Better macOS Spaces

When working on a laptop, especially the tiny MacBook, I use a lot of full-screen apps and then the macOS Spaces feature is a big help. You just three-finger swipe up on the trackpad, and you get something that looks like this. (Click to enlarge) 

You can also three-finger swipe sideways between Spaces. I guess Apple's data shows that a lot of people go sideways and few people go up to pick a particular app. I'm an outlier. Because I'll often have ten or more apps running as I get work done this way, swiping sideways is tedious and feels more like playing a slot machine than getting work done. It's much more efficient for me to swipe up and tap on the desired app. 

The problem with macOS Spaces, however, is that by default, macOS re-arranges the Spaces automatically based on recent use. The idea is that you should be able to get the most recent apps the easiest. Again, I'm apparently an outlier. Just because I haven't opened OmniFocus for a few hours doesn't mean I want it to move down to the end of the line. This preference scrambles my apps every time I swipe up causing further unnecessary delay. Fortunately, you can turn the preference off.

With this turned off I manually set apps where I want them and then long sessions of switching between full-screen apps is quick and painless.

Home Screens - Daman Rangoola

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One of the great things about living in Southern California is all the local nerds I get to hang out with. One such new friend I made this year is Daman Rangoola (Twitter). Daman is a clever guy and put a lot of time into his home screen. So Daman, let’s see it.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

I find almost everything on my home screen to be invaluable on a day to day basis, but the two that stand out are Downcast and Tweetbot. I also have Overcast, which I find to be a great app in it’s own right, but after spending so much time tweaking my settings in Downcast and having the app work great for me - I haven’t felt the need to totally make the switch. 

Twitter is somewhere I find myself all day whether it’s for monitoring the news (in tech and otherwise) during the day and then diving into the glorious world known as “NBA Twitter” - following along with all the basketball games with a phenomenal community of basketball diehards. Tweetbot has consistently proven to be the best Twitter client for my usage but due to Twitter’s API limitations for third-party apps, I also use the stock Twitter client frequently, thus it also lives on my home screen.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

I would say Tweetbot but I can conjure up enough professional purpose to open it to not feel as guilty about it, so I’m going to say Threes. It’s still the best game I’ve ever played on the iPhone - it’s the only game I downloaded and have never removed from my iPhone. It’s challenging, fun, and most importantly - I can play for 2 minutes or one hour and it doesn’t require constant attention. 

What app makes you most productive? 

Strictly speaking, Asana. Slack is vital to my work but I get most of my daily tasks done in Asana and having an on-the-go view of everything I’m working on has been a great addition to my workflow. If I’m away from my desk but an idea hits me or I am talking to somebody and a task presents itself, I can quickly add it into Asana and lose the burden of worrying that I will forget something. 

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

This will be of particular interest to the owner of this website: Workflow. I know I can make great use of this app, and I know how powerful of an app that it is, I just haven’t put in the proper time and effort into getting the app working for me in that way yet. 

What is the app you are still missing? 

WhatsApp for iPad, please! WhatsApp has become the go-to communication method for my family (locally and abroad) and for several groups of friends, and it has no iPad client yet.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad? 

Constantly. If I’m not reading something on my iPhone, I have my iPad open next to my Mac at all times for work with the Notes app open with my Pencil charged, jotting notes all day. There is virtually no part of my waking hours that I’m not actively or passively (listening to podcasts etc) using either of my iOS devices.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The ecosystem. There are a lot of reasons to individually love my iPhone X and the 10.5” iPad Pro, but the way they work together is my favorite single feature of iOS.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I think it’s time to allow for default apps for major app categories to be changed. I wouldn’t do it like Android, I would make it very difficult to qualify to become a default. I would create a new App Review system for becoming a default, ensuring a good experience for the user. 

Two of the biggest examples that would be great for me? Allowing Google Maps to become the default Maps option and allowing Downcast or Overcast become my default podcast player. There are more categories out there that could qualify (like Internet browser) but those two would be game changers for me.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

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I use my Apple Watch for the following: seeing the time, monitoring my activity, monitoring my notifications, and Apple Pay. I have never been interested in apps on the Watch, even though they are greatly improved, simply because it’s not what I’m personally looking to get out of it.

The bottom complication is what I refer to as “Mean Boss Time” - my boss is rarely in the same time-zone as me, so it’s important for me to know what time it is for him (and he’s sick of me asking lol). 

I swipe right to the Activity Analog face when I’m going to the gym or doing any other workout to track my activity in a focused way. 

What's your wallpaper and why?

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I am absolutely in love with the new OLED display of the iPhone X and to get the full effect out of it, I changed my background to be pure black, which is stunning especially in comparison to non-OLED displays. Similarly, I have changed my home screen background to accentuate the stunning black:

It’s just gorgeous!

Anything else?

I have a no folder policy on the home screen of my iPhone. There was a time where I put everything in folders to only have one total page for all my apps, but I enjoy having the ability to see everything clearly and every app on my home screen being one press away. If I need to launch any other apps, I enjoy using Spotlight most of the time.

Thanks Daman

 

Tinderbox Gets Even Smarter (Sponsor)

This week MacSparky is sponsored by Tinderbox, the tool for notes. Tinderbox is a Mac App that lets you collect your thoughts and slice and dice them any way your brain prefers. With Tinderbox you can make a mind map, a check list, make timelines, charts, outlines, and more. My favorite feature is that you are not tied to any paradigm with this app. Put your data in and start moving it around to help your brain make connections that weren’t there before.

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Did you know that Tinderbox recently released version 7.3 with more than six dozen visible improvements and a bunch of new technologies?

Tinderbox can now look at your ideas from Notes, Evernote, Dropbox and more on iPhone and iPad. The new version also has quick links to connect notes instantly and composites to build big ideas from small notes. The new fonts also look fantastic on your Mac.

People use Tinderbox for writing, managing their business, project management and just about anything else where you can benefit from having your own digital personal information assistant.

Go check out the latest version of Tinderbox today. You can download the free trial and see this fantastic app for yourself.

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Rubbish Passwords

Every year, Splash Data reveals its list of the year's most commonly used passwords. This year the usual suspects, like "123456" and "password", are, again at the top of the list. I had to grin that "starwars" has made its way to the list this year at #16. Funny. I would have that guessed that #diejarjardie would rate higher.

If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing you already have a good password system and are not using any of these rubish passwords. Your family and friends, however, are most likely using lots of them. If you are spending time with some of the damned over the holidays, send them the Splash Data list and try to get through to them just how dangerous these common passwords are. I've been using 1Password since it launched and that's a good recommendation (use this link for 20% off) but regardless of what system you put them on, put them on something. 

Technology and the California Wildfires

Speaking of disaster preparedness, my friend, and fellow geek, Rogier Willems, had the latest wildfires show up on his doorstep. He had to evacuate in a hurry and reports in with some excellent advice. One mistake he reports is taking his networking gear when he left. This blinded his security cameras so he had no idea what was happening to his house while evacuated.

MPU 408: Disaster Preparedness

This week's MPU episode, which we recorded just days before the latest California wildfires, is all about emergencies and your technology. In additiona to disaster preparedness, this episode also covers personal emergencies, accident or illness, technology failures and even happy emergencies.

Sponsors include:

  • Eero: Never think about WiFi again. Use code MPU for free overnight shipping.
  • TextExpander from Smile Type more with less effort! Expand short abbreviations into longer bits of text, even fill-ins, with TextExpander from Smile.
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore. Save up to 20% using this link.
  • Making Light Get (or give!) a candle subscription and make some new habits. Use offer code MPU10 to save $10 on a new subscription

Episode VIII

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Today marks general release of the latest Star Wars Movie. This will be episode VIII and, for me, continuation of a journey started when I was nine years old. I’ve got my Star Wars shirt on and wearing my Star Wars shoes (the same ones I wore a few years ago for Episode VII) and a group of friends and family ready to go see “The Movie” tonight. I’ve been intentionally laying low on social media the last few days and I'm ready to go be amazed. If you’re a geek like me, May the Force Be with You.

 

Getting Your Act Together with OmniFocus (Sponsor)

This week, MacSparky is sponsored by OmniFocus, the best task management application for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I use OmniFocus every day to stay on top of my commitments and avoid being a flake. Designed by the Omni Group’s crack team of programmers, UI designers, and artists, OmniFocus is super-flexible while at the same time being powerful enough to handle just about anything, even crazy people that simultaneously run law practices, podcasts, and publishing businesses. 

OmniFocus had a great 2017 with lots of new features and the app is easier than ever on iPhone and iPad, taking full advantage of all of the iOS 11 goodies. Just this morning I was sitting in Starbucks and dragging emails over to OmniFocus on my iPad creating email-linked tasks and feeling like I was living in the future.

As we head into the new year, this is a great time to make the switch to OmniFocus. Hit the ground running on 2018 with OmniFocus at your back and just see how much you can pull off next year.

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The Decision to Buy an iMac Pro

With all the news coming out on the iMac Pro, Jason Snell wrote a thoughtful piece over at Macworld about the pluses and minuses of the new machine. If my email inbox is any indication, this question is on a lot of people's mind. Jason's article explains some of the usage cases where the iMac Pro makes the most sense. The article also explains you may want it just because you want the biggest, baddest iMac out there. If that's you, I get that. I've blown money on far dumber things than a kick-ass iMac.

One point I would make, however, is that if you just need raw power and you can afford to wait to see what Apple does with the new Mac Pro (presumably sometime in 2018), you probably should. My guess is that the new Mac Pro will have more processor speed and be more upgradeable than the iMac Pro, but also be more expensive and require you to buy a separate monitor.

As for me, I'm not tempted. My existing 5K iMac is chugging along quite nicely. The hardest thing I make this computer do is render iBooks and screencast videos and the standard iMac is very much up to that task.

Backing Off Defer Dates: An OmniFocus Experiment

For years, I’ve been using defer dates to manage the flow of work in OmniFocus. I’ll often push projects out days, weeks, or even months so they disappear from the radar until a later time. Using this method, I've generally been able to keep my daily task list to something manageable while at the same time knowing all that other stuff is managed. 

With lots of little projects, managing those defer dates can get tedious. It’s the end of the year, so I'm doing lots of small corporate compliance-type projects for legal clients. As a result, I realized I'm spending more time than usual managing defer dates in OmniFocus. 

So I decided to a little experiment where I'd stop using defer dates for awhile. Over the last few weeks, my list of available tasks in OmniFocus has swelled to hundreds of items. For this experiment, I'm accepting that I'm not going to finish that long list any particular day. Instead, I'm simply flagging the priority items as they show up. (I’m trying to keep that to 3-5 tasks a day.) Once I knock out the flagged tasks – hopefully before lunch – I'm then just working contexts, projects and the other ways OmniFocus can slice and dice my task list until the end of the day.

This experiment has been interesting. On the plus side, I don’t feel compelled to spend as much time managing defer dates. I still use defer dates but now only where they make sense. For instance if I'm going through the big list and see something about paying a bill next month, I’ll defer that task to next month. Before this experiment, going through that general finance project, I'd defer everything except for those items I intended to finish that particular day. Another advantage is that you don’t feel lousy at the end of the day if your task list looks untouched. Micro-managing defer dates, as I’ve historically done, can make you feel miserable if you set up your tasks carefully in the morning only to get none (or very few) of them done during the day. With this alternative system, it doesn’t work that way. I'd argue a third benefit is that this system is a little more forgiving for flow and energy. My prior system of limiting the daily list to just a few items can at times be artificial and the projects that you ear-mark in the morning may turn out to be the wrong projects for you 6 hours later. Being able to snipe through my big list at will can feel more productive and more consistent with how I'm feeling at the moment.

While you may think this new method takes less time to manage (since you aren’t constantly juggling start dates), I'm not sure that’s true. You still need to manage your tasks. This requires you to be double sure nothing important gets lost in the noise. If I don’t flag or set a deadline for a task, it can easily get lost among its hundreds of brethren. Taking the time to properly read through what is out there is important. I think working this way also makes having a reliable project review practice important. Additionally, with this big list system, you lose that ability to see a list of 15 just things in the morning and the satisfaction of knocking them all down by the end of the day.

I'm only a few weeks into this experiment but it nice to mix things up every once in awhile and I can report at this point that the experiment isn’t an abject failure. I'm finding things I like about this method and other things I don’t. At this point, I'm extending the OmniFocus experiment until the new year to see how things go. I’ll report back then.

MarsEdit 4

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MarsEdit, one of the premier Mac blogging applications got updated today to version 4. This new version has seven years of development behind it and a lot of new features including a new look, additional WordpPress support, additional editor improvements and automatic preview template generation. There’s a lot to this.

I used MarsEdit extensively back when MacSparky was on WordPress and it was a great solution. These days I'm on SquareSpace, which doesn’t play nice with third-party editors, but if you are blogging on anything other than SquareSpace, I'd recommend downloading the new MarsEdit and giving the free trial a spin.

Apple Text Replacements Now Working

For a long time, Apple’s built-in text replacement system has been unreliable at best. A few months ago Brian Stucki went deep on the problems with Apple Text Replacement, and it got a lot of attention on the Internet. In my mind, the inability to synchronize text expansion snippets was one of iCloud’s biggest black eyes … for years.

Anyway, all this attention appears to have led to Apple letting John Gruber know that they were aware of the problem and in the process of fixing the underlying iCloud sync for text replacements and promising that things would get better soon.

They did.

As of this morning, Text Replacement syncing is working immediately across my Mac, iPad, and iPhone. This has never worked reliably for me in the past. In the past, I've reset (and even nuked) my devices trying to get this feature to work to now avail. I had to grin a bit as I was looking at the now-syncing text snippets as so many previously lost snippets were resurrected. There about ten separate “test” snippets as I'd tried over the years to get this to work. Also, I had one snippet that refused to die. It was the phone number I had for my old law firm. I haven't worked there for over two years, and the snippet would still fire off despite my best efforts to kill it. Today I deleted it, and it vanished from all devices instantly. 

You may ask now that we have working text replacement from Apple, do you still need something like TextExpander. I certainly do. Take this as you will since TextExpander sometimes sponsors my podcast, but TextExpander still runs circles around native text replacement. Autofill, date and time tokens, Tab keys, rich text, and images are just a few of the reasons why I still use TextExpander for most of this stuff. Nevertheless, it is nice that Apple finally got this sorted out.

Jazz Friday - Bill Evans' Santa Claus is Coming To Town

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This week for Jazz Friday, I'm featuring the Bill Evans' cover of Santa Claus is Coming to Town from 1964. This is a weird track. It’s the only Christmas tune buried on Evans’ Trio 64 album released in January 1964. I'm guessing it is a live recording from the holiday season of 1963. They probably played it for giggles and then decided to put it on the album because what musician isn’t at least a little interested in holiday music residuals?

Anyway, to continue the weirdness, the song starts with this odd, loping, off meter melody. Go ahead and tap your foot to the beginning of this song. I dare you. Then it gets a more straight ahead feel, including a most excellent bass solo by Gary Peacock. The whole thing is quintessential Bill Evans. It's so easy to cover traditional holiday music. I like it when musicians decide to mix it up a bit and this track does that.

I'm going to cover some more holiday jazz through December but if you’d like to cut to the end, here’s my Jazz Yule Apple Music playlist. Enjoy

Pixelmator Pro

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Many years ago, I spent something like $30 to purchase Pixelmator for my Mac. For years now, that application has served as that little bit extra for me when Photos isn’t up to the task. This week Pixelmator released Pixelmator Pro, I significant upgrade to the original. There’s a whole list of additional tools and an excellent video showing you the basics of Pixelmator Pro.

There is a lot to the new Pixelmator including improved layout tools, way better painting support, photo adjustments of seemingly every kind and nature, easy application of nondestructive effects, and more. Having only used the app a few days, I'm really digging the new repair tool.

As with the original, Pixelmator Pro is entirely a Mac app and takes advantage of every dirty trick Apple lets developers use including Metal 2, Core Image, use of the graphics chip for processing, and machine learning-enhanced editing features.

At $60, this is a significant investment but it is also a significant upgrade in the image and vector tools available in the original. Pixelmator seems to be holding the line about not going to a subscription model and it is nice that you pay once and you’re done. Likewise, the Pixelmator team issued a lot of updates to the original Pixelmator over the years and I fully expect them to do the same with Pixelmator Pro. I guess what I'm trying to do here is justify the fact that I spent $60 on the new Pixelmator but I expect I won’t have any regrets.

If you’re looking to get some better image and vector tools, go check out Pixelmator Pro.

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Home Screens - Dan Catlin

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Dan Catlin (Twitter)(Website) is an interesting guy. He had a fancy pants job that required him to do lots of traveling but one day realized his kids were growing up and he was never around. So he gave up the fancy job and opened his own business making candles so he could have more time to be "dad". MiddleDavids is a sometimes sponsor of this blog and over the years I’ve come to know and respect Dan as a friend and fellow nerd. So Dan, show us your home screen.

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I’m a one page guy with page two overflow pretty much only holding new apps I haven’t decided if I want to keep yet. My top row is folders that I usually access via pull down from top and search, although occasionally I’ll navigate them old school. My second row is mostly media - I find that I tend to pick something to listen to and let it go, so I don’t really need one handed access too often.

My third row is mostly there because usually I’m thinking about going for a bike ride and the weather, routes/buddies, wind are useful, but just seeing them makes me happy.

The closer you get to the bottom, the more I’m thinking about using them on the fly, with one hand. Row four is calculators, my calendar and Waze, which is an annoying data hog in many ways, but seems to be the best in my area at getting traffic right, so it earns its place until Apple Maps catches them. The bottom two rows and dock are things I want to open quickly, often with one hand.

Favorite Apps:

Braintoss - strangely simple way to get stuff into my GTD system. Tap it (or say, “Hey Siri, open Braintoss,” then either record a voice memo, take a picture or (rarely) type something in. Then it emails me with the item. I’m much better at getting things into my system from email than all the other ways things come at me, so this helps a lot.

Strava - I was an early adopter about six years ago, and have been logging my bike rides, almost 30,000 miles of them, ever since. Has social media components (kudos, comments), but mostly it’s a way to keep track, set goals, follow friends and find new routes, etc. 

Soulver - Although I use pCalc for simple one-off math and love the Reverse-Polish notation option there, Soulver plus TextExpander is my secret sauce. I’ve built several fill-in formulas that really take it to the next level. Example - making a custom batch of candles in an odd amount of wax. On my Mac, I open Soulver, type ‘xbatch’ and a fill in snippet asks me for the amount of wax I’m making, the % of fragrance strength I want to make, and the magical “pop” gives me the exact amount of fragrance needed for the batch. Because the iPhone is more limited, I just keep a batch calculation worksheet in the list and can edit quickly. And because Soulver ‘shows your work,’ you can double check and live the old adage, “measure twice, cut once!” It’s really pretty slick!

I’m a data nerd. I love the Activity App that lets me worry about filling in my rings each day, Pedometer for steps tracking, and love-to-hate LoseIt, for calorie tracking. It’s the simplest and least cluttered way for me to manage portion control, and once I’ve built in most of our family recipes, it’s pretty easy to log and keep myself honest.

My phone is almost always adding sound to my world, whether through Audible books, Overcast podcasts, or my 80’s Rock ’n Roll dominated music collection, so those are favorites, too. 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Through the Ages - an iOS adaptation of my favorite strategy BoardGame that I always have a game going with three of my friends. Only get to take a turn or two each day, but enjoy them! Ascension is another game I usually have a few games going with friends - I like turn based games that I can jump on once or twice a day and think about the people I’m playing with as much as the game itself.

What app makes you most productive? 

Braintoss and Drafts (plus Due) for smaller ToDo’s. Braintoss helps me capture, Drafts is where most ideas/messages, etc. start (and sometimes stay - I have lots of notes there that I keep running like reading lists, quotes, etc.), Due is where things go that have to be done at a set time since it will annoy me until I do them!

OmniFocus for projects with lots of moving parts or that bear repeating. Today I have am embarrassing 87 things to do, but that’s a little silly because all of my month end tasks are ‘available’ at the moment, many of which are multi-step like payroll and sales tax for our small business, using a monthly repeating project keeps me from forgetting a step, which helps a ton.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

OmniFocus. Although it is a wonderful tool that I use faithfully for larger projects, I wish I was better at getting more of the ‘cruft’ into it so that I could have a single task management solution. Still working on that.

What is the app you are still missing?

I’d love to have a sort of DayOne alternative that kind of interviewed me at the end of the day, captured maybe my location data, and had elements of ‘streaks’ or activity ‘hooks’ and even completed ToDo’s in it so that you could sort of build a single view of what that day was like. One of my goals for next year is to see if I can hack DayOne to do that with some TextExpander snippets and screenshots.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I use my iPhone almost constantly in the background (tracking steps, podcasts, music) and actively several times an hour.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I haven’t really adopted many of them. Sometimes use Find Friends when coordinating kid pickup, etc, but that’s something I could probably do better.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The fact that it really is a computer that I always have with me and is truly acting as a ‘second brain’ for much of my life. Having a camera, voice recorder, and supplemental memory at all times is really pretty awesome. (I haven’t fallen in love with the iPad yet - I’m a piano player and fast touch typist and if I have to do more than a little typing, I run for my Mac.)

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

We’re pretty ‘all in’ with the Apple ecosystem. My wife and I have three daughters, and our family has a Mac Mini, four MacBooks, two iPads, five iPhones, a bunch of iPods, some of which still get used, two Apple Watches, and the new Apple TV. We love how well they interact. Probably our one complaint is that we’re always out of storage and not in love with the Cloud yet. I’d love it if onboard storage was a little more modular/granular and maybe a little less expensive - it’s probably the one thing that leads to frustration.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

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I got it for my birthday this past June, and really like it. Messages on my wrist and the fitness stuff are the primary uses (and just telling time on my wrist again rather than from my pocket)!

I wore an analog watch for years and love the way it makes me think in ‘quarters of hours’ rather than digital minutes. My complications are all fitness focused - Pedometer

What's your wallpaper and why?

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My Lock Screen wallpaper is our family crest that a friend made from a sketch. My wife and I both graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, hence the anchor with ’89 (the year we were married), and our family slogan, “We do hard things the hard way.” Kind of a joke but also reminds us that worthwhile things are usually not easy, and often it’s the journey that matters far more than the destination. My app wallpaper is just plain in my favorite sort of dark indigo color that makes the apps ‘pop’ so my rotten eyes can see them!

Anything else you'd like to share?

Thanks! I’m humbled to be considered since so many of the tips and techniques I’ve developed have come from hours spent listening to MPU and reading the MacSparky blog and books. If anything I’ve said is good, you deserve a lot of the credit; if not, I’m still learning!

Thanks Dan.

 

Free Agents 35: I Guess I'm Felix Unger

The latest episode of Free Agents is up. In it, Jason and I discuss the importance of prep time, resetting your balance, gauging the value of your work, time tracking, managing ongoing commitments, keeping clients happy when you get sick, and the value of uncluttered office space.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FREEAGENTS at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.