Monday, October 22, 2012

Last Night an IPhone Saved My Life

As crazy as it sounds, I am not the most organized person you will meet. I know, from a superficial look, it seems like I have it all together, but the truth is that it takes a team of people and a staggering amount of technology to keep me on track. (Ironically, it is usually the technology that is distracting me anyway, in the form of video games or Internet articles or blogs or video games, but more on that another time.) However, in the last three months or so, since I joined the millions of mindless drones that make up the IPhone continuum, I have discovered that the very device that has become so distracting and fun can also be the device that marshals my time and energy and turns me into a organizational powerhouse. So, in order to help those who follow me, I'd like to discuss the five most useful apps in my IPhone.

1) Todo by Appigo, Inc. This simple yet perfect task list organizer looks just like the Dayplanners and agendas of the past, which looked the way they did for so long because people could figure it out. I tried several of the other apps that promise better, more intuitive experiences, but found them to be neither better, nor intuitive. If I can't figure out how to add a task or change it in less than five minutes, it's too complicated, and that was exactly my experience with some of the competitors. Todo works just like I expect it to, every time, and now only allows me to prioritize and postpone tasks, but even lets me create projects made of individual tasks and checklists of tasks, as opposed to simple calendared items. On top of that, it syncs across IOS devices and the website application, so you can update it anywhere you are. These days, every time I get an assignment, think of something I need to get done, or tell someone I'm going to do something, I just record it and prioritize it in Todo, and it generally gets done.

2) 30/30 by Binary Hammer This app has really streamlined the way I sit down and get to work. Gone are the days of promising myself just five or ten minutes to clear my head by playing a game online or reading some interesting articles, only to casually glance at the clock to find an hour has passed with no real work done at all. Basically, this app is a really fancy timer, one that allows you to stack tasks and assign time limits to each. Then, once you start the first timer, all off the tasks on the list start counting down, according to the time you allotted for each one. So, after the ten minute break, the alarm goes off, and it's time to start grading papers. After thirty minutes of grading papers, another alarm tells me it's time to go downstairs and make copies. This goes on through my scheduled planning time, and really keeps me on task. You can even add time to a task if you need to, or skip to the next one if you finish early. One unexpected bonus I've found in the product is its effect on other people. Usually what wastes my time most when I'm trying to get things done is the pressing urgency of other people's problems. There is something authoritative and magical about having a buzzer go off right in the middle of someone's long, unnecessary explanation about something that doesn't really impact me very much. I can just pull my phone out and say, "Oops, I'd love to finish this, but my phone is telling me it's time to send that email out to my third period class. You understand, of course." Probably they do not truly understand, but dare not question the all-knowing SkyNet in my phone.

3) MyFitnessPal by MyFitnessPal LLC This one doesn't help me stay organized at work, but it does help me stay organized in my diet and exercise. In fact, the reason this app is so helpful to me is because I refuse to diet, in the traditional sense. See, I used to be fat, very fat, obese even, and that's by my own loose standards. I was fit until 21, got married, had kids, and gained about a hundred pounds. At 28, I got serious about losing the weight, and by 35 I was in better shape than at 21. But dieting never working, only lifestyle changes. So now when I feel the pudge creeping up on me, I just tighten up on my caloric intake instead of reaching for some ridiculous fad diet book. And it works every time. What this app does for me is very basic - it lets me record every single thing I eat that day and subtract it from a predetermined caloric goal. When I'm trying to lose weight, the goal is to be under 1500 calories per day. Whatever food item I enter into the day's record, the app knows not only the calories, but also the nutritional value, so I can track my fat, protein, and carb intake as well. Many experts say that simply recording what you eat each day helps you to lose weight, and I definitely agree. There is an extra incentive to avoid that ice cream sandwich when I know that I will have to either enter it later, or leave it out and lie to HAL about it. It can also record my exercise for the day, and the app shows me my net caloric activity. Every time I want to lose a few pounds, I start using this app religiously, until I reach my goal, and can start slacking off again.

4) Running by Nike This is one app that a lot of people probably already have, but it deserves special mention nonetheless. I used to use the Nike+ add-on for my IPod Nano, but that required the chip to be inserted in the sneaker. The IPhone app works just as well, and even better, because it uses the GPS to track distance and speed when running outside, and the accelerometer to track them on the treadmill. It didn't seem to me at first that it would work well on the treadmill without using the chip to track steps, but it turned out to be surprisingly accurate, especially when the IPhone is worn in an armband instead of held in the hand. The app logs miles run, average speed, tracks goals (on the website), and uses your ITunes library to incorporate music into your run. My favorite feature is its compatibility with FaceBook and other social networks. When I start a run, I can set the app to post to FaceBook, and whenever anyone likes the post or comments on it, I hear the sounds of a cheering crowd while I run. This has become a real motivator for me, and offers an inoffensive, non-douchebag reason for posting my fitness activity to FaceBook, as opposed to the passive-aggressive, 'love me/admire me' posts like, "Just finished running four miles. Feeling wiped out, but dedicated :)"

5) Lift by Lift Worldwide This last app is a new one to me, and while I like it, I'm still getting used to it. Lift helps you create habits by choosing the thing you want to do more, joining or creating a group for it, and then checking in every time you perform that task. Currently, I have four groups that I have joined - '30-60 minutes reading,' 'Pray,' 'Write for thirty minutes,' and 'Write blog post.' When I check in, I am (on my honor) saying that I have completed the task I intended to do, and the app tracks my check-ins and shows my progress in building that habit. The chart lights up green for every day that I check in, and it's a little disheartening to see that graph and percentage drop off the grid, so I try to keep it going. In addition, the newest update allows for pep-talks among people in the same groups, trying to achieve the same habits, so total strangers (and friends, I guess) can spur you on to greatness.

I know how hard it is to find good apps, and how hard it is to get organized, so hopefully these suggestions help. Let me know in the comments if you find them helpful, or if you have any suggestions of your own.

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