My Favorite Books of 2019

My Favorite Books of 2019

I made a personal goal in 2019 to read 20 books. Considering I read like 5 in 2018, that was a pretty lofty goal, but I’m happy to say I just got there, finishing Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping point yesterday afternoon. I’m really happy with myself for finding more time to read this year.

That said, because not all of them are worth your time (in my opinion, of course) I wanted to pick out a few that really stuck with me.

It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work

$9.99 on Amazon - by Jason Fried

While I suspect this book paints an overly-rosy picture of what it’s like to work at Basecamp, the problems it talks about with the modern workplace hit home with me. I read this right before going back to work in January and I rad it in one sitting because it spoke to me so directly.

My professional life was going well by all accounts, but the topics of unfocused work time, of endless, pointless meetings, and communication overload resonated with me in a very deep way, and I’ve spent the past 12 months thinking about the lessons in this book almost every single day.

The moment that sticks out to me the most is a part where the author asked when the last time you had done 4 hours of uninterrupted work. Like most people, I can’t point to a time I’ve ever done that at work. Hell, I couldn’t think of the last time I did 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. My work life was a non-stop train of interruptions and being asked to focus on other people’s priorities. This book gave me the confidence and the clarity to be able to improve that situation a ton throughout 2019.

Getting Things Done

$8.99 on Amazon - by David Allen

The other part of my improvement at work and at home this year was reading the classic productivity book from David Allen. I had been using the many GTD-style apps on the iPhone for years, so I didn’t think there was any need for me to read the book that inspired them.

I was wrong.

Despite its age, reading this book in 2019 gave me tons of little ideas that help me get a grip on all of the things I want to be good at in my life.

The best part for me was the idea of treating your GTD system as a way to “offload your brain.” At its very basic core, this means embracing the idea of an inbox in your life. If something comes up and you can’t act on it right away, put it in your inbox to do something with later. For example, when I’m in a meeting at work, I don’t have a web browser or notes app open, I have my task manager’s inbox open so I can immediately add tasks for anything I need to do coming out of that meeting.

This has spiraled into me using GTD as my reading list and for Christmas gift tracking.

Home Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Get it on Amazon - by Yuval Noah Harari

On a whole other track, Home Deus was the most interesting non-fiction book I read this year. It’s from the author of the very popular Sapiens, and while that book was about how humanity got where it is today, Home Deus is a look forward at where we might be going.

The book does a fantastic job of looking at big things going on today in terms of artificial intelligence, brain science, bioengineering, social media, and war and seeing where these things could go in the next hundred, thousand, and even million years.

One thing that I found really fascinating was the idea that Home Sapiens might be the first species who will knowingly craft their next evolutionary step. We are already able to shape the world around us to our whims, and we continue to get better at changing ourselves at very fundamental levels, down to our actual genetic code. The impacts of this on everything from inequality to, well, a billion other ramifications are exciting and horrifying all at once.

I think the internet is making this one of the most exciting times in all of human history, and Homo Deus makes a strong case that we are just scratching the surface.

The 5 Best 3rd Party Apple Watch Apps

The Apple Watch gets a lot of flack for not having good apps, and a lot of that criticism is fair. Watch apps are generally not as great as they were originally advertised, but there are some developers out there who have made incredibly useful watchOS apps that make the Apple Watch a very compelling product.

I think there is a marketing deficiency at Apple in attempting to advertise features like these to customers. I've won more people over in my day-to-day life on the Apple Watch by showing them what it can do rather than how cool it looks. Today, I've collected my 5 favorite third party apps for the Apple Watch, partially to give you non-Apple Watch owners a better idea for why I love mine, and partially just to recognize these great development teams for their fantastic work.

Tell me what I missed! I'm always on the lookout for more great watch apps.

1. Outlook

Download free

One of the things I find most useful about the Apple Watch is being able to triage my emails immediately as they come in during the day. Some will call me crazy, but I have my phone set up to notify me the moment each new email comes in. I only get a few dozen emails a day so this is manageable, but I wouldn't recommend this to someone who gets 100+ emails daily, as this would be a perfect way to drive yourself mad.

But because I see each email as it comes in, I am able to triage my messages without ever visiting my inbox. I get the notification on my wrist, and then choose whether to save, snooze, or archive that message right away. This means when I do go to my inbox when I'm ready to work on email, I just see the messages that I actually need to deal with.

There are other email apps that have Watch apps as well, like Airmail and Spark, but Outlook bests them by actually showing the full content of my emails, not just the first few lines. I'm not reading all my email on my watch (that would be insane), but it's convenient to have the full message there in those cases where it is actually easier to just read it all on my wrist and not break out my phone.

Again, this workflow may sound crazy to some, but using Outlook on the Watch to triage my messages as they are delivered is a hugely useful part of my workflow that I rely on everyday.

2. Dark Sky

Download $3.99

Every Apple Watch user will tell you that they use their Watch for checking the weather. Dark Sky takes the cake for me, because it addresses the primary questions you have when getting the weather from your watch: what's the current temperature, is it going to rain soon, and what's the rest of the week look like?

Dark Sky runs on the API and is a hyper-accurate tool for precipitation chances at your exact location. The Dark Sky complication is on my watch face and lets me see at a glance what the temperature is and how long until we get hit with some rain.

Tapping into the Dark Sky app is where Dark Sky separates itself from the other weather apps I've used on the Apple Watch. It loads fast, which is already a big perk, and the app layout is perfect for the watch. It's split into 3 pages, which should you "right now", "next 24 hours", and "next 7 days". Each screen is clean and easy to understand.

The runner up in this category is Carrot Weather, which I actually think has a better watch face compilation, but the app itself is not quite what I'm looking for. It's not bad by any means, but it's a little slower and a little less detailed than Dark Sky.

3. Due

Download $4.99

This one is easy, as Due simply lets you create reminders that sync between your watch, phone, tablet, and Mac. Due is a great service on all platforms (although what is the deal with the Mac app?), but it shines on the Apple Watch because it is so easy to use and works exactly as you'd expect.

As an example, I need to remember to update Chrome when I get to work today, so I opened Due on my Apple Watch and said:

"Pick up Mike at 1 PM"

Due was able to smartly parse that request and created a reminder called "Pick up Mike" and set a due date of 1:00 PM. Perfect. The app doesn't do a lot more than that, but that's a really convenient ability, that I find better than Apple's build in Reminders app.

4. Strava

Download free

If you're a runner or a biker and own an Apple Watch, you almost certainly have tried the built in Workouts app and have been a little let down by what's on offer. Workouts doesn't have GPS data, lacks advanced statistics such as split times, has no social aspect, and doesn't back up online. Strava does all this and is a great app for runners and bikers.

Unlike the other big dog in this category RunKeeper, Strava separates itself by actually updating its watch app for watchOS 2, which gives it a few key advantages. First, it has the ability to stay open on your watch for the duration of your run, as opposed to RunKeeper that will automatically close itself after about a minute of not looking at it. You want glance able information when running, and having to reopen the app every time you want to see your current pace is frustrating.

It also means that Strava can pull your heart rate in real time during your workout and give you a clearer picture of your workout intensity.

Overall, Strava is a great service, and I'm glad that their Apple Watch app meets those same quality standards.

5. MacID

Download $3.99

Do you have a really long password for your Mac? Do you hate having to type it in every time you wake up your computer or install something that needs admin permissions? Have you ever wanted to control iTunes when you're not sitting at your Mac? If any of that rings true for you, MacID can help make your life a little easier.

MacID's primary feature is allowing you to unlock your Mac with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Essentially, every time you open your Mac, MacID will buzz on your wrist and you can tap the notification to instantly unlock your computer. It's easy, and works incredibly reliably.

There are also media controls in the full Watch app, so you can control iTunes or whatever your media player of choice is from afar. This isn't something I use all the time, but it's convenient on those occasions when I do.

There are rumors similar functionality will be coming to iOS 10 and watchOS 3, but you should still buy MacID and support this awesome developer.