Simplify for the Best

Date: 01/18/2013

I recently read about “the love metric” from Patrick Rhone:

This year: Only hold onto things you love. Next year: Only hold onto things you not only still love, but love even more.

It sounds like the perfect way to simplify the clutter in your life and make sure you’re getting the most enjoyment out of the things you own. Thinking about it brought me back to Dustin Curtis’ idea of only owning the best:

…the time it takes to find the best of something is completely worth it. It’s better to have a few fantastic things designed for you than to have many untrustworthy things poorly designed to please everyone.

I can see a huge parallel between these two statements. The things you continue to love more every year are the things that are the best. In the long run, it is a waste of time and money to settle for something less than the best. The result is a better life with less things and less clutter. Dustin sums it up with one great sentence:

The result–being able to blindly trust the things you own–is intensely liberating.

My wife and I are making it a goal in 2013 to simplify our lives, getting rid of the clutter and making do with less to have the best.

OmniFocus: My Refined To-do Strategy

Back in January I discussed my thoughts in re-evaluating my to-do and calendering strategies. While my basic principles have remained the same, I have switched my to-dos over to OmniFocus and adjusted my calendering strategy.

To-Dos

If you read my previous post, you know I switched from Remember the Milk (RTM) to Wunderlist. While Wunderlist is great if you just want simple lists, I missed some of the more advanced features from RTM. While RTM is free on the web, if you want to be able to sync to their mobile apps more than once every 24 hours, you must be a pro member ($24.99/year). While more expensive to start, OmniFocus is OS X ($79.99/$49.99 eduation) iOS ($19.99 iPhone/$39.99 iPad) software, so you aren’t stuck paying a yearly fee.

OmniFocus

After reading Shawn Blanc’s article on why he loves OmniFocus so much, I decided that I had to give it a go. I’ve had an OmniFocus license for a long time (I got a really good deal because I was involved with the beta) so I was able to test it out without having to find room in my grad student budget.

On the surface, OmniFocus looks a little underwhelming. If you are familiar with software from the OmniGroup, you should know from experience that this is never the case. For those of you who aren’t, everything the OmniGroup makes is top notch and extremely powerful. While there is quite a big learning curve, the app has a great manual (gasp…read the manual?) and there are many great web resources.

After using the app for about two weeks, I feel like I have a good grasp on many of the advanced fetures. One of my favorites is the amazing control you have over the views in the apps. I am not only able to look at my projects and contexts, but I also have created custom views for work, home, and for when I’m on the go.

The iPhone app also has a really powerful and unique view — forecast. The forecast view pulls in the next five days of due to-dos and items from your calendars and lays them out along with options to view the past and future. With my calendar events and to-dos all in one place, it makes it easy to get an overview of my day.

Calendar

Since I recently upgraded from the original Droid to an iPhone 4S, I decided to make the plunge from Google Calendar over to iCloud calendars. While my setup remains the same (Fantastical on my Mac and Agenda on my iPhone), I have adjusted my strategy a bit.

Since switching to OmniFocus, I have started putting only things that have to be done on a certain day on my calendar — the change here is that if a task can be completed before it’s due, it goes in OmniFocus rather than my calendar. The start date feature in OmniFocus is extremely useful for this because I can hide events from my views until they are able to be actively worked on. This keeps things from getting too cluttered, part of the reason I previously put more on my calendar.

This quote from Shawn Blanc is a great way to sum up my search:

Finding the right tool to keep track of your projects sometimes feels more like a journey than a destination. Many task-management apps have come and gone (some of us have tried them all). But in the past few years, as task-management software has increased its footprint on the Mac, the one app which has stayed in active development and which continues to grow and improve is OmniFocus.

I feel like I have settled in for good at this point, but you never know! I’d love to hear what tools you use!

Calendars and To-do Lists

For at least a year now I have used a combination of Google Calendar and Remember the Milk to keep my life organized. I recently realized that my strategy had become messy – I had many of my entries in both places.

Strategy

Before making any drastic changes, I decided to step back and think about my strategy for a few days. This is what I came up with:

  • Items with concrete dates/times should be on a calendar.
  • Items that need action either ASAP or without any hard deadline should be on a to-do list.
  • No item should be both on a calendar and to-do list.

Previously, for example, I had bill due dates as repeating tasks in Remember the Milk and repeating entries on my calendar. With my new strategy, bills should just go on a calendar since they have a concrete due date.

Calendar and To-do Apps

With my new strategy, I also decided I should take a look at my calendar and to-do apps.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar still seems to be the best fit. Even though I am a Mac and iPhone user, I like the web interface for Google Calendar better than iCal in iCloud. Setting up Google Calendar to sync with iCal and my iPhone is slightly complicated, but it works flawlessly once it is set up. On my iPhone, I have replaced the default calendar app with Agenda (Web, iTunes, $0.99). Agenda has a beautiful, minimal design and is extremely fast. On my Mac, I use a great menubar application, Fantastical ($19.99). Fantastical makes it quick to check my calendar and add/edit events.

To-do List

Previously I was using Remember the Milk (RTM) for my to-do list. While it served me well before, I have decided to move over to Wunderlist for two reasons.

  • Simplicity. RTM is an extremely powerful app. Now that I am simplifying my to-dos, I no longer need all the features. The main reason why I chose not to use Wunderlist in the past is because it does not allow for repeating to-dos, a feature I no longer need since my repeating events now go on my calendar. If you find Wunderlist too simple, I highly recommend RTM.
  • Price. In order to have unlimited push sync with the iPhone app, RTM requires a $25/year subscription fee (basic iPhone syncing and the web app are 100% free). While Wunderlist doesn’t seem to have quite the efficient sync system, it is worth it to save the money.

Organization Zen

I feel like I have reached a simple and efficient method of organizing my life with this new method. I hope you find some inspiration to do a similar evaluation of your own calendars and to-do lists. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions of your own, please write a comment!

Welcome 2012

2012 is going to be a big year! I am marrying my best friend on July 15th and I have my comprehensive exams for grad school coming up in the fall. I also have some self-improvement plans that I have promised myself I will complete.

Wedding

Love is truly an amazing thing. It’s not something you can explain, rather something you must experience. Once you’ve experienced the real thing, you realize how permanent and infinite it is. When I met my fiancée Kimberlee for the first time 2.5 years ago, I went told myself that she would be the girl I would marry. A few key aspects to our relationship are communication and friendship, and I think those are the keys to any successful and lasting relationship. We really do talk about anything and everything and Kimberlee is truly my best friend. Having that in my life makes me feel truly lucky – we can get through anything together.

Comprehensive Exams

As part of my Ph.D. program, I have to pass comprehensive exams this fall. They consist of two extensive written research proposals, a presentation, and an oral defense. Preparations have already begun, and will be in full swing this summer.

Self-Improvement

I know it seems cliché to have self-improvement goals for the new year, but I have been inspired by some articles I’ve read recently with some ideas that are actually easy to implement and stick to. I want to have awesome mornings, get fit, and constantly improve as a fiancée and husband to be.

Awesome Mornings

I read an article about how to make each morning awesome and got some good ideas from it.

  • Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up. I normally do this, but I want to make sure I get a breakfast full of protein and fruits and veggies, rather than one full of carbs. This will help me stay full and help me with my goal to eat better and get fit.
  • 15 minutes of activity. It is important to get exercise, and this seems like the easiest way to make sure I get some every day in addition to my walk to and from work. It is so easy to make a resolution to go to the gym X days per week, I think this is something I can actually stick to. I plan to work in extra exercise some days, but doing 15 minutes of intense exercise every morning will be a big help in getting fit.
  • Choose prioities for the day. In order to be more productive during the day, I plan to take some time in the morning to set out my priorities for the day. Picking one big goal will give me at least one thing to have completed each day to give myself a sense of accomplishment.

Get Fit

To me, geting fit doesn’t mean going to the gym X times per week or loosing a certain amount of weight, it means to feel good physically and mentally. While going to the gym and loosing weight are certainly a part of my goal, I am going to focus on feeling better by eating better, becoming more active, and learning new things every day.

While I have to be constantly learning as part of my graduate program1, I also want to learn to program, read more for fun, become a more effective writer, and to improve as a fiancée and husband to be.

Improving as a Fiancée and Husband to Be

I constantly strive to be a better partner for Kimberlee and one of my favorite blogs, Art of Manliness, gave me the perfect idea for 2012 — the 52 Love Notes Challenge. Starting yesterday, I will write a love note to her every Sunday (and find creative ways to get them to her)!

Welcome to scientifics

If you’ve made it through this post, you probably have a pretty idea about what makes me tick. My profession is chemistry, but I dabble in all fields of science, food, coffee, photography, technology, and the outdoors. My best friend is my fiancée Kimberlee. I hope to continue this year with posts about all of the above, focusing on science and my life experiences. I will have comments open on all my posts, so please feel free to interact with me. I’d love to hear feedback, criticisms, questions, your thougths…anything really! To get you started, how are you trying to improve your life in 2012?

  1. I am taking part in Code Year from Codecademy. While I've been trying to learn Python or Obj-C and they do JavaScript, the weekly emailed lessons will help me keep on track. I figure once I learn one language, it will be much easier to branch out and learn others. ↩︎