📆 Post date: 2024-01-11 I go back and forth on subscription models. They seem like good ways of paying for services which could not be sustained without regular revenue. At the same time they are a monetary burden on my wallet and something, which I fear, I have become far too comfortable with.

This year, my aim is to remove subscriptions in ways which do not negatively affect my workflow.

Now, for the record this is not a discussion of ‘general’ subscriptions, such as streaming services and phone contracts. Those are things which I am tackling, but not the scope of this post.

Task manager subscription.

ToDoist has been the thing that has kicked all of this off. I love ToDoist, it’s the best task manager tool out there, in my opinion, however, that £50 a year is somewhat irking.

If it were just ToDoist, I would likely not worry about it, but there are so many subscriptions in my life that the waterline is rising.

I blinked at the bill, when the subscription came up, ironically, in my ToDoist list. I blinked at the price tag again, and again. ToDoist is fantastic, truly fantastic as a productivity hub for me. The hesitation to pay, was not a reflection of the quality of the product.

The irksomeness of the deal came from what the service was actually doing to just justify the bill. I add things to a list, in a nice app. The app syncs over the web to all my devices and I pay £50 for something I really could do with Apple Reminders, if push came to shove. I could also accomplish it with Apple Notes, Obsidian has a task manager, heck, I could likely even sync a plain text file with Dropbox!

After getting thoughtful and then eyeballing Apple Reminders for a moment, I realised it was very restrictive. I started reading some productivity posts, forums and even reddit.

I have gone between ToDoist, Tick-Tick and Microsoft To-do a few times in the last three years and each time ended up locking myself back into ToDoist. But why did I do this each time? I think, in the end it was about polish. Polish and presentation is a function in a tool designed to sooth the busy mind. ToDoist has nailed the UI.

While I do have a strong preference for ToDoist over other services, was I paying £50 a year, for a preference, not a requirement. I considered this, and, the more that I did, the more I was resolute.

Two days later, I came to a decision. I should not be paying a subscription for a todo system. There are so many options out there that are single payment, or free, that it just isn’t smart.

I won’t bore you with my mental journey here, but I will tell you my criteria. When I reflected on what I needed. This was the list:

  1. Must look like, a well crafted application! It has to present itself in a functional and elegant way, which I like. If I’m going to get my forever task manager, it cannot look like tick boxes and code blocks!
  2. I need the ability to send emails to it. It is a very clear part of my workflow. Not used daily, but when it’s used, it’s important to me, because that forwarded email contains something I will need at a specific time, date or place. (tickets, bills, personal emails from readers/viewers, which require ‘musing over.‘)
  3. It must be available on my laptop and my phone, I use both equally, so synching is important.

When I really thought about it, that was it. 3 items. How hard could this be?

The winning Thing.

As promised, I’m skipping the journey, but, a promise, I looked at a lot of applications, services and solutions. Like, a lot!

I settled on Things 3 (and so far it’s been great.) The thing about Things is that it’s a one time purchase. A not insignificant investment either, the macOS application was 10. While quite literally costing me a tenner more than ToDoist, this is a one time purchase. It comes with access to built in cloud syncing and has an interface that looks like it was deigned by Apple themselves, then polished by the ToDoist team.

The down side, is that I can’t access it from my work laptop. This was not part of my trinity of requirements though, because my phone, it’s on my desk, next to my laptop, when I’m at work. I can send e-mails to Things, so ticking them off on my phone is easy.

If Things 4 is ever released, I would have the option to continue using Things 3 for many years to come. Things 3 was released in 2017, and it would seem that it is still selling well. The updates come along very regularly, and it seems, that there is nothing actually ‘wrong’ with it. No deal breaking bugs or missing features! (and, yes, there is an Alfred workflow for it!) Even then, given that the current version had been around for 7 years, a discounted update would likely be a pretty good investment!

Read later subscription.

I love and use Readwise as my read-it-later service. I never read an article right away. I send the article, PDF or newsletter to Readwise-Reader, and then I read all the things, when I damned well want to. Usually my reading time is about 23:00, on my tablet, while sitting in bed (drinking coffee. Don’t judge.)

Readwise does a few really smart things, its interface is excellent, its got a built in RSS reader, and it allowed me to export my highlights to Obsidian. I really like it. The down site is that its $47.94 a year (with student discount… yes… I really am doing some studies which qualify me.) While with my discount, Readwise is a reasonable cost. I have to consider alternatives which do not have a cost.

At first look there were only two obvious options, as far as I could tell. Wallabag, and Omnivore.

Wallabag is good but would require self-hosting which is an expense, not functionally different to a subscription.

Omnivore is excellent but after a brief email exchange, I have been left unconvinced of the ’free’ future of the project. I honestly believe it will only be a matter of time before a ‘pro’ service will appear. Given that I’m a very heavy user, I would, no doubt it a ‘pro-wall’ as soon as one appeared!

Back to lists then! Lets think requirements. I had to keep it to ‘requirements’ not ‘wants’

  1. I need to be able to store any URL and have a persistent copy, should the site become ‘not there anymore.’
  2. I need to be able to sync between all my devices.
  3. I need to be able to search results from tags and article contents.

The tool, ideally would have built in RSS handling, if my found solution did not have RSS, I would need to find a solution for this too.

The Good solution.

After many hours of trial, and error I eventually found something. I almost settled on Anybox as there is a £35 lifetime subscription options, but, I actually found a better solution at a far lower cost, which was nice!

GoodLinks is prices at a penny shy of £7 and is a universal app, meaning that a single purchase works on my laptop, phone, and, iPad.

The application syncs via iCloud, which, is zero config and magically fast on all my devices.

The interface is clean and, like Things 3, it fits the Apple design language perfectly.

The Safari extension allows me to one click save a webpage to it, where it is automatically downloaded in a reader-view. There are options to fetch a more recent version of the content, as well as good tagging options and easy categories (unread, read, untagged, etc.) The search function seems to work well and return reasonable results.

The benefit of having my saved links in my own iCloud rather than a third party, is peace of mind that the server will not go down and if the company vanishes, I still have my data, and the app.

I am instantly happy with it and it works just as well via the share-sheet on iOS and iPadOS. If there is a down side, I have not yet found it!

Oh… except that it isn’t an RSS reader!

The RSS subscription.

Well, as I think I said earlier, Readwise was my RSS reader and if I’m leaving it, I am certainly not paying for a dedicated service!

Thankfully I had a vague recollection of a YouTube video by the awesome 58Keys channel which talked about this very thing: Writers’ Essential Apps: Reeder 5 - YouTube

This video led me into the arms of Reeder 5.

A good reed. (See what i did there?)

After some additional research I realised, this was quite literally the perfect RSS reader for my needs… btw, my needs were:

  1. Internet synching between my desktop and phone(this one may as well be implicit at this point.) as I do not want to read the same articles twice!
  2. Must be able to share articles to my pals, as well as to my read-later service.
  3. Must be able to update without my interaction, I just want to see a notification badge that tells me there are things to read.

Shockingly, Reeder 5 turns out to be the perfect RSS solution (it was $9. Yeah… I am aware, at this moment, it would have been cheaper to just stay with the services I had… but I’m sure it will pay off, eventually.)

The ‘Office’ subscription.

Microsoft office is around £50 a year. The main reason that I have been using it is for Word. I really like Word, but I dont really want to pay the toll.

A write good solition.

I’m back on Scrivener, because, it really is way better on macOS than it is on Windows. It’s more responsive, and looks nicer than it did in Windows.

Because I had a spare key for the Windows version, my dear pal, and proofreader (and Trendy Talk co-host) Wing, has access to Scrivener now too. With a little Drop-boxing (free) I am able to write, edit and export entirely with Scrivener. Because Microsoft offers limited but acceptable access to office online for free, I see no reason to continue this subscription. So, money saved there, and, with zero mental gymnastics this time! 🤣

Whats left?

The remaining bothersome sub is Obsidian, Publish and Sync.

Obsidian Sync: This lets me use my Obsidian vault all over the place, phone, laptop, iPad. A windows computer which I use, and it works really, really well! It works so well that I simply trust it is working and don’t think about it. Replacing this with iCloud is an option, but it would lack the magical workflow which their own platform offers me. Honestly, unless something changes, I think I will keep this sub. Also, the fact that if I chose not to renew it, there is zero enforced lock-in, this really makes me sort of ‘okay’ with it (at current price)

Obsidian Publish: I have never had a publish-to-web workflow as simple as this. And I have never had a website as responsive as this. I choose to keep this, unless a cheaper/better option comes along. It’s just SO EASY that I think it maybe actually worth the price!

Has this been worth it?

Yes. My accumulative cancelled subscriptions are:

  • Readwise (Just under £50 a year.)
  • ToDoist (£50 a year.)
  • Office (£50 a year.)

Totalling £150 a year, approximate savings.

My purchases to get to this point were:

  • Things (10 - which may as well me GBP at current rates!)
  • Reeder 5 (£9)
  • GoodLinks (£7)

The bulk of that ‘freedom’ cost was Things 3, which I am confident is not only a viable ToDoist replacement, but in some ways ‘better’ because I can’t face the dreaded ‘log in server offline’ message which, I have encountered more than once, though, in fairness due to the network I was on at the time. Still, a concern when you live inside a task-manager app like I do.

I am, however, very confident that I have done the work and made smart purchases which will work for me, long term. I would much rather pay for something and not have a bill again. Whenever a renewal comes up, I spend time reviewing my options and my tool choices. This creates a desire for frugality, on the principle of the cost for relatively no effort on the app makers part.

I will not have to review them again. I will likely stick with these tools until something better smacks me in the face (which seems unlikely, given that they are all GREAT tools and took me many days of research to find and settle on.)

New Rules

I have, as a result of this multi day journey, made a rule for myself.

“when it comes to workflow - Never pay for a subscription if a non-subscription alternative exists” - Me, now!

This, going forward will be a hard rule for me! I will call it the first ‘Hex-commandment’ and I have spent 2412 words, in this article, to articulate this new mindset.

Greetings 2024, you’re not going to cost me any more money you fuck!

I realise, Obsidian Synch is already breaking this rule, but I will be reviewing this when its renewal comes up in July. - promise!

Now I Have to go and decide which streaming services I want to eject from my life!


This Was written by HexDSL, if this was liked by you, you can email him at Hexdsl@gmail.com or use this link to join Discord