A Month With Simplenote


Simplenote is an app that I've loved for a long time, but several design choices like small text on the iPad, unreliable syncing, and too simplistic of a design with mobile apps has made it unusable in my opinion. 

Until now. 

Simplenote, in late August, unveiled a complete redesign of their mobile apps for all platforms, including iOS for iPhone and iPad and also for Android. I've been teaching and preaching from it for the last 30 days exclusively. 

I was very excited about Editorial for iPad, with it's great interface, configureable buttons and layout, customized workflows and Markdown support, and I had purchased it and began using it when the new Simplenote came out. Needless to say, I was impressed. 

For the longest time, my workflow included plain text editing with Elements on iPad and iPhone, syncing with Dropbox, and I would actually preach and teach from within Elements. But Elements, at least for me, started getting buggy, even with regular updates. (I'm sure it's been fixed, but 1 or 2 crashes while I am speaking to 300+ people is 1 or 2 times too many.)  So I stopped using it and turned to Nebulous Notes.

While syncing with Dropbox offered some flexibility (like seamlessly offering my lessons as .txt files for download on my website, copying and moving files, and making backups easy), I found that it was a few too many steps. I would compose a text file in my Mac text editor of choice (usually Textastic), save it as either a .txt or .md file if I wanted limited styling, make sure it was in the correct folder in Dropbox, then search for that file under my Elements directory to pull it up on my iPad for teaching. 

With Simplenote, I write my lesson in the Simplenote app for Mac (which is incredibly nice by the way), and my changes are automatically pushed to my devices. All I need to do is load the app on the iPad and whoosh - it's there. And syncing with SImplenote is incredibly fast. 

Another thing that helps is local note caching. All my notes once synced will be available for edit and viewing whether connected to a network or not. I've had lots of speaking engagements where there is no connection whatsoever - even through a cell network - and my notes, provided I synced before I left, are there. No having to worry whether or not that 7th revision to my sermon synced to the correct folder and file in Dropbox. Dropbox doesn't append the file (unless you're using specific programs), it re-uploads the entire file if one letter is changed. I know text files aren't that big to begin with, but when you're out in the middle of nowhere with little or no data connection, every byte is hard to come by. 

Simplenote Mac app. Click for larger. 

I mentioned it before, but what helped push me over the edge was the Mac desktop app for Simplenote. You can see for yourself that Simplenote really lives up to its name with its very spartan and minimalist interface. The changes are almost instant - I can type and sentence on the desktop and watch it be pushed to the iPad app seconds later. It's great. 

I love Editorial, plain text, and Markdown, but to tell you the truth, I don't need any of that. All I need is text, and the new redesigns for the mobile apps make the fonts much easier to read and far better to compose in. And if a worst-case scenario happens and I lose all my devices, including my Mac, my notes are all backed up on Simplenote servers. I can log on to simplenote.com and edit and back up my notes from there. 

If you're looking for a simple, elegant solution and don't want all the fuss with saving file and formatting, look no further than Simplenote. It's free and it's wonderful. What do you have to lose?


Take A Few Days and Reorganize

Summer is a hectic time for youth ministers. I had one youth minister tell me that out of the 8 weeks of summer, he was going to be gone for 6 of them. So it's best to take the time to get reorganized when you have it. 

Most of us would want to take a few days off and recharge on a week that we don't have an event, but most of us don't have that luxury because we're planning the next event. You can, however, take a day or two and get organized. How you get organized now will help you this fall. 

That's what I'm doing this week - a little mid-summer cleaning, if you will. As I prepare to "wind down" my summer with a week of DayCamp and a relief trip to Oklahoma, it's time to get reorganized. Here's a few things I'm doing.  

Reorganizing storage rooms. This can be a big job if you've neglected the "camp room" for months. Spend some of your budget money and go buy some plastic tubs and label them with events that you've done in the past few months. Categorize game stuff, craft stuff, VBS stuff, and make your storage room where anyone could walk in and find what they need to.  

File things away. This is important because you don't want to have to reinvent the wheel next summer. File the documents, sign up sheets, everything you can into folders, filing cabinets, or whatever filing system you have. Additionally, it's time to organize those files on your computer as well. I have a folder on my computer for every major event in our youth program. Paper documents go into their own folder in my filing cabinet. Next year you will be looking for these, I promise you.  

Backup your computer. This is a huge deal because you've probably been so busy the last few weeks that you've forgotten to do it. Take a few hours and do it now. Organizing your folders on your computer will help with the backup as well.  

This is what I'm doing...what are you doing to stay organized this summer?


Stop Being Horrible At Communication

I am the first to admit - I'm pretty horrible at communication sometimes. But I have made a conscious effort in the last few years to communicate better and more effectively with my wife, my kids in the youth group, my church, and my church leadership. 

So how can you be more effective at communication? Here's some tips to help out.  

Minimize channels. Some of us have lots of ways we communicate. If you're tech savvy at all, then you may have more. Right now I can think of 4 emails, 6 different social networks, and 3 websites that I get communications from. All of my notifications come to one email. The sometimes overflowing river of emails and notifications comes all to one email address. If I don't do any serious communication on Google+, for example, then I set up my notifications to be virtually non-existent from Google+. I unsubscribe to 3 or 4 "accounts" per week to minimize how many emails I get a day. I even have pre-written TextExpander snippets to reply to emails and Facebook messages I get for routine things like speaking engagement requests and tech requests. But I have taken all of my networks and things and minimized it to one channel that routes everything to me in an organized fashion. Gmail is also a great product for organization and archiving as well. Outlook.com is a great free webmail client as well. You can have multiple email addresses for work, recreation, and organizations but route them all to one main email. 

Act on incoming data. Sometimes we can't respond right away to a question or request in a Facebook message or email, but you can act on that notification. Find an application (mine is Drafts for iPhone) that will remind you to get back to that message the next day. If someone has something urgent, they should call you. Otherwise, emails, messages, and other internet communications cannot expect less than a 24 hour turnaround. So whether you take a few minutes to respond to a request or mark it down for later, just make sure you act on it. Looking at a message on your phone or computer and making a mental note to "do that tomorrow" doesn't work. You'll forget someone's request or message and they might wonder if you're ignoring them. 

Get organized. This relates closely to our first tip. If you have a lot of speaking engagements, have an old fashioned paper calendar to write them down on in your office, or at least input them into a calendar app. Use Contacts Cleaner to fix up your iPhone or iPad's contact list. Give people ONE email, even if it is coming from different sources. Use Drafts to jot down quick bits of text and info for saving to Dropbox. Organize your desktop and computer to make it easier to find things on said computer (I used Alfred for finding whatever I need - I probably have 1,000 folders on my computer). When was the last time you organized your filing cabinet? Buy a pack of manila folders and get labeling. Case in point - my wife and I are buying a van this week, and we all know that minister's taxes and salaries are a little wonky, and having an organized, labeled filing cabinet let me grab files very quickly that I needed instead of searching for them. I was also able to pull down several things for our VBS this week and save myself a lot of time having to redo layouts of certain things - they were already done last year and in the VBS 2012 folder, so why do it again? Everything on your computer must have a folder, in my opinion. 

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and become better organized and be a better communicator. Preachers, summer is a good time to get organized, and youth ministers, August may be a great time to reorganize for you.  


My iPhone Home Screen: April 2013

Click for larger

From the bottom up:

Drafts - This app is my go-to now for virtually anything involving text on my phone. I'll have more on this app in a post this week (maybe even a screencast) and you'll see that using this app for sharing any kind of text between apps is awesome. From Dropbox to Messages to searching Google, it's become my go-to app of choice. More on this great app later this week. 

In the 'Get It Done' folder

Dropbox - new UI update a few months ago makes it easier than ever to use.

Google Drive - Use for all my Google Docs, and today's update even features widescreen editing of Spreadsheets. Nice.

Cloudier - Cloudapp client for links, images, and text sharing. I use it for all my links as it's tied to my Twitter/Tweetbot.

Instashare - Wonderful too for moving files instantly from one device to another,. For example, the screenshot photo of my iPhone in this post was move by opening the app on my phone, dragging the picture out of my Library, placing it on my Macbook icon with my Mac running the same free software, and my 1.3 Mb image was transferred over Wi-Fi instantly. Great for files you would normally email to yourself.

Teambox - Great little service for teams up to five users. I use it to coordinate with Hashtag Media peoples. Project management, to-do lists, conversations - great for small teams. Paid tiers as well for bigger companies. iPhone, iPad, and web apps. Web app works great in Fluid as a dedicated app on the Mac.

Elements - My plain text repository. Where I use Drafts for quick text and lists, I use Elements for long-form text like class and teaching docs. Syncs with Dropbox and talks to Drafts as well. Anything I compose in Drafts can be directly shared with Elements. 

Mailbox - Been using the hot new mail service for about two months now. Very good. They've worked out some bugs, and the service is great for eradicating and acting on every email.

Feedly - Since Google Reader is shutting down, I just moved all my feeds to Feedly. The app has great design and will seamlessly work for you after the Reader shutdown on July 1.

Sunrise - wonderful calendar app that syncs with Google Calendar. See my previous post for a review.

Instacast - There's a lot of podcatchers (podcast-catching apps) out there, but in my opinion, Instacast is the best. iPad version as well.

Tweetbot - greatest app for Twitter you'll find on iOS, both for iPad and iPhone. 

Instapaper - great service and app by Marco Arment that simply lets you save articles for reading later. Safari and bookmark extensions available as well as integration into Feedly.

ScoreCenter - ESPN has greatly improved this app from it's beginnings in 2009. Now supports the iPhone 5 and will let you make favorite teams a get push alerts.

In the Photo / Video folder:

Snapseed - this is a great little Google app that lets you do lots of simple stuff with photos. Not bad for free either.

Vine - the Twitter-owned 6-second video sharing service. Great UI. When teens figure out what this is, they're going to be excited.

YouTube Capture & YouTube - Great for capturing and uploading youth video or videos of my son for all to see.

Redbox - Redbox redesigned their app just last week, and it's prettier, faster, and much easier to use. Redbox is everywhere now and is very convenient.

Google Maps - I never actually used Apple Maps on my phone, I've always stuck with Google Maps. Improvements have made this app great in the past year.

Forecast - This is actually a web app that runs like a App Store app. If you go to Forecast.io in Safari, you can "Install" it on your device. It's a great weather app from the makers of Dark Sky. Wonderful UI with little animations and a dedicated iPad version as well.