Deep Work… for Parents?

 

A working mom and productivity app publicist Tweeted, “How to do #DeepWork even when you have deep responsibilities (spoiler alert: that means kids) – by @lvanderkam.”

The accompanying image was Vanderkam’s right-on-the-money critique of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which held up Carl Jung as an example for shutting himself off to do “deep work.” Translation: he neglected his kids?

Newport starts by writing (in a laudatory fashion) about Carl Jung secluding himself in a tower so he could ponder his breakthrough ideas. Newport notes that there were sacrifices involved in his decision. For instance, it “reduced the time he spent on his clinical work.” Not mentioned: when Jung bought this retreat property in 1922, he and his wife had five children. It’s safe to say locking himself off from the world locked himself off from those responsibilities. And while perhaps that was par for the course for a man in 1922 (and maybe especially for Jung, who was allegedly an unfaithful husband), someone had to be around the family.

Newport is a working father, but as journalist Brigid Schulte suggests in Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, working fathers don’t carry the same load at home as working mothers. Maybe Newport has this all worked out with his family and work in a fair and agreeable way. But as I’m reading it, Schulte’s work is making a strong case that the ability to perform deep work is a gendered phenomenon. Culturally (in the U.S., at least) it’s still easier for dads than moms to get away and carve out large blocks of uninterrupted, focused time.

Be that as it may, “deep work” for any engaged parent can be hard to come by. Working from home is a beautiful thing, but how often have I felt tinges of guilt as I told my children I couldn’t play right now because I was working, barely glancing up from the computer to let them know? In that case both the work and (more important) the child receive less than what I would hope to give.

Someone needs to write a Deep Work for Parents book. Who knows? Maybe that will be Newport’s follow-up. And Vanderkam has great ideas here. (Her website is sub-titled, “Writing about Time Management, Life, Careers & Family.”)

How about you, working parents who read this blog? How do you get focused, high-level work done when your “job” isn’t your only job? How do you handle interruptions if you work from home? How do you find energy to cook dinner and do bedtime routines after working all day outside the house?

All ideas welcomed in the comments below.

The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom

Screenshot 2017-07-24 14.58.10

 

I’ve recently had a new article published at CTPastors.com: “The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom.”

It begins:

A ministry supervisor once told me a quick way to lose respect in ministry: Don’t return people’s phone calls. The same holds true for email.

The article suggests how pastors (or anyone) can reset to Inbox Zero in two minutes, and then recommends some strategies for keeping your Inbox in a state of shalom.

You can read the whole article here.

3 Months of Todoist Premium, Free!

 

This post is a giveaway of three months of Todoist Premium. First, some background.

While OmniFocus has been a constant task-tracking companion for the last two years, a couple of unacknowledged and then acknowledged-but-still-unfixed bugs have been just vexing enough to send me back to other productivity apps.

I mass exported all my data from OmniFocus to 2Do (easily the best aesthetic of any task tracking app), which has been my new go-to.

However, the pull of Todoist is strong. (See my review from fall 2015 here.) I can, for example, write:

Take out the trash every Thursday at 4 #church

And it uses natural language input to set up the time (and a recurring task, no less) and project.

 

No need to manually go through my projects or a date and time picker. It’s fast.

Todoist Premium adds more features: labels (which are tags, essentially), filters (which are saved searches that can help you sort your tasks in really neat ways), and a lot more.

My “Todoist Karma” (I know, cheesy… but I like having a continually rising score to track my productivity) got high enough that Todoist sent me a free code for three months of Premium. They also sent me a code to give away.

Here’s how you can get that second code.

I’ll randomly select a recipient from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What app or system are you using now to track tasks and projects?” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever the kids are using these days), and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, March 25.

Laura Vanderkam’s Time Tip #48: If you dislike a particular task, time it.

I got this great advice in my inbox the other day from Laura Vanderkam:

If you dislike a particular task, time it.

Yea, verily. She explains:

While knowing that unloading the dishwasher takes you 6 minutes won’t get this chore of your plate, it will make it seem like less of a burden.

It’s funny that this is her example, because this (the kitchen) is really the ONE place where I’ve practiced this tactic already, and it really does help.

And when you do dishes for 25 minutes (because there are so many), your sense of accomplishment will be all the greater!

A Modest New Year’s Resolution (8 Minutes a Day)

2016 writing

 

Of my too many New Year’s resolutions, perhaps the most important one is to write at least eight minutes a day.

You might have noticed a lot more posts with the “writing” tag since the fall. Much of my writing recently has been by hand. Though, make no mistake, I still feel most agile and fluent with a keyboard.

So far I’m 4-for-4 with eight minutes a day! There’s plenty of 2016 left for me to change my mind, lose interest, give up, etc. But I have already found an eight-minute-a-day habit easier to keep up than other daily goals I’ve set for myself in the past.

Another resolution that hurts a lot more but takes just as little time: 50+ push-ups a day. I hope to work up to 100 by spring.

1Writer: The Best Text Editor (and Blogging App!) for iOS

1Writer Icon

 

1Writer has been living in both my iPhone and iPad docks for a number of months now. It’s high time I wrote a proper review! It’s easily my favorite text editing app for iOS.

 

About 1Writer

 

Here’s a paragraph description of the app from the 1Writer site:

1Writer provides a distraction free writing environment. You can create and edit plain text or Markdown files. It does have many features including inline Markdown preview, word count, dark theme, TextExpander support, insert photo, an extra keyboard row, and many more. The extra keyboard row is a convenient row of buttons for navigation, formatting, special characters and actions. See the formatted results with inline Markdown preview while you write and a full, rich-text preview when you’re done.

My favorite feature is its ability to insert images right from an iOS device, making it the first iOS app I’ve found that is actually suitable for blogging.

 

1Writer: The Pros

 

Sync

Whether you want to use Dropbox or iCloud, 1Writer has excellent syncing capabilities. I have a couple Dropbox folders I sync to 1Writer, which is now where I keep blog post drafts. I can update a document from iPhone or iPad–or even use a Mac to update a draft with an OS X Markdown app.

 

Images!!!

You can blog from 1Writer. It has been surprisingly difficult to find an iOS app that can do this well, including WordPress’s native blogging app. One downside is that you can’t resize the images once you insert them into the post, so it’s still not as flexible as blogging with images through the WordPress Web interface on OS X. The fastidious among us may want to double-check layout in WordPress itself before posting anyway, so this is not a deal-breaker, if not ideal.

 

Works Great with an External Keyboard

You can type CMD-B for bold and CMD-I for italics, and it both inserts the markdown markup and shows you the inline preview. Not even Editorial can do this. You can also insert links with a keyboard shortcut.

 

Built-in Web Browser

Because 1Writer has a built in Web browser, you can search for images without even leaving the app, and then insert them into your document. There is also a really nice hyperlinking functionality, and you don’t have to leave 1Writer to find a link you want to include in a document or Web post. One especially nice touch is once you’ve got a link copied, the hyperlink button gives you the pop-up option of just pasting the clipboard contents (your link), so you can save a tap there.

 

Built-in Web Browser

 

Great-Looking Interface

The interface is easy to look at for a long time when writing:

 

1Writer Text

 

Tagging System

1Writer has a built-in tagging system, so you can even more easily organize your documents.

 

Tags 1

 

Tags 2

 

Actions

Like Drafts 4, 1Writer has a number of actions you can perform on your text. Whether you want to use a pre-installed action to export your document as plain text or PDF, or install something from the 1Writer action directory, there’s not much missing here.

 

Actions

 

My personal favorite action is “Jump to Section,” which allows you to navigate by headings. This is especially useful for long documents where you quickly want to go between sections. The interface of this feature is not quite as smooth as Editorial’s similar function, but it still gets the job done.

 

iOS9-Ready

Speaking of Editorial… that’s a fine app, but it’s still not iOS9-ready. 1Writer is, so you can utilize Slide Over and Split View functions.

 

Customizable Keyboard Row

There’s an extra, customizable keyboard row–including the ability to assign a character or even action to a button.

 

Top-Notch Developer

The developer is amazingly responsive. He totally knows what he’s doing, and has built an excellent app already. Insofar as there are small, desired improvements, he takes feedback seriously.

 

1Writer: Just a Few Minor Drawbacks

 

The built-in Web browser does not allow for multi-tabbed browsing. I found this to be a limitation, though since iOS9, when I want to search the Web, I tend to do it via Safari in Split View with 1Writer open separately anyway.

Another drawback: you can’t sync actions between devices. You have to manually set this up in any iOS device you use. Documents themselves sync perfectly, of course, just not these custom actions.

 

Concluding Evaluation

 

There are people who swear by Drafts (I am one!) and Editorial (there’s a lot to like about that app). But 1Writer is exceedingly underrated. (Though that may change now that Viticci reviewed it!) If you’re a blogger, especially, this is the app that will finally allow you to blog from your iOS device.

It’s (no question) the best thing on iOS for bloggers. And maybe even the best note-taking app, too.

You can find it in the App Store here. And, yes, I did write much of this post in 1Writer, exported the Markdown to HTML (from 1Writer), and then published.

 


 

Thanks to 1Writer for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Task Management via The Hit List

Viticci put it well: “There’s only one thing I like more than switching todo apps: writing about it.” My 2Do review is much shorter than his, but I resonate with his sentiment.

That might explain why today I give you a review of another worthy task management app: The Hit List.

 

What I Like About The Hit List

 

THL for iPhone icon 512@2xThe Hit List is much more robust than Apple’s native Reminders app. Its proprietary Sync Service is fast, and keeps your tasks and lists updated across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Watch (depending on what you have).

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the extensive system of one-stroke keyboard shortcuts on the Mac app. You can do just about anything without having to move your hand to the mouse. And The Hit List (hereafter THL) comes with a nice built-in tutorial to get you going:

 

Learn THL
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Mac layout doesn’t totally match the rest of El Capitan, but I don’t mind that at all. I especially like that you can have multiple lists open at once–in one window–as various tabs. This mirrors how we browse the Web, yet out of all the task management apps I’ve tried, THL is the only one to incorporate it.

 

Mac_Multiple tabs
Tabbed task management! (click to enlarge)

 

It’s a really nice touch, especially if you are actually working on a few projects at once and want to be able to close tabs as you go. Or if you want to toggle between your time-sensitive “Today” tasks and other projects.

The tagging system on all platforms is neat. By typing “task /tag” you automatically can tag a task. It then shows up in a different color on the task entry line and puts itself into the right tag.

You can give sub-tasks to tasks, which is often what happens in real life! Our tasks turn into a series of sub-tasks, too. Of course you could just separate a multi-task task into its own project, but the ability to rapidly enter sub-tasks is great.

Probably my favorite part about THL is its task timing integration. Yes, you read that right. You can both assign estimated time to tasks, as well as track it! It’s not as robust as a dedicated time tracking software–you can’t get to-the-minute readouts of your day. But it’s a pretty sweet feature on the Mac app.

 

Time Estimates

 

Counting Clock

 

The iPad app just came out, and it’s got Slide Over and Split Screen support right out of the box. It’s very cool to finally see THL on a bigger screen. (The iPad app is lacking in any external keyboard shortcuts however; future updates should add these in.)

 

What I Found Lacking in THL

 

1. No Save+.

 

Rapid-fire brain dumping is tricky in THL. Well, it’s not impossible, but on iOS there’s no Save+ button so you can just add a bunch of tasks at once without multiple taps. Keyboard shortcuts make it quick on the Mac app, though.

 

2. You can’t email a task to the app.

 

It continues to perplex me that this is not standard issue in a task management app. I don’t know… maybe it’s just hard to implement. In THL there is no way to convert or forward emails to tasks from wherever you are. Evernote and OmniFocus allow this, as will 2Do soon. This functionality is essential to me in a task management app.

 

3. The iOS app isn’t as configurable as one might like.

 

The criticism that you have to understand the app on its own terms often gets leveled toward OmniFocus, but I experienced some confusion in THL with the “Today” list. Support was outstanding in helping me to understand it (which I do now), but the Today list shows all your tasks that start today. You can’t adjust it to show just your tasks that are due today, which feels to me a more natural way to use it. You can’t even really trick Today into doing what you want, since a task with no start date that is due tomorrow still pops up in Today.

On the iOS app, there are few settings you can configure:

 

iOS Settings

 

THL also sort of forces you (if you’re going to use the app) into its Inbox–Today–Upcoming logic. (These three “hit lists” give the app its name.) This could be a limitation for some. That way of setting up things, to which you can add your own lists, appeals to me, so it’s fine. On Mac you could create a “Due Today” smart list, so there is flexibility in that regard.

 

Three Lists

 

4. You can’t attach anything to tasks in iOS.

 

There is no way (whether in iOS or OS X) to attach photos or files to an item. It’s hard to envision a week where there isn’t at least one time when I want to take a picture of something as a reminder or attach a .pdf I need to complete a task. You can link to actual files on a desktop with the THL Mac app, but that’s not the same as attaching the file to the task, so the file doesn’t show up on iOS (just an error message). There’s a notes field, so you can leave additional text, but attachments aren’t really a working feature in THL.

 

Concluding Thoughts and How to Get THL

 

There’s more to say, of course. The Today widget and Share extension features in iOS work nicely. The layout and interface of the apps is executed well on all platforms. It runs really smoothly, and looks great in its new iPad incarnation. Smart lists can help you customize your experience. Recurring tasks are easy to set up. You can quickly swipe a task on iOS to change the due date or move it to a different list and folder.

This is a little thing, but I think my favorite thing about the app is the sound effect that goes off when you complete a task. I wish every app had that option! It’s like a little “congratulations!” every time you get something done. Very satisfying to hear that tone.

Their support is excellent, too. THL even made a feature addition that I had requested–the ability to drag handles to reorder task lists on iOS.

Okay, okay, one more nice little touch: the icon for note detail attached to a task is excellent. Just by looking at a task, you can tell if there’s an associated note. Similarly, a number icon shows you how many sub-tasks are connected to a task. Thoughtful design, for sure.

To sum up: the sound effects on iOS, tabbed list views on OS X, and integrated time tracking set THL apart from other apps, so if those appeal to you, this might be your app of choice. Lack of email integration makes it hard for me to think about switching to THL as my go-to task management app, but perhaps future updates will add that feature. Overall, THL is at least on par with Things and certainly an option one could consider alongside 2Do and OmniFocus.

You can find the app here (OS X) and here (iOS).

 


 

Thanks so much to the makers of The Hit List for giving me a download in iOS and OS X for the review. Check out the Karelia Software site here.