Do one thing well

It’s one of the fundamental adages of Unix programming. It’s better to do one thing well than many things badly. This is why traditional Unix programs tend to be small and focused on single tasks and get chained together into workflows. Awk does the pattern recognition, but Sed actually changes the text file.

While iOS is Unix under the hood, iOS apps are considerably more complex. But, it occurred to me, they don’t have to be  too complex. So I started looking at my phone (and tablet) to see where I was using apps that were a dessert topping and a floor wax but weren’t terribly good at either.

The biggest culprit was Evernote. I was using Evernote to do almost everything. It was my archival storage, journal, word processor, task list, shopping list, etc. I’ve been told to beware of “everything buckets” because they’re typically one-way black holes that data goes into and is never seen again. I can attest that this is true. Despite my best intentions, stuff I put into Evernote effectively disappeared until I searched specifically for it. It’s good for reference, but not skimming. 

So I decided to break out what I was using Evernote for into discrete applications that were specialists at what I wanted to do. 

Day One is my new journal and it works so much better. Journaling in Evernote was a chore I rarely got around to. Journaling in Day One is fun, and it’s easy to scan back over recent history to jog my memory.

Simplenote is my new notes app. When I need to jot something down or look something up, it’s just faster because it’s all plain text. No notebooks, less than a dozen tags. 

Dropbox is my filesystem. This was a close duel between Dropbox and Google Drive. Drive offers 10x the storage for the same price, and Google doesn’t have torture-proponent Condi Rice on their board of directors. But, ultimately I had to be practical. The apps I want to use support Dropbox and very few of them support Drive. If this should change, I may revist this. 

I update my blogs in Squarespace Blog. There’s no point in writing them somewhere else and copy/pasting them over. I just store half-finished work on Squarespace as unpublished drafts and edit them over time.

I keep bookmarks and read-later content in Pinboard, using Pinner on iOS. I decided on Pinboard because I was getting out of Evernote and Pocket isn’t really an archival/bookmarking service. Also, I really appreciate that Pinboard, unlike Pocket, has a discernable business model. I’m more than willing to pay for services I use if that keeps them around. 

I write fiction in Storyist. This was updated for iOS 7 recently and most of my complaints are no longer valid. Because it’s designed specifically for writing screenplays and manuscripts, it’s got all the features I couldn’t find in Pages, Word or Google Docs, and none of the cruft I don’t need. When the time comes to work with my editor, I can export from Storyist to Google Drive, but for drafting I’ll stick to a specialist app. (and yes, I’ll consider Scrivener if/when the iOS version ever comes out) 

I’ve also gone back to basics for a lot of functions where I used to use third party apps. I’ve gone back to Messages instead of third party messaging clients, the iOS Mail app instead of Gmail, Music and iTunes Radio instead of Spotify or Rdio, Safari instead of Chrome. I’m using Fantastical instead of the native Calendar and Reminders apps because there is a value to seeing my tasks and events on the same screen, but I’m not married to the idea. I’ve also ditched all my RSS readers and just read a “News” list on Twitter in Tweetbot with the same sources. 

How can you simplify your workflows? 

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