Favorites of 2021

I’ve been doing this post for 8 years now, and this year I was finally smart enough to keep a running list right from the beginning of the year. And I’m glad I did, because for some of my picks, I forgot they came out this year!

As a refresher, at the end of the year, I like to list my favorite technology pics (gadget, app, and thing I learned), as well as media pics (book, movie, music, TV show, and podcast). This year was especially good!

Technology Picks

Gadget: iPad Mini

This one was a no-brainer. As soon as Apple announced the new iPad Mini, I picked one up. It’s the perfect size for reading, watching videos, research, sketching, and note-taking. I wrote all about in back in October.

Since then, I’ve also created a great workflow for reading and taking notes with Quick Notes. It’s been by my side since the moment I got it, and love doing my morning routine and triage on it. It was also a great companion in the hospital after my daughter was born.

Honorable Mentions: Honestly nothing even comes close to the iPad Mini for me this year, but I did pick up some other cool gadgets. I’m enjoying my M1 MacBook Air, my Stream Deck continues to impress, and I love my Lutron Dimmer Switch; I plan to get more soon.

App: Craft

As Federico Viticci mentioned on AppStories, 2021 was a bit of a renaissance for note taking apps. It’s also the year I switched away from Evernote for all but one very frustrating thing. I also moved away from Bear Notes, which has been my favorite notes app for a few years.

Craft has been the perfect way for me to capture ideas, do long form writing, and work out content and plans. It’s perfect for me and the way I think. My only request: Zapier integration. Then I could leave Evernote forever.

Honorable Mentions: Todoist and Parcel. Both of these apps replaced what I thought were irreplaceable apps. Todoist is the final result in my multi-year sojourn for a task manager I actually use. Omnifocus was great but got too crowded. Things was fine, but too focused. Todoist is just right. The ability to add projects but only surface what I want to see, create sections and tagging, view Kanban boards, AND it has Zapier and Shortcuts integration.

Parcel is a delivery tracking app; it replaced Deliveries, an app I loved, and for one reason. Parcel automatically pulls in Amazon deliveries.

Thing I Learned: You can’t send too many emails.

To be honest, this topic is getting a little stretched these days. I came up with it when I was in my mid-late 20s, at a new job, constantly learning a new programming language or coding process. Now I’m learning in the open, and it’s mostly around running my business. Nothing felt concrete all year…until Black Friday. And it’s only loosely technology-based.

Over Black Friday I learned something every business owner needs to learn: you can’t send too many emails. I elaborate on this in my Black Friday Wrap podcast episode, but every email I sent (9 over a 5 day span, 10 over a 2 week span) lead to at least one sale.

Emailing your list is the best way to make money. So build it, and don’t be afraid to email them.

Honorable Mention: Skip the Grind and everything I learned there. From micro segments to product ladders, I gained a ton of actionable advice that changed the direction of several of my offering, as well as my podcast.

Media Picks

Book: Stop Asking Questions by Andrew Warner

This book is definitely helpful, and came at the right time: as I was working to update my podcast. Back in July, I released an updated trailer to better reflect the show’s mission. For 2022, I wanted to make big improvements to the format and the interviews.

Stop Asking Questions got me thinking differently not only about how I approach guests, but research, membership benefits, and more. If you do any interviews for your podcast, this book is a must.

Honorable Mentions: Honestly, I read a lot of great books this year, all of which you can find on my Goodreads profile. Some I’d recommend:

TV Show: Wandavision

The first TV show I watched in 2021 set the bar so high that even in TV’s new golden age, nothing dethroned it.

At first I thought it was weird and didn’t really get it. But after my brother Robby told me to get to episode 3, I was hooked. Like drop everything and watch as soon as I could hooked.

WandaVision set an incredible tone for Phase 4 of the MCU and and the mind-bending topics it’s going to tackle. The show was beautifully shot, and incredibly performed. I have not a bad thing to say about it.

Honorable Mention: Loki was a very close second. Tom Hiddleston is one of my favorite actors and Loki is such a great character that I was psyched to see him get his own series.

I also just finished my first viewing of Newsroom, and let me tell you: it’s better than West Wing, which I didn’t think was possible…especially watching it in 2021. The parallels are haunting.

Music: Lifeforms by Angels and Airwaves

As a guy who grew up in the 90s, and whose musical coming of age was 1999-2001, 2021 seemed like a resurgence of old school pop punk that saw people like Avril Lavigne make a big come back, and Machine Gun Kelly release a successful rock album1.

But as a huge fan of Blink 182 and early Angels and Airwaves, Lifeforms is a return to…well, form…for them. I love the album and basically had it on repeat for the month of October.

Aside: No honorable mentions here, but I switched away from Spotify for Apple Music this year, and I really miss Spotify Wrapped. The best thing I can say about Apple’s “Replay” is it exists.

Movie: Spiderman: No Way Home, Probably.

Look I’m just going to be straight up with you here: I intended to see No Way Home before the arrival of our 3rd child, but she came a few days early so I haven’t seen it yet.

But like…it’s going to be my favorite, right? How can it not be?

Honorable Mention: Otherwise, thanks to direct to streaming2, I got to watch several movies I probably otherwise wouldn’t have: In the Heights, Encanto, Luca, etc. As I write this, next up is Matrix: Resurrection.

Zooming out, I’m excited and hopeful to see this trend continue into 2022 and beyond. I’d be happy to pay a little extra for the ability to watch movies from home…especially now that we have a family of 5. The theater experience is a nice one for certain movies3, but the comforts of home, especially with small (and very small) children, are great.

Podcast: Downstream

I listened to a lot of new podcasts this year, but my favorite is a show that was spun of from my favorite Upgrade segment. It’s called Downstream, and in it, media data analyst Julia Alexander and media enthusiast and podcaster Jason Snell talk about streaming and TV trends, and I love it.

Honorable Mentions: Continuing my motif of Russian Spy stories, Spy Affair is a short run podcast about a Russian woman named Maria Butina, who wants to improve US-Russia relations and ends up being accused of spying on the US. SUPER interesting. Bad Blood: The Final Chapter recaps the Theranos story. As a member, you also get weekly coverage of the trial, which I was all about.

That’s a Wrap on 2021!

I definitely consumed more in 2021 than I did in recent years, and it shows. I’m happy with that pace and plan to continue it for 2022. Though hopefully I’ll actually get to a movie theater.

What were your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

  1. Travis Barker having a hand in both of those! ?
  2. Or going to streaming faster than usual. ?
  3. With as few people as possible because no one seems to have manners anymore ?

How I’m Using the iPad Mini

I have a confession: I love new devices. I probably upgrade too often. And I’m constantly looking for the perfect research companion. I thought it could be the Kindle Oasis, but I don’t reach for that as much as I expect1. Turns out the 11″ iPad Pro has been that for me for a long time. It’s nearly the perfect size.

But when I first heard rumors about a redesigned iPad Mini, I was giddy. I thought a bigger screen, with Apple Pencil 2 support…it would be perfect!

I instantly ordered it when it went on sale last month. After spending some time with it, I’m super happy with the purchase. It’s the perfect size for a lot of things. Here’s how I’m using it.

Reading and Content Consumption

Every morning I wake up around 5:30am so I can shower and get some coffee before my kids wake up2. I also like to catch up on RSS feeds, saved articles, and the news. The iPad Mini is absolutely perfect for this.

When I was reading on my 11” Pro, I would usually need two hands just to hold it, or at least rest it on my leg while I held it.

The iPad Mini is a great size, very light, and great for one-hand use.

Watching Videos

This is also what I’m using for watching YouTube and other videos, mostly due to its portability. Naturally the 11” screen is more desirable for watching, but I find myself with the Mini more often than the Pro now. And the watching experience is fine — especially if I’m not going to be sitting in front of the TV.

Note Taking, Idea Capture, and Research

The other aspect of the Mini I was excited for was note taking. Again, the 11” is great for planning and drawing, but the Mini is the approximate size of most notebooks I use.

My halfway decent attempt at drawing Elsa in the Concepts app

I am NOT disappointed at all. I’m using GoodNotes, Concepts, and even Craft with handwriting more.

But the most surprising feature I’ve been using is Quick Note, something enables in iPadOS 15. You swipe up from the right corner and there’s a brand new note in Apple Notes. It can even grab certain app contexts, like the link to a webpage.

I often find that when I’m reading and get an idea for my own content, Quick Note to Craft is the best workflow for me.

And since I can hold the Mini in one hand and write with the other, it’s something I think I’m doing much more often than I would on the 11” Pro.

Writing and Content Creation

I didn’t expect I’d do any “real work” outside of research on this. Aside from Craft, most apps I use for content creation and planning are…not great…on iOS3.

That said, I have been using the Mini to write articles and scripts — including this post!

I have a foldable keyboard and small stand I can rest the iPad Mini on. I’ve been writing vertically (something Jason Snell suggests on Upgrade) and I’ve like it! It’s a very focused way to write, and if I get stuck I get easily distracted.

On the Split Keyboard

I got this keyboard because it folds and I thought it might be good with my iPhone in a pinch. But If I’m going to use this workflow viably, I’ll need a better one. I’ll still look for some foldable keyboard I can keep in my bag, but I suspect I’ll be moving to a non-foldable, 65% sized keyboard instead.

High Marks

All in all, I’m really happy with the iPad Mini. It’s fulfilled all the rolls I expected it to, and more.

I’ll still use my iPad Pro for writing, as a second monitor for live streams, and for when I need to use more than one app on the iPad4, but to be honest, if I were making the decision today, I’d probably skip the iPad Pro, and go with the M1 MacBook Air and the iPad Mini.

  1. Though I am reading more Kindle books because of it. ?
  2. They are both angels that sleep until after 7am most mornings. ?
  3. I’m looking at you, Airtable. ?
  4. I can see myself bringing both iPads with me instead of my laptop in certain contexts. ?