It’s only been a few months since my last post as life has been busy! I plan to get back to regular posting as I have a few topics in the works.
keeping track of everything I have on my plate can be quite challenging and I have looked around at a lot of tools. Your choice on what you use is personal as each situation is different. I hope sharing my journey might help you on yours. As a full-time music teacher on top of being the main and only tech guy in our district I have to stay organized. I need a good email setup, note taking system, and todo list app. I have a terrible memory to begin with so if I don’t have a way to keep organized I would not be able to function and do what I need to do in our music program and in the technology department.
I have jumped around more times than I can count between a multitude of different tools looking for the greener pasture. It finally hit me about a month ago that I need to stop looking as I have already found the tools that work for me, I just need to stop and use them. I’ve wasted so many hours moving my notes from one app to another or my todo lists from one app to another. I could have been out practicing my trumpet or golf game instead of wasting hours on all those changes. The one nice thing is I do know a lot about many of the different tools that are out there so when students or staff at school need help I can really go through the pros and cons of each one so they can find what works best for them. I’m going to break down each category of app and talk a little about my time with what I have tried.
The one stipulation for me is my solution needs to work across all platforms. My daily drivers are Apple devices as I mainly use an iPhone, MacBook Pro, and an iPad Pro. I also have a number of other devices I use since I’m the resident tech guy which includes a Windows laptop, Windows desktop, and a Chromebook. The last part of this post will talk about my solution as a whole and how it all integrates together.
There are not a ton of choices for what system to use for your base calendar but a lot of apps you can use to interact with those calendars. Our district is a G Suite subscriber so Google Calendar is heavily used. I also have a personal G Suite account for my wife and myself so that we have our own personal domain name for our email. As we are an Apple household we also have usage of the Apple calendar system. My final solution as been a combination of the two, typically work related events I use the Google calendar system and for personal events I use the Apple calendar system. They can both tie in together very easily so it makes it pretty easy. I could easily live in either world for a calendar as they both work great and do what I need.
The big piece of the calendar is what app/program you use to interact with your calendars. I haven’t done a ton of playing around with this part as for me the built in pieces is what works best for me. Since I spend 90% of my time on an Apple device I just use the built-in calendar app/program. I have tried Fantastical and the Google Calendar app but it just didn’t suit my needs as well. I found Fantastical to be a bit too busy for me with the interface. I just felt overwhelmed with the amount of info crammed onto one screen. The Google Calendar app just didn’t quite have the layouts I wanted and I prefer the integration into iOS with the built-in calendar system on Apple devices with notifications. So for me using the default Apple apps just worked better but if I spent more time on other devices I would probably default to the Google Calendar apps/programs.
The notes and todo list situation is probably the two that I have experimented with more than anything. In a notes app I need something that organizes a mass amount of notes in a categorical structure. I also need it to have a good search engine as I have at least a few hundred notes.
I started out with Apple Notes as that is what comes with all Apple devices. I found it worked well and did what I needed, the main issue was the cross platform usage. You can login to iCloud.com in the browser and access your notes but I just didn’t like having to go through those steps and it wasn’t quite the same as the actual app or program. I switched to Evernote a few years ago and really liked it but found the interface wasn’t great and was a little awkward.
I switched back to Apple Notes temporarily and decided to give Microsoft OneNote a try and overall really liked it. I really enjoyed the integration of the Apple Pencil on the iPad and how I could just start drawing or writing anywhere on the note. I probably stuck with OneNote for about a year and overtime I found I really didn’t use the Apple Pencil at all with it. I used it once in a while but even the times I used it I almost used it just because I felt guilty a bit for never using it. I also grew to kind of not like the layout and structure of OneNote as a whole. If I was a student in school I think I would gravitate towards OneNote as I think for being a student the layout and structure is really good and fits that use case really nicely.
In the process I checked out a number of other note apps just by browsing the iOS App Store and found most of them right away just weren’t going to work for me, most of my issues with many of the apps I tried was the layout, just wasn’t what I was looking for in a notes app. I also gave a strong look at Google Keep since we are a Google school and it is one of the big players is this arena. For my needs I found the layout was more of a traditional sticky note type system which took up way too much screen real-estate when I started having a ton of notes. The layout also wasn’t what I was needing in a notes app, I just found it too scattered and messy.
After my time with OneNote I decided to take another look at Evernote as I know they went through a lot of changes over the past few years. I found their changes were exactly what I needed as it is easy to jump between notebooks and search through my notes. When I do a search it will also look at the text inside of images and PDF files so those will show up in search results. I also gravitate towards a simple and clean layout which Evernote has for me.
This was a similar journey to the notes app as I started what was built-in with Apple, the reminders app. A todo list app for me doesn’t need to be anything too fancy but needs to be quick and easy as I am often adding things as people catch me when walking down the hallway. Apple Reminders again doesn’t play well across the different platforms, it works great in just an Apple environment but outside of that you have to login to the iCloud website and for me that isn’t ideal. The main piece about Apple Reminders I don’t like it the task parsing is awful. It is a little better on iOS 13 but still not where I would like to see it. For example I want to be able to put in Look at the Smartboard in room 13 Thursday at 3pm and it will put in Look at the Smartboard in room 13 and then will set a notification to go off Thursday at 3pm. Apple doesn’t do that, you have to click an icon to quickly set the date and time.
I switched to Todoist a few years back and really liked it as it did the task parsing really well. I found the layout very similar to Apple Reminders which was clean and straight forward. I decided to move away from it after a few months because Apple Reminders is free and Todoist has a small cost to it like Evernote and I was trying to use free solutions. I also checked into some of the other todo list apps like Do, ToDo, Microsoft ToDo, Google ToDo, and Things and just found they were either the same as Apple Reminders or Todoist. I went back to Apple Reminders for a while which is nice as that is what my wife uses and makes it easy for sharing shopping lists. The task parsing over time just came back to drive me crazy so I bit the bullet like I did with Evernote and decided to go back to it and pay for it. I use it so heavily the price is worth it. It is a clean layout, does a great job with task parsing, good notifications that are time or location based, among a number of other things. It just does exactly what I need and does it well.
Putting it All Together
The wonderful thing about using Gmail, Evernote, Google/Apple Calendar, and Todoist all together is they can all be integrated with each other. In my email client I use which is the Spark email app and on the desktop I use Kiwi for Google or Gmail through the browser I have deeply integrated Evernote and Todoist with it so I can easily send an email to either Evernote or Todoist and I can link Evernote into Todoist. When I go into Todoist and if there is more info in Evernote about that todo list item I can click a link in the comments of the todo list item and it will take me to the email or note that has the additional info. The last piece I do, mainly if it is something really quick I will use the star or flag feature in the email system.
This is probably three to four years of experimenting with all these different apps and programs and what I have learned about my needs and what works to meet them. The great thing about this journey is I have learned about a ton of different apps or programs and I am big on the philosophy if it doesn’t work for me, file it away because it might work for someone else I am helping. Without all these pieces in my system I could not do my job as in some ways I am doing two full-time jobs at once and I need to be able to manage it all or else it will fall apart and these are the apps and programs I use constantly on a daily basis.