Tag Archives: Simplicity

iPad Journal: Getting the most out of Apple Notes

I'm on a new quest in how I use the iPad and it can be best expressed with one word: Simplicity. I've always considered myself a "power" user of Apple tech. Of course this is a relative term but I'll just describe it, in this context, as this: I've always used my Macs with a goal as doing as much as possible with them. I used a seemingly limitless variety of apps and utilities. I tinkered. I installed betas. It was practically a goal to break things so that I could fix them. I enjoyed troubleshooting. But I was also concerned with getting things done.

My early use of the iPad was similar. I jailbroke my first two iPads primarily so I could share the cellular connection to my Mac. I immediately installed any app that might allow me to do my "work" on the iPad. From finance tracking to website updating to blogging to graphic creation to database apps. Of course I'm still curious about the possible solutions apps can provide for the tasks I need to do but I've recently realized that I often have the most success with a more straightforward approach. Just as Spotlight gradually replaced Quicksilver and LaunchBar on my Macs, I'm finding that Apple stock apps such as Notes are often be my best option.

I've used Notes quite a bit over the past few years and no doubt, it began as a fairly simple app. But Apple has nurtured it into an app that is, in its current iteration, really very capable. Interestingly, during the same period, I also tried using Evernote more than a couple times but I never quite settled into it. I could understand why so many people used it given its extensive feature list but it never quite clicked for me. My typical use with Apple Notes was saving text notes and the occasional link. I generally did not need to add attachments (on a Mac I preferred to just put any files such as pdfs or images in the Finder) and didn't need to share or collaborate with anyone. I bumped into it's limitations on occasion but it was never enough to stop me from using it.

The best way I can describe my use of Notes is that it is my catch-all for text and links, often as a sort of shared clipboard between devices with an easy way to share out via Messages, Mail or any number of other apps. One unfortunate limitation, links saved in a note seem to export with any method. Any effort to copy/paste or to use a share sheet to send a saved link and any text in a note, removes the link and only results in the plain text of the article title. Not very helpful and a bummer because this could be useful in a lot of different ways. Almost every other attachment can be shared out along with any text I've added to a note. One limitation of attaching documents such as pdfs, Pages or any other document that might have editable text is that they are not indexed. Not a deal breaker but it would be nice. In my personal use I don't tend to accumulate lots of notes with attachments because I tend to use them for projects rather than long-term storage.

More often than not when I create a new note it is a text capture via a share sheet from another app. Quite a few notes are for projects or clients and they might be something that I just scribble in and delete a couple days later or they might be longer term. In the past I've tried different apps for tracking time on client projects but several months ago I realized I wasn't all that happy with the apps I'd been using for such tracking. I decided it might be easier and simpler to do this tracking with a note and I was right. It's worked out great. I have a "Timecards" note and every project gets tracked there. Each project gets a section and anytime I work I log it with a simple line item: Date Time Description in that section. Simple and efficient. Eventually those line items get entered into an a FileMaker Pro invoice.

I've only had a need to share notes via the collaboration feature on a couple of occasions but it has worked well in those instances. It's a nice feature to have when I need it.

A lot of Apple nerds have been raving lately about Bear. I gave it a try and it is a nice app but it's not for me. Between Apple Notes and Ulysses much of what I do with text is covered. In the past I've also tinkered with Drafts and for awhile I used Byword and Editorial as a part of my gathering and writing process but not lately. While I've not yet deleted those three apps I likely will. I've not used any of them in quite some time and doubt I'll have any need of them in the future. They are superfluous. As I whittle down my folders of apps I am enjoying a certain confidence in the fewer tools that I choose to keep.

iPad Journal: A mess of stuff getting in my way

I’m a geek and so I tend to enjoy tinkering. Back in the day I used (or tried to use) speakable items on my Mac. It never stuck because it just didn’t work very well. But it was fun to play with. Something that did stick was Quicksilver. And Launchbar. And then Spotlight. I switched back and forth between the first two but as Apple’s Spotlight got better I eventually just settled on that. Which is to say I went from the more powerful third party tools to Apple’s simpler option. ┬áMaybe I’m just less of a tinkerer than I used to be because as time goes on I seem to prefer simplicity.

As I’ve experimented with some of Federico’s favorite iOS productivity apps such as Workflow and recently Copied I’ve begun to think that my needs (or my methods) just are not suited to so much complexity. For example, in his recent post about clipboard workflows using the Copied app or his powerful clipboard manager using Workflow, Federico offers many of the details that make him more productive. But I spent the better part of two hours with Copied and just came away frustrated. It may be that it’s just not suited to the way I work or maybe I need to spend more time learning it. Or, just as likely, it may be that I don’t write the kind of content or perform the kinds of tasks that benefit from that kind of app.

One lesson learned from the experience: when evaluating the tools and workflows of others for my purposes, be open but be critical. Will they really enable me to get things done in a better way or will they just end up slowing me down? Are they the right tools for the jobs I need to get done? These are obvious questions to ask but I think often it’s easy to get caught up in the tools and techniques of others. New and shiny is better right? So, my new goal is to find a balance of being open to new tools but not to spend too much time dwelling on it all.

All this cruft can get in the way. I live and work in a tiny house which requires being very deliberate in the choices I make about owning stuff. As often as stuff is useful it is just as likely a burden that gets in my way. Stuff has a way of accumulating and is often kept around even when it’s not all that useful. One reason I love the iPad is that it strikes a beautiful balance of simplicity and power. I don’t want to ruin it with lots of apps and utilities, many of which overlap in what they offer.

Why was I interested in using Copied? I like the idea of gathering links to posts with titles and relevant quotes and having them ready to put into a blog post just as Federico seems to do. But what I’ve discovered is that I find it much easier to just use the share extension to send items to their own sheet in Ulysses. If some of these are meant to be shared together in the same post I can easily use the merge sheets function of Ulysses to consolidate them all into one. Problem solved without the help of any extra utilities and quite possibly with less effort from me.

Another area in which I thought Copied might be useful was in saving groups of text for websites I manage. But here’s the thing. Again, my tool of choice, Coda, already has that covered with the text snippets or clips function. With a tap I get a dropdown list of my snippets and another tap I get the text I want pasted right into my document. Or I can assign a tab trigger for any snippet. These seems a better option than using Copied.

Another third party utility that I recently purchased that seems like it may be more work for less benefit is Launch Center Pro. As with Copied it may well be that I’ve not spent enough time with it to learn the benefits. I get the gist of it. But so much of what it seems to offer I would file as solutions in search of problems. Much of what it offers I can just as easily accomplish with Siri. Shortcuts to apps end up being just as many taps as clicking on the app or asking Siri to open it or using Command-Space to open via spotlight. On the iPhone with 3D Touch most of my regular apps have short cuts built in. It also seems to duplicate Workflow in many ways and I’m still trying to get a handle on Workflow.

My plan going forward is to focus on using each app as it is provided. This isn’t to say I’m not interested in utilities that might add benefit to my workflows. But I will cast a more skeptical eye towards utilities and workflows that seem overly complex in the name of saving me time. If my use of an app or combination of apps results in obvious friction then I’ll see what I can do to reduce it but step one is to ensure that I’m using all of the features of the app as intended.