Tip: returning Siri to navigation

Here’s the thing. You’re driving using Siri as a Satnav on your iPhone. Since the phone is plugged into the car and therefore thinks it’s on mains, you can just say “Hey Siri” and ask it what you like, when you like. It is great.


You’re navigating along and you get a text. “Hey Siri, read my texts”, you say. And it does. That’s nice.

What’s a lot less nice is that your iPhone then sits on that grey-black Siri page waiting for you to press the button to ask it something else.

Don’t. Do this instead. Say: “Hey, Siri, what’s our ETA?”

Siri will tell you. Many people don’t realise you can do this at all but the trick is not that you can do it but that Siri reacts in a certain way. It tells you the ETA – and then it goes back to navigating. It goes back to the map and its turn by turn directions instead of the grey-black emptiness of the Siri page.

There will be other questions that work but the ETA one seems to do the job because it is related to navigating. Somehow iOS 8 knows to pop you back to navigating after you’ve asked this.

Bonus: when you do this a lot, as I do, you get to ask the ETA many times and you get to learn what your ETA is. I rarely care but now I’m very familiar with distances on the motorway.

I don’t use paper notebooks, but if you do…

Oh, I think you’ll love this. Every time I meet someone who is adamant that their paper notebooks are better than my clutching at Evernote and typing everything, I ask them the same question. It is always a genuine question, I promise you this, and I only keep asking because I just don’t seem to get very convincing answers. Yet notebook users persist and are deeply attached to their paper and pen. This is the question: how do you find anything?

I mean it. I had an editor at the BBC who, whatever the discussion, could flip to the right page in her big notebook and tell you what we’d said about it last year. I was fascinated. I don’t know that I would do it even if I understood it, but I know for certain that if I were a paper notebook user, I would be using this:

…notebooks are hard to organize your ideas. You either split your notebook into several sections for each ‘category’ and end up wasting valuable pages in the quieter sections or you just write your ideas as they come along making them hard to find later on.

If this sounds familiar then you are going to love this little hack I was taught here in Japan by a friendly salariman. It’s a little messy, and not something I’d use all the time but for the right subject could come in handy.

Here’s how it works. The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it.

A Little Known Hack form Japan to Get Your Notebook Organised – Adam Akhatar, Highfive (12 August 2014)

This time you absolutely have to read the whole thing or I don’t think you’ll get it at all. The only alternative is for me to steal the entire article plus photos and I won’t do that because of course I won’t do it. Plus, if you like this article from Highfive, you’re surely going to like others and I need to point you at this and them all. But for the sake of enough clarity so that you can decide whether it’s worth digging into this particular full piece, here’s the end result:


You can’t help but notice the list of words on that back page of the notebook – but look at the pages before them. Those little marks that stand out even on the closed pages are how you find everything. Do take a look at Akhatar’s full piece for more explanatory photographs and exactly how to do this thing.

And then go get Evernote for your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Sorry. I had to.

Calling it

My name is William and I have a problem with cold calls. Making them. I'm fine with getting them, I can even enjoy a good cold call so long as they don't stick robotically to a script. They always do but I always give them a chance to break free so I feel I've contributed something to the chat before I hang up on them.

But making cold calls, that's tough. And that's tough in another sense as I have to make them. I want to make them. I'm speaking at the Stratford Literary Festival next month because I cold-called. Obviously it took more than that one call, it took chats and emails, but it wouldn't have happened without my dialling that number. Me. Stratford. That's worth the difficulty of making calls.

I've developed two coping mechanisms that I want to tell you about. I want to tell you about them because this week I've been trying a modified version of one and am now ever more sure it works. At least, that it works for me. You own personal form of paraylsis may vary.

The first is that I know from years of struggling with this that statistically my most effective phone calls are made between 11am and noon. So in my series of Pattern Weeks here, I've written about blocking out certain times to do certain things and that hour is for phone calls. Monday to Friday, 11am to noon. Bang, bang, bang.

But to do it bang, bang, bang-like, I have to use the other strategy. This is exactly the one I write about in my Blank Screen book about writing To Do tasks as if someone else is going to do them. So in this case, rather than Call Anne, I write Call Anne re invoice number for the Doctor Who feature. Sometimes I'll even put the phone number in there too.

And that means no thinking, no looking anything up, just read task, see number, dial, speak, finish call, breathe out. (I shouldn't have chosen Anne as that example. She's lovely.)

So I game this: I arm myself with all the tools to make the call so that I can't prevaricate and then I set this inviolate time to make the calls – because that makes every other time the opposite. I cannot make phone calls outside that hour. (I do, it's often necessary, but the rule is the rule, I don't make these things up.)

The thing I've changed this week is that I've stopped ringing people on Mondays and Fridays. Again, not true. I had to ring someone yesterday in order to hit my thirty total for the month so nuts to the new plan.

But the new plan is to do 11-12 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

You may think that's an excuse, that I'm creating more specific times to call in order to create more times I don't have you.

You caught me.

But it's again down to what is working and how often I am reaching people. Mondays and Fridays are bad days to try to get to speak to folk. It must be nice to work in an office where you can relax on a Friday just because it's a Friday and it must be hell to work in one where you cannot do anything on a Monday but panic about catching up, but it's what happens.

And it's what works.

Or it's what works for me.

If you have the same problems with cold calling that I do, give this a try. If you don't, please tell me your secret.

Email hacks – create a temporary group in OS X Mail with TextExpander

File this under I Needed To Know But Couldn’t Find It On the Internet. So here I am putting it on the internet.

My problem was that I now have to regularly email the same group of about 25 people, a good dozen or more are not in my address book. OS X Mail remembers who you’ve emailed before, whether or not they’re in your address book and that is remarkably confusing. I’ve just been slogging through this and discovered the strangest people are not in my address book: people I email often, people I like enormously, they ain’t in there.

They are now.

Side tip: in Mail, choose the Window menu and the entry for Previous Recipients. You get a long list. A long list. But if somebody is in your book, you get a little contact-card-like icon next to their name. And if they aren’t, you don’t. Click on the first one who isn’t there then option-click on each other one you want. Thump the Add to Contacts button and you’re done.

But with my group, I don’t actually know that many of them. Certainly not enough that I could glance down that list and know who was in the group, who isn’t. So I thought I was faced with adding each one separately and then collecting them into a group.

I was. Except I had a Damascus moment: I’ve got TextExpander.

So this is what I did – and I apologise for how geeky it sounds, I promise that it took seconds.

1) Found the last email to the group

2) Hit Reply to All

3) Selected all the names in the To: field and dragged the lot into the body of the message. They turned from the familiar blue-button names into names plus email addresses. They looked like this: “William Gallagher <wg@williamgallagher.com>” except with twenty-five more of them, all in one massive lump with commas between them.

4) Copy and paste into Word.

5) Search and replace “>, ” (the closing bracket, comma and space that is at the end of every address) and replace with “^p” (Word’s code for a paragraph)

6) Set a tab halfway across the page.

7) Search and replace ” <” (the space and opening bracket that is at the start of every address) and replace with “^t” (Word’s code for a tab)

8) That got me what looks like two columns: the first with people’s real names, i.e. “William Gallagher” and the second with their addresses, “wg@williamgallagher.com”

9) Option drag to select the column of names and the white space over to the start of the addresses.

10) Delete.

11) I was left with one column of addresses.

12) Search for “^p” and replace with “, ” (comma, space)

13) That got me back to one massive block of text that was every email address separated by a comma. Select and copy the lot

14) Open TextExpander and create a new snippet, a piece of text I want to use often. Paste my massive block of addresses and commas in to that and set a short key combination for the lot

So now whenever I’m writing an email message, I can type “;swf” (with the semicolon but without the quote marks) and the To: field is filled out with all of these nice people.

Now, truly, if you read out the above at the standard speaking speed of three words per second, it would take you a minute and forty seconds. I’ve just worked through the instructions again to check and the whole shebang took me… oh… a minute and 35 seconds. Okay. That was rubbish.

But next time I want to email this group, it will take me a seventh of a second. No searching for the last one, no adding some from the address book, some not, just “;swf” and wallop.

There is the downside that the people who weren’t in my address book still aren’t in my address book. As I talk with any of them individually, I’ll have to remember to add them. And I could have continued to just find the last email and Reply to All. I definitely could’ve done that and I have done for a month or more now. But each time I do it, I have to check the list because some people have asked to be taken off the group. Now I can forget that and just email everyone in one go. If anyone new asks to come off the list, it’s a moment’s work to edit the TextExpander snippet.

No, face it, William, this was a five-pound hammer for a one-cent problem. But it’s done now, get off my back.


Definitely TextExpander. But then you need that for everything. Promise. Read more about TextExpander on its official site.

Microsoft Word. Any word processor would probably do this but I turned to Word – even though I don’t use it so much any more – because I knew the codes for paragraphs and tabs. See more about Microsoft Word on its site. I used the Mac version which takes a little more digging to find on Microsoft’s site. Can’t imagine why.