There are copious amounts of literature discussing the positives of minimalism - especially focusing on decreasing digital consumption. Some of it rings true, others seems overly isolationist. However, I firmly believe in digital efficiency - the quicker we can accomplish tasks in the digital realm the more time we get to spend in the physical. I personally try to accomplish this with fewer applications and faster and more efficient workflows amongst them.
Email, Gmail on my android and Superhuman on my laptop, along with messaging, WhatsApp consume a disproportionate amount of my digital life. For my own efficiency I try to orient a majority of my work inside or around these applications.
In this regard I've created a couple specific routines and pieces of software around this workflow. I thought it could be interesting to open source and write a bit about them. Here I'll attempt to give an overview of an android and ios app I've written to handle tasks in email - Paper Plane.
Tasks and notes.
A couple years ago I went about thinking how I could make some common workflows more efficient. I identified basic note taking and task management as an area that I was not efficient in.
There was, and is, a proliferation of notes and reminders applications - each with its own set of power features. However, my note taking and reminder flow is pretty basic - I write down some copy, maybe attach an image and want that plastered in front of me until I finish it or have it remind me at a certain time. If I can label it - all the better. After having tried all of them - from Google Keep, Notion, Evernote, Wunderlist (RIP), etc. they all felt like I was getting a semi when I just wanted a scooter. So I fell back to the simple solution of just sending myself a simple email.
Email has everything I need - I can title my note to myself (subject line), have it plastered in front of me all day (sitting unread in my inbox), remind myself at a later date (gmail, superhuman, boomerang all support this), and the best part - it fits into my normal workflow. I don't need to check this specific todo app and my email everyday to figure out what I need to do. I can just open up my email to see all of my outstanding tasks!
After working in this flow for a couple years I hit a snag - as email applications got more fully featured they got slower to load and operate. The workflow started to take a while to just send myself a quick reminder.
Open email app →️ hit compose → subject →️ type note → click send
While maybe that 20 seconds seems short - it adds up and I'd rather have that time to think about something else - not staring at my device. Equally important when I'm in meetings and with other people - staring at my phone for 20s while I write down a note based on our conversation can seem pretty rude.
After playing around with a couple solutions I started to think I maybe needed some bespoke app to send myself an email....🤦. So goes my great theory of less apps the better. But I internally justified it to myself as simply just an extension of the existing app - just a more targeted and faster compose window. 🤷♂️
After a bit of research I found a couple of applications on iOS that do something very similar - the most popular one being Captio (Squarespace Notes was close - but they killed it in 2018). I used Captio (along with a decent amount of people I knew) for a while, but it had a couple limiting features and the dealbreaker - it was iOS only. Ever since I started my love affair with Android years ago I've been out of luck. I guess it was time dig in and write my own.
Enter Paper Plane
It's very basic - like very very basic. Imagine it as a dedicated email compose window - with your own email filled in and the subject dynamically generated. Its built to be extremely fast and work in offline and online environments. 20s -> 5s to get a note to yourself.
Available on iOS and Android. Quick list of features:
- Does one thing extremely fast and efficiently. Sends your email an email to yourself.
- Dynamic subject generation with prefixes (helps with labeling in gmail).
- Allows you to send at a later date and cc another person.
- History of emails: queued & sent.
- Email can be sent from an application email, IMAP (your email) or you can host your own server and do it all yourself!
- All open source.
Apart from being an extremely useful app that I now use a dozen times a day it was also actually my first foray into mobile programming. Historically I’ve spend most of my time on the infrastructure and backend side so it was a fun way to move to mobile for a bit. I used React Native - which was a bit of a mixed bag, but overall positive. If you're interested in seeing the innards or downloading for Android or iOS check it out here!