I’m a tinkerer. I’ve always been a tinkerer, I’ll always be a tinkerer. I fiddle, I test, I try, I look up, I download, I delude myself into thinking it’s all in the goal of figuring out some better way to do things. In some cases, it happens that it’s true. More often than not, I realize that I’ve gone down a road I didn’t need to, but the journey of discovery usually pays for itself.

I love this stuff. I really do. But time is fleeting lately, between craziness at work and a new tiny person with some serious demands on my time waiting for me at home. I started to wonder: can I strip away small bits of complexity from my workflows and actually enjoy what most people would consider the “Apple experience”? I’ve long crafted elaborate workarounds to avoid using the default apps that ship with OS X and iOS, but they’ve matured to a point with 10.8 and iOS 6 that I’m entertaining the idea of giving them a shot again. The place that sees the most impact (unsurprisingly) is with productivity apps, traditionally my most fiddly bits. It took some intestinal foritude to take these first few steps, but in the interest of personal self-discovery, I suppose it’s worth it.

I’ve tried dozens of task/to do apps. I go through them like tissues in cold season. I landed on using OmniFocus for tasks a few months ago. I was initially impressed with how flexible it is as a product (I’m a big Omni Group fan), and how you can adapt it to how you wish to use it. What I came to realize is that I personally wasn’t using more than a few of its terrific options, which made it akin to killing a mosquito with a rocket launcher. So I’m giving Reminders another look. With the release of Mountain Lion, a dedicated app ships with the OS, and it’s on iOS already. So far, it seems to be doing an extremely servicable job for what I need, and Siri integration is really nice.

I’ve used plain text files stored in Dropbox for basic note-taking for a long time now. I’ve long preached the flexibility of plain text as well as the fun of plugging multiple apps into a single stored location and being able to try all kinds of things. As it turns out, about 60% of the notes I take are of no value to me after a certain period of time, and so I deleted a bunch of them. This freed me up from the mental burden of thinking I needed to keep everything around. Once I cleared that hurdle, I decided to try Notes again. As with Reminders, OS X ships with a dedicated Notes app now, and I wanted to see if I could get by with it. I’ll still compose anything more than a transitory note in plain text and keep it in Dropbox, but for basic capture, I’m sticking with this for now.

I just got brutally honest with myself and realized that I never actually do cool things like converting my plain text captures into Markdown and then emailing myself HTML snippets while automating task generation. I love the idea that so many apps allow you to do so much more than the basics, but if I’m being honest, then I can’t pretend I use all that stuff. So if the Apple apps are good enough, then why the question at all?

My main hangups center on how much I trust iCloud. I feel like maintaining folders of .txt files that I can easily point to and drag somewhere else *feels* right to me. I know I can dig out the Mobile Documents folder buried in ~Library, but it’s not the same. And I could back up my OF database in Dropbox and have days’ worth of copies to fall back on should the app fail for any reason. With iCloud, I basically have to put my trust in Apple that these bits of information, upon which I rely for my daily organization are going to be there when I need them. I’m not super comfortable doing this, but at the same time, I’m trying really hard to let go of my need to grip everything so tightly. Partly because I’m tired of the endless tinkering with my workflow, and partly because I’m envious of people who don’t even have these thoughts. It’s a sickness, you know. A beautiful, enriching, crippling sickness.

The experiment’s underway. All my short-term text is in Notes, and tasks in Reminders across my devices and Macs. It’s a strange feeling, using apps now that I’ve long derided as “not enough” and realizing that they are in fact, just fine. I don’t know if I’ll stick with this – it depends on my neuroses about this data and how long I can keep them at bay – but it feels oddly freeing. Like a weight has been lifted. Fewer moving parts, fewer options and switches, and a focus on something else.

Actually doing stuff.

(to be continued, I’m sure…)

Putting on my big boy pants.

I started using OmniFocus about a week ago. I’d avoided it for a while because it seemed way too complicated for me, but I decided recently that while I’m able to manage my tasks and to-do items, I need to step up my game and start becoming serious about the loose ends. The goal was to finally push all the disparate buckets of capture into one meaningful place, and to more accurately gauge how well I’m doing in terms of completion. I’d just been making lists, and lists don’t exactly provide the context or the motivation I was looking for with this process.

From my cursory understanding of it, I’d always thought that the GTD mentality was overkill for what I needed. When I waited tables in college, I would remember detailed orders, from multiple people, easily. People would try to mess with me and quiz me, but as I rattled them back their orders, they quickly acquiesced. So keeping stuff in my mind has not really been a problem for me. But when I actually started to throw things into the OmniFocus inbox with the purpose of methodically clearing my head, I noticed a weird kind of comfort that came from not having to remember all those things. Some people feel overwhelmed by this process, the remembering, I never really did – but not doing it feels so much better, I wish I’d tried this earlier.

It’s taking a little while to fully embrace the entire philosophy, because I’m still finding a way to apply it to my workflows, but it’s interesting to be sure. I definitely see value in it, although I don’t know that I’d ever become a GTD zealot the way some people end up. It’s fairly complex and a lot of people don’t need this level of complexity. However, there is a certain freedom in being more serious about the lists I was previously making and applying a new level of rigor to them. I feel like I’m putting a little more pressure on myself to actually complete things by being more realistic about what I can accomplish and when I can do it. It’ll be an ongoing experiment, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.

I love finding better ways to do things. Wanna talk about it?

Giving in, with three Gs

I’ve had an iPad since launch day, when I wasn’t sure if I was going to buy one or not. That five minutes in Best Buy was more than enough to convince me that I wanted this new shiny wonder, but not quite enough to convince me to wait and order a 3G model a month later. I really expected wi-fi to be enough. But my couch gave way to slightly more remote locations. Like offices with bad wireless network connections. Like moving vehicles, stuck in traffic for hours. Like airports, taxis, and any other place where your phone is pretty good, but a little extra space would really be spectacular.

So I made the decision to trade up for the 3G model. Scaled back to the 32gb, since I have never even come close to filling the 64gb I got with the first model. Sucked it up, filled out the on-device wireless agreement and parted with another $25 to AT&T.

Now we have three iPads in the office, and I have a truly mobile computing experience. The first time I sat in my car and loaded the app store, I knew it was the right decision. Do I like spending more money? No, most people don’t. But I do like having the ability to do all the things I can do with my phone, bigger, prettier, and with many more words-per-minute. Nerd lust, satiated.

MarsEdit updates. Discriminating bloggers swoon.

It was only a short time ago that I wrote about the best blogging platform for Mac OS, MarsEdit, then in version 2. I was a little late to the party, but loved it so much upon finding it that I needed to share the good feelings. Today, Red Sweater dropped MarsEdit 3 on our undeserving heads.

It is a fantastic update, replete with worthy additions to the application. This page has a list of new features.

If you haven’t yet checked it out, and you have a Mac, and you have a blog, I highly recommend it. Times a million. Seriously.

MarsEdit 3

MarsEdit is simply amazing.

Given that today is a total whiteout outside, I decided to put in some serious time playing on my MBP this morning. I was up way too early, and have already given myself a minor headache from catching up on long-neglected Instapaper posts. Then I moved on to application exploration. I’ve heard about MarsEdit before but never actually tried using it.

Needless to say, it is a quantum leap from editing live in a browser, or even just composing text and cutting and pasting. I may have to pick it up. It’s extremely impressive. One more step on the path to streamlining my activities and working smarter. This app is what I picture when I think about how things ought to work.

I was looking at Notational Velocity a moment ago too, solely based on Merlin Mann’s resounding recommendation on last week’s MacBreak Weekly, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the way I mentally organize information. Cool app, though.

MarsEdit 2

Notational Velocity

Ok, I’m definitely buying this. All it took was the composition of this single post to sell me. Well done. Hmm, the only thing stopping me would be if it tripped on the posting… let’s see.