Building My Own Productivity System within Apple iOS Apps

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If you’re anything like me, you have downloaded and tried out countless apps from the Productivity section of the App Store. Maybe you have even paid for some of them. In the hopes that money would finally push you to get stuff done.

And if you’re still on the same path as me, you’ve concluded that none of these apps will fit your needs. Because these apps are not the answer to our never-ending to-do lists, meetings that could have been emails, and general life admin to stay on top of.

I’ve tried apps with subscriptions like Todoist, TickTick, and Any.do. I’ve also tried free alternatives like Notion and Google Calendar. But the Apple iOS ecosystem lives on all my devices and is by far the easiest to access and maintain.

So in 2024, I am choosing to go back to my native iOS Apple apps for a plethora of reasons, the biggest two being iCloud and cost.

iCloud

I used to be a heavy Android user. Samsung Galaxies were my favorite phone until I met the iPhone 11.

Initially, I was turned off by the Apple ecosystem and suite of apps. What in the world did I need GarageBand for?

I was used to working within Google’s ecosystem and the switch was initially a lot easier than I thought it would be and then I discovered iCloud.

And while this will come off a bit fangirl, I am a heavy iCloud user. I pay for extra storage and clean up my iCloud storage every quarter. I love how everything syncs across all of my devices.

Right now I pay $9.99/month for 2TB of storage.

Do you need to pay for storage? Absolutely not. Google Drive, Dropbox, and the internal storage your phone comes with can be more than enough space for the average user.

But as someone who also creates content through photos and videos, I tend to fill up my storage quite fast. So being able to not have to worry about storage and the seamless syncing capabilities, I am a happy camper.

I will note that iCloud will not sync to devices that do not have access to the same network as other devices. So for example, if I organize my ical on my iPad during my lunch break, I have to either connect my iPad to my iPhones wifi or wait until both devices are back on the same network to sync

Subscriptions

Everything now comes with a subscription. And it is exhausting having to keep up with every single thing I pay for.

And to be transparent, I do pay for iCloud because having that extra storage space is worth it.

But only having to pay for iCloud storage vs non-native apps to manage my calendar, to-do’s, and email is a major plus for me.

For example, I bounced around between Todoist and TickTick the longest of all my trial-and-error productivity apps.

TickTick is priced in the US for either $3.99/month or $35.99/year.

Todoist is priced in the US for either $4.99/month or $47.99/ year.

I used both at the monthly price because I was not ready to commit to a year with either.

I also previously used Evernote to organize my notes and I was paying $6.99/month.

Evernote has a variety of plans stemming from $3.99/month to $63.99/year

And Evernote was coming out to about $83/year.

Last year I stopped paying for Evernote and switched over to Apple Notes and honestly don’t know why I never gave Apple Notes a chance. While I can’t deny that Evernote has different features than Apple Notes, it turns out I did not need any of the other features.

I simply needed a place to organize my thoughts and sketch out drafts and Notes fits the bill. (I also really love that I can write with my Apple Pencil in notes, but that’s a user preference.)

iCal and Reminders

I’m going to lump these two together for one single little complaint for Apple. Why do these two not sync together?

This is my most desired feature when it comes to iCal and Reminders. Reminders has come a long way but the lack of syncing capability between the two is very off-putting.

It is the main reason why I never bothered to invest my time in these two apps. And why I tried Google Calendar and Tasks before giving iCal and Reminders a chance.

However, that was a mistake and laziness on my part.

With the addition of Kanban boards in Reminders, the way I now plan and organize my to-do’s is seamless, I cannot imagine doing it any other way.

I start with Reminders and use my list called “Weekly Planning”. Here I have 8 columns, the first is a brain dump list and the next 7 are the days of the week. (I like to start my weeks on Sundays.)

I’m a big fan of lists as you can see.

I let my brain do its thing, release everything I want/need/should do into the brain dump list. Then drag and drop different tasks onto different days.

Then because I am a visual person, I move over to iCal and schedule things onto my calendar. Some become all-day events and sit right at the top, while others get scheduled out in time blocks.

Between creating my calendars and making each one a nice color, I have come to enjoy planning on iCal each week.

Calendars always intimidated me, but now I find them helpful for visualization.

I will also say, I only plan a couple of days too. This seems to help with my anxiety over planning out my ideal week and then life throwing me a curve ball. It’s much easier to re-organize a couple of days vs a whole week.

I also really enjoy being able to have lists and calendars I share with my partner. That way one of us can easily add something to a list or calendar without having to worry about forgetting to tell the other.

We simply get a notification and can move on with our day.

Simplicity

My last point to be made is focused on the simplicity of this system.

Productivity should not be hard or confusing or overwhelming. It should be flexible, adaptable, and work for YOU.

I have wasted years trying to come up with the perfect ecosystem, flitting from app to app, only to realize that I did not necessarily need a specific app.

Rather I needed a system, that would work around my life, schedule, and routines.

Something easy enough to plan, adjust, and re-evaluate when I inevitably fall off track and that is what I have found within the Apple iOS ecosystem.


All in all, this system is a bit more bare-bones than some others. Like Notion, for example, you could take some time and create a whole database for your life.

But that’s not what I need. I need something accessible, affordable (if not free), adaptable, and simplistic.

I think I was simply overwhelming myself by testing out app after app after app.

And yes, I fell for the Notional Calendar hype too.

But it’s okay that it’s not for me. I have a system in place to make sure that I can reach my goals without having to add extra time, stress, or cost to the process.


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