Working Tools 38. E-mail Revisited

A huge attraction of going iOS-only, or iOS-first, is simplicity and focus. iPad can do all sorts of multi-tasking, but for me, works best as a single-focus device.

Accepting that my corporate work is easier done on macOS than iOS, has redirected my thinking on workflows.

E-mail

I have three groups of e-mail addresses.

  1. Lime Consulting (Lime). A family of addresses and domains that all come to me.
  2. Nero’s Notes (Nero’s). As the above, but with some traffic directed to Clare.
  3. stuartlennon.com (SL). My own domain, and several older personal email addresses. G-mail and iCloud, for example.

The Lime addresses were aliases of SL. Nero’s forward to SL. That way, I had a unified inbox. Sent mails all came from SL. (Unless I remembered to select the Lime alias.) It was uncomfortable.

Corporate clients expect e-mail to come from a corporate domain, with a corporate signature. This runs contrary to modern thinking. The fashion amongst the “Techeratti” is to have no signature, or a minimal one. This overlooks the inconvenient fact, that for a UK entity at least, it is a legal requirement to include the registered address and company registration number on all correspondence.

Nero’s customers are less picky. Nevertheless, some wise souls like to have an email chat before sending money to a website, new to them. A reply from a different domain is hardly reassuring.

These issues are easily resolved. I split Lime from SL and then set up all three accounts on Mail. Three inboxes in one. Hmmm….now, I have folders and labels, all over the place. On iPad Pro its a mess. On iPhone, it’s horrible.

I am experimenting with having each group of mails in their own app.

iOS

Nero’s are G-suite addresses – so are a natural fit with the G-mail app.

Lime fits nicely with Fastmail, which feels solid and secure.

SL – these are more personal, less constrained, so I’m trying a variety of apps. Favourite right now, is Edison.

Keeping them separate allows me to segregate my duties. If I’m checking my personal mail, I’m not deluged with corporate stuff. If I’m working on one company, I’m not distracted by the other. There’s work to do on notifications per device, but thus far, I’m enjoying it.

Mac

All accounts into Mail. I use “Mail Steward” to back up messages. Old habits die hard, I guess. It plays nicely with Mail. There’s enough real estate and control to manage the multiple inboxes, folders and labels. Largely, I’m only on the Mac to do the Lime stuff anyway.

HEY

Then, my invite for HEY arrived. New, shiny and different. Will this fit in to my system? Where?

I’ll let you know, once I’ve finished testing it.

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Working Tools 32. Time Tracking

Time tracking is an absolute essential for the modern entrepreneur.

Actually, no, it isn’t. You have stuff to do, do it. When you have finished, stop. Simples.

If you bill by the hour or by the minute even, then keeping track of your time is a requirement. You need to be able to demonstrate to a client the origin of their bill. In the past I used Day-Timer, an analogue planner with pages segmented into time slots. I graduated to Harvest, which I found an excellent tool. I wasn’t wild about the IOS app, but the web service is great. There is a free tier – that gives a good taste of how the service works – but to be practical for me, I needed to upgrade to the first paid tier – $12 a month.

The key attraction of Harvest is the interoperability. It can be combined with book keeping software and many, many other services. With some thought, I could set some really smart automations and integrations.

But I don’t use it.

I don’t bill by time any more. I bill on a retainer or by project. Detailed time tracking is therefore less important, and that $12 a month is better spent elsewhere.

That said, I do believe in time-tracking.

Year after year, I write somewhere that writing is the thing that I most want to do. Then, during a monthly review, I observe that I have done no writing. It’s infuriating.

I’m using Toggl, a time-tracking service, and Timery, a separate app developed to work with it. I’m on the free tier of Toggl – which is sufficient for my purposes, and I have paid the $10 annual subscription for Timery. The IOS app on Timery is lovely. Easy and idiot-proof. Most importantly for me, it’s easy to correct the entries when I’ve forgotten to change or stop timers. (Currently, a daily occurrence.)

Initial findings are that nursing takes a LOT of time and that simply keeping up with email and slack is a job on its own.

Early days, but my first conclusion has been to go easy on myself. Right now, looking after Mags is my number one priority, and given that it takes from 5-8 hours from my day, it’s unrealistic of me to expect to get everything else done. That helps me manage frustration.

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Analogue v Digital 3. – Task Management

Who can resist a bit of productivity? It’s the Holy Grail of the 21st century.

Whether it be David Allen’s Get Things Done methodology or a variation thereof, everybody has a task management system. I have several. There’s nothing more productive than working on productivity, right?

OK – my tongue is in my cheek, I’m almost certainly the most guilty. It used to bother me, until I re-framed things. The quest for productivity is one of my hobbies. Like golf. Now, I don’t feel guilty about playing with apps designed to make me more efficient. A large part of productivity is task management.

The Digital

I shudder to think how many task manager apps I have purchased. Some examples:

Omnifocus. If managing my own 8 hours a day is the walnut, this is the sledgehammer. “Fresh and familiar design for the trusted, gold standard to-do app.” Get them. Yours for $100 a year. (Cross-Apple fee) Most reviews will casually mention “a learning curve.” That’s affinity-marketing speak for “block two weeks on your calendar, this thing is impenetrable.”

ToDoist. “Free up your mental space. Regain clarity and calmness by getting all those tasks out of your head and onto your to-do list.” Quickly. Off you go. There’s a free version, but should this be your silver bullet, you are going to want to upgrade to Premium for $3 a month. Somebody looked at Omnifocus, cut out the 75% that nobody understands, and painted everything white. I think Jonny Ive would prefer ToDoist.

Things. “Things is the award-winning personal task manager that helps you achieve your goals.” Go you! $50 for Mac. $10 for your iPhone and Watch and then $20 for your iPad. It can be as complex as Omnifocus or as simple as a To Do list.

Currently, I am playing with Moleskine Journey. “Designed for creatives minds (sic), independent workers, audacious backpackers, and free spirits, Moleskine Journey is the first app that blends productivity with wellness tracking features to help you get stuff done and find inner balance every day.” I feel windswept and interesting already.

Honestly, I could continue for pages and pages. I have tried many, many task manager apps.

Occasionally however, I have to be productive.

The Analogue

Write down the tasks. Do the tasks. Tick them off.

I have written elsewhere how I use notebooks. There’s plenty of scope to bury myself in “productivitying” with paper, but I tend not to. Task management is simplicity itself. I spend ten minutes to write a list. Five minutes to prioritise and then I get working. When a task is complete, I pick up a pen, tick the item and go again. As the day proceeds, the ticked items act as a pat on the back.

I task manage in my desk books, and my pocket books. My current favourite on the desk is the Endless Recorder, where the Tomoe River paper allows me to use fountain pens. In my pocket, there currently lives a Moleskine softcover, dotted notebook, but I use all sorts of pocket notebooks.

The Winner

Doh! The analogue, obviously. The digital is great fun, a lovely distraction. Sort of Twitter with less hysteria.

But to get things done? Get your notebook out.

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Working Tools 27. Apps-tastic

Apps

The trouble with stock applications not working is that I look for other applications. While looking at an app for one thing, I inevitably find numerous apps for all sorts of other things.

Oh, the first world problems that plague me.

I started with Notes, and then fell down the rabbit-hole.

Productivity

I always pursue productivity, a chase that invariably circles back to task management. I bullet journal, albeit in a simplified way. It’s a struggle to make the system work for project management and segmented lists. I decided to revisit some old friends, namely Things 3, Time Page and Actions by Moleskine. I also had an idea that I wanted to look at habit tracking.

Now, the thing about Things (if you’ll excuse the pun) is that the more you put in there, the more it does for you. Cue a stream of consciousness brain dump into the app. Everything goes into “Inbox”, until I sort it somewhere else. Happy hours ensued setting up areas of responsibility and projects. The greatest irony of productivity systems is the amount of time that you have to put into them.

Moleskine

The Moleskine apps are beautiful, particularly the calendar one. I enjoy that I can customise the views, and the simple aesthetic of the display. Actions integrates beautifully, but lacks features compared to Things, so for the time-being at least, Actions will not get used. I bought an annual subscription to both Timepage and Actions which expires in a few months, so I’ll keep experimenting with them until then, when a further decision will be required.

Habits

In my journal, I have a habit tracker. One that is becoming increasingly complex to manage. Would that work better electronically? Turns out, I had already thought that at some point in the past, and had purchased “Productive”, an app for habit tracking. So – I’m back in that too.

Food Journaling

I have been reading about food journaling. Mostly because I am in danger of being awarded my own postcode unless I start getting smaller rather than bigger. In the past, I calorie-tracked through “My Fitness Pal”. It’s great, but it does require a level of input that I’m not prepared to give any more. I am interested in the psychology of recording what I eat and drink, without necessarily comparing the calorie count between an apple and a pear.

Could I use Day One? I have had this App since 2013, dipping in and out. Now – I am photographing my food, and noting how eating it has made me feel.

Is this going to replace all my analogue tools? I don’t think so. It may change the way that I journal, but I think it unlikely to replace it entirely.

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Living the Dream – 58. Summer Living

Summer living is what we came to Cyprus for. Almost endless sunshine, blue skies and warm weather.

Heat

Having lived here before, I had warned Mags that the height of summer can be uncomfortable. Therefore, we both awaited July and August with a degree of trepidation. The season, has thus far, been mild. There have been some blazing hot, humid days, but not as many as we might expect.

When the heat is on, we have adapted our routines. We rise early, and retire late. We either work or golf in the morning and then rest in the heat of the afternoon. That’s fine, until I look at the impact on my productivity.

Golf

We return from the course between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. I restock the water bottles, get the washing machine working and then collapse, either on a chair or in bed. By the time that I’m functioning again, its dinner and/or social time.

I have found myself playing “social” golf, three times a week – with some competitions on top. That means three or four days per seven, I’m not getting to my businesses or my other projects. That’s too much. I either have to find a way for golf not to wipe out an entire day, or play less. Dang it.

Working

If I am not off to the golf course, then after a swim, I get down to the office bright and early to get some work done. The mornings are highly productive. My energy levels have always been best at the start of the day, and the availability of a home-office means that I can get going very quickly and go straight through to around 1pm. I have another swim, a bite to eat and then a nap.

Epiphany

Writing this post, my inner-voice (Siegfried) has been screaming, “play golf in the afternoon, muppet!” Siegfried has a point.

Most of our playing partners are retired, and play in the mornings. Afternoon golf will likely be just the two of us – from a buggy, but even if I reclaimed one weekday morning, that’s a 50% increase of prime productivity time.

There – even if nobody reads this post, the writing of it has helped me make an improvement to summer living.

Appetite

A welcome impact of the heat is that I am rarely hungry during daylight hours. That’s good for calorie control. Unfortunately, there are few pleasures better than a cold beer on a warm night, and that is definitely not good for calorie control!

Conclusion

Summer living is awesome. I know that any challenges are ones that I am very lucky to have – and now, if I start moving some golf into the afternoon, then I can claim a huge positive impact of writing this blog.

Thank you.

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Writer’s Block

The Situation

Whether writer’s block is a thing or not, is beyond my pay grade. I do know that I haven’t done any writing for a week or more.

Why not?

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Working Tools – 22. ScanSnap

Filing. Yay!

Alright, it’s difficult to get excited about filing. However, the ScanSnap has made my filing tolerable.

Evernote

I first came across the ScanSnap, in a green jacket: The Evernote Edition. This piece of hardware was completely integrated with Evernote, and I was smitten.

I would flick open the scanner, drop in a document, a receipt or a business card, press fire and it would be automatically scanned and saved into the right place in Evernote. It was awesome.

However, my love affair with Evernote waned. Retasking the scanner to work outside of Evernote was awkward and hacky.

Fujitsu

Eventually, I bought a “naked” ScanSnap, the iX500 by Fujitsu. It looks exactly the same as the Evernote edition, but with a black and blue colour scheme rather than a grey and green one under Evernote.

This allows my office to be paperless. The system transforms all correspondence into electronic format.

ScanSnap

Paperless

There is irony I know, to read from someone who has a business selling notebooks, and runs his life from a bullet journal, that he prefers a paperless office.

Much though I love paper notebooks and writing letters, I’m less keen on paper copies of invoices, delivery notes and receipts. I’m even less keen on paying rent for space to put expensive shelves, where expensive folders sit full of expensive paper that nobody ever looks at.

I love the ScanSnap because it makes scanning so easy. The unit connects to my wireless network meaning it can sit anywhere. Scanning is quick, reliable and easy. Invest a little time in setup, and the scanner will save specific types of documents to designated folders. The software even ‘reads’ the documents, allowing them to be searchable.

Open Scansnap

Instructions

Listening to the excellent podcast, Mac Power Users introduced me to David Sparks and his field guide to “Going Paperless”. Here, I learned about Hazel, a mac app that does much of my filing automatically.

No more filing!

I have to admit, that I have not set up a fraction of the automation that I should have, but nevertheless, once paperwork is into the system, my automated backup routines mean that I have multiple copies distributed across several sites, both physical and virtual.

I have two ScanSnaps now. One in the UK office, and one beside me here in the mountain hideaway.

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Deadline Incoming

“Should I share this timetable? Why not? After all recruiting members was, at least in part, about commitment and accountability. So – potentially to my eternal regret…

  • Act I – Draft 2 – End April
  • Act 2 – Draft 2 – End May
  • Act 3 – Draft 2 – End June
  • Out to Beta Readers
  • Draft 3 – End August
  • Pro Edit & Proof – End Oct
  • Final Draft  – End Nov
  • Publish”

On the plus side, I was right. I do regret it.

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#BulletJournal #BuJo

IMG_0441

I regret to report that the star of my last post, Samuel has still not signed up for the blog. I suspect that his emergency business trip has kept him busy.

The laptop is re-listed on eBay, so there is every chance I will have another long exchange with a fraudster. If I do, I’ll report back.

#BulletJournal. If you have not heard of this system, you can find out more at this excellent website. I am experimenting with several analogue productivity tools, and the bullet journal is the latest.

For the moment, I will not show you any of the internal pages. I need to learn how to electronically obscure some of the more private data.

IMG_0453

This is my index so far.

I use the # symbol for collections. These are pages where I track specific things. There is a log of my postal correspondence (if you are under 30, google ‘Letters’), a log of things that I am waiting for, a reading list and ideas for blog posts. I will soon add a habit tracker.

The BulletJournal, for me, acts as daily task manager, note capture space, and reference hub. I don’t use it much as a calendar or for reflective journaling. That’s my choice. Despite my love for the analogue approach to many things – I have yet to discover something that can compete with an electronic calendar. Accessible from anywhere, and most importantly, shareable.

Every day, I “rapid log”. I write down things that I need to get done, things that I need to remember, or just observations. It’s quick, it’s easy and forgiving. It doesn’t interrupt my flow. As I go through the day, items get ticked off, crossed out or processed in another way. At the end of the day, or maybe even at the end of the week, I review the logs.

This review is the key exercise. This is where I sweep up all open bullets and either carry them forward or deem them no longer relevant. There are no loose ends. The system has mechanisms for deferring and scheduling bullets, which can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. For me, the critical thing is to stop using my brain to store data, but to act on things.

The #BulletJournal system rewards. There is something very satisfying closing out a day with every bullet dealt with.

Yes, I know that there are some amazing apps for this. I own a decent share of them. Todoist, To do, Wonderlist, Any.Do are all brilliant and I have used them in the past. For me they all lapse quite quickly, as they cover only the task function. I then need to use another app for the notes. Somehow, pen and paper engages me more. It feels like commitment.

Ultimately, being productive and organised comes from within. Not from a book, or from a system.

Speaking personally, I need all the help I can get.

Taking Time Back

This post is going out in the middle of the A to Z Challenge – and is not a part of that exercise.

I wrote an earlier post on reaching saturation point with technology.

Much though I love my ‘I-everythings’, I was finding that technology was directing my time rather than help me make the most of it. So, I have stepped back a little.

Once I started limiting my ‘online’ time – I began experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Really.

I wanted to keep looking at my phone.

So, I changed phone. I bought a dumb phone. It can do calls and messages. That’s it.

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I bought a diary. I have customised the layout to suit the way that I want to work.

In the diary, I block off time. So, at 1230, I will log onto my webmail and have a look at emails. Then I log off email and go for lunch.

I log back on before shutting down for the night. That’s it for email. Twice a day. I am planning to get to the point that I log off the computer before dinner.

Mornings – I do my level best to ignore e-mail and social media. I walk the dog, have some breakfast and a shower. I sit at my desk and get working. I schedule creative tasks for the morning, I find it easier then than at any other time.

If I am disciplined – those morning hours are great productive time. The key is not to let myself get sidetracked by Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and all the other usual suspects.

Rather than ramble on for hours, I will leave you with two observations.

  1. I am finding it difficult to ‘cut down’. That tells me that there is a bit of an addiction element to this technology stuff.
  2. Not checking my email every ninety seconds has had absolutely no downsides. None.