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Two Resources (One Paid, One Free) for Getting On Top of Stuff

August 28, 2015

It’s Friday, so hopefully you’re winding down a bit and thinking about how to relax rather than how to be more productive–so file this away for Monday (or read it now if you work weekends).

Here are two resources–one paid and one free–to help stay on top of email and tasks.

 

1. Dispatch App

 

 

I’ve never understood the logic of apps that allow you to “snooze” email. Handle it once and move on, I think. Emails are often calendar appointments or tasks in disguise, and our Inboxes are no place to be keeping tasks. Inbox Zero is elusive (though see here), so an app that helps you get your Inbox messages into tasks quickly is appreciated. This is the goal of Dispatch app, newly available on iPad. Check it out here.

 

2. Free Podcasts from GTD

 

You might also check out free podcasts from David Allen‘s Getting Things Done:

Our GTD podcasts are here to support you at every stage of your GTD practice. You will hear interviews with people from all walks of life about their journey with GTD, from beginners to those who have been at it for years. The podcasts include personal and professional stories, as well as practical tips about GTD systems for desktop and mobile, using apps and paper. Start listening now and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free productivity.

Find the podcast page here.

Review of SHARKK® 15W Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

August 27, 2015

 

I’ve been jamming to some sweet tunes with SHARKK’s 15W Bluetooh Wireless Speaker recently. I’ve used it around the house for some organizing projects, as well as took it on a trip with me.

Here are the full specs from SHARKK:

◦ Rock the House with this Powerful 15 Watt Bluetooth Speaker with 2200Ah Lithium Battery which supports up to 10 consecutive hours of playing time.

◦ Subwoofer + high-performance amplifier combine for incredible volume and high quality sound.

◦ Can also be used to charge your phone or other rechargeable USB devices with its built in Power Bank.

◦ Supports AUX, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC with Siri/S Voice Functionality. Make and receive phone calls with the built-in Mic.

◦ Includes Charger, Carrying Pouch, and a 3.5mm audio cable.

Here is what it looks like out of the box (images via SHARKK):

 

 

Sharkk Speaker: What’s Awesome

Battery percentage indicator

 

You can see the battery level right next to the phone battery percentage—it’s always visible from the device from which you are streaming music. There’s no real battery life indicator on the speaker itself, so being able to see it from your device is neat.

 

Sound decent for cost

 

The sound is good for the cost. Not stellar, but solid. The bass is noticeable, if not wholly sufficient, and the highs and the mids come out, though perhaps not as crisply as one might want for a speaker at $80. Still, the sound is decent.

 

It remembers your device

 

Once you connect a device to the speaker via Bluetooth, the SHARKK speaker remembers it, so you don’t have to keep setting it up each time. I really appreciated this.

 

Totally portable

 

The speaker fits on a towel rack in the shower room. It’s easy to hold in one hand and move around the house to follow you from room to room. Highly portable and light enough to carry around, if you want.

 

What’s Not Awesome

The speaker died one night

 

One night, for no reason that I can discern, the speaker died. I charged it overnight. It still didn’t work. I charged it a second night. Still nothing. Then on the third day (I don’t mean this to be a religious parallel), it sprang back to life and has been working fine since.

Support was responsive throughout the issue, but I never could figure out why the speaker stopped responding like that.

 

No remote control

 

Lacking is a remote way to control the speaker. You cannot do it via remote control or from your phone. I know it’s not a huge deal to get out of your chair to turn it on or off, but a speaker in this price range should support remote control.

 

Play/pause button flashes

 

The play/pause button flashes blue when the speaker is on. I noticed this one night in the middle of the night from across the room, when I had forgotten to turn the speaker off. A minor nuisance, and certainly not a deal-breaker. But an auto-off feature would be nice.

 

Cloth carrying case

 

The speaker comes with a cloth carrying case, which is handy, but doesn’t do much to protect the speaker. On a recent trip where I wanted to take the speaker (it is very portable), I just packed the speaker up in its original box, which was a much better solution.

 

+ and – buttons

 

It’s awesome that you can play and pause your iTunes or even Spotify app from the speaker itself. One tricky thing, though, is that the “+” button fast forwards the track. Only holding the button turns the volume up (the expected result from a button like that). So, too, with the “-” button. It turns the volume down, but only if you hold it. Otherwise it rewinds the track. I found this less than intuitive, and still think it’s an odd design decision, but I got used to it over time (mostly). It is nice to be able to change tracks from the speaker itself.

 

Concluding Evaluation

I can recommend the speaker, but only with the reservations above. I’m not sure it would be my first choice for a sub-$100 speaker, but it does have some nice features that make it an attractive option worth considering.

Find the speaker here (SHARKK) or here (Amazon).

 

Thanks to SHARKK for the review sample, given to me for purposes of review but with no expectation as to the content of this post.

4 Ways to Practice Sabbath Keeping

August 26, 2015

This Sunday I preached about Sabbath-keeping as a way of life. The below is the concluding, application-based portion of the message.

 

Keep Calm It's Sabbath Day

 

Let’s get specific for a minute, and talk about how a Sabbath way of life can make its way onto our calendars.

 

For an hour

 

You could think small, to begin with: one hour. Right, God didn’t say, “Remember a Sabbath hour and keep it holy,” but I think observing a Sabbath hour is very much in line with God’s intentions for our God-centered rest.

I’ve alluded a couple of times from the pulpit to my inordinate love for personal productivity literature and related apps. There’s a classic book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. His basic goal is to get his readers and clients to a point where they are not using their brains to keep track of commitments—get everything out of your head and into a trusted system you know you’ll keep coming back to. The end result of implementing such a system is that in any given moment, you know that you are doing what you should be doing. What you are saying yes to is what you should be saying yes to, and what you are saying no to is out of mind.

This may seem simplistic, but if you don’t have a dedicated hour like this each day or at least every other day, the alternative is that every hour available to you is an hour where you could be doing something… anything… 100 hundred different things. A Sabbath lifestyle, on the other hand, includes setting part chunks of time where we put all work aside and rest. And we don’t feel guilty about it, because we are doing it deliberately, as a way to train our attentions on God.

 

A Daylong Sabbath

 

Another way that we can put Sabbath-ing into our schedules is through a weekly Sabbath day. Sunday is a good candidate here. It didn’t take the early church very long to move from the observance of Saturday as Sabbath to Sunday as Sabbath. One big reason for this was that Sunday was the day of resurrection, so it became the day the church gathered weekly for worship. To make their Sabbath about both leisure and Lordship, it shifted to Sunday.

Which day we take a Sabbath is less important than that we have one every week. And times when we can least afford to take a Sabbath are the times we most need to. So put it into your day planner or phone or wherever you keep your schedule—make it a daylong appointment: “Sabbath.” And if one of your primary vocations is parenting or caretaking, and those sweet loved ones of yours won’t let you observe a “day off,” talk to one of your church leaders and we’ll help you get childcare lined up!

 

Get Away

 

You could go even bigger with Sabbath-keeping: a day or half day every month where you go on retreat… not just taking a day off, but actually physically going somewhere else—to the beach, for a daylong hike in the woods, for an overnight camping trip.

 

Techno Sabbath

 

Finally—one more suggestion for a specific way to practice keeping a holy, God-focused Sabbath: one of our former church attenders shared with me his regular practice of a techno Sabbath. No, it’s not a day devoted to Electronic Dance Music (though that’s not a bad idea), but it’s a Sabbath from technology. I’d heard of these and always thought about taking one, but there was something about a conversation with him that made me feel like I finally had permission to unplug, to disconnect.

Of course, you can turn all your devices off for a short period of time—an hour, for the morning, during dinner and after it. But I’ve found a full 24-hour break each week from technology is both embarrassingly difficult and surprisingly life-giving. It serves the same purpose as fasting. Rather than reaching for a device that has a potentially life-changing notification on it, I try to offer those energies instead to God.

At first, there are feelings of withdrawal—no access to notifications that increase the rush of adrenaline and excitement when someone replies to that email you were so eager about, or when someone hearts your Instagram photo or retweets your witty observation about humanity. All that stuff just goes on… without you. At least for a day.

You could even try to have your techno Sabbath coincide with your weekly Sabbath.

 

Establish Your School Year Practices Now

 

As we begin a new school year, we have the opportunity to establish and re-establish practices of faithful living. Take some time this week, if you haven’t already, and think about what Sabbath-keeping this fall is going to look like for you. If you have other people with whom your schedule is interdependent, involve them in the conversation—sit down with your calendar and actually write in your Sabbath-keeping practices, so that they don’t get forgotten, or scheduled on top of.

I pray that God would give us the strength to be deliberate about making Sabbath observances central to how we go through our hours, days, and weeks. As we do so, may we find that prayer of Isaiah fulfilled: “O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.”

AppTastic Tuesday: Prune

August 25, 2015

Prune is a really fun and enjoyably challenging game for iOS.

It’s got a simple, minimalist, beautiful design. David Sparks of MacSparky even used a screenshot from the game for his iPad lock screen!

You start with a screen like this:

 

Alt text

 

Then you swipe up to start your tree growing.

 

Alt text

 

You can pinch to zoom to get a closer look, which you will need as your tree grows in multiple directions. When it is time to prune the tree, which you do to get it to grow toward the light, just swipe your finger across the branch you wish to cut, and it will fall off.

 

Alt text

 

You beat a level by pruning to create the predetermined amount of blossoms on your tree.

 

Alt text

 

Alt text

 

The graphics, music, and sound effects are all beautiful and relaxing.

 

Alt text

 

Alt text

 

You will want to avoid things like red suns, or your beloved tree burns up:

 

Not like this

Not like this

 

But like this

But like this

 

Once you spend the $3.99 on the app, there are no further in-app purchases or ads.

One might be forgiven for wondering how engaging an app with this premise can be, but it really is fun to play. Apart from its gorgeous design and responsive controls, users will quickly find they are eager to make progress through the game’s various levels. Prune came recommended, and it’s been even better than expected.

Find it in the App Store here.

(More) Free Online Accordance Webinars, Including Sermon Prep on Wednesday

August 24, 2015

Accordance 11 Bible Study

Yep, that’s right… another Accordance Webinar coming your way! Check all of this week’s sessions out here. I’m leading this one Wednesday:

Sermon Preparation in Action
Wednesday, August 26, 12:00 – 1:15 PM EDT

Learn how to tap Accordance’s power for sermon preparation from brainstorming sermon ideas to finished message.

We had a great turnout last week at the session I led on setting up workspaces. Sign up is free, even if you don’t have Accordance. Learn more and save a spot here.

Task Tracking + Beautiful Aesthetic = 2Do

August 22, 2015

First, a question…

 

Why Another Task Management App?

 

2do-128If I could have the sync of Things, the layout and tagging and look of 2Do, the simplicity of Todoist, and the power and custom perspectives of OmniFocus, I’d have my perfect task management app. And I’D BE A PRODUCTIVITY MACHINE. Well, no, I’d still have to do all the tasks. (And life is more than doing stuff, anyway.)

But the answer to the question in the header above is that each task management app I’ve tried does not quite fit all my preferences. We adjust, of course, and it’s this phenomenon that has coders writing new task management apps as we speak. Maybe I’m just picky, though I’m far from the only one.

That’s all preface to why you are reading yet another task management app review on this blog. Here I consider 2Do.

 

Where 2Do (IMHO) Falls Short

 

Allow me to get the critiques out of the way first, because I really do like this app–a lot. And it has the most aesthetically pleasing interface out of any task management app I’ve used (OmniFocus, Things, Todoist…). But there are a few things that I would hope could be improved.

 

1. Sync is good (via Dropbox), but not quite instantaneous.

 

A recent release offered some significant improvement in sync speed, i.e., push sync. (2Do syncs via Dropbox, iCloud, Toodledo, or your CalDAV server.) Tasks and changes don’t sync instantaneously across devices (like Apple’s Reminders do), but this is more due to Apple’s limitations on third-party apps than any shortfall on 2Do’s part. Still, it’s a minor hassle when using the app. Things keeps leading the way here. More on 2Do’s sync methods is here.

TL;DR: Cross-device syncing with 2Do is about as good as it gets, but not perfect.

 

2. You can’t really email a task in to the app, per se.

 

There are workarounds, but there is no easy and direct way to convert or forward emails to tasks from wherever you are. This, in my view, is a key necessity of a good task management app. Outlook, OmniFocus, Todoist, and Evernote all allow this, for example.

You can convert a Mac Mail message right to a 2Do task, however, described here, and that may be all some users need. There’s also a workaround using Toodledo that allows you to email tasks to 2Do, but non-users of Toodledo would have to create a new account and learn a new app to be able to do that. (It will be enough to learn 2Do.) For iOS email-to-task conversion, folks might consider the Dispatch app. But here’s to hoping 2Do adds support for email-to-task automation in a future release–one of the few things missing in this slick app.

That I have no additional major critiques than these is actually significant, since I’m a little picky when it comes to this kind of app. And now, on to the good stuff…

 

Ways in Which 2Do is Just Plain Awesome

 

1. Photo attachments

 

You can attached a photo (whether from your Camera Roll or one you take from within the 2Do app) or voice memo to a task. For many, this is just how life works–we want to take a picture of a bill and convert it to a task to remind us to pay it. Or we think of an idea and want to speak it rather than type it. 2Do allows you to make these inputs into tasks.

 

2. 2Do has a nice Today widget and good Share extensions in iOS.

 

They look like this, and give you a way to access the app from just about anywhere on an iPhone or iPad:

 

2Do Today widget

 

2Do Share Extension

 

3. It’s easy to set up actions and tasks, recurring and otherwise.

 

Quickly adding multiple tasks to get things off your mind is a cinch:

 

Image via 2Do

Image via 2Do

 

What about setting recurring tasks? Easy as pie.

You can even “Pick an Action” in a task.

 

2Do Pick an Action

 

Selecting “Message,” I then get this option:

 

2Do Pick Contact

 

Want to make a shopping list, you say? 2Do has a nifty List (checklist) feature you can use:

 

Shopping List

 

4. There is good calendar integration.

 

Calendar integration–yes! It’s like Calendars 5, only far more robust than the task list in that app.

The app has even found a really elegant and easy way around the scroll wheel, for when you want to assign your task to both a due date and a due time:

 

2Do Set Time for Task

 

So a task that’s all set up (no tags shown here) looks like this:

 

2do Task with Action and Attachment

 

I’ve got a picture I took of an eye exam reminder, attached to the task, an action within the task to call (I just tap the green part and it dials), a reminder, a date and time… pretty smooth.

 

5. Did I mention how amazing it looks?

 

Here, I’ll show you:

 

2Do for Mac

Click to enlarge

 

The iPhone and iPad apps look even better:

 

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

 

iPad orientation

 

Note how 2Do shows you your tasks and your integrated calendar all together.

 

6. The iOS apps are some of the best-made apps in the App Store.

 

The makers of 2Do have really carefully thought this app through, including subtle touches like having a project’s color appear as a faint band on top of that project’s screen. You can easily swipe around from tasks to projects to tags to lists… navigation is very easy, and pretty.

You can even pinch zoom:

 

Image via 2Do

Image via 2Do

 

7. It’s got the power of OmniFocus, but with Tags.

 

You can see the Tags list in the images above. This allows you to customize your workflow to your heart’s content. You can also set up and save Smart Lists, i.e., searches you want to save to come back to. This is equivalent to OmniFocus’s custom perspectives. But something about actual tags makes it feel even more flexible.

 

 

There’s much more to say about this app, but I’m already at 1,000 words. If you want to learn more, you can find further documentation here.

If you’re starting from scratch with a task management app and have some money to spend, I can think of no good reason not to invest in 2Do, even over other options. It really is enjoyable to use. It’s powerful enough to help you track and execute multiple projects at once, yet simple enough to learn and start using right away.

You can find it in the App Store here (for Mac) and here (for iOS).

 


 

Thanks so much to the makers of 2Do for giving me a download in iOS and OSX for the review. Check out the app’s site here. I know this is a few days early for Apptastic Tuesday, but I couldn’t wait.

Free Online Accordance Webinar Today at Noon (EST)

August 21, 2015

Accordance Live Online Training

 

There’s still time to sign up for today’s Accordance Webinar I’m leading at noon. You can sign up here. Here are the details:

Setting Up Workspaces with Abram K-J
Friday, August 21, 12:00 – 1:00 PM

Abram will gear this session toward the basic-level Accordance user. The webinar is interactive throughout, offering users a chance to see how to set up, customize, and save a Workspace in Accordance.

Here is what I’ll cover:

1. Terminology: Panes, Tabs, Zones, Workspaces

 

2. Setting Up a Simple Workspace: Bible, Commentary, User Notes

 

3. Setting Up a More Robust Workspace: Multiple Bible Texts, Multiple Commentaries, and Tools

 

4. Creating Different Workspaces for Different Tasks

 

5. Multiplying the Power of Workspaces: Sessions

 

6. Additional Q and A

Here‘s the link to sign up.

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