Complexity in Volume
Using multiple platforms, apps, tools, and devices inevitably complicates our worlds. What can we do to simplify?
This is how I feel about connecting with people, and I feel even worse about my current setup of work platforms. As a geek, I love to explore new technologies, new apps, and new methods of using old tech. I research way too many technologies, and I spend entirely too much time thinking about use cases.
This scouting of technology is valuable to my clients. I’m able to reduce their time to launch because I’ve already narrowed the field of options for them. My research focuses on usability, accessibility, simplicity, and staying small. My consulting process helps me discover core requirements, preferences, and technical ability. This allows me to present options from a place of appropriateness. While a certain technology may actually work better in some way, it might not be appropriate for a specific client due to other factors.
This appropriateness applies to me as well. Because I keep up with technology news and test a ton of applications and systems, I can easily lose track of content or tasks as I bounce around from one platform to another. I need tools that are appropriate to my scattered information. My universal requirement is excellent and fast search, and portability of data.
When email apps like Spark started appearing, with unified inboxes and account-level workflows and notification settings, I was thrilled. Yet, I am still searching for a calendar solution that works for me, and I have been for decades. I’m not alone. I remember reading posts blasting the lack of progress in calendar application design from Patrick Rhone, Ben Brooks, and Marco Arment a decade ago. We just can’t seem to overcome our obsession with old calendar looks and functionality. How great will it be when something truly new comes along that supports multiple calendars across multiple domains, with support for proper time management with whatever combination of people you want to be in sync with!?
Wishful thinking, maybe.
Recent improvements and functionality in Google Calendar were solid efforts, but didn’t really solve core issues, and I’m moving away from Google for privacy reasons. Fantastical is a lovely application on Mac, but I’m not as big a fan of their iOS app. Outlook is bloated, and I definitely need my mail and calendar apps to be separate so I can toggle between them rather than having to switch in-app.
I’m blabbering about this right now because time is the most valuable asset we have, and we really suck at managing it, writing apps that respect it, and creating schedules that work with it more effectively. I’m not saying an app will fix my poor time management skills, but I’d like to see someone try to provide some guidance, functionality, and visualization for real life.
Coming back to the XKCD comic at the beginning of this post, I think a lot of us deal with the what goes where issue with calendars and tasks, similar to the who is where issue in the comic. I’m on a never-ending quest for simplicity, but recently I have built up a monster of a mess of apps, email accounts, and calendars. I am writing about this here in part to vent and in part to hopefully solve a similar issue for you or save you this hassle altogether.
My short-term solution includes some apps from small businesses that help me reduce the scope and overwhelm of my migration effort. I’m also using some apps that simplify a core function of my communications and scheduling. Hopefully some of these will benefit you as well. And you’ll support small businesses in the process.
Readdle is a small app company that created a few apps I could probably live without, but wouldn’t want to. Their Calendars app on iOS is very good for managing multiple calendars. It has a task manager built in as well. I REALLY want them to be the ones to revolutionize large calendar app design for the Mac. Even their Spark mail app has a better calendar than most calendars. Side note: ScannerPro is the best way to reduce paper clutter.
I’ve lately been enamored with TickTick, with its excellent task creation, management, and scheduling across multiple lists. It adds a calendar view that brings in your calendar events (which you can also check off). TickTick also includes a Pomodoro timer for focused work on your tasks and a well-designed habit tracker.
I mentioned Fantastical earlier, and it’s certainly worth testing. It might work better for you than Calendars depending on your situation, and their Mac app exists, and is very well done. Flexibits, the company behind Fantastical, is another excellent small development shop that’s worthy of your attention and dollars. At this point, I’m working with Calendars on my phone, Fantastical on my Mac, and TickTick on both. It’s definitely working better for me than any Microsoft combo (which I have to use in my Learning Ninjas role) and the default Apple ecosystem.
I also want to drop a quick shoutout to Anylist, which simplifies list sharing amongst families or friends. You could certainly also use it as a task management tool, but I use it for shared grocery lists, packing lists (damn, I miss traveling), and watchlists.
I recognize most of what I’m dealing with in this post is my own doing. I know my requirements are much more than the average user. I also know a lot of folks who need some flexibility and support in tracking what goes where and who’s doing what and who is where. We’ve created many monsters of complexity. Let’s start to neutralize them.
I beg you to share your experiences, solutions, hacks, or complaints in the comments. We can all learn from each other.
Be well. Protect your time. I hope this was a good use of it. :-)
Peace and love, y’all.