My Favorite Tools, Apps and Services of 2021

With the end of the year just about 10 days away, I thought a roundup of my favorite apps, tools, and gadgets of 2021 was in order. I’ve done these roundups before (see, for example 2013 and 2014) and it can be fun to look back at the old ones and see how the state of the art has changed. Here, then, are some of my favorite tools, apps, and gadgets of 2021.

Tools

Field Notes notebooks

Since 2015, I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my pocket. On those rare occasions when I forget it, I feel the way I do when I realize I’ve misplaced my keys or wallet. I’ve subscribed to Field Note’s annual notebook subscription for 7 years now, I think, recently renewing through 2022. These notebooks serve as short-term memory for me, so it varies how long it takes me to fill them. Sometimes, I fill one quickly, other times, slowly. Since 2015, I’ve filled 32-1/2 of these little notebooks, and in 2021, I filled 4 of them. When finished, these notebooks of mine are battered and ink-stained: a testimony to how well-used they are. To protect them, I recently acquired a home for my completed notebooks.

Along with the notebook, which can usually be found in my left rear pocket, are two pens, one blue and one black Pilot G-2 0.7 gel ink pens. I’ve lost count of how many of these I go through each year, but I use them until they run dry, and I now by them in bulk (12-packs) so that I never run out.

Fountain pen

Speaking of pens, for my birthday this year I got myself a Pilot Custom 74 (black smoke in color) fountain pen with a fine gold nib. Most of my journal writing is done using that pen. For a while I switched to writing my journal in cursive, loving the smooth feel of that pen on the paper. As much as I loved the smooth feel, I found that it was difficult for me to read what I had written, and I was certain that no one else would be able to read it either. I’ve always thought that my journals might be of interest to my kids when they are older and have kids of their own. So I eventually decided to switch back to printing for clarity, but still use the fountain pen.

Post-It flags

About halfway through the year, I began using Post-It flags to mark passages in books I had highlighted or annotated, to make it easier to find those passages later when I want to collect my reading notes. I bought several packs of these Post-It flags to stay ahead of the curve. They’ve proven to be very useful.

Mac Mini

At the beginning of the year, I bought myself a new Mac Mini with the M1 chip. It had been years since I had a desktop computer. The MacBook Air, which I bought in 2014 is still working, but very slow in comparison and so I thought the Mac Mini was a good balance between price and performance. For nearly a year, I’ve used it daily. I love how fast everything is on it. I’ve written the bulk of the 440+ posts for the blog this year on the Mac Mini. Software like Photoshop is lightning fast. Compared to my old MacBook Air, this machine is wonderful.

Apps/Services

Audible

I first subscribed to Audible’s service in 2013, after being dubious about audio books. I haven’t looked back since. Audio books are still my primary source for reading material. I subscribe to the Audible Premium Plus service, so I get 2 credits per month in addition to other features. Frequently I will buy the audio book and either paper or e-book so that I can follow along and take notes. But I still love the fact that I can listen to a book anywhere, filling even the most dreary moments (washing the car, emptying the dishwasher) with interesting reads. In the 9 years (inclusive) that I’ve subscribed to Audible, I’ve managed to acquire 1,150 audio books. 182 of these titles I added in 2021.

I am currently listening to Life Itself by Roger Ebert, which is one of the very first audio books I bought back in 2013, but hadn’t listened to until now. So far, it is fantastic.

Calm App

Back in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic was still a big unknown, I began using the Calm App for daily meditation. I did it off and on. In 2021, I got more disciplined about it, and while I haven’t meditated every day of 2021, I’ve done it far more days than I haven’t. At one point, I had a 143 consecutive day streak going.

I’m not sure how much meditation helps me, but I enjoy it. I find it useful to have at least 10 minutes each day where I set everything else aside, when there are no distractions, and I sit down and do nothing. I do think it has helped in some areas, and that is why I keep doing it. When I began using the app, I subscribed the their annual service. But I’ve enjoyed it so much that when they had a 60% off sale for lifetime access around Black Friday, I took them up on it, and I now have a lifetime membership.

Usually, I listen to Jeff Warren’s “Daily Trip” each morning. Recently, I saw that Ryan Holiday has a new series on Calm called “Stoic Wisdom for Modern Life.” I’m saving that for when I am on vacation.

WordPress

Halfway through 2021, I migrated my self-managed WordPress site to WordPress.com. Everything that bothered me about the self-managed site instantly went away and my experience got better. I didn’t want to spend time “managing” my site anymore. I wanted to spend that time writing. And that’s exactly what happened. As I recently wrote, I’ve been incredibly happy with WordPress’s tools and services.

When I migrated my to WordPress.com, I selected their Business Plan, which has everything I need. The fact that I have been able to spend more time writing is there in data: From January through June, I wrote about 100,000 words on the blog, while managing my self-installed WordPress site. From July through most of December, after migrating to WordPress.com, I’ve written just about 200,000 words on the blog. I’ve been able to write twice as much because I no longer have to deal with the slowness of the servers my self-managed installation was on, nor do I need to do all of the stuff to keep the site up and running. The good folks at WordPress do that all for me and I can reclaim that time to writing.

Obsidian

Finally, Obsidian. I discovered Obsidian in the first week of January 2021, while searching for alternatives to Evernote. Obsidian was just what I had been looking for. Since then, I have started to migrate notes from Evernote to Obsidian. I collect all of my reading notes there. And I’ve published the first 11 episodes of my Practically Paperless with Obsidian series. I use Obsidian for all of my work notes as well. It has become the tool that I live in for much of the day, whether at home, at work, or on my mobile device. I’m looking forward to all of the new features that will be coming in 2021.

Looking forward to 2022

In addition to looking forward to new Obsidian features, I am also looking forward to playing around more with iA Writer. Distraction-free writing tools tend to be distractions themselves, given how many there are and my compulsion to try them, but I recently revisited iA Writer nearly 10 years after I first played around with it, and I think it might work for me.

Another tool that I’ve been revisiting is the Reminder app that comes with MacOS and iOS. I used it to help collect all of the tasks I needed to do for our upcoming vacation and it worked pretty well for that, so I think I’ll continue to play around with it in the new years.

Do have any apps or services you’d recommend? Let me hear about them in the comments.

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One comment

  1. hi Jamie, have you ever tried the Word Standard memorandums? Nice nice pocket record book to chnocile your life in a few choice words each day.

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