Stop slouching

There’s a scary bit toward the start of this about how sitting is dangerous to our health but then it comes up with a term I could really get behind: “active sitting”. I’m listening.

Travels with my Apple Watch and Evernote

I’ve tried something twice and it’s set: from now on, every trip I take will see me leaning on my Apple Watch and Evernote.

If you don’t happen to know what Evernote is, it’s a note-taking app – but that description belies the power and convenience of how Evernote works everywhere and all of your notes, every attachment you fancy, it’s all available to you on every device you own plus every device you happen to pass. If you like. The description also belies Evernote’s failings and they are aggravating when they happen, but the service is so good that you get over that.

If you don’t happen to know what an Apple Watch is, there’s probably enough of a clue in the name and if not then Apple has a lot to tell you about it.

For the past little while I’ve been away on a series of four speaking engagements and three meetings in four towns over three days. So you know that means lots of train times, reservation numbers, hotels, whathaveyou. At points things were pressed together so closely and I needed to focus so exclusively on the current one that I changed my Apple Watch face from the one on the left to the one on the right:

watch faces

That one on the left, the minimalist one, that’s called Simple and has been my Apple Watch face for six weeks or so, right from the start. Loved it. But not all of these faces can have complications, the word for extra bits like the date. To help me do this event and then that event without much overlap of concentration, I switched from Simple to Utility. Stripped it back as far as I could to show the least it would, and now I love this one. Love is a strong word, but it’s the right one.

I do particularly love that it’s saying No Events Today because I’m glad of the day off. But throughout these days it’s been saying what the next or current event is and that has been strangely handy.

If I had some event today at 1pm, though, what would happen is that from yesterday evening the Watch face would say that: 13:00 Some Event. It would say that up to and throughout the 1pm event. I had thought that if you had a 2pm meeting right after it then once the 1pm gig had started, the face would change to say the next one but no, it doesn’t. It stays on the current one until that’s over, then it changes.

And that’s surprisingly handy. Being there on the watch face all the time, it was telling me somehow that it and I have got this sorted, don’t worry about it. You know you’ll make the 2pm meeting because you’ve planned all this out. Maybe you can’t exactly relax, but you can focus your head on this current event.

This is all Apple Watch stuff, this is what you get for having a Watch, but that part about planning it all out involves other software. Specifically it involved Evernote for me, but I wish I could say it also included TripIt. I use TripIt for all my trains and planes and coaches; when I buy a ticket online, I forward the confirmation email to TripIt and it parses all the details out. So I can turn to TripIt on my iPhone and see every departure time, every reference number, all that. Beyond handy. All the myriad details of a complicated trip in one place.

But it doesn’t work on Apple Watch.

It does, there is a TripIt for Apple Watch but it only handles airports and plane times. I’ll use it the next time I fly, I like the idea of being able to sit where I like in the waiting area and using my Watch instead of trying to be sight line of a TV showing me gate numbers and departure updates.

But it doesn’t work on Apple Watch for trains.

So I schlepped through all the detail of numbers and times in Evernote. Wrote a note on my iPad that included each thing I had to go, in sequence, with every detail I needed for each one. Train times, ticket references, address of the vote, phone numbers for anyone I might need and for the bits in London, also the Underground journeys to take. Consequently, I looked at this on my Watch perhaps twenty or thirty times over these past few days:


See that train reference? Snow Hill’s ticket machines were busy so I had to go to an actual human being – it was like the Stone Age – and read that number out to him. It took the guy a beat to realise what I was doing: “Sorry,” he said, “I thought you were looking at the time.”

Nobody else noticed, nobody else noticed as I used Maps on Apple Watch to guide me to my hotel either. Strolling along with the odd tap on my wrist to tell me turn left now or turn right in a mo.

I did often find I wanted to read the next bit of the Evernote note and couldn’t. The Watch switches on when you turn your wrist or when you tap on the screen; once you’ve got the Watch face up, you can press twice quickly on the Digital Crown to switch to the last app you used. So I’d switch on the face, double tap and go into Evernote, then use that same Crown to scroll down through the note. Very often I was pulling my suitcase behind me and would therefore have to stop to let go of the case, bring up the Watch and tap. I tried once or twice to tap it behind me and press the Crown but it never quite worked.

I don’t think I needed to stop to check it as often as I did, but I stopped very often and on tubes and trains and the like I would regularly scroll through the details. It was more that I was doing that while thinking out the next bit of the day, like it was a background to my thinking, but it was there and it was handy.


Evernote has imposed a limit on how much you can read of a note on the Watch. It’s definitely Evernote’s choice because other apps will show much more, but as you scroll down through a note, it stops after a certain point. I should know what this is now because I’m getting used to splitting notes into two. I can’t remember, I just went to my iPhone to chop up the note when I’d reached the end of what the Watch would show me.

That is a pain. And I add it to Evernote’s other various pains.

But the convenience of having Evernote, Maps and the utility Face on my wrist all the time was startling and satisfying. Add to this that I think of things to do when I’m walking or driving, the very moments when I can’t do them, but now I can lift my wrist and say “Hey, Siri, remind me to write about using Evernote on my Watch”.

Worked too, didn’t it?

Damn bank holidays

They’re worse than Sundays. And who asked us if we wanted bank holidays? I deliberately chose to not go into banking in order to escape these wretched days off but, nooooooo, we have to have them and we have to keep on having them. Bastards.

I sense you’re not with me here.

So how’s this? It appears that you will do more work in the run up to and the return from a three-day weekend. It’s not a shock but it’s now official – a bit. Kinda. Here’s a US report on the volume of emails that will be sent this weekend: it’s Memorial Day in the States on Monday but for once both sides of the Atlantic have a day off so this is relevant to us both.

More emails are sent in the days leading up to and following a three-day weekend holiday to compensate for time off,” says Anna Holschuh, an engineer at Yesware, an email tracking software provider. “So instead of actually doing less work, we’re just cramming it into fewer hours.”

[But[ Your inbox won’t be as full over the holiday weekend. The Yesware study found that people send 40% less emails on holiday Mondays than regular Mondays, and 5% fewer emails over the weekend.

The Good (And Bad) News About Three-Day Weekends – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (22 May 2015)

Read the full piece.

Walk out of meetings you don’t need to be in

There’s a true story of Apple’s Steve Jobs telling someone they weren’t needed in this meeting, go away. But there is also the endlessly true endless story of our endlessly ending up in meetings we have no interest in. Worse than no interest, we have no stake in, nobody cares what we think, we don’t care what we think, we are there in body alone.

So go away.

Five or ten minutes into many meetings at Etsy, Eric Fixler, a senior software engineer at the time, would pick up his stuff and just walk out the door, mumbling something about not being useful here. If he had nothing to contribute, he went and found a better use of his, and our, time… teaching me a valuable lesson along the way.

There is no reason to sit in a meeting to which you add no value. Everyone invited should be there for a reason, and if you are there for a reason, you should be actively contributing, regardless of role or seniority. We hired you for your experience and insight, not to be a wallflower. If you can’t actively contribute to this particular discussion, there should be nothing wrong with leaving. We certainly don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time. Everyone at a startup has a million things to do.

Thus was born The Fixler, a simple and powerful rule: If you are sitting around a conference table and your presence isn’t necessary nor adds value to the others in the room, you may get up, say ‘Fixler’, and walk out without explanation or penalty.

Pull a Fixler – Jesse Hertzberg, Title Needed (6 February 2015)

Read the full piece. Also, hat tip to 99U for finding and analysing this.

Feeding your specialism: finding enough to write

The problem: you’re writing about a particular topic so much that you become known as an expert. Perhaps you’re not, but you’re more expert than most people so you get asked more, so you get the chance to write more. Since this is hopefully a topic you’re interested in and especially if you are also being paid, this is all very good news.

Except it means you have to keep coming up with the goods. Finding new material, finding new things to write about. I was trained as a journalist when the job required you go out and find things and I lament that now it’s more a job of finding other people’s articles online.

But here’s someone else’s article online. It’s about how to find other people’s articles online. Before this gets too meta, it’s also about feeding your interest so that you can find these and your favourite subject doesn’t become a chore to you.

[Once] your career is up and running, suddenly you face a new challenge: finding the enough stories for your specific beat. Becoming a science writer seems like a great idea until you realize you have to come up with, say, 52 unique science-related stories a year. How do you keep it up?

…How do I find the best stories for these beats? In my case, it comes down to a three-pronged strategy: reading news, following my interests, and asking questions.

Every weekday, Monday through Friday, I publish two stories on The Billfold. How do I come up with 10 new personal finance stories every week? I read a lot of news. Every morning, I get up and start reading sites like Slate, The Atlantic, and The New York Times to look for topics I can turn into stories.

Ask a Freelancer: How Do I Find Enough Stories for My Particular Beat? – Nicole Dieker, Contently (24 February 2015)

Do read the full piece.

To Do apps versus project management

If you have a good To Do app, its job is to focus on you and what you’re doing, what you need to do. If what you need to do is one very substantial thing that’s going to take time, resources, people and money, you need project management software.

From my MacNN review of OmniPlan – project management software from the makers of OmniFocus and OmniOutliner:

Project management is like having a bionic To Do task list, and software doesn’t make it easy per se: software tools help project managers, but there is a huge amount to the job that is down to your judgement and skill. So such software has to be full-featured, but it also has to be very adaptable to what you need — and it has to help you, it has to be a tool in your arsenal, it can’t try to be a magical solution to everything.

There are many project managers who would say it also has to be Microsoft Project for Windows. That is as close to a standard as there is in this world, but the four words of its name contain two problems. One is Windows: there is no official Mac version of Microsoft Project. The second is Microsoft. It’s written into Microsoft’s DNA that it never removes a feature, it only adds new ones. So Project has every conceivable feature managers could have heard of, but this makes it hard to use.

In comparison, the Omni Group began on NeXT computers, and only moved away from that to OS X and iOS. It does no Windows software, and only makes four major applications, all of which share similar designs.

It’s a project management application designed for professionals — that’s a broad term, but what it means is you wouldn’t bother to plan your picnic lunch with it, and if you’re running the next NASA mission to Mars, you might want something more powerful. Only “might,” though. There are specific things that OmniPlan doesn’t do, but in general our only serious criticism is that we’d like it to do more of what it already does.

Review – OmniPlan (OS X, iOS) Review | MacNN

Read the full piece.

The difference between Evernote and Dropbox

I use both of these and I know which I’m going to turn to when. But you try asking me why. It’s one of those things where I struggle to explain the differences and why I’d use either, let alone both. But this fella – he blogs in the first person but you try finding out his actual name – has the answer in a short and good explanation. Here’s his take on why this is an issue:

Both services are based in the cloud, and both services can be a huge asset to your backup strategy and workflow. Unfortunately, they’re often lumped together or painted with the same brush when in fact, they are actually quite different. If you’re using one of the services exclusively, you may not realize how the other service can help you. Similarly, you may actually be “rocking” both services concurrently with no clear dividing line that tells you definitively “this goes into Dropbox” and “this goes into Evernote”.

Dropbox vs Evernote – The Differences Explained, and How to Use Them Both Effectively – Tech Barber (17 January 2015)

Read the full piece to clear up any confusion you have or that I may have given you from my interchangeable use of the terms.