Tag Archives: GTD

Pygmy Reviews #18: iOS Apps

Fantastical ($3.99)

One Line Description: Simple calendar app that supports natural language entry.

Fantastical for Mac is pretty much the gold standard of natural language entry calendar applications. For those not familiar with the concept, the idea is that you can type “dinner at joes on monday 8pm” and it knows exactly how to create the event. Fantastical for the Mac came out about 1.5 years ago, but the iOS version just recently showed up.

Fantastical for iOS is a nice looking application, and it’s very simplistic. Maybe that’s a good thing, but in this case it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. The default view is a quick shot of five days, the current day plus two days before and two days after. Beneath this is a list of upcoming events. Thankfully the list view starts with the currently selected day which by default is the current day. I am not sure what the point of showing the previous two days in calendar view is though. Why would I constantly need to know what I did previously?

I have been using QuickCal on my iPhone for natural event creation for quite some time now. It’s only 99 cents, and has frequently been marked down to free. If all you want is the natural entry you can save $3 by going with QuickCal instead. If you want a full featured calendar, you can do better than Fantastical.

Downcast ($1.99)

One Line Description: Podcatcher app that serves as an alternative to iTunes.

Downcast has been my podcatcher of choice for a while now. I switched after Instacast 2 left me wanting more. It’s clearly not as good looking as Instacast, but it’s got some nice features and is very reliable. It has most of the standard features of good podcast apps, variable play speed, streaming, etc. Outside of that, I don’t need a lot from my podcasting application.

One great feature of Downcast is playlists. The best part about the playlists is that you can completely customize what podcasts are included. This has allowed me to create a “favorites” playlist of just the podcasts I want to make sure I listen to as soon as they come out. It’s a well maintained application and is only $2.

30/30 (Free)

One Line Description: A time-based task manager.

30/30 is different than other task managers. It basically involves creating a string of tasks with a set amount of time for each. Then when you are ready to start, you start the timer and the first task starts counting down. After the task completes, a notification pops up, and optionally the next task could automatically start. The app has little icons and customizable colors for each task, and lists can be saved and re-used. The app supports iCloud syncing so that multiple devices can sync.

It has some minor quirks though. Tasks can’t be saved and re-used. Most of the time I enter the save 5-10 things and it would be great if they could be saved, instead of just saving entire lists. The app also shows the end time of the last task in the list once the timer has been started. It would be nice it if would show this end time before hitting go, instead of forcing the user to do math to figure it out. Overall, this is a very useful app if you do time boxed activities frequently.

Interesting ($0.99)

One Line Description: Smart news aggregator that grabs popular stories.

Kind of a new application that is very simplistic. Interesting has four tabs, each representing a different category. The four categories are Design & Technology, News & Politics, Entertainment & TV and Sports. The app uses some sort of proprietary algorithm on their servers to grab stories from mainstream websites and determine their popularity. The app then puts these stories in their respective tabs in some sort of order (I haven’t been able to determine what), which a little number to indicate it’s popularity. The stories open the actual stories on their actual websites in the built-in browser. The stories can be saved to Pocket, Tweeted or one of the built-in iOS tasks (Copy Link, Open in Safari or Mail Link).

That’s really all there is to this application. It’s nice when you just want to find something quick to read without doing a lot of work. I don’t use it enough for it to be a better news source than Twitter. I am very disappointed that it only has support for Pocket, and not also Instapaper, but because you can copy links it’s a manageable problem. If you often find yourself in situations where you want something current to read without much effort, or want to catch up on the big stories of the day, this is a great app. But because it doesn’t have any sort of customization, it’s limited.

Wikipanion for iPad (Free)

One Line Description: Wikipedia client iPad

I haven’t had a Wikipedia app for my iPad before. I typically found the website to be sufficient on the iPad, but for some reason after getting my iPad Mini I decided to try one. Wikipanion was one of the first apps I tried way back on my first iPhone. It was nice, but eventually I bought Articles and never looked back. The version of that I have is iPhone only, so I decided to try the free version of Wikipanion It’s well designed and fast, but doesn’t bring a ton of extra features for the table. There are two font choices, search with a page, bookmarking and that’s about it.

A lack of features isn’t a bad thing. I generally use Wikipedia just for quickly looking something up as opposed to a place I spend a lot of time studying. Speed is an important feature of Wikipedia apps for that reason. You really can’t be free, so this is definitely a good option.

Being Productive: Prioritization vs. Time Budgeting

Like many people, I struggle with productivity. My growing list of projects at home only seems to get longer, and I don’t complete things as frequently as I would like. Many people have adopted David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) approach. Others have modified it to better fit their needs. At the end of the day every person needs to figure out what works best for them and go with it. The most important part of any system is actually doing things, so whatever system is best at accomplishing that should be the system of choice.

I have been bouncing around between systems and techniques for years. I still haven’t found something that seems to consistently work for me. I have spent a lot of time bouncing between the concepts of prioritization and time budgeting. Prioritization focuses on picking your next action based on what is the most important task to complete next across any project. Time budgeting focuses on setting up set amounts of time for each project and only working on the projects during those times. I am going to go into more detail on my experiences with each.

Prioritization

Prioritization involves selecting the next action based on what is the most important thing to complete. This could be based on due date or urgency. The benefit here is that the most important task always gets done on time. The drawback is that projects without hard deadlines or that less impactful on a day-to-day basis can easily be neglected. Proponents of this system like this fact because it forces people to ignore unimportant tasks and projects and instead only do what is important.

This concept seems great, and I have tried it before. The problem is that I had little side projects I want to work on, and they rarely take precedent over other things. The best way to foster innovation and to improve yourself is to try new things, but this can’t happen if you only work on the same few things all the time. I was finding that I was never getting to things besides the blog and the podcast because it seemed like there was always things to do on those. And because those had weekly soft deadlines, I was always forced to focus on those.

Time Budgeting

The concept behind time budgeting is to figure out how many hours of week you have to work with, and then plan our how much time to spend on each project. The biggest benefit here is that projects don’t go ignored forever, and it’s easier to stay productive because the clock is always ticking. But because this is more structured, it doesn’t add a lot of wiggle room.

For example, if you schedule time for Project A on Mondays for one hour, and something comes up what happens? Project A likely gets neglected until the following week. Maybe that’s OK because if it only has one hour per week maybe it isn’t that important. But similarly sometimes I just have nights where I don’t feel like doing anything. And the same rules apply as above. What happens to that work I skipped.

It’s also difficult to budget time for leisure. Is it a set amount each night? Is it an entire night once a week? And what if something comes up out of nowhere and your leisure night was the night before?

My New Plan

I had been trying to get back on the time budget again, but it just isn’t working for me. Things vary too much from night to night and week to week. And prioritizing left me with the exact problem I mentioned above, too many neglected projects. Enter the hybrid model.

I already do a weekly review of my tasks, something right out of the GTD book. During that time I am going to budget time for the week as well. I will have a preset budget to start from, but I will adjust it weekly to compensate for things that are planned for the week and what has been neglected recently.

My hope is that this helps me stay on task, but not feel restricted to what I can or can’t do, or rather should or shouldn’t do. Maybe this really is just a different way of time budgeting, but hopefully it will feel different.

Why I switched from Things to Omnifocus

This post refers to simplellama.com

The Simple Llama talks about making the switch from Things to OmniFocus:

However, keeping a Things database in sync between a Mac, iPhone, and iPad was at best frustrating, and at worst bordering on impossible. See, there’s that whole lack of OTA (over the air) sync thing. Turns out, it really is a Big Deal.

I have made some notes about a potential article covering my own personal switch from Things to OmniFocus and a big part of this article was going to be centered around the idea that OTA makes a much bigger difference than I thought. Lots of other good thoughts in this article and they certainly did a good job covering how the switch isn’t easy, but that it’s ultimately worth it.

(via Shawn Blanc)

Cultured Code Releases Things Cloud Sync Beta

This post refers to tuaw.com

Steve Sande from TUAW on the recent announcement that Cultured Code is starting to roll out cloud syncing for users of Things:

Cultured Code notes that its sync solution features encrypted transmission of data, so your top secret to-do items can’t be intercepted in the clear. We don’t know for sure when the Cloud Sync service will actually become available to all users, and given the slow rate of development from Cultured Code in the past, it’s almost a certainty that user complaints will continue for some time.

I switched to OmniFocus a couple of weeks ago, not specifically because of the lack of cloud sync, but it didn’t help.

State of Sync for Things.app

This post refers to culturedcode.com

Jürgen on the Cultured Code blog gives users of the GTD app Things an update on OTA syncing. They are finally ready for beta testing, but it’s only for the Mac app, not iOS versions as this time. As for cost:

Without large scale tests, it is not realistic to estimate how much resources our users will consume in the cloud. In particular, the frequency of interactions between users’ databases and the central service. Therefore we will be doing extensive scalability testing before we make an announcement regarding possible costs for the service.

I have been using Things since the first public beta and bought it as soon as it became available. I have long been tempted to switch to OmniFocus, but Things works for me and the cost to buy OmniFocus was more than I wanted to spend. But I won’t pay for OTA sync. If this isn’t free, or there isn’t a way to host it yourself, I will likely ponder a change.

Featured iPhone App: Due

I definitely have a problem with forgetting to do certain one-time, time sensitive things, returning a phone call, mailing something, ordering something, etc. I use Things to manager my To-Do list but because my personal To-Do list is generally a set of tasks to accomplish by week’s end, there are days where I just don’t have the time or energy to check it or work through it. So I was lacking a way to remind myself the aforementioned one-time things. Enter the iOS app Due, which calls itself “the missing reminder app” for the iPhone. I first heard about Due from Daring Fireball back in September, but didn’t actually purchase it until 52 Tiger gave his three reasons to use it.

An Emphasis on Speed

Due puts an emphasis on speed. It’s a simple app and it’s designed to do just a few things, but do those things quickly and easily. When the app loads and you click the ‘+’ icon, you are presented with a UI to create a new reminder. This includes a field for a name, which is optional, then the time when the reminder is due. The default due date/time is relative to current time (say “15 minutes from now”) and the default value for this field is selectable in the app’s settings. Below these two fields are 4 “quick set” buttons that have absolute times on them. These are also configurable, although the configuration page labels them as “wake”, “lunch”, “after work” and “before bed.” These are great for when I want to set a reminder quickly for when I get home, which is what I do 90% of the time. The convenience of these buttons means that I can add a reminder to do something after work in about 15 seconds or so.

The UI has a lot of features that are quickly available with icons, which means the UI can remain very streamlined. By clicking on an existing reminder a series of icons slides out underneath. The first one is Auto Snooze (more on this in a minute) and the second is a way to set the reminder to recurring. Clicking once sets the reminder to daily, hitting it again sets it to weekly, a third time makes it monthly and a fourth time gets it back to non-recurring. The third icon is the type of alert that will happen, primary, secondary or silent (more on this below). The fourth button moves the reminder 10 minutes further in the future, the fifth button moves it an hour and the sixth moves it an entire day. These buttons can be hit repeatedly to move a reminder multiple hours or days in the future. Shaking the phone will bring up an Undo button so that you can roll back accidental taps.

Effective Reminders

Due has some cool features built-in to make their reminders effective. Many apps will pop up a reminder once, as an iOS notification and then disappear. By default, Due comes with auto-snooze turned on in one minute intervals. If you don’t dismiss the notification or go into the app and extend the reminder, the app will keep popping up notifications every minute forever. This is nice if you miss the first vibration in your pocket or you are out of earshot of your phone at the time it goes off. The ability from the notification to go to the Due app and quickly extend the alert with the same 10 minute or hour interval buttons mentioned above is invaluable. Also mentioned above was the ability to select secondary alerts. The primary and secondary alerts are app-wide settings that give a variety of sound choices of varying lengths. The idea, according to the app, is that you may want a longer or more obtrusive sound if you are someplace loud.

The built-in timers are nice as well. I have a couple saved so that I can re-use them for recurring tasks, but there really isn’t anything special to them.

Downsides

There are a couple of downsides I have noticed. The Settings menu is accessed via the Logbook tab, which isn’t terribly intuitive. I had to hunt around a bit for it, which is only inconvenient the first time you try to use it. The auto snooze time is selectable, but only has options for None, 1 minute or 1 hour. I understand the simplicity of not making this completely customizable, but some range between 1 and 30 minutes would be great. The last downside is price. At $2.99, it’s a little steep for some people for a fairly simple app.

Wrap Up

I personally don’t measure price by how simple an application is, but rather how frequently I will use it. At 99 cents, I will buy pretty much anything, at $1.99, I rarely hesitate, so $2.99 is essentially the first price point that gives me pause. I also won’t force myself to use an application to justify it’s purchase. All that being said, I do use Due multiple times per week so I personally think it’s definitely worth $3.

The great thing about Due is how quick and easy it is. The built-in calendar app requires you to create an actual appointment in order to get reminded to do something. This is cumbersome just to get a simple reminder. Also, the inability to snooze these built-in alerts means you better not miss them. I tried Alarmed for a while, which is very similar but I had some issues with recurring reminders not recurring. I also tried Tell Me When and it was OK but not great.

I have been very happy with Due for about the month or so I have been using it. It looks good, it’s fast and it helps me be more productive. I don’t think you can ask for more.

App: Due
Price: $2.99 (iTunes)