On notes and todos
The latest episode of Supercomputer inspired me to write about how I work with notes, todos, and reminders every day. Part of the episode was centered on their mutual dissatisfaction with various notes apps, which I totally understand. Over the years, I’ve used NVAlt, 1Writer, Bear, Evernote, Notes, and more to keep track of my thoughts, posts, and notes. Brett Terpstra keeps a very good list of all iOS text editors that includes information about their cross-platform functionality. These days, since I mostly use my iPad and iPhone when I’m not at work, it’s vital that my notes and todo apps live happily on Mac, and iOS.
Notes and posts
Ever since I moved most of my personal computer work to an iPad Pro, I’ve wanted to make sure my notes and writing were easily accessible from wherever I happened to compute. I also wanted to post that writing to my blog which hilariously I first talked about on my now abandoned Medium. Since I post things via Github pages, which is a near-as-makes-no-difference Jekyll instance, I need the ability to push markdown to Github. With Working Copy, this is super simple, and if I need to, I can write entire posts in the pretty nice editor that app contains. But, I want more!
To have a great writing experience, with delightful fonts, a pleasing design, and speedy sync, I use iAWriter. It’s fantastic for notes, long form writing, and even markdown previewing work docs. In the years since the first version of iAWriter launched, it’s become an amazing piece of software. I couldn’t find the earliest versions, but here’s the 2015 version 3. Nowadays, iAWriter can talk to the Files app on iOS natively, which means you can open files from Working Copy, which is registered as a Files location, so you can open files from Github repos in iAWriter. Whether I’m drafting a blog post, or updating my list of books that I’ve read, I open iAWriter first, after pulling the latest version of my repo in Working Copy. For writing and notes I don’t plan to store in my repo, iAWriter keeps them on iCloud as
.md files so I don’t have to worry about portability or missing files. Because these files live in iCloud, they’re searchable using Spotlight on both my iOS and Mac devices—no more depending on launching an app to search. It’s wild how good this app combination is, and how fast I’m able to find and edit things using iAWriter’s native Apple integrations.
When I’m at meetings at work, I also tend to take notes with a pen and a notebook because it helps retention and looks quite a bit less rude to my coworkers or partners. If something needs to be shared, I type it up in Slack or put it in a Readme on a repo.
But what about my todos?!
I work at a company in San Francisco who’s goal is to “make work life simpler, more pleasant and more productive.” I think we’re good at it, but I’ve found that I need a separate place to keep track of my work tasks, my life tasks, and all the random junk I need quick access to when I’m going through my week. Things is that app for me. I made a Project for everything I work on, and Areas for things like “stuff to buy” or “stuff to watch”.
My main view is Today, where tasks I need to finish by bedtime live. When the workday ends, anything I haven’t accomplished gets moved to tomorrow—this is a conscious choice over having those tasks follow me home. That means that I don’t have the psychic dread of “more work”, but can still look at Things for things like the code to my therapist’s office, or a reminder to scoop the cat litter. I love it. Things is the perfect example of just heavy enough feature-wise to handle power-users while only exposing simple features for everyone else. The search is amazing, especially on Mac, where all you need to do is start typing. Sure, there’s no location-based reminders, but honestly at a certain point, in my opinion you’re just faffing around and avoiding work by adding so many layers to your todo process. Get shit done instead of doing loads of metalwork.
Keeping track of all of the things
For me, writing and notes goes in iAWriter, and anything I need to do goes into Things. Sometimes my tasks include a link to a relevant Slack conversation, or email in Spark, or website—and other times it’s just a note to take some medicine or drop mail off in the mailbox. My projects groupings mean I know historically what I’ve accomplished in various areas or work things, and I don’t stress too much planning months in the future. Planning, at least at work, is often a team effort, and there’s a calendar or a roadmap that I don’t need to duplicate in Things. I note what my responsibilities are, and set due dates or targets for those, and leave the rest to where my work actually lives—Slack. If you want to dive more into GTD or w/e, I recommend 43 Folders, which is possibly now disavowed by Merlin, but is still a very smart look at productivity. Generally, simple systems work well for me, and if I look at something, I should either store it, trash it, or use it.
My systems are super helpful for me, but might not work, or work differently for you. That’s totally ok! Hopefully something here was helpful or interesting, and if not, feel free to browse away, and forget~ Work will always be here for you, like a strange nightmare, and how you choose to tackle it is a personal decision.