Best productivity advice for November

I refuse to mention the word Christmas – damn – but on this first day of November, some things do change and the year is canted toward its end. Plus you know that January is for making resolutions, February is for breaking them and March is for admitting that you actually broke them within a day and a half. November has a purpose too and it’s you.

Back in January you were under all this pressure to declare your plans for the year. Nobody’s asking you to do that in November and actually fewer people are asking you to do anything. Depending on your industry, this can be a slow time and that’s typically true of freelance writing. When you do get work in then stuff everything I’m saying to you and go do that. But when you don’t, do this instead.

Look for some new places to pitch your work. A couple of Novembers ago, I made a list of ten companies I quite liked the sound of and only one of them listened to me. But they became a major source of income, they’ve accounted for maybe a third of the money I’ve earned since then. So you can say that my list of ten was rubbish and worthless and pointless, you can say that I should’ve just gone to this lot. I definitely did say repeatedly that this was a rubbish idea as I worked through the list and nothing was happening. But I still remember the moment, sitting in a Costa Coffee, when I hesitated over whether to bother continuing.

I think that nine failures made my approach to the last lot better or at least more practised. I also think that nine failures meant I wasn’t hoping for anything with the tenth and that I therefore had a busy, an un-needy attitude in that approach. I also know that if it had taken a lot of time I wouldn’t have bothered.

Whereas I think it probably took me two hours over the course of a week to compile that list of ten places; I expect that it took me less time than that to approach them all, and it made a huge difference to my productivity for the next two years.

The trouble is that you don’t think you’ve got two hours to spare over this week. Very often you haven’t, but as we head toward the end of 2016, you’re going to find the time. And if you don’t, if you’re so busy that you haven’t got the time, take it anyway. I’m not saying lie to your client or your employer about how you’ve just spent the last two hours, but only because they might hear me.

Evernote adds unwanted Context feature

That is, the new Context feature is unwanted. It isn’t that it does something useful with unwanted features.

I think it’s unwanted but you never know: I might find it useful, you might. But it puts links or information into your Evernote account that the company’s algorithms think you’ll want. If there is something in your notes that in any way lets Evernote reckon you burn to read a Wall Street Journal article, there it is.

This is a Premium user feature and is like a reverse of that other paid-for trick, the Google search look up. If I search Google for something and already have a relevant note, Evernote displays it for me. I use that, I like that, it’s very useful.

What I can’t conceive of is using Context to pull in WSJ articles. Any articles. From anywhere.

Maybe it’ll be something I come to like. Hopefully it’s something I can switch off. But right now I can’t tell either because the new Evernote update for iPhone brought me a different problem.

I suspect it’s re-indexing my Evernote notes or doing some heavy lifting. If it’s searching all my thousands of notes to find me relevant Wall Street Journal articles I’ll be pissed because whatever it’s doing, it’s stopping me using Evernote here on my iPhone 5.

In the last half hour it has got better: I can now get into a notebook I need and some buttons do respond. But I can’t then scroll down the notebook, I can’t get in to the notes.

Usually I like the automatic updates on iOS but I’d have more liked a warning this was happening and I’d even more have liked a warning and the option to postpone updating.

Please don’t picture me crossing my fingers that it’ll work before I get where I’m going today. No, don’t picture that. Instead, picture how useful Evernote is that being effectively locked out of it is causing me these problems and making me this ratty.

What to do when your computer slows down during a job

Buy a Mac. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Whatever type of computer you have, there comes a moment when you need to quickly do this particular thing or other and it is taking ages. I don’t know what happens now with Windows, but with a Mac it’s when you get that spinning beach ball.

Given that I keep saying you shouldn’t multitask, am I really going to say you should stay looking at that beach ball instead of going off to do something else?

A little bit.

Partly because, yes, multitasking is that bad for you. The time it takes you to switch over to a different task, mentally, is equal to the time it takes you to switch back and both times are huge. Much worse than you imagine.

So I would stare at the beach ball for a fair while before I’d be better off doing something else.

But there is another reason. Very often, if our computer is slow saving a Word document, say, then we’ll nip over to Mail on it. And now that’s slow. So we just open that graphic that we need to tweak in Photoshop. And what do you know, dammit, now Photoshop is slow.

Whatever was causing the original slow down, we are compounding it by turning to different tasks on our computer. So if we’d just stood sitting there, we wouldn’t be distracted, we wouldn’t be slowing down our computer and we wouldn’t therefore be getting frustrated at how everything seems slow now.

I just don’t know how long to give that.

I do know that sometimes I should really restart the whole machine and that if I do, things will work better. Taking the time to restart is hard but it can be worth it, you can repay that time soon.

But in the meantime, here’s a shorter answer to the problem: try a little patience, it’s worth the effort.

Quick fixes for a slow Mac

spinning beachballIf you’re getting that wretched beach ball it means your Mac is struggling – and you’re getting it while doing something as intensive as just opening a folder – then do this:

1) Quit your browser
Especially if you’re not actually using it. And especially, most especially, three times most especially if you the sort to leave a lot of windows and tabs open. Each one is taking up some effort from your Mac as it tries to keep each one updated all the time.

For your own sanity, get into the habit of closing a tab when you’re done with it. Bookmark it if you’re going to come back to it later, but close it now.

In the meantime, though, quitting the browser is a one-click device for speeding up your Mac.

2) Delete things and then empty the trash
I believe the general consensus is that you need to keep about 10% of your hard disk space clear in order for your Mac to work away merrily. (Because it uses some space as it’s going.) If you can possibly do it, go for a third instead.

It makes the most enormous difference, says William who this morning found he had 200Mb of space left on his MacBook Pro’s 250Gb drive. Which Wolfam Alpha tells me is 0.08%.

Yep, I beach balled a lot this morning.