2018 Recap: OmniFocus 3 and my Fall Hardware Bumps

I’ve recently written to end out 2018 about apps that finally stuck this year and the most important book.

The two changes in my workflows this year that made me happiest were my Fall hardware upgrades and OmniFocus 3.

When I got into OmniFocus 2 last year it changed the game for me. To put some numbers behind that, I’ve kept track of 3,211 actions since getting OmniFocus, and completed 523 since the beginning of November alone (when my actions last archived). I keep everything that I’m trying to keep track of in OmniFocus, from new habits and routines, to whatever level of detail I need to break up a bigger project into. I use it to keep emails of things I need to do out of the way (with Airmail links), grading, and just having a list of the things that need to happen before I go home.

OmniFocus 3 came out first on iOS and then on the Mac. The best feature for me on iOS was initially being able to attach notifications that were unbound from due and defer dates. Unfortunately, this still hasn’t made its way to the Mac version, so its usefulness has started to dissipate. But the new tags feature and the accompanying custom perspectives have been awesome.

The custom perspectives feature as it exists today is exactly what I hoped it was back in OmniFocus 2. Now it supports a huge list of arguments, and nested AND/OR functionality that gets me the exact task list I need. With good tagging, this is even more useful (for example, a filter of items that contain the tags that mean something takes place at school, organized by date).

OmniFocus on iOS has become way more useful to me though, with my far more useful XS Max. I felt guilty spending this much money on a phone, but I’ve been holding out for it since its first leak in December 2017. The additional screen size makes it vastly more useful for keeping track of all the information I’m handling on my phone, especially in OmniFocus. Because I was coming from an iPhone 6 Plus, I had a ton of other upgrades along with that screen size including (by my likely faulty math) 240% better processor performance, 3D Touch, Face ID, and an OLED screen, among other things. (As an aside, 1Password’s new AutoFill features that iOS 12 enabled with Face ID takes all the friction of using a password manager away, and actually makes it faster than my bad password practices ever were).

I also picked up an Apple Watch this fall. They were a hard enough tech item to grasp from others’ accounts and using demo models that I really didn’t have a great idea of what to expect. I’m surprised by how easy it is to get drawn into the fitness features, and in love with keeping media controls on my wrist. It’s also changed the way I handle a number of apps (and finally gotten me into using Due to pester me to make sure I get something run down the hall for another teacher between classes or remember a special announcement at the start of class.)

Ultimately, technology is something that I do get enjoyment out of. It’s part of why I decided to blog, and it dominates my podcast feeds. I remember being a kid and playing with the calendar on Outlook wishing I had a job so I could have coworkers to schedule meetings with and use the availability features. As an adult, technology does find its way to make work easier, and some challenges become a bit brighter because of the tools I get to use to solve them.

2018 Recap: Apps that I didn’t ‘get’ in 2017

2018 has been a bumpy road, and there are a few things I want to write as a recap on the year. After talking about reading the Bible in a year, I wanted to focus on three apps that I’d tried previously or owned but wasn’t making very good use of.

Day One

I’d picked up Day One for the Mac back at the end of 2016, but I didn’t really get into it (or ever pick it up for iOS). When they went to a subscription model I originally wrote it off entirely. It was a post over on The Sweet Setup that showed me the role Day One could play in my digital life. To summarize his article, momentos, cards, and letters are easily preserved in Day One as memories, in addition to traditional journaling. I’ve also enjoyed using it to keep track of my life through my first year teaching and things happening on the personal side.

It’s still a bit hard to justify the subscription price, but I look forward to one day being able to print these journals, likely for my kids.

Drafts

I’d heard the Mac Power Users go on about Drafts quite a bit, and tried it myself without it really sticking. It was generally just a substitute for my OmniFocus inbox that wouldn’t get processed. With the release of Drafts 5, things started clicking much better. It wasn’t any specific feature contained within Drafts 5 (though I’m getting great use of Workspaces for literal drafts of things I write), but it inspired me to make other tweaks in my workflow (including adding Bear). Until I upgraded some of my hardware, it also served as a better dumping ground for OmniFocus tasks where I otherwise might let things slip, as well as recording things that would eventually go to Day One or other destinations. It does take a bit of added time to process down my inbox in Drafts, but it allows me to make sure everything really does get captured.

My hardware upgrades in 2018 allowed for Drafts to become even more supercharged though. As a method of capture, speaking into it on my Apple Watch is generally the fastest and most accessible thing I have access to. And I don’t have to be concerned about finding its fit in OmniFocus right away (lots of things wind up getting added to an existing Bear note or just getting put straight into its destination, like an email, from Drafts). Drafts also launched its beta Mac version this year. This makes it that much more versatile of a writing environment. Actions aren’t a part of the Mac app yet, so processing Drafts on the Mac is a bit clumsier than it is on iOS, but it’s freeing having all of my text accessible on the Mac.

Drafts works for me much better than the sticky note systems I see my fellow teachers using. As I process things down, I feel like I’m truly clearing clutter from my life. And as I continue to stress my OmniFocus system, it’s a major bonus being able to separate capture from my OmniFocus inbox many days. Now that it is free to use the basic version, it’s worth a try for anyone who makes major use of iOS.

TextExpander

I’ve always been a fast typist, and the idea of paying for a service to save me time typing was really never attractive. I had a free year of TextExpander from a bundle I’d previously purchased, and I redeemed it this year to see if there was anything to it. For awhile, even with its snippet suggestions, I wasn’t getting very much value, but with the start of the school year I’ve finally found its niche. TextExpander is valuable for me not because of reducing characters typed, but in reducing the amount I’m thinking when writing.

First it was with snippets that format date for files (yyyy-mm-dd) and for the way I want it to appear on printed documents (mm/dd/yyyy). This saved me moving up to the number rows and the little bit of mental energy it took to think through my desired date format and the actual day in my menubar. But I was able to quickly branch out with fill-ins for sending cookie cutter emails (like emails regarding a new lesson book or a blurb at the end of an email explaining to the student that I’ve cc’d their parents). It’s not just having my words thought through ahead of time, but when I’m filling forms, the way multiple parts of a snippet can draw from a single field (e.g. if I properly set up a snippet, I can have a student’s name filled in everywhere I need it after I’ve typed it once). I sometimes feel a bit self-conscious about using these snippets when emailing parents, but I also know there’s no shame in trying to cut down on the number of hours I’m working right now. I spend a lot of time torturing myself over phrasing in emails home, and being able to reuse my own words where I can may allow me to have time in my life outside of work.


TextExpander and Drafts both allow for JavaScript to make actions more powerful, and if my life gets any less crazy in 2019, I’ll hopefully find the time to learn the skills necessary to make use of these features. On top of this, OmniJS is coming to OmniFocus (hopefully) in 2019, and there are a lot of things in OmniFocus I’d like to accomplish that I think this will enable. I’m not sure what the best way to learn JavaScript is solely for automation, but I picked up a great deal on m1m0, though practicing some of these early skills has been hard.

2018 Recap: Bible in a Year

I had hoped to post more on this blog in 2018. After subbing, I had particularly wanted to share a lot of my frustrations for my fellow teachers with some constructive ideas for improving what subs are set up with, but as life stayed hectic, I no longer feel that it’s quite as valuable now that I’m in the trenches.

The start of my first year teaching has been an absolute adventure. I truly enjoy where I’m at, working with a staff that is flexible and always ready to help, and an administrative team that’s very supportive. My students are enjoyable to work with (and some read my blog!), and I look forward to growing through some of the challenges. Out of concerns for privacy, I probably won’t get too much more into detail about my school.

I wanted to write a few retrospectives on 2018, and the first of those I wanted to be on reading the Bible in a year.

One of my major resolutions for 2018 for a number of reasons was improving the balance of faith and the rest of my life. While I don’t want to sound as if I think I’m ‘done working on my faith,’ as it’s a lifelong journey, I do think I have gotten back to the place I need to be right now in life.

A lot of individuals in my church, and things beyond my control are responsible for this progress, but doing a Bible-in-a-year reading plan has allowed me to reaffirm everything I believe and receive the Holy Spirit, as well as growing in understanding of God. I’m inspired to write about it in no small part because of a post Craig McClellan wrote about his own faith on The Class Nerd (both the blog and podcast I recommend).

I highly recommend such a plan as a truly reasonable way to accomplish the task of reading the entire Bible. I felt that it was by and large clear enough to get through without any additional resources, though I appreciated some additional context reading many of the Epistles and books of the prophets. I was afraid that some books I would get bogged down in, but with a couple exceptions, I got the clarity out of this that I wanted.

Before I get in to some of the technical considerations of the plan I used, it’s worth talking about why this was so worth doing. There were all sorts of pieces of Scripture I couldn’t link together before reading as a whole work. There are all sorts of messages that I can now pull, and so much context behind verses used as justification for things that I previously could not. I feel that the ability to piece together one’s whole faith is best done by reading the Bible in its entirety. While it was easy enough to get caught back up after a busy week got me behind, I can’t imagine trying to take on something of this size without a good plan for breaking it down.

The plan I used was “Eat This Bread” on YouVersion Bible. I wanted a plan that took the Bible from cover to cover, and this was the closest I was able to find. It mostly accomplishes this (while oddly putting Chronicles at the end of the New Testament, and less oddly swapping John and Luke in the gospels.) It also breaks Psalms up into one per day rather than having you take the whole book through. While I like the idea of interspersing Psalms, it just paired the whole book down the line rather than picking readings that connected (e.g. day one was Psalm 1, day two was Psalm 2, starting over at Psalm 1 on day 151). The end result was that after I finished Psalms, I skipped the remaining Psalm per day. Doing the Bible in a year again, I’d love a plan that broke up Proverbs and perhaps other books in a similar way (though I preferred reading Ecclesiastes and most other Books of Wisdom straight through).

I liked the reminders and syncing between devices that YouVersion provided, and there some times I liked the ability to have a few chapters read aloud. I wished I had a better app for reading the Bible though in a lot of ways though. YouVersion lacks the footnotes I’m used to (at least for the ESV), though I’m not sure what the best Bible app I could get for the ESV might be. I’ve seen several recommendations, but most of them are a bit of an investment, and I’m not sure which one fits all of my needs the best. Though YouVersion provided a lot of great features specific to this goal, I hope I’m using something else the next time I try to take the whole Bible in a year.

Just like reading an eBook, I found myself making highlights here and there, but my most meaningful notes found their way into Bear to be more easily referenced and combined with other notes.

I’m planning on covering a bit more for the end of 2018, and hoping that I can get to some of the other topics I’ve previously mentioned on here. Christmas break is a good time to just sit down and write, and when my renewal receipts came up for my site, I felt a bit bad that I wasn’t posting more.