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Productivity Systems Overhaul, Part 2: Apps and Systems

  • 3 min read

Morning Rituals

Getting to bed earlier has had a very profound effect on my productivity systems and productivity in general 1.

For instance, today is Saturday. I went to bed at 10:56 PM on Friday night and woke up at 4:44 AM, rested and ready to go. Granted, by 7 AM I was tired again 2 but I did what I have been doing for a few months now, when I don’t slip up:

  • 8 AM Get up
  • 8:05 Drink water
  • 8:30 Shower
  • 9:00 Eat a good breakfast
  • 9:30 Listen to a podcast/book
  • 10 Get a coffee
  • 10:05 Read a few pages of a book
  • 10:45 Check out OmniFocus and Fantastical
  • 11 Begin work for the day

Getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier has allowed me more time to write, flesh out programming projects, edit old blog posts, do research, eat, and clean up around the apartment.

Just this small change has helped me be super productive. Figuring out a morning ritual was key to being able to write code, write blog posts, research my book projects, and get cleaned up, and ready for any task or learning I needed to do throughout the day. Simple, yet you won’t believe how hard it is to implement after years of listless and unstructured days.

Figuring Out My Tools

In the Mac Power Users Facebook Group, Chris Upchurch posted a link to his blog talking about inventorying his tools.

I found the concept interesting and decided to do the same.

This list is comprehensive: most of the apps listed here I use in some form throughout my daily life 3. I want to take the time here to assess the tools, and give you some suggestions on what you can do to take stock of your digital productivity systems

Already Use Frequently:

  • Chrome
  • IDEs and Text Editors
  • Terminals
  • Evernote
  • OmniFocus
  • Fantastical 2
  • Ulysses
  • Alfred
  • Google Drive/Docs
  • Dropbox
  • Clean My Mac
  • BetterTouchTool
  • CheatSheet
  • RescueTime
  • 1Password
  • Slack

Would Like to Use More Frequently:

  • Day One
  • Droplr
  • Feedly
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • Hemingway
  • Grammarly
  • MindNode
  • OmniOutliner
  • Scrivener
  • Reeder
  • TaskPaper
  • Studies
  • nvAlt
  • Paws for Trello
  • SuperTab
  • Byword
  • Dash (Developer Documentation)
  • Duet Display
  • Gitter (Open Source Slack-like client)
  • MediumDesk
  • DEVONthink Pro Office

Apps to Cut Down on Using

  • Airmail
  • Gmail
  • Tweetbot
  • App for WhatsApp

I think if you look at this list, you get a sense of where my priorities are, from the bottom up 4.

I tend to use social and email apps more than general productivity apps. I am spending less time on social media altogether, but could really cut back on my use of Facebook and Twitter.

The apps I would like to use more frequently include some reading apps. Maybe that might be considered a distraction, but as I currently use them for news, I think opening them in the morning and looking through them isn’t too bad. Sometimes I need to keep up with developer news and tutorials so these apps come in handy.

What’s interesting here is that the apps you use to get real work done are apps I want to use more frequently 5. This doesn’t surprise me as I am/was a huge procrastinator. Taking time to figure out what I am supposed to be doing and when has really helped with this. I am hoping to have usage of these apps sort of like my Alfred statistics 6 :

What You Can Do to Take Inventory of Your Tools

Have a look in your Applications folder. List them in the order that you use them. Try to assess which ones you use the most, that you’d like to use more or less, and ones you should delete.

I tend to hang on to apps, especially if I paid a lot of money for them. Sometimes, it’s best just to keep the installer and put the license inside of 1Password, and call it a day 7.

Anything you’d add? Leave me a comment. Tell me how you’re going about using your productivity systems during your day.

  1. It is really rough with the double whammy of insomnia and sleep apnea which makes me very tired during the day. 

  2. That damned sleep apnea 

  3. Most of them, anyway 

  4. Kind of backwards, I know. 

  5. Scrivener, Byword, MediumDesk for writing articles for publications, etc. 

  6. Well, maybe not that much. 

  7. Unless you bought from the Mac App Store. 

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Productivity System Overhaul: Tidying and Tools

  • 2 min read

I recently overhauled my productivity system.

What I was doing wasn’t working. School wasn’t working. My body wasn’t working.

I was forgetting things. I wasn’t getting enough sleep1. I was burned out. Stress with school, stress with trying to get my side projects together. Stress with finding employment. Stress with a cluttered apartment. It took its toll.

What I Did

First, I read a summary of the KonMari method of tidying things from her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Immediately I went about throwing out all the junk in my apartment.

First, I threw out old clothes, a potpourri steamer, old placemats from my first apartment, paper that had accumulated from all the junk mail I receive. I threw it all out.

Then I cleaned my living room, overhauled my kitchen, moved and cleaned my bedroom.

Of course, this happened over time. But the tossing of junk happened at once.

Productivity Systems Revisited

If you’re going to write about productivity and relevant applications for productivity, it is best that you are actually putting your money where your mouth is.

First rule for me at least: If it doesn’t look good, I am probably not going to use it.

This is something I found out early in my Apple software life. I appreciate good design. If it is cumbersome, fiddly, or ugly, I’m just not going to want to use it.

I ditched BusyCal for Fantastical 2. It helped that my friend Francesco D’Alessio was giving away software licenses for his 5,000 subscriber YouTube giveaway.2 Luckily I won the Fantastical 2 license and went about setting off to be more productive.

I got a copy of Carl Pullein’s book Your Digital Life. It is a primer on how to be productive in the digital age, with digital tools, implementing the GTD method.

This book changed the way I work.

That’s not hyperbole. It did change the way I work with my tools, and how to just be a better, more organized, and less stressed productive person.

I set up a system I will talk about in the next post. So far, it has been a success. I have been more productive than ever before in my life, working on paid work and open source software as well, while I gain better programming skills and look for employment.

Stay tuned.

  1. I still am not getting enough sleep. I have a sleep disorder that is being taken care of now. 

  2. Check out his YouTube channel. Excellent content. 

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End of Year Mac App Roundup, Part 2

  • 2 min read

So as promised, I am penning the second part to my best Mac productivity apps of 2016. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Best of 2016 Mac App Roundup

  • Hazel - This app saves me so much time by moving files around that I’ve collected in different places across my Mac and external hard drive. You can move any type of file with a rule, from photos, disk images, and epubs, the list is endless.
  • BusyCal - This is my calendar app of choice, at least for now. I use BusyCal along with BusyContacts as a CRM but the more I look at Fantastical 2 the more I am intrigued by it. Maybe a review for 2017?
  • BusyContacts - My favorite way to manage my contacts on macOS. It isn’t pretty but it is full-featured and integrates well with BusyCal. None of BusyMac’s apps are very good looking, but they are powerful.
  • MindNode - I don’t mind map as much as I’d like– my mind doesn’t work in such a scattered way. But the few times I used MindNode[note]and still do, sometimes[/note] I was impressed by its look and robust feature set. If mind mapping is your bag, definitely check it out.
  • Paws for Trello - This is a nice, elegant Trello client that has desktop notifications and a quick switcher for board management. It’s cheap– $3. I use it quite a bit as I have several boards going for different projects.
  • Dropbox - If you are doing any type of collaboration with teams using files that aren’t just documents, this is the app you want. Even if you aren’tcollaborating, just having your files everywhereis a piece of mind you can’t afford to live without. The free tier is not really generous; 2gb is paltry. But it will work for small text files. I’d encourage you to upgrade to the Pro plan at $99/yr or $10/mo. 1TB of storage for that price seems steep but it is the best cloud file manager available, and the most reliable.
  • Google Drive - If you need real-time document editing, file-sharing, and online presentations that are easily shareable, this is the app you want. Unlike Dropbox, it gives you 15gb of storage on the free tier and up from there to 1TB and they have plans for businesses too.

Do You Agree with My List?

Let me know of what apps you’re using in the comments. There will be another New Year’s Mac App Roundup coming early 2017.


If you like what you read, could you share it? I appreciate the love. ❤️

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End of The Year Mac App Roundup, Part 1

  • 5 min read

The end of the year is here and with that comes end of year mac app roundup posts of the best apps for productivity, games, and other popular app genres.

Here, at That Mac Nerd, it’s no different. I have moved from app to app this past year, looking for the perfect tool. That’s a fool’s errand: there is no perfect tool, just a perfect system [note]I will write a post about systems soon[/note] and that system is unique to your own needs.

Two Parts

While writing this post, I noticed how long it had gotten and that I had 16 apps I wanted to talk about. So instead of pumping out a very long article, I decided to break it up, two posts with 8 apps each. Same for the End of the Year iOS Productivity App Roundup.

My Best Productivity Apps This Year

So what apps I am using are the best this year? Here’s my list.

OmniFocus - This is a workhorse for those busy folks that need to manage their tasks. This is a GTD powerhouse though you can use it for a simple list. OmniFocus is the best of the best and the app most entrepreneurs use if their on a Mac. Pricey, so make sure you’re going to commit.Spark - I know I wrote about Spark before:

https://thatmacnerd.com/that-mac-nerd-10-best-productivity-apps-ios/

and then I switched to Airmail:

https://thatmacnerd.com/10-best-productivity-apps-mac/

 

on Mac and iOS. Spark’s Mac app was in beta and I didn’t really want to test it– I was pretty happy with the power of Airmail. Spark is powerful as well but not quite as powerful as Airmail– the OmniFocus share extension is much, much better with Airmail. I switched over to Spark after I looked at their Mac app. It’s beautiful and fast. On iOS I keep Airmail around just for that share extension but on Mac it doesn’t make a difference. Spark is almost as good as Mail.app and it’s free.Alfred - This is a must-have app. I don’t know what I’d do without it, and I am not even using its full power. It’s an app launcher, a web and website searcher, and with web APIs, AppleScript, and things like Python and JXA, you can script workflows for the apps on your machine or access web services. And with the revised workflow maker screen, you can think up and create all kinds of relevant workflows for you. You will need to pay for the PowerPack, which is around $30. Upgrades are cheap– I got my upgrade to version 3 for $10.Keyboard Maestro - Keyboard Maestro is an app that once you play around with it, get a few macros made[note]or downloaded[/note] you won’t know what you did without it. I have made, and downloaded, 184 macros that do things behind the scenes that I no longer have to think about. It has a learning curve, so make sure you are doing repeated tasks often enough to justify the time and monetary costs of this app. But, if you’re willing to take a little time to learn it[note]It helps to know AppleScript, Ruby, Python of JXA but you really don’t need to[/note].Hazel - If you are constantly moving files across your Mac and maybe a few external drives, or even into closed file formats like Evernote[note]Katie Floyd has a great little Hazel rule that I will share[/note], Hazel should be your first choice for this. In fact, I am pretty certain Hazel is the only choice for this currently. Hazel saves me so much time, and it doesn’t have to be a slog to setup. Just a few rules can get you going. I wrote about my Hazel setup on Mac Automation Tips blog:

http://www.macautomationtips.com/guest-post-how-i-use-hazel

Check it out for how to get started with Hazel. Check out Katie Floyd’s Evernote Hazel rule as well.Evernote - I absolutely love Evernote, despite the team’s flaws, despite its warts, despite the uproar over their pricing model. Since Phil Libin left, the Evernote team has since regained focus, shuttling their ill-advised store and some other products that weren’t at the core of who they are. I tried the plain text system of storing information, as well as a DEVONthink Pro Office system of storing info, but at the end of the day, nothing is as malleable to GTD and productivity as Evernote. I keep and use DEVONthink Pro Office as an archival database for books, videos, and pdfs that I may need to refer to later. But for my everyday, I still use Evernote. I am currently writing a book on Evernote so stay tuned.Scrivener - With the recent release of their iOS app, Scrivener is back on my radar as a worthy tool to write non-fiction in, as well as the sundry school research papers I’ll need to write. It is, in all its cluttered glory, a behemoth– it does so much, so many bells and whistles– but it does it in ways other software can’t match. When Scrivener launched for iOS I immediately bought it and have since started two book projects. It syncs with Dropbox only: for some reason the developer said iCloud Sync didn’t work correctly, however Ulysses, which also uses package files, works flawlessly with iCloud Sync. In any case, this is a must have if you’re doing any type of long-form writing.Ulysses - Ulysses is the markdown app for serious writers. I write practically everything in Ulysses that isn’t going to be extremely long form or things like journal entries or goals. You can put that stuff in Ulysses, but that’s really not taking advantage of its power. I am currently writing this blog post in Ulysses on my iPad Pro with Logitech Smart Keyboard but the Mac app is always in my dock, always accessible. I write all my blog posts, newsletters, and scripts in Ulysses. It’s an App Store app and quite pricey, like Scrivener but one of the best apps on the store.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

Part two has some web apps that have integrations locally on your Mac and a few utilities. The next post should be out by the end of the week.

In the meantime relax, stay motivated, and keep productive.

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IFTTT Recipes: Using IFTTT To Automate Your Hustle

  • 1 min read

IFTTT recipes

Are you still using IFTTT recipes?

I am.

I have deleted some recipes and added others. They are adding new channels every week. A lot of it is home automation stuff the Hue and WeMo lights[footnote]And of course, the Amazon Echo.[/footnote]. That seems to be their focus and I understand that.

They asked for suggestions on their Facebook Page and I, as well as other users suggested multiple accounts as well as more fine-tuned conditionals for greater flexibility. Seems like power-user features but one that Zapier has had for a while now.

The IFTTT Giveth and The APIs Taketh Away

One notable issue with IFTTT is that it relies so heavily on web service APIs that are constantly changing. I used Instagram’s Save a Photo You Like on Instagram to Your Camera Roll recipe quite often. There were several different triggers for Instagram. But because of changes to their API, they took away a lot of triggers which crippled some of my workflows.[footnote]You can find the article about that here: https://ifttt.com/blog/2016/05/a-change-in-how-instagram-works-with-ifttt[/footnote].

It isn’t ideal, but it’s what we have when services like IFTTT tap into other web apps for free.

My IFTTT Recipes

So what am I using these days? You can find them below.

IFTTT Recipe: Post Tumblr Video to FB Page connects tumblr to facebook-pages

IFTTT Recipe: Append New Subscribers to Evernote Note connects mailchimp to evernote

IFTTT Recipe: Liked Item Archive connects instapaper to instapaper

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Top 10 iOS Apps for Productivity

  • 3 min read

This is an updated list of iOS apps for fall.

My list of most used apps has changed since I last wrote an article on the Best 10 Apps for Productivity on iOS.

I have tested old tools and stuck with them and abandoned new tools.

My list of tools should be different than yours. If they’re not, that’s okay, too.

My Top Apps

Most of my top apps are a rehash of the previous article. I am just going to list what changed.

  1. AirmailThis is the power user option against Spark’s email client. Airmail has a ton of integrations built in. You can essentially send an email to OmniFocus or Evernote. Evernote integration isn’t the best; the format of the email is stripped out and the Airmail x-call-back URL is added in the note body. But there are a lot of other integrations.The read receipt feature that Spark took out of their app is in this app, as well as Send Later and now, Undo Send. Send Later is only available for Gmail and Outlook accounts at the moment, but it is still a very worthy investment.
  2. EvernoteI tried to abandon Evernote. I really did. But from the moment I deleted my old account, I immediately regretted it. It was the cornerstone of all my information and plain text systems as well as DEVONthink Pro Office wasn’t cutting it the way I wanted it to.Evernote is in some dire straits, and I may have to jump ship eventually. But for now I paid for the Premium subscription which I got a generous discount on. I want them to stay in business so I gave them my money. It’s a fact of business: a brand build a product. You don’t give them money to sustain that product, the product dies. It’s that simple.
  3. OmniFocusThe big gun of productivity apps on the Apple platform. They are pricey apps but worth it.I went with Todoist for half a year and it was a great system but I eventually got bored with the incentive system and the lack of power user features, even with the premium version. I went back to OmniFocus as now I know how to actually use it and the GTD method. Both of these together are something powerful.
  4. PocketCastsI was a staunch Overcast user and patron. But when PocketCasts, my previous podcatcher got similar features that drew me to Overcast, I switched back. The interface just looks better— sleek and modern.One thing that really bothers me is the Episode Filter. It isn’t intuitive to use and it is reflected in the reviews. You can play the whole playlist, or episode filter, but you have to tap the three buttons by the title: of your playlist and hit Play All. It is a quirk, but a minor one. Now that I know how it works, it is a definite Overcast replacement.
  5. AudibleI just recently found the value of audiobooks. Most of the books I read this year, all 48 of them, have been audiobooks. I am on the Platinum plan so I get two credits a month and I always use them.Audiobooks are great for commutes and gym time, a perfect time to learn something. If you don’t think you’d enjoy audiobooks, give it a try. If you like it sign up.

Disclosure

All the product links on this page give me a tiny commission if you purchase them. I would appreciate it if you used these links to purchase them, if you decide to. It helps with the maintenance of this blog and other expenses.

Thoughts?

What are your favorite iOS apps currently for Getting Things Done?

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You Are Not A Machine

  • 1 min read

Optimized-machine I am trying to remember this:

You are not a machine.

[Tweet “You are not a machine.”]

Working late into the night, working on weekends: it’s killing us.

We’re unhealthy. We don’t take time to exercise and eat right and how could we? There’s just no time. From emails, Slack messages, crises at work, staying late at the office, time is a lost commodity.

But there’s hope.

Setting Yourself Up for Success By Saying “Yes” to You

You should be the focus of everything you do.

[Tweet “You should be the focus of everything you do.”] Taking care of your body is only going to give you more energy to get things done.

Sleeping seven to eight hours a night and going to bed at a reasonable time can help you focus and ready to start your day. There’s nothing worse than being sleep deprived. Your eyes glaze over and you can’t focus.

Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel happy and alive. I know when I come out of the gym, I feel incredible. I am trying to lose weight and get fit. The more I push myself to exercise the better I feel about myself. I have more confidence I have to tackle any of the school/work/life problems. Endorphins matter that much.

Eating healthy is super important to feeling good, as well. When we put good foods in our system, they fuel us and give our brains much needed energy.

Learn to Say No To Others

I struggle with this. I say yes to a lot, as someone who is in school and trying to get ahead in life faster than I did when I was younger. I would go to school, drop out, go back in an attempt to keep relationships. I was struggling with self-confidence.

Today, I have learned to say no to a lot of projects that have come my way. Saying no to other commitments, you’re signaling to others that your time is valuable. This will boost self-confidence and lead others to respect your time.

You Matter

Remember this. If you allow yourself to let others influence your behavior, you compromise your well-being.

[Tweet “Remember this. If you allow yourself to let others influence your behavior, you compromise your well-being.”]

Have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

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The Importance of Getting Up Early

  • 2 min read

Dawn

I admit— I am usually not a fan of getting up early. I would stay up until 3 in the morning and get up around 12 PM. The alarm would blare Junior Senior’s Move Your Feet, a catchy tune that implies a good day ahead. I would lay in bed for hours and scroll through email or Twitter and Facebook, and waste half the day. Then I would muster up the energy to go work on something.

This is, as many would tell you, the absolute worst thing to do. First, that time you’re scrolling through email and Twitter is time that you could be using to do the big tasks that require you to eat the frog first, or get to something far more important than triaging email.

There was some research done a few years ago about this: a lot of when we wake up or our chronotype is genetic, but it isn’t immutable.

Early Bird Gets the Worm?

“The early morning has gold in its mouth.”_shrink

 

There is something to be said for getting up early.

In the HBR article, it found that while night owls were on average smarter and more creative, business success and better grades were a characteristic of those who get up early.

“The early morning has gold in its mouth.”-1_shrink

Since your chronotype is not a fixed part of your circadian rhythm, there are steps you can take to get up early. This is what I am doing, as a lifelong night owl:

  • Small steps: I am trying to get up an hour earlier every week. This way I can get my body acclimated to getting up earlier in more manageable intervals.
  • Find something you enjoy doing in the morning. I enjoy researching articles to write, going through the day's news in Reeder, Instapaper, Flipboard, and the like. I also cook a healthy breakfast to start my day and then head to the gym a couple hours later.
  • Get an alarm clock. I am working on this. Don’t use your phone to wake you up. There are some benefits to this, like the iPhone app Sleep Cycle which is a wonderful app to help you gradually wake up. But if you’re anything like me, you wake up and close the clock app and open your email app, your Twitter client, and Facebook or Tumblr. Getting an alarm clock and placing your phone on the charger across the room or in another room will go a long way to getting you up and out of bed.

 

Have Anything to Add?

Are you a night owl? An early bird? What techniques do you use to get up and start your day?

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10 Best Productivity Apps for Mac

  • 5 min read

Following from my last post about The 10 Best Productivity Apps for iOS, I wanted to dig into the best for OS X as well.

I use a lot of apps on my Mac that automate tasks and keep me productive. I’ve narrowed them down to 10 with a few runner-ups.

Best Productivity Apps for Mac

  1. Todoist - I don’t need to talk more about Todoist. But here’s another screenshot.
  2. Todoist
  3. MindNode - This is a mind mapping tool that is beautiful and intuitive. Watching Travis Neilson from Dev Tips use it to map out a portfolio site he was helping new developers and designers build was enough motivation to download the trial and then finally purchase it. I use it for connecting different thoughts for the content I create.
  4. MindNode
  5. Hazel - I just realized the sheer power of Hazel. With Hazel 4, the guy at Noodlesoft has really stepped up his game. I have tons of files and I used to go about sorting them half-heartedly with Hazel— I’d dump old stuff into a folder on my external hard drive to sort through later. After listening to Mac Power Users #322 about Hazel, I knew instantly what I could do with it. The upgrade from Hazel 3 to Hazel 4 couldn’t have been cheaper— $10— a steal.
  6. Hazel
  7. Alfred - Alfred is where all my searches and app launching starts1. With the addition of workflows in Alfred 2, it made Alfred leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. It is also fast, faster than the rest. I tried Launchbar but the search syntax is bizarre. A lot of old time Mac users love Launchbar but it isn’t for me. With Alfred 3, everything has gotten flatter and more in line with native OS X UI, and the Workflow Editor makes it even more powerful.
  8. Alfred
  9. DEVONthink Pro Office - This is where all my digital information— documents, pdfs, videos, podcasts that I made, blog posts, web articles that I need for research, tutorials, all of it, gets stored in DEVONthink as opposed to Evernote which I used for 7 years. The turmoil within the Evernote camp and the fact it is difficult to get stuff out of Evernote led me to abandon it for Notes.app and plain text. Anything else gets stored in DEVONthink.
  10. DEVONthink Pro Office
  11. Airmail - I just switched to Airmail 3 in the process of writing this article. My first choice, Mail.app, was a good option for a long time, but I missed Airmail, which I was using exclusively for a year and a half. The integrations, as well as the recently added snooze and send later features2 made it ideal for me again.
  12. Airmail
  13. BusyCal - This is an ugly calendar, for sure, but it is really powerful. The integration with BusyContacts makes it a definite must have if you are using BC as a contacts manager. Fantastical is the darling of Mac users currently— it’s beautiful and plenty powerful. But I use BusyCal and BusyContacts as a CRM so I stick with them. Now if Flexbits came out with a contact manager that integrated with Fantastical, I’d be all over it.
  14. BusyCal
  15. Ulysses - This could be my favorite of all. I use Ulysses to write blog posts for my various blogs. I use an Automator app to publish to WordPress that Jennifer Mack wrote to post to all my blogs3. I also use it as a Markdown editor to update my portfolio, to write video scripts, and to compose my monthly newsletter.
  16. Ulysses
  17. Keyboard Maestro - This is the swiss army knife of automation on your Mac. I have a lot of macros, some I built, some I downloaded from the Keyboard Maestro forums and from various Apple enthusiast websites. It is a great tool with a lot of power and is essential for productivity on a Mac.
  18. Keyboard Maestro
  19. TextExpander - I know a lot of people have given up on TextExpander. I get a lot of value out of TextExpander— I have over a thousand snippets there. I don’t remember the shortcuts for all those snippets and some I downloaded and never used4. I pay a small monthly fee for a service/app I get a lot of use out of, so I won’t complain.

TextExpander

Runner-ups

  1. BusyContacts - This is my contacts manager of choice. It is smart, powerful, and the backup feature is a killer feature that I’ve used a lot while testing an app and ultimately screwing up my contacts database. I recommend at least giving it a try and it you do, check out BusyCal as well. The integration between the two is what makes the whole widget work.
  2. BusyContacts
  3. Lynda.com Mac App - I love Lynda.com. I get a free subscription through my school and also our great public library system here in Pittsburgh gives free subscriptions as well. I have downloaded a ton of videos from the site, from developer, business, and graphics, to video and audio, this is the place you want to go to learn. The free Mac app is great. You need to have an annual plan to enable video downloading, however. At $360/yr that might be a deal breaker for some just for downloading the videos. Check out your library and see if they have access.
  4. Lynda
  5. Mail - The only reason I still use it is for DEVONthink Pro Office plugin.
  6. Mail
  7. 1Password - The password manager of choice for so many Mac users.
  8. 1Password
  9. Chrome - As a developer, I use Chrome’s Dev Tools to help me figure out what is going on with the things I am building. Besides this, I use it to access Gmail and other web services that have integrations with each other.
  10. Chrome
  11. PDFPen - This is my pdf reader of choice. With plenty of power and a good looking interface5, it is the first choice in a world dominated by Acrobat.
  12. PDFPen
        1. Safari - I read all my Apple news sites in Safari. I would keep them in Reeder for Mac but I want to keep my business separated from my other, nonessential reading.
        Safari What are your must-have Mac productivity apps?
          1. well, apps that aren’t in my dock, anyway ↩︎
          2. send later is only for Gmail and Exchange accounts unfortunately ↩︎
          3. I duplicated each app for each WordPress blog ↩︎
          4. remind me to clean up my snippets ↩︎
          5. at a price Adobe Acrobat can’t touch ↩︎

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Digital Minimalism on Your Mac

  • 3 min read

Reading an article on The Productivityist, as I often do, the topic of digital decluttering or digital minimalism was broached.

Emilee McGee wrote the article and the first image was of a Mac desktop full of folders and files. It resembled a Windows desktop, as many Windows users use their desktops as file repositories for grabbing something later.

Emilee began to talk about how to declutter your digital life. I want to touch on a few things that I did today to do just that.

  1. Don’t use your desktop as a file repository. Your desktop should be a temporary holding spot for the fewest amount of files. If there is a folder you need to get at constantly, you can keep it on your desktop (my Git_Repositories folder is on my desktop). Otherwise, file those files in your Documents, Pictures, Music, etc. folders or on an external hard drive. [caption id="attachment_504" align="aligncenter" width="673"]digital_minimalism My current desktop[/caption]
  2. Keep a strict folder hierarchy. The deeper your folders go, the harder it is to find things. I have one level of folders and in those folders several that have different purposes, for instance, Website Administration will have subfolders for plugins, themes, SEO, etc. I keep the appropriate files in each folder. Emilee suggests you keep only a couple folders in one, but I find that too limiting.
  3. Use Tags. I had a ton of files that I had before I came to Mac in 2014. Mavericks introduced the concept of tags. I have a myriad of tags that I use to categorize files that need more defined categorization. I still have a lot of tagging to do yet, and I do so every weekend.
  4. Keep every file in a folder. On my external drive, every single file I own is in some type of folder. The only files I have that aren’t in folders are library files from Photos and iMovie.
  5. Get a file launcher. There are file launchers out there more powerful than spotlight and speedier. My choice is Alfred which is powerful in itself but by buying the Powerpack, you unlock a ton of functionality, like workflows, which opens up a whole new world to you. I suggest giving it a trial run, as you can test it out before you buy. Workflows aren’t available in the trial version but if you get enough value out of the free version, definitely upgrade. Version 3 will be out very soon so you may want to wait.
  6. Backup. Backup. Backup. I don’t think I can say this enough. I use Dropbox for important files that I want to keep though Dropbox only retains 30 days worth of versions. I use Google Drive and Box as well. Box is a school thing 1 and you get 50 gb with the school account. I keep things that are extremely important in my Box account because of their commitment to security and I keep business things in my Google Drive account because of the IFTTT integration.I also backup with Time Machine, SuperDuper 2, and Backblaze which is cloud backup for $5/mo or $50/yr. You should have an offsite backup 3, a bootable clone, file storage 4, and Time Machine. This will save your bacon come tax time or in an emergency.

So what are you going to do to declutter your Mac?

  1. I went back to school but this blog will remain as it is. ↩︎
  2. SuperDuper clones your boot drive. You can boot from it if your boot drive goes bad until you can replace your Mac. It won’t be as fast but it is better than nothing. ↩︎
  3. Meaning in the cloud. ↩︎
  4. You can choose one— I am fanatical about file redundancy. ↩︎

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My Best/Favorite IFTTT Recipes

  • 3 min read

IFTTT

Caveat: IFTTT has been in a battle with a few of its services for using the developers it relies on and making them create custom APIs that IFTTT claims all rights to.

As an aspiring developer, this angers me. But there is no real alternative. Part of my workflow was Pinboard but IFTTT is sunsetting the Pinboard service because the Pinboard dev has integrity and wishes to retain the rights to his intellectual property.

With this said, I still use it as it is key to my workflow.

The above caveat aside, IFTTT remains a significant tool in home and web service automation. It is the glue to the Internet of Things and remains an important part of many workflows, including my own.

I was asked on Twitter to list some of my favorite recipes. So I am listing them below with a little description.

IFTTT Recipe: Know When Issues Come Up on GitHub connects github to google-calendar

This is so I can keep up with issues on my GitHub repos and when the issues first were reported.

IFTTT Recipe: Feedly Read Laters to Instapaper connects feedly to instapaper

This is for my reading workflow, inspired in part by Mike Vardy on the Productivityist Podcast. Interesting articles I’d like to write about I star in Reeder, which is hooked up to Feedly and automatically added to an Instapaper folder called To write. I would have archived those articles for safe keeping in Pinboard but….

IFTTT Recipe: Cards to GDrive for Archival connects trello to google-drive

This is a way for me to archive ideas and cards from an important Trello Board for various projects. It will append every card to one document instead of creating new ones with each card created.

IFTTT Recipe: Keep Track of Your Goodreads activity in Day One. connects feed to day-one

I love Goodreads. I am a voracious reader of books and I need some way to share and keep track of what I am reading. I have calibre for ebooks and Book Collector for paperbacks, hardbacks, and ebooks but I like the Goodreads challenges and the ability to review books, which I can then sync to my calibre library. This is a way to keep track of my Goodreads habits and updates.

IFTTT Recipe: Push Highlights to Your Computer connects instapaper to pushbullet

This is a way for me to push highlights of important talking points from Instapaper to my computer to add to Notes.app and then write about those points. Pushbullet is an excellent app for this. I am starting to use DeskConnect for more file exchanges but DeskConnect does not have IFTTT integration, nor should they.

IFTTT Recipe: WP Post to Day One connects wordpress to day-one

I use this recipe to keep a log of my Code Newbie in Pittsburgh posts in Day One. Day One is my journaling app of choice. They just opened up to the IFTTT platform which I had been waiting a long time for. I have a myriad of recipes for Day One but this is one of the more important ones.

IFTTT Recipe: End Your FocusTime Session with Todoist connects todoist to rescuetime

I use RescueTime menubar app to keep track of my productivity and I pay for the Premium account, which to me, is worth it. I can start a FocusTime session, which blocks my access to whatever site I deem very distracting in RescueTime for whatever time I want with an IFTTT recipe that turns it on when I search my calendar for a specific event. When I complete the event, I check it off in Todoist and it stops the FocusTime Session, even if time isn’t up.

IFTTT Recipe: GCal Search Event to FocusTime Session connects google-calendar to rescuetime

This is the recipe I mentioned above.

IFTTT Recipe: Add a WP Post to Pinterest connects wordpress to pinterest

And lastly, this is a recipe I use to post my Code Newbie in Pittsburgh posts to Pinterest. They say Pinterest is a good marketing tool and I did have some success on one of my posts there. Need to have good enough graphics to entice and my blog is so geeky I am sure it doesn’t appeal to the moms on Pinterest.

So these are my recipes. What are your favorites?

 

Update 4/2/16:

Linden Tibbets, CEO of IFTTT, responded to the backlash the decision to sunset Pinboard caused. They are keeping Pinboard on IFTTT and helping the developer transition. They cleared up their ToS, but the damage is done. Developers have great memories and are automatically cynical. This won’t be forgotten, by me, as a new developer, or any other developer watching this.

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Mike Vardy’s Three Words

  • 1 min read

Productivityist_20Podcast_20-_20Patreon_20September_202014.jpg

Mike Vardy is the ultra-successful productivity blogger, podcaster, and coach. He runs The Productivityist blog and podcast.

In a talk on YouTube for the blog called 3 Words, Mike goes over the three words he focuses on during the year– everything he does has to be aligned with these words.

The concept of 3 Words is that instead of New Year’s Resolutions, he starts his year with 3 words and categorizes his goals in line with those three words. So instead of some vague resolution to lose weight, you could have the word Fitness. Under this word, you could have other types of tasks you want to accomplish but they must align with this word.

Mike usually keeps the first letter of each word the same. I haven’t copied this, but I have taken the 3 words to heart. I use Day One to track my progress for the three words I have set for myself:

  • Focus
  • Health
  • Effort

day_one

There’s a myriad of things and apps you could use to keep track of your three words. The advantages to the three-word system are that it prevents you from setting arbitrary productivity goals and provides a framework for productivity throughout the year, as long as you keep to those themes and only do things that align with them.

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App Review

Email Clients: My Weakness

  • 4 min read

There are few things on the App Store that get me to download them almost immediately like email clients.

I’ve tried all the heavy hitters: Mail.app, Airmail, Spark, and Outlook. I’ve bounced back between Airmail and Spark quite a bit, never settling on one or the other.

Outlook never stuck with me and Mail has promise now that I can drag emails out and put them in something like OmniFocus on iPad.

But recently I have tried out a couple new email apps. There are a few new ones worth mentioning and some have new, improved features that are going to push them into business class apps.

Airmail

When Airmail came to iOS, I was thrilled. I used it on the Mac for a while but since it didn’t have an iOS counterpart, I went back to Mail.app on the Mac and some other third-party app on iOS.

Right away, I was happy with the iOS version.

Design-wise, it is very clean.

Snooze, Send Later, Saved Searches, and Custom Actions, which were added later, were a selling feature of using Airmail over other email clients.

[caption id=”attachment_2383” align=”aligncenter” width=”319”]Custom actions Custom actions[/caption]

While Airmail is definitely an app for email power users, bugs plague the app. Sometimes archiving an email or emails doesn’t work as expected 1. Other times I’ve had crashed when composing an email or not all of my email is being shown. Sometimes I’d have to use another app like Gmail to see all my emails.

It is a very powerful app but the bugs outweigh its usefulness.

Email

This seems like an obvious name for an app. I don’t know how I came upon this 2 but I had to try it.

It, too, is a powerful app. You don’t get custom actions because AFAIK only Airmail has this.

But it is powerful in its feature set.

Email: Sidebar Features

The Email sidebar has a lot of nifty features: Subscriptions, Bills & Receipts, Packages, Travel, Entertainment, and Security.

This is useful for tracking your packages, seeing what you’ve spent money on, and getting your itineraries, etc.

The nicer things, however, are being able to bulk unsubscribe from newsletters 3 and adding newsletters as favorites. Also, being able to see if your email account has been breached is a big plus for me and for many others.

I don’t use this client often. I appreciate that they are security conscious and are thinking of encryption and user privacy. But it is free and I am not sure how long it will be around and, as in lots of situations like these, if they will sell to someone who is not so privacy focused.

Astrobot

I only downloaded this after realizing that the excellent Astrobot skill I got for Alexa would need something like this.

The selling point of the app is its AI bot. I don’t use it. But I do use the Alexa Skill.

https://vimeo.com/238661367

Spark

Whenever I change email clients away from Spark, I always come back.

The design is top-notch. The speed is almost unmatched. The intelligent sorting of emails is a feature that always hooks me. And now, with their latest release, they are aiming squarely at business users.

OmniFocus Integration

Having web service integration is really nice, but some people don’t use Todoist or other web based task managers.

With Spark on the Mac 4 you can send an email to OmniFocus, lessening the need for OmniFocus Clip-O-Tron in Mail.app

The implementation of this is my favorite so far. I also like the design of the modal.

Send Later and Follow-up

These are two new features added to Spark that make this a new entry into the business market with apps like Newton Mail which I will also be writing about 5 fully in another post.

https://vimeo.com/238328926

These are some of my favorite features of Spark, which is becoming a direct competitor to Newton. Readdle has stated they are moving towards “The future of work” as a business model. Seems they are taking the right steps.

Newton

I won’t get into too much about Newton as I am saving the review for later. But I will say I really like what I am seeing. Fast, fluid, beautiful, and useful for people who need to connect with clients, employers, and other business related tasks.

It is $50/yr which is a lot for an email client. And it is subscription based and you can only subscribe yearly. But I have to be honest, I love this app.

The Mac app is okay but I still use Gmail/G Suite in the browser because of the extensions. But on iOS this is one of the best clients for professionals I have seen yet.

https://vimeo.com/238312269

Email Clients are My Sickness

At least so far. I don’t get as much email as some but I do get enough and I need to manage it.

There was a time where I got at least five requests in one day and I almost lost my mind. I can imagine how people with 3,000 emails in their inbox feel.

Email clients are important. Still, there feels like most are missing critical features.

  1. Meaning they come back. 

  2. Actually it was in Apple’s Work feature on the App Store. 

  3. This depends on whether the sender allows email unsubscribes. 

  4. Still waiting for this to make its way to iOS. 

  5. And offering an apology to the team. 

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PDF to Word Converter for iOS: Review

  • 2 min read

Cometdocs was gracious enough to provide me with a full review copy of PDF to Word Converter. Note: this does not affect my review.

For businesses and power users who work with a lot of PDFs, converting to and from PDF on iOS can be cumbersome. Going all in on the iPad as a platform means that many people need a powerful app to convert between different formats.

There are several apps that can do this. One in particular is PDF to Word Converter by Cometdocs.

It is free to try but there are three IAP. One is for lifetime unlimited access to the fast conversion for $9.99. The second is for linking of services, which is not clear what that means, for $1.99. For using for a business, you have to pay another $49.99.

Using the App

Upon opening the app, you are greeted with the following screens:

 

You are presented with a lot of cloud and local options, as well as the ability to add from the web.

This view, unfortunately, does not rotate to landscape, which is how I use my iPad.

The design is clean but unwieldy.

Connecting a cloud provider is simple yet searching for your documents isn’t.

There is no search option so if you have a lot of folders and documents stored in Dropbox, it is hard to actually find them. The folders and documents aren’t sorted in alphabetical order, and there are no sort options available.

Conversion

Conversion with the fast conversion is fairly quick, but if you have graphics of any kind, the Word conversion is extremely poor.

 

 


[caption id=”attachment_2355” align=”aligncenter” width=”845”]Feedly in Dropbox as PDF Feedly in Dropbox as PDF[/caption]

 

 

[caption id=”attachment_2353” align=”aligncenter” width=”584”]Converted with PDF to Word Converted with PDF to Word[/caption]

 

 


 

Converting PDFs with no graphics works fine though there are some formatting issues.

[caption id=”attachment_2357” align=”aligncenter” width=”584”]PDF converted though letter spacing is off. PDF converted though letter spacing is off.[/caption]

Worth It?

Currently it is not worth the amount of money you must pay to do such rudimentary things. The formatting with graphics is awful, and I will give the devs credit: that’s a hard thing to get right. But when you are charging $52 for an app that is supposed to suit the needs of professionals, this app is sorely lacking.

I have reached out to the developers to let them know that it needs work. A lot of work. Here’s hoping they can improve and iterate quickly. The market may become more crowded with iOS 11, and $52 for what they are offering won’t cut it.

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DEVONthink & DEVONthink to Go: Dynamic Duo

  • 1 min read

 

Evernote or DEVONthink Pro Office? This is the question I’ve been asking myself for several years now.

There was a point in time, somewhere around early 2015, where I switched to a plain text note taking system using nvAlt, DEVONthink Pro Office, and Drafts.

This worked considerably well though as I decided I needed to become more productive I decided to go back to Evernote.

I wrote about DEVONthink in 2015. Convinced it was only for academics who do heavy research, I didn’t know what to do with it. My first year at Pitt was that year so I eventually bought it.

DEVONthink to Go Gets a Makeover

One of the things that stopped me from fully utilizing DEVONthink Pro Office was that DEVONthink to Go was basically just a file viewer. As I stated in my other DEVONthink article, what I needed from DEVONthink was a mobile component. DEVONthink to Go was a good app but it didn’t suit my needs.

With DEVONthink to Go 3.0 we get a new look and a whole lot of functionality that wasn’t in the original DEVONthink to Go app.

Spotlight search, Files app integration, X-callback-URL schemes, new UI, and powerful file management features makes this the best compliment to DEVONthink Pro Office yet.

My Use Case

DEVONthink Pro Office and DEVONthink to Go are where I store web archives I know I will refer back to later 1. PDFs, receipts, emails, and other documents I will need for later and will come back to repeatedly gets stored in DEVONthink Pro Office.

I also use DEVONthink Pro Office and DEVONthink to Go to archive my blog posts, screenshots, and screen recordings from iOS.

Evernote is for the ephemeral, things like newsletters and recent web clippings I will delete eventually because I will not be referring back to them more than a couple times.

Not For Everyone

I know Evernote is the favorite but I use both of these apps in tandem. It’s taken me a while to realize each app’s strengths and play to them.

  1. By later, I mean as a reference. 

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KickMe App Review: Anti-Procrastination Tool

  • 1 min read

Thanks to Alif Aleph Sajan for letting me test KickMe.

KickMe is a cross-platform app built using a Node framework called Electron which allows a developer to write one app and port it to Windows, Mac, and Linux.

For a video overview of the app, check the YouTube video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxUaHBYLbFw&t

The Good

This is a really interesting concept. I too often have windows upon windows snapped in different locations using BetterSnapTool as well as multiple desktops.

[caption id=”attachment_2260” align=”aligncenter” width=”1190”]multi-desktop life multi-desktop life[/caption]

As the video showed, you can activate KickMe with ⌘⌥K or when the app is in your dock, you can tap the icon provided you have a trackpad or Magic Mouse 1.

Kicks are tasks. You can have projects that hold your Kicks, etc. It is novel, and I appreciate a developer trying interesting ways to help people be more productive.

The Bad

I am not really using it. I am having a hard time finding where it fits in my workflow. I currently have OmniFocus, Evernote, and Fantastical doing the heavy lifting for my productivity 2. While being able to rinse the screen of distractions is handy, I can do that with ⌥⌘H in OmniFocus or Evernote when I want to concentrate. It basically hides all your other windows so you can focus. But I can do that without this app.

And as I showed before, I have multiple desktops to help me with what programmers call, “the separation of concerns”, which is self-explanatory.

Good For Normals

If you are someone who doesn’t fiddle too much with expensive productivity apps and doesn’t dig much into your app’s menus, then this will be a great option to manage your tasks, your most important tasks, and being able to focus solely on those tasks. But for me, OmniFocus and its Perspectives and the Hide All menu option is easier and has more of my muscle memory.

Where You Can Find the App

You can find KickMe on the Mac App Store

  1. That’s how I initially did it because the website indicated that’s how you were to do it. 

  2. nvAlt as well for quick notes. 

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Readdle Updates Apps with Drag and Drop

  • 2 min read

 

Readdle, maker of apps like Spark Mail App, Documents, and PDF Expert, has released v6 of their popular iOS apps.

Documents 6 and PDF Expert 6 have gotten a much need facelift.

Inside of these apps, icons are larger and the colors muted to give a more personal feel.

Glyphs are also colored here which distinguishes the different actions from each other, which is a nice touch.

[masterslider id=”2”]

The marquee feature of this update is the drag and drop addition.

You can drag and drop inside of their apps but also between their apps.

Drag and Drop: A Welcomed Addition

System wide on iOS, you cannot drag and drop between apps in split view on the iPad.

Federico Viticci and the MacStories team came up with a very slick, very popular concept video for iOS 11. Here, Sam and Federico propose drag and drop in split view among all apps, as well as some other interesting concepts.

While you can’t do this between two different apps currently, Readdle implemented drag and drop between their apps.

Dragging and Dropping Inside Documents 6 on iPhone

You cannot drag and drop between Readdle apps on iPhone but you can drag and drop inside of one of their document apps.

For instance, you can drag a PDF into a folder in Documents 6 or PDF Expert 6 on iPhone.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Drag-and-drop-in-documents-6-on-iPhone.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/documents_6_iPhone_ui.png” width=”375” height=”667”]

There is also the ability to hold a dragged document over a folder until it opens the target folder via spring loading.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Spring-loaded-ui-drag-and-drop.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/documents_6_iPhone_ui.png” width=”375” height=”667”]

Dragging Around on iPad Pro

You can also drag and drop similarly on iPad and iPad Pro.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/drag-and-drop-between-folders-iPad-Pro.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Documents_main_ui.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

You can also drag folders into folders:[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Folder-drag-between-cloud-services.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-06-01_07-45-48_PM.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

Drag and Drop Between Apps

This is the most interesting part of these updates.

Dragging a file from Documents 6 into, say Spark, is a delight. You can easily share a PDF by sending it to your editor, accountant 1, or whatever. The drag and drop capabilities make this easy.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/drag-and-drop-between-documents-and-spark-documents.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-06-01_07-43-09_PM.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

You can also drag images into Spark or Documents:

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/dragging-images-between-apps.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-06-01_07-44-47_PM.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

Dragging from right to left works, too. [fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/dragging-the-other-way.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-06-01_07-48-05_PM.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

Snappier Dropbox Loading

One of the main pain points for me using Documents and PDF Expert 5 was the seriously slow loading of my Dropbox content. I’d wait sometimes five or 10 minutes for them to load my folders. Sometimes they didn’t and I’d have to back out, force quit the apps, and try again. I’d have to do this several times.

In Documents and PDF Expert 6, the Dropbox loading is much faster.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/faster-cloud-access.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Documents_main_ui.jpg” width=”1366” height=”1024”]

Check These Out

If you have previously given up on the Readdle suite of apps 2 then try them again. The drag and drop between their apps and in each individual app is well worth the repeat download.

  1. As Federico does 

  2. I deleted Spark and went back to Airmail but decided I’d use Airmail to process and Spark/Gmail to read. 

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App Spotlight: Calibre 3 Beta Now With Retina

  • 3 min read

You could never chastise me for not reading enough.

I have been reading since I was three years old.

Mom and I weren’t exactly middle class so we would trek to the local library where we’d check out a mountain of books, all of which I’d read in about a week.

When I started school, we had the Weekly Reader and Scholastic book drives. I’d eagerly come home and read to my mom all the books I wanted, which were quite a bit. I’d read until past my bedtime, against my mom’s rules. I’d read in class when things got a little boring or I knew the material. I got in trouble for reading a lot.

Now, as an adult, I still have a passion for books. I read them in all forms: print, audio, and ebook.

I have a massive library 1, about close to 4,000 titles, of ebooks stored in several folders across my iMac 2.

How Does One Manage That Many ebooks?

I use a bit of open source free software called calibre. It isn’t the prettiest app - in fact, it’s quite ugly on macOS 3 but the app is powerful.

Kovid, the developer, recently released the beta of v3 and it brings a server where you can read your ebooks on practically any device browser, and retina graphics, which had been sorely missing from the app for years.

Adding Books

There are many ways to add books to calibre. The easiest is to drag them into the app.

Another way is to click the green Add Books button in the top left corner.

One of the things the app does is convert ebook formats. There are a ton of files you can convert from one to another. You can even strip DRM from books 4 with a plugin.

This is useful if you don’t want to read books you get from Amazon in the Kindle app and the app you want to read them in is an epub only app like Marvin. You can convert the mobi, azw, azw3 files to epub with calibre.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Adding-books.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-05-14_09-00-03_PM.jpg” width=”1280” height=”720”]

Adding Metadata

Editing metadata for your books is as easy as right or ⌥ clicking the book, or, selecting multiple books and ⌥ clicking and selecting download metadata. This will give you a couple of options like just downloading the metadata or covers or both. You can review the metadata before you add it to make sure it is correct.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Adding-metadata.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-05-14_09-00-03_PM.jpg” width=”1280” height=”720”]

Dragging Tags

In order to add tags that may be missing from your books you can drag the books onto the tags 5 you want to add.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Dragging-tags.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-05-14_09-00-03_PM.jpg” width=”1280” height=”720”]

Editing Books

You can edit books directly in the main interface but you get plenty more options by hitting e when a book or multiple books are selected. Here you can add custom metadata, if you’ve made your own columns 6, add star ratings, etc. I use this option all the time as it makes bulk editing and editing in general easier.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Editing.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot2017-05-14_09-00-03_PM.jpg” width=”1280” height=”720”]

More Tips and Advanced Features in Another Post

These are the basics. Try it out, see if it is right for you and let me know what you like 7 about it.

  1. But not as many as this guy 

  2. By several folders, I mean the same copies in different folders that I need to catalogue and upload in different apps. For instance, my main book folder is Books for iPad and I’ve set up Hazel rules to move them to Books for Sideloading and Import which get uploaded to Dropbox and downloaded in Marvin.app and imported into Book Collector respectively. 

  3. Kovid Goyal, the developer, does not own a Mac to test but his Windows app is ugly, too. 

  4. Assuming you’ve bought them. The latest version of Kindle for Windows circumvents the DeDRM plugin. The creators are working on a fix. I can only imagine that feature coming to Mac sooner or later from Amazon. For now, we’re safe. 

  5. Provided the tag is there. If not you can always add it. 

  6. Will go over advanced features soon. 

  7. Or don’t. 

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App Review: Cisdem ContactsMate

  • 2 min read

ContactsMate by Cisdem is a supplemental contacts manager for Mac that can help you clean up duplicate contacts, delete contacts, fix suffixes, prefixes, and unusual character names or just a first name.

When you open ContactsMate you are greeted with a screen that asks for permission to access your contacts.

Once you do this, you have a screen that looks similar to this:

Screenshot2016-04-16_12-33-07_AM

 

On the left you have all your iCloud/Gmail groups. In the main pane you have your currently selected contact.

Scanning Contacts

Scanning contacts is relatively simple and fast, depending on how many contacts you have. I have around 850, with about 80-100 duplicates.

Screenshot2016-04-17_06-34-10_PM

 

Fixing Contacts

You have the option of merging, deleting, deleting the duplicates, or ignoring the conflict.

Batch merging of duplicate contacts froze the app. I had to force quit the app. This caused data loss— a lot of my contacts were simply deleted. Luckily, I have BusyContacts, which I will share a screencast on later. BusyContacts allows for multiple backups, which really saved me, and it syncs with iCloud and multiple services.

Merging contacts one by one resulted in deleted contacts as well. Some were missing names, some were missing numbers, some were just flat out deleted. What I needed from the app is to merge the contacts, which it did not do well.

Screenshot2016-04-16_12-47-35_AM

Fixing Other Problems

As with the other fixes, I lost names, numbers, and other data that could tell me who was who in my contacts. I had to restore from another BusyContacts backup to get my data back. I didn’t try to delete the duplicate as I wouldn’t know which one was being deleted. It doesn’t give much control over which one is the right one, or other granular controls.

Conclusion

The app is slow and has frozen up a couple times when moving around it. If you have a lot of contacts, fixing them all is something that will freeze the app, causing you to force close it and lose data. It doesn’t give options for granular control over your contacts and if you are a power user, like me, this is a deal breaker. I would not recommend this app, right now, as it is. I hope the developers improve the app to make it more feature rich, and consider speeding it up, fixing the bugs that left me without the contacts I most needed for a while.

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Toggl and Coach.me to Keep Track of Goals and Time

  • 3 min read

toggl-button-light

Reading Asian Efficiency Blog is a real treasure. You get great productivity tips and services from some of the top Productivityists in the game.

I got a newsletter from them entitled The 4-Step System You Need to Be Less Stressed At Work and I came across another article linked to it from Asian Efficiency about Time Tracking. I intended to get an Excel spreadsheet and instead got introduced to Toggl.

What Is Toggl?

Toggl is a time-tracking app. One-click time tracking, so it is easy to track time without much thought. The only thing you need to remember is to actually start the timer.

Toggl is free and there is a premium version for more features.

The Interface

Here is the Toggl interface in the Chrome browser. I set my Toggl up much like the example at The Asian Efficiency Blog. I have a list of projects, perhaps some more specific than what is required but it works for me.

Screenshot2016-04-02_06-13-32_PM

 

Setting up your projects is key. You want to track every minute of your day to get a sense of where your time is being spent so you know where you are most and least efficient with time management.

So far here I hadn’t done well. But that’s okay. As a new user, I just need to get a sense of where my time is going.

This is the timer part of the interface, which is self-explanatory. Select a project and start a timer.

Projects

Screenshot2016-04-02_06-12-50_PM

You add projects on this screen. As you can see I have plenty, and you can add as many as you want. You can also add clients to any project and have a team of up to five people for free. You can color code the projects as well.

 

My basic setup is: Work, Personal, Excess, Non-essential. You can basically assign these categories as tags. I am currently working on this myself but Work is anything that will help me further my goals. The tasks or projects under this tag need to be important and urgent. Most of the things I am doing do not fall under this category currently.

toggl_iphone

Personal is for things like important but not urgent phone calls and emails. I also list reading and podcasts under this but that may change.

Excess is TV and Netflix, cleaning (while necessary doesn’t actually help me achieve my goals), sleeping, relaxing, etc. While a rested body is important to success and is important, it doesn’t necessarily count as urgent unless you are sleep deprived. Let’s hope that isn’t the case for you.

Non-essential are for things like blogs I maintain that while being a great endeavor, are just for fun and are neither important or urgent.

Reports

You can get weekly reports as well as detailed reports that will breakdown the time you spent on each logged project as you can see here:

Screenshot2016-04-02_06-14-11_PM

 

Integrations

Toggl integrates well with other services like Gmail, Freshbooks, GitHub, and Todoist, which are services I use. It also integrates well with Quickbooks, Trello, and Asana.

Todoist

Here you can see the integration between Todoist:

Screenshot2016-04-02_06-15-51_PM

 

Screenshot2016-04-01_07-28-30_PM

Right from the task list you can start a timer and it will show up on Toggl on web, mobile, and even their desktop app. You can’t actually use to Toggl/Todoist integration on the Todoist desktop app, and they don’t have any plans to integrate that right now.

Gmail

This is how you use Toggl in Gmail:

Screenshot2016-04-02_06-17-35_PM

 

 

Screenshot2016-04-01_07-33-27_PM

One thing I noticed about this is that when you start a timer for an email, you aren’t able to start again for that same email. I don’t know if this is a bug but it would be nice to see this functionality fixed or come to the app.

Coach.me

Portable Network Graphics image 2016-4-02 at 4.34 PM

Coach.me is a brilliant way to keep track of your goals. While Toggl can help you determine how much time you are spending in getting to your goals, Coach.me helps you list them and gives you a little gamified motivation to do so with keeping up with your friends and answering questions.

Portable Network Graphics image 2016-4-02 at 5.11 PM

 

It is web and mobile based but so far I have only used the iPhone version. You can pay coaches for their services but I find I don’t need the coaching.

Portable Network Graphics image 2016-4-02 at 4.35 PM

Conclusion

These are two of my favorite apps to keep track of time spent towards achieving my goals and actually listing out each goal as I go along.

Did I miss your favorites? Let me know in the comments.

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BusyCal Screencast Review

  • ~1 min read

 

As promised, here is my screencast review of BusyCal. There are a few around but people seem to be in love with Fantastical 2 since it has just been released. It’s receiving high praise so I’ll test it out and report back. I don’t plan on buying another calendar replacement app, but I will utilize the free trial.

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News

iOS 11 Public Beta: First Impressions

  • 3 min read

So I have played with the iOS 11 public beta, first on my iPad Pro and then the 2nd beta on my iPhone 1.

First, I should list out the new features.

iOS 11 Changes the Game for iPad Power Users

My wishlist for iOS 11 pretty much came true:

  • Drag and Drop
  • Native Screen recording 2
  • The Files app 3
  • Improved Photos(?)

The implementation of Drag and Drop is innovative yet muscle memory is proving to be a struggle for me. I am so used to the really, really poorly thought out app switcher for iOS 9/10 for multitasking that I am having a hard time trying to get another app in Slide Over. I usually exit the app I am in, open the app I want to multitask with, and then reopen the previous app, swipe up from the bottom to bring up the dock, and pick the app I opened before that one in the Recents part of the dock and drag it to the side. This works and is the way to do so if the app you want isn’t on your dock. There is another way, though.

https://twitter.com/skrimfid/status/872263937894613001

You can bring up Spotlight search and drag an app from there, though I haven’t been able to figure that out currently. 4

Some drag and drop examples:

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Three_apps_one_screen-1.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Screenshot2017-07-19_10-36-16_PM.jpg” width=”2732” height=”2048”]

Three apps, one screen

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Drag_anddrop_multitasking.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Screenshot2017-07-19_10-38-22_PM.jpg” width=”2732” height=”2048”]

Drag and drop for multitasking

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Moving_icons_iPhone.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Screenshot2017-07-19_10-41-08_PM.jpg” width=”1334” height=”750”]

Batch icon rearranging

Native Screen Recording on iOS

I didn’t think I’d see the day, but here it is. I have recorded a few screencasts using my iPad Pro when I first installed public beta one but unfortunately the video was horribly distorted. That was fixed in beta 2.

Here is a little short of me using Federico Viticci’s Prizmo Go Workflow for capturing text from books in Marvin as book notes I can store in DEVONthink to Go.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Prismo_go_workflow.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Screenshot2017-07-19_11-07-54_PM.jpg” width=”2732” height=”2048”]

The Files App

The Files app is a nice addition to iOS on the iPad and iPhone. When third-party apps start taking advantage of it, that’s when it will really shine.

Most of the document providers I use have utilized the Files API. I am still waiting on Working Copy’s 5 full integration with the Files app so it integrates with Textastic 6 better.

You can access any of your document providers in Files app with ease.

[fvplayer src=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Files_app.mp4” splash=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Screenshot2017-07-19_10-57-27_PM.jpg” width=”2732” height=”2048”]

You also have access to files on your iPad but not at a system level.

Improved Photos(?)

Photos for iOS just cannot find what I want. I haven’t tried it since the beta but on iOS 10 it just didn’t cut it.

I downloaded Google Photos and wow the difference in search was very, very noticeable.

I use Photos as a database/sync client between my Apple devices. Having separate libraries is a plus. I just recently separated a bunch of photos that were clogging up my iCloud Photo Library into separate libraries using Power Photos and haven’t looked back.

Conclusion

My iPhone is super buggy right now. It is a 6s and I am stuck with it for a while so I am hoping iOS 11 doesn’t hinder it too bad.

For iPad, this is the best thing to happen to the iPad since Retina screens.

  1. I don’t advise putting even the second beta on it. Buggy as hell. 

  2. On iPhone and iPad both. 

  3. This is the closest we will get to the filesystem on iOS, at least for now. 

  4. Annnnnd just after I wrote that I realized I can bring it up from pretty much any app. Yeah… 

  5. A powerful Git client for iOS 

  6. My preferred text editor for iOS because Coda by Panic doesn’t integrate with much on iOS. 

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Airmail Gets Deeper Integration with DEVONthink

  • 1 min read

Airmail

Airmail finally adds DEVONthink Pro Office support to its Mac App.

According to the Devonian Times:

Selected email messages can be sent to DEVONthink’s inbox. They are saves as plain text documents and include a link back to the original message in Airmail.

Unfortunately for us heavy Airmail and DEVONthink users, the emails are saved as plain text with a link back to the original message. It’s still not up to the level of Mail.app. Hopefully Bloop will rethink the integration later on in Airmail’s development pipeline.

iOS Integration

Airmail_iOS

DEVONthink on iOS has a deeper integration with Airmail with DEVONthink’s advanced automation 1.

You can add a custom action in the Settings, something like Add to DEVONthink. You would need to select the Open URL action and add this URL scheme:

x-devonthink://createhtml?title:=[message_subject]&source=%3Cp%3E%3Cstrong%3EFrom%3A%3C%2Fstrong%3E%20%3Ca%20href%3D%22mailto%3A[message_sender]%22%3E[message_sender_name]%3C%2Fa%3E%3Cbr%2F%3E%0A%3Cstrong%3ESubject%3A%3C%2Fstrong%3E%20[message_subject]%3Cbr%2F%3E%0A%3Cstrong%3ELink%3A%3C%2Fstrong%3E%20%3Ca%20href%3D%22[message_linkback]%22%3E[message_linkback]%3C%2Fa%3E%20%3C%2Fp%3E%0A%0A%3Cp%3E[message_html]%3C%2Fp%3E

Add to your swipes 2 or however you’d like to access the action. The resulting email in DEVONthink looks like this:

Devonthink_Airmail

The integration with iOS seems much farther along than that of the Mac. This is interesting to see the Mac become a second class citizen for Bloop.

  1. The updated advanced URL schemes help you to accomplish this. 

  2. I would add it as a swipe action if you’re archiving emails in DEVONthink often. 

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Back to Basics: Apps and Workflows

  • 3 min read

 

I wanted to write a quick post on the focus of the blog going forward.

Last year, I was inspired by a few of my productivity heroes to write about productivity instead of just apps. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to expand my reach and grow the blog beyond what it had become.

Putting widgets, Facebook Page Like buttons, and having email sign-ups all seemed like a good idea to me. Seeing as I was just starting out, I thought it would extend my reach and become a place where people could go to learn tips and tricks from me and a few of my friends in the productivity space.

While it has done great things for the blog 1 I have struggled to write consistently about productivity as my systems shift quite often.

I have also been watching my favorite indie Apple blogs and some of the big players and have decided that I need to get back to my roots: writing about apps and workflows using those apps.

Productivity is a Convoluted Space

There are a lot of productivity guru sites out there and I follow some of them. It is a hard place to get noticed if you aren’t selling and I am a bit uncomfortable with that aspect of the industry. Growing my audience organically and sharing my articles on Facebook and in groups will help me get the audience I desire, and thus, I can start monetizing the site some other way that doesn’t include courses.

Federico Vittici grew MacStories in a manner I admire, though I really don’t think I’d want to make a full fledged business out of writing about Apple.

But he did it when he lost his job 2 and threw his savings into it and came up with one of the go-to sites on Apple on the internet.

That’s where I started: apps, Apple news, and workflows.

I am returning to that model for the foreseeable future.

Taking Cues from My Favorite Apple Sites

As you have probably noticed, I have added Sections to the site in the main navigation area. This is taking a cue from MacStories only I don’t have a developer working with me on the site and so I have tried to work on the PHP backend a bit and added a few plugins to achieve this.

I am also working on a night mode for site.

I have stripped widgets from the footer. For archives I have a dedicated Archive page in the navigation.

For all my GTD posts and pages, I have a dedicated GTD Resources in the navigation where you can find the pages dedicated to sharing tools/apps and books I have read and used for GTD.

Sections

There are 7 sections. They are:

  • App Reviews
  • The Apple Experience 3
  • Mac Automation
  • iOS Automation
  • Working on iPad
  • News 4
  • Pick of the Month 5

Most of these are self explanatory but those that are not there is a footnote beside them, as you have seen.

The Working on iPad section is where I try to move some of my writing, reading, and programming workflows to iPad and report back to you. I am still fleshing this out but it should be a fun exercise in pushing my iPad Pro 12.9” to its limits.

Any Productivity Posts at All?

Most likely some. But not as the main focus of the site and very few articles posted about GTD and digital decluttering, etc. I will still post them occasionally.

This is the direction for That Mac Nerd. Hope you stick around. I have more content and reviews coming up.

  1. Having my setup featured on The Sweet Setup also helped. A lot. 

  2. I am looking for employment, not actively pursuing, but will need to start looking after next semester. So I understand the need to just do something

  3. Stories about my experience with Apple, its hardware and services, and apps I have used and were delightful, or not so delightful. 

  4. News on Apple and its app ecosystem. 

  5. Every month I will review something I have bought, an app, a piece of kit, or something else interesting that I may want to write about. Nod to Tim Nahumck for this idea. 

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Pick of the Month

Pick of the Month: Transmit 5 for Mac

  • 1 min read

[caption id=”attachment_2267” align=”aligncenter” width=”1034”]Transit 5. Image credit: [Panic, Inc](https://panic.com/) Transmit 5. Image credit: Panic, Inc[/caption]One of the first Mac programming apps I ever bought 1 was Coda 2 from the famed Mac and iOS developers Panic, Inc.

  1. One of my first Mac apps period

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Pick of the Month: Dylan Wireless Headphones

  • 3 min read

Mac-desk-setup

I am finally back to writing the Pick of the month.

This month, my pick is Dylan Quiet Speace Wireless Headphones.

Between A BeatBack Pro and a Hard Place

My daily driver for the past year was the Plantronics BeatBack PRO. They are really, really great headphones. They’re heavy and don’t fit my head right 1 but the controls are on the cups and are easy to use. Twist one way or the other to adjust volume or go to next/previous track. You can also take calls by pressing the left cup’s button. You can easily feel for the buttons which is definitely an improvement over most Bluetooth over-the-head headphones.

That said, I find myself using the Dylan set more.

Comparison

[caption id=”attachment_2203” align=”alignnone” width=”4015”]Dylan-BeatBack-headphones From left to right: Plantronics BeatBack Pro, Dylan Quiet Speace S1[/caption]

As you can see, the Dylan’s have a metal band with a fantastic cushion. It fits my head better than any other headphones, wireless or wired 2.

The Plantronics BeatBack PRO is $155 while the Dylan Quiet Speace is $70. The difference in price and quality is most felt in the controls and the sound, though not in the way you’d think.

Controls Comparison

  • Plantronics BeatBack PRO: Excellent controls. This is probably why the headphones are so bulky and heavy. Easy to navigate without seeing them.
  • Dylan Quiet Speace S1: Controls are inset into the outside of the cups where there are notches for cosmetic purposes. It is hard to feel your way around to the controls without looking initially 3.

Winner: Plantronics BeatBack PRO

Sound

  • Plantronics BeatBack PRO: Heavy bass. Distortion when using an equalizer on your Mac like Boom 2 or Boom 3D. Sync issues with video are pretty bad.
  • Dylan Quiet Speace S1: Flat sound which works well with equalizers. You can hear mids and highs quite well though not very loud. No noticeable sync issues with video.

Winner: Dylan Quiet Speace S1

Fit

  • Plantronics: Heavy and tend to fall of my head. Plastic inner headband not good for fros on big heads.
  • Dylan Quiet Speace: They have a metal band and fit my head so well I am surprised that they only cost $70. The cushion on the cups are amazing.

Winner: Dylan Quiet Speace

Aesthetics

  • Plantronics: Good looking cans just very bulky.
  • Dylan Quiet Speace: Very good looking cans though the cups are small. The metal makes them look premium when they really are cheap.

WInner: Dylan Quiet Speace

Noise Cancellation

  • Plantronics: Great noise cancellation but they are open back headphones which means the sound leaks from the headphones. Not ideal if you are on a bus or train; you are liable to annoy your fellow commuters with your black metal.
  • Dylan Quiet Speace: Also great at noise cancellation. Maybe a bit better than the Plantronics. I am not sure if they are closed back headphones but it is hard to hear the music even when I have my headphones off and sound playing.

Winner: Slight edge to Dylan Quiet Speace

Dylan Quiet Speace S1 is My Daily Driver

The Dylan’s win out for now as far as what I’m wearing on a regular basis. As soon as I start a dev job I’ll probably buy a pair of AirPods, just to see what everyone is talking about.

  1. I have a lot of hair and a big head and the plastic band inside has cracked. They’re not cheap so I don’t expect this behavior. 

  2. This is probably not the fault of manufacturers. But still. 

  3. I had to take my headphones off a couple times when I first got them to see where the controls were. Unacceptable. 

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Pick of the Month: Timing 2

  • 1 min read

When I first came across Timing, it was recommended to me by my good friend Nick Lash. We were talking about time tracking apps and his possible employment as an iOS developer for time tracking juggernaut Toggl 1.

He was thinking of rewriting their Mac app 2 in the vein of Timing.app.

I got to check it out in my trial of Setapp 3 and I couldn’t figure it out. I also didn’t want to: the design was Mavericks-esque and didn’t appeal to me at all.

Productivity in Tech and Apps

Productivity in Tech Facebook group is a goldmine of productivity information and app recommendations. Jay Miller, Community Organizer of Productivity in Tech, mentioned Timing.app v2 and how much better it was than v1. I put off checking it out: Toggl was enough. Besides, I had the perfect Alfred workflow for Toggl.

The problem with Toggl, at least for me, was keeping up with logging my time. I kept it up for two weeks then slowly my tracking fell off.

I checked out Timing’s website, poked around, looked at videos and thought, Wow. This is what I need.

Limits of Toggl Aren’t Limits in Timing

Manually tracking your time is tedious and cumbersome. My Alfred workflow made it easier but it still didn’t work for me. Timing tracks everything you do on your Mac, asks you what you did while you were away, has a beautiful new interface, and can generate reports. The Professional version gives you timesheet tracking and other perks.

I am trialling the Professional version and I am going to be buying it very soon. It’s $50 4 but $50 well spent.

Where Timing Fails

No web API. No iOS app. These aren’t deal breakers for me but could be for some.

Love?

I have been using it for a couple of days and I really do love it: the new UI, the reports, filters, overview of my day. It is everything one could want in a time tracking app.

Check it out and see for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAM5eT00lnE

[caption id=”attachment_1311” align=”aligncenter” width=”819”]timing_watch How much is your time worth?[/caption]

  1. I talk about Toggl in this post and this one

  2. It’s ugly and pretty useless. 

  3. Subscription based model for a suite of different apps. 

  4. $29 for Productivity and $79 for Expert. 

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iOS Automation

Workflow: Drafts to Trello for Content Management

  • 1 min read

After watching this video on using Trello for an editorial calendar , I was pretty excited to start doing so for my two main blogs.

Creating and editing Trello cards and lists is a tedious process on iOS and if an idea popped into my head, I wanted to be able to get it down quickly and into Trello.

Drafts

I knew that Drafts was the quickest way to jot something down on iOS. I also understood that I could easily find a few actions that could help me accomplish this quickly.

Configuration

Configuration is a bit of a step. You’ll have to find your board and list’s ids by exporting the board in question to JSON. You can do this by setting something like this:

https://trello.com/b/[board_shortlink]/myBoard.json

And searching through the long list of dictionary items to find the exact ones you need. This is cumbersome but there isn’t a better way to do so currently, unless you plan on developing an app that interfaces with Trello.

Executing

If you have boards set up like this one for instance:

You can then start adding cards to lists in your preferred board.

https://vimeo.com/237651605

 

Easiest Way to Use Trello?

That’s debatable. But now with the Trello Mac app things are looking mighty good for Trello users.

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Drafts 4 for iOS: A Worthy Tool

  • 4 min read

When we think about iOS automation these days, we tend to think about Workflow.app, which is the most powerful and full-featured example of what a talented team of developers can do within the limitations of iOS. It is rightfully the King of Automation on iOS.

But before Workflow, there were a few apps that utilized the x-callback url schemes like Editorial and Drafts 1.

Drafts, A Great App to Start With Automation

The backbone of Drafts in the x-callback-url scheme created by Greg Pierce, the creator of Drafts, and Marco Arment, a famed Apple developer.

You can access your Drafts in the inbox. There are 5 tabs across the top: Inbox, Archive, Flagged, Trash, and All. These tabs are self-explanatory. I tend to flag drafts that I archive and want to come back to later.

If you trash a draft, you have the option to restore it, if you so choose, as shown here.

The premise of x-callback-urls are linking to other apps, and parts of other apps with a url and parameters.

For example, take this url:

drafts4://x-callback-url/create?text=Hello%20World&action=Copy%20to%20Clipboard.

The drafts4:// is the system url for an app. If you type this into Safari, it will open Drafts.

In this example, we are creating a new draft with create? and adding the url encoded text 2. Then, the &action is something we want to do with that text, which in this case, is copying the text, Hello World to the clipboard.

Actions

The power of Drafts is in the actions.

Actions utilize the x-callback-url scheme I talked about above to give you near unlimited possibilities for passing text around, which is the only thing it can do, whereas Workflow can tap into other system APIs for a drag and drop experience unmatched on iOS.

You can find some default actions within the actions panel in Drafts which you can get to by tapping the Drafts icon on the top right of the app.

You can have a near limitless amount of actions and you can chain actions together using the x-callback-url protocol.

If you tap the plus button in the Actions panel, you will be taken to a screen where you can create your own actions or visit the Actions Directory, where Agile Tortoise has compiled, with the help of users, a list of Actions that are freely available to you. Just search for an action and it will take you to the specified action’s page. Hit install and it will open up and Drafts and give you a prompt, asking if you would like to install it. Hit ok and it will be there for you to use in Drafts.

If you decide to make your own Actions, you’ll be greeted with a screen with a few options.

You can name, give a color to, and add steps to your action 3 , and adding them to Action Groups, which you can access in the Actions Panel. By default, your actions will be placed in the All tab.

Choosing Steps

Tapping on Steps brings you to a screen with lots of options, from Email, Clipboard, and Social actions, as well as cloud services.

You can choose whatever you like here, and Drafts will notify you on the Actions success or failure when you run your action. Check out the documentation to learn about errors and ways to chain actions.

Once you run an action, you can return to Drafts which is basically the callbackfunction of the protocol.

Advanced Action Steps: Action Sets

Action Sets are a whole other way to work with Drafts that makes it more powerful than it already is.

You can not only chain steps together you can create a prompt to prompt you to select an action you created and added to the Prompt menu, and Drafts will execute your choice.

So how do you do this?

The key to this is using this URL when you are creating new actions under the URL selection:

drafts4://x-callback-url/open?uuid=[[uuid]]&action=[[prompt_button]]

Here are the steps I took to create the set I have here:

Choose you action steps. You should choose URL and Prompt. But first, you should set up your prompt.

You will need to type in the actions you wish to add to the set the exact same as you have them in general, separated by a pipe character, or |.

The you set up the URL:

In the end, you should have something that looks like this:

Just Scratching the Surface

There are a lot of ways you can utilize Drafts in your workflow. I can’t cover them all here, but be sure to check out other articles on the topic.

How are you using Drafts? If you’re not using it, why not?

  1. Workflow, too, uses x-callback-urls in the best way possible. 

  2. Spaces in urls need to be url encoded

  3. Steps being url actions, chained together. 

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The Apple Experience

Fun with Übersicht Widgets

  • 1 min read

I am a nerd. I am sure everyone who reads this blog is a nerd of some sort. As such, I traipse around the internet looking for Mac setups and desktop screenshots.

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My WWDC 2017 Wish List

  • 3 min read

I love this time of year.

It’s WWDC season and I usually turn off notifications and non-essential phone calls and texts 1.

I fire up my 3rd Gen Apple TV 2, sit back on the couch and watch the keynote.

Most of the time I am excited about new features in iOS and the Mac, but last year I felt none of that excitement, nothing like iOS 8 and 9 and macOS Yosemite.

So this year, I am laying out not my predictions for WWDC but my WWDC 2017 wish list.

Pro iOS Features

I use my Mac for pretty much everything 3 but I am starting to look at my iPad Pro for work.

Currently, iOS on the iPad is hampered by lack of work-related features like a file system. My wish for iOS 11:

  • Access to a better filesystem: iCloud Drive on iOS 10 was a great sign for filesystem improvements for iOS. I’d like to see that continue. Improve the document picker or do away with it completely. A central repository for files across all apps [^4] would make working on iPad much easier.
  • Drag and Drop: I know that drag and drop is a mouse and trackpad/traditional desktop/laptop paradigm, but that shouldn’t be a reason to not implement it on iOS. The way Readdle hacked the filesystem to actually run a server between two apps to simiulate drag and drop is a pleasure to use. Drag and drop makes sense for finger navigation. I would love to see that come to iOS.
  • Native screen recording: I do a lot of screen recording for this blog. I’d like to not have to be tethered to a Mac to actually record the screen. Apple introduced ReplayKit in 2015 for livestreaming games. It makes sense that screen recording would be the next extension of this.
  • More intelligent photos app: Right now I am using Google Photos for searching my photos. iCloud Photos and Photo Library are still my preferred Photo organization tools, but Google is so far ahead in the AI game that their offering is 10x better than Apple’s current one. I can search for “MacBook” in Apple Photos and I barely get any results even though I have at least 20-30 MacBook photos. Same search in Google Photos returns most of those 20-30 photos. I know Apple doesn’t want to use the cloud to parse information from user data but I think it is hampering their AI efforts. Users really don’t care about privacy as evidenced by Google Photos 4.5 star rating with over 1k reviews.

macOS Improvements

macOS is really a mature OS. The only thing I’d like to see in macOS is relaxed sand boxing rules for the Mac App Store.

I barely get things from the Mac App Store. The Pro apps I need have already left the MAS. I’m sure there are more to follow.

I’d also like to see them rethink the Bluetooth module. Inconsistent, constantly disconnecting from my Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard [^5], Handoff and Airdrop unreliability. Either Apple’s devices aren’t ready for Bluetooth 4 or there’s something fundamentally wrong with Apple’s Bluetooth daemon or module.

snippets for Just Another Software Engineering Blog and videos for this blog. [^4]: Even cloud apps like Dropbox. [^5]: Getting this keyboard in a couple months and I can’t wait. Apple’s flat keyboard has given me some RSI issues after only a couple months of using it. Also, as a programmer, I need a better, sturdier keyboard.

Your WWDC 2017 Wish List?

What are you looking forward to this WWDC?

  1. Everyone except my aging family. 

  2. Upgrading my Apple TV in a couple months. I am also probably watching on my iMac. My TV is small and ancient. I’ll be upgrading it, too. 

  3. Moving my writing workflow to iPad has been fruitful until I need code 

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3 Years An Apple Fangirl

  • 8 min read

I have been writing about Apple in some form or another for the past two years. Starting as an app blog for non-traditional students, to moving my work over to The Apple Fancast 1, then back to my blog.

I’ve had this thing running just a fraction of the time of other indie blogs and that’s because I didn’t get my first Apple device until October of 2013.

First Date

I was a writer, a creative, and thus, the allure of Apple devices hit me pretty early in my computing life.

I remember back in my first stint at college, we had a Mac lab 2. I hadn’t heard a lot about Macs at that point. I had spent most of my high school years in a boarding school so I didn’t really have access to the things everyone else saw, up until about 1997.

By 2000 I was enamored with the web and computers. My first experience with a modern computer 3 was a Windows box. At that time, I knew I wanted to work with them, though my college journey would take many turns, ending right back to where I started in 2002, working and building software.

I went into the Mac lab and sat down at this beautiful Bondi Blue iMac.

[caption id=”attachment_1256” align=”alignnone” width=”1280”]Bondi Blue iMac, circa 1999-2003 Bondi Blue iMac, circa 1999-2003[/caption]

It had no icons on the desktop and a hidden dock. It was inscrutable to me - I didn’t know how to navigate it without a desktop full of icons.

I got up and decided Macs weren’t for me.

Apple Envy

As school and the years went on, I saw a lot of software I was using wasn’t available for the Mac platform. I scoffed and thought, those poor saps. Can’t even use good software.

Then 2008 came and I was in the full creative person swing.

A writer who I admired wrote all her pieces on a Mac. She told me it was for creatives.

For a year I had been bombarded by the I’m a Mac campaign. It rubbed me the wrong way. Truly the wrong way. I began to have a simmering disgust for Apple and its overpriced hardware.

Around this time, the iPhone was making waves. For Christmas 2009, I bought myself an iPod Touch with the money I got for the holiday. T-Mobile, my cell carrier, didn’t have the iPhone - neither did Verizon or any other carrier that wasn’t AT&T. Everyone and their mother on writer blogs were talking about geolocation apps, productivity apps on the iPhone, and as someone who is into all of those things, I decided to get the iPod.

I was in love with that iPod. I still had my flip phone. That was until my cousin told me, after I insisted that Android copied Apple, to give Android a try. My cousin was a Flash developer and so he already had a disdain for Apple for trying to drive the stake into Flash’s heart. I went to T-Mobile and decided to try a Windows Mobile phone 4 as I had experience with the platform. The salesman told me there were no apps on that platform. He encouraged me to buy the Samsung Galaxy S.

The OLED screen was gorgeous. The app ecosystem rich. I put down the money then for the phone.

My friend Rick bought an iPhone and the MacBook Air when it first came out. We would go out and we’d have our computers - my huge, power-hungry Toshiba computer that I had just bought and his MacBook Air. I felt an air of superiority. His tiny little MacBook Air! Not a serious machine.

He let me get on and it was fast. Really fast and much faster than my Toshiba that took at least two minutes to load after booting up.

He took me to the Apple Store in Central PA, about an hour from where we lived. I saw the 2011 iMac and I felt immediate envy. I knew I needed a MacBook Pro, iMac, something. I just couldn’t afford it.

iPad: The Gateway Drug

I have a lot of Apple devices and other gear now. I am not wealthy by any means - most of the stuff I bought I bought for working reasons, as a student and independent blogger 5. I used the left over funds from loans to get the gear I have 6 and I am grateful for the stuff I was able to buy.

I bought the iPad to read textbooks. I bought the iPad 4 knowing full well the iPad Air was about to come out. However soon that would be, I couldn’t wait.

Coming from Android phones and tablets, and being frustrated with them, I decided that I would join the in-crowd and buy an iPad. I had the money. I moved out of Central PA to Pittsburgh to finish my education at Pitt.

I went to the Shadyside Apple Store. It was magical.

I had long maintained that I would keep my Samsung Note II - I had spent so much time hating Apple that I was only going to give them a little of my money. I also needed a new computer - my Toshiba bit the dust after two years of owning it. I’ll buy the iPad and a MacBook Pro. No iPhone.

I bought the iPad. The Genius helped me set it up, or at least tried - I was already pretty tech savvy. In preparation, I bought over $300 worth of apps to fill my iPad with, over several months.

The apps were all pulled down from iCloud rather seamlessly. It felt like heaven. My Android devices lagged, ran out of RAM quite frequently, crashed, etc. This was a whole other world to me.

I brought it home and found the apps on it to look and respond better.

[caption id=”attachment_1250” align=”aligncenter” width=”403”]Newsstand, iOS 2013 Newsstand, iOS 2013[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_1254” align=”aligncenter” width=”238”]Android Goodreads app circa 2013 Android Goodreads app circa 2013[/caption]

It was then that I decided I needed an iPhone.

The Camera

One of the selling points of the iPhone was its superior camera.

[caption id=”attachment_1253” align=”aligncenter” width=”387”]My First iPhone, the iPhone 5s, 2014 My First iPhone, the iPhone 5s, 2014[/caption]

I fancied myself a photographer and the camera was basically what drove me over, as well as the quality apps.

I downloaded a ton of camera apps and joined iPhoneography forums, and went out taking lots of amateurish photos with some gems thrown in.

[caption id=”attachment_1251” align=”aligncenter” width=”594”]Shot with my Samsung Note II but edited on my iPhone 5s Shot with my Samsung Note II but edited on my iPhone 5s[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_1255” align=”aligncenter” width=”604”]Pittsburgh Pittsburgh[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_1252” align=”aligncenter” width=”508”]Sometimes you get the decisive moment by luck. Sometimes you get the decisive moment by luck.[/caption]

I spent the better part of a year just playing around with my iPhone 5s, then 6.

MacBook Pro: It Really Did Change My Life

Up until I got my MacBook Pro, I considered myself a writer. This was for many reasons: melancholy, tragedy, love. I could work my way through it by writing. I am very good at it - I have pieces of short fiction published a few places, and places like The Mid-American Review 7 liked my work do much they told me to resubmit, even though they were rejecting me. I was on my way to perhaps good things as a writer, but it wasn’t challenging enough. I know my writer friends would smack me, but it wasn’t. I kept getting bored with the topics I was writing about, and I wasn’t good at sci-fi world building to switch genres.

I also no longer needed a literary outlet to me struggles as those struggles alleviated themselves for the most part.

I bought some coding courses on Udemy for $30 from StackSocial. I also got a text editor with that in anticipation for my Mac. Still in school, my friend Joe Wade who was also a writer, was thinking of getting another degree in something else.

I had been a proponent of fixing computers and software UX problems, often doing it for residents and family. One of my neighbors told me to stop writing and take up computers. I knew it was a sensible move but so much of who I was tied up in writing.

Listening to Joe tell me about his plan, I decided to get a degree in English and computer science. I started looking for online tutorials to learn how until I got into Pitt. It was wonderful.

How does the MacBook Pro fit into this? It was such a pleasure to use. I couldn’t stop working on it. The UI, the ease of bash, the apps 8. I became borderline obsessed with the computer - my productivity skyrocketed.

[caption id=”attachment_1257” align=”aligncenter” width=”523”]First Mac First Mac[/caption]

It set me on a path to actually make a healthy living as a developer 9 instead of a barista at Starbucks and it made me enjoy computing instead of tolerating it.

Now?

Now I’ve added an iMac to the mix. I bought an Apple TV back in 2013 as well which I’ll need to upgrade. I have an iPhone 6s I am upgrading, and iPad Pro 12.9”, and perhaps if funds are right, an Apple Watch.

I am fully locked in. And I couldn’t be happier. I’m definitely an Apple Fangirl.

  1. Jon Norman is a great guy but the way he pumped out content, with the little sponsorship he got, the blog and its sister content was not sustainable. 

  2. Before state budget cuts - 2002 was a great year at that school. 

  3. First was as a kid with a hand me down Commodore 128, which I promptly programmed in BASIC and hated it. Making graphics was really fun and so were the games and joystick, however I had a Nintendo. Didn’t quite compare. 

  4. Lulz 

  5. And at the time, writer. 

  6. I watched my best friend spend up a storm not realizing these funds run out. We partied a lot. And because of that, I took up getting my own loans, and running out. Naivety and not having much will do that to you. 

  7. The Mid-American Review is kind of big deal in the writing world

  8. 2003 me wouldn’t believe the apps available for this platform. 

  9. Almost there! 

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Random Thoughts

A New Addition: Amazon Echo

  • 1 min read

I was browsing the MobileRead forums like I do 1 and visited the Amazon Echo thread. I usually avoid this thread because I am really waiting until I finally get a developer job to make my apartment 2 more “high tech” and the Echo was on my Amazon wishlist for later, when I can afford the luxury.

But while I was browsing MobileRead on my iPad 3, I saw a photo of some of the weird syntax it uses, as well as some weird Siri nonsense and I was intrigued. I went to the thread and found that QVC was selling new Echos for $75. Along with that, you get two free months of Amazon Music and Audible 4.

Well, Things Changed Quickly

I decided I’d send the link to my mother who uses QVC and buys pretty much everything from there. We just had a conversation about her not buying from there in a year and I send her the link. She laughed but she bought it for me as a Xmas gift 5. $75 isn’t a bad price for the Echo at all and the fact that they are new is nice.

More IFTTT Recipes? Yes, Please.

I only have a couple in anticipation for the Echo…

https://ifttt.com/applets/wTpZDtXC-add-alexa-to-dos-to-omnifocus-maildrop

 

 

  1. While there are things like Slack and Gitter, old school BBS forums like MobileRead and iMore are my favorite for synchronous chat interactions. Plus I am a total book nerd. 

  2. I will be moving once I do get a dev job. Terribly far out from town. Being closer helps the commute. 

  3. I use Tapatalk Pro

  4. New accounts only. They are also third party codes so YMMV. 

  5. Instead of another winter coat, which she buys me every year, of which I have three or four that fit just fine. 

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On the Virtues of Dark UIs

  • 1 min read

business_man_at_imac

I never liked dark UIs.

I love white backgrounds; crisp white UIs were 1 anathema to my dark former Android soul.

All my iPhones and iPads have been silver with white faces. White is chic. You get the idea.

When I was programming in Coda 2 on my Mac when I just started doing it, the UI was white. I showed someone a screenshot of it and they joked, real programmers use dark editors.

I couldn’t fathom that. I tried it. I didn’t like it. Not at first. But I added a theme to my editor called Monokai and the color. The contrast of the colorful fonts and functions, methods, etc, on a dark background hooked me.

Dark Everything

As someone who sits in front of a computer for long periods during the day, I need something that will take the strain off my eyes 2.

Dark UIs are perfect for this. And as you can see, I have it pretty much everywhere.

[caption id=”attachment_2228” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]atom_editor Atom[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_2229” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]dash_docs Dash Docs[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_2230” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]omnifocus OmniFocus Custom Theme[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_2231” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”]ulysses_text_editor Ulysses[/caption]

 

  1. I still love crisp white UIs. iOS is a boon to me in this way. 

  2. I squint. A lot. I attribute that to computer use and age. 

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Mac Automation

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Working on iPad

Working on iPad Pro: The Beginning

  • 1 min read

[caption id=”attachment_2243” align=”aligncenter” width=”1920”]iPad_Pro_with_Keyboard Image Credit: Andrew Ohara[/caption]

 

It is no secret in the Apple tech community that people are dumping their MacBooks and working solely on the iPad. Federico Viticci writes solely on his iPad and has several guides on how to do great things with iPad.

I gave this a shot a couple times and while I enjoyed it, I always went back to my Mac to write or do other tasks 1.

I was recently doing the mundane task of laundry and decided to take my iPad Pro down to the laundry room to knock out some of my writing for my other blog. I started to work and then…

I was completely blown away by how awesome it was.

[video width=”1366” height=”1024” mp4=”https://thatmacnerd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Multitasking.mp4”][/video]

I edited a screencast, wrote the article, connected to my GitHub through a WebDAV connection in Transmit of iOS and Working Copy. I was flying. It made my work fun.

But…

I love my Mac. And while I love writing on my iPad, I tend to gravitate towards my Mac for the automation.

I’ve cut a lot of that cruft out of the workflow by setting up a CDN with AWS S3 and CloudFront and adding a WordPress plugin to automatically offload the uploaded images into the appropriate S3 buckets and adding the custom CDN links to each asset. I don’t need to do that anymore, another bottleneck taken care of. And with Coda, Transmit, and Working Copy on iPad, getting code snippets for my other blog into Ulysses and up to WordPress is easier than ever.

There’s no excuse, really.

I am committed to working on iPad for writing for the next month. I want to do it and we’ll see how it goes.

  1. I am currently writing this on my Mac. 

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Now Playing

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Headphone Reviews

Audio Technica MSR7 Headphones Review

  • 4 min read

I am writing this article as the year comes to a close. While it has been a trying year for the world and US in particular, it has been a great year professionally for me as I got an internship in the hopes of landing a junior developer job with the company or some other company.

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