Best workflow apps for a scattered person
July 23, 2019 2:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm a sysadmin with ADHD and have been searching for the ultimate set of OSX/iOS workflow apps. I use several tools, but getting them all to work together is kind of a pain. Staying organized at work and home is a struggle, and I need to get easier, because I feel like I spend ¾ of my life stressing about whether I'm going to get things done. And half the time I forget what I need to get done.

I have tried many different tools to stay organized over the years. Here's what I rotate between:
- Omnifocus Pro
- Wunderlist
- Evernote
- Calendar (Fantastical)
- Penultimate on iPad + pen
- Paper Notebook
- Outlook (blech)

I also use iOS versions of the above apps.

I used to use Airmail because it had fantastic integration with lots of things, but they went to a subscription model, so I've dumped it.

I often wind up with different chunks of work/todos, etc in different apps, and I'm always wishing for a way to integrate everything EASILY. I'd love for tasks in Wunderlist to propagate to Omnifocus. And for anything with a due date an any app to populate my calendar. Or anything in a calendar with a particular tag to populate one of the other apps. And link things in Evernote to things anywhere else, and vice-versa. I get my written notes into Evernote w/ scannable.

I'm willing to make a (small) investment in new tools, if needed. I'm even willing to move away from Evernote, if there's something better that integrates with other things. If possible, it would be great if some of the tools had Jira and /or Slack integration available.

I tried using GTD stuff several years ago, but it was hard, and I didn't stick with it. Is GTD still the hot thing these days?

posted by Cat Pie Hurts to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I struggle with this same issue, though if you can get a prescription for Adderall it's a life-changer.

There are so many apps for getting organized that all I can do is download free ones and try them each out.

Trello is good for workflow, you can create tasks and update them as needed.

If you feel like digging in, AppleScript can do a lot of stuff.

I haven't heard anything about GTD for a while doesn't it stand for gents that dance or something?
posted by bendy at 3:59 AM on July 23, 2019

This sounds so familiar to me, I also swing between different todo list systems. I do follow a modifed GTD, but very project orient3ed and without contexts. The key for me is easy task capture, daily review and ruthless pruning. That said, I have largely accepted that I will always feel like there is something I am forgetting or missing.

For capture, I did try out AirMail before settling on Spark for email. It has pretty good export functionality to task managers like OmniFocus, Evernote and Trello.

Also for quick capture, Alfred for OSX is great, with some of the Powerpack workflow packages you can quickly add todos to your inbox.
posted by Hutch at 4:33 AM on July 23, 2019

I know you said blech to Outlook but Outlook was the lifesaver for me here and literally is the only program I use for organizing now. Every project (for me, that means a legal case) gets an Outlook calendar entry, the text of which has 4 sections - need to do, have done, notes by date, brief summary of claim/key players. The scheduling is changed over time to reflect due date schedules, reasonable follow up, etc. Things are color coded - waiting for settlement funds is red, conferences or conference calls are yellow.

I print the week every day and can immediately see that ok Wednesday I have a lot on the schedule, Thursday is my day to catch up on things etc.

If you call me on a case I haven't looked at in 3 or 6 or 12 months, opening its calendar entry will tell me enough to answer about 95% of the questions I get without having to check the (electronic) file.

I can search free form, so it's easy to bring up say all cases with a given client so I can review them before a lunch or something.

I can incorporate personal grocery list, my kid's doctor appointments, 'want to do if I can' fun events, and reminders. Personal stuff is all coded turquoise.

Just throwing this out there because it literally changed my work life from insane scrambles, or clunky databases, to a really efficient system. I no longer waste the first hour of the day figuring out what I even need to do that day. And that slow start was consistently making it hard to get any inertia in my day, and giving me so much anxiety.
posted by ramble-on-prose at 5:06 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

The best solution is to choose one and accept its short comings. If you are like me, the temptation to shop for new tools to fix this just another deflection and procrastination. The desire to hook up product x to your calendar and make it magically email you is a way to feel busy and working without doing the things you need to do. The one we use at work is a somewhat terrible, but it's decided on, it has all the tasks, and we can tell which ones are important now. Good enough.

Once you choose your one thing, commit to looking at it at the same time in your routine. Is that at breakfast? After lunch? When you get home from work or school or whatever? All of these? Make it a routine.

Then the other big secret. Know how to decide that a task sat around so long and never got done, do you really care? Can you say no to it? This is the number one way to getting a good workable list, saying no to "nice to have" tasks that you can do without.
posted by advicepig at 6:56 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's somewhat dated now, but Limoncelli's Time Management For System Administrators is full of helpful domain specific advice.
posted by zamboni at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2019

Best answer: No combination of apps worked for me. A regular paper journal didn't work for me.

What finally worked for my ADHD brain was the bullet journal.

I still use other apps, but the bullet journal keeps my work organized so I know what to use, for what and when.
posted by Miko at 5:02 PM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Adderall changed my life. Unfortunately, it also greatly amplified the handful of other psych acronyms that plague me, and there was a net negative effect (same thing happened to my siblings). I wish I could go back on it. For 4 years, I was so organized! Also, I live in Germany now, and I haven't yet explored the mental health system here; I don't know how difficult getting meds for ADHD would be.

ramble-on-prose - that sounds great. Maybe I'll give Outlook another shot.

advicepig - I think developing and maintaining the routine may be the hardest part. I get an immense sense of satisfaction when I take the time to make a list. But I always lose track at some point.

Miko - bullet journaling is the one answer here that really excites me! Writing out lists is FUN. Everything in the bullet journal tutorial video looks FUN. Plus, I get to get another NEW NOTEBOOK. Which is EXCITING. MAYBE I'LL ALSO GET A NEW PEN. And this is what happens with every new tool. I get excited, and spend so much time in the setup of the new tool that I don't actually get anything done.

zamboni - I actually have a copy of it on my desk. I've carried it form job to job for years. I keep telling myself that I don't have time to finish reading it.....
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:18 AM on July 24, 2019

Have you investigated any automated workflow apps like IFTTT or Zapier? I'm not sure if there's applets for all of the tools you have listed, but they can definitely help some of your tools interact with each other in more useful ways.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:43 AM on July 24, 2019

I love Habitica. It's a todo list that is also an RPG game, and the combo is pretty motivating. It's easier to remember to open it because I get shiny digital baubles, and once I have it open I have my task list and reminders right there. Sounds stupid, but it works! It doesn't have hourly scheduling, just daily, so sometimes the todo item includes a note to check my calendar app.

Re: meds, I also couldn't tolerate a lot of standard ADHD medications. Modern formulations with built-in extended release mechanisms have significantly fewer side effects for me: Concerta XR (you need the brand name, the generics don't have the same mechanism and are worthless) and Vyvanse.

Strattera is another option. It's not a stimulant and works completely differently, but can still treat ADHD. Might be worth trying?

re: jumping between systems, I found that mindfulness helped a lot. Every day I'd take a couple minutes to just feel how nice the pen was / how much I liked the notebook / etc. Also, if I was suddenly over that pen and couldn't get the same feeling, that minute let me pick up on my changed feelings and actively switch to a new pen or put a new ink in or something. Doing those 2 things sort of took conscious control of the 'yay new thing!' excitement and I didn't get as easily hijacked by boredom with my systems.
posted by Ahniya at 7:44 AM on July 24, 2019

Trello is a good choice because you can get aa detailed as you need to be on a project-by-project basis. It works okay on mobile too. It’s not a calendaring system but you can assign due dates, etc. and tie them up with zapier or similar for reminders. I believe the basic version is free. Trello is great when you need to show project progress to a manager, too.
posted by Kalatraz at 12:50 AM on July 25, 2019

Response by poster: Just want to give an update: I took Miko's advice and started bullet journaling. It's been pretty fantastic for me. I've never been so on top of everything I need to do in life. Granted, it's only 3 weeks in, but it's been great so far.

I still use a Calendar app of course, Wunderlist for shared lists, and Evernote for extensive notes. I add hashtags to my journal for references to Evenote notes, and vice versa. It works for me.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:09 AM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

This sounds a lot like me. I also jumped back and forth between tools.

I recently started a job where we use Asana, and it's been amazing to see the process work so smoothly. It has inspired me to start using it for my personal projects, and so far it's working really well. I love the different organizational hierarchies, and that it's really simple by default, with the option to add complexity if it's really necessary.
posted by taltalim at 9:48 AM on August 19, 2019

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