That was June 2014

Last month – see That was May 2014 – I had entirely forgotten to make any notes about what I’d been doing as I was doing it. That was a big jolt for me because I’d been reasonably diligent about it during the whole year before. And it helps. It helps me feel I’m not standing still. Plus, as I near the end of the month and see there’s bugger-all in the list, it helps me go do something.

So the first thing I did in June after realising this was that I wrote a wee thing for Drafts and Evernote that means I can quickly make a note and know that it will automatically be appended to a list. Then today I spent about twenty times longer writing you a note about how I did this.

That is great for letting me extremely rapidly jot down something I’ve done or am doing, but it’s less brilliant at the end of the month. I’ve got this pleasingly long list of things but it needs some sorting for me to get an idea of the type of work I’ve done. To understand the quality rather than the quantity.

But having sorted through it and obscured the usual confidential details and totted up the various word counts, I can tell you and myself that June 2014 for me meant:

Writing totalling approximately 77,485 words
2 ecourses on productivity issues (9129 words)
2 presentations (971 words)
1 Radio Times reviews (100 words)
1 Lifehacker UK article (500 words)
Edited novel opening and pre-circulated to new group
156 news stories for The Blank Screen (approximately 43,000 words)
4 Self Distract entries (5,211 words)
4 The Blank Screen email newsletters (5,195 words)
Four iPad software tutorials (11,029 words)
Outlined Resistance stage play
Wrote first five pages of Resistance – but all five rubbish and thrown away
850 words of new non-fiction book but also rubbish, also thrown away
1,500 words of new short story, fate to be determined

Talks, appearances and performances
Page Talk panel discussion at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Directed “Murder at Burton Library” for the Burton Young Writers’ group
Represented the Writers’ Guild and the Screenwriters’ Forum in the House of Commons for Parliament’s Birmingham Day
Visited two schools as guest of Royal Television Society
Promoted the Writers’ Guild at two RTS Mini-Summits including one at BBC Nottingham
Guest at Winterbourne Young Writers’ Group
Spoke at Combrook Readers’ Group for short story I’m writing for them

Pitches &c:
22 phone calls
7 specific pitches with 1 rejection but an open door and only 1 non-response

Writing Begets Writing – three two-hour briefing/training on mental health work
1x wedding
Curzon Street Station exhibition
Women in Mind at the Birmingham Rep
Frequently Asked Questions at the Birmingham Rep
Writers’ Networking drink (if only for 17 seconds, very rude of me)
Bold Text at the Birmingham Rep

Produced video for Parliament Day and the Writers’ Guild
Promoted the move to get Alan Plater a blue plaque
Formally invited to join the Royal Television Society’s committee; going through nomination process now
Phone meeting with author re book I’m publishing
Reading/editing her latest two chapters

A bit specific: using Drafts to log what I’ve done

I do a monthly report about what I’ve done – last year for a project called Room 204, this year for you, both years really for me – and it’s always been a bit easy because I make proper notes as I go. Except I forgot to do that in May. For the entire month, I forgot. Not once did it enter my head. Must’ve been a quiet month.

But these things really do help me so I didn’t want to forget again. If that sounds obvious, this will sound more obvious: I decided to use my iPhone to help me.

This is going to be really specific but please treat it as an idea of the type of things you can do rather than a recipe for exactly how I think you should do it. Also, please treat it as being infinitely faster to do than it is to describe.

This is what I do when I’ve done something I want to note:


Tap on Drafts on my iPhone

There’s rarely a minute my iPhone isn’t with me so whatever I’m doing, whatever I’ve just finished, I can easily tap on the Drafts app I keep on the home screen.

The thing with Drafts is that when it pops open, you start writing. (See second shot down there on the right.) Think later about where that text will go – is it an email, an iMessage, an Evernote entry? – just type for now. Plus I use TextExpander which is yet another app but it works with and within Drafts so I just type the letters XTD (TD for Today, X for just in case I ever need to write a real word beginning with TD) and the date appears.


Note written and Drafts has sent it

It’s the date plus a dash and a space. After that, I type as quickly as I can and then tap the Share button. What you’re seeing here is the end result: I’ve written my note about a thing I’ve done today (or am about to do, actually), then I’ve tapped on Share. Tapped on “Save for That Was Month” and Drafts has done it. It has sent that text to Evernote. It’s left up here so that I can choose to send it somewhere else but instead I just put it away. Next time I open Drafts, I’ve got a blank screen ready for anything else.

That’s it.

Except look at the shot below: that’s a grab from Evernote on my iPhone and you can see it shows that same text I just wrote in Drafts.

Drafts has sent that text to the end of a note. So I have a That Was Month note in Evernote and Drafts just keeps adding to the end of it. In some ways it’s even more satisfying than my old manual notes because you don’t think about it, you don’t see any of it but the latest, until you go in to check and there are all these things entered.

I should explain that you have to set up Drafts to do this. I don’t find that as easy as some people do but you can see I’ve done it a few times: as well as this That Was Month business, I have a Story Ideas option that does much the same thing. I think of something I can use in a script or a book, write it down, tap Story Ideas and it’s off into an Evernote note.

And I have a general Save to Evernote which, actually, I’ve never used. There are other options below it such as Send to OmniFocus or Email or whatever. A lot of those come with Drafts, the others I’ve gone through setting up what I want. Telling Drafts I want to send text to this particular app or service, to add it as a new note or append to a particular old one, that kind of thing.

How long did that take you to read? Divide it by oodles and that’s how quick it is to use this thing. Which, frankly, means I use it. Did I mention that I have Drafts on my iPad too? So if I’m working on that, wallop, same thing. I don’t believe there’s a Drafts for Mac and maybe I wouldn’t buy it if there were: it would seem daft using it on a Mac when I have Word and Pages already.

So you know, this is what all this costs and where to get it. Everything but the iPhone, that’s up to you:

Drafts for iPhone: £2.49 UK, $3.99 US

Drafts for iPad: £2.99 UK, $4.99 US

Evernote for iPhone: free

Evernote for iPad: free

TextExpander for iOS: £2.99 UK, $4.99 US

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.