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?

Be an involved citizen with personal technology!

img_8603408e5413-1

One of the great responsibilities and privileges of a democracy is that each citizen must participate in the government and election of those officials who we allow to run our government. Even if you do not vote, you are making a choice for the status quo, one way or another. We are all lucky to have the choice to decide whether we want to vote or not, and who we want to vote for. Whatever your political viewpoint, citizens are more galvanized to make a difference now than ever. Although technology is NOT a substitute for calling your elected official to voice your opinion, going to a town hall meeting, starting a petition, or participating in a march, technology CAN help you do these things more easily. The first step is to know who your representatives are, and you can find them at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

To keep up with the issues, you can read most of your favorite newspapers and magazines on your iPad or iPhone. I try to read a few different sources to get different viewpoints, all from my iPad: the New York Times, The Economist, the Atlantic,  and I read through the PBS app as well. I also skim the Washington Post. Your favorite resources may differ depending on what your political opinions are, but I urge you to learn as much as you can from reputable resources, no matter what your political leanings.

There are a number of apps designed to help you keep track of legislation. I’m currently using Countable (https://www.countable.us, free), which is available on both iPad and iPhone. I’ve been pleased with it- the app gives you news related to executive orders and political issues, as well as legislation currently passing. You have the ability to “vote” and comment on the issue, and the website reports that they deliver your vote, comments and address to your representative so they can get back to you. I have no idea if they do or not- it seems unlikely that they would be able to respond to that volume. To me, the main benefit is being aware in real time what the bills are which are being voted on, and what the results were. The site seeks to be non-partisan, and can also tell you who your representatives are. Clicking on your representatives’ photo in the app leads to a page that shows you how they have voted on issues. Clicking on the icons below their name can take you to their home page with contact information, Facebook page, twitter account and you tube accounts. I do feel like the one liner that Countable gives you for why you should or should not support a bill, while meant to be brief for clarity, is not enough information in many cases to decide- which is why I suggest reading broadly.

Another app similar to Countable is iCitizen (https://icitizen.com, free). The ratings on the iTunes are lower, partly because of the perception that the app skews right. I am not sure if this is true or not, because I found it difficult to find anything of real substance in terms of legislation- it seemed like polls such as “Do you have a favorable opinion of Obama and Trump?” I do not think that these sorts of polls really help us be more engaged with our government, or for that matter, engage in any genuine way with each other. Perhaps there is more information on the site about bills, but about 10 minutes of reviewing the site did not reveal this, so I feel the layout could probably be improved!

The app Trackbill (https://trackbill.com, free, upgrades super pricey) is another app designed to follow legislation. I think this would be excellent for someone like a journalist covering legislation or a staffer even. I do not need to have the level of detail that this app has- but I can imagine someone might. For instance, on an upcoming bill, it gives the date, location and committee for the hearing, a list of the actions taken on the bill, etc. It could also be helpful if you are really interested in one particular bill, so you can see EVERYTHING that has happened with that bill. Also, there are upgrades to track unlimited bills, committees, legislators, keywords, etc, and that comes with an extreme cost: nearly $1000 per year!

A lesser considered opportunity to get involved with your democracy- volunteer work! I like the site volunteermatch.org, where you can sign up for volunteer work based on your interests and your location. For example, if animal rights are your interest, there are 94 opportunities to get involved in the San Francisco area as of this writing! If education and literacy are important to you, consider one of the nearly 500 volunteer positions open!

I hope you were inspired to get involved with your community and your country. Do you have other ways to stay involved? Please let me know in the comments below!

Runkeeper: this app will keeping you moving!

img_eef565411012-1

I’m not a natural runner. In high school, I slogged along, huffing and puffing, watching my friends in track sprint past me, getting through the long runs with a positive attitude, and happily discuss the “runner’s high.” Blech! I know running is an effective way to burn calories, and I can remember when it was a joy when I was a little kid. But as an adult, the enthusiasm I can muster is, “well, this sucks slightly less than it did 10 minutes ago.” On the other hand, I need to stay fit, and I have limited time, so running is a really efficient way to do so.

I’ve run with several apps, but Runkeeper (www.runkeeper.com) is my favorite so far. I’ve run with it on and off for about a year, but more seriously over the last few months. One way of sticking with running, I read, is to sign up for a race in the future, and pay for it. I did this, but then I needed to decide how to prepare for that race. Since I already had Runkeeper, and liked it, I decided to stick with it. I’ve recently compared running apps in a different blog, which you can find HERE. Today, I want to write more in depth about Runkeeper, and how it has been a game changer for me.

Runkeeper is free for the basic functions, but for the coaching and advanced functions, the cost is $9.99/mo or $39.99 per year. If you might use the app for more than four months, it is a better deal to sign up for a year at a time. I think it is worth it. This is the longest I have stuck with running, and have noticed that my running times have significantly improved, just by getting out there three times a week.

Runkeeper can map your run, showing you where you were, how long it took, and what speed and average speed you were running. If you have the newer GPS version Apple Watch, you can leave your phone at home, and Runkeeper can manage your run from your watch. If you do not have the newest Apple Watch, you can still leave the phone at home, but it won’t be able to map your run. Allegedly it can still measure your distance- I imagine the way a FitBit does, which is perhaps a little less accurate in distance (which is what studies generally show about the Fitbit: better for steps, less so for distance). I always bring my phone, so I haven’t tested this out yet.

Runkeeper, like many other running apps, can also play music via the app- either the music from your iPhone, or Spotify, which is very nicely integrated into the app. Spotify and Runkeeper work together to measure your speed, and play music that matches your pace to encourage you. However, I have not been able to use this where I am running, because there is no cell service. Instead, I have been listening to podcasts (the Tim Ferris show!) which are NOT integrated into the app. To listen to podcasts, you download the podcast (unless you have sufficient cell service), then start the podcast, then start Runkeeper. Runkeeper doesn’t control the podcast, but it is easy enough to adjust the volume separately. I would love it if Runkeeper could integrate this into the app rather than having to use this hack to get it to work, but for now, it works fine my way.

I have been using the 5K coach plan- the plan is written by Jeff Galloway, a very well respected runner and running teacher. The plan starts off with walking and running two days a week, with a slightly longer weekend run. After each interval, a voice through my headphones instructs me what I should be doing -“One minute- walk!” The intervals are progressively getting longer for running and shorter for walking, until the end, when I assume I will be running the whole thing. The intervals started off easy enough that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and they have moved towards running slowly enough that I feel like I can keep up. On the other hand, my running times have improved, and each step feels challenging as well. The app reminds me the night before when I have a run coming up the next day. For the first time in a REALLY long time, I am enjoying running. I like the chance to get out and run, burn off some calories, and catch up on podcasts. I can click on each run and see what my approximate speed was at any given time, how many calories I burned, etc. I have not used all the data that it gives me, but maybe when I get more advanced at running! Allegedly the app also works for biking, but I have not tried it.

I can also cheer on friends -live, if you have the paid version. After each run, it gives me the opportunity to comment on the run, and can post it to social media (though I don’t), and let my friends also on Runkeeper know that I have gone for a run. This has been a little bit like hearing a tree fall in the woods -does it make a noise- because no one I know is running right now!

A few other nice aspects of the app are that it integrates with many calorie trackers, as well as Apple’s own Health Data. There is an Apple Watch app, which mainly does everything that you might need while you are out running- tells you splits, how long you have been running, lets you pause the app, etc. I use the Apple Watch app every time. You can join challenges (I’ve signed up to do the “I am a Runner Challenge” and the “January 5K” challenges, which completing means I am entered into a drawing for free UnderArmour Gear. When I hit a new milestone, I’ve received an email congratulations, and a coupon for 20% off running gear, which is pretty fun.

I am planning to keep using this app. I’m really happy with my progress, and with the coaching plan. Is anyone else using Runkeeper?

Using an app to streamline meals at home

img_24ce5592ef46-1

We cook nearly every day at home- it’s MUCH healthier, since restaurant meals are loaded with extra calories and sodium, and are much larger than the normal home cooked meal.  It is also much less expensive to eat at home, generally. However, we have a busy family with two adults who work full-time! How can technology help?

  • One obvious way is to use a service like Blue Apron, or similar, that delivers meal components that you then assemble at home. The cost of this can be much higher than what you would make on your own.
  • You can make a list and order your groceries on-line through a service like Peapod, then make your food at home. The cost of delivery can be $7 or more, which is still reasonable. However, we have been unhappy with the quality of the groceries, and sometimes have trouble anticipating when we will be home for the delivery.
  • You can make a list, grocery shop, bring the groceries home and make dinner. This is the cheapest, but also the most time consuming. For us, time is a premium.

Our family has found a very streamlined way to shop and cook with minimal expense. First of all, everyone who is an adult in the household has the app Paprika ($4.99, https://paprikaapp.com). I love this app. There are several “recipe box” type apps, but I like Paprika because it can accept recipes from any website. I am always finding recipes online at different websites, but they all have their own proprietary “recipe box.” Paprika can merge these altogether.

  1. Each week, we make a menu plan, which is easy, because you can assign the meal to a specific day. You press the shopping cart button at the top of the recipe, and presto! The ingredients appear in your shopping cart, organized by the section of the store they would be found. By syncing, the shopping list and all other changes are pushed to every adults’ iOS device.
  2. Then, someone orders groceries online from the local supermarket. For us, at Harris Teeter, this is a $4.95 charge to collect all our groceries, bag them, and bring them to refrigerated cases in front of the store, which are locked. We choose a time to pick up the groceries, but this is quite flexible. We can choose meals based on what is on sale in our store. The store calls us if there are substitutions that need to be made, and I have noticed the quality seems to be better than the delivery services in our area.
  3. At the appointed time, one of us drives up to the front of the store, rings the bell, and someone loads the groceries into our car, while our payment is being processed.
  4. Whomever is home first starts the meal, which is pre-planned on Paprika now, with the recipe in the app. We use an old iPad as a dedicated “cookbook” for our kitchen.

That’s it! How do you make meals more efficient? Let me know in the comments below.

FitStar by FitBit: worth the cost?

img_10e30b1dfdce-1

I use the FitStar app on my iPhone to get a daily work out in, five days a week in the morning, and run three days a week in the evening. I was therefore, surprised when I started up FitStar one morning this week, and found an entirely new app.  A lot has changed in the app, both good and bad, in my opinion. It seems like FitBit has purchased the app, because it is now “FitStar by FitBit” and Fitbit is in the icon.

The most superficial part is that the icon has changed, from the red star on white background, to a black and blue icon.  The previous app guided you through workouts, based on your goals, age, and the results of your fitness test, with reassuring voiceovers by Tony Gonzales. Where is Tony Gonzalez now? I liked him. Anyway, with the new app, you choose one of two coaches, Lea or Adrian. I can’t tell if it makes much difference which coach you choose. My instinct was to choose the female coach, so I stretched my limits and picked the male coach.

The exercises are different now- I haven’t seen any of the “star skaters- it’s almost like an extreme version of the curtsy”  (you’ll laugh if you had been doing FitStar before the update!) but there are a lot of really challenging exercises. They are mostly well explained, though the design of the app has some kind of overlay on top of of the video that makes it occasionally hard to see. The exercises start immediately after the demonstration, mostly so fast that if you are new to the exercise, it is hard to get in position before they start. I usually miss the first exercise of the set, I’ve noticed, but I anticipate that this will improve as I become more familiar with the exercises.

I like that you can choose a more efficient or more challenging routine that day depending on your time and motivation- before, if you were in a program- “get lean” or “get strong” for instance, you were stuck doing exactly what the next routine in the series was. Some days, I feel like doing more, or have less time. I think this results in doing the routines more often, because if I have less time, I can do a shorter routine instead of skipping it altogether because I don’t have time for what the plan had intended for me.

The increased integration with FitBit now allows the app to adjust your workout depending on what you did with the Fitbit the day before- if it knows you pushed it on a long run, it might suggest something easier the next day. I don’t think this works if you’re not using a FitBit-I use an Apple Watch, for instance.

Speaking of Apple Watch, it has also dropped the apple watch app. Truth be told, I didn’t use the app that often, since it had limited functionality, but I did like how it could tell you how many of each exercise were supposed to be in the set. To make up for this, there’s a new option to add a “ticking” sound to each rep, so I just keep up with the sounds to get the right number of reps. This has the effect of making the routine more challenging as well, as I am doing the reps slower and using more muscle power on the negative, which is good.

I think the subscription cost has stayed the same- $7.99 per month. I think it’s a good value, especially right now, while I’m away from home for an extended period of time. When I get back home, where I can go to the gym before work, I’ll quit the subscription.

Overall, I think this has been a good change. It would be nice if it could give you the workout adjustment aspect if you’re not using a FitBit. It would also be nice if the Apple Watch app was reintroduced with more functionality, perhaps using it’s ability to measure heart rate. And give us Tony Gonzalez back!

Resolution #4: Read more this year!

img_98a72e02fab5-1

In this series, we have talked about how to make resolutions, how to troubleshoot lagging resolutions, and then, apps to support common resolutions: losing weight, running, getting finances in order…This is the last of the series. Reading more is a common resolution, and this one, I’m an expert in!  I read both paper books and electronic books.

I use two reading apps every day: the Kindle App and Goodreads. I do a lot of my reading on the Kindle, both a Kindle device (the Voyager) and the kindle app on my iPad. I actually prefer reading on the actual Kindle if I have it with me because I find the e-ink is easier to read, but also, there are less distractions. My iPad has Facebook, email, etc, and I find myself checking them more often than I would like. I don’t like iBooks as much. I find the page turning lags, and the book selection is not as extensive as Amazon’s.

I both read and annotate books in the Kindle app, and when I am finished with a book, I go to www.kindle.amazon.com, to cut and paste my highlights and notes into a note in Evernote. In that way, all the highlights are fully searchable and in one place. You can just use the Evernote clipper, but I prefer to have one book per note in Evernote.

I also borrow books on my Kindle. I find people are often surprised you can borrow books from the library on your kindle, but as long as your library has an e-library, most of the time, you can borrow them within the kindle. If the books are not available on the kindle, you can usually use an app called Overdrive, which can manage library books- and is in some ways easier to borrow books on, but doesn’t allow you to read them on different devices like the Kindle app does. After the allotted time, usually two weeks, the book disappears from your kindle, but the highlights remain.

Goodreads is another app I use all the time. I have a reading list which is probably longer than the time I have left on this earth. Every time I hear a new book suggestion that I am interested in, I put it in the Goodreads app, which is a social media site for readers. You can write reviews, read others’ reviews on books, and get suggestions for books you would be interested in. Also, if you’re hoping to read more this year, you can set a Reading Challenge goal for yourself. If you have a book on your to-read list that goes on sale, Goodreads will alert you, which is nice.

I also have a few resources I regularly find books in. The first is Bookmarks magazine, which basically compiles reviews of books, in a sort of book review meta-analysis. They have great suggestions. The other resources I use daily are www.earlybirdbooks.com and www.booklemur.com which are free services. You sign up for the services, choosing what subjects you are interested in reading about, and they email you a list daily of books in those subjects that are on sale, usually about $1-$3, which is a substantial savings!

Are you a reader? What apps do you use? Connect with me on Goodreads here.

Resolution #3: Get your finances under control!

img_f5d98f8fa3eb-1

 

First of all, Happy New Year!

This is probably the most difficult of the new year’s resolution series for me (not directly mental health related), but I think maybe one of the most important- finances. I think along with losing weight (blog #3 in this series), getting out of debt and getting finances under control is a frequently made resolution. There are so many apps out there that it is difficult to know where to start in terms of reviews.

A first step, an app which you probably already have is the app for your own bank. A lot of these online services have bill pay, the ability to input upcoming bills, and make budgets. However, if you feel you need something else, consider one of the other apps.

I like Mint (www.mint.com), which is free. I used to use Quicken, which I loved, and Quicken is mostly replaced now by Mint. Mint can sync with your bank, credit cards, investments, and give you an up-to-date idea of your finances. You get a free credit score with them, and the app will help you make budgets and financial goals. You can get emails and notifications when you are behind in your goals, or over your budget. It can be hard to plan forward, however, with Quicken, because though it does have the ability to input expenses which have not cleared your bank, it isn’t always the best at recognizing the expense once it does clear- creating a double entry. Also, you have to be a little vigilant about making sure that your expenses are going in the right budget categories, though it mostly gets them correct. There is an Apple Watch version, too.

If you’re planning to use the Dave Ramsey method of financial management, but want to use your ATM card still, I found You Need A Budget to be very helpful (www.youneedabudget.com). The apps are free, but they sync to the desktop version, which is $50 per year. This one lends itself to the idea of the envelopes of cash earmarked for a specific purpose very well, and also syncs to your bank. The YNAB on-line bulletin board community is very active/helpful, and their customer service was quite good. A friend who paid off all his debt through the Dave Ramsey method also sings the praises of this app as well. There are free classes (budgeting, debt reduction, etc) via their website and I think this app has more of an educational angle, so if you’re clueless where to start, this can be a good place, along with bankrate.com, to get some information. There’s no Apple Watch app.

If you’re interested in trying to get control of your finances, but prefer the low-tech method, I also like the templates from www.vertex42.com. They have some great forms to use for budgeting and money management. When I need a calendar or spreadsheet for budgeting, this is usually my first stop.

I’m interested in what other people use for financial management- let me know in the comments below! There are so many apps, I would love your input!