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.

Managing Multiple Drives and Managing My First Year

I’m well into the start of my first year teaching now, and things are crazy. I wanted to first share a tip I’m using to manage some of the work I’m doing on my own computer for work (I have a PC assigned to me by my school, but I’m working a lot outside of the school day).

I have my primary personal Google account set to my “default” Google account in my browser. The primary benefit of this is that if I click a link to a Google Doc anywhere on the web, it goes into that account (which is the behavior I want). The downside is that when I’m opening up a new tab or window for Google Drive in the middle of work-related things, I’d have to click the account switcher, select my work account, and then wait a second for Drive to reload while closing the first tab. It’s a small inconvenience, but it adds up doing it a lot.

Instead, I’ve bookmarked the Drive URL that I have after switching to my work account. It should be something like drive.google.com/drive/u/(number for that account)/my-drive. Your default account is 0, then each one down the list is another number.

To speed up getting there, I usually launch the bookmark from Alfred, as I don’t keep the bookmark tab open for Safari. It’s a pretty simple solution to a pretty simple problem, and I could always use a different web browser for work matters (but I don’t want to).

App updates

OmniFocus 3 has changed the game for me. I was part of the TestFlight for OF3 for iOS, and I’m now in the beta for OF3 for Mac. Tags and better perspectives are helping me manage a ton of work. I’m a bit disappointed that OF3.0 for Mac lacks support for the advanced notifications that OF3 for iOS has, because I’m still taking out my phone to set a reminder notification for tasks. It’ll come in a point update that I”m already excited for.

I’m constantly restructuring my projects and tags to make them work better for me, but it’s not a time sink, it’s just a chance to organize better. I have so much on my plate at work that I think I’d have a nervous breakdown without OmniFocus to keep track of it all.

I’ve finally got Drafts integrated into my workflow. Drafts 5 added some really nice features, and it’s a great fit. Part of the reason it was so essential is because of some degradation of my iPhone 6’s speed (which will cease to be a problem within the month), but it continues to be the first thing I open when someone tells me something in the hallway that I can’t forget. Most of it goes into OmniFocus still. Because of how little email I compose on iOS, I’m still not getting the most out of it, but between updates to my phone or Drafts coming for Mac, it will only be more useful soon.

I’m planning to write soon about how my adoption of Bear has let me keep track of the documents and emails for rehearsals and individual class periods, why Dorico has won me over, and how I’m getting great use of Pages for making materials.