Simple Life: The Best App is Life

by Elizabeth on August 19, 2012

There are a ton of things out there that can help you get simplified, folks.

From mobile apps to browser add-ons to services that remember birthdays for you so you don’t have to.  We’re talking a multitude of little programmed bits of goodness, here.

And I’ve tried a lot of them.

(This is me admitting that I’m a nerd, by the way.  Total productivity geek, even when it comes to house stuff and hobbies.  It’s a sad, sad addiction.)

Some people have been asking me what it is that I use for things like task lists and goal-keeping stuff, and what things I think are valuable along this whole simplification gig.  And even though I’m fully willing to share my stuff, I have to say this first:

What’s valuable is what works for you.

I kid you not, y’all.  The best app on the planet, the niftiest browser plug in, or the best computer program….they’re only as good as how much good they do you. If you aren’t using them, or if they fit in all clunky-like with your life and your purpose for things, you won’t get a thing out of it.  It’s just you, fighting with tech.  And since there’s enough things out there to be annoyed by every day, your helper apps should not be one of them.

So with that in mind, here’s a couple things I always recommend when people ask.

01: Workflowy.

Workflowy is the simplest task list you’ll find anywhere, other than a straight text file.  I kid you not.  It’s literally just a nested list (like an outline) that you can add infinite numbers of things to, in order to keep organized.  If the inside of your brain is like mine, there are about eighty bazillion things going on, in an equal number of directions, and even a paper to-do list ends up being cluttered up with ideas or side-thoughts, and rapidly becomes unusable.

This is how I use it, though — as intentionally cluttered.  I have some major categories for home/work/etc., and then a sublist for each project, tasks under that.  I have a section for ideas, one for things I want to remember, and even one for quotes.  All the things that used to be in little pieces of paper on my desk that were temporary but action-based, are in Workflowy now.  One place.  Cleared off my whole desk and got rid of about a billion old notebooks I was keeping “for reference”.  (I do still use Evernote for bigger things or archiving, but the app kept not syncing on my desktop computer, so it’s been used less and less lately.)

Workflowy’s good for things you want to refer back to, or for steps around any of your projects, or to keep track of things you’ve done/want to do.  Like any task list, it’s just that — a list.  And it’s only as good if you go back and look it over, since, again, it’s just a list.  That meant, for me, it was really easy to overlook things I wanted to do on an ongoing basis (or that I didn’t like to do), and just add in more things for later.  I love it for that function, but it really left a hole.

02.  Goal Reminder

That’s why I’ve been using Goal Reminder!.  (The exclamation point is part of the title.)

You set an interval (say, 60 minutes, or in my case, 15 minutes because I’ve got ADD tendencies), and a list of goals.  Every time that interval is up, it not only flashes a popup in the upper right hand of your screen, but it also speaks the reminder.  (You can set it up not to, if it annoys you.)  For me, this was like a little bit of golden functionality.

On my setup, then, instead of “goals”, I put in recurring tasks.  Things I want to do at least once every day.  (Things like writing posts, doing dishes, even stopping for a five-minute girly-break.  Those kinds of things.)  And every fifteen minutes from when the timer’s reset (by closing the popup), my computer tells me to go clean my kitchen or it’s going to send pictures of it to the producers of Hoarders.  (I kid you not.  It actually says that.)

I’m finding that keeping the task/goal list to about 25 or so is about right for an average work day.  It works for me because I’m in a home office, by the way — if I was in another location, being told by the Mac that I have to go do the dishes would be downright annoying.  However, for me, it battles my tendency to get so bogged down in a project or distraction (most often, distraction) that I forget to get started.  And since it’s actually TALKING TO ME, I hear the reminder and see it, which, for some reason, works like a charm to get me out of the chair.

You have the choice of letting the tasks pop up in order, completely by random, or cycling through all of them randomly.  I go with the random cycle, so I’m hitting all 25 of them every day, but still don’t know in what order.  It’s like a little game…Am I going to have to decide which three things in my house to throw out, or do a journal entry next?   Anything that adds a little fun to what can otherwise be a sloggable task is good for me.

The app is for Google Chrome, and can be found on the Chrome Marketplace.  It’s free.  (And since downloading it, my house is cleaner, and I’m wearing nail polish.  AND I’m writing entries again.  It’s the best recommendation I can give.)

03. Illuum

One of the hardest parts of getting all decluttered and simplified is not getting too bogged down in the process.  It’s pretty easy to feel kind of sad, actually.  (We’re told by every advertisement and book we read that having more stuff is better and means you’re more successful, and I think, at times, we internalize that and extrapolate it out that if we don’t have all that stuff, we must not be good/successful/grownup/whatever.  It’s part of the insidious consumer-culture mindset that’s so hard to fight.) is nothing more than a mood tracker.  That’s it.  No bells and whistles, no advice on getting happy, no overly-sugary stuff about life fulfillment.  It’s just a tracker.   And moreover, it’s not even really a mood tracker.  It’s a happiness tracker.  The only thing you’re tracking is your happiness level.  Was today a good day?  Give it an 8.  Was it a bad day?  Give ‘er a 3.  Whatever.  But it tracks your happiness level for the day.

This is valuable for a couple reasons:

First, you can see if there’s rhyme or reason to your moods, or if it’s just as random as you think it is.  You can find out if your happy levels are down every week on Monday and back up on Saturday, or if you’re always less happy in January than you are in September.  That kind of thing.

The reason that’s so important is that, like I said, this simplification process can be taxing.  If you know that every Monday your mood drops down to craptastic, you know not to do anything big on Monday, because it will suck. Seriously.  Don’t think that sorting out your bookshelves on a Monday is going to do anything other than frustrate you if you know already that you’re not at your best.  Save it for a Saturday when you’re much more likely to be generally happy…it’ll be much easier on you.

Second, it forces you to pay attention to what’s important every day.  Without going into it in too much detail, for most of us, happy  is a choice.  Taking five seconds every night to pop in a rating on Illuum makes you remember: okay, so what was good about this day, what was bad, and how were things overall? And if you’re looking for the happy-making stuff in life…you’ll find it.  It’s the same concept as gratitude, repackaged with a happy little bow.

This is getting longer than I intended today.

The nerd side of me, though, is curious:  what techno-geekery do you use to simplify your complex life? 


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

minnie August 20, 2012 at 2:23 am

the outlook calendar at work. between remembering when my breaks are going to be when they change them DAILY, and knowing when to call a client, or even when i need to put in vacation time so i can take my mom to the dentist, it’s invaluable.

other than that? nada. used to use a pedometer app, but it hasn’t worked well for months, so i quit referring to it


Laurie August 21, 2012 at 6:41 pm

When I remember to look at it (le sigh) I find 2Do a handy app on my iPod Touch. There’s an app based on Fly Lady called HomeRoutines, but again, I have to remember to look. I’ve been looking for a system *forever* but I have yet to find something that sticks. Sometimes it’s just doing morning pages and getting the list in my head OUT. Sometimes it’s a paper list, sometimes the 3×5 card system. I’m just still looking. I am beginning to believe that if I get rid of a lot of the STUFF the system wouldn’t be needed. Especially considering we have 560 sq feet of house. There is garage, plus attic, plus my studio, but living space is at a premium and right now it’s a mess!


Elizabeth August 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I saw that HomeRoutines thing, but was a little scared of it. I tried FlyLady for a while, and while my house *was* cleaner…I was cleaning ALL THE TIME. (And I don’t wear shoes. I’m lucky to wear pants half the time.) Plus, a lot of my routines and things that Must Be Done are things that *aren’t* cleaning. (Write an entry, do an art journal prompt, edit something for 15 minutes…that kind of thing.)

I think that’s why I’m really liking this Goal Reminder! thing so much — since I get to put in what I need to do, it’s hitting *all* the aspects of my life, and I can set it for more or less time between them depending on my energy levels, etc.. Plus, since it talks, it’s way harder for me to ignore, the way I do the popup/notify on an iPhone/smartphone app.

(And I’ve customized them to say really funny/shocking things, which helps. Just now, when I was responding to a comment on the decluttering theory entry, for example, it seriously popped up and said, “GET OFF THE COMPUTER, YOU SLOB, AND GO DECLUTTER THREE THINGS.” I nearly fell off the chair with the synchronicity…and laughing.) :D

p.s. Our cottage in NC was around 500 sq. ft, too, and one of the bedrooms was storage for the homeowners we rented from. I GET YOU. And getting rid of unnecessary stuff was *hard*, but SO SO WORTH IT. We’re in a 900+ sq. ft. house now, but other than one chair and a side table, we haven’t brought a lot in — the idea of space is just so much more exciting than a bunch of mostly-unused junk, y’know? (And so much easier to clean. Hooboy.)


Laurie August 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

The DH got home yesterday after two weeks on the road. First thing this morning he was talking about the *stuff*. Not how I wanted to start my day. I just started working out of the home for the first time in 5 years, and I’m finding myself TIRED at the end of the day. To prepare for him coming home, I was getting up early just to get some decluttering done. Add to that a new puppy (puppy!!) and well, right now it’s damn mess at home.

The Home Routines is fully customizable, so I have my stuff listed, and not necessarily theirs. I do like the idea of cleaning the bathroom well once every 4 weeks or so – the zones are nice that way. I added the Goal Reminder! to my laptop and will play with it a bit. I think it may help. I need help. :)


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