That Mac Nerd

Posts - Page 8 of 13

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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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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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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