On the latest episode of the Free Agent, I talk about avoiding working too hard on vacation, while Jason tries to do the same in his own house; I'm experimenting with hyper-scheduling and the Twelve-Week Year; Jason performs some drastic office remodeling.
With the start of a new year, I’m looking at new workflows, this year even more than usual. I’m disappointed that my latest iBook didn’t get released last year and am now looking for ways to get rid of some of the obstacles that got in my way.
One of the biggest obstacles is email. Because I’m “out there”, I get a lot of email. I particularly like reading and replying to email from listeners and readers. Indeed, I think I like it too much. I can start replying to MacSparky email and then look up to find that three hours just disappeared from the day. Moreover, I realized that I had turned my self-image about replying to most of my email into a liability. If I want to get a book released, I simply can't do that anymore.
To combat that, I have now put myself on a strict email diet. I’ve set aside 30 minutes a day to process email. That’s it. Within 30 minutes I can always deal with the most urgent and some of the not-so-urgent email sitting in my box. I cannot, however, deal with all email. Every day I give it 30 minutes, and then I get back to work. I realize this isn’t ideal, but it’s a lot better than letting email take over my life.
At this point, I’m considering this an experiment, not a permanent practice. I’m just a few weeks in, but I already see benefits of this email diet. Over the long term, I realize this means I’m not going to be able to answer every email that comes to me. That may just end up being the way things are. If I have to choose between being a guy who no longer publishes books or a guy who doesn’t reply to every single email he receives, I think I know which one I would prefer.
1. In your ear.
2. In the case.
I wrote about the demise of Transmit for iOS last month. Since then, I’ve had several people ask me about replacements. Federico Viticci sums up the options nicely. I settled on FileBrowser, which I used to use before Transmit was released. It’s not as pretty, but it gets the job done and, surprisingly, supports iOS 11 better than Transmit does.
In the latest MPU+, Katie shares her struggles with APFs and High Sierra, and I explain a few workflow changes related to OmniFocus defer dates and my hyper-scheduling experiment. We also answer listener questions relating to photo albums on the Apple TV, how we're using Evernote today, and tech organization. We follow-up new developments in home automation, scheduling, Qi Charging and more.
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- The Omni Group We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.
- Sanebox Stop drowning in email!
The Sparks family had an amazing vacation in January. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips to London and Paris. My kids are at the perfect age, and my wife and I both agreed that we don’t know how many years we have left with both of them around to vacation with us.
My point is, I didn’t want to spend the entire vacation working. So I spent some time deliberately thinking about work before I left. As a business lawyer, I often have clients dealing with one sort of emergency or another, and that is unavoidable if I want to continue in this racket. Non-emergencies, however, are a different story. My plan was to get up a few hours early every day and deal with whatever emergencies were thrown my way and then close the computer and spend the rest of the day with my family. It was a ten-day trip and how much day-to-day stuff could really pile up, right?
For once, I stuck to the plan. Partly thanks to jet lag, getting up early wasn’t a problem and the several emergencies that appeared all got handled.
The surprising part for me was precisely how much non-emergency stuff piled up in my absence. I spent the plane ride home reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work, and I had this grand plan about how I was going incorporate a bunch of his ideas into getting more work done on my next book starting the day after I returned.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, I took stock of the backed-up legal and podcasting work and smacked my forehead. I had to dig out. For a day or two, I kept thinking I could get my fresh start on writing more for the book while digging out but eventually I worked through the four stages of grief and arrived at “acceptance”. My deep work on the book was going to have to wait a little bit longer.
So instead I resolved that I would just focus on digging out. I made a list and (for a few weeks) largely cut myself off from social media, television, and other diversions. It turns out I needed two weeks to get caught up with work. It’s probably obvious to most people, but the biggest revelation for me in this process was where I stopped and just accepted that, despite my efforts, nothing new could happen until I dug out. Once my brain wrapped around the idea, it was a lot easier to put my head down and get the work done. It probably sounds silly, but I'm quite pleased with myself having survived the deluge and enjoyed the big vacation.
As I write this, I'm finally back in a place where I can put time into the book. This morning I put several hours into writing, and it feels great. Chapters are showing up in the iBooks Author file, and boxes are getting checked. Stay tuned.
This week’s MacSparky sponsor, is SaneBox, the email tool that everybody could use. You may have heard about some of the innovative new email features like inbox auto-sorting, deferred email, and reply tracking. The trouble is that early implementations of those features were all app-specific. You had to switch to a different email client that you didn’t necessarily like to get those features.
SaneBox fixes that. SaneBox has all of those cool new email tools (plus many more), and it works with just about any email client. Over the last few years, I have been jumping between iOS email clients trying to find the right app for me. Throughout this process, my one constant has been SaneBox because no matter which email client I'm using, I can still get auto inbox sorting, deferred email, reply tracking, and a pile of additional email tools via SaneBox. The service gives me the freedom to try and use any email client that tickles my fancy.
There is a lot more to SaneBox, but in addition to all of that, SaneBox gives you email client freedom. To learn more head over to SaneBox and sign up today. Using the links in this post, you’ll even get a sweet discount.
I somehow forgot to link to this episode this week. Whoops. I really like the way this episode came out where we picked several categories of work that we get done on the iPad and explaind our favorite apps and workflows for getting it done.
I recently received an email from a reader thanking me for these jazz Friday posts. He explained that he loved learning about some of these older musicians that he had never heard of before but then he very politely ended the email, "Do you listen to anyone that's not dead?" After I got done laughing I wrote him back and said that yes I indeed do and will even share a few of my favorite non-dead jazz artists.
Chris Potter (Wikipedia) is one of them. He's one of the finest saxophonists ever to pick up the instrument. For whatever reason, his name has never really entered the public awareness like Wynton Marsalis or (God have mercy on my soul) Kenny G. Nevertheless, he's an amazing saxophonist. He came to prominence in the late 90s but has continued to release solo albums and work as a sideman with a variety of groups. The guy is a monster. You really can’t go wrong with any Chris Potter album but my favorite is Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (iTunes). Live jazz is always the best, even recorded live jazz. The lead track on that album, Train (iTunes) always makes me smile and on Togo (iTunes), Chris puts down his tenor sax and plays the bass clarinet at the beginning and then comes back in later to play one of my favorite Chris Potter solos on his tenor sax. Be warned ... Chris goes way out there on the Togo solo. Another good starting place for Chris Potter is the Apple Music playlist, Chris Potter Essentials. And best of all, Chris Potter is not dead.
With the latest update to Microsoft Office for Mac, Microsoft has added much-improved tools for collaboration. I've only had the update for a day but I've been testing it out with a few friends, and it's the closest I've seen yet to the Google suite. It even shows who is currently editing via small thumbnails. This is real-time collaboration. You can see your collaborator's changes as they make them.
While this isn't Google Docs yet, it is a significant step toward Google Docs-type collaboration. Even more impressive is that Microsoft is pulling this off through the native application. Google has an advantage of working through the browser. I have often felt it's only a question of time before other companies catch up with Google's real-time collaboration and it looks like we are starting to see that happen. Once we can have reliable collaboration across the board with the various office suites, it'll be interesting to see how much staying power Google Docs has. There are still a lot of things I don't like about Google Docs, but its real-time collaboration is so damn useful. If you work in the Microsoft Office environment, give their new collaboration tools a go. You may end up more impressed than you expect.
My friend Kourosh Dini is a smart guy, and I’ve always thought of him as a kindred spirit. He spends his days working as a practicing psychiatrist, but he also makes music and writes books. His latest book, Being Productive: Simple Steps to Calm Focus, is a good one. This book follows Kourosh’s prior productivity book, Zen & The Art of Work.
Before telling you why I like this new book, I should come clean about my relationship with productivity books. I have always had a negative reaction to self-help/productivity books. I have friends who read piles of these books, but they never really seem to get anything out of them.
My attitudes on the subject are changing, however. I'm now reading a few productivity-type books, but slowly. I have been going through the books and incorporating a few good ideas into my life and not moving on until they stick.
The reason I'm telling you this is because Being Productive is an excellent jumping off point for just that experience. The book not only includes theory and advice, but also exercises and techniques to apply what you are learning in your life. I'm currently only halfway through the book. I'm taking it slow and learning as I go, but I'm far enough in the book now to easily recommend it if you are looking for a little help.
Daylite, the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and small office management tool, continues to roll out new features. Most recently, Daylite added the ability to send push notifications to your iPad and iPhone.
While I don’t use Daylite (I have a team of just one), I continue to be impressed with it. I’ve heard from lots of readers over the years who depend on Daylite for their small business.
Even more impressive is the way Daylite has successfully crossed over from server-based app to internet-based app. There are many apps that weren’t able to navigate those waters.
These days there aren’t many friction points left when working on your Mac with Windows users. One, however, that still gets me is the dreaded winmail.dat files. If you ever work with Windows users, you know what I'm talking about. These are windows formatted Microsoft Outlook email attachments. It seems that everyone on Windows sends them to me and the Mac has no idea what to do with them.
Last year I finally found the right app for dealing with winmail.dat files, Letter Opener, and I'm pleased to welcome Letter Opener as a new sponsor at MacSparky.com.
Letter Opener converts and displays the content of winmail.dat files automatically inside macOS Mail so that they appear just like any other email. You will never have to think about winmail.dat attachments again. Letter Opener is fully localized in Arabic, Cat, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.
I know I'm not supposed to say this, but Letter Opener just works. Since installing it, I'm barely even aware of receiving winmail.dat files because everything is taken care of right in Apple Mail. And for you mobile warriors, there’s also an iOS version.
Longtime MacSparky sponsor SaneBox has joined forces with several productivity tools to offer a nifty productivity promotion. They have collected several of their favorite productivity tools (most are web-based) and negotiated discounts for users. This is not a bundle. You do not have to buy them all. Instead, it is a collection of interesting tools they like. They have negotiated discounts on all of them, so if you are interested you can get them for a discount.
Several of the tools and services were familiar to me, such as 1Password, Todoist, and TextExpander, but there were also several that I had never heard of such as Habit Nest and Focus@Will. These offers are worth the click to see if they have something that will scratch your particular itch.
Stephen Hackett made a great little video celebrating ten years of the computer that Steve Jobs pulled out of an envelope. I was in the building that day at Macworld, but I couldn't get into the Keynote. In these days of thin MacBooks and iPads, it's easy to lose track of just how revolutionary the MacBook Air was. For early adopters, it was rough going with a very slow spinning disk (unless you paid a mint for the SSD) and a slow processor but even then it was clear Apple was rowing in the right direction. The original MacBook Air even had a hinged door for the USB port, making it feel more like a tiny spaceship than a computer.
Remember when the Apple Airport was the best home WiFi solution? I sure do. I had a series of terrible routers and finally spent the money on an Airport. The system tools were easy to use and the WiFi was substantially better in my house. But still not perfect.
Last year I started using the Eero Mesh networking routers (Disclosure: they're an occasional MPU sponsor) and my home WiFi made one of those leaps in technology that makes all nerds so happy. Everything got much better and my family now has stopped pestering me about dodgy WiFi.
Meanwhile, the Airport lingers. We've even heard reports that the Airport team inside Apple has been disbanded. The latest penny to drop is the fact that Apple is now selling the Linksys mesh networking system (called "Velop") in Apple stores. I've never used the LInksys system but I'd bet that a mesh networking system from any reputable vendor is going to run circles around the Apple Airport. Nevertheless, the Airport still sits on the shelves of Apple Stores and unknowing customers are still buying the inferior system every day.
I'd argue that given the superiority of mesh networking, Apple either needs to improve the Airport line to also provide mesh networking or kill it altogether. I know this creates issues for the Time Capsule feature but I expect they could find a way around that. (Perhaps making it a network utility instead of a router.) Either way, home WiFi has made a significant jump over the last few years and unknowing Apple customers that expect the Airport to still be the best are missing out.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus. A lot of people, myself included, use the new year to rethink what worked in the past year and where we could improve in the future. If you are feeling a little out of control, one of the best things you could do is use some powerful software to help you take control of your tasks.
In my mind, there is nothing better for this than OmniFocus for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I’ve been using OmniFocus for years, and it is my not-so-secret weapon for holding my life together. OmniFocus is so much more than your typical task management application. It’s powerful but at the same time can be simple. It includes features for things like the routinized review of pending projects and all of the iOS 11 drag-and-drop goodness.
Perhaps best of all, OmniFocus is designed by the wizards at the Omni Group, and they sweat every detail. Even the little circle that you check off as you finish tasks is designed in a way to be attractive and, at the same time, convey information to the user.
I love this app, and I expect if you need help with your tasks, you could love it too. So head over to the OmniFocus website and download the trial and start out the new year on the right foot.
What are some of your favorite apps?
Ulysses is my primary app I use day-to-day as I write a blog and Ulysses is hands down the best writing app for bloggers in my opinion.
I am also a big fan of Gladys as a shelf app on the iPad. It quickly turned into a utility app I use a lot when I have to save photos, links, and pretty much anything else from one app and I drag and drop them into Ulysses or into Wordpress itself.
Calendars 5 is my main calendar and task management app of choice (it’s a long story and something I think I might write about). It has some quirks but it is a beautiful app with a high-functioning UI and works great.
Finally, I use Blink a lot to help get affiliate links for posts on my blog. I don’t have any sponsors or advertisements on my blog so the only source of revenue on there currently is affiliate links. I don’t make much but it helps keeps the lights on for the website.
Which app is your guilty pleasure?
Apollo. I joined reddit almost 10 years ago now and it has changed a lot in that time frame, mostly for the worst in my opinion. I still frequent Reddit but every time I do I feel like there could be something better with my time. Apollo as an app though is by far the best reddit app I have ever used, and the 10 years worth of apps I have used quite a few of them.
What app makes you most productive?
In terms of content creation it is Ulysses, in terms of managing my day-to-day tasks and keeping on track it would be Calendars 5.
Ulysses is a powerful text editing tool and by far the best writing app on iOS in my opinion. I write everything in Markdown and when I am writing to share something with other I use Ulysses 90% of the time.
Calendars 5 is a new addition to my devices. I was a big user of Fantastical 2 on iOS but the agenda view wasn’t what I wanted when I looked at my calendar. I know a lot of people like it but for me I like to see my time in blocks and Calendars 5 offers the natural language addition with beautiful UI and Reminders integration. The only big difference is that it shows things in the traditional calendar format and I like that.
What app do you know you're underutilizing?
Ulysses. I know there’s so much more I can do with this thing but for me it is just a very well performing markdown machine that integrates with WordPress for publishing articles.
I’m sure there’s something I’m missing when it comes to what I can do to make my writing more efficient and I hope to learn more about the app soon. I purchased Shawn Blanc’s Ulysses Course but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but it’s on my list of things to do in the new year.
What is the app you are still missing?
I’m currently not using any dedicated task manager. I have tried everything under the sun and haven’t found anything that works the way I want it to. In a perfect world I would take the natural language Todoist has, the features OmniFocus has, and the design of Things 3 and have them fuse together to make the perfect app for me. Because of this, I have actually moved my big picture plans and goals into a bullet journal and my daily tasks into Calendars 5 with their Reminders Integration.
How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?
I use my iPad as my main computer so whenever I need to do work I use that, my iPhone is there mainly as a way to send Bluetooth media to my AirPods and check Twitter in my downtime. But when I’m in a pinch I will write my thoughts and outlines into my iPhone to get it out of my head and then deal with it later.
I usually am on my iPad working on Tablet Habit or my Podcast Getting Caught Up from when I get up at 10 am (I work my day job until midnight so I don’t get to bed until 2 am or so) until I leave for work at 2:30 pm. From there I bring my iPad with me to work for downtime during lunch to continue working on stuff.
What Today View widgets are you using and why?
Workflow – One of the biggest things I want to start doing in 2018 is to track my time more and I found some modified workflows from Federico Viticci’s post that work quite well for me. So I signed up for Toggl and set up the workflows and so far it is working quite well. Instead of having these workflows as an icon on my home screen or take up space in my dock I have it as a widget to quickly start and stop timers for the work I am doing.
What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this but iOS 11 adding Drag and Drop to the iPad (and iPhone to some extent) has been an absolute dream. Especially with shelf apps like Gladys and Yoink coming into the picture. Those two things have killed several workflows I had previously because it is just a delight to use this feature and these apps with synergy that wasn’t on iOS before.
If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?
I would have a bigger team in the Podcast department. From what I understand there is a very small team handling the entire podcast library and with Apple still having a huge stake in the game for podcasts I think a bigger team is necessary. There are a ton of companies and 3rd part hosting services trying to bridge the gap between host and platform but I think Podcasting needs to have more from Apple. It seems like this is something that is taking place currently with the beta of podcasting stats from Apple being implemented recently, so if they can keep that momentum I think we will see more from them in the coming years.
Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.
My Apple Watch face is the modular face. I know a lot of people aren’t big fans of it but I use my watch to keep track of what I have going on and the modular watch face allows me to have my “terminal” on my wrist.
I have the date and time on the top, because it is a watch after all.
Reminders takes the bulk of my screen because I am using Reminders within Calendars 5 as my day-to-day task manager
The bottom three icons are messages, which is to check when family and my fiancé get a hold of me, Battery life (mainly because I have a Series 1 and it isn’t great on battery life. Finally I have a timer. I find myself setting timers for pretty much everything from work time-blocking, laundry, my lunch hour at my day job, everything and being able to quickly set a timer on my wrist is more convenient than my phone.
What's your wallpaper and why?
iPhone - Cortex because it is my favorite background I have found that grids out each app without being intrusive.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I have began to take on a minimalists perspective when it comes to a lot of aspects in my life, one being what I keep on my iPad and iPhone. Every single app I have on my devices is deliberate and with purpose. There are no games on it (I have a PS4 for that), and I purge unused apps regularly to keep a tight ship.
I also just want to let anyone reading that I write about this stuff and how you can use an iPad as a main computer on my blog at TabletHabit.com and on a podcast called Getting Caught Up. I am active on Twitter and you follow me at @iamJeffPerry.
Finally I just want to thank you, David, for being an inspiration for me to start doing Tablet Habit!
Speaking of Jason Snell, this week on the Free Agents we talk to artist and writer Thom Zahler, an independent creator for 15 years in indie comics (Love and Capes, Warning Label), licensed comics (My Little Pony), and animated television (Spider Man: Web Warriors, Knights of the Zodiac), about his journey from art school student to freelancer to full-on free agent, and how his business has grown and changed over the years.