Essential Apps For Working On The Go // September 2015 Edition
I’ve updated this since it’s original publishing in January 2015 to reflect modifications to my workflow.
I have done a lot of travel in rural areas (and in areas some would consider difficult) and it’s only going to become more prevalent so it’s an advantage to travel with as little as possible. This means (1) limit the paper books and reading material and (2) limit the heavy electronics, like laptops.
But I do a lot of work where it’s an advantage to have access to resources like books and other training materials. A lot of what I do is wrapped up in training and coaching and mentoring others; its often necessary to have material on hand for this. So, over the past year or so I’ve been thinking through how to do this well. One aspect of this is simplifying material and making it as accessible as possible. I’ve been particularly working towards this during the holiday season and I’m quite happy with the progress I’ve made: I’m at the point where I can travel with ease with just my phone and have access to anything important that I might need.
While I still need the computer for some things (particularly for coding, designing and other creative work), I can do a lot on my phone now. I thought I’d share what I’m doing for those that might be in similar circumstances and have similar desires. Without further ado, the essentials:
- iPhone 6+: This Apple device is a beauty. I didn’t think I’d like it due to the size when it first came out but then I saw it in action from a colleague. It’s the perfect size (at least for me) for traveling and working on the go. It was well worth all that I had to sell to upgrade (I’ll miss my SLR camera though).
- The Case: I want to do everything I can to protect a device like this so I have the best case I could find: the Tech21 case. It has that special goo they put in motorcycle helmets to cushion your head if there is impact. It’s slim, offers great protection and is no where near as expensive as something like the OtterBox. I have a cheap fabric (but cushioned) zipper bag (I think it’s intended to be a clutch purse or something) to throw it in if it needs to ride in a bag.
- Powerbank: We travel to places that don’t have guaranteed electricity so it’s nice to travel with power to make things stretch as far as possible. I’m using the Intocircuit Power Castle and find it works quite well. I’d recommend it.
- Head Phones: Long bus rides require music or sometimes just an escape from the horrible things on the bus TV (I particularly dislike the buses playing music videos that are borderline pornographic). I love the ear pods that came with the phone so they are sufficient for me. I know some people swear by other brands and types but they unfortunately are a bit cost prohibitive to try.
- Stylus: Sometimes it’s nice to have a stylus to draw a napkin diagram (or something similar). I sold off my iPad but have an extra cheap stylus from Amazon that I kept around for this purpose.
- **Something for notes:** I use Editorial for long form plain text writing and sync it via Dropbox with Ulysses III on my computer. Everything stays perfectly in sync and Editorial itself is quite nice in that I can code workflows that automate different things. For an example of sync, I started this post in Editorial, then moved to Ulysses to flesh it out. For quick bits of info I use Drafts to either temporarily store it or to funnel it out to various other places (Drafts integrates really nicely with the Editorial workflows).
- Document Management: I have lots of training material and other documents relevant to work so it’s nice to have access to them. Together allows me to keep my document library synced between my laptop and phone. I love that on the phone any document favorited is automatically downloaded and available. Anything else can be downloaded on-demand. In addition, it allows for slick categorization and notes and other useful features. I used to use Evernote but the premium version is pricey and the iOS app had a horrible user experience (at least for me). I really like that I now have total control over documents (Together isn’t a cloud hosted service but rather uses personal iCloud storage for syncing). NOTE: This one isn’t for the feint of heart. Together has some serious iCloud syncing issues. I wish there was something that functioned like it that synced with dropbox.
- Task/Project Management: I have lots of tasks to do and projects to manage. Everything that needs doing gets thrown into my task inbox.Omnifocus Is my app of choice here. I’ve been a long time user and can’t imagine switching (and I really don’t want to go with something that has a monthly fee).
- Scanning: Everything here in East Africa seems to be based on paper. I find myself needing to scan a lot. Scanbot makes this process easy and clean: it auto snaps on the document, takes the scan and then will upload to dropbox so it’s available anywhere I’d need it. I know there are others out there but I got it free and it does the job perfectly.
- Messaging: Messaging is a must to stay in touch with my wife and any colleagues while on the road. Built in messaging works OK (and iMessages has a decent security record which is a plus) but my goto messaging app is Threema. It’s incredibly secure and very easy to use. I recommend everyone switch to it (and am trying to get them to). It’s cross platform too!
- Mail: Email is still a primary form of communication and will likely remain so for some time. So, I need to be able to easily manage it on the road. Currently Dispatch gets that job done but I’m not settled in this category. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mail Pilot 2 turns out and I kind of like Boxer (but have had stability issues on iOS 8) but Dispatch wins currently.
- Calendar: I got on the Fantastical bandwagon a long time ago. It’s easy to use (I love the natural language processing!) and looks great on a mobile device. I haven’t had much interest in finding anything different although I hear there are other good solutions.
- Bible: A Bible app is important in my line of work since most of the training I do revolves around discipleship and church planting. I used to use the YouVersion app but have found it bloated and slow lately. As a result I switched to the Accordance Bible app and love it. It’s quick, downloads the books you tell it to and is easy to use.
- Travel Apps: Google Maps and Apple Maps work OK in the bigger cities (like Nairobi and Kampala) but are sketchy at best outside of them. Even in the city you have to be careful; Google Maps once dumped us in an empty field at the edge of a slum in Nairobi. Rego is another great app. It works somewhat like a personal Foursquare by allowing me to build private lists of places we go by marking their location using GPS. Another decent app is Tripcase for keeping track of travel documents (hotel reservations, flight bookings, etc).
- Mind Mapping: Mind mapping is the primary way I plan and brainstorm. Mindnode is beautiful for this and syncs fairly seemlessly between iOS and OS X.
- Photo Management: Photography is a hobby of mine so I place a lot of importance on this category. VSCOcam is my goto photo app. It’s easy to use, does awesome things to pictures, has an easy photojournal feature and (at least when I got it) was free for the base. It stays on my homescreen.
- Podcasts: If I’m not listening to music on the hard bus trips, I do podcasts. I love to learn so this is a perfect way to facilitate some of that. Overcast is my goto app for podcast management.
- Social Media: it’s important to keep up with family and friends. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allows me to do this. Unfortunately I can’t talk about a lot of the work we do as a lot of it involves working with people with messy stories that aren’t ours to tell so my facebook and instagram especially tend to revolve mostly around my adorable daughter. But lets be honest: that’s mostly what my family wants to see anyways.
- Books: Gerty is my e-reader of choice. I ocassionally use the Kindle app as well but I really like how Gerty functions.
I really didn’t get into any serious workflow discussions in this post. There is a lot I could talk about there. I’ve spent a lot of time mapping it out and crafting it to work well anywhere. And it is. I’ve been able to be more productive than I could imagine using only a phone. If you are interested in any specific workflow discussion, let me know and I’ll prioritize digging into it. If you are interested in specific ways (beyond what I mentioned above) I’m using the apps, please let me know. Here’s to being more productive with a much lighter bag!