Best productivity deals now on

So you’re stuffed and sleepy and you’re watching Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Special. Before Doctor Who begins, go grab some of the very best deals there are for productivity tools and advice.

Email and Paperless Field Guides
All of David Sparks’ Field Guide books are half price. That includes his excellent one on Presentations plus a title I’ve not read 60 Mac Tips and a title I’m not interested in, Markdown. However, by far the best and most useful to you right now are his books on Email and a very wide-ranging one called Paperless.

Read that and you’ll transform your working life. Read his Email one and you’ll make so much more use of your email that you will enjoy it.

David Sparks’ Field Guides are all iBooks that cost now cost around £3 or $5. I actually can’t confirm the UK price because I’ve bought most of these already so the iBook Store doesn’t tell me the price anymore. Get them on the iBooks Store or check them out on Sparks’ official site.

The Blank Screen
My own book is half off too: it costs you £4.11 and after it you’ll be creative and productive. I may have mentioned this book before but this is the first the Kindle version has ever been on sale. Grab a copy now.

Drafts 4
This app for iPhone and iPad looks like a very simple notebook kind of thing. It is. Tap that icon and start typing. If you never do anything else with it, it’s still good because it’s somehow just a pleasure to write in. I can’t define that, can’t quantify it but also can’t deny it. I just like writing in this notetaking app and in fact I am doing so right now.

What happens after you write a note, though, is what makes this special. I’ll send this text straight to The Blank Screen website. But I could choose instead – or as well – pop it onto the end of note in Evernote. Chuck it over to my To Do app OmniFocus. (Which reminds me, OmniFocus for iPad is not on sale but it’ll still be the best money you spend on apps ever.)

Equally I could write a note in Drafts 4 and send it to you as a text message. Or an email. I don’t know that it’s actually got endless options but it must be close. And that combination of so very, very quickly getting to start writing down a thought and then being able to send your text on to anywhere makes this a front-screen app for me.

It’s down to £2.99 from £6.99 on the iOS App Store.

TextExpander 3 + custom keyboard
When I want to write out my email address I just type the letters ‘xem’ and TextExpander changes that to the full address. Similarly, I write reviews for a US website called MacNN now and each one needs certain elements like the body text, an image list, links, tags and so on in a certain order. I open a new, blank document, type the letters ‘xmacnn’ and first it asks me what I’m reviewing and then it fills out the document with every detail you can think of.

The short thing to say next is that this is via TextExpander and that it is on iOS for a cut price of just £1.99 instead of £2.99. So just get it.

Got yet yet? Okay, there’s one more thing to tell you. TextExpander began on Mac OS X and it is still best there. The iOS version wasn’t really much use until iOS 8 when Apple allowed companies to make their own keyboards. Suddenly you could switch to the TextExpander keyboard whatever you were doing or whatever you’re writing on your iPhone or iPad. That meant you could expand these texts anywhere. Fantastic. Except the TextExpander keyboard is somehow less accurate and harder to use than Apple’s.

So what you gained with the text-expanding features, you lost a bit with everything else you typed.

Except many other apps work with TextExpander. Apple’s ones don’t but Drafts 4, for instance, recognises those ‘xem’ or ‘xmacnn’ things and works with them. So buy TextExpander 3 for iOS in order to get these things set up and working. It’s a bonus if you like the new keyboard.

Get TextExpander 3 + custom keyboard.

Hang on, Strictly’s nearly over. These are my favourite deals on productivity books and apps available right now but remember that they won’t stay on sale for long. If you’re only surfacing from Christmas and reading this in February, ignore the prices and just focus on the recommendations. None of these are here just because they’re cheap, it is that they are superb and the sale is a great bonus.

Eh? Get my book for £4,307.56 off

Friend of the blog John Soanes sent me this on Amazon. It’s my first The Blank Screen book going for £4,319.19 secondhand.

Now, I’ve seen it go for around the £60 mark and I liked that. I don’t see that cash but I was terribly chuffed that it was going up.

But it’s still on sale brand new so before you gawp like I did at the £4,319.19 price tag, click here to get it for £4,307.56 less.

And now, drum roll…


Proof that small moves work

Well, at least call it proof that small moves add up. As I write this, it’s 18 August 2014, The Blank Screen news site has been running for 265 days and we’re closing in on 1,000 posts. That’s coming soon but we’ve already exceeded 250,000 words posted.

A quarter of a million words since 26 November 2013.

That’s something like three times more words than the book that started all this, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition).

If we’d written as much fiction in this time, we’d have a trilogy of novels. If I had a dollar for every word I’d be writing to you from New York and inviting you over for a coffee and a dinner.

I do want to revel in this a bit, I do feel rather good about it, but I also want to think about how you can as equally argue that it happened by accident as that it did from hard work. I won’t dismiss the work it took but right now, today, I don’t see any of that, I just see that consistent, regular effort has built something I didn’t have last year.

Next time you or I reckon we don’t have time for something or perhaps that we don’t have enough time for it, let’s remember that, truly, small moves work. I could be less smug about it, mind.

Book recommendation: The Blank Screen

Earlier this week I sort-of recommended David Allen’s book (and accompanying cult) Getting Things Done. But amongst all the praise I had and have for it, I said this:

Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition) is a self-help book by David Allen. The strange things first: it was written in 2001 and you will be amazed how long ago that seems. (Example: Allen talks a lot about how, for instance, you obviously can’t access the internet unless you’re in your office. It’s practically Victorian.) Also, it feels as if Allen is focusing on office workers and people who may do fantastic things but aren’t the kind of messy-minded creatives that writers are.

Getting Things Done – book (half) recommendation – William Gallagher, The Blank Screen (24 June 2014)

No question: my own productivity techniques owe a huge amount to Getting Things Done and in fact I credit David Allen extensively in my book. But The Blank Screen is written for us writers. I know normal people will get a lot from it too, but it’s written for us. So it’s about coping with the kinds of things we have to cope with – how to be productive when no editor ever bleedin’ phones us back productively – and it’s very much about making more of your computer. Jonathan Davidson of Writing West Midlands (a truly fine charity without whom The Blank Screen wouldn’t exist and which you should definitely be supporting, please) said this to me once:

Writers were the first to go digital.

He means it and he is damn right. We went digital back in the 1980s when we saw, we understood and by hell we coveted word processors. The rest of the world that is now so mad keen on digital, they’re just catching us up as best they can.

I’m just not sure they all come with our writer neuroses. That’s another big issue with us: we have to battle the curse of ourselves as well as the curse of other people when we’re trying to make our way as working writers. That’s something The Blank Screen is riddled with.

And the book also has one especially popular chapter on specifically how to cope when you either have too much work or you don’t have any at all. Those are both crippling for writers and we get them all the time. I suppose I should try to flog you that chapter, but I’ve seen how it helps people: I want it to help you too. So go on, since it’s you: download the free chapter, Bad Days, from The Blank Screen. If there’s someone you know it will help too, give them the link.

There comes a point when my free Bad Days chapter has solved that time when you are so fraught you have to hold your chest and breathe slowly, when you’ve passed it to other people and been thanked for how it’s done the same for them, and when you should really be buying the book.

The Blank Screen is on Kindle and iBooks plus – my favourite – it’s in paperback. Seriously, check out the free and complete Bad Days chapter but then:

The Blank Screen is on Amazon UK (Kindle and Paperback)
The Blank Screen is on Amazon USA (Kindle and Paperback)

And it’s a rather gorgeous iBook too.

One thing. I’m saying this to you today because I do want to celebrate a little milestone. You’re reading the 600th article on The Blank Screen website and I’m rather proud of how this spin-off from the book has become a productivity resource of its own. I do hope you keep reading and I hope that you enjoy it.

UPDATED WITH AUDIO: The Blank Screen on BBC Radio WM today

15:48 Listen to the show here: 25 minutes, MP3 And the book we talk about is my The Blank Screen (UK edition)

12:17 GMT UPDATE I had a blast on BBC Radio WM. If the listeners who phoned in had half as good a time, then they were robbed. Audio to follow later UPDATE ENDS

Just a quick note to tell you that I'm going to be on BBC Radio WM's Adrian Goldberg show some time between 11am and noon talking about The Blank Screen book and how we writers can get going, can get off our backsides and write.

BBC Radio WM is the Corporation's local station for Birmingham and the West Midlands. I actually started my career there doing work experience in the 1980s so it's always a particular treat to be on it.

If you read this before 11am GMT then you can catch it streaming live and I'll update this with a link afterwards.

Always assuming I don't make an eejit of myself in it.

The Blank Screen book:
UK paperback
USA paperback

Advice for the overwhelmed

Lifehacker has a suggestion for – wait, I’m forever telling you about good-to-great Lifehacker articles, have you bookmarked that site yet? – one way to cope when you’re drowning:

Try it. I have my own systems and they are in my book, The Blank Screen (US link, UK link). Mind you, I think this business of coping on bad days is so important and I believe what I can tell you about it is potentially so useful, I give away that Blank Screen chapter for free. Here it is: Bad Days from The Blank Screen.

I hope it and the Lifehacker article are useful to you.

The night before the morning after

Today is the 176th day I’ve got up to write at 5am. I can tell you that it was easier than the 175th because I’ve been awake since 4am trying to work out what to do. And the thing I’ve learnt is that more important than making yourself get up is having something to do the moment you have.

Er. Apart from the bathroom, the fastest shower in history and the mandatory giant mug of tea. I can get to my keyboard by around 5:15am at a push, and I do push, but it has happened that once I’ve got there, I’ve gone um.

Only a few times. But enough to give me the willies. I’ve had days where I’ve done some emails at that time, I’ve even had one day when I watched some TV that I could call research but, come on.

It is hard to get up this early and it is very easy to waste the time when you do. I wrote about this 5am start in my book, The Blank Screen, and it was meant to be an example of how you should search for the extra moments that you are able to write. How you need to find your schedule. I happen to write best this early in the morning, even though that goes against every late-night-jazz bone in my head. So I don’t like getting up, I really don’t like going to bed, and I’m not very keen on how tired I get by the end of the day, but the work I do is better. And, face it, it’s also more. I do more work and it is better. What’s not to love?


But that’s about all the book said. I do talk in it about my particularly brutal way of making myself get up but that was as much about habit-forming and self-immolation as it was anything else.

And what I have really learnt since finishing the book is this business that you have to have something to do. Get up at 5am or whenever you like, but do not spend any time at all then planning what to do. Go to the keys and be writing immediately or you won’t do any writing.

It just occurs to me that this is a lot like people who lay out their clothes the night before. I have not once done that. Suddenly I see why they do it. I vow to you that I’m going to do that too, except I know I’m lying and, hey, I do enough with the making myself get up this early, enough already.

Maybe a better example is the type of novelist who ends the day by writing the first line of the next chapter. So in the morning, there’s line 1 already done. I can vividly understand that now.

It’s almost never that I’m lacking for a job to do. There was one time, back around the 150th day, that I’d finished a huge project and genuinely wasn’t sure what to get to next, genuinely wasn’t sure whether I shouldn’t instead breathe out for a bit. But usually there are plates spinning aplenty and it does take some figuring out to decide which is the most urgent or which is the most important. Fine. Just don’t do it at 5am.

Or 4am. I found 4am worse today. The fact that it was 4am was pretty bad all by itself but then I had the sense of pressure that I’d only got an hour before I had to be up and writing… something.

I’ve got meetings and travel I have to do today that are affecting the shape of my day and I have one urgent deadline that you’d think I should be doing right now but it’s a radio review and that means I listen to a play. I’m planning to do that while driving and travelling to these meetings. 

I’ve got a lot of chores to do – literal chores around the house but who’s going to do any of those this early? – and I’ve always got lots of financial stuff to avoid.

But then there is the one big editing job that I need to get away today and there is the more creative one that I long to start.

I will get that editing done. I will do that review. I will start that creative project. I know I will because I have the time and I have that time because I made it by getting up at 5am.

But I also have you to talk to and that’s what I knew I’d do. Around 4:15am, I realised that I could do this, that I now had this to tell you about planning ahead, I knew I wanted to talk to you. In all the rush to be productive and edit this, write that, plan the other, we can forget the wanting and it’s important.

So hello. Nice to see you. If it’s 5am where you are, I feel your pain.

And I can help your pain just as much as I can help my own: tonight when I go to bed, I’m going to spend a few moments figuring out the shape of tomorrow. So that I can go straight to the keys at 5am on day 177 and begin writing.