Increasing use of Siri

I’ve been experimenting with using Siri more often. When I use compatible verbal commands, they’re faster than manually typing my requests. Some ideas:

  • Set alarms or timers.
  • Add an event to your calendar.
  • Add to-dos to Reminders. (e.g. Remind me about this email/webpage tomorrow.)
  • Add a to-do to a specific Reminders list (e.g. Groceries). Bonus tip: If you want to add another item to the same Reminders list, you can tap the microphone icon and continue. For example, “Also add spinach.”
  • Check weather.
  • Open apps. (Perhaps they’re buried beyond your home screen, and will take more than a few swipes.)

Some people mentioned Siri recently, which prompted me to give this a try. In the Back to Work podcast, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussed iOS 9 and improved Siri functionality earlier last month:

Nick Momrik mentioned a few handy examples. Apple also has a few iOS 9 tips and tricks for iPhone.

Simplenote: Embed Ideas and Tips

I was reading an internal P2 at work1, and saw a note beautifully embedded in a post. I’d like to share some thoughts on doing this.

Add a tag for quicker reference. When I don’t want to search for these by typing.

Tagged “siteEmbed”, place one note on your site to keep an ephemeral realtime status. I have date and time buttons in my custom keyboard when writing in Drafts for iOS, and a snippet in Alfred for a time stamp (keyword: “fts”). Copy to clipboard, paste in Simplenote.

Your team can display the status of their projects or active to-dos on a single page. Each member embeds their published note. Rather than wading thru the text from other members, you’d only see your own items when editing in Simplenote. Tag: “TeamEmbed”. (I just thought of this.)

Another note can be your Logbook, which could be on another page in your team P2. Each member embeds this published note, too. (Tag: “Logbook”.)

Once a week, the completed items from the previous note — active projects and to-dos — get cut and pasted into this note (Logbook) with dated headings. At the end of the year, those get copied permanently, and a new Logbook page/note is created for the new year.

Keep a team status page (working, ticket queue status, AFK, errands, nap, jog, vacation2). Editing your own status in Simplenote on your phone is quicker than editing the P2 page. And, again, you wouldn’t need to edit the status of your other colleagues.

Wow. That all sounds great! 😎

  1. Automattic. We’re looking for Happiness Engineers — join us
  2. I need to test Markdown image support. I could use Cloudup from my iPhone, then share a photo while on vacation or something. Update: Markdown images won’t auto embed within a Simplenote embed. Not a deal breaker for me, it would’ve been fun. 😄 

Things: Repeating Projects!

Things - Repeating Projects

Browsing the Cultured Code support pages, I stumbled onto this gem, “Creating Repeating To-Dos“:

If you have an entire set of to-dos which need to be repeated on the same day, group them inside a project and then repeat that entire project.

Regarding project templates, I shared this idea:

Important weekly/monthly checklists

I grouped recurring (predefined) to-dos by adding repeating projects. This allows me to:

  • Focus on doing work.
  • Keep the Logbook “clean” going forward, and
  • Save time from manually copying the to-dos.

David Allen might not condone having the Today focus overflowing with to-dos and projects because some of the items don’t need to be completed that day. However, I know I have the freedom to reschedule or delete items for another day.

(By the way, the Logbook displays all to-dos and projects marked as completed or canceled, regardless of importance or length of time to completion. The repeating projects I share in the above screenshot image—and list below—aren’t that notable.)

If I see a long list of to-dos in the Logbook, where many took 5–10 minutes to complete1, and the large remaining chunk of time is dedicated for the main part of my job, it can be more difficult to identify the higher impact projects or to-dos2.

Here are my current ones:

  • Work (Weekdays) — Triage a few ticket queues.
  • Work (Weekdays) — Work in our regular ticket queues.
  • Home (Monthly, three days before the last day of the month) — Prepare and mail our rent check.

As an example, our landlord requests a mailed check for our rent payment (project3 and successful outcome). Here are the to-dos needed to mark this project as completed:

  • Write rent check.
  • Print USPS label.
  • Mail rent check.

I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share them in the comments, or publish a new post on your own blog, and link back to this one. :)

  1. Examples of minor to-dos at work: catch up on reading P2 threads, or watching new intro videos. 
  2.  Writing this post, I realize I can make this easier by adding a tag to filter the Logbook. It’s exactly what I did to single out the three repeating projects in the image. 
  3. If you’re using a task manager with tasks and subtasks, the main task would be “Mail rent check”, and the two subtasks would be (1) write rent check, and (2) print USPS label. The subtasks would need to be completed before the main task. 

Portable inbox acquired

I finally have a set of Lightahead® LA-7550 clear document snap button color document folders, which I’ll use for my inbox in a few places:

  • Backpack: Coworking or traveling.
  • Suitcase: Traveling, papers to shred.
  • Car

Following GTD methodology, these folders will keep loose papers in one place when I’m away from my home office. When I return, I dump them all into the inbox on my desk.

When I’m on a trip, I scan receipts with my iPhone 6 into Scanner Pro, and those receipts can be shred safely. To keep the edges clear, I’ll label one of the folders accordingly.

Remember: If you don’t have an inbox, everything is your inbox!

Things: Import from a plain text file!

Creates a to-do for each line in a plaintext file.

Source: Importing To-Dos From Other Apps | Cultured Code

I did not realize this was an option. I’m excited because I learned about duplicating projects, which means I can effectively reuse checklists, such as a packing list for trips.

In practice, I’d do the following in less than a minute:

  1. Copy and save an existing list from Simplenote to a plain text file.
  2. Run the script.
  3. Select the text file I created.
  4. Watch Things import them into the Inbox.
  5. Move the to-dos into the desired project.

The script allows you to enter a title and note for each to-do, nothing more.

If you need to tag in bulk, you can follow these steps:

  • Specify keys to be used for each tag. You can view the Tags window with the keyboard shortcut Command–Shift–T.
  • To select multiple to-dos, hold Command (⌘) while selecting each to-do. To select all to-dos in your current view, press Command–A (⌘–A).
  • Decide on the tag(s), then use your configured keyboard shortcuts.

Battle To-Do Debt

My colleague, Alex Gustafson, recently wrote about To-Do Debt, and I’d like to dissect his post. :)

Reminder: I try to practice the methods described in “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen.

I’m one of those people that uses a full to-do list as motivation to keep the day moving. Left to my own devices I can sit quietly in my chair and let hours float by while I just think. There’s lots of thinking to do. But when I have a full list, it’s a lot less likely I’ll waste my time this way.

The end result is that I add a due date to almost everything in my Wunderlist so that I can stare at the “Today” smart list instead of into my own mind. The other result is that a lot of my recurring events will go red (i.e., late) and stay red for great lengths of time.

I think you’ve gone numb to a few areas in your task manager. The edges of your system are fuzzy from missing proper categorization, and you have too many items scheduled to be completed each day.

Confession: I do the latter often. It’s a work in progress. :)

If you ignore the red text (time-sensitive to-dos), the system breaks down from lack of trust, and reduce the chances that you’ll take those to-dos seriously. Don’t set unnecessary due dates on to-dos.

David Allen suggests using your calendar for items due on a certain days.

I use my calendar for timed events and informational items (a.k.a. FYI), but I’m cool with due dates in my task manager, Things, where to-dos or projects appear in red on the day they need to be completed.

I spot an Automattic and Ingress list in your sidebar, and suggest creating folders and/or more lists. (e.g. DnD, Draw, Read, Blog/Main, Blog/Baby, and Someday.)

Glancing at the lists in your sidebar can help with a trigger to review the to-dos in each list, and keep you accountable to move items forward to completion. (Or, help you realize you should move a list/to-do to your Someday folder/list.)

Sort the to-dos into lists when you determine where they belong, rather than staying there indefinitely. If a to-do isn’t in a list, I feel it has less importance because I haven’t fully determined how and why it needs to be done.

Add tags (context) to to-dos in your Inbox. Tags allow you to reduce the number of displayed items appropriate to your current context.

Here are some example tags:

  • Time (5m, 10m, 15m, 30m, 45m, 60m, 90m)
  • computer
  • home
  • errand
  • call
  • iPhone
  • internet
  • write
  • read
  • book
  • buy
  • car
  • Energy (low, medium, high)

In practice:

  • 07:30 — I’m inspired to write! I’ll view the “write” tag.
  • 11:45 — I have 15 minutes at work before heading out to lunch. In the Automattic list, view the “15m” tag.
  • 16:00 — I’m tired. I’ll wind down by catching up on reading P2s threads by viewing to-dos with the “read” tag in the Automattic list.
  • 20:30 — Are there five or six quick to-dos around home I can complete within the next 30 minutes? View the Home list, then search for the “5m”, “10m”, “15m”, or “30m” tags.

For instance, learning to draw is a hobby right now. I want to do a little bit everyday, but it’s much lower priority than finishing my work tasks or chores at home. So it hasn’t happened in almost a week.

Is it a priority, would you like for it to be a priority, or will it be a priority at a later date? This is a great exercise, as I sometimes find myself inadvertently embracing guilt, rather than punting something to my Someday list, or scheduling the to-do to resurface on a later date.

At least once a week, review all your lists — to-dos and projects — in order to:

  • Add new items.
  • Add context to items that have gone stale.
  • Add subtasks to stalled to-dos. Don’t forget to add tags to those subtasks.
  • Check completed items.
  • Delete irrelevant items.
  • Punt items to a Someday list.

While the features and terminology might differ, the concepts are similar from Getting Started with Things:

Great titles for your to-dos make a big difference. […] Be crystal-clear about the real action you’re going to take, so that when you see the to-do again later you won’t have to think twice about what you meant.

Using your screenshot, here are some examples where I combine the above concepts (descriptive title that conveys action, plus tags):

  • “Blog post” vs. “Blog post: Read and scoff at Bryan’s post about To-Do Debt” (Tags: read, 10m, computer, internet)
  • “Read” vs. “Read GTD: Chapter 1” (Tags: read, 30m, book)
  • “DnD Writing” vs. “Write about x” (List: DnD. Tags: 30m, write)
  • “Drawing” vs. “Start sketch of y” (List: Draw. Tags: 30m, write)

Mowing the yard is important, but I hate doing it and I’m only willing to bother under the right weather conditions and time. So it will probably stay red all the way up until there’s a jungle in my back yard.

Let’s apply some a couple minutes of thought to the to-do “Mow the Yard” as an exercise.

  • Do you need to prepare anything before you can start mowing the yard? If yes, add subtasks.
  • How much time will it take? Add tags!
  • Do you and your wife care if it’s a jungle in the back yard? If not, move it to your Someday list or folder to get rid of the guilt. You’ll come across it when you review your lists weekly, or when you see a jungle in your back yard. :)

At what point do you declare to-do bankruptcy to get rid of all this to-do debt?

I don’t; that’d entail nuking the whole system and starting from scratch.

Throw Simba

Instead, I employ the above techniques to renegotiate my agreements to eliminate any guilt.

I can work very hard all day, cross lots of items off my list, and still feel like I’m not getting traction.

Traction on what? Try adjusting your Smart Lists so Completed is visible, and review it daily for a confidence boost — or reality check if you’re doing to-dos that aren’t relative to your goals.

I’m one of those people that uses a full to-do list as motivation to keep the day moving. Left to my own devices I can sit quietly in my chair and let hours float by while I just think. There’s lots of thinking to do. But when I have a full list, it’s a lot less likely I’ll waste my time this way.

The end result is that I add a due date to almost everything in my Wunderlist so that I can stare at the “Today” smart list instead of into my own mind.


  • You already have a full to-do list in Wunderlist (and your calendar). Both are technically groups of organized sublists in various designs and layouts. Review both when you have discretionary time, then work off those tasks.
  • Limit your Today smart list for to-dos that need to be done today.
  • Pat yourself on the back! Review your Completed smart list regularly.
  • Allow yourself to “punt” items to a later date, into your Someday list, or into the trash.
  • Bonus: Read “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen. ;)

Thanks for the prompt, Alex!

Things: Project templates!

Cultured Code released Things Cloud “Nimbus” a couple of days ago. I found myself skimming their Twitter feed and saw:

Mac: While viewing the Projects focus (⌘+5) — i.e. you aren’t viewing the details and To Do items within a project — select the project you’d like to copy, then press ⌘+D (Duplicate) to create an identical copy of the project.

(You can also duplicate To Do items.)


Despite not having read the Project Templates support page from Basecamp Help, I recently learned that I could create project templates in Basecamp—which include To Do lists—and longed for similar functionality in Things.

I…think they had it all along. :)

It should be listed on the keyboard shortcuts page (required reading for all Things for Mac users striving to be super efficient).

Here are some project template ideas:

  • Packing list
  • Important weekly/monthly checklists
  • Irregular projects (new clients, employees, taxes)

How would I create, organize, and save the project templates for future use?

Initial setup will take less than a minute:

  1. Open the Tags window (⇧⌘+T), and create a tag named Template for the project.
  2. Click the blank area—in the row of the tag—furthest to the right, which will display a text area with a blinking cursor. Choose a letter to be used for a keyboard shortcut for the tag, like “T”.

Goal thus far — When viewing the Project focus (⌘+5), find your project templates quickly by pressing Ctrl and the letter you chose in step 2 earlier. (e.g. Ctrl+T)

Create a project template:

  1. Create a new project, which will be your template.
  2. Add your desired project tags, notes, and To Do items.
  3. Navigate to the Project focus (⌘+5), press the keyboard shortcut you’ve chosen for the Template tag (Ctrl+T, for this example), then move the project to the Someday focus (⌘+Y) to hide it from your Active Projects list in the sidebar. Once you’ve created several project templates, you can use the up (↑) and down (↓) arrow keys to select a project.
  4. Optional: While viewing the Project focus (⌘+5), select the newly-created project template, and File (⇧⌘+F) the project in the correct Area.
  5. Repeat steps 1–4 for additional project templates, as needed.

Now, you’re a few keyboard shortcuts away from creating a new project from one of your templates. By few, I literally mean:

  1. (⌘+5) Navigate to the Project focus.
  2. (Ctrl+T) View all projects with the Template tag.
  3. (↓ or ↓) Navigate to your desired Project item.
  4. (⌘+D) Duplicate the project template.
  5. (⏎) Open the duplicated project, remove the Template tag.
  6. Edit the project to be specific to the scenario (a.k.a. profit).