Handiest. Thing. Ever. Make and take phone calls on your Mac

If you’re the kind of person who leaves your iPhone in a pocket or purse placed inconveniently across the room, you’ll appreciate the ability to answer an incoming call with your Mac. You can also initiate calls from your Mac—to the other person, the call will look like it’s coming from your iPhone, but you’ll be chattering away with your Mac’s built-in microphone and speakers. For this to work you have to configure both your Mac and iPhone.

How to make and receive iPhone calls with your Mac – Christopher Breen, Macworld (17 October 2014)

This is the thing I think I am most looking forward to using now that I’ve moved from the OS X Yosemite beta to the final release. In theory it worked before but I had problems and put them down to the beta nature of it all. Plus I just put it down, decided to do it again some day.

That day is now. Or it would be if I were back at my office. I’m away with my iPad and I have already used that to make and receive calls. The audio quality is subtly different but receiving calls sounds great and making calls sounds fine. I love how it just happened, too. I’d left my iPhone in my office and was reading something on my iPad somewhere else in the house when the phone rang – and then so did my iPad. One tap and I was taking that call. Gorgeous.

So I know I’ll use that again and I know that I’ll use it when my Mac is doing it too. Maybe even more so: I do a lot of phone interviews so I’m assuming I will be able to use Audio Hijack Pro to record these. This could even transform my biggest problem of prevaricating before phoning people. When they are one tap away, I’m going to tap.

If you’re using iOS 8 on an iPhone and an iPad, those two already work together, you’re set. If you want to do it with your Mac too, you need to do a couple of things. Read this full piece on Macworld for exactly how to do it.

Three UK launches calls without a mobile cell signal

That quirky underground restaurant. Sitting on the train. Or your friend’s basement flat where you can only get signal if you stick your arm out the window.

On mobile networks, unfortunately there are times when you just can’t seem to get a signal. So we created Three inTouch for our customers – a free app that lets you connect through Wi-Fi even if there’s no mobile signal. Just download and activate.

No signal? No problem with Three inTouch – email, Three (16 October 2014)

All Three users in the UK – wait, that sounds like the company is really unpopular, let me try again. All the doubtlessly millions of people in the UK who use the Three mobile phone company have today been emailed about Three inTouch. This is an iOS and Android app that lets you make phone calls and send texts even when your phone has no signal. At least, when it has no mobile phone signal. It does have to have wifi.

But if you’re in a spot and moreover are in a wifi spot, you will be able to launch the app and get on with calling or texting. Or sexting. I don’t judge. That Three email says it works anywhere in the UK and that the cost of the service is effectively free: a call or text will cost you just whatever it would cost you if you were doing it over a mobile phone signal like 3G or 4G.

Also, when you phone someone this way, it looks and sounds to them like you’re ringing from your normal phone. I’ve made wifi calls before but using Skype; it’s not been the best experience but generally speaking neither is Skype.

If you’re a Three customer, you’ve got or you will soon get the email with details. If you’re not or you’re in a hurry, check out the Three company’s page about it online and go get the free iOS app or free Android app.

Produce your phone calls to make them easier and quicker

18th Street Phone-1I’ve only got three phone calls I have to make today but I started at 11am and as I write this, it’s 11:13 and I am finished.

As you can expect and fair guarantee from any round of phone calls, they aren’t all finished and done with: right now I’m waiting for a call back from two people with more information and an email from the third. But the calls are all made and these issues are all underway and the response rate would be no different if I’d spent the day fretting over them.

And I do fret. Given that I’m a journalist and it is routine to phone people up, I find it really hard calling for myself. So I do several things to make it better. To make me do it, really.

There’s quite a bit about this in The Blank Screen book (UK edition, US edition) but since writing that I’ve been focusing on one particular piece of advice I learnt for it. I’ve made making calls be my thing, be the work I have to get better at. And I’ve done it by making days like this. All of which boil down to this:

Produce the calls.

You don’t go into any meeting and you don’t ever pitch without knowing who you’re talking to and what it’s about. So I take some time during the morning to build up a list in Evernote of who I am calling. I run my life through the To Do software OmniFocus and it’s very easy to use that to get a list of calls to make: I just tap or click on a button marked Phone and it shows me every call I have to make in every project, ever. But if I then start writing that out in Evernote, I can build up this:

Who I’m calling at what company

What their phone number is

The specific aim of the call and the most recent conversation or correspondence we’ve had about it

All obvious stuff but each line does something in particular. The first one, who I’m calling where, that acts as much as a heading as it does a To Do. Then the bit about their number is crucial – I know that sounds obvious, I know you’re thinking that without it I won’t have much luck calling them but it’s more than that. The point is having the number right there. See the name, ring the number, go. That’s the plan.

Then the specific aim is equally important to both sides. Usually there’s just one thing you can get done in a call so I pick that and we’re off. Knowing it, knowing it precisely and having written it down focuses me on it so that I am right on the topic and they get a quicker call out of me.  And similarly, how we last left something means I sound like I am on top of things, I am fully aware of what we’re doing and also that I’m moving this stuff on, I’m not hanging about, I’m not kidding. Without being rude or abrasive, you know I am working and this is business and as much as I may like nattering with you, today we’re doing this thing.

So I’ve spent the morning building up that Evernote note in between other jobs, then it comes to 11am and I start. See the first name, see the number, I’m dialling it before I can hesitate and it’s ringing while I’m fixing the rest of the information in my head. Ring, speak, done, next. See the second name, see the second number, I’m dialling.

I do also use Evernote to make notes about the calls and that’s not brilliant yet. What I find is that I will build up a lot of information under a call but then the next time I have to call them, that information is back in the previous day’s call list. I need to get more organised about copying the information out and into a single place per person or per project or per something. Not sure what yet.

But it’s surprising how much sheer data you can write up about a call. I record just whether I got them or voicemail, I make a note that I said I’d call back and perhaps when if I said a particular time. Also any numbers they need to tell me like fees or contracts or purchase orders. The list goes on and on.

One extra is that I also record the time of the call. I do that in Evernote but using a TextExpander snippet. As the phone rings and as I’m reading, I will type the words “Called at…” and then the TextExpander snippet ;ttime – a semi-colon and the word ‘ttime’ which pops in the current time. If it’s a long call or I’m routing through a hundred service desks who keep me waiting, I’ll log the time along the way because why not?

Then the last thing I do after all the calls is I make a note of them in a separate Calls Made list in Evernote. This has no function at all except to make me want to make more calls. It’s showing me that I’ve made 162 phone calls so far this year and, hand on heart, I wish I hadn’t looked because I thought it would be more impressive than that. Just 162 in five months? I promise to do better.

Starting now. I’ll just add today’s 3 to the list and I’m on 165. That’s a bit better.

Phone a friend. Randomly.

I have not one single idea whether this is productive but it is fun.

You know that after you’ve produced something, you go back to all those people you needed beforehand and you thank them. Of course you do: without them, it wouldn’t have happened.

But I was scrolling down my iPhone’s Contacts list to one of them and right underneath her was an old friend and colleague I haven’t spoken to in a year or more.

So I rang her. Nothing to say, nothing to ask, just a call in the dark.

I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did because I had a blast. So much so that I have actually considered doing this more deliberately, phoning more people randomly. Except if you do it deliberately, it isn’t so random, is it?

Not sure about that now. But I had a lot of calls to make that day, plenty of them fun like the post-event ones, enough of them tedious like chasing this or that, and this random one-off in the middle. I tell you, it made my day.

Make it worse for yourself

There are jobs I don’t like doing.


That’s not actually true. There isn’t a single thing I’m working on that I don’t relish. That’s nice for me, isn’t it? But nonetheless, there are always elements of most jobs that I really just don’t enjoy doing. Things that I put off for one reason or another. You’re the same, I can see it in you, so let me suggest something to help.

Find a thing you hate even more.

If that’s hard for you, bugger. I mean, it’s good that you can’t find bad things, but it’s a bugger because I need you to. For me, for instance, I don’t like invoicing and I don’t enjoy cold-calling. (I’m not a salesman who relies on cold calls but so many successful pitches and projects have come from my just ringing up a firm that I am compelled to keep doing it. Compelled. But still, I don’t like it.)

So I try to rig my time such that my choice is between doing an invoice or making a call.

Invoicing wins.

More than that, invoicing becomes the lesser evil at first, then it’s a near-as-dammit a pleasure because it’s the thing that means I don’t have to do this horrible other thing. I start looking for more invoicing to do so that I can postpone phoning people.

You may think I’m stupid and I will not disagree with you. But at the start of this, I hated invoicing enough that I wasn’t doing it, I was at best postponing it for as long as I could. And now at the end I’m looking for invoicing to do.

Productivity lessons from Blake’s 7


In fact this came from Blake himself: Gareth Thomas suggested I do this when I was interviewing him for a forthcoming book about the BBC science fiction series.

Actually, full disclosure, it was more that he couldn’t fathom why I was such an eejit that I wasn’t already doing it.

It’s just this: put your phone calls on speakerphone and tape them.

For all that I said yesterday about finding it hard to make certain types of calls, I have made a fairly constant stream of them throughout my writing and especially journalism careers. With Gareth, I really wanted to phone him over Skype so that I could record the call on my Mac. But he wanted to phone me instead.

I do loathe costing my interviewees any money, I don’t see why they should pay for the call or go out of their way for me, but Gareth couldn’t do anything else. He was on tour in a play and fitting me in on a Saturday morning; he might be able to predict what town he’d be in but there was no way to give me a phone number to ring. I would of course have accepted a mobile number, very happily, but mobile to Skype to Mac has proved tricky before. More than one interviewee has said I sound like I’m in a barrel down a mineshaft.

So I’m genuinely mithered over what to do in order to record the interview. I have to record it. Have to. I’m not going to get a huge amount of time with him and he is somewhat vital to the book, I need to make the most of the chat.

I’ve never actually met Gareth Thomas, I’ve just now done two phoner interviews with him over the years. But even in those short times, I can tell you that he is as charming and funny and interesting as you would expect. Yet I swear I could feel him thinking the word ‘eejit’ before he explained to me that I didn’t need to route the call through my Mac to record it.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been doing something wrong for twenty years? So that happened.

I recorded that man three ways from hell. I rang him on my landline, had my iPhone and my iPad recording the sound from the speaker and I even got my Mac to do it too.

And that’s the productivity lesson: use your Mac or presumably your PC to record calls. You can’t just record anything, it has to be with permission and agreement like I had there with Gareth and a book interview, but you can record anything – in that anything that makes a sound, you can record.

Since that interview, I’ve recorded many calls. Lots of interviews, naturally, but also phone meetings or conversations where I’ve really needed to find out a lot of things and there isn’t much time.

I don’t know how you do this on a PC, though I imagine it’s part of Windows Media Player, but on a Mac you just launch QuickTime Player. Doubtlessly because of its name, few people realise that this Player also records. It can record anything that happens on your screen – so it’s ideal for showing someone how to do something – or it will record your face through your Mac’s camera. Or it will simply record audio.

Choose that, hit the record button. Here’s a second productivity tip, this time discovered by me without the aid of Roj Blake, fictional freedom fighter: identify yourself for the recording. I say my name, the date, the time and who I’ve agreed to record. You don’t think you’ll do this all that often but over the last six months I’ve gathered up a stock of maybe fifteen such calls and being able to identify them in the first few seconds of playback is a godsend.

Especially since QuickTime Player confuses me continually. Once you record something, it is there as an untitled document. Close it and it will ask you for a name to save it under. Or you can just save it and then close it. I say this to you and I cannot see what is so hard. Yet I regularly end up wondering whether I’m going to save or accidentally delete the recording. And I postpone worrying about it by leaving them all there.

So I’ve currently got about seven Untitled phone recordings on my Mac.

I promise to sort through them.

One more productivity tip, this time from my years producing UK DVD Review. That was a podcast from 2005-2010 which I’m proud to say peaked in the top ten of all podcasts, of all genres, across the entire world. I think there were only 11 podcasts then. But I learnt this. If you’re recording a lot, I mean for a long time and maybe just doing a few calls one after another, clap your hands.

I clap three times before the start of a long recording. Interviewees think I am strange. But they suspected that anyway.

This is pointless if it’s just a quick call and even with the much longer one I did with Gareth, it was straightforward: I just transcribed it afterwards from start to finish. Often, though, I will have such a long recording that I need to find parts of it quickly. Usually that’s the start of the next interview. When I was doing this for broadcast, it would be to find the next take or the next section.

These are all things that I would tend to listen to in a proper audio editor instead of just through QuickTime Player. (You don’t have to launch QuickTime Player to listen back to a recording: just find it on your Mac and tap your spacebar. It’s gorgeous how fast that is when you have a lot to look through.) With a proper audio editor, you get wave forms.

And with waveforms, the clap is really distinctive. You get three massive spikes in a row and you can just skip straight to that.

So. With permission, record your interviews or other detailed calls. Do it simply on your computer, label everything, and clap yourself if you’ve done a good job.