that is the most fun, or the most scenic? And that keeps little kids from murdering each other in the confines of the back seat of the car?

While my husband worked to try to find a way on a large map brought up on a computer screen, I used the free version of the app from Roadtrippers. We had already been through the midwest and south routes across the country, but no one in our family had traveled across the Northernmost states of the country. He found the general route, and the first place on the trip. Having input our destination on Roadtrippers, it selected the easier route- through the midwest. I input the first city planned to visit, and Roadtrippers automatically discovered the route my spouse had in mind. It probably would have been nicer to be able to adjust the route in a “drag and drop” method, but I didn’t see the software had this capability. So, to get a specific route, you might need to figure out the first leg of the trip, and then the app seems to get the idea.

The real place that Roadtrippers shines, however, is when you click options along the way, say “children’s attractions” or “things to do.” Immediately, pins appear along the route, showing you offbeat and fun local things to do that we would NEVER have discovered ourselves.

One of the first places we stopped was the Historical and Cultural Center of Clay County where they had the Hjemkomst replica of a viking ship and a full size model of a wooden Norwegian church (the Hopperstad Stave Church) which was delightful for our small “Frozen” fan. We stopped at the Makoshika state park in Montana, a place we would never have found on our own. The park rangers were amazingly nice and knowledgable people and lent us tiny child sized backpacks for our little ones, filled with binoculars, magnifying glasses and activity books to help us imagine what it had been like when dinosaurs walked there. We touched dinosaur bones, and hiked- truly one of our favorite places now.  We stopped at an amazing ghost town in Montana called Garnet, and learned what it was like to live on the frontier in the 1800’s. We saw so many interesting and beautiful things we would not have experienced without this app.

Additionally, the app keeps track of your hotels and restaurants, and can suggest places along the way, preventing the “oh no, there’s nothing within 100 miles to eat except a gas station and the kids are howling as if we routinely starve them” phenomenon. Eventually, I paid the small fee for an annual subscription (“Roadtrippers Plus”) because it allowed me to have more stops on the trip, as the free version has a limited to how many stops you can list on the trip. Additionally, I could send a link to our families so they could keep track of where we were that day, and also use the free live traffic information that Roadtrippers Plus provides. It also let us know exactly how long each day, and each leg of the trip would take, and how much the gas would cost for the trip.

After trying this app out on such a long trip, I can enthusiastically recommend the app, both the free and plus versions. I think the upgrade to plus is worth the small fee, and I’m excited to use the app on smaller trips around our new home. Consider giving this app a try! Click on any of the links above to learn about the app or the places I mentioned. I’ve added some screen shots of the app in action below if you’re interested!

 

roadtrippers screen shot.jpeg

A screen shot of the app in the trip mode. You can see the length of time between each place we visited and how many miles, which was useful for an expense report later.

 

sample placeClicking on a pin gives you a summary of the place, basic information like phone number, address, and hours, and some reviews. I found that I agreed with the reviews! You can add the place to your trip with one click, and rearrange the order of places to visit by dragging and dropping to the desired order.

Choosing the right planner, part III: the schedule-based options

IMG_5153

If you read the first article in the series, about a way to organize your thinking about planners and your time (find it here), you know whether you’re a task or a schedule-based planner. The task-based options were the subject of my last post. This week, we’ll talk about the schedule-based options.

Paper-based options:

You can practically insert any paper planner with hours of the day delineated here. However, there are a few that I particularly like:

  1. Ring-bound planners (Filofax, FranklinPlanner, etc): these are super easy to rearrange, beautiful, and pretty easy to customize your own inserts, especially if you pick an A5 one. If you’ve never visited Philofaxy, have I got a treat for you. This site is all things ring-binders, and has really nice printables for free for your shiny new binder. I like Filofax binders, partly because of the history behind them (did you know they were issued to students at the UK’s military academy first?) but the pagers from Franklin Planner are generally more useful in my opinion.
  2. Disc bound (Circa, Arc): I talked about the disc bound system in the last blog in this series, but Levenger makes a really strong planner system that you can put into your disc-bound system. They have great paper that is fountain pen friendly, too.
  3. Proprietary planners (Panda planner, Free to Focus, Best Self, etc): these three bound planners are not super customizable, but if you’re just learning to set goals and plan, it’s probably work picking one of these up, and sticking with it for three months. These planners get you through the system of setting goals, the daily review, the weekly review, and planning very effectively.
  4. Traveler’s system: I’ve talked about the Traveler’s system before as well, and this is still one of my favorites. They have a monthly planner, weekly in two different formats, and undated daily pages. These also come in a small, passport size, and a proprietary larger size. I use these frequently because of the flexibility, and because it reminds me of Indiana Jones. Just kidding.
  5. The Jibun Techo: I’m going to write a blog on this on its own soon. I’ve just bought one and started using it, and am really impressed with the ability to keep track of a lot of data. Look for my blog on this!

Electronic options:

You could always use the calendar on your phone, but there are better options.

  1. PC users: Microsoft Outlook is what I recommend, but most people don’t use half of the features. Find a good tutorial, and learn how to use Outlook to its full potential.
  2. Mac users: I like Fantastical on the Mac. Some people really like Busy Cal, but I found it a little cluttered. Also, Fantastical has native language entry. The implication of this is MUCH faster data entry. For example, if you want to have lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon, in a conventional program, you would need to type in “Lunch with Mark” then use a drop down box to choose the date, and then the time. With native language entry, you can just type “lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon” and the app automatically recognizes this and correctly adds it to your schedule.
  3. iOS users: I like Fantastical (also has Mac versions, see above) and Calendars 5, both of which have native language support.

Hybrid Users:

  1. Electronic calendar, tasks, and a notebook for daily notes (needs to be transferred at the end of the day). There’s a great article about this, that I discuss in my article about Hybrid planning here.
  2. Disc bound system- keep schedule on computer, and print calendars to add to disc bound system. Easy! The Levenger Circa system is standard letter size, or half a sheet of letter size paper, so it’s very convenient.
  3. Moleskine smartpen and planner, others similar on Kickstarter: these are pretty expensive options, and I haven’t seen many reviews of them. I can’t recommend for or against since I haven’t seen them in action.
  4. PDF planner pages, tablet and smart pen (GoodNotes, OneNote): there’s a whole community of people you never even knew using on their iPad pro with the app GoodNotes. Here’s a good video on it from Bohoberry.

I hope this gave you some good ideas! Are you using a different schedule-based planner and loving it? Feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you- use the comment form below, and I’ll respond to you!

 

 

Calm app review: worth the money?

Calm app review: worth the money?

I have been a dedicated Headspace user, and in an effort to let some of the many subscriptions I have run out, I started using the Insight Timer app, which I still highly recommend [here]. However, Groupon had a discount on the Calm app, and I took the opportunity to try it out for a year at a much reduced cost. I was particularly interested in Calm since it was named App of the year by the App Store in 2017, and has such good reviews.

The good….

Like Headspace, Calm has many different series of meditation classes, each building on the last. There is a good selection, from beginning meditation with several levels of guidance, to anxiety, sleep, relationships, self-care, etc. There’s a body scan version of meditation, for fans of Andy on Headspace. There’s an “insight of the day” which I particularly like.

Like the Insight Timer app, there is relaxing music, with the purpose of helping you sleep, focus, or simply unwind with nature sounds. The music is a little repetitive, and many consist of short loops of music played over and over for 30 minutes or so. Still, some of it is nice to focus on other tasks with, since the music is so simple- it isn’t distracting.

The masterclasses are new for the app, which mostly seem like well-researched options. In particular, the “Rethinking Depression” masterclass has classes on exercise in depression, sunlight, nutrition, social connection, sleep, and negative thoughts, all of which have basis in the scientific literature. I haven’t listened to the entire group of sessions, so I can’t speak about every claim that the instructor makes, however. There’s also Masterclasses on rest, breaking bad habits, and social media/screen addiction. My only quibble is that there is officially no official “screen addiction” diagnosis, but I understand what the instructor is getting at.

The interface is easy to use, engaging, and as advertised, calming. I have had no crashes or bugs. It keeps track of how long you’ve been meditating daily, and can write to Apple Health. It also keeps track of streaks, to help motivate you into meditating more often!

The not-as-good…

Calm works best on a subscription and it’s not cheap. In fact, $59.99 per year seems like a lot to me, though you can get it for $12.99 per month and $299.99 lifetime. Groupon had a sale, and I think it was $39 for a year, which was worth trying for me. Another negative: I haven’t seen a ton of updates and new features since I bought the premium app, other than a few Masterclasses, which I discussed above.

Each meditation ends with some nice quote, which I love, and supposedly you can share it on Facebook or Twitter, but that has never actually shown up as a quote on my Facebook feed, which is a bummer.

Features that the Jury is still out on…

Calm is one of the only apps (maybe the only app) that has a bedtime story function. There are a variety of stories, mostly excerpts of classics. The narrators are of varying qualities and I found some quite monotone. There’s a kids’ bedtime story function, and some of those stories can be found in the regular adult bedtime stories. I tried a variety of the stories with my children who fight sleep as if it is the enemy, and though they LOVE to be read to, they were thoroughly unimpressed by the stories.

I discussed the music above- it can occasionally be repetitive but is overall nice. I particularly liked the nature sounds. However, the music on Insight Timer, which is free with some non-essential paid functions, is more interesting, and mostly not loop generated.

Will I renew next year?

I’m uncertain. I will probably wait to see if there are any great features I can’t live with out, and then consider either Stop, Breath and Think plus the Insight Timer for music, or just stick with the Insight Timer altogether.

There are a TON of new meditation apps since I last reviewed them- which ones do you like? Let me know in the comments below!

DayOne app: not just a journal!

DayOne app: not just a journal!

I get asked fairly frequently by people how I manage my morning ritual since I advocate for this as part of an overall lifestyle change for patients. A big part of my morning ritual- and life planning- involves the DayOne app. I use it on my Mac most often, but I also use it on the iPad, iPhone, and probably eventually, on the web version. There are people who use DayOne in a much more sophisticated way than I do, but I think it’s worth talking about how to use this app in a simple, but useful way that reduces the amount of paper I carry around, improves my ability to plan, and helps me keep the things that matter to me at the top of my list. So how am I using DayOne?

As a Journal.

I think DayOne shines as a journal. Yes, you can use OneNote just as easily. But to me, DayOne has a cleaner, nicer interface. There are more ways to get material into DayOne for me- or at least, they are more easily accessed. Locations and weather get added automatically.

I feel a little conflicted in general about digital journaling- for one, the recent security issues with multiple websites have made me a little more cautious about what I put on line, and made me think about how I interact with technology in general. Secondly, there are good studies that writing by hand is very different in terms of memory and processing information than typing is. On the other hand, I’m not studying a journal entry, and there’s no test at the end of the semester here. DayOne allows me to take a photo of something with my iPhone during my day (today, a huge meadow of spring daffodils I saw from the train window), and then write about it in the evening. I can save the best of photos from my kids, along with my journal entries, and then have the journals printed (DayOne has a handy book printing option) at the end of the year. I use public transportation, and traveling light is important to me- carrying a heavy hardback journal isn’t part of my plan right now.

As a planning tool.

I love Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner ™. I also love the Panda Planner ™. If you’re looking for a bound, hardback or in the case of the Panda Planner, paperback planner, I can happily recommend these. What I really like about both of these planners (and other planners like these) is that they assist in the reflection and practical goal planning necessary to make progress. The idea of breaking goals down into practical steps, reviewing your progress daily, and making the next step clear, really helps me stay focused. Both of these paper planners excel at this. However, I work in a fast-paced medical environment, with multiple meetings, many of which repeat weekly. You might think that I would remember these repeating meetings that occur at the same time every week, but sadly, this is not what happens. I FREQUENTLY make plans for the exact same time as the meeting that occurs twice a week, at the same time every week. It helps me to have these on my calendar, so I literally cannot plan over them, even if it clutters up my calendar somewhat. Additionally, I don’t want to carry around a planner for the same reason I don’t really carry a journal- it’s inconvenient to have a written planner on rounds in the hospital, on the metro or bus, etc.

So, what I’ve done, is re-create these goal planning and monthly/weekly/daily planning worksheets electronically. I use a text expander program to create planning templates with just a few keystrokes, that focus my day. In the morning, I open a DayOne entry in my life planning journal, and type (tilda) 5m, which tells my text expander program to add my daily template to the journal. Here, I type what I am grateful for, what my three biggest goals for the day are, and what my meditation for the day is. In the evening, I come back to this entry, and at the evening portion of the daily template: what was successful that day, and what I could have done better.

I also have a weekly version of this that helps guide my weekly planning. I’ve referenced this in my blog post about Things 3 before, but not in detail. My weekly template, added to DayOne with “(tilda) week”, gives me a chance to reflect on how I did with my weekly goal, what I’ll change, and what my three biggest goals for the week will be. The Things 3 weekly review prompts the DayOne entry as part of the workflow- along with reviewing marginalia, my inbox in Evernote and email, Instapaper, etc, so that I keep on top of all my inboxes, and don’t get overwhelmed.

As a commonplace book.

Commonplace books used to be…well, common, among serious readers and students of life. All kinds of historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, had one. They could include thoughts, quotes from books, etc, so they were available for quick reference. There are some nice articles about commonplace books online- Ryan Holliday seems to have revived the custom in the last few years with his article you can find HERE. I tried his index card method, and perhaps I’m still not done with experimenting with that method, but I read a LOT of articles, magazines, newspapers, and books digitally, and the idea of copying them down is a little daunting. I think the idea of improved retention of the material when it is hand written is more important here. However, if I’m never getting around to that because I’m busy as a physician, mom to little kids, etc, waiting until my life is less busy to copy down quotes from the eighty something books I read last year is probably not practical.

For that reason, I tried using One Note as a common place book, but I am not crazy about the interface- plus, I’m already paying for Evernote and DayOne, which are both potential options for common place books. I think either would be a really reasonable option. For now, I’m using DayOne, in essentially exactly the way that was detailed by Chris Bowler in the Sweet Setup Blog, which you can read HERE. He gives really nice instructions, in a three-part series, on how to set up your own Commonplace book in DayOne.

Other ideas.

I think there are a lot of other good ideas for DayOne, some of which they feature on their blog. Ways I have seen others use DayOne include a prayer or spiritual journal (using text expander to create templates for bible study), a wine tasting journal (just snap a photo of the label and tap a few impressions on the keyboard which you can expand later) and even a Tarot card reading journal (same idea as the wine tasting journal, essentially). I’ve even seen people use DayOne for time logging, though there might be dedicated apps that work better for this.

I’d love to hear how you use DayOne! Please comment using the form below- I’m always looking for new ideas to use a favorite program!

How the new Things 3 app is literally changing my life (along with DayOne)

I admit how much I love planning, technology, apps and the like. I consider the difference between planning methods (digital or paper? Mac app or web app? A combination of both?) as carefully as I timed having a family.  I might only be kidding a little. Or not kidding at all. Anyway, I have found a combination of apps that are changing my life right now.

I am a Mac user in general, but in my work, PC is the law of the land. I am also aware of all the research regarding how writing things down helps you cement them in your mind. However, I also travel light being a public transportation commuter, and it’s not as if I want or need to recall my calendar perfectly. That’s what reminders and the prompting from my apple watch are for! Right now for me, a combination of apps has really helped me get focused.

I was recently encouraged to try Things 3, the newly released app on Mac, iPad and iPhone by Cultured Code, from a  thread on the Asian Efficiency Dojo website. I am really glad I did! My method is adapted from one of the users, Tor Rogn. I have a Daily project that recurs and keeps me accountable with my daily rituals. It also reminds me of what my current next steps are for goals, and what I’m working on that week. Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 3.04.07 PM

Each morning, I get up early, and start my morning ritual, which I’ve made a screen shot of the checklist from the daily project above:

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 3.04.19 PM

I meditate using the Insight Timer that I blogged about a few weeks ago, and I write a five minute journal entry to help me remember what my priorities are and what I am grateful for. I do this via the DayOne app and a text expander- in this case, Typeit4me.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 4.37.03 PM

Throughout the day, I use the daily checklist to help me guide my day. At night, I complete the 5 minute journal. On Sunday, I have a weekly review project that automatically comes up in Things (in two screen shots, since it’s longer than my screen). This helps me ensure that I have collected all the data for the week, and get ready for the week ahead with a minimum of trauma.

The task prompts me to review my goals, and work out what makes the most difference in DayOne- again, using a prompt from a text expander. I was using the Focus journal from Michael Hyatt, and I’ve used his weekly review in my electronic version (I have the journal, but don’t want to lug it around).

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 4.45.49 PM

What are you doing for your organization and weekly reviews? Let me know below how you’re staying on top of things!

Insight Timer: a meditation app worth a second look

A long time ago, I downloaded Insight Timer, an app that to the best of my recollection, did the one thing it was for in an attractive way. In other words, it timed my meditation and had a nice mindfulness bell at the beginning and end. At the time, that is all it did. You could change the timer, the way that it counted down meditation, and the sound it made to signal completion, but that was basically it. At the time, that didn’t seem like enough to earn it’s keep on my iPhone and I deleted it.

However, I recently joined an online group where the moderator had started an Insight Timer group to meditate together. An Insight Timer group? I decided to review the app again. To my surprise, the app has become so much more than I recalled- in fact, it has become my primary meditation app. I even cancelled my headspace subscription!

The original Insight Timer app is still there, under the Timer tab at the bottom of the app. You can still choose what starting and ending bell you prefer (there are more choices for a small fee of $2.99). You can choose a background noise, like a sound bath, which may amplify the effects of meditation ( see this article). Again, there are different options for a small fee- this time, $1.99.

The part of the app which has really stood out for me, and is free, are the new guided meditations and music. The guided meditations are from different teachers of different spiritualities and points of view- some are specifically aimed at a type of spirituality or religion, and some are more aimed at general mindfulness and health. I was impressed to see Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, all for free! I’ve been using the guided meditation, “Morning Meditation with Music” by Jonathan Lehmann most mornings, and really like it. There is also a music section that has binaural beats, which in studies, have been shown to help with anxiety (you need headphones for these). I’ve been listening to “Whispering Notes” by Pablo Arellano at night. I can’t tell you specifically what it sounds like past the first fifteen minutes because I  have been completely asleep by then…every. Single. Night.

There are also groups of different meditators, who opt to meditate at the same time, or just offer support on a basic wall dedicated to that group. I haven’t explored these much yet. You can add friends as well and communicate via the app. I haven’t decided exactly what I think of that-you can opt to turn off this feature, and had I started off again today, I might have chosen to turn this feature off. I have had a few people sending me odd, intrusive questions that I chose to ignore in general.

Overall, if you’re planning to start a meditation practice, I can’t recommend this app enough. Recent updates show that the company is working towards organizing the guided meditation and music in a way that enhances the experience for the user.

What meditation app are you using? I would love to hear via your comments below!0E70ADC7-E63F-4BBF-A47E-3399C6C85484

Airmail: helping me get to inbox zero!

img_b83d68a29e97-1

I don’t know about you, but one of my most neglected daily tasks is email processing. I am really terrible at letting email pile up. However, I have found an app that really helps me stay on top of the email monster. I’m currently using Airmail 3 (www.airmailapp.com) on my MacBook air and on my iPhone and iPad, and love the program. I’ve been using it for about 4 months now, and I don’t think I’ll change, which is REALLY saying something since searching for new apps is some kind of compulsion for me. The apps are $9.99 for the mac, and $4.99 for iOS. I think that the cost is worth it.

The app is very fast- faster than the native client. There is also an apple watch app, that is useful, allowing you to delete mail from your watch. Where the app changes things for me is in the integration with other apps. For instance, I use Todoist for my tasks. With this app, you can send an email as a task to Todoist with a click. The same goes for Evernote if you’d like to save an email. Several other services, including Trello, Fantastical, Deliveries (track all those packages you get with a click!), Dropbox, Dayone are all included, and there are many, many more. I deal with the email right away by sending it to whatever app or folder it needs to go to, then archive the original email.

You can also mark an email as spam with a click, create a PDF from the email, add contacts, mute, block, add senders to VIP, make a memo with the email, “snooze” the email until later…You can also unsubscribe to an email mailing list with a click, but this has variable levels of success, I’ve noticed.

The actions are available as a drop down menu, or with a swipe from the inbox list of emails- it makes dealing with email almost as fast from the iPhone than it is with a Mac. It can manage multiple email accounts, and was very easy to set up. The interface is clean, easy to read, and pleasing. This has become one of my favorite, and most used apps, and a definite step up from the Apple Mail that is built into your phone and Mac.

How do you keep up with your email? Have you found an app that you like?