Quick wins and the Quick Win Hour

Find a few things on your To Do list that won’t take a lot of time and do them. They’re quick wins because without much time and probably without much effort, you’ve knocked some stuff off your list.

It’s like taking baby steps or building up to doing something big except these things were real and they needed to be done so you’ve built up usefully. The sense you have that you’re on your way, you’re getting things sorted out, is real because it is real.

You can’t just do the quick stuff, you have to buckle down to the difficult and the long, but knocking off a few fast tasks is a good way to get yourself started on those.

Some To Do software including OmniFocus lets you say how long you think a task will take. I have never used this. I never will. I just think the time I spend working out time I’ll spend on a task is time I could be spending doing the task. Nonetheless, if you like doing this or it feels more natural to you than it does to me, you can assign approximate times to any or all of your tasks – and then choose to see a list of all those taking 10 minutes or less.

There are also To Do apps that let you assign an energy level to a task. I don’t even know if my OmniFocus does this because I’m not sure where to look. But if your To Do app does this, you could get it show you all the tasks that don’t need much oomph from you. All the ten minute tasks that you can do in your sleep: that’s a To Do list you can knock through quickly.

One thing I do often do is a Quick Win Hour. Take a moment to find ten things on your list or make up ten new things. Whichever it is, you do ten and you do that very, very quickly. Then you set a timer on your phone for one hour and you do all ten.

I’ve done this perhaps half a dozen times over the last two years and only once did I ever complete all ten within the time but, grief, it was close every other time. And despite or maybe because of my being so focused on the ten and the hour, I didn’t really register that each time I was getting up to ten things done off my list.

Essentials: TextExpander

I just wrote this on MacNN.com:

Get this essential Mac tool for speeding up your typing

Here’s the thing: yes, TextExpander speeds up your typing, but some of us like typing — and some of us are 120 words per minute. If you’re one of the latter, that doesn’t automatically rule out that you wouldn’t be interested in the venerable TextExpander’s speed, but we figured it wouldn’t be that much use to us; or so we thought. Doubtlessly, if you are a slower typist, then the speed is the key reason to buy TextExpander — but it does so much else, it is so useful in other ways, that we are now dependent on it, and wish we’d bought it ten years ago.

Hands On: TextExpander 4 for OS X, TextExpander 3 for iOS – William Gallagher, Electronista (18 January 2015

Well, I wrote that and then I wrote a lot more, almost every bit of it finding new ways to enthuse about this software. It is that good, seriously. I found out while writing this review that I’ve been using TextExpander for 10 months. Can’t believe it – and yet I find that easier to comprehend than the fact that there was ever a time I wasn’t.

Read the full piece.

Best new app in ages: Workflow for iOS

I’ve been holed away in an apartment in Paris, as you do, with only barebones internet connection and a lot of gorgeous city to look around. It was meant to be a working break and some work was done but, between us, it worked more as a break. A stillness, a bubble. And I thought I’d be recommending that to you.

I may yet.

But the last thing I downloaded as the Eurostar train went under the Channel was the newly released Workflow for iPhone and iPad.

Wait. This is more relevant than you’re thinking. If I hadn’t gone off for these days, I would’ve downloaded Workflow and I would’ve fully reviewed it but there’s a difference between fully and fully. The fully reviewed review I would’ve written you would doubtlessly have been praising and it would’ve begun:

Workflow lets you automate various things your iPad software can do. So things that take you several steps and need several of the regular iPad apps can be turned into one.

This is true. I’d have sounded enthused too, because I am, but I think you’d have got that more from the tone than from anything specific. Automate. Great. I’d have given you an example, too, but while I got the concept and I’ve been looking forward to this app, I wouldn’t have done you a great example. I couldn’t have done you a great example because I couldn’t think of one.

But being away, having the time to play, I’ve got one. Full disclosure: it may not seem that great to you. But, grief, it’s great for me and this is what’s so good about Workflow: it lets you create tools that are great for you.

Previously on this… In one of my freelance jobs it helps me to keep an eye on various news outlets and when I see something that could be useful, I save it to Evernote. Now, I’ve got an Evernote notebook for it and I could copy the text from an article and paste it there. I’ve done that. I can also email the article from the web straight into Evernote. I do that a lot. What I don’t do is remember how.

I can remember how to email into Evernote, that’s fine. But saying which notebook gives me pause because I can never remember its name. And I’d like to add tags, things to help me find articles later, but I can never remember how to do that.

And now I don’t have to.

With Workflow, when I spot an article online that I want to save, I tap Safari’s Share button. There’s a Run Workflow button that appears. Tap that and I get all my Workflows. Pick one I’ve called Research and, wallop.

Workflow takes the article, the web address, pops it into an email, does the trickery to say what notebook and what tags there are, and it’s gone. Sent. Saved.

It doesn’t actually save me a lot of time but it saves me enough that I do it more often. And that’s the thing about automation; it makes things easier as well as quicker.

Workflow is on sale at £1.99 but the price goes up soon. Get it on the App Store.

Read faster, if you must, but retain more

I don’t believe in speed-reading techniques but then I don’t have to: I naturally read at around 600 words per minute and I also type at around 120wpm. But my retention is poor: I am fantastic at scouring for information but if you ask me detailed questions about the whole text I’ve just taken in, I will be below average.

So that’s what makes me interested in advice that says you can read faster yet retain more by visiting Wikipedia first. Hold on. Wikipedia. O-kay. I’m listening, warily…

There is a relationship between background knowledge and reading comprehension. The more you understand about a particular subject, the more “hooks” keep the facts in there. So if you are going to read a book on a subject you don’t know much about, check out the Wikipedia article on it first to prep your brain to retain more.

How to Become a Faster Reader – Ryan Battles, RyanBattles.com (17 July 2014)

That’s the one bit that interests me in an article that (ironically) takes a long time to read. But if you want to read faster or you’re just curious to see if Ryan Battles is his real name, do take a look at the full article.

Productivity tip: Control-L

That’s it. Holding down the Control key (aka CTRL, aka Apple key on Macs) and tapping the letter L. This will speed up your life.

Because when you’re in a web browser, any web browser, doing that leaps you up to the address bar. More, it highlights that address bar. Just do Ctrl-L and begin typing the URL of the next website you want to go to.

Or since most browsers now have what’s called an omnibar – one space that doubles as both where you type www.whatever.com and where you type in what you want to search for – just Ctrl-L and type anything you like.

Trust me. It’s so much faster than going to the mouse and clicking away like a prehistoric computer user.

Studying: it’s not the time, it’s the mileage

From the site LifeHack – note, that’s not Lifehacker – comes a series of five steps for learning something and of them all, number 1 is best. Number 1 applies in so many places:

Focus on number of repetitions, not on the amount of time we practice.

When we say that we “studied for five hours straight,” we are often deceiving ourselves. How much of that five hours was spent in focused attention? How much time did we spend on distractions, like checking our email, or Facebook or Twitter? The key is not the length of time we spend when learning something. The key is the amount of learning repetitions that we engage in. Repetition is one of the most powerful levers we have because it wires our brain. The power of repetition is well known by top performers, athletes, musicians, and the military. Time spent is not nearly as important as the number of reps.

So here is the first step: get rid of the watch. Instead, focus your attention on completing repetitions. Instead of saying, “I’ll study my notes for two hours,” say, “I’ll read my notes through, line by line, three times from start to finish.” This causes you to focus your attention on results. It also eliminates the “illusion of effectiveness” because you can’t fool yourself. Either you completed the task, or you didn’t.

5 Hacks to Speed Up Your Learning – Ryan Clements, LifeHack (undated)

Read the rest. I’m still exploring the LifeHack site; haven’t decided what I think yet.

Process stories – finding how you work

By coincidence, two friends talked to me about this lately: how we writers go about our writing, the way that we get it done. The process, the writer’s process. I was thinking that the short answer is a shrug: you do what you need to. But there is a comfort to having a system that works for you, specifically there is a comfort in that if you know you are always writing at the last minute and that always turns out okay, maybe you can stop beating yourself up about it now.

I can’t tell you my process. I can go on about the 5am starts (today was day 231 of that, by the way) but that’s less a process, more a stupidity. It’s 8:30 so now and I have written 1,200 words on one project, I have done a pile of emails about a couple of events I’m producing, I have drunk quite a lot of tea and gone through my To Do list. Including the stuff I found I’d done over the weekend, I ticked off about twenty items on that list. I think I probably only actually did six or seven of them this morning. But they’re done. And yet this isn’t a writing process, it’s a productivity one. Because it’s easier to be productive than it is to write anything down.

Maybe that’s my process: do everything else rather than write. It’s a rubbish process.

So I would like to find you a way to write that is efficient and quick and gets things done. But I haven’t found it because I can’t find it because I think the very notion is bollocks anyway. Not if the aim is to be efficient. If the aim is to explore your own writing and to end up having written instead of just thought about writing, that’s different.

One friend, Alex, says she’s still finding her system, her process. Then either by total chance or because we writers are all forever thinking about this stuff rather than actually writing, another pal, Ken, wrote a blog about it:

If there’s a point to this post. I think it’s this. I think there are lots of ways of writing and if you’re stuck staring at the notebook or the plotting software, consider letting it go for a while and just writing. Just write. See where you go and where you end up. Just don’t settle for what you write in that initial foray.

My Way is Not the Best Way but it’s Mine – Ken Armstrong Writing Stuff

He’s a smart guy, he writes very well and his blog was a key impetus in my making my own Self Distract be a weekly thing. Have a read of the whole piece, would you?

Two updates for Launch Centre Pro

The new: Launch Centre Pro's iPhone version has some twiddles including a new keyboard – and there's now an iPad version.

The links: Launch Centre Pro for iPhone, Launch Centre Pro for iPad (they're not the same)

The cost: the new iPad version is £5.49 and the iPhone one is £2.99.

The rest: the point of LCP is that you can pile a bunch of buttons into one spot on your iOS device and with a tap at least open applications quickly. That's enough for many people but really it's not for launching apps per se, it's best for making those apps do something. So, for instance, I have long had a button that fires up OmniFocus and enters a task. Rather than find OmniFocus – though, look, it's right there on my front page, where else would I put it? – and then open it, then tap to add a task, I can be just right in there typing. In, out and gone faster than OmniFocus itself is.

Or rather, was. I've been noticing that OmniFocus 2 for iPhone running on iOS 7 is usually as quick to enter a task as Launch Centre Pro is. Enough so that I keep going straight to OmniFocus instead of LCP.

Right now I am havering over whether LCP earns its keep on the front page of my iPhone. Right now, probably not. But if I relegate it to any other page then I will simply never use it because it will never be quicker to go via LCP.

But if it's of use to you and if I regain my habit of using it myself, Launch Centre Pro is a good application. And now it has added a new keyboard designed to make typing faster. I've not tried it. I may be the only person in the world who can type just fine on the iPhone, but I can so I do and have never even looked into this one.

Whereas I did soon and fairly often look to see if there were an iPad version of Launch Centre Pro. I reckoned I could do something with that and TextExpander to create a quick way of logging sales. But I couldn't because there was no Launch Centre Pro for iPad.

And now there is.

Same idea, same use and for me the same question of whether I'd use it or not. So far while I'm thinking about the iPhone one, I haven't dropped six pounds on its iPad cousin. But I do go in cycles with this app, I may well be back.

OmniFocus: speed it up by archiving completed tasks

Nobody actually uses OmniFocus. Nobody actually owns it. There are some folk who haven’t heard of it, there are many who are on PCs and so can’t get it, but then the rest of us live in OmniFocus and it owns us. Not the other way around. I live in this application and I for one welcome our new OmniFocus overlords, but still I have never once done this trick for speeding it up.

Truth be told, it’s never got all that slow for me. But the time will come and this is a smart guide from a very good new site called The Sweet Setup that tells you why you should archive off your old tasks and how it will help you:

How to archive completed tasks in OmniFocus for faster syncing