This is the 2019 guide to things that I have found to maximize my daily workflow in my evolving setup.
Two years ago, I attempted to move this more towards a “living document”, but I failed miserably at keeping any consistency, so here I am at the end of year putting this together. In some ways, I love this tradition (and others guides around the same topic as I always find something interesting and new to play with), and on the flip side, I kinda hate feeling like I have to keep doing it. So, this is for you — the ones who ping’d me and asked where this years summary is — you guilted me into it.
You will find that many of the things this year echo similar flow to previous years, but I am keeping them here for ease of reading.
The Purge (the annual audit)
I find it a worthwhile exercise to audit frequently — this not only means what apps I am not using, but really looking at playlists, subscriptions, etc.. The flow that I have used and find useful:
- Apps — examine the apps on your phone, ipad and laptop — have you used the app in the last 2 months? If not, you probably don’t need it
- Media — do you need all those documents/movies/music on your phone or laptop with you? Seriously — do you need 24,000 songs with you at all times? If not, storing things away in iCloud keeps my devices light.
- Subscription — are you really getting value out of that application subscription? My litmus here — if it’s a service (media, storage, etc., where they are paying costs for hosting, etc), I probably will keep it going. If it’s for something more “static”, like a calculator, editor, etc., I won’t do a subscription for it. Apps are in a weird phase right now — I don’t mind annual upgrade charges (and they should be priced right — not this .99 or even 9.99 BS — really it takes time and people to build software). I just cannot take being nickel and dimed monthly.
- Higher Learning — do you have time set aside for writing in your journal every day? do you have a few hours aside a week for learning? do you read enough? I make time to journal entry in DayOne every day — even if it’s just a sentence.
- On the day to day — what is the best way to manage your day, get thru your to-do list, how to deal with the landslide of email, how to optimize reading for content that is most interesting?
I find if I keep auditing myself, I’m able to get thru mundane tasks, keep my devices lean and have plenty of time to learn, expand and grow.
The biggest growth item for me in 2019 was starting a digital “commonplace journal” in DayOne.
For centuries, authors and thinkers have kept commonplace books: focused journals that serve to collect thoughts, quotes, moments of introspection, transcribed passages from reading — anything of purpose worth reviewing later.
It’s a separate journal where I store all the quotes and clips and moments of thought that I want to keep together for down the road reflection.
The number one thing people ask me: how are you so quick to answer emails, slacks, etc?
Easy: My inbox is empty.
I’ve been able to keep this pretty consistent over the last few years and follow the general rule that I would not let email overwhelm me nor is it my task list. That being said, I really try to keep my Inbox below 5 items before the end of each day. It’s amazing how liberating this workflow is.
The flow is pretty straight-forward for every new mail:
- If I can delete it, I delete it immediately.
- If it’s something that I just need for information or later, quickly goes into the 2019 folder.
- If it’s something that I can answer immediately, I do, and then it goes into the 2019 folder or deleted.
- If it’s something that I need to think about, or take action on, I shoot it over to Things as a to-do item, with tags, a project and a due date. Then it goes into the 2019 folder or deleted.
The process is simple and quick and my inbox is never a dumping ground for tasks.
I have tried time and again to get into these, and in 2019 made a real effort — I don’t know how people can listen to hours and hours of Podcasts every week. This year I have been trying to experiment more with listening to those podcasts that provide high value content in short bursts. My current favorites:
I read a ton this year, but these are my favorites:
- The Obstacle is The Way — loosely based on the Roman philosophy of stoicism, it’s all about turning what appears to be “blockers” into your advantage.
- The Unicorn Project — follow up to The Phoenix Project and really is a must-read for anyone in technology and digital transformation.
- Permanent Record — wether you agree or not with what Edward Snowden did, this books is a must-read to understand what’s going on with your data and personal privacy in the digital age.
Must Watch TV
Couple of simply outstanding shows this year, but if I had to summarize my top three:
- The Mandalorian — I have spoken. ‘Nuff said.
- The Watchmen — As someone who collected and read the original comics, I was really concerned when I heard that HBO was going to do a reboot/sequel. It not only held to the source material, was easily one of the best written and executed series I’ve seen in some time. Incredible soundtrack too from Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose.
- Mr Robot — while not a new show, Season 4 just concluded this with the series finale, and outside of the first season, 4 was a complete home run. So many twists, turns, and an epic conclusion.
While I am given a work laptop, it mostly sits in the bag and goes to/from work .. at home, it sits in the bag most of the time. At work, it sits on the desk plugged in to a large 36” monitor. While I need a work laptop, it’s just that — a terminal to do some work on it and VPN to the office occasionally.
My “home” laptop is a newer MBA, but to be frank — this thing rarely leaves the desk any more. It’s really startling how little I use a laptop around the house in 2019.
The day to day really revolves around the iPad Pro 11” and the iPhone 11 Pro. Once again, I ended 2019 with a fairly light and simply setup:
- MacBook (Air 512gb/16gb, 1.3ghz, Space Gray) — Rarely leaves the desk.
- iPhone 11 Pro (256gb, Space Gray) — Goes with me everywhere
- iPad Pro 11 (512gb, LTE, Space Gray) — Goes with me for travel, to the office, on the couch, reading in bed, etc.
- Apple Watch 5 Cellular — The 5th generation of the watch was a hard call for me this year, but due to my own health problems (and the amazing things the 4 did — more later), I felt compelled to upgrade.
- MB Pro 13” — work laptop. I still hate this machine — its a brick and totally not needed except that work needs certain restrictions/policies to be installed to be on the network .
Other gear that I include in my EDC (Every Day Carry):
- Peel Case — super thin and super tough case
- AirPods Pro — the only issue I have with these is that they dont stay in my ear as well as the previous generation AirPods. I am going to attempt to add some memory foam as these are great for calls, music and short flights.
- InCase Airpods Pro Case — really like the Woolenex case over the rubber ones that pick up all sorts of pocket lint. Works great with wireless charging as well.
- Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 PD Portable Charger USB-C — went with a charge bank that has USB-C, light and super slim. Upgraded all the in-bag cables to USB-C as well.
- Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro 11 — currently using it when I bring the iPad to work, but in other situations, I just use a foldable Smart Cover and throw the Logitech Keys To Go in the bag for the rare times I need a keyboard. This allows me to keep the normal cover on the pad as the keyboard cover is incredibly annoying when in “consumption” mode. And why I went with this cover instead of the standard Apple one — has more built in “viewing” angles and doesn’t require a stand.
- Bose 700 Wireless Headphones — I only use these on long haul flights, but they do a great job.
- Bolt Crossbody Laptop Bag — since 2018, been the daily bag of choice for me.
Gear at the Desk
- Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard — At the desk only
- Spigen Wireless Charger and Aukey QuickCharge 3 Charger — I really never thought much about wireless charging before, but it’s just so damn convenient to drop the phone on it.
EDC Cable Bag
Every year, I end up reworking micro “cable bags” that are designed so I can just pick up one and go. This year I’m down to 2 — my everyday cables, and a travel bag.
- Tom Bihn Ballistic Organizer
- RAVPower 61W Wall Charger PD 3.0 — while I still like the Anker thin charger, this one is small enough and can power the 13" MBP, iPad, and anything else USB-C.
- USB-C Charge Cable — Charge the pad
- USB-C Lightening Cable — Charge the phone
- USB-C Micro-USB Cable — Charge headphones or anything else
- Pill Containers — had to order a few water-proof pill containers (this one and this one to bring heart medication everywhere.
- Fisher Bullet-Pen — small, awesome for writing, and you just never know when you need one. Read a review here to see why this is the best pen.
- Lumintop 110 Lumens Cree XP-G2 — I never realized how useful it was to carry a small flashlight everywhere, and I use this way more than I ever expected. Small, bright, it’s a no brainer for the daily bag.
Travel Cable Bag
I have another bag “ready” for when I travel; I can just grab this kit, throw it into the GORUCK or whatever bag, and know I have everything I need:
- Tom Bihn 3d Organizer Cube
- Anker 65W 4 Port PIQ 3.0 & GaN Fast Charger Adapter — Small multi-port charging block than can charge the phone, iPad, MacBook Pro, etc.
- Gl.iNet Travel Router — see the next section for more info on it.
- SanDisk Ultra 128GB Dual Drive USB Type-C — just in case
- Apple Watch Charge Cable
- USB-C to USB-C Charge Cable
- Lightening Charge Cable
- 2 Micro-USB Charge cables (one to power the router), the other in case I need to charge anything else.
Other Travel Gear
When I go on a trip, I also throw together a few things outside of the EDC Carry Bag to make life easy
- GORUCK — Finally treated myself to a GR1 Rucksack and a smaller 15L Bullet Ruck as my new travel bags. If you aren’t familiar with them, you should really read Ben Brooksreviews.
- Tom Bihn Aeronaut — has been a workhorse for years, but I’ve been slowly migrating to the GORUCK. Still love this bag and use occasionally.
- Packing Cubes — always using 2 or 3 of these — just amazing for organization.
- FireTV 4K Stick — Been enjoying just plugging this thing into the hotel TV, connecting it to the travel router, and off I go with my content.
Best of 2019
Travel Hack: A Travel Router
This year, I decided I had enough with crappy and (often) unsafe WiFi hotspots and have started to carry around a travel router when I travel. Currently, the best one I’ve found is the GL iNet 750S Travel Router ; Not only do I get screaming WiFi access for all my devices on it there are a few other great perks:
- Plug into the LAN — when I can, I try to still have it plugged into the LAN due to speed. But this device can also act as a “bridge” to normal hotel Wifi.
- Privacy and AdBlockers — all the devices that connect get the benefit of the adblockers and DNS blackholes
- VPN — You can have the router VPN home so you have a private connection
- Tools — I like to put some of my dev tools on the router itself; so I can use it as a quick remote “shell” so I can use Blink or iSH and ssh to it for doing some more advanced work with AWS or networking tools.
This year was a particularly hard one for me with a completely unexpected heart attack this past August. Given the particularly healthily lifestyle I live between both diet and exercise, this came as a complete shock to me. You can’t outrun DNA, but it did force me into understand the data of what was going on with my bodymore carefully.
Side note: the Apple Watch actually detected atrial fibrillation more than a month before my actual heart attack — and I kinda shrugged it off with “I should get that looked at some time”.
This lead me to find out about the Kardia 6L from AliveCor. While the Apple Watch is great for on the go and constant readings, it has what is known as “1-Wire” detection (the hospital uses as 12-Wire). This tiny Kardia device does a “6-Wire” reading, which can detect AFib, Bradycardia, Tachycardia & Normal heart rhythm. According to their research, the 6-lead EKG “gives your doctor more detailed heart information and provides doctors visibility into certain arrhythmias that are leading indicators of cardiovascular disease.” For $149, it was a no-brainer for me.
Regardless of device, it was incredible that I could (on either device) create PDF’s that I was able to send over to the doctors office if it detected anything odd going on; and the dr’s can see what is going on instantly without me having to go in.
Amazing that we have this level of medical equipment on your wrist and easily available to you at home. I’m a true believer in the personal wellbeing and health space; and can’t wait to see where this all goes.
Medical / Health Apps
Given what happened this year, I’ve also really focused in on tracking more about my overall heath, and consolidating that information in Apple Health (still bitter no iPad app though).
Even the hospital and doctors offices here in Portland have their records available for you in Apple Health — and I often get my lab results before the doctors office calls me. More information on getting your health records sync’d with Apple Health can be found in Apple’s HeathCare site.
Here’s a bunch of apps I’m using to track various aspects of my overall health, diet and exercise:
- HeadSpace — for meditation and mental wellness.
- Pedometer++ — offers a great complication so I can put my daily step count on the watch face.
- CardioGram — extends the information Apple’s heart rate collection and provides good extended looks at your heart’s health.
- HealthFit — I use this to get workouts from the Apple Watch into other health tracking I use such as Training Peaks and Strava.
- AutoSleep — sleep tracking
- MyNetDiary — calorie and micro-nutrient tracking
- Strava — More of an exercise “social network” I use this to track runs, bike rides, etc.
- Training Peaks — where I have my coach create training programs, schedule workouts, and monitor overall fitness
- Garmin Connect — Kinda needed when you have tons of Garmin devices (bike computers, watches)
- Zwift — Virtual training for running and cycling — I use it mostly with biking and import structured workouts from Training Peaks. But it’s super fun to ride with hundreds of other virtual riders from around the world.
- Wahoo Kickr — Smart trainer that I use with Swift or any other structured bike workout — great for simulating different levels of road resistance, power, etc.
I’ve been doing more this year with custom notifications. Originally inspired by blog posts on Streamlined Pushes and Shell/Watch Notifications, I’ve been wiring up more and more into Pushover (available on Mac and iOS).
Pushover is pretty cool — for an incredibly cheap one-time price ($4.99) you can create custom notifications that can be triggered from almost everywhere.
- Using NTFY, I can have long-running shell commands let me know when they are completed. For example — I have a remote shell script that executes YouTube-dl, moves the downloaded video to iCloud Drive, then notifies me. It’s a simple and elegant way to use Siri Shortcuts to download/transcode a video for later viewing.
- I can have alerts and monitoring trigger notifications from the house.
- All my IFTTT notifications are now also wired via Pushover — so I get a notification instantly when a new iOS release is out, or if SpaceX is launching a rocket.
- etc .. the list is really endless.
The idea of a “personal notification system” for things that I really care about (rather than apps just bothering me) is very compelling.
Other Hot Items
- Ubiquiti — absolutely the BEST network gear on the planet. Still building out the home network on this; I’m up to 4 mesh access points and couldn’t be happier
- Homebridge — despite the cluster that Apple Home is, I’ve consolidated there and Homebridge enables me to get non-homekit devices (such as my garage door opener or Nest) into Apple Home.
- Pihole — I hate ads. By building out a very simple ad-blackhole — I dont need to install anything on the devices in the house (ranging from Alexa’s to XBox’s to the TV) to drop ads on the floor. This is an incredibly simple way to also increase your home throughput when 25% of your traffic is dropped on the floor. If there’s one simple home network upgrade to do, this is it.
- Backups — Not much change here this year — 2TB iCloud Backup for the family, and the home network is backed up on BackBlaze.
The 2019 Apps List
Page One / Homepage
This list contains the apps that I use every day; my page one on the phone and the pad.
- Things 3 (Mac and iOS) — Last year I moved from OmniFocus to Todoist to Things, and I’m still on it. It’s a key part of every day’s flow.
- Reeder 4 (Mac and iOS) — my RSS reading is dwindling, but I’m still reading here.
- Pocket (Mac and iOS) — web page archive and reader.
- Notes (Mac and iOS) — Still using Notes for all my note taking.
- IA Writer (Mac and iOS) — I switched from Ulysses to IAWriter this year. It’s a much better writing tool for me, and I wasn’t a fan of Ulysses subscription model.
- DayOne (Mac and iOS) — I use DayOne for jotting down simple thoughts daily. Clearing my mind at the start of every day of the “junk” has been really helpful for me to maintain better clarity. In 2019, started using it also to archive out all my Instagram photos, as well as keep a “Commonplace Journal” where I keep quotes and article clips that I will want to reference in the future.
- Reddit and Apollo — really discovered Reddit this year as a resource — but like Twitter, you really need to curate your subscriptions carefully.
- Home (Mac and iOS) — built into the OS now
- News (Mac and iOS) — built into the OS now
- Fantastical — Much better than the built in calendar, but I have this installed mostly for using the watch complications and Notification Center.
- Hello Weather — while I still use Dark Sky as the “source”, Hello Weather just has a nicer UI and better Apple Watch app
- HBO Go (Web and iOS)
- Netflix (Web and iOS)
- Amazon Prime Video (Web and iOS)
- HD HomeRun — The Prime has a cablecard interface, and allows me to stream channels to any Apple TV, iPad, Phone, etc., in the house.
- Channels (iOS, AppleTV) — Stream live from the HD HomeRun to any Apple TV, phone, pad, etc. Works incredibly well.
- AppleTV (Mac and iOS) — built into the OS now
- Music (Mac and iOS) — built into the OS now
- Sonos (Mac and iOS)
- Sound Hound (iOS)
- Music Harbor (iOS) — really neat app that looks at your Apple Music library, gives you really detailed information on upcoming releases, similar tracks, etc.
- Disney+ (Web and iOS) — The Mandalorian. Enough said. :)
- ReelGood (Web and iOS) — I use this to find “where” something is streaming. Searching across all the subscription services for where you can stream a particular title from is a PIA and this app helps out quite a bit.
Photo / Video
- Pixelmator Pro (Mac) — photo editing
- Pixelmator (iOS) — photo editing
- Halide (iOS) — allows for shooting RAW photos on the phone, and the BEST camera app
- Photofox (iOS)
- Darkroom (iOS) — easily the BEST photo editing app for your phone
- MetaPho and MetaGear (iOS) — still trying to find a great metadata editor on iOS; and still cant figure out a way on device to edit tags.
- Retouch (iOS) — brilliant app for removing unwanted items from photos
- Annotable (iOS) — which the built in tools have gotten better in iOS 13, this is still the best app for marking up photos
- LumaFusion (iOS) — professional grade video editor for iPad and iPhone
- Spectre (iOS) — for long exposure shots
Programming / Coding / Tools
- Prompt (Mac and iOS) — I use this all the time to SSH into a Mac box — home, or at the office
- Blink — SSH and Mosh client for iOS
- iSH — Really interesting Linux emulator that has extreme promise — can run native apps directly on the phone/pad w/o a jailbreak; been using this one A LOT to get “computer” work done on the phone or pad.
- Working Copy (iOS) — Git integration
- Pythonista (iOS) — Code Python 2/3 right on the decvice
- xCode (Mac)
- IFTTT (Web and iOS)
- Textastic (iOS) — Text Editor
- VS Code (Mac) — Text Editor
Privacy and Security
- 1BlockerX (Mac and iOS) — I’ve tried several, but 1Blocker seems to have the best mix of configuration, control and whitelisting. Now with selective blocking, I have upgraded to 1Blocker on both Mac and iOS.
- MicroSnitch (Mac) — Alerts you to when an app or process uses the mic or camera.
- Little Snitch (Mac) — Allows you full control over what apps can do on the network
- KnockKnock (Mac) — Malware scanner for the Mac
- 1Password (Mac and iOS) — The best password manager out there.
- Screens (Mac and iOS)
- Bartender 3 (Mac)
- Caffeine (Mac)
- iStats Menu (Mac)
- Weather Underground (iOS)
- CardHop (Mac and iOS) — really amazing contacts app that offers way more power/flexibility than what’s built into the OS
- Scanner Pro — turn your phone into a portable scanner. Dropped Scanbot after they went subscription only, and this is a fantastic replacement.
- Stitch It! — Simple app to stitch together screenshots
Communications / Social Networking
- Slack (Mac and iOS) — for work
- Signal — for secure messaging
- Tweetbot (Mac and iOS)
- Instagram (iOS)
- Linky (iOS) — great app for sending clips to Twitter; though I mostly use this for “text shots” — you highlight text and it turns it into an interesting image.
- Medium (Web and iOS) — I read a lot on Medium these days, and still paying for a subscription. This is one I am monitoring in 2020 to see if it’s worth keeping.
Storage / Documents
- Amazon (Web and iOS)
- Apple Store (Web and iOS)
- Deliveries (Mac and iOS) — great for tracking packages
- Starbucks (iOS)
- Fandango (Web and iOS) — Movie tickets
- TripIt (Web and iOS)
- Flighty (iOS) — Probably the best flight app I’ve ever seen/used; nicely integrates with TripIt to pull in my “lifetime” of travel, and has more information (like where is my inbound plane) that you’ll ever need.
iPhone Homescreen 2019
iPad Homescreen 2019
And that’s a wrap! See you next year!