Working against a good tagging system in TaskPaper.

One of the biggest powers, or deepest holes in TaskPaper is it’s tags. You are not limited to one. I have been trying to refine everything against a more usable system than what I had thrown together when I wrote the post after I had used TaskPaper for a month. My current setup have six different tags, and a few others, that are only used to track different kinds of stuff for the future; like my @book tag, which I use to create lists in DayOne containing all the books I have read during a year.

My current tag-setup is divided into two different categories, I have three tags for scheduling, and three tags for OmniFocus like contexts.

Scheduling.

My scheduling tags are @next, @today and @tomorrow. One important note here is that nothing have anything close to a strict schedule. They are just a guiding principle; but I try to only schedule tasks that I actually intend to complete any given day.

The @today tag, is the tag I set on all tasks I intend of hope to complete on any given day. While the @tomorrow tag is all the tags I intend to complete the the next day, and I just do a simple search and replace the every morning to move them from @tomorrow to @today. This is a simple hack, but it works.

@next is the tag I use the most. This is more like a flag, than anything else. I go through all of the tasks in my main TaskPaper file, and just add @next to any task that I should get started on as soon as possible. That might be today, it might be in a week. The reason for using it is to have a tag to filter on when I schedule what to do today, or tomorrow.

Contexts.

Contexts are probably on it’s own a very good reason to buy OmniFocus; I’m not the hardest context user on the planet. But, I like to use them on some stuff. Some people like to divide tasks into contexts like mac, iPhone, iPad, home, work etc. I don’t.

I have three contexts: @home, @university and @hidden. The reason I don’t need or have ever needed contexts like computer, iPad or iPhone is that I always have at least one computer where I can do most of the tasks I need a computer to complete.

I try to avoid using contexts, unless there are a very good reason for it. There are some kinds of tasks that isn’t that relevant if I’m not at campus, or at home. Like for example printing documents, I can’t do that at home, or anywhere except at the University. And I don’t need to see a lot of projects related to doing laundry or doing the dishes, when I’m not at home.

Hidden is probably the only tag, that might be strange for some people. This just a tag I use to hide tasks(and projects) that I don’t need to see right now. I have a lot of tasks in my main file, that won’t be relevant in a few weeks. I use @hidden to hide them, until I need to see them.

Use one tag.

One of the big problems with tags, is that you can use many of them, at once. After trying different systems over the years, I always stride to get away by only using one at the time. And I always live by the policy of every tag having a purpose. There have to be some kind of filtering purpose for using tags. Don’t start using tags before you need them. And don’t be afraid of re-factoring your tagging system when you need to.

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TaskPaper

I have been writing a lot about task paper lately, and I don’t think there will be many more articles about it in a while. It will be this one, and I have another planned. One of the things I find very interesting about tags in TaskPaper, is that they can be both what we usually look at as “tags”, but also meta-data.

Let me explain. You can filter out everything with the tag @done, this will result in everything with the tag @done. But, tags can also have some data associated to it. Let’s take this on as an example: @done(2014-01-01). This is a tag with the content 2014-01-01; this is all the stuff I completed on the first of january 2014. The filter “@done” will display everything with the tag @done. While the filter ‘@done = “2014-01-01″‘, let you filter out everything with a certain tag, that also have an exact value associated to it.

You can also do more advanced searches like <, data-preserve-html-node=”true”> etc. And combine filter together with “and”, “or ” and not statements; you also filter on projects. This query language, with a very powerful tag-syntax makes TaskPaper insanely powerful. I would love to be able to search searches I often use, either in a list, or be able to add them as buttons to the toolbar. TextExpander is a brilliant companion, for the time being, since we don’t have these possibilities.

So, let’s move on to my main point. The tagging system in TaskPaper is more like a data for associating meta-data to tasks, projects and note, than a regular tagging system. But, it’s way more powerful than most meta-data fields in GTD systems. And it is way more efficient to work with. The important note here, is to always stride against something that isn’t more complicated than you actually need. The other important thing is to standardise everything, pick one tag for one purpose, and don’t mix singular and plural names.

It’s a nightmare if you have more than one tag, for the same purpose. Decide! Think about these things, and you life will be much easier.

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Create the site you would pay for.

Patrick Rhone just wrote a great post called “Some Thoughts About Writing”. Patrick is my favourite internet writer, and you should go and get all of his books, and subscribe to at least Minimal Mac and Patrick Rhone.

I’m not going to comment too much on what he is writing there, and you should go and read it before you move on.

Have you read it? Good!. Let’s get started.

I don’t have a direct quote, or link for this, but I often used to hear that John Gruber of Daring Fireball defined the perfect Daring Fireball reader as himself. That might sound cocky or kind of ego-centric. But, I would strongly disagree with that.

One of the things I’ve always been working against on this site, is to write the kind of content I would like to read. One of the others are to try to replicate my inner Internal monologue, in a way that makes sense to other people. My perfect reader is me. Your perfect reader should be you.

You can’t do wrong if you write content that you are proud of, and that is something that you would also enjoy. I have never been into thinking about “wonder if someone likes this” or “this will probably attract a lot of clicks”. I don’t care – and have never cared about that. I write for me, the stuff I need to figure out and get out there – and I write the kind of content I would enjoy.

Go out there, and create the kind of site you would pay for.

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Facebook Paper.

Facebook released another app, last week. It’s not available in Norway yet, something that always drives me completely nuts. But, I have read a few reviews, looked at the promo video and quite a few screenshots.

There is a few things here. First of all, the app itself looks amazing. But, I doubt I’ll ever use it, more than a few minutes, just to play around with it.

The thing about Facebook is that most people I know, use it for different things. There is a few things Facebook is really good at: – Chat – Group Chat – Group communication – Events

And that is more or less what I use it for, I also use it as a way to learn the name of people I have met. Let me explain. I’m terrible at names, but I remember close to every face. In other words, it’s a good way to connect the face to the name, after “networking-events”.

You can see it above, but Facebook is mainly some kind of communication device for me. While others use it to share pictures, and stuff like that.

Here is the thing, I use twitter to follow persons that are sharing information that I find entertaining. I don’t care if I know them or not. While Facebook is just a huge collection of people I have met, talked or chatted / emailed with at some point. Some of them are sharing interesting stuff, while others are boring as hell.

But, I know there are a lot of people, that enjoy the kind of crap that are being shared on Facebook; maybe not in this corner of the internet. Anyway, I think it will be exciting to see what Facebook end up doing with Paper.

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Is it a waste of money to go to a university?

This is kind of a response to Episode 10, of Pragmatic, an awesome show that you should listen to. But also some thoughts I have regarding Universities, and higher education in general.

One important note before we move on. I live in Norway. If you go to a public University here(which is the best ones, in many, if not most cases) you don’t pay much money in intuition. I paid less than $100.

I think there are people that should go to University, and I think there are people that shouldn’t.

This is a very difficult question, and I think there is something to both sides of the discussion. I think most self thought developers and designers don’t need to take a Bachelor. But, they should consider doing it.

I don’t take a degree in computer science, I’m working on a degree in History, with a minor in Philosophy. I think the general idea is the same.

You shouldn’t take an academic education if you just want to learn enough about something to go out there and do some kind of job. But there is something to the act of going to a university, and try to soak up as much information and knowledge as you can.

I can now spend either three or five years reading in depth about History, and philosophers, and discuss it with people that are doing the exact same thing. And you have more or less the same thing in a computer science department, they are playing around with projects and technologies that you wouldn’t get to work with in most development jobs.

Don’t waste your time in a University if your goal is to write iOS apps; go to Big Nerd Ranch and download their iOS development book.

To be completely honest: most of the really good developers I have met, did not take a computer science degree, they either took something completely different, or didn’t go a University.

There is a big difference between the students you find in the computer science department, and the kind of people you find at the humanities department. Most of the people that complete something in my department are doing it because they are genuinely really interesting in their subject.

While I find this to a lesser degree in computer science departments; there are a lot of people that believe that they need that kind of education to work as a developer. It’s like taking a PhD in Physics to play basketball.

So, is going to a university a waste of money? It is a waste of money if you just want to learn a certain skill. But it is a great experience if you want to learn as much as possible about your area of interest, have good discussions and to learn how the academic and research really works.

A Bachelor or Master degree should be both a education and cultivation.

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Instapaper

I was sitting the other day and reading through my Instapaper queue, and I realised that something had to change. Instapaper have always been the place I go to read, and I just add anything that seems interesting. One of the problems with this strategy is that it might take a week, and it might take six months before I get to any article I add.

The result was that I came up with a set of three question, that I’m going to apply to anything I add to Instapaper from here on.

  • Would this article be interesting in three months?

  • Is it something I’m going to read, and not just “skim”?

  • Is this something I both enjoy and find interesting?

I think and hope that the end result after using these rules for a while will be fewer, but better articles in my Instapaper queue. But also a more enjoyable experience in general.

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Some reflections on iOS 7.

I don’t think there are many people that are happy with the current state of iOS. Seriously, even my mom complains.

There are a lot of things that are not good enough on iOS7, but I didn’t expect anything even close to perfect with this release.

I’m not the most “analyst” friendly person in the world, that’s just because most of them are crap. The thing that really piss me off, when it comes to a lot of the commentary regarding iOS 7 is that most of them don’t understand Apple. They release something, and continue to improve on it, until they have to “burn it down” to be able to continue the innovation.

I don’t think the first versions of OS X any better than iOS7, and I think the first version of iPhone was just as bad. The difference is that we have gotten used to something better since then. And I don’t think iOS 7 was close to ready, when it had to ship.

Apple could have shipped another iteration of the iOS1-6 look and feel, and I don’t think that would have annoyed, anyone, except most of us geeks. But Apple didn’t. They chose to ship something that they barely got out the door. My impression is that iOS7 is built for the future, and that iOS 7.1 and beyond will be awesome.

There are a lot of issues with iOS 7, some of them are design related, while others are programming related. There are three major issues that I hear about often:

  • Springboard reboots

  • Device reboots

  • Slowdown.

All of my current iOS devices are rather old, and I don’t experience many reboots of any kind on my iPhone 4S. But, there are some major speed issues. My theory is that there are some major memory leak issues on iOS 7, because my device isn’t slow after a reboot.

Is iOS7 unusable? No. Is iOS7 in general close to what we had in previous versions? No, it’s a lot buggier, and a worse experience in some ways. But there are also a lot of great new features that I have gotten used to, like for example background refresh.

To draw a line to an Android phone I used in 2010; the HTC Hero. HTC shipped an Android 2.0 update that was way worse than the performance you’ll see on an iPhone 4 or 4S running iOS7; or what you saw on iPhone 3G running iOS 4.

A lot of companies have shipped versions of their products that are way worse than what Apple do, or have done during the last few years. This is not an excuse for Apple, but we have to live with the fact that everyone expect Apple to deliver on a much higher standard than any other company out there.

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TaskPaper

The last, and first time I wrote about TaskPaper, was only a few hours after I installed it. You can read about that here. Following that post, I talked a bit with Mike Vardy on Twitter. Which ended in me saying that I was going to talk a bit more in depth about TaskPaper, after I’ve been using it for a while.

This post goes into depth on a few different topics, mainly TaskPaper, how I use it, some considerations I had to take before going for it, and also my GTD system in general and some other GTD apps I’ve used in past.

I started writing this post after using TaskPaper for a month, and then continued to writing it, and it was published after I had used TaskPaper for a full month.

My GTD app history

I might write an article about all of the different GTD and todo related apps and services I have used at some point. But this is about the three major ones I have used during the last six years. And a few notes on two that I have tried to use as my main GTD system.

Reminders and that Gmail thing.

I use Reminders now, but only for the fraction of my tasks that either are recurring, or require a due date. The rest are going into TaskPaper. I have tried to use both Reminders and Googles built-in Task manager in Gmail a few times. And I think they are both pretty decent. I would love to be able to get away with using Reminders, but I can’t. They are just to simple. The problem with them is that they are not designed to handle the amount of tasks and project that I would need them to handle.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milks is a great Web-based GTD app, with apps for iPhone, iPad, android etc. I used it for a total of two years, on two different situations. RTM is great. But it has it’s limits.

You might ask, why should I use RTM when I have Reminders? For one, I think RTM is designed to handle the amount of tasks and projects you would fine in the typical user that is between the simple needs of Reminders and the advanced need in OmniFocus or Things. But. It is also great to have as a platform independent solution. There have been times when I’ve had an iPad, Mac and one of those Android things.

Things

Things from Culture Code is one of the two power user GTD system for OS X and iOS, and I used it for a total of two years. It was great. Like I said with RTM, Things is not as advanced as OmniFocus, and a lot simpler. I think they attend to two different user groups. I think a lot read Getting Things Done, then they decide that Reminders isn’t enough. And then they go to Things. Let’s face it. Things is a lot easier to get started with, than what you will find in OmniFocus. But I also think a lot of people move on to OmniFocus from things, if or when they grow out of it.

OmniFocus

OmniFocus is kind of the goto GTD app for all of us crazy productivity nerds that belong to the church of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. I love the book, and I still love OmniFocus. I also used this app for two years straight. This app managed to get my through one full time job with an insane amount of tasks to complete, a lot of private projects, some studying on the side, and some times some part time development gigs.

I didn’t grew out of OmniFocus per say, but what it is and was is not the kind of GTD system that is the right thing for me right now. I don’t need a lot of due dates, start dates and stuff like that. I need an easy way to write down a lot of tasks in a very short time. I need some basic ways to organise them. In shallow and deep structures. I need some basic tagging, and most important of all, a simple way to combine Tasks and Notes. Both from a getting them in there perspective, and from a reading them perspective.

What I needed was something like a notebook, but digital. And what I found was TaskPaper.

Why plain text and “open containers” matter.

I have been working very hard to limit my tools, and to refactor what tools I use and to try go get by with less. I used to have a lot of text editors; now I don’t.

One of my goals for 2014 is to move back to using my nvALT plain text file database as the storage for my tasks, notes and everything else that I am working on. And implementing a good GTD system in something like TaskPaper was a very important part of this.

The reason I like to use formats like TaskPaper and Markdown which is just text, in an open container, like Dropbox is that I can use any tool I want to work with them. For example, I can use Notesy to edit both my notes, write on a new blog post or to work with my TaskPaper document.

TaskPaper vs Todo.txt

I decided to go plain text with my GTD system. But which should I pick? There was two very popular options out there. I think there are more, but these two was the one I’ve heard about. And they are quite different.

Todo.txt is different from TaskPaper on a few different things. For one, it has a lot more functionality that TaskPaper, and it seems like it is designed a lot more from the “easy to parse for the developer”-perspective. One of the things I love about TaskPaper’s format, is how simple it is. And how easy it is to work with it, and how fast I learnt it.

The format rather than the apps

After realising that TaskPaper was a lot like my go to markup language, markdown, I also realised another thing Im not just picking a few apps for managing my tasks here. Those does not really matter in a plain text world, what I am going is to pick a format.

And I picked the format with the fewest features, and the format that was the easiest for me – as a human to both read and write. I picked TaskPaper.

The OS X app.

Let’s move on to the OS X application, this is where you find the TaskPaper experience at it’s finest. It’s a text editor, that includes different markup depending on what you are typing. A project will have bolder and larger type, and notes are highlighted with grey text. While completed tasks get a strikethrough formatting.

The app makes it very easy to work with TaskPaper, it treats the document as a text file. This means that you can just do everything with your keyboard, if this is your thing. But there is also buttons and menus for creating tasks, notes, and projects, if this is your thing. There are also menus for focusing on certain tags or projects.

One of my favourite features in the app is that you have a search field that let’s you create rather complex queries. The query “@next and not @done” would show all of my tasks with the tag “next” that isn’t complete. This is a search I use all of the time on the mac to keep track of everything that is “up next”.

[Text Expander][4] is a great companion app here.

To sum things up, Task Paper for OS X is a great app with all of the power any power user want to have. But the app is designed in a way that makes is very easy to get started.

The iOS app

The iOS app was unfortunately removed from the store. I won’t get in to details about here. But you read about why Hog Bay Software decided to go so here. The app have been open sourced, and I think someone might pick it up, and start doing something interesting with it.

The iOS and OS X apps for TaskPaper is kind of different. The OS X app is a text editor with some TaskPaper specific features, and the iOS apps is more like a regular GTD “list” app. And I also think the iPad and iPhone versions have their own respective strengths and weaknesses.

I think the iPhone version is a very good app to mark items as completed, and to just look up items within a tag or project. And the iPad version on the other hand is much better at adding new items, due to it having an extended keyboard, with some task paper specific buttons on the top.

One note regarding the iOS apps is that they slowed down, when I tried to work with some large TaskPaper files in them(larger than 50K).

Sync

Dropbox is the go to syncing mechanism for TaskPaper, and it’s fast and works more or less like you would expect it to. Just one heads up, try to always save and close the document if you plan do open it in iOS.

The reason for this is that the OS X version is not as good as I want it to when I comes to saving when it comes to autosaving and loading changes from the local file in the background. This is probably something I expect the developer to fix in the coming versions of the OS X app, now that he is focusing only on OS X apps.

Third party apps

One of the great things about TaskPaper + Dropbox sync is that you can use anything capable of editing text. Let’s get into the great third party apps I use to work with TaskPaper, on both OS X and iOS.

nvALT

nvALT, is one of my favourite OS X apps, and it is one of the five apps that would be enough to do all of my work. To sum it up, nvALT is a note taking application that have great support for markdown, have full text search and stores all of the notes in plain text files. I store everything from my notes, blog posts to my “bookmarks” in it.

nvALT is not as great as TaskPaper when it comes to working with your TaskPaper files, but I often use it for it anyway. The reason for this is that I often need to get down a few task, while working on something else.

Notesy

Notesy is my iOS counterpart to nvALT, and it have been my go to notes application on iOS since I started using it. It’s fast, reliable and it is the only application that can handle any amount of notes I have sent it’s way.

Here is the thing. Some of my notes is two words, while other of them is a 10 000+ word notes file containing all of the notes I have taken from an entire text book. And I have a lot of them. Notesy is the only app that never crashes on my. One of the other great features in Notesy is that it have full text search, like nvALT and it let’s you customise large parts of the application.

Editorial

Notesy is often my only writing and notes application on iPhone, but I also use Editorial on the iPad. Editorial is this crazy thing that let’s you build workflows to automate things, with both built-in functions, and with Python(!!) – it’s awesome.

The other great thing about Editorial, is that is seems like it was built for both online writers and people like me, that need to switch to a browser to do some quick research ALL THE TIME. I use it to find links, and I use it to make sure that I really understand what I am writing, while doing notes for my studies.

It’s a great app, and I have written hundreds of thousands of words in that thing.

Here is a great blog post about using Editorial with TaskPaper.

Drafts

Drafts is another of these great and innovative iOS applications. The basic concept is that you have a simple text editor that always starts up with an empty text file. Then you can either send it on to other applications with a lot of built in integrations, or write your own to apps with a url-scheme.

The way I use this is to “prepend” text to my default TaskPaper file(add it to the beginning).

The difference between reoccurring tasks and Habits.

I rediscovered one of my favourite apps from the iOS version 6 period, while writing this post. And immediately changed parts of my setup and workflow. Habit List is a app designed to handle tasks regarding to habits. Let’s take a look at the differences between using Habit List and recurring tasks in for example Reminders.

Let’s say, I want to get into working out. This is one of the things you would want to use Habit List for. The reasons for this is that you might not want to do it on particular dates, but rather let’s say three times a week. And you would also want to keep track of when and how often you actually did it.

This is all parts of the functionality that Habit List provides.

And then you have other kinds of tasks like “Adding events for all of my lectures in the coming week”, is not something I want or need to have in Reminders. For one, I don’t care to see the stats, and it is just something I need to do – not just each week, but every sunday.

In other words, the difference lies in stuff you want to have statistics on, and to have both functionality that is made for one thing – creating habits.

My workflow

Now, finally. This is how I do things myself.

Pen & Paper.

I often use Pen & Paper, and my go to tools for this is large Moleskine notebooks, pocked sized FieldNotes and my beloved Retro 51 pen. I journal, and do quick capture stuff in the Field Notes when this is the fastest and or the most fitting tool.

While I use Moleskine’s when I need to write notes on paper, or need to plan out larger projects.

Later I bring all of the stuff I write on paper into either nvALT if it is notes, TaskPaper if its tasks and Day One if it is journaling.

TaskPaper

My current TaskPaper setup consists of three different .taskpaper files: GTD, Wishlist and Archive. Wishlist is just a collection of different items I want, but don’t need or have the money to buy right now. I could store it in the main GTD file, but I prefer to have them separated. It makes it a lot easier to get overview of things.

Archive is just a file where I move completed items from the GTD file, this is to make the file load and sync faster. But also to avoid having hundreds, if not thousands of completed items and projects at the bottom of my file.

GTD is the main file I am working on at any given moment. I use a lot of projects, and I use a few very simple tags. – nnn – I add this tag to any item that I intend to work on “next”. It’s pretty close to how I have used flagging in various other GTD systems. I find it useful to have an easy way to look up what I should tackle after what I was doing. – @today – This is more like a hard deadline. This is a indicator that I need to do this today. – @monday – @sunday. – I don’t use these a lot. But I do so sometimes. I introduced a set of tags for each day, to have something similar to the forecast view in OmniFocus, it’s just a simple scheduling paradigm, the few times I need it.

This is the generalised tags that is crucial to my workflow in TaskPaper, I also use some vert specific ones. I’m not going into them here.

OS X

My GTD workflow in OS X involves three different apps. I use to Reminders to recurring tasks, and stuff with a due date. And the rest ends up in a .taskpaper file. My main app for this is TaskPaper. I might use some other TextEditor, but I rarely do so.

Both OS X’s nature, and the maturity of the TaskPaper for OS X makes this part of my workflow kind of boring.

iOS

iOS is bit more complex. I always use Drafts on both my iPhone and iPad to quick capture ideas and tasks, and even projects I need to plan. The TaskPaper app is often used to look up certain tags or projects, and it is also my preferred app on OS X to mark tasks and projects as completed.

Notesy on the iPhone and Editorial on iPad is however my go to apps for writing down larger portions of tasks, and for planning projects. The reason for this is that I find it a lot easier and more efficient to do this in a text editor environment.

In other words: drafts for quick capture, the TaskPaper app for viewing and searching and Notesy or Editorial for editing. They are all great in their own unique and awesome way.

Reminders & Habit List. Both of these apps are also a crucial part of my workflow. The stuff I track with Reminders is planning the coming week(adding events to my calendar), processing my paper notebooks, and reviewing my tasks. While I have stuff like working out three times a week, journaling every day, taking a daily selfie and playing guitar every day in Habit List. The divide between the two is like I based on if I want to have statistics on how often I actually do it, and if I need a loose scheduling.

Reminders works on certain days and times, while Habit List allows me to set “every 2-3 days” or “3 times a week”, something that is awesome for certain tasks.

Conclusion.

This setup is all in all very different from what it used to be, just a few weeks ago. I used to have everything in one app, OmniFocus. But I feel that this app is a lot more future proof, than it used to be. I’m a lot more mindful about what kind of task it is, and if every actually needs a due date.

You might say that this system is a bit more fiddly, and it is, but I know that the majority of my tasks will work on any computer I am going to use for the coming 25 years. That is not something I can say about my old Things or OmniFocus databases.

Feedly is the worst.

I might have an Feedly account, but I know that I have not used it much. They have pulled a lot of shit during the last few months. And I would have blocked access for them, if I did have the ability to do it with Squarespace.

Here is the deal. If you have some kind of service that either show content – like RSS services like Feedly and FeedWrangler do – do just that – deliver the content. Don’t fuck with it. Leave it alone. Don’t try to do any crap to spike your traffic in any way.

The same goes for URL shortening services. Leave all the meta-data alone, shorten the url and leave the rest ALONE.

I will never – NEVER recommend anyone to start using Feedly.

Assholes.

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My e-mail setup.

E-mail is crap. Sorry, but I had to say it. I have tried it all, There would be at least two home screens full of e-mail apps on both my iPhone and iPad if I installed them all. And I would spend a fortune if I had an active subscription to all of the cool and interesting e-mail hosting and related services that I have tested.

My current setup is quite simple. I host my email account at FastMail.fm and I use MailRoute for spam filtering. And I use the standard Apple Mail.app applications on both iPad and Mac.

I don’t use the because they are the best, but because they are good enough. I found out something interesting when I moved from a few a bit prettier and fancier apps to then stock ones, last year. And that was that I spend far less time, “doing e-mail”, if I used worse apps.

You need to find out what works for you.

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