Life Stack

This is my “life stack” – the tools, apps, and services that I use to manage my work and life. This was most recently updated in December 2019.

This post may contain referral links, however, everything listed I use & love myself.

Quantified Self

The most common thing I get asked is “What apps do you use to collect all the data for your reports?” I spend about ~3 minutes a day interacting with my data collection despite the long list of apps below, so it’s not an agonizing amount of time spent. Most of these apps run in the background with little effort from me.

I do want to emphasize that the creation of my annual reports takes between 25-45 hours of graphic design & data manipulation, so using these apps won’t automagically create a report for you that looks like mine. I have academic training in statistics & data and ~15 years of graphic design experience – that doesn’t mean you can’t make a report like mine (or better!), but don’t underestimate the work that goes into making a pretty report. A bit more information about my reports is in my Show & Tell Talk at Quantified Self Amsterdam in my 2017 and in my 2018 Quantified Self Talk.


Mini App Reviews for Data Tracking

Exist.io: Exist.io is the closest way to get something close to my annual reports if you don’t have design or data experience, I believe.

It helps I like the people that make the app – it’s a little indie app that doesn’t buy or sell your data. It connects with a bunch of platforms to aggregate data automagically, but also has a little set of tags you can set up and a tiny twittter-length daily journal. It will even run correlations for your data for you. My biggest issue with this app is load time of both the web and app version, but it is parsing a lot of data.

This app is extremely powerful, and manages to give you a lot of information in a beautiful way, which is a hard thing to do.

Lumen Trails Daily Tracker Lets you Track anything

Lumen Trails Daily Tracker: My main tracking is “manual” data entry using the Lumen Trail’s daily tracker app. It’s gone through many iteration and pricing schemes, but I’ve been using it since 2012. It is essentially a glorified spreadsheet where I record my sleep, caffeine, mood, miles biked, burritos, coffee, alcohol, and pages read (plus a book diary). The sleep is a timer I turn on when I go to bed and off when I wake up, and it keeps running even when my phone is off (excellent for camping/air travel).

I can adapt those categories at any time.  Lumen Trails let you set up almost any type of data entry – yes/no questions, expenses, diary entries, numerical.

It’s simple, clean, and exports to a google sheet so that I can work with the data to create my reports in R, Stata, or Excel. It does provide small graphs & averages and totals over time as well. I use it because it takes me about ~1 minute to enter before bed, but doesn’t require an internet connection.

Random Pings: I get randomly pinged using Reporter App throughout the day. Reporter App is 100% flexible (and beautiful, designed by Nicholas Feltron) to whatever kinds of things you’d like to collect at random intervals (to be more scientific, or because complete data sets are impossible to do.)

Food: I track my food with MyFitnessPal, which is better than most everything out there because of the large crowd-sourced food library, but still annoys me because it is so weight-loss focused (it tells me “how much I would weigh in X weeks” when I complete a diary entry.) I wish I could turn off the weight loss focus.

Biking:
I now use Overland  to send my transport data points from my phone to a private server. It’s not beginner friendly, sadly. 
I still track my rides and other transit using the delightful Ride Report app, which I enjoy because it automatically detects my rides, but they officially deprecated the consumer version of the app in mid-2019 and I’m just hanging on until it breaks. I previously used Moves app to generally track my movements via bike, walking, and transit – I loved Moves since 2013 – until it started having crashing issues every time I changed time zones (problematic with my lifestyle) in June 2017 on my iPhone. They discontinued the app in mid-2018, to the surprise of no one.

Weight Lifting: I use the very simple StrengthLevel.com as my training log for weight lifting – I love that it has a HUGE crowd-sourced library of strength standards based on sex, weight, height, and training level.

Sleep: I track my sleep using Sleep Cycle’s iPhone App, and my Fitbit Charge 2. My biggest complaint with both Fitbit and Sleep Cycle is they are terrible for tracking sleep on airplanes, buses, or trains (even when you have a full bed).

MyRA arthritis tracker

Rheumatoid Arthritis:  I track my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms (pain in my joints & fatigue and dosages) using the MyRA app, but I am inconsistent at data entry mostly because I am 97% symptom-free since starting Enbrel 3.5 years ago. It is the only app, however, that I have found, that does an excellent job at tracking individual joint & also providing a summary report to give to my Rheumatologist.

Finances

Software
YNAB – A personal & small business budgeting app.

I can’t recommend YNAB highly enough. It changed my life. My biggest regret was that I didn’t use it earlier, because the name YNAB (You Need A Budget) rubbed me the wrong way – I was already pretty good at money, I didn’t need a budgeting app. But even for the fiscally inclined (or not!), I think YNAB is an excellent tool.


The YNAB method and app were instrumental in my ability to save 50% of my income and create enough of a nest egg to quit my job to start a business without going into debt.  I use it for tracking my personal expenses, producing my monthly expense reports, and planning ahead for future expenses. It can be used offline, it takes seconds to enter a  transaction at the time of purchase, and is nimble at letting me “roll with the punches” (adjusting my spending when life doesn’t go as planned).

The big downside of YNAB for me is that it isn’t great at supporting multiple currencies in one budget – I end up creating separate budgets for trips to foreign countries, which was rather annoying on my Trans-Mongolian trip where I switched currencies every few days (7 total currencies).

I also use it in my small business for planning ahead in combination with Profit First’s methodology. However, it doesn’t support small business accounting concepts like receivables, depreciation & inventory. It’s a great planning tool for small business used in conjunction with another accounting software, but if you’re tracking inventory or doing accrual method accounting, it can’t be your only tool for your small business. For a business like freelance graphic design, however, it might very well be enough.

H&R Block Tax Prep – tax prep for 1099 income

I have used many types of tax prep software and was a tax preparer – and I think H&R Block is the best for self-employed folks doing their own taxes. If your adjusted gross income is below $64,000, you will get free e-file (including state taxes) if you follow the links from the IRS’s webpage (but not if you go to H&R Block directly, you must follow that IRS link.)

If you don’t want to file yourself and your income is below ~$60,000 or you are retired, find a free AARP Tax Prep site near you and get certified tax preparers to do your taxes totally for free.

Travel Hacking Cards

The second most common thing I get asked is “What credit card should I get to get airline points? I answered this in this podcast episode.

It depends on what kind of reward you’d like and how you spend money. I recommend the website Frugal Travel Guy, Reddit’s Churning Community and for the advanced, FlyerTalk.

You should not do travel hacking if you don’t like spreadsheets & deadlines, if you are trying to finance a car or house in the next ~6 months to a year, if you have impulse control issues with spending, or if you have any credit card debt.

My current stack:

Banks
  • USAA – my checking accounts & renter’s insurances. USAA has had the best mobile & online apps available since the 1990’s, but are only available to military & their immediate families.
  • Rivermark Credit Union – monthly fee-free business checking. Their website kinda sucks but I just deal with it.
  • Vanguard – home of my investment accounts, including my Traditional IRA & Roth IRA. Investor-owned firm (no shareholder’s pockets to line) with low-expense ratio index funds.

Productivity & Work

Devices 
  • MacBook Pro 13″ (2016, 2.4GhZ, 16GB RAM, 512GB) –   I replaced my mid-2012 Macbook Air with this in December 2018. It’s pretty light (3lbs) with a small form factor, but is powerful enough to run the full Adobe Suite, and the battery life is amazing.
  • iPhone SE Rose Gold 64GB – I quite honestly need to replace this phone now, as it’s on its last legs, but I don’t want to spend $800 on a phone.
  • Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Camera –  My first-ever canon and my vlogging camera, I love it. Light, flip-around screen, I shoot almost all vlogging footage when I travel on this.
  • DJI Osmo Pocket – Tiny, adorable pocket camera with built in gimbal that does moving timelapses and other great action shots. It’s a travel b-roll god of a camera. It’s 4K as well.
  • Nikon D5600  – light DSLR body with excellent processor
  • Shure LensHopper VP83F – On-Camera mic for video on Nikon
  • OtterBox iPhone Commuter Series Case – because I destroy everything I touch; keeps my phone safe
  • Fitbit Charge 2 –  I do not really like this fitbit, it was free though, so I’ve accepted it for now. I am looking at the Galaxy Watch if I get to a point where I can justify a few hundred on a watch. My Pebble Watch died in July 2019, and I’m still sad about it. Like I still dream about.
  • Brother HL-L8350CDW Color Laser Printer – fast & clear color laser printer that does double-sided & bypass printing (it’s expensive); still love it.
  • Spot Trace GPS: tiny location tracker for when I don’t have cell service (like in Siberia); runs on AA batteries
  • Kindle: read all the books you want, even in Siberia, without carrying all the books
  • ZINK photo printer: for creating small sticker pictures

Paper 

  • Passion Planner Small Size – get 10% off with this link: portable, simple paper planner – I’ve tried so so many planners, but this one I received originally for free from work as a gift and I am now on my third year of this planner, which given my love of buying new planners, says something! It just WORKS. I also love their business ethos of Give 1, Get 1. 

  • Stalogy 365days A6 Diary – A tiny & light daily journal you can start anytime. The paper doesn’t bleed through even with a fountain pen but somehow it’s still very light even with 368 pages.
Web Publishing

Software
Notion is an excellent way to dynamically make to do lists, mini-CRMs, pretty spreadsheets and project trackers

  • Notion: I LOVE NOTION. I even pay $5 a month for it. Notion has replaced Wunderlist, Pocket, Todoist and Airtable for me – it’s a high-powered spreadsheet, lightweight CRM, to do list, dynamic web clipper, and beautiful notetaker all in one. With notion, you don’t have to have a different tool for every type of project – and you can switch between views for the same project easily (like between calendar view, kanban, and spreadsheet view) –  unlike airtable. You can attach files and images into the spreadsheets (perfect for editorial calendars).  Also, it’s pretty. It’s like spreadsheets for people that like things to be pretty. Seriously, I love it. I use it to manage any long-range project I’m doing, clip blog post reading for offline, store all those random goal lists that I have, and even as a recipe manager (it lets you clip things from around the web and display them as a pinterest gallery.)

    Notion lets you display a “gallery” view for web clips
  • Calendly: LOVE THIS. Book meetings without the annoying back-and-forth emails
  • Backblaze: Automatic cloud backup for UNLIMITED external drives, which is great because I have like 9 external drives – it just WORKS, which makes my life easier
  • Notational Velocity: This is a simple text editor that saves your files continuously and stores them all in one place. What I love about this is that when you start typing a file name, it searches every other note’s full text first. It has overcome my previous issues of havinng Untitled 01.txt – Unititled 41.txt. (See my video breakdown “i suck at naming files” for documentation of the problem it fixed). Extremely helpful for posting HTML snippets, random brain dumps, or templates for show notes in – anything I would’ve just dumped into a text editor temporarily.
  • Habitica: I use this for my habit tracking + recurring to do lists. I enjoy I get tiny pixel creatures for tracking my to dos – and I think their positive/negative habit tracking is better than any other to-do list app.
  • 1password: Never memorize (or forget) a password again
  • Boomerang: email time travel (return/send emails to yourself or others in the future) – I couldn’t work without it
  • Quit That!: provides simple stats & time counter for things you’ve quit
  • Toggl: Track my freelance work to the minute; make nice reports
  • OmniGraphSketcher: beautiful markups & quick sketch graphs – unfortunately it is no longer updated, but you will pry it from my cold, dead hands
  • Duolingo: Daily Language Practice, used daily for 6 years
  • Beeminder: Goal tracking that charges you money if you fail
  • LaTeX: The best damn typesetting program to ever exist (but with big learning curve) – I use Overleaf to store documents online
  • R: free, open-source statistical software
  • Adobe Creative Suite & Typekit: make everything look pretty
  • Google Calendar: organize my damn life; I sync this with Swarm and Calendly.
Business Services
  • Anchor Pointe Graphics: local printer & bulk mailer with the best customer service ever
  • Gusto: Payroll + payroll taxes without wanting to cry. Easiest employee on-boarding (including I-9) I’ve witnessed. Sends animated gifs when you run payroll, which you should not underestimate the benefits of.
  • Moo: business cards
  • Sticker Mule: fast & quality sticker die-cut printing
  • Stickers that Stick: Clear Planner-style Sticker Sheets with low minimums
  • PrintNinja: overseas book printer/binder (~1000 copy minimum)
  • Heather Cummings:  my brand graphic designer
  • Stamps.com: Business shipping for less than direct from USPS.
  • Fiverr.com: The place I go when I say “I need artwork for less than $50 by like… yesterday”

Life

Fitness

I picked back up figure skating in 2019, after a 15 year break from the sport. So now, all my fitness efforts are devoted to being in shape for skating. However, this is what I use:

Food/Meal Planning

Breakfast tacos: fast, cheap, protein with a complex carb

The Instant Pot: This slow cooker/pressure cooker/rice cooker is as magic as everyone says. It cooks black beans from dry to done in 40 minutes – this used to be an 8 hour process.

I am a firm believer in meal planning (check out our Oh My Dollar! episode on it). I put lunch & dinners into my paper planner + my SO inputs the weekly meal schedule into the Paprika App which will tell us what to buy. We use a shared Todoist list for grocery shopping.

Transportation

My beautiful Ahearne custom mid-tail commuter & touring cycle is my main ride.

My around-town “professional” bike bag is the Po Campo Bergen Pannier which converts to a briefcase and has NO HOOKS on it to grab my clothes & stockings (attachment is magnetic but strong). It can carry a yoga mat easily as well.

My touring panniers are my 15-year-old Arkel GT-54 Touring Panniers & my burly, amazing 10-year-old North St Woodward Convertible Pannier. 

My cargo bike is an xtracycle conversion.

I have Global Entry Trusted Traveler Status and it has changed my traveling life – it allows me to sail through customs & use the TSA pre-check lane.

I also receive LoungePass through my Chase card, and have found it a great benefit when traveling frequently for work to have access to lounges with good wifi and outlets – and free massage chairs, which I love (and save some money on coffee, bagels, and other airport snacks.)

123 thoughts on “Life Stack

  1. Well, it’ll either be Friday, or 2 weeks later. I manage family money ok, but personal spending money like shit – that’s not something anyone other than me can cure. If it comes down to paper planner vs. “Cold-War era Naval/Aviation wargame on sale for 1/3 normal price”, the wargame will win. If I can manage both, then cool – otherwise Mr. Planner slips a paycheck. That’s probably the poster child for 1st World problems right there.

  2. I use the paper planner more to get a “feel” for my week – I transfer appointments to it every Sunday night for the week ahead (takes about 10 minutes).
    I use it because there’s a physical limitation on the # of to-dos and hours I can fit in a day, unlike my google calendar and Todoist where infinity is the limit. I also use it as a place to do art/make pretty things. I can’t put stickers in my google calendar.
    Google Calendar is my main “calendar” and Todoist is used for recurring to-do’s, transferring Todos from my inbox, and planning long-range things with many moving parts.

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