Okay — this is by far the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done, but for some reason, I felt compelled to write about the apps and tools I love to use every day. Every single one of these apps has made my life easier and more efficient, so I thought I’d share them if you’re looking to do the same. I’ve organised the apps in a few different areas:
- Personal Knowledge Management
- Self Development
Selfishly, it’s also a good way to reflect on why and how I use each tool as an antidote to the Shiny Object Syndrome — the tendency to get distracted by new things rather than staying focused on what I already have.
So what’s a tech stack? A technology stack or tech stack is the combination of technologies a company uses to build and run an application or project.
In this context, I am the company, and the project is my life.
Note: there are no affiliate links in this post, this was purely for fun. 🤓
Personal Knowledge Management
Use it for time-shifting your content consumption.
Instapaper is one of the most popular read-later apps. With one click, it lets you save any interesting articles, videos, recipes or whatever else you come across while browsing the internet.
So why is time-shifting your content consumption important? The idea is that you don’t immediately start reading whatever you find, say a blog post, but you save it and re-visit it at a later time. This change of habit lets you escape the reactivity loop, which is what most of us are on whenever we are constantly reacting to what is in front of us. It’s a huge drain on our time and energy. Re-visiting the content at a later time allows you to see the piece of content in a new light. A few days later, it might not seem as interesting and relevant anymore — not worth your time. Or the other way around, at that later point, you might have more energy and time to read and pay attention to the content properly.
Whenever I have a free moment to read, I can go into the app and browse through the list of unread articles I had saved. I have it synced to my iPhone and iPad, so I can read anything I’ve saved anytime I want, on any of my devices. As I’m reading, I will highlight the parts that stand out to me, and I want to save. These highlights will automatically get transferred to Roam — thanks to Readwise.
Use it for getting the most out of what you read.
The concept is simple: Readwise sends you a daily email with a selection of your ebooks and articles highlights. Reading and highlighting is great, but what’s the point if you never look at those highlights again? The idea is that as you continue to review your highlights, you’ll recall more and grow your knowledge over time. It’s the compound effect for knowledge.
I love how the Daily Review is very customizable, allowing you to choose which books you want to see more or less of. If you have hundreds of Kindle highlights, Readwise is a great way to store, review and share these notes. I’ve seen improvement in recalling what I read and using quotes in my writing.
You can connect Readwise to a variety of tools to import and export your highlights. For me, I’ve connected Kindle for my book highlights and Instapaper for my online content highlights. Readwise will then transfer it all to Roam. This all happens automatically every day, without any effort on my part.
Use it for note-taking and storing.
To me, Roam feels like having my own private library, a cosy space to browse through my favourite quotes and notes. I love the idea of having this collection without having to worry about forgetting or losing anything. It’s there whenever I need it — now, in 5 years, in 10 years. It’s like a goldmine of information that is highly relevant and interesting to me.
Roam describes itself as a ‘notes tool designed for networked thought’. It was initially designed with researchers in mind, hence the full name Roam Research. It’s an amazing tool for collecting and connecting information. I use it for storing and organising all my ebooks and articles highlights, quotes, personal notes and journaling.
What I love most about it is how frictionless it is to add new notes. Unlike Notion, you don’t need to think about how to organise the notes. There is no folder structure to worry about. You add the notes to the Daily Notes page, which is automatically created each day. By continuously adding new notes and creating bi-directional links between the pages, you make connections between ideas that you would never be able to make on your own. We don’t have the brainpower to keep all that information in our short term memory. With this tool, you can really leverage the power of technology to enhance your brain.
Use it for digital file storage.
I don’t think Dropbox needs an explanation or introduction. I use it because I love having one space to store all my documents, easily accessible wherever I am.
My files are organised using the P.A.R.A. method, a digital filing method developed by leading productivity expert Tiago Forte. It stands for Projects, Areas, Resources and Archive. I started to feel overwhelmed by the number of documents scattered around on my computer. Using this filing method has helped me create a structure that makes sense to me and is easy to manage.
I am implementing the same four-category filing system across all my digital platforms, including my e-mails, to track and find whatever I need easily.
Use it for Task, Project and Content Management.
Notion calls itself the all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis and databases. It’s one of the most popular note-taking tools on the market, and I fell in love the moment I started using it.
I like to use Notion for:
- Project and Task Management: daily, weekly, monthly personal tasks
- Goals Setting and Tracking: short-term and long-term goals. This includes anti-goals; what do I want to avoid doing?
- Content Management: list of books to read, article ideas
- Travel Planning: an overview of past trips, travel ideas and resources
- Gifts: gifts ideas — general or specific to a person
There are a million different ways that you can use Notion. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there are tons of tutorials and templates to be found online, given its popularity.
I am working on a separate article diving deeper into why and how I use Notion and Roam (see further down), which I will post in July.
Use it to block websites, apps or the entire Internet.
One of the biggest challenges that come with technology and the Internet is the ability to work on one thing for a prolonged period of time — especially if it’s a task that requires deep focus. Relying on willpower alone was not working for me, so I’ve started using Freedom to help.
Freedom is an application designed to block certain sites or all Internet usage for a set period of time. You can create customized ‘blocklists’ depending on the task you need to do. For example, I have a blocklist I use when I want to write. Then I’ll block access to all Internet websites except for Roam, which I use for writing. When I am working on my day job projects, I use the blocklist blocking access to all social media, Notion and Roam but allowing access to my e-mails and Google.
What I like most about Freedom is that it works across all your devices, including mobile. No quick peeks at Instagram or Whatsapp on the phone!
Use it for quick and easy habit tracking.
Done is an app I’ve been using for habit tracking for a few years now. With its colourful and simple interface, it’s quick and frictionless to use and see your progress at a glance.
I track quite a few activities:
- Flossing: daily
- Reading: daily (aim for 30 minutes)
- Writing: daily (aim for 1 hour)
- Foam rolling: 4 times per week (5 minutes)
- Meditation: 5 times per week
- Journaling: 3 times per week
- Yoga: 4 times per week (can be just 5 or 10 minutes)
There’s a lot of conflicting advice on whether or not these kinds of habit trackers are good for you. There’s definitely a risk of becoming slightly obsessive (guilty!), but it can also be very motivating.
Like James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits: Habit tracking provides visual proof of your hard work — a subtle reminder of how far you’ve come. Plus, the empty square you see each morning can motivate you to get started because you don’t want to lose your progress by breaking the streak.
Use it for frictionless screen-recording.
CleanShotX is a tool for Mac for screenshots, markups, etc. I felt a bit silly paying for an app to take screenshots, but so far, I feel like it has been worth it, saving me time in both personal and work-related tasks.
Whenever I take a screenshot, I can instantly save, copy or drag and drop the screenshot to other apps. With the app, I can grab an area, fullscreen, window or scrolling capture, set a timer, etc. I’ve also started using it to make GIFs.
There are many more functionalities that I don’t even use, but I feel like it’s been worth it just for the quick and easy screenshot copying and saving.
Not much more to say about this — it does what it needs to do.
Use it for writing down thoughts and ideas.
This is a simple one and one that comes standard with your Apple devices. Apple Notes is a great tool to quickly jot down thoughts when you’re on the go and don’t have access to your computer. With just one swipe and click from the lock screen, you can open the app and start writing. Often it’s just a few words or half sentences, enough for me to remember later on what I was thinking of.
Then a few times each week, I will transfer my notes from Apple Notes to my note-taking app — Roam — and task management tool — Notion. I’ve found that having this buffer between writing down and storing the thoughts is helpful (similar to time-shifting my reading). It often happens that a few days later, I don’t think the note is that relevant or important anymore. By doing this, I avoid clogging up Roam and Notion with irrelevant notes.
Of course, by using an Apple tool, you enjoy automatic syncing between all your devices, which means access whenever, wherever.
Use it for distraction-free long-form journaling.
Bear has many functionalities that I don’t use, so I don’t do the app justice. It just works well for me because of its simple and clean interface, keeping me focused on writing freely.
Every week I’ll transfer my Bear notes to Roam. I do this because I can easily create a page for every person and location mentioned in my entries in Roam. When I go to that page, I can see every time I mentioned this person or location. Again, using technology to keep track of conversations and experiences that otherwise would get lost in the abyss of my mind.
Use it for managing your grammar.
As a non-native English speaker trying to write English content, investing in Grammarly was a no-brainer. Grammarly is a cloud-based writing assistant that reviews spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement and delivery mistakes in real-time.
By simply installing a browser plug-in, everything I write (except in Google Docs) automatically gets checked on grammar and spelling. The tool will also offer insights into the style and tone of your writing (whether it’s informative, friendly, confident, etc.). There are, of course, limitations to this, and I don’t always accept the recommended changes, but it’s still a great tool to use. It picks up on most, if not all, mistakes and often offers good ways to simplify or improve a sentence.
Use it for daily meditation.
I’ve tried Headspace and Calm as meditation apps, but for some reason, it didn’t stick for me. There are so many options to choose from that I’d spend more time scrolling through the app than actually meditating.
I have been using Waking Up with Sam Harris for over a year now. Sam is a neuroscientist and philosopher — and this comest through in his sessions. The focus is more on the science behind meditation and consciousness versus spirituality, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. The app offers lots of content as well but I typically use the Daily Practice. You have the choice between 10 or 20 minutes. For complete beginners, there is a great introductory course of 25 days.
I also love how people who truly cannot afford a subscription can request a free account, no questions asked. Sam’s message on this policy is worth a listen.
Use it for managing passwords and sensitive information.
I used to be one of those people who uses the same 2 or 3 passwords across everything. I then tried to create different passwords for a while and kept a log in a separate notebook, but it was just getting too cumbersome.
As we move more and more of our lives online, I decided it was worth investing in a system where I need 1 single password that protects all my other passwords and important information, with easy and quick access. So I now use 1Password to create strong passwords for all my logins and store other important information.
You can try it for free for 14 days.
And that’s it! I hope this was useful for you, and there were some apps in here that you had not heard about before.
As a final note, when using this many paid apps and tools, it is important to keep a running list of the renewal dates and costs. I keep a list in Notion (❤️), setting reminders a few days before any renewal date, to assess whether I want to continue using the service and avoid any nasty credit card surprises.