A couple years ago, when I started blogging, I reviewed a few apps I use to stay as paperless as possible. I think it’s time to revisit them: the technology has changed quite a bit since then and so have (some of) my habits.
Some apps I’ve replaced altogether. For instance, I used to have a separate calendar and to-do app. Searching for the perfect to-do app consumed quite a bit of time. But I’ve consolidated calendar and reminders since. For the past year or so I’ve used – and loved – fantastical. Since it’s available on all the platforms I use and understands real language (e.g.: “lunch with Bob next Tuesday” gets translated as noon whatever the next Tuesday happens to be) it’s been a real time saver. Lots of websites have said the same, and flexibits seems to keep focusing on the app, so I’m confident this will remain my go-to for the foreseeable future. It is a bit pricey when you get the desktop version as well, but I don’t regret the expense. Having the same UI for all platforms makes things very instinctual.
The big app triad for me has been: Dropbox, Evernote, and Drafts. Between those three, I produce most of my work and keep track of pretty much everything.
Let’s talk about Drafts first. It’s the app fewest people will be aware of anyway so maybe you’ll want to give it a try. Drafts isn’t the final location for anything. Instead, it’s the starting point: a place where you can just start typing. Wanna write a paper? A report? A list? A phone number? Directions somewhere? Anything? Drafts is the app I open and start typing in. It automatically opens on a blank page. And then, you can export that text anywhere you want. The app also recognizes markdown, though I don’t use it. Anyway, pretty much everything I write starts here. I’m currently writing this blog post on Drafts. I’ll export it to Evernote or directly to WordPress when I’m done with the text part. This is also how I write down all the funny things my kid says. And then I have a direct “backup to Dropbox” action when I archive them, so I never forget that she said: “I’m as crazy as jello walking on somebody’s head.”
Drafts also syncs from iPad to iPhone seamlessly, and it’s got a keyboard shortcuts bar that you can customize. Oh, and it automatically keeps track of word and character counts AND keeps older versions too. It has the multitasking feature on the iPad and even works with dictation on Apple Watch. Basically I can’t say enough about this app. It’s perfect.
As for Evernote and Dropbox, these aren’t exactly obscure apps. They’ve been reviewed a million times each and have lots of how-tos available too. Plus, you can use both for free, so there’s no reason not to try them. Personally, I have all my files on Dropbox and keep all random docs (receipts, notes, invoices, recipes, etc.) in Evernote. When I park a the airport, for instance, I take a pic of the spot/area labels and keep that in Evernote. It’s also where I import business cards. I can’t add much to what others have said. All I can do is pray that the doom and gloom around Evernote is misplaced. The rumor is that the company is in trouble. That would be disastrous for me: I can’t think of another note taking app that could replace it. I abhor the apple notes UI, and they don’t have OCR or tags, which I use all the time. Please oh please let Evernote not go away…
One more app that has become central for me: pocket. I read and keep track of LOTS of articles about all sorts of topics from architecture to planning, to LEGO, to pedagogy… Pocket lets me save those with a single click from tweets, feedly, and my browser. Then I tag them, and with IF recipes, they get backed up to various google spreadsheets (like this one, for my LEGO tags). This makes it easy for me to keep stuff to read later and to go through them quickly to find a specific article.
Other than my fervent hope that Evernote doesn’t go under, I do have one long-term desire: that all these services be more open to each other. Right now it’s all separate silos. As long as I’m looking in the right place, it’s no problem. But if something is not exactly where I expect, I end up wasting time looking. I believe there are services that allow you to search a bunch of services at once, but none of them seem safe to me. I’m not up for sharing all my passwords with some random company. Dropbox also looks like it’s dipping its feet into the Google Docs/Evernote arena but it’s not ready for prime time yet. Guess that means I’ll have a reason to revisit this topic sometime in the future…