My EDC and Current Productivity Set Up

Siliconsutra

 

Though COVID-19 has changed so much about life (telemedicine, anyone?), it hasn’t changed my need to get things done. The way work gets done might be a little different, but I still need to keep track of things, and focus on the projects that matter to me. However, tasks are much more likely to come to me via email, text, Teams, etc., and I am much more likely to be in front of a computer than I used to be. I thought an article about my Everyday Carry Setup (EDC) might be useful. Also, I added a new Apple watch to my EDC, which allows me to have reminders that are hard to ignore, and review my schedule and tasks right on my wrist! As a result, I’ve gone away from using a written planner, and moved to a digital calendar and task list, which helps me capture emailed tasks much easier.

Everyday carry:

  • A Hobonichi techo planner and Pilot Acro Drive ball point pen, in theSuperior Labor’s A6 Peacock Blue Notebook cover: I’m using this to make daily notes, write down quotes that strike me, check a calendar at a glance, and keep a habit tracker. The Acro writes smoothly on the ultra thin Tomoe River paper, and the minimal aesthetic of the Hobonichi and interesting quotes inspire me. I had this planner anyway, and figured when I switched to digital, I might as well use it. I sometimes add little ephemera to my techo- the tiny drawings and treasures that my kids give me throughout the day. I’ve ordered one of the Remarkable 2 devices, but it doesn’t arrive until October, so until then, I need to carry some paper to take quick notes.
  • Apple watch, series 5: I had a first generation Apple watch, that had become essentially non-functional. It recently disintegrated (really!), and I opted to upgrade the the Series 5. I am really glad I did- the larger face and updated technology allows me to see my schedule and tasks, and really make better use of this tool in a way I never did before.
  • iPhone (of course): this is where a lot of my data entry happens on the go. I’ll talk about my app set up later.
  • iPad and portable Bluetooth keyboard: I use this for data entry, writing longer emails and journal entries, and doing my morning ritual (if my MacBook Air isn’t available).

On my Apple devices:

  • Calendars 5 by Readdle: I’ve recently been trying to go with apps that allow you to buy them outright, rather than a subscription model. I was using Fantastical 2 to look at my calendar, the weather, and my tasks in one glance, but this also required both a subscription for Fantastical and a subscription for Todoist. Todoist on its own did not have the weather, or the ability to see a calendar at a glance. I already had paid for the app Calendars 5, which also gives me the ability to enter dates in natural language which is much faster than a dropdown menu for me.
  • Things 3: Things 3 is a beautiful app that can be as complicated or easy as you need. It also shows events for the day, and you can divide tasks between morning and evening to make the visual processing much easier. I’ve subscribed to a Weather calendar so I can see the weather in the events. Each morning, I review my calendar for the week, and my tasks for the week, and then manage my tasks for the day. I review what tasks are critical for the day, and times I have meetings and clinic. I divide tasks into daily and evening tasks to simplify my daily view. Also, I’ve created two important repeating tasks, which I drag to the top of my list to keep them in my mind throughout the day:
    • A repeating task of my monthly goal: this month, it happens to be logging food, intermittent fasting, and exercising 4 times per week.
    • a repeating task with Today’s Affirmation and Focus: today, it happens to be “I am mindful of the present moment.” This is a quote I am pondering or something I am striving to emulate for the day.
  • Instapaper: I’m wavering between Pocket and Instapaper, but for now, I save studies and articles I am reading to Instapaper. I’ve used an IFTTT formula to save articles that I click “like” on to Evernote to save in case I want to refer to them later.
  • Day One app: I use this for journaling, but I have also set up some templates based on the Stoics, that allow me to have an AM and PM reflective process, and let me see what I’m grateful for every day.
  • Zero: I am using this to help me remember to do intermittent fasting.

What are you using for your daily carry and apps? Let me know in the comments below!

Diarium: a great journal app with no strings attached!

6BA02F79-D795-4501-A825-9696CB3C7586Dear Diary,

All I want is a great looking journal app that syncs between all my devices- iOS, Mac AND PC- and doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Is that too much to ask?

Love, Silicon|Sutra

Like many people who love to journal, love technology and love analog, I have switched journal apps more times than I can count. I finally figured out I can do both by scanning handwritten journal pages into my journal app when writing by hand, but which app? I use iOS often- most often my iPhone to add photos to my entries- but when I am writing a long entry, I want a keyboard.  I most often use a Surface Tablet with the keyboard attached. I have an old MacBook air that I was keeping for the sole purpose of typing in Day One, my favorite journal app. Leaving Day One would be a big deal for me. Day One has a beautiful interface, great syncing, templates, and a variety of useful meta-data in each entry. I’ve been interviewed for their podcast. I’ve met some of their employees who were super-lovely people. But they’ve been promising some kind of web app/PC user work around for awhile (years), so I started looking elsewhere.

I tried several apps, but settled on Diarium. The app looks very much like Day One and Journey, two of the more popular apps for keeping a journal. The main page has a calendar that looks like both Day One and Journey, with either a photo (if present) or colored box to indicate a journal entry was completed on that day. You can see I like kids and dogs for my entries. The small icons on the bar above the calendar allow you to sort in other ways- location, by tags, etc.

diarum calendar view

Making an entry is easy- you click on the day, and a journal entry window pops up. You can choose a wide variety of information to be automatically populated in each entry- weather, location, schedule, activity level, etc. You can rate your journal entries, but I saw someone suggest using this as a mood log, which I thought was pretty clever.

diarum journal entryThe interface is very clean and uncluttered. The process of importing my Day One journal was a bit tricky- I had to export from Day One as a JSON file, and multiple attempts from my iPhone to use the “migrate from other app” were unsuccessful. The developer was super responsive and emailed me back nearly instantly, but wasn’t actually able to help me fix the issue. Finally, I tried doing this from my laptop computer, and THEN, the process was very easy. I can make entries from my iPhone, and finish them on my laptop, and both are updated! I did have to buy the PC version of the app (now on sale for $5 from $20), and the iOS premium version- another $10- but there’s no monthly subscription!

Big differences from Day One and Journey:

  • no ability to have multiple journals. There are tags, however, and I could see that you could use a tag like a separate journal as in Day One.
  • No automatic push that I saw. I had to manually sync, but this wasn’t a big deal.
  • No subscription (yay), but the app costs money for each platform. Day one is free, but has a subscription plan for many of the features I like. Journey has both an app you can pay for and a subscription, and the differences are confusing in my opinion and unnecessarily complicated.
  • No templates. This is a bummer.
  • Journey has built in- coaching for journal writing, but I also didn’t think this was super high quality, either, so my plan is to join an online writing challenge.
  • Back ups in Diarium go to one drive, google drive or drop box.

The Verdict:

I’ll probably stick with Diarium, at least until Day One gets their chrome extension or PC/windows versions done. The chrome extension is due in 2020, and the other, well, maybe never. It is nice to be able to see my work on a bigger screen than an iPad or an iPhone, so Diarium may be with me for the long term! In any case, I only paid for the app, and won’t feel bad about not using a subscription service!

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!

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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!

 

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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

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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!

Update, 3/11/2020:

Calm has really upped their game since I reviewed them last. The loop music seems to have been abandoned in favor of more interesting, soothing music. I would happily listen to this music to sleep, though much of it is less than an hour long, so if you’re a person with initiation insomnia (trouble getting to sleep), you might find the music length falls short. A few of the options are multiple songs strung together, but if you don’t like the few I saw, you might be out of luck. The quality of the music seems to have improved- I even saw some offerings from Sam Smith, though I liked the “Liminal Sleep” album by Sigur Ros.

The sleep stories are really fun now.  Initially, the stories felt uninspired- readers reading books from Project Gutenberg that had fallen off copyright. Now, there are some famous voices- Jerome Flynn (from Game of Thrones, but he is surprisingly soothing here, rather than a murderous mercenary), Matthew McConaughey, etc. My favorite two stories so far, are “A Night in Shakespeare’s London” and a non-fiction offering, “A Cruise on the Nile,” which is a travelogue of Egypt read by Alan Sklar, who apparently is the equivalent of propofol for me, since I’ve never made it past the Great Pyramids of Giza.

The daily Calm meditations also seem more well-thought out than they used to. A recent one on Wabi Sabi was really meaningful for me. One gripe, though, is that the daily Calm meditations seem to disappear after a week. I kept reading amazing comments about one of them, even one from a famous meditation teacher, and when I went looking for it, the meditation had disappeared, which was disappointing.

I think all these things cause me to revise my previous review- I think Calm has upped their game with quality meditations and features, and is worth the money now. Do be cautious about the trial- a few comments I’ve received from readers indicates some people have found customer service to be less than helpful when there are payment issues.