Manage PDFs with PDFpen (Sponsor)

This week, MacSparky is sponsored by PDFpen for Mac. Preview does a good job at very basic PDF edits but if you need more powerful tools for PDFs, look no further than PDFpen and PDFpen Pro. I use PDFpen Pro nearly daily to manage and create digital documents for my day job. I like PDFpen because it brings so much to the table. PDFpen version 11 released last month with a lot of new features:

  • Split-view mode for editing

  • New Font Bar for expressive font control

  • Import scans from Continuity Camera

  • Customize page-number locations

  • Add multiple items to the Library at once

  • Option to turn off guides

  • Medical/Legal dictionaries for OCR (English language)

  • Automatic deskew independent of OCR

  • Option to specify default zoom

  • Specify Facing Pages settings for individual documents

  • Improved Sidebar

  • Edit Form Elements Properties for multiple form fields simultaneously (PDFpenPro)

PDFpen can even take a PDF document and turn it into a workable Microsoft Word file. In that sense it is also a PDF deconstruction tool and so very handy. PDFpen does all of this, and so much more. Smile also offers PDFpen for iPad and iPhone for editing PDFs for when you are on the go.

Head over to the PDFpen website for a full list of features. Also, make sure to let them know you heard about it here at MacSparky. 

Cardhop Updates

Cardhop, the popular address book replacement app from Flexibits for iPhone and iPad and for Mac got a nice update today. There are several new features including multiple business cards, customizable contact templates, smart groups (my personal favorite new feature), and more. You can learn more at the Flexibits Blog and download the apps with the above links. I also made them a few short videos on the update. Below is the iOS video.

Mac Power Users 487: Josh Centers: Beta Spelunker

Josh Centers is the managing editor at TidBITS, which has been covering the world of Apple for nearly 30 years, and is a writer for the Take Control of series of books. He sits down with Stephen and me on this week’s episode Mac Power Users to talk about his writing, the tools he uses, and why running Apple betas can be a real adventure. 

Guest Starring: Josh Centers

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • eero: Never think about WiFi again. Get $100 off.

  • MOO: Custom business printing and design. Use promo code PRINTMOO for 15% off when you spend $50 or more.

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

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

PDFpen 11

Recently, Smile Software released the most recent version of PDFpen (now 11) for Mac. PDFpen has been a long time sponsor of the Mac Power Users so you can take this how you will, but I also use PDFpen every day in my law practice. I love how it can take a basic PDF document and apply optical character recognition and, even in a pinch, convert it to a workable Word document. It’s a tool I use almost daily. With the new version we got some nice new features:

- Split-view mode for editing

- New Font Bar for expressive font control

- Import scans from Continuity Camera

- Customize page-number locations

- Add multiple items to the Library at once

- Adds option to turn off guides

- Adds Medical/Legal dictionaries for OCR (English language)

You can learn more over at Smile Software.

Focused 75: Intentional Constraints

Mike and I are continuing the conversation on moving the needle by talking about intentional constraints on the latest episode of Focused. Mike embarks on a task management spirit quest, I share my bullet journal advice, and we consider the balance of process and results.

This episode of Focused is sponsored by:

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

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

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

Mac Power Users 486: Essential iOS Apps

Join us for this week’s episode of Mac Power Users as Stephen and I scroll through our iPhones and iPads to share some of our most used iOS apps. 

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

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

  • 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.

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

  • Direct Mail: Create and send great looking email newsletters with Direct Mail, an easy-to-use email marketing app designed exclusively for the Mac.

Automators 25: WWDC 2019 Automation Update

On the latest episode of Automators, Rose and I are on the ground at WWDC in San Jose to bring you up to speed on the new automation heading to iOS and iPadOS. We also recap WWDC, the Automator's meetup, and Rose describes how she lost a fight with a leaf.

This episode of Automators is sponsored by:

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

  • PDFpen 11, from Smile: Your ultimate PDF viewing and editing app for the Mac.

Apple’s Renewed Interest in iPad and Mac

One thing that is clear here in San Jose is Apple’s renewed focus on the Mac and iPad. The argument that Apple has turned exclusively into the “iPhone company” no longer holds water. Maybe that is a result of the fact that Apple has literally saturated the entire planet with iPhone sales or just because Apple is catching up in terms of its own internal growth and more able to walk and chew gum but suddenly the Mac and iPad are getting lots of love from Apple.

The Mac

We had a great episode of Mac Power Users this week where we interviewed Doug Brooks, the new Mac Pro’s product manager. One thing that came out of talking to Doug was the incredible amount of effort that went into the new Mac Pro hardware. They were even dragging it on and off trucks to see how it could handle a video production environment. I can only imagine the R&D costs of this new computer that will, in all likelihood, have a very small (but dedicated) audience.

Apple has now got a Mac all along the price/performance spectrum for just about everyone. I don’t thing we are at the end of this Mac hardware renaissance either. There are rumors of new MacBooks, presumably with a new keyboard, and ARM-based Macs, which would have insane battery lives.

The iPad

Over the last few years, Apple has nailed down the iPad hardware again with options ranging along the price and performance curves. In my opinion, the new iPad Pros are unquestionably the best iPads ever made. I’m typing these very words on one.

For some time now, the problem with the iPad has been the software. People who genuinely want to use the iPad more, get turned off by silly friction points. My white whale on iOS 12  was how difficult the iPad made it to create a new folder while saving an email attachment to iCloud storage (something I do multiple times a day) and poor tag management. It looks like one of those two problems is solved by iOS 13. Indeed, iOS 13 looks to knock off quite a few of the rough edges for people looking to get work done on their iPad. I’ll report more on this once the iOS 13 betas get more stable and I can spend more time with it.

Moreover, with the announcement of iPadOS as a new operating system, Apple has publicly elevated the iPad operating system as something separate and distinct from the iPhone. In years past at WWDC, Apple has sometimes made iPad improvements a point of focus and other times ignored it entirely. By making iPadOS, its own thing, Apple appears to now be holding itself accountable for iPad improvements every year. I hope that means there are folks inside Apple now assigned to doing nothing but making the iPad better every day. 

Regardless, I’m pleased with this renewed focus on Mac and iPad. I love the iPhone, but I get most of my work done on Macs and iPads and on both of those platforms there remains plenty of work to be done.  

Mac Power Users 485: WWDC and Interview with the Mac Pro Product Manager

Stephen and I have boots on the ground in San Jose for WWDC 2019. In the latest episode of Mac Power Users, we interview Doug Brooks, the Apple product manager for the new Mac Pro. Afterward, we share initial thoughts on updates to macOS and the brand new iPadOS. I have some tough questions for Stephen about his future and the new Mac Pro, and we get to share the good news about the brand new "Sparky Button." Finally, we give you the lowdown on our WWDC experiences.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

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

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

  • Bombas: The most comfortable socks in the history of feet. Use this link for 20% off.

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

Add Features to Apple Mail with SaneBox (Sponsor)


Recently, I was talking to a nerd-friend about email, and he explained how he likes email but just wished it had a few additional features, like deferred mail. What he didn’t realize is that he could have all of that immediately, in Apple Mail, with this week’s sponsor, SaneBox. SaneBox is the solution to so many email problems. SaneBox is the email service that adds a pile of productivity features to your email, regardless of what email client you use. For a lot of folks, email is a constant pain point, and it doesn’t need to be. With SaneBox at your back, you can:

  • Wake up every day to find the SaneBox robots have automatically sorted your incoming email for you so you can address the important and ignore the irrelevant.

  • Defer email for hours, days, or weeks, so it is out of your life until a more appropriate time. They’ve even added a new feature that can optionally auto-reply to snoozed email with something like, “I’m sorry, but I'm underwater right now. I’ll get back to you in a few days.”

  • Set secret reminders so if someone doesn’t reply to an important email, SaneBox gives you a nudge to follow up.

  • Automatically save attachments to the cloud (like Dropbox).

  • Use their SaneForward service to automatically send appropriate emails to services like Evernote, Expensify, and Kayak.

  • Move unwanted email to the SaneBlackHole and never see anything from that person again.

The list goes on. For instance, you can have SaneBox send an auto-reply when you defer an email. Why not straighten out your email by getting a SaneBox account today? If you sign up with this link, you even get a discount on your subscription.


Last Call for Introductory Pricing on Keyboard Maestro Field Guide

The response thus far has been pretty amazing for the Keyboard Maestro Field Guide. Thanks to everyone that purchased it. I really enjoyed making it and I’m happy it is resonating. I’m already hearing about some cool automations that customers have created and incorporated into their daily lives.

If you are thinking about buying the Keyboard Maestro Field Guide, now’s the time. The introductory price ends this weekend.

Ten Hours in Batuu

Tonight Disneyland officially opened Galaxy’s Edge, their new Star Wars themed “land”. Galaxy’s Edge contains the planet of Batuu, a way station on the edge of wild space where the Black Spire outpost exists. It’s an ancient place but also thoroughly Star Wars, where smugglers, the First Order, and the Rebellion all inhabit their own corners and are frequently at odds.

I was lucky enough to spend ten hours exploring Batuu over the last week. Let me tell you as someone who grew up loving Star Wars (I was 8 when the first movie released), this is the real deal. The Disney Imagineers went to extreme efforts to make Batuu more immersive than anything Disney has ever made before. When you visit Batuu, you are not in a subdivision of Disneyland. You are transported to the galaxy far, far away. It’s amazing. The architecture, the droids, the little panels on the walls, the sounds, the Millennium Falcon, and all the little details completely suck you in. I’ll be covering this further and tomorrow, I’ll be featured in an extended interview on the Rebel Force Radio podcast all about it, but just for now, here are a few things I’ve done in Batuu:

  • I’ve watched and cheered on Chewbacca as he repaired an X-Wing right in front of me.

  • I’ve drunk blue milk.

  • I’ve hung out on the Millennium Falcon

  • I’ve piloted the Millennium Falcon numerous times. By the way, pulling back on the throttle to kick the Falcon into hyperspace is a life-altering experience.

  • I’ve been hassled by stormtroopers for wearing a Rebel patch on my coat.

  • I’ve sent Chewbacca off on a rampage, presumably to kill stormtroopers.

  • I’ve explored the shops and back alleys of Batuu.

  • I’ve built a droid. (Of course I installed a rebel personality chip.)

  • I've been approached … by a guy … about a lightsaber.

Best of all, I’ve lived in Star Wars. That really is the only way to describe it. Batuu is so realistic that it becomes real. The sounds of the area are that of a spaceport. When you hear a ship rumble across the city, you instinctively look up, only to be convinced it is just out of your line of sight.

Best of all is the cast members, which in this case are citizens of Batuu. When one sweeper approached and saw trash on the ground, he asked me if it was mine. When I said “no”, he smiled and said, “Good. I can sell this for credits” before sweeping it up and moving along. When I discovered a rebel weapons cache and a bunch of artifacts from the original trilogy, another Batuu citizen asked if I knew what “all that old junk” is.

At one point I witnessed a rebel operative enlist a 10-ish-year-old boy into the rebellion and had him posted as a lookout for stormtroopers as she was sabotaging land speeders. It's real. It's so real that when you leave Batuu and find yourself back in Disneyland, it's jarring. If Star Wars is your thing, Batuu is definitely going to be your thing.

It’s amazing and I feel like I’m just getting started in my explorations. If you go, make sure to check your cynicism at the door and instead dive in and enjoy the ride.

Also, I have contacts with a rebel cell currently sneaking into Batuu that has set up an Instagram Account to smuggle out photos and comment on the state of the unjust First Order occupation. If you like this sort of thing, subscribe to the “Batuu_Rebel” account on Instagram. The cell is still getting established, but I expect it is going to get quite active in the near future.

Focused 74: Moving the Needle

On the latest episode of Focused, Mike and I unpack my new system to help focus on important work, talk about stepping off the hamster wheel of efficiency, and discuss what to do about productivity shame.

This episode of Focused is sponsored by:

  • ExpressVPN: High-Speed, Secure & Anonymous VPN Service. Get 3 months free with a 1-year package.

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

  • MOO: Custom business printing and design. Use promo code PRINT15 for 15% off.

Moving the Needle

Do you ever have one of those days where it feels like you worked all day and yet got nothing done? It happens to us all, and it can be frustrating. We all have things we’d rather do than be working and there can be nothing more frustrating than realizing you’ve squandered a day on nonsense. One of the most important questions to ask yourself at the end of each day is, “How much time did I spend doing my most important work?” If we’re not mindful of that question, too often, we fall short.

I experience this all too often, and I got thinking about the problem. Hyper-scheduling helps but just because I’ve set aside time, doesn’t always mean that time gets spent wisely. How do I become more mindful of the work that matters when I’m in the trenches?

Lately, I’ve been doing a different sort of time tracking experiment that’s been helping me out. 

We’ve talked a lot lately about meaningful work on the Focused podcast and the phrase “moving the needle” has come up. I like that phrase, and it got me thinking about what moves the needle for me. What are the things that, at the end of the day, I want to know I accomplished? I’ve come up with a practice that helps me get better at that.

Identify What Moves the Needle

For everyone it’s different, but for me, the work that moves the needle was pretty easy to identify:

  1. Work on a Field Guide

  2. Writing for MacSparky

  3. Producing a Podcast

  4. Doing Client Legal Work

I’ve probably got more needle-movers than most people because my work is so diverse. The exercise of identifying this was important because it was the first step to putting this work at the front of my mind. I’m not sure determining what moves the needle for you will be as easy as it was for me. I’m at a stage of my career where I’ve been doing this long enough that I already had a pretty good idea. Nevertheless, you need to start by identifying what it is for you.

The obvious criteria for work that moves the needle is that it earns you money. While that is important, I don’t think it is the only, or even necessarily the most important criteria. I’m lucky enough to have work in my life that I enjoy doing and, at the same time, helps others and lets me earn a living. That didn’t happen overnight. If you are in a time of transition, what moves the needle for you may not be what pays you the most but instead pushes you forward to the next thing. The important thing at this first step is that you need to have that conversation with yourself and figure it out.

Also, what moves the needle today isn’t necessarily what will move the needle for you in one (or ten) years. This is an ongoing discussion with yourself.

Regardless, once you figure out what moves the needle, you need to keep yourself honest.

Track Your Work that Moves the Needle

At the beginning of the week, I lay out out a page in my notebook with a series of lines for each activity that moves the needle for me. Here’s my page from a few weeks ago. (PFG is a secret project. Grin.)


I do this with pen and paper, but you could do this digitally with a spreadsheet, or a text file, or just about any application where you can write things down. 

At the beginning of the week, I just put a series of hash marks on a grid page. There are for grids between each hash (representing 15 minutes) and 6 hours on a line. I fill in the line as I get work done. Here is this week’s page, as of Tuesday afternoon.

As I go through each day and spend time on work that moves the needle, I log it on this page. Consider it time-tracking light. I’m not keeping track of how much time I spend doing everything. I’m just keeping track of the time I spend moving the needle. This has several benefits.

First, I can see how much I’m getting done on the work that matters. That feels good, particularly when you end a day and know that you spent a substantial portion of your day doing this type of work.

Second, you have a mechanism to hold yourself accountable, not just at the end of the day but throughout the day. The process of finishing a few hours of client work and then logging it on this page comes with its own unique blend of happy chemicals in my brain. Likewise, when I get to mid-morning and realize I haven’t logged any work for the day that moves the needle, I get a kick in the pants to fix that.

I just started doing this in April, and I’m admittedly still in the honeymoon phase of this practice, but I can tell you it is working. It helps me stay focused throughout the day, and my enthusiasm for the idea is even higher now than when I first started doing it. The question of getting my most important work done is much more present in my mind now, and that has obvious benefits for me both mentally and in terms of actual production.

This practice is not meant as a substitute for time tracking. You can do this whether or not you time track. The point, at least to me, is to give myself an easy accountability measure for the work I want to get done every work day. I think the trick is to keep it simple so you can stick with it.

One of the effects on me is that I’m more vigilant about asking myself the question, “Does this move the needle” throughout the day and even before agreeing to additional projects. 

But Not All Work Moves the Needle

There still is some work that both must get done and doesn’t move the needle. I think plenty about that work as well every time I set time aside to do it. This is work that gets in the way and, with this practice, I’m more motivated than ever to throw it overboard. I’ve got a series of questions I ask myself every time I pick up this type of work:

  1. Does this need to be done at all?

  2. If it must be done, can I automate/delegate it?

  3. If I must do it, what is the least intrusive way for me to accomplish it?

There are a couple of insights I’ve had on those category three jobs. First, I’ve been intentionally scheduling time for that stuff when I’m the least productive. For me, that’s after 3 pm on most days. Also, I find I get that type of work done faster if I pile it all together and set aside a few hours to do it, rather than picking it up piecemeal throughout the day and week. I’m currently experimenting with ganging all that work into one block in the week (currently Wednesday afternoon). I’m not sure if that is going to work or not, but it sure feels better knowing I have set aside a place for that work during the rest of the week.

Being deliberate about my work that moves the needle and tracking that daily has had immediate consequences for me. I’m doing better at getting client work done while at the same time, I shipped a new field guide. It’s working for me. I hope it works for you as well.

This whole system of moving the needle isn’t some stroke of inspiration from nowhere but instead results from me reading and talking to others about my own challenges and obstacles to getting my work done. Significant influences on me in coming up with this include Mike Schmitz, Shawn Blanc, Matt Ragland, and Michael Hyatt, but those are only the tip of the iceberg. Also, Mike and I speak about this at length in Focused 74.

Mac Power Users 484: Unlocking Keyboard Maestro

From trigger to actions, variables to debugging, Stephen and I go through the powerhouse that is Keyboard Maestro and discuss my new Field Guide on the subject on the latest installment of Mac Power Users.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • SaneBox: Stop drowning in email!

  • 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.

  • Backblaze: Unlimited cloud backup for Macs and PCs for just $6/month.

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