How I Organize My Digital Life


This is written in response to a post of the same title that my friend did on her blog: normally I would’ve responded in the comments, but it seemed like such a fun concept for a post that I felt like doing my own write-up.
In a similar vein, I am fairly immersed in the Apple ecosystem, though not entirely: my primary machine is a Macbook Pro running OS X Yosemite, and I’ve also got an iPhone 6 to which I am attached. However, a lot of my sync services are handled elsewhere – I use OneDrive, Dropbox, and my own server(s), as well as Google Calendar and a variety of email services.
For the apps that keep me organized, though, the list is as follows:

Universal

Apps that I use on both my Macbook and my iPhone.
1. Calendar. Mine is a multicolored mess, but each color corresponds to a calendar for specific things. My main Google Calendar is full of obligations – work, club meetings, classes. I’ve got an iCloud calendar of practice time and meals, things that are important but not quite as critical, another iCloud calendar for my free time, and another that I use for stuff that I might do. Plus, three calendars stored on my school’s Exchange server, which I use to keep track of the hours for the dining hall, the campus mail room, and office hours of my professors.1
2. Things. I wound up with this app after it was part of a bundle of software I bought at one point, and I’ve been using it ever since. The sync is well-done, and I enjoy having a ‘per day’ sort of system rather than the specific-time setup that Apple’s native Reminders app uses.
3. Pocket. The Share extension in iOS is beautifully-implemented, and the service is very reliable. I tend to binge-add, and then read through things slowly. Pocket is what I use for all of my linked-lists style content.2
4. Excel. I use spreadsheets to keep track of my budget and which classes I’m going to take and when. They’re intense spreadsheets.
5. Day One. Not technically for keeping organized but more for keeping sane, I use Day One as my journal of choice. Every day, about an hour before I go to bed, I’ll write up anything notable that happened that day. I’m outsourcing my memory.
6. Dropbox. To be honest, I almost forgot about this one because of how seamless it is. Dropbox is the glue that binds my life together and I could not function without it.3
7. myHomework. It’s technically possible to do everything that myHomework does using a combination of other apps on this list, but the ease-of-use of having it all in one place is worth it to me. Especially considering that I’m taking about a billion classes and I need to keep track of what project is for what class.
8. Mint. It’s got less functionality than my bank’s website does (in terms of what I can actually do with accounts and stuff) but it’s helpful to put my balance next to the balance on my student loans. Keeps things in perspective.

OS X

Not available on my iPhone, unfortunately.
1. Airmail 2.4 Email is an important thing that I use a lot. Airmail 2 is host to all 8 of the email addresses – spread across six different email servers – that I use regularly.5
2. Ulysses. I do all of my writing in Markdown6 and Ulysses is my favorite editor out of all of the ones that I’ve tried. It’s got a few idiosyncrasies, but half the time they’re features that I enjoy – the footnotes, for example, are wonderfully executed. And when I say I like it, I mean “I have more than 50,000 words written in it to date.”7

iOS

Those things that are iPhone-only.
1. Outlook. The best mail app I could find that supports my varied email providers. It’s actually a pretty good app, too, not just a ‘the only thing that would work’ – I’ve got one or two things I would change, but it’s all fairly well-implemented.
2. Health. I somehow became one of those Quantified Self people, to some degree or another. I’ve been on the iOS 9 beta for a while, and I really enjoy the Health-native support for water tracking. I also using Withings HealthMate to put in my pulse sometimes, because why not, and Lose It! to track what I’m eating.8

So yeah, that’s how I keep myself organized. It’s a complicated system, but it works for me.


  1. There’s no central place where all professors list their office hours, which I find strange. It’s an idea I’m fiddling with as a potential for a capstone project in my computer science major. 
  2. The Daring Fireball-style quotes-with-links posts I’ve been doing a lot of lately. 
  3. It’s gotten to the point that I now install it on the computer I use in the Computer Science lab, in spite of the fact that the machine has Deep Freeze on it. Long story short, I install and sign in to Dropbox at least once a week in that lab. And it is worth it
  4. Apparently they’ve got an iOS app coming out soon. I am very excited. 
  5. Don’t ask why I have that many functional email addresses. It just… happened. 
  6. John Gruber has been more of an influence in my life than I thought. Hmm. 
  7. I’m guesstemating here, but I’ve got about 100,000 words stored in it overall and I did anywhere from 30,000-50,000 of that in other editors and later imported them into my Ulysses file structure. 
  8. Fun fact: I started using Lose It! during the fall of last year, not because I felt like I needed to lose weight, but because I needed a reminder to eat enough that I wasn’t starving myself. I forgot to schedule myself time to eat meals. Whoops. 

5 thoughts on “How I Organize My Digital Life

  1. 1) Why DOESN’T the college have Office Hours listed in one place? It’s always been a ton of work to try to find that info when you need it.

    2) I’ve heard good things about Ulysses – good to hear you’re liking it.

    3) This post makes me want to use Dropbox. Everyone always sings its praises, so I don’t know why I haven’t looked at it yet.

    4) I forgot about Mint. Love that app.

    5) Your organization system puts mine to shame (I knew it would). But I take your app recommendations seriously & will be checking out the ones you’ve mentioned.

    6) Your Excel docs are intense. I really want to, like, take an Excel class. People do so many cool things with Excel & I can barely put a cohesive, basic spreadsheet together. Maybe that will be my “tech suite” requirement class I take…

    7) This was a fun post to write, but definitely more fun to read.

    8) Do a better job of eating (she says hypocritically)! At my worst, I had to set alarms to get me out of “the zone” in order to eat.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this one.

    1. Seriously, though, I might make that my senior project as a computer science student, just putting together a central calendar thing that all the professors put their office hours into. Save everyone a lot of grief.

      Ulysses is wonderful, especially when you’re as obsessed with efficient keyboard shortcuts as I am.

      I think my favorite thing about Dropbox is how reliable it is – I’ve got a ton more storage space in OneDrive (unlimited account, woo!) and iCloud, (ran out of space for phone backups so now I have a paid account) but I still use Dropbox because it’s cross-platform and far more reliable than the others. Sync is fast and the app, on every device, tells you what it’s doing at any moment – iCloud doesn’t even tell you if it’s syncing, and OneDrive just says “syncing” or not.

      I’m kinda feeling like I should’ve put in some links to make stuff easier to find. Whoops.

      1. Even though I graduated, I am in full support of that capstone idea. Especially if it also includes the days the profs aren’t on campus. My least favorite thing is walking from one end of campus to the other, in the rain, to be greeted with “Oh, he’s not in on Tuesdays.” Me: “But he said I could stop by anytime…”

        I need to figure something out for maximizing my phone storage. I pre-ordered the new phone & splashed out for more GB, but since I’m handling more of my life online, I’m nervous that I am going to run out of space. I am sick and tired of the “You’re running out of storage” pop-up. Kills me. I also need to be better about backing up my various tech…perhaps it’s time to explore Dropbox.

        I bought the iOS version of Things. It’s great: it’s basically Asana but a little prettier & more convenient, two things which are always good in my book. The more notifications that can pop up and remind me to do stuff, the better. Once the sting of the iPhone 6S purchase wears off, I may go for the MacBook app.

      2. Hmm, evidently I can only nest comments three deep on here. Might have to fix that. Anyhow, if you got any of the >16 Gb storage options for your phone you should be fine with that. The biggest use of space is generally photos, and for that I heartily recommend Google Photos, since you get unlimited storage of photos for free, assuming they’re less than 16 Mb, if I’m remembering right. Though the camera on the new iPhones might push up against that limit, rarely will they go over, I’d say. (Not counting Live Photos: I’ve no idea what sort of space that’ll use.)
        You might also look at iCloud Drive – the pricing change is supposed to roll out on the 25th, from what I’ve heard, and it’s pretty competitively priced with that.

        Myself and my roommate both use Things, and the more I use it the more I like it. The Mac app is wonderful – it’s got a ‘quick add’ feature that I adore. Since I’ve got it mapped to a system-wide keyboard shortcut, I can pull it up from anywhere and jot down the to-do item.

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