With three girls 13 total months apart (twins and an older sister), I often get asked how I keep organized, so I figured a post on my favorite tools would be beneficial to others.

The key is my iPhone, which is my second brain for the most part. There are three apps I use to help keep me organized: Omnifocus, Evernote, and Clear. I’ve tried a TON of different to do apps and other productivity tools over the last year and I always come back to Omnifocus for my to do list; Evernote for storing links, reference materials, and other useful content I come across during the day; and recently Clear as a simple list app. More on all that below!

Omnifocus

Omnifocus is a premium to do app for the Mac and iOS. The price puts a lot of people off, but when it comes down to support, app quality, and usefulness, there are few apps that can compete. You need to pay a premium for that kind of experience. Plus, in the end, $20 (iPhone price) for a to do app is nothing considering you’ll use that app more often than pretty much any other application on your phone. If you consider one year ownership, that $20 works out to $0.05 per day, so it’s nothing really.

Organization

I took time to reorganize my todo list last night, with a main focus on simplifying the organization and implementing a different strategy for contexts. (Contexts, for all of you not familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done, are generally thought of as places or methods to do work — so Phone, Desk, Home, etc would be considered standard “contexts”.)

Projects

My new main projects view now has three folders: Personal, Work, and Eko Agency.

Inside Personal, there are two folders: “Personal Projects” and “Rituals and Reviews”, with the latter holding all of my regularly scheduled items (chores, payments, Omnifocus reviews, etc.)

Then I added “Single Actions” and “Someday” task lists. Single Actions will hold all of the one-off items, while Someday will hold all of my ideas for future projects or items with no due date.

Work is set up similarly, but I used different names to make them stand out from my personal list: “Work Projects”, “Work Routine”, “Work One Offs”, and “Work Someday”.

Eko Agency is also similar, but more streamlined since it’s less of a focus for me: “Eko Projects”, “Eko Someday”, and “Eko Single Actions”.

Contexts

As far as contexts go, I chose to take a different approach than a standard GTD setup. My new method is based off an article on Simplicity Is Bliss called ‘A Fresh Take on Contexts‘, which argues a better approach for contexts revolves around time and attention — so how much time and energy you have available, as well as the level of focus needed for your tasks.

With that said, here are my new contexts:

  • Low Energy: tasks that take longer than 5 or 10 minutes, but don’t require a lot of focus.
  • Keep Flow: short tasks, less than 10 minutes and no differentiation on level of focus. More on this below!
  • Full Focus: tasks that take longer than 5 or 10 minutes and require a lot of focus.
  • Errands: pretty self explanatory.
  • Waiting: stuff I am waiting on other people to do before I can move a task or project forward.

I did want to spend a little more time describing “Keep Flow”, which is just a shortened way of telling myself these taska are quick and easy. Tasks I can pick up when I’m bored, feeling stuck, or not feeling up to taking on something bigger — kind of an anti-procrastination context. That way I can knock off a few items quick to get back into a productive mode.

Under Keep Flow, there are a few contexts: Call, Email, Read, Quick Dashes. Where Quick Dashes are active tasks that don’t take much time to complete — usually less than 10 minutes.

The cool thing about Omnifocus is I can create two custom views (called Perspectives) for this new Keep Flow context: one for Work and one for Personal, that I can use to break down that context even more and have a ready made list of quick tasks while at work or at home. Brilliant!

Then finally, my favorite feature of Omnifocus for iPhone is the Forecast view, which shows you the next 5 days, as well as Overdue and Future items in a quick view. You can even hook up your calendar to show meetings and appointments in this view as well. So useful!

Evernote

Evernote is an amazing service that allows you to capture and store information in centralized location. You can then tag and organize your information to make it easy to find and refer back to on a regular basis.

What I like to collect:

  • Gift ideas.
  • Recipes (Initially. I end up adding them into Paprike Recipe Manager for actual use in the kitchen.)
  • Useful programming, e-commerce and web development articles and guides.
  • An archive of good articles I’ve read on the web. Topics usually include: politics, Mac/iOS software tips, and Buddhism.
  • Site bookmarks (iOS apps, web apps, etc.) to check out later.

Capture

It’s so easy to get virtually anything into Evernote, from any device you use on a regular basis. I have the browser extension set up on all of the computers I use, an email address I use to send entries to (they automatically get added to your inbox), as well easy share buttons integrated in my feed readers: Google Reader and Reeder for iOS.

Access

I have the desktop app installed on my MacBook, the Chrome app on my work computer, and the iOS app on my iPad and iPhone for easy access pretty much anywhere. The search is great too, so you can find that hidden gem in your pile of notes very easily.

I highly recommend Evernote. Did I mention the basic service is free? Go sign up and come back, I’ll wait…

Clear

Clear is a simple list app for iPhone that costs $0.99. It has a really unique gesture-based UI that is fun to use, so that alone makes it worth checking out.

I use Clear to keep lists of things I don’t need to put in Omnifocus: movies I want to see, books I want to read, basic post ideas for this blog, music I want to check out, quick shopping lists, and other temporary lists.

Clear excels in quickly creating lists (it opens much faster than Omnifocus and item entry is very fast, as well), so it’s a perfect fit for my use case.

Summary

That’s pretty much it — three tools that organize my entire life.

What do you use? Share in the comments! I’ll also answer any questions, if you need help or want more detail.

I’ve written about starting before, most prominently in New Year, New Attitude. My favorite part from that post:

Start more of what you love. Just start. Make those daily decisions that push those things forward and don’t make excuses.

I don’t think “just start” covers it all, though. It’s fine for a lot of things, but those big projects that you care a lot about are still hard to “just start.” Why? Fear of failure.

Peter Bregman addresses this in a blog post over on Harvard Business Review:

Because, ultimately, the reason we procrastinate on a big, long-term project isn’t just because we have too much time or don’t know where to start. And it’s certainly not because we think it’s not important. In fact, it’s the opposite.

We procrastinate on that big project precisely because it’s important. So important, in fact, that we’re too scared to work on it.

His advice?

Don’t ignore your fear. Acknowledge it.

Here’s why acknowledging your fear works: You’re scared because you expect a lot from yourself and you’re afraid you’ll underperform. When you acknowledge that fear, you’re acknowledging that you might not have all that it takes to meet your expectations; you might not have all the tools, information, skills, etc. Admitting that, in turn, reduces your expectation of getting it perfect right off the bat.

And lowering your expectation of getting it right is the key to getting it started.

Acknowledging fear comes down to first, lowering your expectations, then building off the tools, information, and skills you acquire to constantly iterate and improve the project.

So, what big project have I been scared to start? The iPhone app. It’s on my love list for this year and I haven’t done anything that could be considered “starting.”

So, my next steps — with due dates:

  1. Collect resources and information necessary to start, then improve the app (ongoing, no end date)
  2. Setup development environment on MacBook (started, not finished – due February 19th)
  3. Sketch out basic screens and functionality (due February 29th)
  4. Begin building! (starts March 1st, with new goals and due dates TBD)

My ultimate goal is to build something that can at least supplement our income, but I think a more realistic goal to start would be something that works in a beta sense, then build from there…

Stay tuned for updates!

Jonathan Liu, stay-at-home dad and an editor for Wired.com’s GeekDad, attacks the gender roles and unequal treatment of dads as parents — specifically in the recent Census Bureau report, Who’s Minding the Kids?

The U.S. Government thinks so, too. I was surprised to find that my duties as a stay-at-home dad are considered “child care,” according to the Census Bureau. But that’s not all: “Designated parent” is defined as the mother, unless the child lives with the father in a single-parent household. And if the father works and the mother stays at home with the kids? Well, they don’t really count that time at all as “child care” — it’s not really considered in the equation.

Not to mention, this gem from the report:

If the mother is not available for an interview, the father of the child can give proxy responses for her.

Lucky us, right?

This bias leads the report to come to conclusions like: of the 63 percent of preschoolers who are in a regular care arrangement (regular basis, at least once per week), 4.2 percent are cared for by moms and 15.2 percent are cared for by dads. Amazing, right? This would make you think stay-at-home dads are on the rise, but it’s thay way because they don’t count the time spent by moms in your standard married couple families.

As a father who puts in a ton of effort and time into the my kids’ lives, this kind of thinking and “official” reporting only helps to solidify our society’s views of fathers and men in general. It’s time for the bias and gender roles to end.

If you have 12 free minutes today, I highly recommend watching this TED talk by Shawn Achor.

A key quote from the talk (and there are a ton of good ones):

if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness. 90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality.

Shawn suggests that spending as little as 20 minutes a day on the following activities, for 21 consecutive days, can help you build the habits that can basically re-wire your brain and body to be more positive, happy, and productive.

  1. Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. Research shows this will significantly improve your optimism even 6 months later, and raises your success rates significantly.
  2. Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos. This dramatically increases work happiness.
  3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day. This trains your brain to believe your behavior matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.

  4. Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases stress and raises happiness.

  5. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in your support network. This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in my study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.

This is my next project for personal growth. Who’s going to join me?

via: Simplicity Is Bliss

I think it’s very valuable to, every now and then, take an inventory of what you like about yourself. What you feel you contribute to relationships and the world around you. Not only does it help boost your self esteem, but it can be helpful to re-visit your past lists to see how you’ve changed the opinion of yourself over time.

I’m in need of a little self worth and encouragement today, so I made my list…

I am:

  • smart
  • funny
  • kind
  • patient
  • loyal
  • easy going
  • generous
  • a good father
  • attractive enough
  • humble (hard to write that after making this list, but that is not the intent of making this list anyway!)
  • flexible
  • forgiving
  • trusting
  • unselfish
  • sincere
  • sensitive
  • optimistic
  • honest
If you have 12 free minutes today, I highly recommend watching this TED talk by Shawn Achor.

A key quote from the talk (and there are a ton of good ones):

if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness. 90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality.

Shawn suggests that spending as little as 20 minutes a day on the following activities, for 21 consecutive days, can help you build the habits that can basically re-wire your brain and body to be more positive, happy, and productive.

  • Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. Research shows this will significantly improve your optimism even 6 months later, and raises your success rates significantly.
  • Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos. This dramatically increases work happiness.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes a day. This trains your brain to believe your behavior matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.
  • Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases stress and raises happiness.
  • Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising someone in your support network. This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in my study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.

This is my next project for personal growth. Who’s going to join me?

via: Simplicity Is Bliss

Last night, the Mrs. and I took a studio art class at Albright-Knox. The subject for the night was pastels and taxidermied animals — how could we go wrong?

It was my first art class since high school and probably the first time I’ve sat down and tried to do art since then… and it was awesome! We had such a good time.

Here’s my initial sketch of the bobcat we both selected:

And our “final” work (we both ran out of time, though I rushed to finish off the feet to get close to being done.

Melisa’s is on the left and mine is on the right.