My iPhone Productivity Folder

As you may have noticed from the trickle of posts the past few weeks, my work life has me very busy right now. In the over ten years I have been running my computer consulting business, this has been the busiest summer ever. I’m certainly not going to complain because, when one works for themselves, busy is a good thing. It’s just very unusual because summer is usually my slowest time so I find myself wholly unprepared for it.

That said, when I find myself overwhelmed, I find that the most beneficial thing I can do to stay on top of things is to reduce my normal task system to one that has low barrier to action, less items, and tremendous focus. It also has to be portable without adding to my existing daily arsenal of items. Lately, three iPhone applications have been fitting that bill and helping me to achieve modest goals.

One Thing Today — This is the recently released iPhone version of a daily goal manager, the desktop version of which I have featured here before. Here, for each day, I put the one goal or project that has my attention. This is for more of a high level thing like “Writing” or “Capture and Clear”. Just something to boot my brain into the proper mode for the day ahead. It’s simple but I find it very effective.

Now Do This (iTunes Link) — This is where I put the three to five things I wish to accomplish for the day. Once listed, the app will display them in large type on the screen in the order listed one task at a time. Swipe a checkmark on the screen to mark the task complete or a circle to send it to the bottom of the list. This really helps me to stay on task and I find it best to just launch this app and keep it launched so I see what I should be doing next whenever I unlock the phone.

Tenplustwo — This is a simple timer built around the (10+2)*5 procrastination hack invented my Merlin Mann. The idea is to alternate 10 minutes of work with 2 minutes of play thus gaming yourself into getting 50 minutes of work done. When I need a little help getting through that list, this is how I do it.

The Everywhere Else Machine

Some of you may remember my mentioning, slightly before the release of the iPad, that I planned to use it as my main portable machine, replacing and relegating to the desktop my three year old Macbook. I have had many requests for an update on how that is going. Instead of some full blown, windbagging post about every boring detail of how I use this thing, I offer a series of observations that I hope will be insightful:

  • What I have found is that the iPad has in fact become what I have come to think of as my everywhere else machine. In other words, when I am sitting at my desk, in my home office, I use my Macbook. Everywhere else, the living room, the den, at a client, at a coffee shop — I use the iPad. This means I use it quite a lot but there are certainly some things I wait to do on my Macbook (web development stuff for instance). That said, this is more a limit of available apps then the iPad itself. Most of what I do, which constitutes writing, browsing, social networks, and email, can easily be done on the iPad (and in some cases it’s even better). My Macbook rarely leaves the desk.

  • Though the pairing of Apple’s Wireless Keyboard with the iPad is a fantastic mobile experience, I rarely do so unless I have a massive amount of writing to do. I find the onscreen keyboard, especially in landscape orientation, just as fast (I typed this whole post exactly this way). Now, your mileage may vary on this. I never learned how to touch type and, instead, am a very fast two finger typist. Therefore, I tend to adapt to keyboards of varying types and sizes quickly. If you are a strictly traditional typist who has only ever typed by resting your hands on the home row, it will take a while to break yourself of this habit.

  • Much has been said about how fast the iPad is, not enough has been said about why that speed matters. Speed makes a huge difference not just in the time to launch apps, load web sites, etc. but also in making the many real world metaphors the iPad employs feel natural. Turning the pages of a virtual book would seem far less like turning the pages of a real book if they did not, in fact, keep up with your gestures the way a real world page does. Same with swiping through a “stack” of pictures. All of this on screen manipulation would be less impressive if not “real time”.

  • Speaking of landscape orientation, that is how I most often use mine (and with the home button to the right). I generally only hold it in portrait when I am reading in Instapaper or a magazine app. In other words, when using it “as a computer” I hold it landscape. When using it “as paper” I use it portrait. I have found in my informal polling and observations that most of those people do the same. As with above, I find Apple’s inclusion of this feature central to the real world metaphors the iPad employs to feel natural.

  • The last two items here are the “magical” part of the equation with this thing. What happens for me is that, after a few seconds of use, the device itself seems to disappear. Suddenly, I am holding whatever app I am using in my hands. It’s a bit hard to describe unless you actually use an iPad for a while but, once again in my informal polling, I have found it to be universally true amongst those I have asked.

  • Related side note: Google kind of confuses me. Why use the pre-iPad time you obviously had to work on an iPad optimized interface to GMail when Gmail’s HTML mode experience is perfectly useable (and, I would argue it is even more so) on a device and screen this size? Why not instead make sure Google Docs, Sheets, etc. work instead? I use GMail in HTML mode on the iPad all the time. Works like a charm. Serious missed opportunity here since both Pages and Numbers on the iPad are expensive and difficult to get data in and out of. Google could have made their cloud apps work and served up ads to two million people with a better solution.

  • I’m sure you have heard this from other iPad owners but I can confirm it, if you take your iPad out in a public place, expect many interruptions from the curious and covetous. Seriously, people can not help themselves from interrupting you, asking questions about it, etc. What I find most interesting is that almost everyone who has done so with me are folks who obviously are not geeks or what we geeks would consider computer savvy.

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing

Steve Jobs: The Next Insanely Great Thing

Design is not limited to fancy new gadgets. Our family just bought a new washing machine and dryer. We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them. It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.

We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.

We ended up opting for these Miele appliances, made in Germany. They’re too expensive, but that’s just because nobody buys them in this country. They are really wonderfully made and one of the few products we’ve bought over the last few years that we’re all really happy about. These guys really thought the process through. They did such a great job designing these washers and dryers. I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years.

I was recently reminded of this 1996 interview with Steve Jobs in Wired Magazine by my friend Scott Jackson. It’s a great interview and an interesting look back from a historical perspective but it was this answer, to the very last question, “Is there anything well designed today that inspires you?”, that struck me. Though I have read this interview and quotes from it many times since first published, this time it got me thinking about some things in a way I had not fleshed out before.

First, why are we all not, as individuals, as families, as a society, putting the same amount of thought and consideration into everything we purchase? What if, before every major purchase, we examined what our real needs were and we had discussions about it around the dinner table with the people we love who would be affected by the decision? What are the advantages, the tradeoffs, the things we care about, and the things we don’t? In the context I set forth here on this site, I am arguing that you should put at least this much thought into a purchase that in many cases will be over a thousand dollars and something you will likely have to live with for two to three years. Why not apply this method to everything else?

Second, can you imagine what the world would be like, or would look like, if we all did this? It would be an entirely different place. Companies that thrive on mediocrity, commoditization, and appealing to the lowest common denominator simply would not be able to thrive and likely not exist. If we all raised our expectations and deepened our considerations then corporations would have to compete on the basis of quality and design and not price (or at least far less so).

Third, if we should all put this much care into what we consume, I would argue (hope) that we should put this much care, if not more, into what we produce.


I’m certainly not a model citizen here but I can tell you that I care a great deal. Sharp eyed readers may have noticed that I make slight edits and wording changes to most of the things I post. Sometimes I do this within minutes of posting them. I also have been known to re-read a post that is weeks old and make slight and subtle changes even though no one will notice but me. Why? Two reasons:

  1. I care.

  2. I once had a teacher in a creative writing class convince me that, when it comes to art, nothing is ever finished or absolved from the potential to change or improve. If I see something that I made that I think could be improved I do so, no matter the time or audience.

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