I’ve been working with computers since I was a kid. The longer I’ve been using technology on a day to day basis, the more integral to my daily life it has become. Laptops, cell phones, tablets, the internet, web applications, the cloud. I am quite reliant on tech at this point, my I use a pen so infrequently that my handwriting, never good to begin with, has gotten so rusty I can barely read it. But it’s also made many improvements in my life and work. I am constantly refining my tools and processes to improve my work and life.
I want to document some of that here. I’m going to break things into two sections: the first is work/life, around productivity, organization, and assistive technology; the second is the technical part of work, development, server management, etc…
Let’s start with the basics. For many reasons, I’ve adopted an Apple-centric platform. If you prefer Windows or Linux that’s fine too, I don’t want to argue about operating systems. One thing I will say is don’t be cheap. Select the hardware and software which is the best for your needs. It’s an investment that will pay off many times over.
I have a 15” MacBook Pro with 16 GB of RAM and a fast SSD drive. At home and the office I have large external displays, wireless keyboards and trackpads. The extra screen real estate of the external display is amazingly useful for many of the tasks I perform for work. The laptop means I can travel easily, from the office to home, to San Francisco, to Mexico, to visit clients, etc… The RAM and SSD make it possible for me to do what I need to do for work, effectively and quickly.
I also use an iPhone and iPad. The Apple environment means I get lots of data and application synergies between my phone and my laptop, etc… iCloud, iWork, Keychain, and much more allow me to have the information and applications I need anywhere and everywhere. My calendar, address book, web bookmarks, and more.
I use Apple’s default calendar, address book, and email applications. They work well for me, sync between all devices, are available on the web if needed, and require no special installs. I use OmniFocus for task management as my todo list. OmniFocus isn’t cheap at $79, but it is a well written applicaiton which provides great support for the GTD workflow, or just works as a simple todo list. I like the GTD approach of contexts and projects, with sequential tasks. OmniFocus lets you flag high priority tasks and set due dates easily. It syncs between my laptop, phone, and tablet, so I always have access to quickly add something I just remembered or to see what errands I need to run while I’m out.
I strongly believe in Inbox Zero, i.e. having no email in your inbox. Whenever I have mails in my inbox it creates stress for me. They represent tasks, todos, things that need to be read, replied to, handled, etc… Having them sitting there creates a mental load, and is yet another place to manage my tasks. If an email can be filed, or quickly replied to, I handle it immediately. I need to work on limiting my email handling to only periodic checks, to reduce the level of interrupts during the day. Anything that represents a task or todo list, goes into OmniFocus. You can even file an email, and drag it to an OmniFocus task, so for instance if someone emails you and you need to write up a proposal and send it back to them, you can file the mail in the Sales folder, create a OmniFocus todo “Create and send Proposal”, drag the filed mail to the todo, and then when you work on the todo, you can just click on the mail icon on the todo item, and it will open the email for you to reply to. It makes things very easy.
I file my email into many folders. I don’t like Gmail and never really got into using tags. Search is helpful, but I prefer folders so I can more easily find what I’m looking for even if I don’t know the right search string. To make this easier I’ve just begun using MailHub, which analyses the contents of your mail folders, and then guesses where a new email should be filed, allowing you to file it correctly with one click instead of dragging to or selecting a mailbox manually. It seems like a small thing, but when you’re handling 200+ email a day it saves a great deal of time. It also has other features, but that’s the most important one for me. It’s similar to the DevonThink auto sorting technology.
I use Evernote for note taking, web page clipping, blog post writing (like this one), and generally capturing and organizing information. Again it syncs to all my devices so everything I need is available everywhere at anytime. I use the Web Clipper all the time to capture blog posts I want to read later, grab technical how tos, and make PDF documentation easily searchable and available offline. I take call notes that I can share with my team, I keep personal notes large and small, it’s currently full of almost 700 notes and growing quickly.
I use DevonThink for long term storage, and scanning towards a paperless life. I scan all my bills, notices, etc… using a ScanSnap hooked up to my iMac, to suck everything that used to live in my filing cabinet or would live in my filing cabinet in the future into DevonThink. It’s all OCRed, searchable, and auto-organized. It can also sync to my laptop and has a mobile app.
Evernote is short term information, things I want to read in the near term – and DevonThink is the long term archive. A blog post about presentation techniques goes into Evernote, my paid electric bill goes into DevonThink.
I use Timebar for pomodoro style focus sprints where I’ll spend 30-60 minutes focused on a single task, and then get a break.
I also use RescueTime. This application tracks everything you do on your computer and lets you know two important things: How much time did you spend on your computer, and how productive was that time. Facebook isn’t very productive, Email can be productive, writing a presentation/application/proposal is very productive. Spending 14 hours a day on the computer if your’e only 50% productive means you could be doing an 8 hour day if you can be 87% productive. I average 70-80% productive currently. When I first started using RescueTime it was much worse. You don’t realize how much time you waste online. RescueTime makes the truth clear and is very motivating. I love pushing that number up!
That’s a high level summary of how I manage email, todos, and information. These tools and techniques are designed to reduce stress and increase my productivity. I will talk about the work side of the house in another blog post.