I’ve slowly standardized on a few apps I use all the time; I was talking to someone about this and realized it might be generally useful to someone else (if nothing else, to save a few years of looking around).
I still check out new apps from time to time, but I almost never feel like anything else offers something that I’m missing.
Going back five to ten years, there were always things I wanted to do and tried various tools over time to fill that need, but couldn’t find anything that really stuck, so I’m quite happy that I found tools that have become invaluable over the last two years.
Journaling: Day One
I journal all the time, every day, and can’t imagine ever going back. The way I use this is a bit like “a Facebook account for myself” (yes, I’m not active on Facebook). It’s on my laptop, and on my phone, so there’s never an excuse for not doing it.
It’s a simple concept, but a really good idea. I often find myself wondering, when I write my “end of day entry” what exactly I did that day, so just forcing myself to recollect gives me a better sense of how I spent my time.
What really made a bigger difference was adding a weekly, monthly and even quarterly journalling period, but that can wait for later; just writing something down at all makes a huge difference!
Dumping ground: DevonThink (Pro)
This is something that you need but just don’t know you need 🙂
Finding stuff is hard. In the beginning I tried saving stuff in email, sending myself an attachment. Then I tried putting everything in Drive, or Dropbox. Then I tried making a nice file “hierarchy” to organize stuff.
This isn’t special stuff I’m talking about, just average everyday stuff. Letters, records, passwords, screenshots, scans, notes, that sort of stuff.
You can survive without a tool for this, but being able to instantly look up what you need, and instantly capture new stuff for later, is a whole another experience.
(In case you’re curious, I did use Evernote for this in the past, but I’ll have to talk separately about why it wasn’t good enough for me. Yes, I even tried the paid subscription.)
Task manager: OmniFocus
I have trouble remembering stuff. I know I’m not alone in this, but I have a worse time of it than most.
I started with plain old Reminders, ended up at Wunderlist (which was almost good enough). In the middle I even tried Trello (and Asana) but that was just not my use case at all.
Again, nothing special, just normal stuff: working on taxes, getting a picture framed, getting a car wash. Some things you need to do are routine things and things, others are “mini-projects”, some things can be done this week, some have to be postponed, some can be done at home, some need a shopping trip … and you don’t want to see one big bag of everything either, you want to see little bits of the whole picture at at time — Omnifocus helps me do all of this.
Finally, yes, I know Things exists, it’s cool, but I’ve seen screenshots of the OmniFocus version coming out later this year and it looks quite promising. Still, if you use nothing right now, just pick any one of the two.
I wanted to stick to a “top three list” here, but there are other apps I use too. There are also past alternatives that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite work out, and it might be worth mentioning them all later.
But just as a “basic starter kit”, these three are invaluable. I spent years figuring out the right mix for me, and my life would be miserable without these tools to rely on.