Earlier this month I celebrated my birthday. For a while now I've treated my birthday like my own personal New Year's Day. What I mean by that is I often reflect on what's working, what's not working and things I'd like to change going forward. Since going to work for myself, I've even expanded on this idea and made a point of taking my birthday off for a bit of introspection. Every year I find it's a precious day and every year I take it a little bit more seriously.

Working with my pal Mike Schmitz over at the Focused podcast, inspired me to go even deeper this year with my "Birthday retreat". In the past, I've gone to the beach or somewhere unfamiliar to get myself off the grid. This year I had some family plans in the late afternoon and didn’t want to spend the day driving so instead I went to my familiar Starbucks in the early morning along with a paper notebook, a fancy pen, and no technology. I unplugged myself from the Internet, turned my notebook to a clean page and just started writing.

I didn't have a plan as I got started. Initially I intended to be there an hour or two, but in the end, the process (including a long walk and a nice lunch) was six hours.

The first thing I did was write down at the top of the page,"How am I doing?" I then wrote a small essay in answer to that question concerning each of the various areas of my life. In my case, that was MacSparky, the law practice, relationships, self-care, and overall. Like I said earlier, I didn't have a plan.

I started with the intention of a sentence or two on each subject and, in my head at least, get all of those areas covered with one page of my notebook. However, when I started writing, things just began to pour out of me, and I quickly realized my arbitrary ideas out page count had to go out the window. Paper is cheap! I wrote for pages and pages. Apparently, I had a lot to get off my chest.

After that, I took a walk.

Then I turned to a new page in wrote a new question, "Where can I get better at this?"

By then I was wise to the fact that this process was going to take a while, so I settled into it. I then took on the same five categories discussed above and wrote at length about areas that I could to improve. I tried to take a growth mindset to the process. Again, I had a lot to say. Having just spent time reflecting on areas I can improve upon, I tried to figure out, constructively, how to turn thoughts into actions (and some new habits).

As I continued using up ink and pages, I noticed a word that kept showing up.


I didn't start this little retreat with the idea of coming up with a theme for the next year, although I must admit I do like the idea. (Myke Hurley and CGP Grey’s yearly themes make a lot of sense to me.) Regardless, as I continued to write, I realized that I did have a recurring theme relating to things I can improve upon. I need to be more intentional.

Looking back over the last few years, the place I seem to fall down most often is when I dive into a project without thinking or ramble through days (and sometimes weeks) without clear intention. The things I want to fix quite often require me to bring more intention when both making and executing commitments.

I have always considered myself good at avoiding emotional whirlwinds. Partly as a result of lifelong meditation practice but also partly because I don't get frazzled easily. What surprised me during this little retreat, however, was, upon reflection, the realization of how easily I can let life waylay my intentions.

There is a lot of personal thoughts in my notebook from that day, but here’s one paragraph I'm willing to share:

“Too often, I let the storm of life carry me away. The smallest client thing or smallest distraction will appear and needlessly lay waste to my plans, my focus, and my day."

That sentence was the big take away for me from my small birthday retreat. Going into this next year, I intended to work on that. I'm not even sure at this point what that means, but I’ve already taken some small steps. I'm trying to give more respect to my carefully laid plans. If I care enough to make a plan, I need an excellent reason to upset it (or something needs to be truly on fire). Also, I've decided I am going to be much more intentional about that ever-so-dangerous word, “yes” and not use it going forward without some real reflection and a few night’s sleep.

I'm still figuring out what intentionality means to me. I've left some pages in my notebook and am continuing to reflect on this routinely.

Regardless, I find the birthday retreat one of the best things I do every year. Maybe with a little intentionality, I can spend even more time on these types of reflections and getting myself sorted out.

Focused 67: Staying Motivated with Laura McClellan

On this week’s episode of Focused, Laura McClellan, the Productive Woman, joins Mike and me to talk about her perfectly scheduled day (and what happens when that goes wrong), habits, mastermind groups, and staying motivated.

This episode of Focused is sponsored by:

  • FreshBooks: Online invoicing made easy.

  • Hover: Extensions for anything you’re passionate about. Get 10% off any domain name.

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FOCUSED at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Thoughts on the Apple Video Service

Occasionally, Apple surprises us with a new product that we had no clue was coming. That is not the case with the soon-to-be-released Apple video service, which I’ll call “Apple Video”. For at least a year now it has been an open secret that Apple is hiring entertainment executives and making deals for the independent production of new content for Apple Video.

If the rumor sites are to be believed, they've made deals for science fiction shows, comedies, children's shows, and just about everything else. It appears as if Apple wants to hit the ground running with a wide assortment of original programming.

With the rise of cord cutters and some of the fantastic original program we’ve seen from nontraditional media companies, like Netflix and HBO, there appears to be a bit of a gold rush with entertainment companies vying for your monthly subscription dollars. In addition to Netflix and HBO, CBS has a service (that you need to get the new Star Trek series), Hulu has been after your monthly subscription for years, and several new contenders are entering the field.

Disney has announced that they will be launching their subscription-based content channel this year. Disney has been maneuvering for this launch now for years, and they have a lot of pieces in place. They have Disney content, Pixar, Marvel, and my beloved Star Wars. Disney will get my subscription just based on the planned live-action Star Wars series. Besides, Disney has years of back catalog from these sources that they can use to fill programming, and they've recently also bought big chunks of the Fox catalog.

In contrast, Apple doesn't have anything in terms of back catalog. While there are many rumors of deals for new content, there have been very few rumors of them licensing the existing content to put on their new channel. Looking at it in terms of sheer volume, the Disney service looks to eclipse whatever Apple can offer.

That got me thinking about whether or not Apple Video can succeed. No matter how good the original programming, there won't be that much of it and consumers are not going to be excited about paying a monthly fee for just a few shows. While there is a gold rush right now for networks and entertainment companies to get your monthly subscription dollars, eventually I expect there to be a reckoning and there's no certainty that Apple will survive that. Netflix has been hammering away at creating additional content for years, and Apple is just getting in the game. Disney has an impressive amount of existing content and Apple has none (or very little). As much as I like Apple hardware, they are not guaranteed to get my money for their video content unless they can make a compelling case.

I am not predicting that Apple Video is doomed. It just seems to me that they are facing an uphill battle. Indeed the lack of original programming to kick the service off makes me think they may take a different approach. Maybe they won't immediately want $10 a month from you but instead, merely give you the programming as part of an Apple music subscription or some rebranded Apple entertainment service that includes both music and video. Or perhaps they will offer it at a drastically reduced amount while the service builds up programming. If, however, people are expecting Apple to get massive numbers of subscribers at $10 a month with limited new content and no old content, they may be surprised.

Mac Power Users 470: From Computing to Sheep Farming, with Oogie McGuire

Programmer and sheep farmer Oogie McGuire joins us on this week’s episode of Mac Power Users. She talks about LambTracker, her application for managing flocks and the hardware that goes along with it, as well as her ongoing project of digitizing historical photos.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • CleanMyMac X: The all-in-one package to awesomize your Mac.

  • Luna Display: The only hardware solution that turns your iPad into a wireless display for your Mac. Use promo code POWER at checkout for 10% off.

  • TextExpander from Smile: Get 20% off with this link and type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.

Get It Together With OmniFocus (Sponsor)


This week MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus 3. I’ve heard from lots of readers that are loving the new OmniFocus 3 features. I sure do.

The new version features a unique design that makes smart, useful changes without making change for the sake of change itself. Moreover, they've added several useful features of the application, my favorite of which is tags. Adding tags OmniFocus gives you the ability to have multiple vectors to get into your OmniFocus database and find exactly what you need precisely when you need it. I even wrote an article about how I'm using tags for the Omni Group's website. Tags help you manage big things, but they also help you manage small things too. Lately, I’ve been tagging tasks related to bill payment with the additional “bills” tag. Then when I sit down to pay bills, I can press one button in OmniFocus and pay them all at once.

I use OmniFocus every day to keep my life together. There is no way I could run a law practice, video business, three podcasts, and be a dad without the powerful tools that OmniFocus gives me. Why not check it out for yourself? Head over to the OmniFocus website and download the free trial. Make sure to let them know you heard about it here at

Improved AppleScript to Automatically Insert Recipient's Name in Apple Mail using TextExpander

Years ago I published an AppleScript that allows you to automatically insert a recipient’s name to an email using TextExpander on your Mac. This is a cool trick because when you use it, you never get a person’s name wrong when replying to them. 

Reader Greg (Twitter) wrote to me about the script a while back. One of the flaws with my script was that if the email was written in a way that listed the recipients last name first (e.g., Sparks, David), the script didn't work correctly. As I wrote it, the script required the person's first name to be listed first.

Greg broke out his AppleScript editor and made a few changes. The new version is below:

tell application "System Events"
    tell process "Mail"
        tell text field "To:" of window 1
            if UI element 1 exists then
                set theToRecipient to (value of UI element 1)
                if ((count words of theToRecipient) is greater than 0) and (theToRecipient does not contain ",") then
                    return word 1 of theToRecipient
                else if ((count words of theToRecipient) is greater than 0) and (theToRecipient contains ",") then
                    return word 2 of theToRecipient
                end if
            end if
        end tell
    end tell
end tell

The new version looks at the number of words and looks for a comma. If it finds a comma, it uses the second word as the recipient’s first name. In hindsight, this little addition is obvious. Nevertheless, Greg was kind enough to share this with the rest of the Internet and me through this post. You can download the script file right here.

To implement this, create a TextExpander snippet that runs as an AppleScript and includes this script.

Click to enlarge.

You can see my shortcut phrase is “xmm” (x name in my head) but I never trigger it with that phrase. Instead I embed it in other snippets with different salutations.For instance, to start it with “Hello” and a comma after the name, you would make it look like this.

Click to enlarge.

If you want to have a less formal one starting with just “Hi", it would look like this.

Click to enlarge.

I’ve run the whole board with versions for “Hey” and “Dear” as well. You can download the TextExpander snippet group, including the script, with this link.

If you have TextExpander and use Apple Mail, I recommend trying this out. I use these scripts with nearly every email I write on my Mac. I love that it got just a little bit smarter with Greg's tweak. Take the time to set this up. You will not regret it. Also, if you’re on Twitter, tell Greg “thanks”.

AirBuddy for Using AirPods on Your Mac

Guilherme Rambo, the gent who keeps finding scoops for 9to5Mac with some very clever sleuthing, recently published a simple app to make using AirPods with your Mac easier called AirBuddy. Once installed, it keeps an eye out for your AirPods. When you open them AirPods case you get a little animation that looks very familiar to what you see on iOS.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 3.09.20 PM.png

AirBuddy can also add a widget to your Mac’s sidebar that will give you easy access to battery status.

(It’s a good thing my iMac has a 100% battery.)

(It’s a good thing my iMac has a 100% battery.)

That’s really about it. Guillermo is using a choose your own price model with a recommended price of $5. That makes it an easy purchase.

Mac Power Users 469: Running a Business with G Suite

With G Suite, Google offers paid versions of its free web apps and services. On this week’s episode of Mac Power Users, Stephen and I discuss our usage of these tools and how G Suite compares to other solutions available to individuals and small businesses. 

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • The Omni Group: We're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. 

  • SaneBox: Stop drowning in email!

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

  • Luna Display: The only hardware solution that turns your iPad into a wireless display for your Mac. Use promo code POWER at checkout for 10% off.

Hyper-Scheduling Without Making Yourself Crazy

There is a thread in the Focused forums referring to an article from The Guardian where a block scheduler gives herself 3-minute bathroom break blocks. I think that is too much. When the blocks get too small, you spend your time arranging your time instead of doing something. Blocks too small can start to feel like deck chairs on the Titanic.

When I started my series on block scheduling, I called it “hyper-scheduling”. That’s because I hadn’t researched it enough to realize everyone else in the world called it “block scheduling”. Regardless, and in spite of my silly name for it, rarely do I schedule a chunk of time less than an hour when I schedule my time. Looking at my current week, my only blocks less than an hour are my daily tasks of starting up and meditating, two things that I want to make sure I make time for and don’t need a full hour.

As I’m writing this, it’s Monday morning. Here’s my current schedule for the week.

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 7.04.09 AM.jpg

You’ll see that nearly everything is at least an hour. While most of today is booked up, there are still blocks of open space throughout the rest of the week that will inevitably fill up as I move through the week. With these one-hour minimum blocks, it is not difficult to move things around as the need arises. One last note: because it is Monday, this schedule looks suspiciously organized and symmetrical. Have no fear. By Friday, it will look a lot less organized. Shit happens.

Cameras and Microphones

I enjoyed John Gruber’s response to the Wall Street Journal piece on the risks posed by webcams. In the article, Joanna Stern for the WSJ found a white hat hacker to try and break into her webcam on a Mac an Windows PC. On the Mac, getting access to the webcam required her to download an app outside of the App Store, turn off some of its security features, and then click OK on a dialog asking for camera access. That doesn’t sound like getting hacked to me as much as just being dumb.

Most interesting to me was John’s concern about microphones.

“I’ve never understood … the complete lack of similar paranoia over microphones, which cannot be blocked by a piece of tape and which have no in-use indicator lights.”

I agree with this 100%. If there is going to be a privacy breach through your Mac that does not include you doing something silly (like clicking OK to camera access), it is going to be through the microphone. I'd love to get some indication from Apple that they are addressing this vector as well as they’ve addressed the video camera.

Jazz Friday - Ben Wendell's Seasons

Today for Jazz Friday I want to share a contemporary saxophone player that I enjoy, Ben Wendell. Ben plays the sax and bassoon. He's been a sideman for many artists in many genres (including Snoop Dogg!), but some of my favorite music from Ben are shorts he does with other talented musicians on YouTube. He does collections of these videos that all eventually turn into albums. Lately, I've been listing to the Seasons collection and enjoying it. You can get the album on Apple Music and below is one of my favorite videos in the collection.

The 2019 Emoji with 100% more Otter

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 1.33.37 PM.png

I've come a long way in my relationship with Emoji since they first appeared on the iPhone. At this point, I use them every day, and I do think they can convey a certain level of emotion with text with the right people. Meanwhile, the emoji machine keeps rolling along. According to Emojipedia, we've got 230 more Emoji heading our way in 2019. I like the way the emoji library gets more inclusive every year. Two significant additions this year are people with disabilities and couples of all colors and types. Sign me up. The idea of my very own Otter emoji is also pretty cool.

Focused 66: Putting Email in Its Place

On this week’s episode of Focused, Mike and I navigate the minefield of email. We share strategies and workflow tips to help you curb inbox addiction and reclaim your focus.

This episode of Focused is sponsored by:

  • Timing: The automatic time tracking app for macOS. Use this link to save 10% on your purchase.

  • FreshBooks: Online invoicing made easy.

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FOCUSED at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

AppleScript to Link to Apple Mail Message

I’ve always like the way OmniFocus can create links to Apple Mail messages when saving an email as a task. With help from listener Jacob (@evansio), I’ve now got a script that can do that anywhere via a text expander snippet. Here’s the AppleScript:

  Returns a link to the first selected Apple Mail message
tell application "Mail"
  set _msgs to selected messages of message viewer 0
  if (_msgs is not equal to missing value) then
    set _msg to first item of _msgs
    set _msgID to do shell script "/usr/bin/python -c 'import sys, urllib; print urllib.quote(sys.argv[1])' " & (message id of _msg)

    return "message://%3C" & (_msgID) & "%3E"
  end if
end tell

Here is that script embedded in a TextExpander Snippet. I’m using the abbreviation “elink”

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.19.58 AM.png

That’s it. Once you’ve installed it, just type “elink” in any app that can take a URL and you create a link to the currently selected email message. I use it all the time in Notes and Calendar note fields but it really works anywhere. Here’s a short explanatory video.

Find Files Like a Boss with HoudahSpot (Sponsor)

This week I'm pleased to welcome back HoudahSpot as a sponsor. Apple’s Spotlight search is a powerful tool. But imagine if there were a group of engineers at Apple that wanted to turn up the Spotlight search a notch or two and had nobody in management to tell them "no". That's what you get with HoudahSpot. 

HoudahSpot is like Spotlight, but better in every way. It improves upon Spotlight to let you find files by multiple criteria, like name, text, content kind, author, recipient, and pixel count to name a few. You can combine these search criteria to drill in quickly and choose which locations HoudahSpot looks in and which locations it ignores. Need to find every file that includes the name “bumfuzzle” but also includes the word “cumquat” in the text and was written in 2017? HoudahSpot can do that for you. You can even set up templates for repeat searches.

I've used HoudahSpot for years and if you haven't tried it yet, you should. The thing about HoudahSpot is that with all of that search criteria, it’s just faster. It’s faster than a Finder search, it’s faster than a Spotlight Search, and it’s faster than a Siri search. I’ve not found any easier way to laser in on just the files you want. With HoudahSpot you can find a needle in a haystack.

Anyway, don't take my word for it, go try out the app. If you like it, you can get 20% off with the coupon code MACSPARKY2019 or purchase through this link. There's no better way to search your Mac.

Mac Power Users 468: Mixing Macs and Microsoft with Christina Warren

Christina Warren, tech commentator, podcaster, and Cloud Developer Advocate at Microsoft, drops by this week’s episode of Mac Power Users to talk about using a Mac at work, the state of PowerPoint, and how to get the most out of tech when traveling the world.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • Hover: Show the world what you’re passionate about with 10% off your first purchase.

  • Luna Display: The only hardware solution that turns your iPad into a wireless display for your Mac. Use promo code POWER at checkout for 10% off.

  • TextExpander, from Smile: Recall your best words. Instantly, repeatedly. Get 20% off your first year.

  • 1Password: Have you ever forgotten a password? You don't have to worry about that anymore.