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Frictionless

I’m feeling a lot of friction lately, and sadly it involves some of the tools that I love the most. What do I mean by “friction”? The road has been traveled by people a lot smarter than me in various ways, but I have my own views on it obviously. So let me explain in my usual fashion – with words. Lots and lots of words…

What I Need

I have several needs that I look to technology to fill throughout the day.

  • Task management
  • Calendaring
  • Note taking and note management
  • Phone calls
  • Social Networking

Each one of these needs can be taken care of in a myriad of ways these days. I can tackle them on my Macbook Air, my iPhone or my iPad. Rarely do I use paper and pencil or notecards because (a) I’d lose them, (b) they’re not searchable and (c) I can barely read my own handwriting.

The tools we have access to today through our technology are staggeringly useful. You can tell by how much I write about OmniFocus that I think it is a fantastic tool for organizing my thoughts and tasks. Lately, however, some apps have entered the picture that are better suited for doing certain, very specific things. Trying to integrate them into my daily routine is causing friction because the decision of which tool to use gets just a little bit harder.

What I Have

Part of managing my tasks is capturing them in a trusted tool. Another big part of taking care of them is having an effective way to remind myself to do them. OmniFocus for iPhone and iPad have integrated location-awareness. I can add a location to a Context (which represents where something gets done) and, when I get near that location, my OmniFocus task will pop up. That sounds pretty frictionless.

Recently, however, a few other tools have come to my attention – each excellent at what they do. In fact, they are perfect fits for each of their respective solutions but something happens when you go from one do-it-all tool to several tools, no matter how well they fit the task. You end up with those moments where you need to figure out what tool to use for a given situation.

It’s probably best to illustrate with a few examples.

Location-Awareness

Returning to my earlier comment about location-aware applications, Checkmark is an app that has ended up on my Home screen recently. It’s a reminder app that features an excellent location-based system with geofence sizes and other great features.

But, as I mentioned, OmniFocus has location-aware features too, so here’s where the friction comes in.

Location-awareness-based tasks can fall into Contexts that are also clearly place-based. Say I’m building a fence and I need to buy something at Home Depot. If I have my local Home Depot set up as a location Context in OmniFocus, it’s natural to put the task there. Where does Checkmark come in then? Well, if I was thinking straight, it probably wouldn’t.

Looking through my locations in Checkmark, none of them are very different from the Contexts I have set up in OmniFocus. It seems like a no-brainer just to ditch Checkmark and double-down on OmniFocus but things are never really that easy (or are they? Keep reading…).

I tend to use location-aware task reminders as one-offs. For instance, I had to remember to give a case of empty beer bottles used in homebrewing to a co-worker the other day. They key was remembering I had to do it as I drove into the parking lot at work, giving me a chance to park next to his car for an easy transfer. I didn’t really need to catalogue this one-off task in OmniFocus and I definitely didn’t want to set up work as a location-based Context in OmniFocus because I’d get task reminders by the truckload when I drove into the parking lot. In this case, using Checkmark seemed like a good choice.

Once I started using Checkmark like this, I thought it was great. I decided to pull all of my locations out of OmniFocus and just rely on Checkmark as my locale-aware reminder tool. The fine control over range, the proven accuracy and the sweet interface all helped ease the decision. One side-effect of this is that there are times when I need to have tasks mirrored on both apps, but it happens rarely.

Still… that’s quintessential friction.

Recurring Events

Recurring events in OmniFocus work pretty well. Due, however, is custom-built for recurring tasks. It has tons of options to manage them and, maybe more importantly, if I have a singular task that isn’t tied specifically to another project, maybe its better to keep that out of my Single Action Lists and set it up outside of my OmniFocus database.

So, when I come up with an idea for a recurring event, I’m faced with a choice. If it’s part of a project, should I put it in Due? That doesn’t really sit right with me. Should I set it up as a recurring task in OmniFocus? Then I need to wrestle with OmniFocus’s recurring task handling and, wouldn’t it be better just to have all recurring tasks in one place (Due, in this case)? Friction…

Friction and Capture

With the appearance of the excellent Launch Center Pro, I seem to have picked up a bit of friction with how I capture my tasks.

OmniFocus is ubiquitous on my Home screen but Launch Center Pro has provided a ton of flexibility for capturing tasks with its automation features and decent speed. I’m all for saving a few clicks – it just speeds things up and makes me more efficient. It gets things out of my head and into my Inbox where I can deal with them later.

Having Launch Center Pro, however, sometimes adds a few clock cycles while I reach for the OmniFocus icon thanks to muscle memory and then slides down to the Home row of icons to select Launch Center Pro, then select OmniFocus and then enter a task. Then, after the task is entered, it bounces me to OmniFocus anyway, which can take a few seconds and then I can finish entry. Sometimes I want that fine control, and sometimes I just want to force something in quickly.

While I love Launch Center Pro, it has definitely wreaked havoc on my muscle memory and added a ton of friction to things I never had to think about before.

There are too many good note-taking apps

There are some seriously good note-taking apps out there. Drafts is amazing and I use it all the time, but when is a good time to just stick a note in OmniFocus? When is a note actually something you need to capture into the Inbox? Maybe I should add it to an existing text document in Dropbox. Do I use Scratch, Notesy or Nebulous Notes? Why not Writing Kit or Byword, for that matter?

The rough part is that all of the apps I just mentioned are excellent and all of them can be put to the task of pretty much any Dropbox-related text file job. So how do you choose which one to use and where? Oh man, this is the king of friction, if you ask me…

This is a pretty personal topic so I won’t dwell too much on it. I’m sure what works for me won’t work for the next person. For my main note-taking needs, I go straight to Drafts. There’s an “Add to Omnifocus” feature there, if I want to capture it to my Inbox. There’s a nice little archive of notes that I’ve taken recently in case I want to go on a little retrospective and it integrates decently (but not perfectly) with Dropbox. It’s also very fast from the time you tap the icon to the time you can start typing, which is a pretty key feature as well.

Phone Dialers

Even my phone dialing has friction. I have Dialvetica on my Dock which seems to have gotten less efficient lately. Being able to call someone with just 2-3 taps when at a red light is great, but honestly, Siri does just as nice a job and its hands-free. If I can’t use my voice, for whatever reason, the extra taps to use the Spotlight search to find a contact isn’t too onerous.

In the end, I think it comes down to this: it is more important to reduce friction than have coverage for an edge case.

It should probably be notable that Apple’s Phone app doesn’t enter into my “easy wasy to call someone” list of apps. Maybe Apple should look into that…

Calendars

Calendars are another area where I look to my iPhone to solve problems. I’ve often written about how great Week Calendar is on this site. Where it excelled was its ability to parse and handle calendar events with dialing involved. Unfortunately for me, meeting invites use all sorts of formats and often they won’t get parsed correctly so I end up having to do things the “old fashioned way” with paper and pen. This is obviously a non-starter when driving.

After doing the research and finding easy ways to set up contacts for automatic script dialing I seem to have solved my conference call meeting issues so then my search for the best calendar app resumed. Not because Week Calendar was bad but because I love finding the best app for the job.

Coming back to Calvetica has served me well for the last few weeks. It has made some vast interface and display improvements since I last used it so I’ll be sticking with it for a bit.

Of course, adding to the friction, the iPhone Calendar app has to stay fairly handy because it is my inbox for copious MS Exchange-based meeting invites and is the most risk-free way of dealing with them.

Social Networks

As I wrote the other day, App.net has gained a lot of steam in the last few weeks. Combine this with the terrible decisions Twitter has been making lately and the choice gets clearer and clearer that we need a new way to go.

While I do love the text firehose of the funny people on Twitter and the news that flows easily (and generally more accurately) through it, the service is making some serious missteps with regards to their community. At times it seems like those who make decisions there are thumbing their nose at the very crowd that helped propel them to their success.

That said, “everybody” is still on Twitter and there’s “only” 17,500 people on App.net at the time of this writing. For now, I need to have both available and check both regularly. That’s the definition of friction right there. Add in my recent interest in Glassboard due to a GTD board and beer board and I have three social applications that I like to keep up with regularly. Sometimes it feels like work.

What’s a slightly disorganized person to do?

The upshot of friction is that it clutters the mind to varying degrees. It prompts me to come up with ways to manage these choices, come up with rules to decide when and where I’ll use one tool over another. Then I need to commit these rules to memory. OK, maybe it’s not as dramatic as that, but on the surface it’s not as easy as just jamming it into OmniFocus and finding a way to make it work.

Talking about how distracting friction is won’t get my problems solved. As much as it pains me to not have the perfect tool for the job, I have come down on the side that the most efficient tool for most cases is the tool I want to use and edge cases be damned. The extra brain cycles used over the course of the days and weeks trying to manage different task repositories, calendar apps, etc. is not overwhelming by any means. It’s just annoying and I have enough things that annoy me right now.

So here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m removing the following apps from all of my devices:

  • Checkmark
  • Dialvetica
  • Week Calendar
  • Due
  • Scratch
  • Byword (for iPhone – the Mac app gets used everyday)
  • Writing Kit (for iPhone – the iPad app gets used everyday)

All task management, location aware or not, will be handled via OmniFocus. All recurring events will just have to be “good enough” the way OmniFocus does it and I’ll live with whatever quirks come up.

For setting timers, I’m going to integrate the Timer app with Launch Center Pro since App Cubby makes it easy and use Siri when it’s more convenient to do so.

Calendars are going to be handled by Calvetica for the forseeable future. Week Calendar served me well, and I can’t discount it making a comeback, but for now, having three apps doing the same thing is just stupid.

Social networking-wise, I’m going to reduce my footprint on Twitter as much as I can. At that point, I will focus my new posts on App.net and hope that Mac and iOS clients appear quickly that provides a coherent, integrated and cohesive solution (much like Tweetbot was doing on the Twitter front). Glassboard will get perused once a day and maybe more if I have a bunch of time on my hands.

Conclusion

This should be an interesting experiment. Reducing the number of apps and deleting ones that I had viewed as “essential” to my workflows may be jarring at first but I suspect that the reduction in friction will make up for it quickly.

I love trying new apps and seeing how they solve old problems in new ways but if they don’t replace an app, I doubt they will stay around for long from now on. The price I pay for those $.99 apps is just too high.