Home Screens - Michael Schechter

Michael Schechter (Twitter) publishes A Better Mess, where he writes about productivity and creativity. Michael is among that breed of bloggers that keeps up a day job and still makes time to create something special for the rest of us. So Michael, show us your home screen.

What are your most interesting home screen apps?

I recently moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn and now spend an extra hour every workday on the subway. In fact, I’m writing this right on the iPhone while sitting on the B-Train. So as you can imagine, this extra time has helped me grow quite close with my home screen. Most of that time is split between three apps: Simplenote for writing, Instapaper for reading and Instacast for listening. While these may not be all that exciting, they are the most useful to me and are where I spend the bulk of my time. Between my full-time job and two young kids, my commute is oddly the best time time for learning and creating; those apps make that possible.

What is your favorite app?

Instapaper, by a large margin. Not only has it changed the way I read, but the way I educate myself. The ability to seamlessly pull articles, blog posts and email newsletters into one place for offline reading was a game changer for me. Combine that with the ability to send quotes to Tumblr and send items to Omnifocus when an article requires me to create a task and it’s easy to see why I yell at anyone with an iPhone to give Marco his $5.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I spend far too much time in Instacast, especially with the 5by5 and 70Decibel networks. It’s one part pure enjoyment and one part necessity. I know a lot of people require boredom to do their best thinking, but I’ve never really fared well with it. Podcasts seem to be this great middle ground where I can focus on what I’m listening to yet somehow allow my mind to wander. It’s common that I’ll be listening along and an idea will resonate or an errant thought will fly by. The iPhone makes it so easy to shift gears, jump into Simplenote and capture the idea for a future project (occasionally I’ll end up riding that momentum and write an entire post). Instagram is worth noting as a close runner up, as I tend to take an excessive number of pictures of my two little girls.

What is the app you are still missing?

I’m going to cheat a little here and talk about a feature that I wish more apps included. While I’m not a huge fan of notifications, I have the short term memory of a goldfish and the current notification system makes them all too easy to overlook. It’s the reasons I prefer Due over Reminders, even in lieu of Reminders’ Siri integration and location-based notifications. The fact that Due persists until I do the thing I need to do is invaluable for small, easily forgettable tasks, the very tasks that often save my marriage and career. I guess if I was forced to sum it up as an app, I wish there was a notification app for my notifications…

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I think it is safe to assume that should/when my wife leaves me, the iPhone will be stated as the cause. Checking my phone has become a bit of an addiction; it’s a habit I really need to break. It’s more than just enjoyment, it has become a big part of both my personal and professional workflows. I have the world’s worst handwriting and a generally poor relationship with paper, so the phone is always my go-to device for capturing tasks and thoughts throughout the day. It has become such a big part of my day that I just forget to put the damn thing down sometimes.

As for the iPad, it plays a lesser role (it just doesn’t fit well with a rush-hour subway crowd), but for tasks like mind mapping, the additional screen real estate is a must.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

I’m a big fan of the integration between third-party apps. They’ve created a tapestry of tech that lets me accomplish a previously improbable amount when away from my desk. The marriage of TextExpander and Simplenote is a perfect example of how an app that appears to be as bare bones as Simplenote can prove to be so useful.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I wish that some of that same third-party integration would make its way into Apple’s own apps (I know it will never happen, but a boy can dream, can’t he?). This is especially painful for managing email and it forces me to use the device for triage more than processing. The lack of TextExpander integration has been troubling to me, especially when it comes to handling customer service requests for our business. Then again, I now spend time on the subway reading and writing for myself rather than responding to work emails, so maybe they are onto something there…

Anything else you’d like to share?

It may seem silly, but take the time to figure out what you want from the phone. For the longest time, my phone was a dumping ground. I just kept downloading apps with no real thought as to where they should go, why I needed them and how many was enough. Over the past year, I’ve really evolved my relationship with the home screen. I decided to rethink my usage and made three simple rules: 1) no folders on the home screen, 2) no more than two pages worth of apps (including the home screen) and 3) Minimize notifications and eliminate badges with the exception of new texts, voicemails and overdue Omnifocus tasks. These may seem like an arbitrary limitation, but the lack of alerts help keep me focused and the real estate restrictions forced me to think long and hard about how I wanted to use the device.

Thanks Michael.

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