Things 3 after 5 months

Over the past few years, I’ve been searching for the right task manager for my needs. Doing both client work and freelance writing—almost entirely on iPad now—I navigate a mix of teams, Slack channels, and tools. I’ve tried a number of apps including Todoist, 2Do, Trello, OmniFocus, and others. But when Cultured Code released Things 3 for iPad, iPhone, and Mac back in May, my interest piqued.

Getting started

My original goal for trying Todoist and Trello was that my clients and editors could collaborate on tasks with me. Unfortunately, more often than not, they either already had their own task manager or they couldn’t get into those options. I work in Trello a little with a couple clients, but it hasn’t become a staple.

I picked up Things 3 on iPad and iPhone toward the end of Cultured Code’s beta and moved over a couple small projects. It’s certainly a unique experience from most other task managers; surprisingly simple and focused. You can’t pick your favorite (or any) colors for projects or set a pretty wallpaper photo.

After a couple weeks, I found that simplicity and focus to be refreshing. Once I caught onto the flexibility in Things 3, it clicked.

One thing I’ve never liked about many task managers is how rigidly dependent they usually are on deadlines. Working with clients (mostly) in the indie app space, projects sometimes slip or suddenly grow in complexity. It means a lot of tedious fiddling with calendar pickers and number wheels.

“Today”

A core feature that draws me to Things is its clever, fast, no-pressure “Today” system. You can quickly and easily mark one or more tasks as “Today,” and they’ll all appear in that section in the sidebar. They don’t get stale or turn red if you don’t complete them today. It’s just an easy way to quickly build a list of tasks you want to focus on.

Now, you can set due dates, deadlines, and reminders for tasks, and I do for some. But these options are not a primary focus of the interface or organizing tasks. I like that.

Due dates, deadlines, and reminders

When you do want a due date or need a nudge to finish a task, Things 3 does some cool stuff. There are three options, which can be used separately or together:

  • Due Date – The task will appear in Today on the day you choose. Does not fire an alert, does not become overdue
  • Deadline – Similar to a Due Date, but can become Overdue and get marked as such. Does not fire an alert
  • Reminder – An actual task alert. Can fire at a specific time on a due date, deadline, or any other time

I thoroughly enjoy this system. For example: when I have a MacLife column due, I create a task with a deadline for a specific day. I also set a due date of a few days before. This makes the task appear in Today, but gives me a few days to finish it because I don’t always finish a column in one day. Sometimes I need to research or stew on a concept, or finish a first draft, trash it, and go for round two.

In most other task managers, a task simply has a due date. If not checked off that day, the task takes on some variety of scolding, anxiety-inducing OVERDUE badge. For a lot of my work, I don’t think or operate that way, so I’ve usually had trouble with this aspect (and others) of most task managers.

Drag & drop and headings

Another of my favorite aspects of Things 3 is how thoroughly it supports drag and drop. To reorder tasks or projects on any device, simply drag them up and down the list.

On iOS, you can tap and drag the new tasks (+) button anywhere in a list to creat a task right there. It’s very useful, especially with the next and final feature I’ll mention here: Headings.

You can now create multiple Headings in a project to organize tasks. I find it to be a great way to break down large projects or just create separate ‘buckets’ or types of tasks. For example: in the past few months, in my Finer Tech newsletter project (to which you should totally subscribe!), I had an “iOS 11” heading for collecting those tips. I also have an “Ideas” heading for saving ways to improve the newsletter.

Things 3 all the way

If it isn’t obvious by now, I fully switched to Things 3 for all of my personal and most work project management. Previous versions lacked a few things I wanted, but I’m very happy with 3. Since I work mostly on iPad and iPhone, I use it there the most.

I’m hopeful that Cultured Code will soon add iPad goodies like keyboard shortcuts and support for iOS 11 drag and drop from other apps. And, while we can filter by tags in a project on iOS, I’d like at least iPad to mirror the Mac version and place those tags under the project title at the top for easier access.

If you’re queasy about trying Things 3 on iOS, remember that the App Store has a decent refund policy now. For Mac users, Cultured Code’s website has a trial.

You can use your email for iMessage, plus it’s more identifiable

By default, your iCloud account is your iMessage to/from address. If you own an iPhone, your phone number is enabled for iMessage and, as far as I can tell, becomes the default to/from address on every device.

You can also attach extra email addresses to your iCloud/iMessage to use as your default to/from address. I added my personal email (at chartier.land) and set it as the default on all devices. I think it’s easier to identify and remember than some random string of numbers, especially when I’m messaging someone new.

To do this:

  • iOS: Log into appleid.apple.com with the iCloud account you use for iMessage. Under the Account > Reachable At section, click Add New and add any other email addresses you want to use with iMessage.
  • Mac: Open Messages and go to Preferences > Accounts > your iMessage account. In the Reachable At section, click Add New. You can also use the iOS method if you prefer.

**Important Note**: Any email addresses you attach to your iCloud/iMessage account are no longer eligible to become Apple IDs. However, you _can_ detach these addresses later at appleid.apple.com to make them eligible again.


To set an email address as your default from for new conversations:

  • iOS: Open Settings > Messages > Send & Receive, then make your selection in the Start New Conversations From section.
  • Mac: Open Messages and go to Preferences > Accounts > your iMessage account. Make your selection in the Start New Conversations From section.

Now, when you iMessage someone new, or start new conversations with existing contacts, your messages will come from your email address instead of a phone number. Bonus points: if you set an email address you actually use, now your contacts also know your email address for sending more email-y stuff.

A guide for switching from Dropbox to iCloud Drive

A while ago, I switched from Dropbox to iCloud Drive. I did it mainly because I realized I was paying for too many clouds and, between the two, iCloud had become more indispensable to me than Dropbox. People asked me for a guide on how to do it, and I think I have something fairly straightforward for you.

This could probably work for switching between just about any Cloud Service A to Service B. The main requirement of my method is that you have on-disk file access to both services; not just silly web apps in a browser. In other words, their apps are installed and you have local/synced access to all files.

Naturally, before diving in, I recommend you back up everything and triple check them just to be sure. Here are the steps I took:

  • Find a file cloning utility like ChronoSync. I’ve owned a copy for years, and it’s always performed beautifully, including for this recent switch
  • Set up the file copy source as the root of your Dropbox folder
  • Set up your destination as the root of iCloud Drive
    • As far as I can tell, the Finder doesn’t reveal the actual directory location of your iCloud Drive. In the File selection sheet, iCloud Drive should be in your Finder sidebar. If not, Command-Shift-I will select it
  • (Optional) Exclude any folders you don’t want copied. For example, I have a “Family” folder in Dropbox for stuff I share with Jessi. Sadly, iCloud Drive still doesn’t support this in iOS 11 and High Sierra, so I didn’t see a point (yet) in copying that folder over
  • (Optional, but highly recommended) Do a trial run first. ChronoSync has a ‘test’ option that will display all the changes it intends to make. This helped me feel better that I had the sync set up properly
  • Run the copy. As long as you have the space for it, I recommend doing a copy, not a move, just to be safe. But if you’re short on space, a move might be your only option. Proceed with caution, backup backup backup, etc.
  • Check that everything is in iCloud Drive
  • Delete everything from Dropbox
  • (Optional, if possible) Uninstall Dropbox. It’ll free up a decent chunk of CPU and memory. I’ve seen people with big powerful MacBook Pros mention a slight, but notable increase in performance once they got rid of Dropbox’s sync client
  • (Optional) If your goal is to save money like me, don’t forget to downgrade your Dropbox account. I dropped back to the free tier, so that’s around $100/year back in my pocket

The end.

Of course, I still collaborate on documents with other people, moreso these days since I freelance for multiple clients. Your mileage likely varies, but most collaboration I do happens in Google Drive (unfortunately) and Quip, so I simply have less of a need for a shared raw file space.

Overall, it’s gone pretty well. I haven’t lost files, and the iOS 11 iCloud Drive Files app is a big leap forward. If Apple ever bothers to catch up to competition with shared folders, I might close my Dropbox account entirely.

I hope this helped. Hit me with any questions, and I’ll answer best I can.

Rethinking app organization because of iOS 11

I’m pretty used to iOS 11’s new Dock and multitasking features on my iPad. But right now, my Dock is what you see here in this post.

I defaulted to basically recreating my Mac’s Dock—a simple collection of many, but not all, of my most-used apps. But iOS 11 also supports folders in the Dock, which opens up some doors that I haven’t explored very well.

Sure, I can always drop back to the homescreen to grab an app for Split View. As you can see in my recent video, it’s easy enough to do with just one hand. But being able to flick up the dock while already in an app or a Split View removes one step of friction and makes Split View multitasking even more one-hand-able. Not having to exit the current app setup is handy, so I think it’s time to tinker with reorganizing my app pages and Dock. Maybe a couple more folders are in order.

Once you get your hands on iOS 11 and get used to the new Dock, I’d recommend going through this process. Having more apps at a flick of your fingertips might be a pretty big deal.

One reason I stick with Apple stuff: respect

A big reason I often stick with Apple stuff is that the entire tech industry is racing to see who can treat us with the least respect. The latest challenger is Sonos with its new “give us your data or your stuff stops working” privacy threat policy.

I don’t always want to stick with Apple stuff just because it’s Apple. I may like Apple, and most of my career is based in Apple’s ecosystem. But we also have a couple Sonos speakers, I generally like them, and there are all sorts of great companies and products out there not made by Apple. My problem is that this trend of treating us like data batteries from The Matrix deeply disturbs me. It increasingly gives me pause about trusting many new companies and products.

For example, now I’m thinking about selling our Sonos for an alternative. To be fair, the thought crossed my mind a little while ago because I don’t like being limited to apps and services Sonos directly supports. The announcement mostly compels me to consider it more seriously. Maybe I could go with a HomePod or something else AirPlay compatible. I don’t know, but now I have to spend real time on researching a new product I can (hopefully) trust instead of… just about everything else I’d rather spend time on.

I don’t like companies that believe they have some kind of right to every single little thing I do. They don’t. They especially don’t when they sell premium products, then suddenly decide to further cash in by violating my privacy and selling my data to an already woefully corrupt data brokerage industry.

📱 How to make Notification Center your “inbox for apps”

Note: this is a sample article from my weekly Finer Things in Tech Newsletter. Subscribe to get quick tips, occasional longer walkthroughs like this, and links to good reads from others in the community.

I had an idea a while ago that helped me in dealing with push notification and email overload. In short: I realized there are a number of things I want to be aware of, but I don’t need to be alerted in real time. I decided I wanted a place that:

  • is not my email inbox. I’m trying to improve the signal vs. noise balance in there
  • did not alert me in real time as things are happening, because that’s distracting
  • is easy to triage and go on about my day, and doesn’t clutter things like search when I need to find important things later

After some testing with Notification Center on my iOS devices, I found a configuration that has helped me a lot, so maybe it can help you too. For each app and service that fits my description above, try this:

  • Turn off all available email notifications. You might be able to do this in-app, but you might have to tediously log into their website because the company still thinks it’s 2002
  • Opened Settings > Notifications > name of the app
  • Turn off the app badge
  • Turn off sounds
  • Turn off banners
  • Turn off the lock screen option
  • Keep “Show in Notification Center” enabled

This way, I avoid noisy emails cluttering my inbox and push notification banners popping up and distracting me. But—and here’s the important part—I can still get notifications about things that are important, and check them on my own time in Notification Center.

Any notifications I tap get cleared automatically. All others can be wiped out with a quick 3D Touch on the (X) button on iPhone, as that offers a “Clear All Notifications” option. On iPad, it’s only two taps to clear a day’s notifications.

This can work for everything from sports scores to updates from your favorite bloggers. For example, I follow a lot of people on Tumblr, including a few artists whose work I thoroughly appreciate. I turned on notifications for those artists, but I certainly don’t want to be alerted about their posts while I’m working.

Now, with this setup, I can catch up on stuff like this on my own time, without it getting lost in the stream of my day to day work and life.

iOS 11: An alternative to swiping notifications, and why Apple changed this behavior

In iOS 11’s Notification Center, Apple removed our ability to swipe left on a notification in order to reveal buttons for Clear and View. I found an alternative, I think I know why Apple changed this behavior, and I like it better now.

Solution: 3D Touch or tap-and-hold

Previously, swiping left on a notification felt slightly problematic. It was sometimes easy to swipe too far or not far enough, resulting in unintended behavior.

In iOS 11, you can either 3D Touch a notification or, for those on devices without 3D Touch, including iPads, tap-and-hold. This has two advantages.

First, the notification is now displayed with all available functionality. Instead of having to choose whether to clear or interact with the notification (say, to reply to a message or mark a task complete), you now get to see the notification’s full content, all available actions, and a convenient and easy to tap (X) in the upper right of the notification box.

The Why

I think the second advantage is easier navigation. Now, a swipe left anywhere in Notification Center results in launching the Camera app. A swipe right anywhere takes you to the Today widget page. From my testing, it seems impossible now to accidentally swipe a notification when you wanted the camera, and vice versa.

In short, navigating between Notification Center, Today, and Camera is now much simpler. As with any muscle memory change, this will probably take some adjustment. But after being deliberate about it the last couple days, I’m getting in the habit, and I definitely appreciate the easier navigation.

If you like my writing, subscribe to my weekly newsletter. It’s bite-sized tips for getting more out of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, as well as occasional links to good reads about tech culture, self-reflection and improvement, art, and more.

iOS 11 multitasking for iPad and the case for new muscle memory

Like Federico Viticci, Fraser Speirs, and others, I’m a big fan of my iPad and have worked over the last couple years to go iPad-only (or, in my case for now, -mostly). I’ve spent a good amount of time with the iOS 11 public beta on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and I’m really excited about the potential this OS has to bring more interest to the iPad as a platform, and rejuvenate the strong body of apps that’s there.

But the multitasking and drag-and-drop. Oh lordy, the multitasking and drag-and-drop.

Split View and Picture in Picture were great additions in iOS 9, but they were clearly intended to get our feet wet with these ideas. We were generally limited to two apps on screen, with an optional third if you watch a video in Picture in Picture. The second app defaulted to a column on the right—not left—and could only be expanded to take up half the display. No drag and drop meant a number of tedious taps if you wanted to simply bring an image from Safari on one side into a note on the other.

iOS 11 will blow the roof off this, build you a new roof to make amends, and then blow that roof off just to drive the point home. For a practical example, check out a GIF of my current, fairly simple workflow below. I’m:

  • Writing in Ulysses on the left
  • Occasionally distracting myself with Tweetbot on the right
  • Using Safari in a Slide Over to check details and grab links
  • Sometimes I have a video app in the upper right playing Venture Bros or Cyeye videos of Vainglory

iOS 11 Split View example

I don’t always work with this much stuff going on (you can breathe now, Shawn Blanc), but this kind of setup is great for all kinds of traditional workflows. Plus, I haven’t even gotten to using drag-and-drop that much yet, mostly because this is still a beta and store apps simply can’t update to support it yet.

I like iOS, Split View, and 11’s roof-bursting improvements because they hit the reset button on the tediousness of doing this on a Mac.

I’ve always found resizing and moving windows to feel like cumbersome busywork. A larger problem is that, to me, most Mac apps have never felt like they were designed to work alongside each other. It seems like there’s always been this cognitive dissonance between the potential of the Mac’s big, beautiful screen space and multitasking.

Apps are often designed by people with big 21-30-inch displays, or at least 15-inch MacBook Pros. Rarely have I felt a strong sense that they were tested at any size smaller than “most of that big-ass display.” But when I’ve wanted to, say, collect photos from Safari into a note in Evernote, or simply a Finder folder, manually resizing those two windows for side-by-side cooperation always felt fairly janky, at best. Sidebars get scrunched to sizes they clearly weren’t tested for, or file and folder names get cut off.

I’m not pitching that iOS has found some ultimate solution or that 11 will be The One For Everyone. But I like that Apple had the #hashtag courage to go back to the drawing board on the foundations of so many workflows to explore better, or at least other, ways for a broader audience. Apple has been iterating, and iOS 11 is a massive leap towards realizing the benefits of all that work.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re a fan of working on the iPad or at least open to becoming one. I don’t recommend trying the 11 beta. But once it ships this fall, I definitely recommend bringing your workflows and an open mind to what might be an enlightening experience. Multitasking works very differently in iOS 11. Spend some time to learn some new habits and muscle memory. It’ll be worth it.

Thoughts on switching from a 12.9-inch iPad Pro to the new 10.5-inch

TL;DR—It’s taking some adjustment, but I’m going to stick with the 10.5-inch iPad. Here’s how it’s gone so far.

I’ve been working towards an iPad-only lifestyle since around the original iPad Air. I thoroughly enjoy the iPad as a device and its advantages over classic computers. I also generally appreciate iOS, and I’ve been thankful to watch it evolve and gain many of the tools and workflows it needs to serve more customers.

When the 12.9-inch iPad Pro debuted in fall 2015, I eagerly switched from an iPad Air 2. I was curious about the potential of a larger iOS device and a nearly full-sized touchscreen keyboard. It’s mostly been my main machine, as I usually only need my Mac these days for apps or services that are dragging their feet in transitioning to mobile.

I really liked my 12-inch iPad Pro. The extra screen real estate was a joy to use for every task, especially typing. But over time, I ran into too many little situations where its size got in the way. I generally couldn’t fit it on train and airplane trays, and when paired with most iPad keyboards (assuming you could find one for the 12-inch), its weight could hit or exceed three pounds. That’s 13-inch MacBook Pro territory, which negated some of the mobile advantages that attract me to the iPad in the first place.

When Apple announced the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, my interest piqued. I thought maybe it could be a good compromise between power and size, with potentially better accessory options considering what I expect will be popularity.

My 10.5-inch iPad Pro (512GB, Space Gray, Verizon) arrived on June 13. As tempted as I am to try the iOS 11 beta, I rely on my iPad for my content and consulting business and some of my hobbies, like reading and photography. I’ll stick with iOS 10 at least until the initial public beta ships, but possibly even until it officially ships in the fall and I’m comfortable that most of my apps have updated.

Holding, carrying it around

When it comes to carrying the iPad like a book, or sharing something interesting with a friend by handing it over, the 12.9-inch iPad never stopped feeling just a little too unwieldy and awkward. It’s a little thing, but the iPad’s portability and ‘naturalness’ makes a difference to me.

I appreciate the 10.5’s slightly greater screen size in use. But that natural feeling when carrying or sharing the device is back for me, unmistakable from the 9.7.

The on-screen keyboard

This one’s going to take some adjustment, as I really got use to the 12.9’s comfortable, MacBook-sized on-screen keyboard. I had my off days, but I could type upwards of 80-95 WPM on that thing—a little slower than a hardware keyboard, but certainly acceptable by my standards.

Even with its larger screen compared to the 9.7, the 10.5 iPad Pro doesn’t get any sort of unique touchscreen keyboard. It’s the standard 9.7 keyboard, just a little larger.

It’s a drawback for me, but not a dealbreaker; I’ll get over it. Plus, since accessories are more popular for this size, I can augment with a hardware keyboard.

Little Split View changes

Split View on the 12.9 is a dream. That big screen had ample room to run, say, Ulysses on the left, Twitter or Messages in a right column, and a PiP window of The Venture Bros in one corner or another. But some days, I’d run two apps side-by-side, each getting half the screen. In that mode, both apps would behave like a full-sized iPad apps. I’d get the full view, all tabs, or whatever interface I’d typically see if the iPad was in portrait.

Not so on the 10.5. For example: on the 12.9, Safari would continue to display a tab bar at the top even in Split View at 50 percent space. At that size on the 10.5, it falls back to an iPhone interface, with a toolbar and tab button at the bottom.

While I find this a bummer, it isn’t a deal breaker either. Looking back, I didn’t run apps at 50/50 very often, so I see that perk as more of a luxury anyway. I’ll live.

More accessory options is nice

This deserves its own mention, because I find it bittersweet. The 12.9 is a great machine, but by itself, it’s already at 1.5 pounds. Add something like a Smart Cover, a detachable keyboard, or a full-on folio or case, and you can easily push past 2.5 and 3 pounds.

Exacerbating the problem, the 12-inch iPad is about as wide as a 13-inch MacBook Air (wider than my 12-inch MacBook!). That pushed it out of the realm of most compact day bags that I previously preferred for my iPad, and into standard backpacks and messenger bags. Again, it was a portability killer.

For a while, I just dealt with the bag thing. But it slowly great into a deal breaker of the 12-inch, since it greatly diminished the iPad’s portability for me. Being a commuter in Chicago, I like to bring a small day bag with me almost every time I leave the house. This meant that, in the past, I could bring my iPad almost everywhere with me. The 12-inch broke that.

On the flip side of that coin, though, it was just plain difficult to find accessories at all for the 12-inch. It was pitched as a pro iPad during a time when Apple has struggled to convince some portions of the pro market to try the iPad at all. I wager many companies simply didn’t want to take the risk.

I expect the 10.5 iPad to be pretty popular, and thus score a myriad of accessory sizes and styles. When it comes to bags, its actual footprint isn’t much larger than the 9.7, so most bags should be fine there.

Happy so far

I’m glad to be back at a more hand-able, share-able, portable size with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro (I’ll put my 12-inch on eBay tomorrow, but reach out if you’re interested in buying it). This thing is stupid powerful, too. I notice it most when photo editing in Enlight or Pixelmator, then opening another app in Split View, or playing Vainglory and putting Discord in Slide Over to check on things while I wait for a match.

I hope this piece helped if you’re on the decision about these two iPad sizes, but I’m always happy to answer more questions. Hit me up on Tumblr or Twitter, and I’ll do my best.

The case for editing tweets

Twitter is a publishing platform. Run and used by human beings.

Most publishing platforms allows us to make things and then post those things to the internet.

Tumblr. WordPress. Instagram. Blogger. Facebook. Drupal. Medium. LinkedIn. Your company’s custom CMS. Hell, even Path. Pinterest. Twitter. Publishing platforms. Run and used by human beings.

Virtually every publishing platform recognizes that we’re human beings. That’s why they allow us to edit the things we publish. Tumblr. WordPress. Instagram. Blogger. Facebook. Drupal. Medium. LinkedIn. Your company’s custom CMS. Hell, even Path. Pinterest. Publishing platforms. Run, used, and editable by human beings.

Per the human condition, sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we need to update people on a topic or event they’re following. Sometimes we need to add more information for clarity. Sometimes we say something very, very stupid and need to make amends. There are zillions more reasons like this. Because we’re human beings.

Twitter is not unique among its peers.

The way people use Twitter to publish things they say or create is not unique among its peers.

The ways and reasons people quote or otherwise use Twitter content outside of Twitter are not unique among its peers.

Virtually every other publishing platform recognizes that we’re human beings, and that we have zillions of reasons to need and want to edit the things we publish.

The only thing unique about Twitter is that its decision makers don’t get it.

Addendum

Know something that is unique about one of the many platforms that recognizes we need to edit the things we publish? As far as I can tell, Facebook is the only that offers any kind of ‘paper trail.’

When someone edits a Facebook post or comment, an “Edited” link appears on it somewhere, usually near the timestamp. Tap it, and you’ll see a list of not just the current and original versions, but any and all iterations in between.

That’s frigging smart. All publishing platforms should do that. Especially Twitter.