All posts by Jonathan Wheeler

Launch all the Pythons!!

Launch all the Pythons!

Launch all the Pythons!

  • If you own an iPhone, read on!
  • If you like making your phone twice as epic as it originally ships from Cupertino, read on!
  • If you enjoy programming, read on!
  • If you have even the teensiest interest in programming, read on!

Now at this point, if you’re saying “Jonathan, I don’t have an iPhone, and I hate anything that goes ‘1011001010001’ then please stop reading right now and instead check out this adorable video of baby pandas.

A little while back, I found myself with a problem to which I needed to find a solution. If you’re still reading, you can relate. If you’re not still reading, I hope you’re enjoying those pandas, but I still think you can relate.

I was doing my senior physics research project and was needing to recruit subjects to test a game that I had made. To be an ethical researcher, and in order to protect their privacy, I needed to dissociate their responses from their identities. To do this, I needed to generate a code for my test subjects, give it to them, and then store that code somewhere where I could access it while compiling my results.

Now, doing all this isn’t all that hard. The trick is doing this simple process 30 times in the course of two days, sometimes while a bunch of people need to run off to class, and you have 45 seconds to get all their codes generated, shared, and stored.

The folks over at Asian Efficiency practice a habit called the 3 times rule: Anything task that you do more than 3 times should have a system to it, and if you can automate it, all the better.

Here is where the iPhone that’s twice as awesome as Cupertino ships thanks to your teensy+ interest in coding comes in. There are two apps that I used during this time to make my life heaps easier. The first is called “Launch Center Pro” (or LCP for short) and the second is called “Pythonista.”

Launch Center Pro

Think of LCP as a place where you can make whatever “big red buttons” you want. These “big red buttons” are there on your phone right inside of either the LCP app, your Today widget, or if you’re really clever, on your home screen. When you tap this big red button, you’re phone blasts off to start a task that you might have otherwise gotten distracted along the way only to think after 45 minutes of scrolling, “Uhh…why did I open Facebook again?”

I use LCP to

  1. Text my wife cute little notes here and there (some of them are even pre-programmed, such as a heart, miss you, and “see you soon”)
  2. Post a tweet to twitter without getting distracted by my feed
  3. Scan QR codes
  4. Open my bluetooth settings right to the display where I can pair with a device, rather than weaving through menus.
  5. Quick-launch a Pythonista script (more below).


On the other hand, Pythonista is Python on your iPhone. It’s the editor and the interpreter, and you’re window into one of the best languages to start coding. If you’ve wanted to code, but are always on the run and away from your computer, typing out a few lines here and there on your phone may be the solution. I prototyped one of my senior research games on my iPhone using Pythonista.

Pythonista gives you under-the-hood access to so many features. And it’s developer, Ole Zorn is always adding new features to the [already extensive list]. To name a few really clever ideas you can script in Pythonista:

  1. Remind yourself to send a text message in 6 hours using the notifications library.
  2. Turn your phone into a morse code strobe light using the flashlight Objective C library.
  3. Perform robust image manipulation on your phone
  4. Generate beautiful (3D!) mathematical plots using data you capture from your phone’s accelerometer, camera, or manual input.

The list goes on. There is a rich community of enthusiasts over at

Pythonista’s forum.


So here is where the magic comes together. LCP isn’t all that great at functionality. It’s just really good at kicking other things off. Pythonista is like this Swiss Army Knife with 100 tools on it, but they’re all power tools – but it’s a little clunky to launch.

Marry these two and you have a great way to handle these scriptable problems such as generating codes for research participants that I mentioned earlier.


If you want to create new functionalities for your iPhone that you didn’t think you could, I would highly recommend these two apps together. They are awesome complements other power-user apps such as Workflow and Drafts4.

If you’re not into automation and scripting, but are still interested in learning to program in Python, I would even recommend buying Pythonista by itself just for having a mobile python environment to fiddle around with. The best thing is that two days ago (at the time of this posting), Ole Zorn released Pythonista 3, and for a limited time is offering a 50% discount, so you can grab it for $5. There’s no better time to try it out!

3 Reasons to Try Timetracking Next Month

Time tracking is a lot of work, but it can have a lot of benefits. In 2013, I tracked every hour of my November, and this year I'm planning on tracking every single hour in February.

Here are the three reasons why I try to track 1 full month every two years:


We are given 24 hours per day to spend, invest, and enjoy. Good stewardship involves being able to account for the assets that you are entrusted with, but too often I find myself asking the question “where did the time go?” That question is the opposite of giving an accurate quote.


Good stewardship requires mindfulness and intentionality. When you start tagging tagging your activities, you become more mindful of what you're doing and less inclined to waste time.

I group all my time-wasters (fiddling with apps, youtube, gaming, surfing the web) in a category called selfishness. Discipline tells me that when I finish a task, I have to start tagging another. My laziness wants to open YouTube, but I don't want to log hours in selfishness categories.

This technique only works if you log ALL your time though, which requires a lot of willpower to form the habit.


I am an hourly worker at my jobs. If I don't report hours, I don't get paid. Forgetting to clock in and trying to remember when you work is hard unless you have some sort of data. Diligent time logging can tell you all that and a bag of chips.

When you accompany your punches with a comment on what you did, you can begin to track how much time it takes to do things. Last time I did this, I learned how long it takes me to cook dinner, clean the house, walk to school, and a slew of other things that I thought I knew how long they took, but consistently underestimated. The data doesn't lie.

Lastly, over the course of a month, you can generate some really cool reports of your data to measure sleep patterns, homework patterns, time spent socializing, eating, gaming, you name it.

Setting up a time logger

I use an app called aTimeLogger. The first time I did time tracking I had WAY TO MANY activites in thee (20). It took a lot of willpower to figure out what category some things fell into.

Now, I use four categories (that could be stand alone activities): work, social, health/growth, selfishness. I've found that 99% of activities fall into these categories and I am most interested in tracking how others oriented/work oriented/health oriented/selfish I am as far as my use of time goes.

Once the system is set up, whenever I change activities, I open the app (on my main screen) and tap the action and enter a comment. That's it.

Time tracking can be a daunting but rewarding endeavor. It's not something to do 365 days a year because of the mental effort it requires to keep it up, but doing it for one month at a time can form habits that carry over to months without time tracking. If you like the benefits but have some questions on how to implement, leave a comment below.

Conquering the Email Beast with Filters and Forwarding

Email is a beast. Not the kind of beast where we say “so-and-so is a beast at getting things done.” No, email is the beast that keeps so-and-so from getting things done, by dragging him away from what matters most and inundating him meaningless CCs, spam, and offers. There is a small quiet voice of important information that gets spoken through email that is drowned out by a roar of unimportance and triviality.

Unfortunately, email is a big part of many people’s job, especially my job at the residence hall in which I work. Many administrators rely on email to communicate vital information, of which too much goes ignored. The problem many of us face is a problem of quantity, and a lack of distinction of importance. We don’t see the emails that we want because there is too much unimportant email.

The solution? Unsubscribing, filters, forwarding, and inbox zero.


At the bottom of most emails is a little link that you can click on to stop receiving annoying emails from annoying email lists. This single button alone, if you click it religiously with every email list you ignore all the time, you can cut out easily 30%+ of your inbox bloat. A great time to do this is around Black Friday, when everybody who has you on their mailing list tries to get your money.


The next great trick is email filters. Most email provider services allow you to create little “if the email matches this condition, then do this with the email.” I currently have 44 gmail filters. Many of these sort emails from different retail companies into a folder called promotions, which I only check when I am actually in a store to see if there happens to be a sale.

Many other services will send you updates everytime something happens. You can create a filter that automatically marks these as read, and then archived.

Lastly, I have filters that automatically forward to other email addresses, but more about that in a moment.


There are a bunch of web services that allow you to send an email, and they do things with the contents of the email/the subject line. Two of my favorite free services are Instapaper and followup then.

Instapaper solves the problem of emails with a ton of text. When a verbose friend sends me a small novel, I forward it to an email account associated with my instapaper account (instructions exist on their website), and then archive it in my inbox. Within 10 seconds, the instapaper app on my phone has downloaded and formatted their email, and I can read it at my convenience at a later point in my day when I’m waiting in line at the cafeteria for example. I have filters that automatically forward newsletters to this account too.

Followupthen solves the problem of emails that you receive that you cannot deal with right now, but want to deal with in the future. Many of us use our email inbox as a todo list, and any emails that haven’t been dealt with just sit there. Followupthen allows you to defer emails that you cannot take action on immediately by bouncing them back into your inbox when you next have time. Once you set up an account on, for example, you can forward any email to something like or and then followupthen sends back the email at the appointed time. It’s a critical step towards achieving what many call Inbox Zero.

(Followupthen is a free service, that offers premium features for a cost. If you want a $5 discount, here is a $5 referral code:

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is the process of clearing out your email space. It is a way of knowing that you are done with email for the day. The principle is that you want the peace of know that every email has been dealt with and there is nothing that is being overlooked.

To achieve inbox zero, you just create a couple folders, whether in your email browser, or in your todo list manager, or on your desktop, and so forth. Each of these folders will contain information related to a task or a category. When you see an email, you either act on it immediately, or move it to a folder to deal with later. The goal is to move every last email in your inbox into one of these folders, so you have Inbox(0). After you have cleared your inbox, you can then tackle your folders in order of priority or urgency, and not get caught up in being distracted by unimportant emails while an important one is in the bottom of your inbox. The whole process is better documented elsewhere online.


I hope that these tips are helpful for you, and help free you from the roar of the email beast. If you have ever found yourself missing important emails, give some of these ideas a try. If you already have an inbox with over a thousand emails in it, I’m afraid to make this work you might have to go through and delete everything first one by one. If you have google, you can use something like the Email Game. Best of luck!

The 1-2-3 Rule

School started on Monday for me. That means prioritization, reading assignments, and grades.

However, I do find grades and deadlines somewhat motivating. This is why I typically get more done per week during a semester than over a break when I tell myself that I will get work done, but don’t get it done.

Here is a quick hack that I am trying out to apply the motivation that the education environment gives me to my todo list. I call it the 1-2-3 rule.

Each day before you go to bed, select 1 big task, 2 medium tasks, and 3 small tasks. Set the due date to tomorrow night. Award yourself 30% for completing your big task, 20% for each medium task, and 10% for each small task. An A is 100%, A- is 90%, B is 80%, C is 70%, D is 60% and anything below is failing.

At the end of the week, you can check to see what your GPA is, and track how your GPA changes over time. For those of you strive for good grades, applying this hack to non-school related items may carry enough connotation to push you to do things you otherwise would push off.

15 Worthwhile Paid Apps in ’15

In 2015, I really got into the hang of budgeting. One of my categories was ‘free money,’ a small allowance I gave myself each month to spend on the ‘ooh shiny’ things that would catch my eye. A lot of people use this sort of category to buy tea, go golfing, watch movies, buy clothes, get their nails done, and cut their hair. I’m a productivity junkie, and productivity junkies spend their fun-stuff budget on apps.

I do a lot of computer programming, and there’s a lot that goes into making an app. Free apps are great, but occasionally when the developers ask for a few dollars in return for an exceptionally well produced application. I have learned that in free apps, you’re always paying for something, whether it is extra time, ads, or missing features.

Not all free apps are worth their while, but what follows are apps that definitely are, ranked by how useful I believe they are to the average iOS user. Without further ado, the top ’15 of 2015.


You Need a Budget saves me any cost that I would have paid them if I weren’t a student.

YNAB (pronounced why-nab) stands for You Need a Budget. YNAB is an example of a company that markets a vision, but also happens to sell an app.

YNAB’s value comes from its four rules of budgeting:

  1. Give every dollar a job – when I started out with YNAB this spring, I went through all of my bank accounts and assigned a ‘task’ to every penny I owned across all my bank, credit card, and miscellaneous accounts. By budgeting money where it needs to be, I never have to worry whether I’ll accidentally spend too much money on groceries that needs to be allocated to bills. The bill dollars have it covered, freeing up my money and my mind to worry about other things.
  2. Embrace your true expenses – Once a year, Christmas comes. Birthdays happen round the calendar, and I have to buy books at the beginning of every semester for school. Rather than paying 1-time huge expenses, I count them up as small monthly installments ahead of time. I never grimaced this Christmas in buying gifts for my family, because I had saved up a nice size budget by stashing away small amounts every month. Christmas was a very happy time to splurge on carefully saved money.
  3. Roll with the punches – Unexpected expenses arise. Gas prices spike and I don’t have enough money to cover it. YNAB says it is okay to move money around when these surprises happen. It’s a liberating practice.
  4. Age your money – the paychecks I earn never get spent within that same month. Each month’s expenditures are covered by the paychecks of the previous month. No more paycheck-to-paycheck, no more timing bills. Get ahead once, and stay there.

YNAB is free for students as long as they are studying, after that there is a $60 lifetime license that goes on sale with the bi-annual steam sale for as low as $15. I’ve also heard rumors that you can watch some of YNAB’s training videos and get a free license there, but I haven’t tried it yet–I’m going to be a student for a long time.

YNAB’s budgeting practices make sure you have money for what you need when you need it. It promotes mindfulness and moderation and kills overspending and compulsive buying. Even if I had to pay the full $60 for it, I would still buy it without any qualms because it pays for itself in a year or so.

2. Dispatch


Dispatch Mail is the quickest way that I have found to process email on the go.


Once upon a time, I used an app called Mailbox. It was a cute little app that synced with your GMail and would let you do GTD-style inbox processing. One of it’s best features was the ability to defer an email until a time in the future. The message would disappear and come back after a time you set. Alas, Mailbox got acquired by Dropbox and no longer will be supported in 2016.

But, there is another app that does a lot of the same things, minus the defer button. Dispatch allows you to quickly swipe and triage your emails to other apps (task managers, read laters). You can take any email message and from inside the message view swipe the screen to the side to start your response. It creates a salutation automatically and puts your cursor underneath it with a custom signature at the bottom. For short emails (remember, GTD), this saves approximately 50% of the time it takes to process email in other apps.

Dispatch also uses user-defined snippets from within the app and from Textexpander to speed up the drafting of common responses.

And for the feature missing from Mailbox’s, I just forward the emails that need to be deferred to

Dispatch saves me time every single time I check email on my phone, and this collective time saved covers the cost of the app.

3. TextExpander

Textexpander saves time and typos by expanding short snippets and autocorrecting your frequent mistakes.

I never could muster up the courage to pay for the license on OSX after I discovered KeyboardMaestro, but I did find that most of my favorite apps on iOS (Dispatch, Omnifocus, Editorial, Drafts, LCP) support automatic TextExpander filling. For example, my email address is 28 characters long. Filling in forms takes forever if I type it out manually. But using TextExpander’s keyboard, I can simply type “emx” and TextExpander deletes three characters and then types the 28 characters in my email address. I do this also with my home mailing address (37 characters expanded by “adx”) and other frequently typed phrases.

This was mega helpful when I was planning my wedding. I wanted to send personalized messages asking people if they would be able to help with different parts of our wedding, but I knew that it would require a lot of copy-pasting, which is a pain on iOS. So, I made a short abbreviation such as ‘wedkar’ for wedding karaoke requests. When I would type in wedkar, it would expand out to a boilerplate paragraph and leave my cursor at the beginning to personalize a greeting (Hey Kimberly,)

It is also super useful in disambiguating. You can script TextExpander to add in the specific date when you type in a string like nextTuesday, and then it would fill in something like “next Tuesday, the 4th) for example.

I purchased TextExpander on sale, and for the price I got it for, I would definitely say it is worth it. If you do not have long emails, blurbs, and boilerplate paragraphs that you frequently have to type by hand, it might not be a worthwhile purchase for youj.

4. Cam Scanner

CamScanner produces well-formatted PDFs on your mobile phone and provides numerous options to share in other apps.

When I was taking Quantum Mechanics, I emailed all of my homework to my professor to have him grade. However, most of my homework was written out on paper. CamScanner takes pictures and then concatenates them into PDF files which can then be shared via email, dropbox, evernote, and a couple other more obscure services. CamScanner handles image sharpening, compression, parallax corrections, and so on so you can have quality PDFs on the go without the need for a portable scanner.

CamScanner also turns out to be free for students. I recommend it to classmates who want to keep copies of their work just in case their professor misplaces it (this has been a lifesaver for me once before).

CamScanner is cheaper than buying a scanner, and compared to the time and effort it takes to create PDFs through other means, CamScanner pays for itself in the time it saves.

5. Tweetbot

Tweetbot introduces features that make interfacing with the Twitter community a breeze.

There are a ton of different uses for Twitter. I didn’t appreciate any of them until I started doing PR for apps I was developing and organizations I was volunteering for. Since then I use Tweetbot to keep in touch with friends (without the bloat of Facebook), and for keeping up with specific news sources (without the bloat of ads and random stories I don’t care for). The biggest emotional reason is to make myself feel better when I’m inconvenienced. Recently I was stranded at O’Hare due to freezing rain canceling hundreds of flights. I was able to search tweets from hundreds of users complaining about their predicament, and I felt a little better after seeing how rough they had it.

I like Tweetbot over Twitter’s app because it removes all the ads. There are a bunch of other features, such as blocking and muting users and keywords, better list management, drafts, night-mode, and ease of switching between five accounts I manage.

Justifying the cost of this app will depend on your preferences. However, for me I simply enjoy twitter a lot more using Tweetbot than I do out of using the stock app.

6. Duet Display

Change your iOS device into a second monitor.


I bought this app about 60 minutes after I discovered it. Usually I wait a few days or even months, but this one just made too much sense to wait on.

When I do grading or software development, I like to have two screens, one for work and one for reference. A lot of the time, I’ll drag content from one screen to the other. Until now, I have kept a second monitor at my workspace on campus and another at my workspace at home, but these monitors are big and bulky, and difficult to transfer. They also consume a lot of desk space.

Duet is programmed by an ex-Apple developer, and so it works beautifully between iOS devices. You simply plug in your iPhone or iPad to your computer (which I do all the time to charge them), and Duet recognizes them as a second display. You can adjust resolution and frame rate to achieve Retina display quality images.

This was a no-brainer buy for me, because I was immediately able to sell my two bulky monitors to cover the cost of the app. This is also the one app that made tablets make sense to me. Up until now they were too big to be a phone, and too small to be a laptop.

7. 1Password

1Password encrypts all your passwords into a database protected by a master password. It excels in its autofill capabilities.

I am terrified of password reuse. Many of my friends use three or four passwords for all of their online accounts. Most web services and banks hash your password so that even they can’t figure out your password (that’s why they always ask you to reset lost passwords). But, suppose one of these free services decided to use your password to try to log into your primary email or your bank account? Reusing your bank account password could mean thousands in lost money. Reusing your social media means your reputation could be marred by hurtful private messages and comments that you wouldn’t be aware of until weeks later, and reusing your primary email password means that someone else could reset ALL your passwords.

The solution is to use different, secure passwords for all of your accounts. Then you keep all of these passwords protected in a single vault that is encrypted behind one password, hence 1Password.

1Password does more than just encrypting your passwords. It also autofills forms, and can even go to the website for you. Having 1Password navigate to the website is important because of something called typosquatting, where somebody creates a website that is linguistically similar to another site (ctibank or ctiibank vs citibank) that looks like the other site, but instead steals your password. Having 1Password type it for you protects you from this.

Considering the potential cost of lost passwords, both in time and money, 1Password is worth the in-app purchase.

8. Drafts


GTD-style quick capture of ideas and notes for rapid processing later.

I like to think as #8, #9, and #10 as the triumvirate of productivity on the iPhone. Each is rather pointless in and of themselves, but they derive their incredible value in their ability to integrate with other apps.

When I first tell people about drafts, they ask me what makes it better than iOS’ stock notes app. For many users, notes might be fine, but I find that Drafts is the best fit for my workflow because it is so blazingly fast.

Drafts excels in that as soon as you open it, you’re presented a blank screen with a blinking cursor. Good ideas are ephemeral, and the sooner you record them the better. In most note-taking apps, there is a menu asking what you want to call your document, where you want to put it, filetype, and so forth. Drafts shoots first, and asks questions later. Get your ideas down, process them later GTD style.

Drafts also excels in its options to share. I have actions linked to export my drafts in apps like Omnifocus, Evernote, nvALT, Dispatch, Beeminder, Calendar, Reminders, my printer, a push notification on other devices, or even to remind me again in another week through a python script in Editorial/Pythonista.

Drafts is the perfect fit for capturing information. I tell people that I have an awful memory, and use it as an excuse to write down everything that people tell me, from shopping lists to homework assignments. Drafts automatically captures the time created/updated as well as the location so I have extra context to jog my memory of what was going on (“Ahh! I was at Stephen’s house for lunch on Friday when I wrote that down.”)

Ideas and information are the currency of the 21st century, and the ability to capture, recall, and share them  more effectively has paid for the value of this app.

9. Launch Center Pro

Trigger actions quickly on your iOS device.

Similarly to Drafts, Launch Center Pro is really weak as a stand-alone app. It’s true strength emerges from the powerful automations with other apps. You can define actions (mostly defined through x-callback-url schema) for your most commonly used procedures. For example, I use a time clock at work to log my hours. I created an action in LCP that starts aTimeLogger for a given category, and punched in online. Another corresponding action in LCP will stop aTimeLogger and punch out, then open up an email draft with the To: and Subject: field already filled in to send a report of what I completed to my boss.

LCP launches, including the launch screen) in just under one second (compare to some other bloated apps that are still showing the launch screen after five seconds). Within the second second I can already trigger one of my other actions. In the third second, I can stick my phone back in my pocket and finish what I’m doing, resting assured that my “Just finished work, on my way home and can’t wait to see you” text message has been sent.

The longer I wait to start certain apps, the more prone I am to procrastinate or be distracted. By using LCP to automate actions, I spend less time fiddling and more time doing. This ends in more productivity which has justified the cost of the app.

10. Workflow

Powerful automation through a drag-and-drop interface for iOS.

Workflow is the third in the productivity triumvirate. It links together a bunch of actions, and lets you create a workflow by dragging and dropping panels. For example, every day I start my morning with a freezing cold shower. In order to motivate me, I have a workflow that does the following:

  1. Queue up Eye of the Tiger from my iTunes library
  2. Play Eye of the Tiger (except on Saturday mornings where I play a light-hearted mandolin concerto of equivalent length)
  3. When Eye of the Tiger is finished, play a notification that lets me know I can turn off the ice storm coming out of my showerhead.
  4. Log an entry in Evernote that records the date, time, and what I listened to.

I launch this workflow from Launch Center Pro right before I enter the shower, and know that even as I am shivering afterwards, I have logged my victory and can later review my cold shower streak (I’ve logged 42 cold showers this way, but did a lot more before I set this up).

I’ve done a similar thing logging my energy levels every hour throughout the month of November this year. I have another workflow that helps me take photos of receipts and store them in YNAB and Evernote, log activity in Beeminder via IFTTT, and even do reverse lookups over web APIs.

Workflow has helped me to automate processes that would otherwise not get done because of the friction required to go between apps and log them. I’ve done activities and created logs that are worth more than the cost of Workflow.

11. aTimeLogger

Personal time-tracking and reporting

I use aTimeLogger for keeping track of how much time I spend on given activities. A get paid by the hour for work, and I have to log research hours. A lot of time, I’m not immediately by a journal or time clock, but great ideas are flooding into my stream of consciousness. I quickly start aTimeLogger from LCP or the home screen and commence dumping of ideas into Drafts, Evernote, or Editorial.

aTimeLogger is an inexpensive app, and the hours that I have remembered to log because of it have more than paid off the cost of the app.

12. Scripture Typer

Memorize scripture by adding verses and typing them using spaced repitition. 2.0 bpb.

For anybody who wants to memorize text, this is the app to get. I tried an app called Anki for a long time for memorization, but the sticker price for iPhone was just too much to swallow (it is free on other platforms). I might use Anki for memorizing equations or images, or even foreign language vocabulary (but Duolingo is better for that). But as far as memorizing paragraphs and Bible verses go, Scripture Typer wins hands down.

Scripture Typer has an automatic import feature for Bible verses in an array of versions. But, if you want to memorize text for a speech, you can paste that paragraph in as well. You can review on the computer or in the app, and you have the option to only type the first letter of each word for faster review. A brilliant feature of Scripture Typer is that it doesn’t penalize you for typing an adjacent letter, which is a huge plus for those with big clumsy fingers.

I’ve used Scripture Typer to memorize about 8 chapters of the Bible. Between the decision to spend $5 on a 12″ at Subway or on memorizing the equivalent of a book of the Bible, I think this app’s cost is justified.

13. OmniFocus

Professional grade personal task management.

OmniFocus is not for everyone. Those who resonate strongly with GTD love OmniFocus, but those who cannot stand the overhead that goes into the GTD workflow probably would opt for something like Todoist.

OmniFocus is the premier platform for personal task managment per GTD system. It supports everything from calendar integration to capture and review. It syncs seamlessly between a beautiful iPhone app and desktop application. It supports custom filters and perspectives, geofenced contexts. Defer dates were the feature that were the selling points for me–I was tired of seeing tasks that I couldn’t yet take action on other apps like Wunderlist, and

OmniFocus has a huge sticker price, which is what dissuades a lot of potential users. Before OmniFocus, I tried a year of Todoist premium, but I quickly realized that if I paid monthly or yearly for more than a couple years, I would end up paying what OmniFocus would cost anyway. Because my digital task managers is such a huge part of my work flow, I decided that this huge purchase would be worth it.

OmniFocus probably isn’t worth it for the average user, but if you maintain dozens of projects with hundreds of tasks, you might want a GTD system that can do that sort of heavy lifting. OmniFocus is a trusted and celebrated industry solution that fits the bill.

14. Editorial

Markdown drafting and python scripting

I use Editorial for scripting. It was created by the same guy that made Pythonista and brought Python scripting to iOS. Editorial is a markdown version of Drafts but with a lot more power for scripting.

I use editorial for journaling. I have a document template that fills in with tomorrow’s date, and creates a template that I can fill in the different events and projects that I’m working on, what challenges I am facing, and other things that are relative to my life that I wish to journal about. I can then export to Evernote and email to share my journal entry.

I also use Editorial for batch-sharing notes from grading. When I am grading electronic submissions on my computer, I will save the notes and rubric scores in markdown documents into Dropbox. I can then batch process them from my iPhone (or grade on the go) by looking up student’s emails, creating a total of their score and sticking that in the subject with the name of the assignment, and send their feedback to them.

Editorial is my go to for drafting long paragraphs when I’m away from my computer. I’ve set up some actions to share to my blog, and to export to HTML for others to preview when I write speeches and sermons.

If Python is not your thing, but you still do a lot of writing, I might recommend Byword. Editorial won for me because of its ability to script in Python and to automate a lot of the regular journal entries that I write on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis for my own review.

15. Pushover

Push mobile notifications to any of your tech gadgets.

This is the one app that I have not yet tried, but will early in 2016. One of the things that I love about Apple products is their handoff capability of passing states between your devices. Sometimes however, there is information that I want to pass that isn’t easy to do through handoff. How many times have you wanted to copy something on your computer, and paste it on your phone?

Pushover is a service that sends notifications to your iOS, Android, or Desktop device. You can configure scripts to send your clipboard as a notification to another device (or copy it to your device’s clipboard if you have Drafts, LCP, or Workflow). You can also use it with IFTTT to get a notification of a certain event. I turn off notifications, but I want to know as son as possible somebody sends an email with the word “URGENT” in it.

Pushover can also be useful if you are trying to free up space on your phone. There are a lot of apps that we install just to get news and alerts about something, but these apps take up several tens of MB at times, cramming out space for videos and images. Pushover can substitute for all those apps.

I’m not entirely convinced that pushover will be worth it’s while, but it will definitely be handy. Who knows, perhaps by setting up a script to check for the aurora forecast and checking for clear skies, I can get notified in time to see the next aurora! That by itself might be worth $5.

Biological Prime Time

Not all hours of your day are created equal. For some tasks, if you do them in the afternoon, it will take you perhaps 1 hour, but if you do it late at night, it may take you 2 or 3 hours.

Example: I code a lot, both for personal enjoyment and for work. One of the wonderful things about coding is that you are frequently having to pick up new languages and libraries that are suited best to your needs. Usually, when I code in the morning or the afternoon I can usually learn these new elements quickly. When I try to code late at night, they don’t assimilate into my brain as easily. The effect: coding at night means more time debugging and bashing my head in the keyboard because I can’t work out the bugs.

Sam Carpenter in his book, Work the System (which is available for free on his website) refers to something called Biological Prime Time, or BPT for short. BPT is the time of day where your biological make up dictates that you are most productive. You are probably already familiar with this concept as expressed by “night owl” or “morning person.” Regardless of the terminology, there is a time of day when you get your stuff done best.

The clock time as I am writing this

Equipped with this knowledge, you can start planning out your day to maximize your results and beat procrastination. Procrastination happens when you know you should do something, but decide to put it off. It is most insidious when you put it off by substituting in another project that is also important but more enjoyable. Example: not filing your taxes or writing a paper because you need to work on editing a video for a class you love.

The solution: plan your most daunting tasks to be executed during your BPT. If you do this, then you will have the most energy available to tackle the difficult task at hand. Be ruthless and don’t let anything else (ahem, Facebook, texting, email) to come in between. Go to a library or coffee shop, and isolate yourself from the world for two or three hours until it is done. And when it is done, you can do something you enjoy. You will be tired, and this is the time to do something you find recharging.

No human being can be in BPT all the time. Everyone comes with strengths and weaknesses. And everyone will eventually get tired. But, as Sam Carpenter puts it, just because a car is out of gas does not mean that it needs repair. You simply have to be mindful of how much “go” is in your car, and know when you have the energy to make a big trip, and when you need to refuel.

By the way, in closing, here are some of the things I do during BPT, followed by the things I do when I am drained:


  • Write papers
  • Read textbooks
  • Fill out forms like tax documents and applications
  • Grade

Refueling time

  • Exercise/go on a walk
  • Eat
  • Check social media
  • Email
  • Clean
  • Chores like folding laundry while listening to audio books
  • Journal
  • Run errands while listening to radio

These are my lists, and they work because of my personality type and interests. I would love to hear your lists and how this would be different for you!

Saving Time with No Lace Shoes

A lot of little things can add up to a couple big things. This is also true of time. If you do the same small action over and over and over again, even though it may take you no more than 20 seconds each time you do it, if you do it maybe 100 times a week, 100×20 = 2000, and 2000÷60 is about half an hour.

For a while, I had these nice shoes that I really liked. The only problem is that I would have to tie these long laces, and then double knot them. This probably didn’t take me the 20 seconds I mentioned before, but you do understand that it does take some time to tie your shoes if will you need to go somewhere. I tied and untied my shoes many times per day (I like to take my shoes off when I work), this would add up to a lot time.

The solution? Get shoes that don’t have laces. The shoes in this post are one of the sets of shoes that I have that don’t have laces. I have two pairs right now. I use them almost every day. It’s so nice just to be able to slip them on and walk somewhere and then set them off and then work somewhere with my feet.

Not only has a save me a lot of time, but also decreases the resistance behind doing something. With shoes that I don’t have to tie by my door, I can run out to the car anytime I need to and get something. Or I can go up to the attic or down to the basement on a moments notice; nothing is a problem for me.

This is just one of the many things that I am doing to try to find ways to cut corners without sacrificing quality to get more things done every day.

What kind of things do you do to save time systematically? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Done is Better than Perfect

I fail when it comes to blogging. I always view it in my mind as something that will take a lot of time, especially if I want a really nice final product.

For a while I’ve been wanting to blog about my financial workflow, and how I struggled for many years  to make it work, and then I would show the tools that I currently use, with screenshots, and checklists, and the works.

That sounded hard to me.

Let me tell you something. The mental resistance hindered me from ever starting the project and actually finishing it. Why? Because I wanted it to be really nice. I want this blog to bring a lot of value to my readers. I wanted it to be perfect.

The reality is that perfect products are seldom released. In software, they tell developers to release early, and release often. If the first product isn’t perfect, that’s fine as long as you release frequent updates and patches. Customers will tolerate the imperfections and glitches so long as you respond to them quickly and address the things that need addressing.

You have more time to do that when you’re not trying to reach perfection in all of your tasks.

So rather than getting hung up with trying to achieve perfection, aim to reach a 80% mark. Pareto’s principle argues that you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort you would need to get 100% of the results.

So that’s what I did with this blog post. 5 minutes in gimp. 5 minutes writing. #doneIsBetterThanPerfect, and I’m off to my next task on my to-do list for today.

Making Gears Turn v2.0

When I originally started this blog, I knew that my lust for perfection would keep me from actually getting a blog rolling. Over and over again, I considered writing articles, and made some graphics, tweaked with WordPress layouts and plugins, set up social media, the list continued.

Eventually I realized that I needed to just start making content.

That was a year and a half ago. Now, I’ve put up some content and begun to figure out the look and feel for this blog. Along the way, I’ve occasionally enlisted the aid of my beloved sister, Jennifer Wheeler (who has also started her own blog!) who has been helping with some of the illustrations.

Together, we’ve come up with some cool new illustrations to decorate the site and enhance the presentation of the content. As such, we are forming a partnership and rebranding the blog.

An exciting new feature that we have added is subscription via email courtesy of MailChimp. If you want to subscribe, there is a sign-up form on the front page. This will bring great content and tips on productivity and networking right into your inbox, and can be a great way to refer friends to this blog.

As always, We are eager to hear your feedback. Tell us what is working, what isn’t working, and we will get back to you and address the issues you raise.

Until then, I wish you a successful and productive week until the next post, as you continue to optimize your human system.

How to Pray When You’re Too Tired to Pray

We all have faced times where we got super busy. High busyness correlates to low amounts of sleep, which in turn correlates to low amounts of energy. When energy runs low, relationships are frequently the first things to go. It’s unfortunate, because these relationships are he best tool for recharging and getting re energized and out of the ruts that drain us. The most important relationships that this affects are those with our close friends, our family, and most of all, God.

If you do not view yourself to be a religious person, I still think this is a noteworthy observation, because our busyness also affects our relationships with our close friends and family. I find when I get very busy, I employ many of these techniques to make sure my relationships with God and with those I care about don’t fall by the wayside:

In this article I am going to briefly describe three techniques you can use to keep up your prayer life when you feel too exhausted to pray:

  1. Having designated prayer time.
  2. Having a designated prayer journal.
  3. Having prayer lists.

I wrote in a previous post that I employ morning and evening rituals to help build habits that help me to be more productive. In both my morning and my evening rituals, I pray. Having a list helps me not to forget it, and by writing down that list, I remind myself that this is something that is important and should be neither rushed nor ignored. I also know that I need to allot  45 minutes every day for my morning ritual, though I expand this to 60 when I am not so busy, and spend a little time doing Greek word studies in my morning devotions.

When I get tired, I am tempted to graze over or completely neglect prayer time. But the rhythm and the habits are there and built up by being consistent with the rituals, which help me stay solid during my rough days.

I keep a small notebook with a list of names in my satchel next to my pocket Bible. When I stop for prayer or when people are asking for prayer requests, I know who in my life is needing prayer. Frequently going back to this list helps me to be consistent with people and let them know that I have been praying for them everyday.

But more then that, there are times when I am so tired that I think if things to pray about. Keeping a list like this helps me to keep a list of things to pray about so I am not at a loss when I am too tired.

And last of all, my prayer journal. I use it just for writing my thoughts down. By moving my pen across paper, I can keep myself from dozing off in the middle of prayer. Other effective strategies could be talking, prayer walks, sending God an email, and anything else that your body doesn’t confuse for sleep. Furthermore I have found that journaling while sitting down or praying in bed does not help my prayers to be more quality, rather the opposite, so I often pray sitting down, especially when I am especially tired.

These are three things that I do to keep my prayer life running when I am too tired. But just like any other relationship, when one person is struggling, asking the other to help always is the best way to make it through tough times. If you are finding yourself losing time for prayer, ask God to give you the energy and the time, and He will help you make time for prayer.