My personal workflow changes of 2013

Changing your workflow can be a drag. Many apps and services are waiting to help you organise your life. Adding them clutters up your workflow, rather than streamlining it, causing you to fall back into old habits. The same goes for me unfortunately.

Still, here’s a recap of the notable changes in my workflow this past year (including games) which focused on cutting down, rather than adding.

Evernote’s a black (data)hole

Let’s start with one of the last ones. In 2013 Evernote became useless. I only realised this a few weeks ago, but the realisation was there regardless.

In a way it’s not really surprising. I’ve been wondering how to use Evernote for quite some time. It’s great as a black data-hole – throw everything in it – but then what? The ‘then what’ bothered me, as Evernote was a convenient way of… noting down stuff.

That changed though: Evernote became slow. Really slow. Opening up the app on a smartphone and getting to a note-ready state could take up to half a minute, which is annoying to say the least. It sounds like a first-world problem (and it is), but without the ability to quickly note something down, Evernote became worthless to me.

I did find a successor in Google Keep, which has a focus on speed. I’m now in the process of transitioning data from Evernote to Keep while cleaning up along the way. It only highlights the black hole aspect of Evernote and I’m kind of happy I get to leave it behind.

I just didn’t expect to use Keep as its replacement as I was kind of furious at Google about some ‘minor’ service they closed down earlier this year…

The Death of Google Reader

Yes, Google Reader was shut down in 2013. You may have noticed. If not, to me and others it felt like the great faucet of the internet was removed. Information streams were in danger of drying up and there was a scramble to move one’s precious collection of RSS-feeds to other, similar services.

I settled on The Old Readerbut that went tits up as they didn’t anticipate a publicly accessible service to get used by multiple people (or something along those lines) (Oh they didn’t after all!). So off to Feedly I went with all the others.

Feedly started out OK, but quickly turned sour with an annoying way of handling links (something they recently tried to make even worse) and its overt reliance on apps rather than a website, which made it unfit for desktop use. Within a few weeks it became about as cumbersome as Google’s own replacement Currents (which, by the way, has already been replaced with Google Play Newsstand, heh).

With Feedly kicked to the curb I settled on… Digg Reader? Yeah, I kind of surprised myself there, as I thought it initially laughable that Digg would churn out an RSS-reader after Google Reader’s death-announcement. Ironically, it turned out to be a minimalistic interface that doesn’t get in your way and copies a lot of Google Reader’s old flow. Except for the G-A shortcut, which I’m still trying to unlearn.

Yet, the shutdown of Google Reader also made me review the components at the end of my ‘information sharing chain’: the social networks.

Abandoning Facebook… and Google+

During Spring, I gave Facebook one last push. In an effort to see if it would actually matter, I operated a month in full on social sharing activity using my curated newsfeed distilled from Google Digg Reader.

The results were shocking in that my LinkedIn-shares created more activity than the Facebook ones. It meant the social network didn’t have any added benefit for me as I sure as hell didn’t get any information out of it. Why would I put information in?

I’ve likened it to awkward Dutch birthday parties in the past and I still stand by that remark. I only use it for its messenger and groups functionality, as a handful of people cling to it like it’s Windows Live Messenger (which is a pain).

“Oh, he must be one of those Google+ persons then,” I hear you think. Actually, you would be correct were it not for Google itself thwarting my use of Google+. I love the concept, but its circles weren’t a solution to the contacts-problem; I had to import my own solution to make it work. Sharing information on Google+ is good though; it’s more akin to how Twitter works and as a result you get comments from interested people, rather than courteous family members.

But…

Google+ demands a lot of work. Automating posts is out of the question as a person and if you do share stuff, a link without context is dead in the water. You’d be better off using it as a blog replacement (which they seem to be prepping for, as Blogger is slowly changing).

Over the past years, I’ve seen Google+ being put forward as the anti-Facebook, only for it to dwindle to Facebook levels itself. People share the same inane stuff and often recycles from Facebook wash up on Google+ shores a week or so later. There’s a great use for it, and contrary to popular belief it’s anything but a ghost town, but without the ability to actually deploy some power tools it costs too much time.

So I cut down on Google+ as well. Relying on good ol’ Twitter as my main information exchange, which I feed with links through a somewhat elaborate web services concoction.

The Delicious, IFTTT & Tumblr Dance

It works like this:

  1. find a link (usually through Digg Reader in my case)
  2. save the link in Delicious (with tags and comment)
  3. use IFTTT to queue Delicious save into a Tumblr link-blog
  4. publish Tumblr posts based on queue frequency
  5. use IFTTT to share published Tumblr posts to Twitter
  6. optionally: use IFTTT to share published Tumblr post with specific tag to LinkedIn

As you can adjust the queue publishing frequency of Tumblr, this setup basically acts as hobo-version of Buffer while exposing your shares at multiple locations. Any shared link tagged with #in on Delicious is shared on LinkedIn as well (as only work-field related shares make sense there).

As they are published on Twitter the link-titles have a • appended up front to denote automated and external shares rather than personal posts. So far it seems to work fine. Which can’t be said for…

Tablets. The bane of productivity.

The one piece of tech that came tumbling down from its almighty pedestal this year was the tablet. They are really, really good at being “portable non-computers for when you need a computer when you don’t have one.” Interfaces you use during the weekend trip, the summer days at the beach or the “I need something to do at Starbucks” moments.

They are horrible for everything else.

The tablet has been truly unmasked as a consumption device. As such it’s great for people who don’t use computers, yet still want the benefits of computers (say, my parents). As a creation device it’s not there yet. You might want to point towards Windows tablets now with their obvious use of Windows 8, but those tablets are only sending mixed messages. I don’t want a tablet and a laptop, I just want a laptop. Or rather, I want a full fledged computer.

Having worked with tablets for a couple of years now, I only really use my iPad Mini (coupled with a Rapoo Bluetooth keyboard) as a portable iA Writer device. But even then I’d rather use a laptop to get some proper writing done and convert the text for further use while I’m at it. Still, I keep the iPad around for the games. I’m doubting that’ll last though, as…

My gaming needs moved back to consoles

Mobile games are nice as time-wasters, but the substantial games simply cannot be found there. A lot have tried. Even in the time-waster segment there are gems and I fully appreciate that.

Yet, after starving myself of these type of games for over a year, I crave substance. I want stories to unfold, to pick apart complex game systems and yes, some eye candy wouldn’t go amiss as well. For some reason, mobile games can’t really do that properly and when they try, they often bump into the limitations of having to use a touchscreen exclusively.

It all hit top gear when I got my hands on a PS Vita, which is arguably the least attractive games console on the market, but – bloody hell – does it have a brilliant library of titles that nobody seems to know about!

It culminated in a rediscovery of joy for dedicated games consoles, which in turn coincided with the fact that one of my favourite mobile games went down the drain in 2013.

Ingress is in ruins

Google’s location based alternate reality game is addictive. Once you make the link between real-life public landmarks and in-game portals (to attack, capture and link), a simple stroll through the city becomes an adventure.

Too bad the game itself hit its limits somewhere in February as more people started the level cap at 8. It then became painfully obvious Ingress couldn’t sustain interest (or an ‘end-game’) as the grind for experience points and higher level gear just stopped.

Players started doing quirky stuff like creating mosaics out of linked portals or stretching the limits of link distances. Developer Niantic Labs tried to circumvent the problem by organising events and handing out new item types, but it only hammered home the notion of level 8 being the end of the line. Add the balancing issues in terms of number of players per faction and it becomes a disappointing.

Portal quality (and thus the game world quality) is falling. I’ve been reporting invalid portals for months now, with some of them based on landmarks that simply don’t exist any more and they are still standing. Hell, some portals are duplicated by an exploit-ready player base sending in a different photograph of the same landmark. Reporting those as duplicates is simply ignored as well.

It’s a shame. Ingress is an impressive project and now it’s out of beta it could go somewhere, but it has nowhere to go. It’s stuck in its own rut and I deleted it from my phone. As it turned out, together with a lot of other stuff.

The smartphone for communication only

As Ingress got deleted I eyed the other apps on my phone. Having installed Cover (which I can recommend as it’s a variation on a certain theme), you get a new view on your phone and what you do with it. It turned out I use mine for note taking and messaging.

I deleted/disabled a lot of other apps. Apart from messaging and travel apps that find daily use, I have Pocket, Twitter and Foursquare left (and the latter might end up on the chopping block). Just as tablets proved to be awkward at being productive, smartphones are awkward at providing relevance. You can amass an enormous amount of apps for the most niche of activities, but do you use them?

I track my rock climbing activities in Fitocracy, but do I really need its app for that? I can input it through a browser later on. There’s no need for immediacy. Same with tracking books through Goodreads. Or films in IMDB. Games? As I rediscovered: that’s what consoles are for. It almost makes me sad that Blackberry is dying as I feel I’m ready for a messaging-only smartphone with great battery life. How backwards.

Speaking of which…

Workflow management with Bullet Journal

Have you ever tried to use a to-do app? Because I have. Tonnes of ‘em. I’ve used Remember the Milk as a Pro member. I’ve wasted money on an ActionMethod account. I helped to translate Any.DO (god knows they need the help). I even tried to convert people to Asana and the blubbery mess of shared task managers that it stand on top of.

It doesn’t matter any more. In September I ditched the digital route to go analog: I started using Bullet Journal. Which is basically a fancy way of saying I started tracking tasks in a notebook through a orderly system and thus reboot my workflow at its core.

It’s brilliant, simple, keeps my handwriting in check and really allows to get stuff done while getting rid of a growing ‘pile of shame’. It’s the only to-do system that – compared to the digital solutions – actually saved me time by being more mindful about it. It also automatically creates a journal out of it for archival purposes, so I can retrieve context-complete data when I need it (take that, Evernote). In other words: I love it.


 

Quite some changes then, but I’m sure it’s not going to be the last ones I will make. There’s still room for further optimisation and I haven’t included food, sports and the like. Maybe I’ll get to that later on.

For now, let’s first enjoy 2014 in its primary form. I’ll probably start tweaking again somewhere in February.