Do get dressed in the morning, don’t get dressed in the morning

Whatever. I give up. It’s as if we’ve reached saturation point on articles that say writers working from home should pretend they have a real 9-5 office job and instead now we’re embarking on a round of articles saying they shouldn’t. Here’s a shouldn’t:

I polled some of my freelance friends to find out what rules they commonly break. Here’s what came up again and again:

“Work on a schedule, just like you would at a regular job. ”

No thanks, said writer Christine Hennebury: “I don’t set regular hours. I don’t set aside chunks of time. And I don’t turn off my work at a specific time. The whole point of freelancing and working from home is to blend your work and home life together a bit better.” Instead, Hennebury plans her day using author Jennifer Louden’s “Conditions of Enoughness,” deciding what she needs to get done to be satisfied at the end of the day. Then when she’s done, she’s done.

Trying to stick to a “normal” nine-to-five workday can present logistical problems for freelancers, too, as former freelancer Holly Case pointed out. “I remember one big article I was working on required me to interview an important expert. I spent nearly a week trying to reach him and never could. He finally called me at eleven p.m., explaining that he was on his way to a party in a limo and wondered if I could do the interview then. I said yes because I didn’t know if I would get it otherwise

Always Get Dressed in the Morning, and 6 Other Rules Successful Freelancers Break – Meagan Francis, The Freelancer, by Contently (27 February 2015)

Read the full piece.

New edition of Getting Things Done out this month

Just a provisional heads-up, a wary recommendation: a new edition of this productivity book is due out on 17 March. Getting Things Done was a giant success of a book that fostered a near-cult of GTD fans as they call themselves. It’s also directly helped me and I talk about it a lot in my own The Blank Screen. But in some ways it was rubbish.

Chiefly two ways. First, it was sometimes hard to get through the corporate-speak writing style. But, second, it was severely out of date. It was only written in 2001 but it’s Victorian with how it believes you can only do work emails at work. Was it ever thus? Really?

So I was excited when I heard a new edition is coming. That excitement has been tempered a bit by an interview I heard with author David Allen. I don’t know, but if he’s updated anything, it doesn’t sound like they are the core ideas. He spoke of a Palm Pilot as the ideal device for us, for instance. If you haven’t heard of that, take this as a sign that he’s talking rubbish. If you have heard of it, you know you’re not trading in your iPhone just yet.

However, a fuller blurb has been released on Amazon that says encouraging things like a claim that this is a total rewrite.

So fingers crossed I’ll be recommending the new Getting Things Done book. Right now the Kindle edition has been made available for pre-order at £6.99. Don’t accidentally order the paperback: the version of that online now is still the ancient first version.

In the meantime, here’s that Amazon publishers’ blurb:

Since it was first published in David Allen’s Getting Things Done has become one of the most influential business titles of its era, and the book on personal organisation. ‘GTD’ has become shorthand for an entire way of approaching the professional and personal tasks everyone faces in life, and has spawned an entire culture of websites, organisational tools, seminars, and offshoots.

For this revised and updated edition, David Allen has rewritten the book from start to finish, tweaking his classic text with new tools and technologies, and adding material that will make the book evergreen for the coming decades. Also new is a glossary of GTD terms; The GTD Path of Mastership – a description of what Allen has learned and is now teaching regarding the lifelong craft of integrating these practices, to the end-game of the capability of dealing with anything in life, by getting control and focus; and a section on the cognitive science research that validates GTD principles

New edition of Getting Things Done – publishers’ blurb (2015)

Sold! Ikea to add wireless charging to its furniture

I know you can be a bit sniffy about Ikea, but in my office I’m surrounded by nine Billy Bookshelves. I’m trying to remember if my desk is an Ikea one as well. Might be. And if it were, or if I were about to buy an Ikea desk, I would soon have the option to let my desk charge my phone for me.

With smartphones being such a natural part of our lives, we want the charging part to become a natural part of our homes. That’s why IKEA has created a range of wireless chargers that make mobile charging a lot more accessible, yet a lot less obvious.

How do they work? IKEA has made that part pretty easy. Simply place your phone on the plus sign. That’s it. All wireless chargers come with a USB outlet, making it possible to charge additional devices too.

“We wanted to make charging a natural part of your home, so we chose side tables and lamps – the kind of furniture that’s used frequently – and turned them into wireless chargers. Not only do they make your home more beautiful, they make it easier to charge wherever you are. Now you can have a charger that helps you read the Sunday crossword.”

IKEA Introduces Wireless Charging– Making Life at Home More Convenient – Wireless Power Consortium press release (2 March 2015)

So you get a desk with a big + sign on it. Leave your phone on that and, if the technology gods allow, the phone will be charged. It’ll depend on your phone, on whether you’ve just spilt coffee all over your desk, it’ll depend on all sorts of things. But if it works for you, it’ll work well and you’ll have paid from £30 for the furniture. That seems a bit low: bet you it’s £30 for the charger and then something more for the wood.

Read the whole press release for more.

All Contacts apps should work like this: BusyContacts for OS X

I’m writing about ten pieces a week for to do primarily with software and given my obsessions, naturally productivity stuff crops up a lot. I mean, a lot. I’ve had the chance to evangelise software that has transformed my working life and I’ve also had the chance to try a range of new applications I wouldn’t – to be truthful here – have been able to afford.

Of the 100+ pieces I’ve written so far, there are many standouts but a recent one that was entirely new to me is BusyContacts. It’s a Mac-only address book and it is tremendous. I don’t think it’s gorgeous, I long to change parts of its look, but for features, it’s great. In fact, it is excellent – and chiefly because of one single feature in it.

From my MacNN review:

That feature is the Activities List. Like any other Contacts app, you can look up someone’s details and get all the regular stuff, like their many phone numbers, email addresses, and so on. In BusyContacts, though, you also get Activities. Right next to their contact card, you get a list of the last emails you two have sent each other (this only works with Apple Mail at present). You also get your most recent iMessage exchanges. Their latest tweets or Facebook updates. All there, all the time and immeasurably useful.

If you know you’ve got to call Bert, look up his contact card — and right there is when you last emailed him. You get the date, time, subject and opening lines, so you are instantly briefed on what you were last doing together. The more people you have to juggle and the more projects you are doing, the greater and greater this feature is.

Hands On: BusyContacts (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN, 17 February 2015

That was posted nearly two weeks ago now and I’ve only come to like this app more. Here’s an example of something I’ve found useful that has previously been enough of a chore that I didn’t do it. There is one group of people I need to email from time to time. I could set a group email address but those are oddly awkward to do on Macs and the groups don’t cross over to the iPhone or iPad. It’s not that groups cross over in BusyContacts either, they don’t, but awkwardness and inability to use groups everywhere meant I didn’t bother with them at all.

I used to just find the last email I sent the group, quickly check through the names to make sure I remove a person who asked to be let out of the set, then I write the new email.

With BusyContacts, I can assign tags to contacts. As you read their address book card, type a keystroke and add a tag. It’s easy to do and as you go along merrily adding things like “Writers’ Guild” to a name, you build up a list of such tags in the app. Now I can drag someone’s name to the tag and have it applied.

I can click on the Writers’ Guild tag and only see those people who I’ve tagged with this. So far, so underwhelming, except that once this is what I see in my contacts app, I can Select All and email everybody. BusyContacts lets me send an email to everyone in that list – and it lets me send separate emails to each of them.

That plus the Activity List, it is just startlingly useful. I wish there were an iOS version, I’d be on that like a shot. Read the full piece.

Weekend Wear: Grammatically correct clothing

The Contently website has gathered several teeshirts that are made by various companies but all speak to the things that most make us twitch. Here’s my favourite.

2. Misuse of “Literally” Makes Me Figuratively Insane ($20, Snorg Tees)


Society’s lexicon of words is constantly evolving and changing, and within the last decade or so, the word “literally” has become the new “like.” Thanks for your contribution to the English language, Rachel Zoe. School those word miscreants with a shirt that is equal parts sarcastic and educational.

7 T-Shirts All English Majors Should Own – Shelby Deering, Contently (7 January 2015

Read the full piece.

Excellent new app: Evernote Scannable

Seriously, if this had come out a few hours earlier I’d have made it the buy of the week on The Blank Screen newsletter – and it’s free, that’s a great buy of the week. I wonder if I can make it buy of next week?

This is all Evernote Scannable does: it scans business cards – or receipts or anything, really. But it’s how it does it and what it does then, that’s what is so good.

It’s good enough that I bid to be the one to review it on MacNN and this is part of what I’ve just said there now:

It’s not often that software makes you laugh, at least not for good reasons. But the new Evernote Scannable is so fast at scanning documents that on our very first go we failed to get our thumb out of the way quick enough and it scanned that. We really did laugh at this big, fuzzy thumb – and were then delighted and surprised and genuinely impressed with what happened next. Evernote Scannable removed our thumb from the image. Automatically. The final result has it replaced by the same white as the document we were aiming at.

In this case, the effort was fairly pointless as our thumb obscured half the planet and we had to redo it. But you’re going to use Evernote Scannable a lot for business cards and this means you don’t need to put them on a table before scanning. Just hold them toward the camera, try to cover up anything important with your fingers, and the app will scan what you want it to scan.

Hands On: Evernote Scannable – William Gallagher, MacNN (9 January 2015)

It is very fast at scanning, it’s not really scanning as I think of the word. Just wave your phone at something and, wallop, scanned in, where’s the next one? You can zoom through getting receipts – I detest receipts but you have to have ’em – and once you’ve said that yep, this is what you want to happen, a single tap sends the scans off to Evernote.

Meet someone, see their business card, snap and it’s in your Evernote account. Without a thumb.

Read the whole piece, go on. I get really enthusiastic in it.

Review feature coming to OmniFocus for iPhone

This made me sit up. The Omni Group is revamping its productivity apps and bringing ones to the iPhone that have only ever been on the iPad – and that now includes OmniFocus.

OmniFocus is a To Do app that has long, long, long been on iPhone and I’ve used it pretty much hourly for the past three years. But when there were three versions of the app – one for iPhone, one for iPad and one for Mac – it used to be that they each had differences. Each were best for certain things. The iPhone one, for instance, was best for adding new tasks on the go and looking up the next thing you needed to do.

It specifically lacked a feature called Review where you go through every task in every job and make decisions about whether to keep them, whether to do them, whether you need to do anything else. This is a fairly quick thing to do but you tend to do it when you’re in a fairly reflective mood and don’t have new tasks flying at you from everywhere. So the Review feature was on the iPad and the Mac versions of OmniFocus and it didn’t exist at all on the iPhone one.

“That’s a really important feature and I think a big omission from the iPhone OmniFocus” I said back in September 2014’s If you can buy only one OmniFocus, get the iPad version. Not anymore.

The Omni Group recently announced that it was bringing all its iPad apps to the iPhone and like anyone else, I didn’t think of OmniFocus because it was already there. I am keen to see OmniOutliner, that’s the one I was looking forward to and in fact I am beta testing it right now. But otherwise there is the project planning app OmniPlan and a diagramming tool called OmniGraffle, that’s what I assumed was coming to iPhone.

Today the company announced that OmniFocus is coming too. All of the company’s apps are coming to iPhone and they’re coming in Universal versions which means:

Since all of the apps in the Omni Productivity Pack will run on both iPad and iPhone, there will no longer be any need to purchase a separate app just to run OmniFocus on iPhone. The price for the new Universal app will be just $39.99 (a savings of $9.99 compared to the current two-app pricing for customers using OmniFocus on both devices)—and it will be a free upgrade for anyone currently using OmniFocus 2 for iPad.

Omni Productivity Pack coming to iPhone in Q1, 2015 – blog post by by Ken Case, Omni Group (8 January 2015)

I’m not honestly fussed about the pricing because this stuff is so useful to me that it’s now just a mandatory purchase. But:

Customers who want to upgrade from the iPhone app to the Universal one can simply pay the difference in the prices by taking advantage of a $20 Complete My Bundle option we’ll make available. Of course, we’ll continue to update OmniFocus 2 for iPhone, but Pro features such as custom perspectives will only be available in the Universal app.

I have all three versions of OmniFocus available today and I use them all, all of them, constantly. So for me I’ll just be using a new version of OmniFocus for iPhone some day shortly. Which I realise means I will actually delete the old iPhone-only edition. That’s not something I thought I’d be saying to you: I’m actually going to delete a version of OmniFocus.

That’s practically a Dear Diary moment. Not sure when it will be but as I say, I am on the beta test for OmniOutliner for iPhone so it’s well along and I’m expecting the shipping products to be out in the next couple of months.



How do you even pronounce ‘productivity’?

There’s a new podcast from the productivity site Asian Efficiency which I had a listen to on my morning walk. (This is a new thing. A morning walk at 5am. This is a new stupid thing.) And the podcast is fine, I’ll listen to more before I know whether I want to urge you to try it, but the very first sentence made me stop in my tracks.

Frankly, anything can stop me in my tracks when I’m walking at that time of day.

But it was how they introduced the topic of productivity and pronounced the word as if it were pro-ductivity. And I realised then that I always say it as prod-uctivity.

Maybe that means they’re more professional about it and I’m the type who needs a good shove to get going. I’m okay with that.

One quick tip for writers to save money

This applies to anyone buying anything online but we writers need every trick we can get. That’s so even if the trick and the tip in question is really small.

This is really small. But it’s saved me enough over the years that I want to be sure that you know it too:

When you’ve picked an item on an online store and put it in your shopping basket, open a second tab and google the name of the store plus the phrase ‘voucher’.

Nine times out of ten, you won’t get anything useful. Nine times out of ten you will be told there are discounts available for that reseller and there aren’t, it’s just to get you to click through or join up or something. But once in a while, and just often enough, you get 5%, 10% and 20% discount vouchers.

Usually what you get is some code word or serial number: copy that and you’ll find a spot to paste it on the online store’s checkout page.

If it worked every time, I’d have told you before. But it happens enough that Angela got an extra present this Christmas.

Starting over with OmniFocus and Evernote

I think this is digital decluttering. And like all decluttering, I already know which of it I’m going to put off. My Evernote is a steaming mess of about 4,000 notes with 800 of them in the inbox and if it weren’t for the software’s very good search feature, I’d be regularly sunk. But it does have good search, I am not sunk, it can wait another day.

Whereas I’m starting over with OmniFocus.

This is my rather beloved to do app and I put my ability to cope with lots of projects entirely down to this software. But one big new project came in December and is hopefully continuing for a long time. I have two meetings this month that should lead to one enormous project and one gigantically enormous series of projects. Can’t wait.

Plus one big change at the end of 2014 meant a thing I do that has been albatross-shaped is pretty much entirely gone. I’ve walked away from a thing and am feeling so good about it that I think might even start to enjoy saying no.


One bad project gone, one new one in, two new ones looming and most things churning over, it is time to apply that ability to say no. Time to review everything and chuck out what I don’t want to do, what I am not going to get to.

And the reason to do it is not that I’m some kind of OCD-based guy who needs everything in its place. I refer you to the steaming mess of Evernote above. The reason is that lately there has been so much in OmniFocus – I have added so much – that I’ve stopped checking it. You shouldn’t have your head in OmniFocus all day but you really should look at it from time to time. A very sensible thing to do is look at it first thing in the morning, for instance, and that’s where I go wrong.

When you have a lot on and some of it is pressing at you terribly, you go straight to the keys and you start working on that. If checking OmniFocus were a quick thing, as it is built to be, as it is intended to be, then two minutes checking that while I boil the kettle will help my day astonishingly.

I’ve been looking through my OmniFocus now and can tell you that I have 2,513 things to do and they’re arranged in 88 projects. It could be worse: while I was looking, I ticked off something like 30 tasks that I’ve actually done and just not got around to noting.

Take a look at these 88 projects, though:

That is a mind map I did over Christmas: it’s a visual representation of everything I was working on at the end of 2014 and my only hope is that the image is too small for you to see the details. What I want you to see is how steamingly messy it all is. And I want you to see it so that you are hopefully nodding when you see this next shot, which is how I’m doing the projects for 2015:

Is that better? It’s certainly duller with all those colours reduced to just a couple. But I did this in an app called MindNode, which I do recommend a lot, and it chooses the colours. Add a new thing, it gives you a new colour. So that overall purpleness is not a choice, it is a consequence of my collapsing things into fewer categories, fewer projects.

Next job: translate that mindmap into OmniFocus folders and projects. Back in a bit.