Linking and Contextual Computing

I think a lot of people are underutilizing links. Lately, I have been working with contextual computing and the idea that you can go from idea to action on your computer with the least amount of friction. For example, if you need to access your task list for a specific project and open your task manager, you will be immediately exposed to much more than that particular project’s task list. You will see your daily list, your flags, and a host of other unrelated data that can distract and divert you from the reason you went to your task manager to begin with. This is even worse with infinite bucket apps like email and your web browser.

It is far better to jump straight from thought (I want to see the shrink ray project) to execution (looking at the shrink ray project) without the intervening steps of navigating through an app. This eliminates the possibility of distraction. So the trick is to find ways not to open apps, but specific data sets within apps to avoid further distraction.

This is easiest to implement with websites. Every page on the internet has a URL address that takes you to that specific place without any intermediate stops when fed to your browser of choice. If your work involves going to websites, you can save those URLs to your devices and trigger them from just about anywhere. I keep URLs to tasks, calendar entries, notes entries, and other places where I often find myself working and want to go quickly to a particular spot on the internet. When you click that embedded link, you go straight to your destination. No distractions.

It is easy to forget these URL links work for web services. I have been trying out for personal email, and one of the things I like about the service is that every email has an easy-to-grab web address. Later, I can get back to that specific message with a URL link.

The bit you may not be aware of is just how many applications have their own built-in URL linking schemes. Most modern applications include a deep link or URL link mechanism to get you to a specific location of the application. I use these app-based URL links daily on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone in Drafts, Obsidian, Craft, OmniFocus, and DEVONthink. DEVONthink takes it a step further and creates unique URL links for any file you store within DEVONthink (iCloud and the Finder have no such feature), so you can additionally link to specific documents inside your DEVONthink library.

As I collect the web and app-based links, I keep them together concerning a general project overview page, but I also put the links in the apps so I can jump back. For example, I may have a project page in Drafts with links to an OmniFocus project, but the OmniFocus project will also link back to the Drafts page. The trivial amount of time it takes to set up these links is paid off immediately. You can start linking things together today with no additional software. Most all of the app-based links I use work on the iPad as easily as they do the Mac.

If you want to go even further with this, I recommend downloading Hook on your Mac. Hook recently released version 2.0 that gives it even more features. Hook gives you extra tools for this linking workflow. Using Hook, you can keep associated links together in the Hook app. Hook also can put links on files and locations that aren’t otherwise linkable. For example, I use Hook to link documents on iCloud drive storage that would not be otherwise linkable. (However, these Hook links only work on the Mac.)

If you are reading this and rolling your eyes, I understand. If I came to this workflow intentionally (as I’m now recommending), I would have rolled my eyes too. Instead, this grew organically for me as the apps I use daily increasingly added linking features. (I’ll blame Drafts as my personal gateway drug.) Over the past six months, I have started to wake up to how often I am doing this direct linking and how much more efficient I am at getting work done without all of the distractions. In short, this stuff works, and you should try it.