What goes where?

Evernote vs OmniFocus, Pinboard, Day One, Dropbox, Word, Excel…

When last we left our intrepid blogger, I was using Evernote for pretty much everything. Despite Evernote’s amazing search and tagging, this got overwhelming. It got harder and harder for me to feel like I was in control of my data. I had the over 10,000 notes and it was climbing higher all the time. And not only that, but using Evernote to personalize Swiftkey turned my keyboard into a basket case. This wasn’t working, at least not for me.

The first thing I did was reinstall Day One. I wasn’t sure about this one, because it seems like daily journal entries should be one of the things at which Evernote excels, and I’d likely want to surface journal entries in Evernote searches.

But as it turns out, splitting that function off into a dedicated app led to a marked increase in journaling. A journal needs to feel like a safe space, a private space. Writing journal entries in Evernote felt like writing everything else in Evernote, and I didn’t really open up. Also, the friction to starting a journal entry—having to select the notebook, tags and come up with a title—was enough to make the difference between jotting down a stray thought/feeling and not bothering. Day One, expecially with the cheerful blue button on my Today screen, makes this easy.

And yes, I’m entering this data directly into Day One rather than using something like Drafts. This is still a point of contention for me. I love the idea of Drafts as a single inbox where I can write down anything and then decide what to do with it later. And if I’m not using Evernote for everything, the addition of a “where does this go?” question before the capture process does add considerable friction to the capture process. But until Drafts has a Mac app or at least a web app, it’s not a universal inbox. For now, it’s more important to me that my tools, and thus process, be the same no matter what computer I’m on.

Once I’d broken one category of data out of the Evernote monolith, the floodgates opened.

The next obvious step was to move my projects and actions out of Evernote and into OmniFocus. While I understand that David Allen recommends keeping project and action lists separate, there’s real value to my scattered brain in knowing when a project has no current actions. The only way to do that is in a hierarchical system like OmniFocus. And now that the iOS app is universal, I can create and modify perspectives on my phone for even faster, easier access to the tasks I need to do right now.

I was never 100% comfortable writing in Evernote. The RTF formatting is too inconsistent, and presentation varies wildly from one platform to the next. (For example, the iOS app supports padding around paragraphs of rich text, like HTML. The Mac version does not and runs them all together if you don’t manually insert line breaks. On the same note.) Also, I’ve been a Word & Excel guy since the mid 1990s. So moving my actual writing to Word and Excel documents stored in Dropbox was a no-brainer. I can still get to my writing from anywhere, including the web now that Dropbox’s web client seamlessly integrates with Office 365.

Blogging, too, was a compromise in Evernote. I’d write a blog post in Evernote, copy and paste it into WordPress and end up with one solid column of text because Evernote uses div tags to bracket paragraphs rather than paragraph tags. So I’m writing all my blog posts, like this one, directly in the WordPress app on iOS or the admin console via Safari on my laptop.

Bookmarks and other saved web data were choking my Evernote database, so they needed to go, too. I’m using Pinboard for this now, and it’s working pretty well. I chose Pinboard over Pocket or Instapaper because unlike those products, Pinboard is designed to be an archival service rather than a read later service. It’s fast, efficient and supports tagging for things I want to group later.

So what’s left for Evernote? I’ve taken out many of the things I was using Evernote for. No more web clippings, journal entries, writing drafts, actionable tasks or projects. What do I do with Evernote?

What Evernote was originally for. Reference. Evernote is where I store notes about ongoing projects, receipts, tax documents, documentation, and any other content that I create that doesn’t fit into one of the categories above. It’s not an “everything bucket,” but it is a catch-all for data that I need to hang on to but doesn’t have a specific home elsewhere. This leads to a database that is much smaller, more focused and has more of me in it. And ultimately, that makes Evernote less intimidating and more useful.

GTD contexts for working anywhere

First off, I admit I haven’t finished reading the new revised edition of Getting Things Done, so this might well be covered there. But after reading up on contexts and perspectives with OmniFocus, I think I’ve finally come up with a framework for contexts that works given that I can generally do anything on my list anytime, anywhere.

I start with an Eisenhower/Covey grid, but instead of Urgency and Importance, my axes are Focus and Energy. Let’s define those terms right of the bat.

  • Focus: the degree to which I can stick to a single task. This is part mental concentration, part environment. Basically, high focus means I feel confident I can devote a whole Pomodoro to a task, 25 minutes of undivided attention.
  • Energy: how much physical or mental energy I have available to devote to the task. High mental energy means I’m feeling creative or analytical, and high physical energy means I don’t, for some reason, feel like I’m in my forties.

Here’s what that grid looks like and the four contexts it generates.

Let’s go over those in more detail.


In the top left, we have Quick. This is a state of low energy but high focus. Actions in this context require thinking, or at least paying attention, but they’re relatively small bites. These are quick hits that shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes each to knock out.


In the top right, we have Focus. This is a state of both high focus and high energy. All the creative work happens here. Writing, planning, learning new things all require both concentration and energy to pull off.


In the bottom left, we have the Lounge. This is for tasks that require little energy or concentration. Watching TV, recreational reading and web surfing fall into this context.


And finally, in the bottom right, we have Grunt, for grunt work. This is where I put actions that require energy, but little thought or concentration. Paying bills, mowing the lawn, household chores and other such actions end up here. I tend to turn to this context when I’m hyper, with a lot of nervous energy but no way to rein it in.

In OmniFocus, I have these four contexts as subcontexts of Anywhere, which is a top level context along with Home, Errands, Agendas and Someday/Maybe. Anything that doesn’t require a specific person or location to complete falls into one of them.

Apple Watch Try On Report

Well, everyone else is doing one of these, so why not. I went to my local Apple Store this morning with my fiancee, and we got to try on Apple Watches to see if we really wanted them after all.

I’m really glad I didn’t scrape together the money and preorder Friday morning, because I would have gotten the wrong one. I thought I was going to prefer the Space Gray Sport model with the black flour rubber band. But after trying it on along with others, I changed my mind. Not the sport band isn’t lovely. It manages to feel silky and luxurious as soon as you put it on. It’s also a lot easier to put on than it seems. The secret is to stick the pin through the hole in the band, and then tuck the remaining band through the slot. It’s flexible enough to do this and this method removes the need for a third hand. The space gray color is also significantly darker than space gray on the iPhone, iPad or new Macbook, more like the slate color on the iPhone 5. I expect the aluminum will be just as subject to nicks and scratches as that was, and the space gray watch will age quickly.

What really sold me was the Milanese loop. I expected this to be much stiffer than it is. A lot of people have commented on how it doesn’t tug on arm hairs and feels more like fabric than chain, but I was also impressed at how supple it was. I thought it would have a minimum arc, but it folds right back over itself and lies completely flat. It’s also longer than I expected. I have big, beefy wrists, around 190-200mm. I expected the Milanese loop to just barely have enough slack to wrap over the bar and fasten, but the end with the magnet extended all the back to the center of my wrist, directly opposite the watch itself. It was thin and light enough to not interfere with typing, and because it’s an analogue fit, unlike pretty much all the other bands, including the leather loop, it slips just enough when I pull my hand back so that it isn’t too tight, but holds tightly enough to keep the sensors on the back of the watch in contact with my skin.

The leather loop was also nice, and is my fiancee’s preferred band, but because of the discrete way the magnets line up, it, like the sport and classic buckle bands, was either a little too tight or a little too loose.

So originally, I was planning on getting the 42mm Space Gray Sport for $400, plus a black or brown leather band for $150, and AppleCare+ for $50 because I’m a klutz. $600 total.

Instead, I’m (probably) going to order the 42mm Steel Apple Watch for $700, a black sports band for $50 and I might hold off on AppleCare+ because of how much tougher the sapphire screen and stainless steel body are. $750 total. Not that much more expensive and a much nicer, more durable product.

The reason for the parenthetical “probably” is that I don’t know if I’m going to order this generation of Apple Watch at all. The demo models seemed snappy enough, but they were also very limited and didn’t have any third party apps installed. Right now, ordering the watch of my choice wouldn’t get it shipped until June. And at the beginning of June, we expect Apple to unveil the real WatchKit SDK for developers to write native apps rather than just extensions that run from the phone. I think it’s possible, if not necessarily likely, that these native apps will run about as well as App Store apps ran on the original iPhone, which is not that well. So if I’m waiting until then anyway, I may as well see if I’d be better off waiting for the next generation watch to run the next generation apps.

Still, I’m glad I went today. I learned a lot more about the watch by seeing one in person, and the 42mm version is a lot smaller on my wrist than I thought it would be. If I get one I know which one I want now, and I’m comfortable waiting until Apple gets their act together and I can walk out of the store with one. But I’m also seriously considering getting a $100 Pebble and waiting out this round. Time will tell.