bookmark_borderGetting Organised

I read some advice the other day that suggested that, instead of reading up on how best to be productive, you’d be better served actually doing the things you need to do rather than trying to figure out the best way to ‘be productive’.

I guess the premise being that many people spend a lot of time researching methodologies, trying out applications and processes when, for most of the tasks they are tracking, they would be better to just do the damn thing already.

I fall squarely into that group of people. I’m very guilty of spending too much time figuring out the ‘best’ way to keep myself organised, sometimes at the expense of just doing things.

So, why do I even need any kind of system?

Well, mostly to counteract my awful memory but also, partly, to keep track of random ideas that float through my head, things I don’t need to act on straight away but I know are good enough to log somewhere with a view of revisiting them later.

But what do I actually need?

Let’s break things down. Fundamentally I need to keep three types of things organised:

  • Tasks
  • Information
  • Schedule

For all of these I want to be able to access them all from any device I want, be it my laptops (work and personal), my iPhone or my iPad. Simple enough, right?


There are tasks that I need to do and, broadly speaking, I can break them down across three categories: Work (capital W, day job), Personal, and work (lowercase w, side jobs).
Some of the tasks have a hard deadline (given to me, or driven by external forces), some of notional deadlines that I apply myself (or I won’t do them), and others fall into the ‘some time’ bucket (essentially these are the ideas that I need to follow up but which have no real urgency).

So I need categories, but I’m not fussed about sub-categories, and I need the ability to schedule repeating tasks because … well did I mention my awful memory?


Wunderlist. No, No, Reminders. Dammit.

It’s here where I struggle to find an ideal solution but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

For now, I’m sticking with Wunderlist.

I love the app but there is no website (or OSX app) to allow me more power and easier editing. No matter how hard I try, this is a must have for me so after a couple of months of I’ve switched back to Wunderlist (I considered Remember The Milk again but it’s user interface just doesn’t feel nice any more). Wunderlist has iOS apps and and an OSX app, allows for categories and repeating alarms.

The future development of Apple’s Reminders app may sway me away from Wunderlist. Tighter integration with the OS makes it very slick and (work proxy issues aside) the ability to sync my Reminders to iCloud (and so across all my devices) makes it very slick. If the UI improves I can see it being my go to app in the future. Add in tagging, something I’m keen to see in the upcoming Mavericks release of OSX, and the power of the Apple ecosystem, across apps becomes a different prospect again. But that’s for the future.


There is also information I need to store. Be it documents of information, files to backup or share, lists of contacts, or other pieces of digital media that I need to keep organised.

Occasionally the information is snippets, not a full document, but the need is the same.


Dropbox – for file storage. Not just because I can access it from anywhere, and share folders with others if I need to, but because many iOS/OSX apps integrate with it, allowing me to use it for draft posts, for example, so I can work on them at any time. For the inquisitive, I’m using Byword on both OSes to write my blog posts these days.

Evernote deserves a mention here too. For shorter pieces of information, and particularly for clipping information from the web, it’s excellent. It means I can grab recipes, add to my Evernote powered wishlist, and just generally use it as a database of things that might be useful to me in the future.

I should also mention the Drafts app for iOS here. It’s a simple text based editor which has several ways to take what you’ve just typed and fire out an email, send it as a note to Evernote and more. It’s a good quick way ‘in’ to my information system.


Finally there is my schedule/calendar.

Due to personal circumstance this area is a lot more critical than it used to be, as I need to be able to schedule my leisure activities based on the whereabouts and plans of three other people.


Google Calendar – which allows me to share my own calendar and view those of others, making planning a night with one or more (or all) of those people a lot easier.


One item I’ve not included in this waffling ramble is email. Quite simply because I have an excellent solution.

Gmail + Mailbox

My personal email is all filtered into Gmail. I can access it anywhere I want on any device I have. Where the real bonus for me is that, by using Mailbox for iOS I can now manage my emails much better. If I can quickly reply, I will. If something needs followed up I can quickly schedule it to ‘reappear’ in my inbox.

And that’s where I am currently. I don’t stick to a productivity methodology, I try and just do things when I can, but for now I have a system that works for me and does get massively in the way of me actually doing things.

bookmark_borderQuick wins

At work I have a laptop running Windows 7 and every lunchtime, as I lunch away from my desk, I lock the machine.

Except what I should do is pause iTunes, set my IM status to Away, and then lock it but I forget to do all that most days and just bash Windows+L.

However, I’ve found two small, free, applications that will now allow me to do all that with one mouse gesture, specifically it will pause iTunes, set my IM status to Away/Idle, mute the laptop speakers and turn off the screen.

Hot Corners handles the mouse gesture (and allows you set to other actions), and MonitorES handles the media player, IM and screen actions.

Simple and effective.

I do like it when things just work.

And yes, I know the Hot Corners idea is a direct lift from OSX but they wouldn’t buy me a MacBook… 🙁

bookmark_borderTwitter apps

So Twitter is all the rage. It’s NOW! It’s happening, if you ain’t on it, you ain’t got it! It’s hip to be square!!

Ahhh, except it’s not.

I’ve tried a few Twitter apps over the past few months, some have worked well for me, others not, but the latest one I tried just seems to wedge itself into my way of working without a problem, it’s a delicious slice of Twitter fun, whilst not forgetting all the topping features that every good Twitter app should have.

The idea sounds daft, but it really works well. It’s still in BETA so there are some rough edges, but no square ones!! The basic premise is that (and I think this is just the first of many themes) the app will spin up and show you categorised Twitters from the people you follow, all delivered via pizza (now THAT’S knowing your audience, what geek doesn’t like pizza!):

The smaller slices of sausage are pepperoni, where the twitterers you follow show up. The big sausage slices are “The Big Salami”, where you keep your favourite tweeters or your celebrities! Tweet pepperonis show up in clusters when they’re from the same person or there’s a conversation between twitterers.

It’s available for OSX and Windows, and it’s really worth a try. Go on try a slice of Tweezza!

bookmark_borderMuscle memory

As I slowly transition my home computing setup towards Mac OSX, the main thing that is slowing me down is my lack of knowledge around the keyboard shortcuts.

Having used Windows for so long now, many of the keyboard shortcuts I use are now deeply ingrained and I my fingers find the correct combination effortlessly. Whether I’m moving a window (Alt+Space, DOWN cursor key, then cursors keys to move), minimising all windows to get back to that file I’ve left on the Desktop (Windows button + D), then restoring them all again (Windows button + D again), or just the basics of CTRL+V, CTRL+Z and so on (Cut and Undo, if you were wondering) the bulk of my time on a Windows computer is spent without touching the mouse.

However, on OSX I’m still heavily dependant on the mouse and that is beginning to become an issue as it’s stalling my productivity. I’ve found plenty of guides to help me learn them but as my day is spent on a Windows machine, I’m finding the nightly transition to OSX still causes me some grief.

My brain isn’t helping at all, as it currently equates “laptop” with “OSX”. Which was fine up until last week where I got a laptop at work, and I know finding myself in a quandary as the Command key on my MacBook (used for cutting and pasting in OSX) is where the ALT key is on my Windows laptop. That’s been fun, with (seemingly) random menus appearing when I’m trying to cut and paste text!

I’m persevering though as it took me many years to get to the level of efficiency I have with a Windows machine, so I know it will take time and the fact that using the Mac is sooooo much nicer than Windows makes it all worthwhile.

Although I’ve still to try Windows 7, so maybe that will change too…

bookmark_borderRecently Read

Text Preferences Survey
What is the ideal text size to use on the web? What about line height and column (line) length? Most of the information in this area is based on print (at best) or anecdotal (at worst). A design agency in Brighton, Message, has decided to try and find out by carrying out a survey:

“Our goal is to publish a report that provides hard facts about what constitutes ‘readable’ text on the web … We see this report being of value not just to our clients and their customers but to web users at large.”

It only takes a few minutes to complete so go and take the survey.

Why software applications need product blogs and why they don’t get them
As well as having a very long title, Tom also hits on some points well worth considering if you are at all web savvy (and I’m presuming that, as you are reading this blog, you are). Most of his ideas are spot on but would require a lot of business process change, but I think they are worth picking up on:

I can think of six major ways product blogs can benefit users and project teams. Product blogs can …
– Provide a venue for product announcements
– Allow users to submit product bugs
– Allow users to submit feature requests
– Provide a roadmap preview for the product
– Enable a point of connection between users and project teams
– Provide a way to teach advanced tips to users

He also mentions something that I too have pondered, namely including RSS feeds in online help and somehow merging the two in a more dynamic way than before. Probably not much point in purusing that now but who knows what may happen in the future.

How to work better
A short list of simple, but powerful, advice which is applicable to everyone. Go on, there is at least one thing on that list that you could do better (or if you are like me, 3 or 4).

Subversion for writers
Entirely focussed on Mac OSX users, this has reminded me that we use Subversion at work and that I should really write up our process. Regardless of platform, the basic benefits of using a version control system can be realised with little cost.

What does it do? It manages multiple versions of a project in development. You check your project out of the repository, make changes and you commit those changes back to the repository. At any time you can view older versions of the whole project or of individual files, and revert to them, if the work done since was in error. You can make branches, which allows you to develop your work in two (or more) ways in parallel, and you can tag your project to say, at this point I met a certain milestone (eg: first draft, second draft, version sent to publisher X, version sent to publisher Y, published version, etc.)