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Guest post: 10 Productivity Apps to Help You Organize Your Lesson Plans | Midnight Music

This month I wrote a guest post for Midnight Music, an awesome blog and website designed to equip music teachers with technology knowledge and resources.

The post includes a about 10 of the productivity apps I use to create, organize, and collaborate on lesson plans in the music classroom. The list covers some of the web tools and native iOS/Mac apps that are most indispensable to my work as a teacher.

Click the link below to head on over to Midnight Music and read the whole thing.

10 Productivity Apps to Help You Organize Your Lesson Plans | Midnight Music

Everyone likes to organize themselves differently. Teachers prefer different tools, organization methods, and preference over how much of their workflow is digital. Whatever your approach, there are a handful of great apps that can help you create your plans, search them, group them, and collaborate on them. The following apps are some of my favorite tools for managing lesson ideas, plans and resources.

Many of them have similar features as one another, but all of them have unique strengths. My philosophy is that there is always a better and more specific tool for the job.

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.

App of the Week: Drafts 5

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My ability to handle the cognitive load of teaching middle school band is largely supported by a wonderful app called Drafts, made by Agile Tortoise. I will detail a little bit about how I use this app below, but I want to first say that the developer of Drafts, Greg Pierce, very generously chatted with me about it on my podcast recently. Greg also has a background in guitar, ethnomusicology, and folk studies. He has an interesting journey towards app development, which we also talked about on the show. Listen to the episode here.

So what is Drafts? Drafts is the starting point for all text on my iPhone and iPad. It sits on the dock, right under my thumb, and I press it every time I have any kind of thought that I don’t want to slip away. Drafts opens to a blank white screen and a keyboard so you can instantly start typing. Adding a new Draft is as simple as tapping the plus button. You don't need to worry about what kinds of thoughts these are, or what kinds of apps you should be capturing them in. They can be todos, messages, emails, future blog posts, anything. Picture me at the front of the classroom before band rehearsal. 70 students pouring into the room. Instruments blaring loud. Countless questions being thrown at me at once. Chaos all around. From the podium, I leave Drafts open alongside my sheet music and type anything that comes to mind. If a student tells me they don’t have a 2nd trombone part to Air and Dance, I write a note in Drafts. If a flute is broken, I start an email to the repair shop requesting for them to come pick it up. If I want to take general notes on our rehearsal progress, I start typing that in another draft. Even if I remember I need eggs at the grocery store later, I type that too!

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

All of this stuff is categorized in the inbox where I can easily access it by swiping to the right. Here I can view any current or past archived draft, flag important ones, or send them to the trash. Once I am ready to process it all, I swipe left to reveal actions. Actions can do many things. At the most simple level, they send text to other apps like messages, email, a todo app, or Twitter. But actions can be heavily customized. They can perform multiple steps on text, and even run JavaScript on them. In the example below, you can see that I have a variety of drafts. Meeting notes, a few tasks, a start to a grocery list, a text to my wife, and the beginning of an email. To process these I would use the following actions, respectively: Send the meeting notes to the Apple Notes app, the tasks go to OmniFocus (where I manage all of my todos), the groceries go into my Reminders app grocery list, the text to my wife goes to Messages, and the email goes to Mail. Many of these actions happen in the background, meaning that I don't leave Drafts, and can therefore process them really quickly. You don't need to be a fancy pants to get awesome actions into Drafts, by the way. Some of my most frequently used actions are built into the app. There is also an Action Directory where you can steal the wonderful actions that others have already made. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Drafts 5, the newest version, was released recently. The app is free which means there is absolutely no excuse not to give it a try. Some of the power features like creating your own actions and using automation require a subscription price of $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

I have always treated Drafts as a starting point for text. Interestingly, the new version has added some features that encourage using it as a note app replacement. You can now tag notes, create lists with checkable boxes, and even create custom workspaces that you organize your text into (paid feature). I am not sure if using Drafts this way is for me, but here are some ways I have been experimenting with it…

Processing Text

I have a "default" workspace depicted by the blue star icon below. Navigating workspaces is as easy as tapping custom icons in the lower left. My default workspace is where all of my unprocessed notes go. These generate a badge that appears on the icon of the Drafts app so that I don't forget to act upon them later. This workspace resembles the extent to which I was using the previous version of Drafts.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

Simple Lists

My next workspace is where I keep active lists of things like recommended movies to see, blog ideas, and even a list of things I do every time I migrate to a new Mac. I can automatically append this list by pressing the "Add to list" action (available here) and then choosing which list to add to. 

My lists workspace.

My lists workspace.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

Blog Drafts

My next workspace is for blogging. I usually write my blog posts in a third party text editor called Ulysses which means that I usually get started in Drafts and then tap an action that sends the text there. But sometimes I do like to spend a little bit of time in Drafts writing before I take that step. For these types of drafts, I now have a tag called "blog" that allows them to show up separate from my other notes that need to be processed.

Blogging workspace.

Blogging workspace.

Lesson Planning and Note Taking

My last workspace is called Sectionals. My band program has weekly classes for each instrument. Once a week, I see the flutes from my band during one period, the clarinets the next, etc. I do some lesson planning for these sectionals in a note app called Bear. In those same notes I also write down things that happen in the sectionals. Things I assigned, things I assessed, things I said, students absent, instruments I repaired, etc. Fiddling through my notes app to add these notes was getting cumbersome and was distracting me from engaging with my students. So I created a series of sectional related actions that enable me to automate part of this process. The “R1, R2...” actions in the image below are examples of text expansion. Tapping buttons like these expand text that I commonly type. R1 stands for Rotation 1, which I would type if I were taking notes on the first week trumpet sectional for the quarter. The other actions automatically append my sectional notes. For example, tapping SW Trumpet would take my draft and append it to the bottom of that particular note in the Bear note app.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

As you can see, Drafts is a simple note app with infinite customizability. Check it out today at Get Drafts.