Things on Sale ⇢

Cultured Code’s “Things” task manager is currently free for iPhone and iPad through November 28th – a savings of $30. The Mac version is also currently 30% off. If you want to get a top-notch task manager at a fraction of the price of OmniFocus, this is your chance!

A Thorough Review of Todoist ⇢

Even though I am fully invested in OmniFocus as my tool of choice for staying organized and on top of all my responsibilities, I still enjoyed reading this thorough review of Todoist by Federico Viticci of MacStories.

Todoist kept me sane when I was organizing MacStories’ iOS 8 coverage and planning the launch of MacStories Weekly. I’ve been using Todoist for three months now, and it’s become a key piece of my personal and professional life that prevents me from crumbling under the weight of tasks and projects that need my time and attention.

With the launch of version 9.5 for iOS 8 today, I thought it’d be a good time to share my considerations on the service, some tips and tricks, and the details of how I rely on Todoist to get work done.

Creation Without Consumption ⇢

Brett Terpstra writes about his experiences in education and how he learns best:

My entire life I’ve been “bad” at school. I can’t sit through lectures, and I can’t concentrate on reading assignments. I can read, and I can comprehend, but it takes great effort to focus on what is being said and to block out my own thought patterns. I learn by doing, and I only learn things that are of interest or immediately applicable to me.

In my elementary years I was placed in a school that catered to this. It was based on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas, and followed Henry David Thoreau’s methods. I was encouraged to develop the curriculum and answer my own questions. I returned to public schools in 5th grade, and never really made the transition. For the same reasons I’d been “excused” from standardized education for a few years, coming back to it was a horrible experience for me.

Fantastical 2.2 ⇢

MacStories has a full review of Fantastical 2.2 which is available today. It includes several new iOS 8 features including interactive notifications, today widget, and sharing extension.

Fantastical 2.2, available today on the App Store, brings iOS 8 features that allow the app to be more easily integrated with iOS workflows thanks to a share extension and that extend the app beyond its silo with actionable notifications and a widget.

The iPhone and iPad version of the app are also on sale for $2.99 and $7.99, respectively for a limited time.

Changing NYC’s Catholic School System ⇢

Cardinal Dolan writing about how Catholic schools in New York City have adapted to the challenges of declining enrollment, rising costs, aging facilities, and competition:

Our schools now belong to everybody. Not only are our schools Catholic in values and atmosphere, but we made our schools catholic, with a small c. This meant a very dramatic decision: the days of one parish supporting its own parochial school were mostly over. Is it practical, our board of consultants asked, to expect that one pastor and parish could any longer support their own school all alone? I, for one, mourn this realistic admission, as the parochial school model was an example of subsidiarity and grass-roots attitudes at their best. True, we still have about 40 classic parochial schools. But now, for the most part, our schools are regional, belonging to all the parishes in a given area, whether the school is on their property or not.

Returning to OmniFocus

I have leveled some pretty heavy criticisms against OmniFocus (Mac, iPhone, iPad) in the past. I was disappointed by the lack of feature parity among the different versions of the app, frustrated that there was no web interface, and annoyed by the high price of the software.

In January I decided to switch over to a different system. I ultimately chose Appigo’s Todo Cloud because it had most of the features I was looking for including a web interface and great iOS apps that all had the same features. It was also reasonably priced at $1.99 per month. It seemed like a no-brainer.

After using Todo for several months I started to feel uneasy. The web interface wasn’t terribly elegant and I simply didn’t feel confident in the system. It’s lack of a review feature had me worrying I would miss something important and I “solved” that problem by assigning a due date to everything. This made me feel overwhelmed and I lost trust in the system.

It was around July that I started to contemplate a return to OmniFocus. Version 2.0 for the Mac had been released in May and the folks at the OmniGroup were promising to ship OmniFocus 2.0 for iPad along with iOS 8 in the fall. When I compared Todo to OmniFocus, I wrote:

When I was using OmniFocus I felt like I was completely in control of my work and all the demands placed upon me. I trusted the system and it never let me down. I do not have the same sense of trust with Todo and that’s a scary thought. While I haven’t made the jump back to OmniFocus yet, it’s looking more likely every day.

In August I dove back into OmniFocus and found myself feeling more confident. I was back to a trusted system and once again had a handle on my work. The last couple weeks of August were perhaps the most demanding of my entire career as a principal but OmniFocus helped me stay on track.

The OmniGroup stayed true to their word and launched OmniFocus for iPad alongside iOS 8. The iPad app was the oldest of the three apps and was in dire need of a refresh. It now looks fantastic and is a pleasure to use.

So, where did all of my criticisms go? The lack of a web interface is still a problem that I think needs to be addressed. Adding this would increase OmniFocus’ user base and perhaps increase the pace of development due to increased revenue. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part.

Feature parity was another big stumbling block for me but this has mostly been solved. Forecast mode is now available in all three versions (Mac, iPhone, iPad) and this is probably the area of the apps that I spend the most time in. Perspectives can now also be created on the iPad thanks to an upgrade (which is free for those who purchased OmniFocus 1.x for iPad). The only feature that I consider critical and does not exist on all three versions is Review which is missing from the iPhone.

Finally, pricing is now more palatable. OmniFocus 2 for Mac cost me $25 because I’m a grad student. If I weren’t a student, it would be $40 for the standard version which is 50% off the 1.0 version. The iPhone app is still $20 but the iPad app has dropped from $40 to $30. A $20 in-app purchase is necessary to gain some of the advanced features but users who purchased 1.0 get these for free. While I still like Todo’s subscription pricing better, I am glad that it now costs less than $100 to buy the full suite of OmniFocus apps.

In addition to addressing my criticisms, OmniFocus for iOS now has another incredible feature which has been covered at length in other reviews. The day’s tasks are now shown in the Today section of Notification Center which allows me to see what I should be working on very quickly. I use this every single day.

Since switching back to OmniFocus, I can honestly say that I have better command of my work. The app helps me to quickly determine what I should be working on. Most importantly, I know that because I have everything in this one system, nothing will be dropped or forgotten. I can defer a task or project for months and it will show up when the time comes. This gives me an increased sense of confidence and allows me to devote brain power to other things.

I firmly believe that technology should make our lives better by helping us to be more efficient and allowing us to focus on what’s truly important. OmniFocus fulfills this promise by serving as my external brain. I once again feel comfortable recommending OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone, and iPad to any busy professional trying to balance his or her responsibilities and commitments.

Drafts 4 ⇢

The majority of text that I jot down on my iPhone and iPad starts out in Drafts: tasks, classroom walkthrough notes, reminders, text messages, agenda items, and more. It’s so important to me that it sits in my dock. Today, Drafts 4 has been released with so many new features that I don’t know where to begin. I honestly think that it will take me a week or two to digest everything that has been added. Here are some things that have jumped out at me so far:

  • Share extension
  • Today widget extension
  • Extended keyboard row
  • Version histories
  • Actions sync across devices
  • Multi-step actions

Drafts 4 is available now as a universal app sporting a new icon and requiring iOS 8.

Reasons to Protect Urban Catholic Schools ⇢

There are some excellent points and tons of great links in this article about Catholic schools and the importance of social capital:

The clearest example of our field’s disregard for the old and valuable—and this disregard’s lamentable consequences—relates to urban Catholic schools. For fifty years, urban Catholic schools have been closing, with thousands shuttered across America’s most distressed communities. Sadly, very few reform organizations have lifted a finger in response.

What a strange reaction from those advertising their sense of urgency about ensuring disadvantaged kids have access to successful schools. There is an extensive and convincing academic literature on the positive influence of urban Catholic schools on disadvantaged kids. They significantly improve reading scores, high school graduation rates, higher-education matriculation and graduation, and more.

We also know that they can promote civic virtues, that the U.S. Supreme Court found voucher programs constitutional, that they can be held accountable, that district reform has not led to the improvements needed, and that chartering hasn’t created enough high-quality seats yet.

My Home Screen (October, 2014)

Now that I’ve been using the iPhone 6 for two weeks, I have figured out how to organize my home screen in a way that makes sense. Here is my iOS 7/iPhone 5s home screen (left) next to the iOS 8/iPhone 6 home screen (right):

July 2014 homescreen  October 2014 Home Screen

There isn’t much difference. The home row and bottom four rows of apps haven’t changed a bit. However, I did make some changes to the top two rows due to the size of the iPhone 6.

Because the 6 has such a larger screen, I didn’t want to keep reaching up to the top of the phone to access the apps I use most frequently. Until Apple improves reachability by allowing the user to rearrange icons in a less linear fashion, I put two rows of filler apps at the top of the screen in order to easily reach the other apps with my thumb.

To accomplish this, I simply took four folders that previously lived on page two and moved them over to page one, and also took four other commonly used apps and put them in row two. The clock, for example, is only accessed a few times a day to set, snooze, and turn off alarms. I use Day One at least once every 2-3 days to journal, and 1Password has become increasingly important to me since I put all my logins, passwords, and secure data into the app a few months ago.

I should also note that the size of the iPhone 6, as expected, has grown on me. I’ve gotten over some of my initial reservations and am quite comfortable using the phone. I still think the design of the 5s is superior, but my hand has adjusted to the 6 and I now feel comfortable using it.

Transformative Principal #42-43 ⇢

Transformative Principal logoI was recently interviewed by Jethro Jones for his Transformative Principal podcast. The interview has been split into two episodes. In the first we discussed what it’s like to be the principal of a parochial school, balancing responsibilities, and what I look for when interviewing teacher candidates. In the second episode we discussed how I use iOS to be more productive and what inspires my work.