Inventorying my tools in 2019

Back in 2017, I wrote an article on Inventorying my Tools, going through the software I use to get work done on a regular basis. Now, about two years on I thought it would be interesting to go through and see what’s changed.

This list focuses on work (and side project) related apps. It excludes purely personal and recreational apps like Reeder and Paprika. It also only covers things that I think of as “real apps” as opposed to menu bar applications or little utilities like Yoink or TextExpander (though that line is kind of fuzzy, given my inclusion of 1Password).

Every Day

  • OmniFocus
  • iA Writer
  • Microsoft Word
  • Safari
  • Chrome
  • Outlook
  • Spark
  • iPhone Mail app
  • Fantastical
  • Toggl
  • 1Password
  • Dropbox
  • Files
  • Luna Display
  • Bullet Journal Notebook

Often

  • Goodnotes
  • Drafts
  • Shortcuts
  • Excel
  • Numbers
  • PowerPoint
  • OmniOutliner
  • Jump Desktop
  • Field Notes Steno Pad

Occasional But Vital

  • ArcGIS
  • TransCAD
  • Python (IDLE)
  • Sublime Text
  • Kaleidoscope
  • OmniGraffle
  • Typora
  • My office whiteboard

Changes from 2017

A fair number of apps have gone by the wayside. Bear, Byword, Ulysses, and Scrivener have all been replaced by iA Writer. Toggle has replaced Hours, and Sublime Text displaced TextWrangler. And, of course, Workflow has turned into Shortcuts.

There are some outright additions that represent categories that I didn’t even have on my list two years ago. Many of these are iPad apps like Files and Goodnotes, a consequence of my increased use of the iPad as a work and travel device. Others like Luna Display and Jump Desktop are related to my Mac mini home server.

Reflection

As I said two years ago, I think part of the value of this exercise is not just listing the apps, but thinking about why I use these apps and whether there are any changes I could make to get my work done more effectively.

Are there some of these where I would benefit from learning to use them better? Which ones do I want to use more often? Which ones do I want to use less often? Are there tools that don’t fit my needs anymore? What tools aren’t I using that I might benefit from?

For instance, last time around I’d expressed a desire to transition Word from something I use every day to an app that I use more occasionally. While I’ve probably reduced the amount of time I spend in Word, I haven’t been able to cut back as much as I would like. My writing generally starts in a text editor, but at the point where I need to share things with other people at work, it makes the transition to Microsoft Word.

One area where I have made progress since the last inventory is in reducing the number of text editors I use. Byword and Scrivener were already on the way out, but for most of that period, I divided my writing between Bear and Ulysses. Now that I’ve switched to iA Writer I’m down to one app for writing prose (with Sublime Text for writing code). That simplifies things in a lot of ways.

One area where I’m still in the midst of a transition is going from taking all my handwritten notes on paper to doing more of it on the iPad Pro using the pencil. The Field Notes Steno Pad still gets plenty of use, but probably about half of my notes are made on the iPad in Goodnotes. I’d like to continue to move in this direction.

I still don’t feel like I’m getting as much as I could out of Drafts or the Shortcuts app. My primary use case for both of them at the moment is as a front end for OmniFocus: Drafts as a quick entry tool and Shortcuts to set up templated projects. I think I’d benefit from delving deeper into these (as well as Scriptable, which didn’t even make the list).

Due to some changes in my work, I’m not doing as much coding as I used to. I’d like to exercise that muscle a little more, even if it’s just as for some sort of side project.

In addition to notebooks (Field Notes and Bullet Journal), the other analog tool on the list is the whiteboard in my office at work. A couple of years ago I was using it to keep track of progress on the many projects I was responsible for, but that has kind of fallen by the wayside as more and more of my time has gotten sucked up into one big project.

Taking a big picture look at what apps I’m using and why is definitely a useful exercise. I carried through on some of the changes I made two years ago, and I’ve got some more in mind that I want to make based on this new inventory. If anything I need to do it more often than every two years.