New year, slightly new me

Okay, fine, same me. But! I have some new tools!

Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how we can use technology to take better care of ourselves.

Flings happen. They’re part of the messy, sad, occasionally delightful world that is dating. But sometimes that fling delves into a hectic relationship, and sometimes they break your heart over text message—so it goes.

We all have self-destructive tendencies, mine so happens to be falling back into old habits and not knowing when to walk away from things that my friends and therapist insist are bad for me. It’s probably most apparent in my romantic debacles, but my Sagittarian knack for being my own worst enemy crept into my life in all sorts of fun ways in 2019. I took on too many projects to run from my feelings (the least effective form of cardio), fell too far into depression and hardly left my apartment, and stopped doing the things that made me happiest. Needless to say, last year the bummers were aplenty.

That’s gonna change this year. As I reflect on what went wrong for me last year, it’s clear that I was too focused on the nitty gritty, and didn’t allow myself to see the bigger picture. So, setting a bunch of New Year’s resolutions would probably just accentuate my stubborn habits. Instead, I’m going with a yearly theme, something I picked up from the Cortex podcast, where CGP Grey and Myke Hurley give each year a title like “Year of Order” or “Year of Positivity,” all of which define their courses of action throughout the year.

What I like about this approach is that it’s adaptable, and it forces you to think outside the box to avoid getting knocked down by the monkey that’s been on your back since last January. Rather than seeking the satisfaction of hitting a couple goals you set out for yourself, you‘re pushed to let that mindset reach into multiple aspects of your life and bear the fruits in all you do. There’s a particular feeling of delight from seeing your growth over time that you can’t get from watching the scale tip a little further to the left or hitting your two-month mark of no cigarettes.

For the next year, my focus is going to be on enrichment. The universe has been kind enough to go easy on me lately—things are pretty good, so now’s a good time to issue a few bug fixes before my next big update. I'm going to dedicate time each week to yoga and boxing classes (separately, of course), make decorating my new apartment a priority, and learn how to be a better partner. Another big part of enrichment for me is using my phone less, but it took me a while to figure out what that really means for me. It’s not about deleting Instagram or having a strict rule of putting the phone away after 10—I enjoy YouTube rabbit holes and games I’ll never get good at way too much to commit to that—it's about using the bad apps less.

My plan is to shift what I actually do with my phone during the excessive hours I spend on it every day. Fun as it is, digging into the comments section of /r/politics doesn’t really do much for me and certainly won’t do any good for my mental health. So instead, I’m going to shine a spotlight on the apps and tools that cater to things that make me feel better, not just make me more efficient.

New phone, who dis?

This all starts with my home screen. The last time I wrote about it, the goal of my first page was to make my most-used apps as easy to access as possible, and many of those apps are used for getting work done. That doesn’t work for me, because I shouldn’t be spending so much time stressing over work when I’m on the go. I’ve decided that if an app is going to be front and center every time I unlock my phone, it has to help me learn something or just bring a little joy to my life. Think of it as Marie Kondo-ing my home screen. 

I’m also trying to read more in 2020, so I’ve got a few of those apps that I enjoy: Weekend Read for screenplays, the New York Times for following the news, Pocket for catching up on articles I’ve been meaning to read, Audible and Libro for the times where I can’t actually read but want to hear the latest chapter of the novel I’ve been catching up on, Flipboard for reading up on topics I want to know more about like bartending and plants, and Reeder for catching up on tech news and my favorite blogs.

For health, I’ve got Headspace to keep me calm and grounded, Fitloop for days where I can’t make it to the gym and want to get a bodyweight workout in, FoodNoms to make sure I’m eating enough every day, Aloe Bud for making sure I take my medication and remind me that I’m doing just fine, Streaks to keep me on track with the few habits I actually should make sure I’m developing or breaking (like not smoking), and Strong to keep me in the zone while I’m working out.

I’ve also got Pinterest because nothing makes me happier than looking at all the ways my roommate and I can spruce up our new apartment, iA writer so I can feel like I’m writing a bit more (old habits die hard, dear reader), Paprika and NYT Cooking because I love a good deep dive into all the foods I’m eager to make, Bear to check in on lists of things I’d like to do with my partner and friends, and Spotify and Overcast because I like to keep my ears busy too.

The apps you really like using and that bring some meaningful change to your life aren’t going to be the same as mine, but it’s worth examining what the apps already staring at you are really doing for you and if that’s the thing you should have on speed dial. I’ve been doing it for a few days now, and already I’ve started asking myself “do I really need this for anything right now?” whenever I’m itching to grab my phone, and making sure I’m being intentional with what I’m doing. I’m not using it less, but I feel better about myself after finishing three stories I’ve been meaning to read than I ever have after watching the stories of people I haven’t spoken to since we half-sincerely signed each other’s yearbooks.

Since you been gone

So, what happened to all the apps I need on my phone for work? It might seem counterproductive to hide all of my work-oriented apps like my email, calendar, and even to-do lists, but these apps don’t enrich my life so much as they move it along, so keeping them at a bit of a distance helps me slow down without coming to a halt. I keep Slack far away, though. I don’t need to be on top of every ping that happens throughout the day (@here is a declaration of war and you can’t change my mind). Even so, I do still need to be able to open them quickly when duty calls. I’ve got a few tools that help keep my pesky work apps at bay without making me dig through a bunch of cruft to find them.

I’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship with Launch Center Pro that could border on red flag territory. It’s like having all your favorite apps on speed dial. More importantly, though, the app can keep all the actions you frequently use one tap away. This is where I go to check my email, add things to my to-do list or see what’s already on my plate for the day, add entries to my different journals, quickly access issues of this newsletter, and get cycling directions to wherever I’m headed. It’s great because it keeps all the apps I need for work close by, but by tucking them away in a sandbox, I’m able to ask myself if I really need to be checking my email again. And! It has a pretty interesting role in the story of automation on macOS and iOS!

Then there’s Drafts, which I’ve written about before. It’s like being an orchestral conductor for all the text on your phone. Why keep my calendar app on my home screen when I can open Drafts and type in my next appointment, then have it sent straight to Fantastical for processing? I also use it to get ideas for stories into my notes app, building issues of Rebooting using templates, and adding to my to-do or grocery list. The nice thing about Drafts is that it makes dumping all my thoughts dead simple, and it’ll store every single one until I know what to do with it.

Finally, I’ve gotten really into using the iOS widget panel for getting a quick glance at everything I’ll need for the day. I have overviews of the day’s weather, as well as quick access to Drafts and Launch Center Pro. I also have LookUp’s daily word widget and Pocket’s article widget for quick access to bite-sized learning sessions, and Strava so I can quickly start tracking my rides before I forget. The idea for my widgets panel is to give me an easy way to see the bigger picture of what my day’s going to look like so I can plan accordingly, and give me easy access to actionable things I do consistently so I don’t have to jump to the home page repeatedly.

One more thing

Just because an app isn’t on my front page, and got tossed into a folder, doesn’t mean I don’t plan on using it to sprinkle a little bit of magic on my life this year, though. I’ve found a few other apps that I’m excited to bring into the fold while I’m on this journey of enrichment. I’ve already kept you too long, so here’s a quick rundown:

  • Dark Noise is a great white-noise generator with a thoughtful design that makes it easy to get in the zone without clouding your thoughts.

  • Spdr is an app that helps you learn to speed-read, which I’m not sure will actually help, but here’s to trying new things this year!

  • Mixel has been my favorite app for keeping inventory on our apartment’s bar, since it lets you filter recipes based on the ingredients you already have, and it has a cute pixel art design.

  • Card of Darkness is my favorite game from Apple Arcade, which has a few lovely gems, so it’s worth giving the free trial a shot.

In the News:

8 ways to better navigate the internet in 2020 (The New York Times):If the web’s got you feeling down lately, now’s a good time to take stock of what you’re doing online and start working towards something better. 

How Deepmind restored the beauty to chess (OneZero):Maybe you’re pessimistic about the direction AI is taking us in, and maybe you just can’t see the draw of chess, but there’s a lot of charm in this piece. Turns out, seeking the most effective way to play chess can help you find new ways to admire the game. 

Something Nice:

The Good Place - The Podcast: The Good Place is one of my favorite shows, and it’s about to end. After every episode (which is never long enough), listening to Marc Evan Jackson (who plays Shawn) chat with the cast and writers of the show about the latest episode is a nice way to decompress and get some insight into how the show’s made. 

Call for your yearly themes:

So, now you know what I’m doing to get my tech ready for 2020. But I want to hear what y’all are doing to build a better relationship with your gadgets and apps this year. It can be anything from where you put your phone before bed to how you’re restructuring the apps you use to navigate your day; get creative with it! If you’ve got an idea, respond to this email or shoot me a DM on Twitter, and I’m happy to chat about it. I’ll be including at least a few in the next issue, and we’ll check-in with everyone later in the year to see what’s worked and what hasn’t. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with. 

As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.

My thanks to Medea Giordano for editing this issue.