Category Archives: Productivity

Sharing lists

My colleague, Andrew Spittle, asks:

What do you and Amy use to keep track of groceries?

We use Listary. When we’re low on something, we add it to the list.

It’s quick, simple, and syncs instantly with Simplenote.

Inventory tip — To easily see when you’re running low on stuff, add the quantity to the beginning of the item. For example:

  • 2 Bathroom tissue paper rolls
  • 5 Dishwasher packs
  • 1 Brita water filter
  • 2 Snack Pack cups
  • 1 Bagel
  • Half jar peanut butter
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View an article with Instapaper Text only using the keyboard

As a happy, longtime Instapaper user, I need the Instapaper Text bookmarklet often when settling in for a lengthy read on my MacBook Air.

I’d like to share a tip that’ll save time of switching to your mouse or trackpad.

When the bookmarklet is saved to your browser, you can use it with the page you’re viewing by following these steps:

  1. Move your cursor to the address (a.k.a. location) bar by pressing Command + L.1
  2. Type the first few letters of the bookmarklet name (or the whole thing if you type quickly).
  3. Press Enter.

If you use folders in Instapaper2, you can take this a step further by saving the bookmarklet for those folders as well.


  1. Mac: Works with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari
  2. Pro tip. If you send saved articles from Instapaper to your Kindle, don’t mix text articles with media so those particular entries aren’t wasting space in that periodical (Amazon’s term, not mine). I have video, audio, and photo folders as well. 

How I organize my life with Simplenote

I meant to blog about something geeky and exciting. After starting to re–organize my slew of notes in Simplenote1, I decided to write about this instead.

Let’s call this a very tiny weekly review. ;)

(No, come back! Phew. Thank you.)

Simplenote feels like the perfect fit, and it doesn’t hurt that the guys that started it are super rad. (Hi Mike and Fred!)

So, I love the speed and flexibility of plain text, as well as Markdown. I’m also really glad WordPress.com finally supports Markdown, too.

Here are a few ideas on how I use Simplenote:

  • Agenda notes for coworkers, family, friends.
  • Tasks (personal or shared).
  • Blog post drafts.
  • Inventory.
  • Tracking data that doesn’t need to be displayed in pretty graphs.
  • Health notes, so you can discuss issues to your doctor, dentist, or optometrist with a shred confidence.
  • Restaurants. (A whitelist. These dishes are delectable! Or, a blacklist. That place was not good.)
  • Business hours of places you frequent (e.g. stores, malls, mechanic).
  • Late–night sparks of inspiration.

I also love how you can use other apps with Simplenote, like:

  • nvALT for Mac, which I previously used.
  • Listary for iOS, which Amy and I use to share a few todo lists.

Things is still my main task manager. When talking with my coworkers, in the flow of typing within Simplenote, I sometimes slip the word “TODO” inline with the note, which I can quickly find later and import to Things with more context.

Pro tip: Date everything. You never know if you’ll need it later, and you can always cull or delete later.

Brett Kelly raves about Drafts for iOS (which I finally bought last month and still use), and it feels like Simplenote opens and works just as fast.

If you’re curious about “embedding” images and files, I’d suggest uploading them to your favorite file sharing or hosting service — like Cloudup! — and paste the link into your note.

Is your brain percolating? Do you have any other ideas to get the most out of Simplenote? I’d love to hear them. :)


  1. The Simplenote Mac and iOS apps are gorgeous! 

Later 2013, what’s shaking, 2014?

In 2013, I worked a lot, traveled a bit (mostly for work), and enjoyed quality time with Amy.

We’ve continued to reduce our debt, and I still think we’ll be out of debt by June 2014. Amy is hopeful it’ll be sooner. :)

For 2014, I’d like to:

  • Be less anxious. Relax.
  • Spend more time with Amy.
  • Hang out with friends more often.
  • Be more efficient.
  • Be a great example for others.
  • Exercise.
  • Track the right stuff so I know what to change.
  • Purge.
  • Read my backlog of articles and books.
  • Publish 156 posts (three times a week).

That…is a lot.

Reviewing the list, many are related to the concept of budgeting time. Here’s a shorter, revised list:

  • Budget my time so I can be with people — or do the things — I love and enjoy.
  • Be less anxious. Relax.
  • Be a great example for others.
  • Track the right stuff so I know what to change.

On that note, off I go. Happy new year!

An excerpt from a cool post by Kelly Sutton, co–founder and CTO of LayerVault, on working remotely — my emphasis in bold:

Although many investors and founders poo-poo the idea of remote work, I’m convinced it can make a better company. A remote company is more resilient to internet downtime in the office, U.S. federal holidays, and more. Remote employees get to live their own lives on their own time, and produce better work as a result.

If you’re a founder and not hiring remote, you’re limiting your results.

Traveling? Relax with a checklist

A couple of weeks ago, I had an awesome opportunity to go to NMX BlogWorld in Las Vegas to spread happiness at the WordPress booth. The night before, I decided to make a checklist of all the things I need.

The goal of making this list is to help you relax (in addition to making sure you have everything you need.)

Have you gotten on the road or powered your phone on during your flight, wondering if you did something at home?

For example, did you:

  • Remember to pay that bill?
  • Close all the windows and lock the door(s)?
  • Leave the stove lit?
  • Temporarily stop mail at the post office?
  • Pack your laptop and cell phone charger?
  • Print your boarding pass?

Wonder no more! Your list will save your sanity.

It doesn’t matter what method you use for this list. Write a list, and save it somewhere. (Yes, I created a new project in Things.)

While you’re packing, you’ll likely add things to your list. Even though it’ll take an extra ten seconds to write it down, make a note of it. This is super important.

Bonus tip: Note the location of the item in your bags to save time finding it later.

(You can also fill out this partial template of a travel checklist from Lifehacker.)

In a few hours, when you start questioning yourself about forgetting something, refer to that list. It’ll be your warm blanket, gin and tonic, or chill pill.

How Things makes me even more awesome

Things 2 screenshotAround nine months ago, Isaac Keyet persuaded me to try Things for Mac by Cultured Code. I usually prefer plain text, but that’s too simple for the stuff I jot down.

With keyboard shortcuts galore, I quickly fell in love with this app. It costs $49.99 for Mac, $9.99 for iPhone, and $19.99 for iPad — and it’s worth every penny. I’ll explain how I manage tasks with Things.

At work

At Automattic, we communicate internally through IRC, private P2–themed sites, and Skype. However, I do receive email notifications regularly because it helps with my workflow.

At the beginning and end of each shift, my routine consists of processing my email (new post or comment notifications), and reviewing IRC or Skype messages I missed when I was offline. I skim messages, open batches of five to ten browser tabs, and delete the corresponding emails.

When I come across a post that requires more digging (i.e. longer than a minute), I press Control–Option–Space bar to use Quick Entry, which automatically inserts a link in the notes. That item gets saved to Things. (Inbox, by default.)

Without moving my hands from the keyboard, I can enter a title and tags for the item. When I’m done, pressing Return saves the item in Things and the Quick Entry window disappears, leaving me where I left off.

If there’s a block of text that’s perfect for the notes, highlighting it before pressing the Quick Entry with Autofill keyboard shortcut adds it to the notes after the link.

I also sort my Inbox items into Next or Scheduled after processing email. (This might be against GTD methodology, but I equate the Scheduled focus to my digital tickler file.)

If I have an idea that isn’t linked to a webpage or email, or if someone pings me and I can’t get to them right away, I can press the Quick Entry keyboard shortcut (Control–Space bar) and jot it down in seconds.

It’s exhilarating to know that I’m not missing anything as long as it’s in Things (or my calendar, of course).

Pro tip: Read through the keyboard shortcuts a few times, or print it as a reminder. I’ve been using my trackpad too much.

Not at “work”

Away from my desk, I can write new items or ideas quickly with Things for iPhone. I add items from the Things home screen, saving to the Inbox by default.

When I get home, I add additional context (tags, notes). If I’m browsing a site or Twitter, and something piques my interest, I’ll take the extra few seconds to copy the URL in my clipboard to paste in the item notes.

I used their mobile app with local sync via Wi-Fi (before cloud sync), and I think it’s superb now that cloud sync works perfectly.

Wading through tasks

I’m infatuated with tags, making sure I assign the correct one for each item. By doing this, my Next screen is super focused, allowing me to ignore stuff I can’t handle at the moment. Here are a few examples:

  • At work, my Automattic tag allows me to ignore errands and tasks I need to do at home. (Tag management side note: computer is a parent tag, while Automattic is a child tag since I’m in front of a computer when working.)
  • My home tag removes items I need to do at home and away from a computer.
  • My errand tag focuses my view to tasks when I’m out and about.

Relevancy

This process allows me to batch tasks. I’m not constantly changing gears between P2s, Trac, updating support pages, helping people using WordPress.com through email/forums, processing photos, or writing posts (like this one).

I’m also not worried about forgetting the context of an item. I add just enough notes to describe what needs to be done.

Conclusion

If you work on a Mac every day, you should check out the 15–day free trial. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.

Thank you, Things, for keeping me sane. :)

Habit Streak

I need to setup appropriate reminders to categorize twenty “Uncategorized” posts a day until they’re all organized again, so I’m reinstalling the free version of Habit Streak on my Android phone.

Habit Streak helps you achieve your goals (or New Year’s Resolutions) in exercise, diet or other areas of your life. Each day you report on whether you succeeded yesterday, building up streaks of habits and ingraining the activities into your life.

Pronto writing in six steps

I don’t like hand writing as much as typing simply because I’m a slow writer. The faster I write, the less legible my words become.

It’s incredibly easy to get going with a MacBook Air (Oct 2010), especially since it wakes up from sleep so quickly.

Mac OS X on my MacBook Air

  1. Open lid.
  2. Enter password.
  3. Press Command + Spacebar to activate Spotlight (or whichever keyboard shortcut used to activate Quicksilver , LaunchBar, or Alfred App), type “Bean” or whichever text editor/word processor you use, then press Enter.
  4. Frantically type whatever thoughts are spewing from your mind.
  5. Command + S to save your document, then Command + Q to quit your text editor program.
  6. Close lid.

Windows 7

You can type the program name after pressing the Windows key.

Once you’re done writing, Control + S to save your document, then Alt + F4 to close the program.

Software

Which programs do I use to write? The following are essentially free simple text editing programs, designed with minimal features so you can focus on writing. If you like any of them, please donate to the developers.

I save these small text files to a dedicated folder within Dropbox[1. Affiliate link to Dropbox. "For every friend who joins and installs Dropbox, we'll give you 500 MB and your friend 250MB of bonus space (up to a limit of 16 GB)!"] only for text files, with a specific prefix to help me find it later. (e.g. BP means blog post in “BP – Pronto writing in six steps.txt”.)

Why not use Microsoft Word, Apple iWork Pages, or OpenOffice.org Writer? If you’re only working with plain text, you don’t need the extra features and bloat.

If you don’t know the HTML tags for post formatting, copy your text[2. Select All for: (Windows) Ctrl+A; (Mac OS X) Command+A], paste it[3. Paste for: (Windows) Ctrl+V; (Mac OS X) Command+V] into your blog post, then format and/or add links accordingly.

Get a Google Calendar already

It doesn’t matter who you are. You need a calendar. (More specifically, Google Calendar. It’s free, you know.)

Do you truly respect people and their time?

While working at a law firm for last five years, I learned that everyone uses a physical and/or digital calendar. That calendar is sacred. If it’s not on there, it doesn’t happen.

I get annoyed when something gets planned or bumped at the last minute. I’m not talking about randomly, but on a regular basis.

I’m not calling you an idiot for not having a calendar. I just think you’re foolish to keep your schedule in your head. Additionally, if people rely on your calendar to schedule things involving you, what other incentive do you need to create and maintain a calendar accessible to others?

It’s alright. They can just text/call me and I’ll let them know.

What if you’re off the grid for a few hours, or your cell phone battery is dead? Do you really want the back-and-forth exchange one person has to undertake with several people?

How about if someone is asking me on the spot?

Tell them you’ll check your calendar and get back to them. Or, keep a paper copy on hand with the next few weeks.

Can’t I just keep it on my basic cell phone calendar?

What if your cell phone breaks or it’s lost? Where’s the backup?

Alright wise guy, so how do you keep your calendar?

I love Google Calendar. Look at its features! I’m sharing my calendar for potential customers[1. I still don't know if it's better to call them clients.].

  • I don’t have a smartphone (e.g. BlackBerry, iPhone), but I have a data plan, so viewing [a few weeks of] upcoming events through their mobile site is simple.
  • I can add items via SMS (text message).
  • Even though I check my calendar daily, I can choose to receive reminders via SMS.
  • Customers looking at my calendar shows when I’m busy – private, yet effective.
  • Tip: I can export my private ICAL (.ics) file[2. How? On the left, click the dropbown arrow next to your calendar, then Calendar Settings. Under Private Address, right-click and save the ICAL file to your computer.], then copy it onto my Apple iPod (3G). It’s not painful to do this every few days and it forces me to have a backup on my computer. If you have a newer iPod or iPod Touch, you could do this, too.

Convinced? Setup your own Google Calendar now!