slack

Email

I was ‘triggered,’ so to speak, by this New York Times Op-Ed over the weekend —> No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude. 

 

After reading it, I was admittedly less put off by the content than I was the headline. It’s a short one, so I wont even quote any of it here. Just read it.

 

I have have had a particularly rough year with email, mostly because I have had a rough year with time management. Simply put, I bit off more than I can chew this school year. I have had more instances of emails collecting dirt at the bottom of my inbox for weeks, than ever before, and this poor practice has even started to bleed into my text message conversations, which I often claim is the far easier way to get a response from me. It still is, but my lack of ability to respond is obviously due to time management, not email.

 

Or is it? Email, by nature, is still a part of the problem. Email is so flexible a tool, and used for such widely different purposes, that it is hard to prioritize its content. And everyone has different email practices, expectations, and writing styles, that it is impossible to know how to please anyone. I prefer the efficiency of digital text over phone when possible. But my tone comes across indisputably better in person than in email, in which I am short and to the point when I am crunched for time. It would be easy to think I am mad at you from my email messages, if you know me personally, and I am responding briefly. 

 

Tools like SaneBox and email apps like Spark mail help. Snoozing message, defering todo emails to OmniFocus as tasks, and filtering my inbox are things that have cut my email time down by an average of six hours a week. Replacing email with Slack and Trello on my music team has also helped tremendously. And using TextExpander to type default messages to parents also cuts down on hours. If you are interested in these strategies, I welcome you to check out my podcast, The Class Nerd. Episode 1 and 2 on email, episode 5 on team communication, and a forthcoming episode on parent communication tools.

 

So why am I still stressed? I find that 90 percent of the time it is due to getting ‘stuck’ on certain messages. Messages that require a careful answer, the tone to be crafted precisely, not knowing the proper conventions to which someone desires to be replied to, etc... I never get stuck on emails that are a keystroke and a click away from being dealt with, or deferred.... but I guess that’s the point of the Op-Ed. You can’t defer ‘people.’ And the emails that require the most human touch are the ones I get hung up on.

 

But still, I find the mixed conventions of email utterly perplexing. Do you expect that I reply within a day? An hour? A week? Do you want me to address the message Dear ___? Would you like me to address you with an introductory sentence? A closing thought? An email signature? Would you rather me tell you I got it, even if a proper response can’t be delivered for weeks? And how do I deal with email while still actually doing my job (which is music teaching, by the way, not sitting in front of a computer screen)? How many times a day should I check my email? Should I leave the notifications on? Should I even have the app open all the time in the first place? If I open it intentionally, how many times a day, and when? How do I respond like E.B. White when I perceive others to expect more in the modern age? 

 

At the end of the day, I think this article is a little unfair. I do not think that everyone deserves my attention, and they definitely don’t get it when they want it. But there are also some clear examples in my life of when my slow email response to others is inconvenient and disrespectful to them. So, even if I cant find a good answer to the questions in the previous paragraph, what do I do during weeks like these past few, when I am hopelessly behind? The article had a good idea: Recommending to others, when you are behind, that they find some other channel to reach you... a Slack channel, Twitter, post-it notes, etc... I love this idea, but Slack and Twitter don’t seem professional for school use.

 

So here is my proposal. A free app idea for anyone reading... I would like an app that... 

 

1. Has a user interface like a chat app.  

2. Allows anyone to reach me. 

3. Can interface with my SMS but does not give others access to my cell phone number. 

4. Has ‘office hours,’ meaning that messages don’t go through to me during hours I set. 


Something like the Remind app but that works in the opposite direction. I can give someone a link in my email signature, and they can message me through it informally, and expect at the least, a quick “I got it.” Know of anything?

Favorites of 2018 - Apps!

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

Next up, apps!

Apps

Things and OmniFocus

Task management software makes up about 50 percent my time on computing devices so it’s natural that I include what I consider to be the best two apps in this field. After seven years of using OmniFocus, I am experimenting with Things again. I plan to write about this switch in more detail but for now I leave you with this: if you are looking for a powerful way to stay on top of your tasks and don’t mind paying for a premium design, check these apps out.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Today view in Things displays all of my tasks for the day alongside my calendar.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

The Forecast view in OmniFocus is similar to the Today view in Things. Though I have it turned off in this screenshot, it actually displays your tasks inline with your calendar events so you can see where ‘due’ tasks fit into your day.

Health

The Health app by Apple is my hub for collecting all sorts of data about myself from various devices, apps and clinics. It houses data from devices like my Apple Watch, Spire respiratory monitor, Fitbit WiFi scale, and Spark Smart Water Bottle. It tracks data in third party apps like: work outs, active calories burned, steps, heart rate, sleep, water intake, nutrition, meditation minutes, caffeine intake, and blood pressure. It can now even aggregate health data from participating clinics and practices so I don’t have to log into a million web portals. My Quest and LabCorp results are a tap away. The beauty of the app is that it allows me to organize these data points and see them alongside one another so I can draw meaningful conclusions about them. Like for example, I eat better on days when I get more sleep.

Home

Apple’s Home app is the hub for controlling my smart home. I can control all of my smart things in the same user interface rather than by punching into lots of different apps. I can also use it to automate different actions. For example, my Good Morning scene automatically runs at 6:30 am every day which turns on my lights, changes the temperature, and lately, turns on the Christmas tree.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

My Today view in Apple Health aggregates all of my health data regardless of which app is responsible for tracking it.

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

The My Home view in Apple Home shows my most used home automation devices and ‘scenes.’

Tonal Energy Tuner

Absolute must for an instrumental music teacher. Using the new Screen Time feature on iOS reveals that I spend too much time on Reddit. But also that I spend more time than any other app in Tonal Energy. It’s literally running in the foreground all day long while I’m at school, helping students to match pitch, blend, and keep steady time.

Trello

This may be my productivity discovery of the year. Trello is the team project app you have been waiting for. It’s vibrant, Kanbab board style interface will have your team, family, or Dungeons and Dragons group enjoying every minute of collaboration. Bonus points for how well this app integrates with Slack which is my preferred team communication tool.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

Planning concerts in Trello allows my team to share todos, check lists, files, and more. We can give items due dates and even assign tasks to other members.

GoodNotes

GoodNotes has become my go-to handwritten note application. It acts like a bookshelf of notebooks so to speak. I take a lot of the work I create in iWork, Ulysses, and OmniGraffle, export them as PDFs, organize them into notebooks in GoodNotes, then annotate them on the go using my iPad. My favorite thing to do with it is keep a notebook of seating charts that have my rehearsal annotations on top of the names of my students. I love how you do not need to trigger an annotation mode to start scribbling on a document with the Apple Pencil. It just feels like paper.

Streaks

There are a lot of great habit building apps out there but Streaks has stuck with me because it encourages you to focus on just six habits at a time. When I am building too many habits at once, they start to feel like a todo list. The Streaks method of choosing six, along with its addictive user interface, keep me launching the app, which keeps me working towards my goals.

AutoSleep and AutoWake

Of the ten or so sleep trackers I have tried for the iPhone and Apple Watch, AutoSleep has stuck with me the most. There are numerous things I like about it, but most of all is how it figures out the most accurate number of hours I have been asleep whether I wear my watch to sleep or not. The companion app, AutoWake, wakes me up silently with haptic feedback on the watch. It does this when I am in my least deep sleep within a half hour before my alarm is set to go off. This eases me awake rather than jolting me awake. I plan to blog later this month about how I am automating some cool stuff in my house when I wake up using this app.

WaterMinder

WaterMinder is my favorite app for tracking water intake, mostly because of its well designed and space efficient widget.

Shortcuts

I did not get as much out of the Siri Shortcuts app this year as I wanted to. In fact, I had a lot of bad luck with it. But it is still an app that is working really well for me in a couple of small areas. In one tap, it generates a clean copy of my band's seating chart in GoodNotes for annotations and opens my lesson plan for the day in OmniOutliner. 

The Waterminder Widget.

The Waterminder Widget.

Some of my Shortcuts.

Some of my Shortcuts.

CARROT⁵ Weather

This is my favorite weather app due to its clean and appealing design. It gets my pick this year because of how they continue to innovate the Apple Watch app. My favorite feature of the watch is the customizable complications. Carrot makes the best weather complication for the Apple Watch, maybe the best complication, period. Carrot allows infinite customization for how it looks on the watch, depending on which watch face you like to view it, and even in which corner of the watch face you prefer to keep it installed.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

The Carrot Weather app complication can be seen in the lower left corner.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.

Streaks. Guess I can check off that one in the lower right corner now.