Minimise support delays

This is not the way it should be, but it is the way it is. So far this year I have had three issues with companies where things weren't done or went wrong and each time the solution has been the same. Bollocks to their own support systems.

Use them, sure. If you can find a customer support email on the site – and well done if do, they are always hidden – then send them a message and start a clock. Each of the three I had problems with claimed some quick turnaround; I think two of them promised 24-hours and in one case I was specifically paying to get that speed.

Doesn't matter. Doesn't work. If they say 24 hours, leave them for a day and get on with anything else you can do. Then on hour 25, hit social media. Obviously you're always going to be polite but actually, there is such a thing as weaponised politeness. If you're a nutter in twitter, nobody notices and nobody cares. But if you're calm, rational and stating how a firm has failed, that gets you support immediately.

Seriously, immediately.

I was doing this across twitter, Facebook and Google Plus for one recent issue and before I'd finished, I had direct messages from support teams. Two of them.

One of the cases is still ongoing and as much as I understand that problems happen, this one enrages me because it is entirely the firm's mistake and they've accepted that. But I'm still having to pursue it.

Still, I have got human contact there now because I went public. And the other two issues from another two firms are resolved.

So while your instinct and assumption and normal reaction is to contact a firm's support, don't see it as a reasonable thing to do and definitely don't assume it will work. Instead, the email to the firm's support is step one and you are going to be taking step two in public.

It's tedious and it's aggravating and it is a waste of time, but as long as you know it's the way things have to go, you can schedule it and hopefully get on with something else. You've had the support email where they say they're escalating your problem: that's all you're doing to. They get their shot at fixing it privately, then you escalate it through social media.

I don't like this, I loathe complaining about things that I know are just happenstance but since they're happenstancing to me and they have to get sorted, I now have to be the one to get them sorted. And the way to do that is as quickly and thoroughly and widely as possible.

I wanted to say this to you because the third of these businesses is making me eat my desk in madness but I know I'm not alone. Take a look at this blog from writer and artist Gigi Peterkin who looks at it from an American angle.

Review everything so you don’t have to see it all

Yesterday's post about reviewing one's Evernote notes each day got me a message about how OmniFocus rocks reviews. It does. I even said so. In fact, I said it was because I'd felt the huge benefit of reviews in OmniFocus that I was going to give this similar Evernote one a go. But I didn't say what OmniFocus's review is.

I'm not sure I've even said what OmniFocus is. That's rare. Usually you can't shut me up about this software. It even comes up in my otherwise application- and platform-agnostic book about productivity for creative writers, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition)

Songs will be sung of the day I finally shut up about it. OmniFocus is a To Do manager but as I'm sure I've said before, that's like saying War and Peace is a stack of paper with some ink on it.

So, you may guess, I'm a fan. Rather than fan on at you about it now, though, I want to make sure we're clear on what a review is in this context. If you have OmniFocus, great. If you can get it – it only runs on Macs and iOS so Windows and Android users are out of luck – well, that's great too. But if you don't have it, you can still do this part.

Maybe not so well.

Actually, no, there's not a maybe about it. OmniFocus does reviews really well, most especially in the iPad version.

But you can and even more than I would go on at you about OmniFocus, I would go on at you about reviews.

Here's the thing.

Right now I have several hundred tasks in my To Do manager, arranged in probably a couple of dozen different projects. Everything I ever have to do, everything I ever think of gets chucked into OmniFocus. Now, many of them never get done. If it occurs to me, I'll add it to OmniFocus and think about it later. When that time comes, often I've done the thing already. Very often I'll find it occurred to twice so it's in there twice. And fairly often I'll look at it and decide no, I'm not going to do that.

But otherwise, it's all in here and it's all live.


I have a busy day today and OmniFocus is showing me 24 things. Just 24. Actually, hang on… I see I've done four of them this morning. Okay, that's 20 left. But as much as 20 is, it's nowhere near as much as several hundred. I can completely forget all the rest of them, I can pretend they don't even exist and because I do that, I am doing these twenty – wait, just remembered another one I've done, it's now 19 left – I am doing these 19 at a clip.

That's nice for me.

But the reason I can do it all is that OmniFocus is hiding the rest until I need them. And the reason OmniFocus can do that is because I review regularly.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I open up OmniFocus and check every task in every project. If you think ticking one thing off as done is good, imagine how great it was just now ticking off five or doing a review and seeing you've already done thirty tasks. I look at every task and if it isn't done yet, I have a ponder about why. Do I need to do something else before I can get that done? Fine, add another task. I rattle through these remarkably quickly and at the end I still have the hundreds of tasks but I know what they all are.

And most importantly, I know they're being dealt with. Those things I have to wait for Bert to call me back, they'll wait there until he rings me or I chase him. Those things I know I have to do on Tuesday, I'll see the list on Tuesday and not before.

You end up trusting your system, whether it's OmniFocus or anything that works to David Allen's Getting Things Done ideas (UK edition, US edition). And that trust is amazingly liberating. Knowing that you list is only showing you what you need to know now, it means that the list is doable.

And that means you do it.

This is one of the key things that makes a To Do list something I use rather than hide away from. And it's just this simple idea of a review.

Seriously, you don't need OmniFocus to do this. But, seriously, OmniFocus could just be the finest piece of software I've ever used and it is certainly the one thing that has made me productive. You'd think they were paying me.

What to do when you’ve cocked something up

Tell everybody right now.

Last Monday I had an email confirming a thing I'd agreed to do and I had the stomach lurch when I realised I had entirely misunderstood the gig. I'm glad to say that this is rare but it happens and it always happens for the very silliest of reasons – and it is invariably entirely my fault.

For this one, I could and later I did work out the whole chain of reasons why I went wrong. There is a certain logic to it, I can sort of see how it happened, I can see what I did. Not why, but what.

I did spend a few reeling moments on this at the instant I found out but then I parked trying to rationalise it all, I made some tea, and I emailed the person back putting my hand up.

That's got to be a scary email to get so I did spend as much time reassuring her that I was on the case now as I did apologising for my cockup.

And then I had to go through it all again with an entire group of people I happened to be representing. I'd told them what I had believed but now I had to tell them the truth and get their help to fix it.

I told them the truth.

They fixed it.

We fixed it.

And I got a lovely note from the woman I was working with. I had cocked up my part of her event but because I told her right away, because I then fixed it all, the note said I was one of the few people who just did what he agreed. No grumbling, no messing, no need for a thousand reminders, I just did it.

She's kind of right. She's definitely kind.

But I'm telling you this from the heart and the stomach. When you see a problem you've created, you can't hide it. No good comes of trying. Just own up and sort it out. It's easier said than done, naturally, but I started the week with actual pain in my stomach and I've ended it feeling a lot lighter in my heart.

Stop churning and just do it

Look, you're reading this but you know you should be doing that thing. Five minutes, you're giving yourself five minutes. And a mug of tea. Obviously you have to phone your accountant, that's not prevaricating. And if you don't plan the week's food shopping, nobody will.


And start.

That's possibly a mixed signal there but you know what I mean and you also know it already. In your heart of hearts and your head of heads, you know you should be doing that thing right now.

All I'm adding to that is this single point: you didn't really enjoy that mug of tea, you didn't fully concentrate on that accountant phone call. If you could genuinely put something out of your mind then maybe you could really prevaricate, maybe it would even be a good thing to be able to clear your head like that. But you can't so you can't and it isn't. Add up all the time you spend churning over this thing and it is invariably far longer and more insiduously painful than just doing the bleedin' thing right now.

It won't be easier for doing it now. It won't magically be all okay and sunshine.

But it will be done.

A quick fix for days you’re below par

A quick fix when your problem is you and how you're feeling. This works especially if you're feeling slow and lethargic, it's good if you're feeling in any way too below par to get any work done.

Go see somebody.

I don't mean a doctor. I mean arrange to get a lunch or a coffee with someone now.

It may well be that what you ought to be doing is staying right where you are and getting this bastard piece of work done, but the odds are good that you would just continue pushing the pieces around without getting anywhere. And the odds are high that whatever you do accomplish will be about as below par as you.

So if the hour or the day is not going to work out, spend that time or a key part of it going to have a coffee with someone.

Because it does three things.

The obvious first one is that coffee will perk you up, you use a percolator to perk you up now.

But there is also the business of who you go to see. There's the issue of whether they can see you, but before you pick up that phone you need to have thought of someone to call and you need to have an idea of what to call them about. Maybe you can just phone them with the idea of getting a coffee; I tend to need something more to offer them, like it's a coffee about doing this or it's a tea about doing that. Whatever it is, you have to pick the person and you have to think of what you'll say and you have to phone them.

And you'll then have to do that with the next person if your first choice can't make it.

Then when you do meet them, though, that's when the third and by far the biggest boost comes. This works with anyone you meet, anyone at all. But it's greater if it's someone you like. Greater still if it's someone you in any way admire. It is beyond measure greater if you also fancy them.

Whoever they are and whatever you think of the way they flick their hair, you will be performing for them.

There is just no possibility that you will present yourself as this half-dead sloth who could barely type a word. You will bounce. You will lie.

And the lying and the performance will pick you up.

Then get back to work as quickly as you can before it all fades.

Eeek. Erase things to remember them? Right. Sure.

Shudder. Hack College suggests that you should erase something you've memorised in order to fix it in your head. I think I went pale at the thought. Write something down, commit it to memory and then hit delete. I swear I just hallucinated a popup dialogue saying “This operation cannot be undone”.

But if you're braver than me, there is more about this and 19 less scary ideas for people with bad memories on Hack College's 20 Memorization Techniques for College Students. Also a great photo.

Spotted by Lifehacker

I don’t agree, but this way of handling distractions may work for you

Productivity is less a science – way, way less a science – and more us all flailing around trying to figure out what works for us. What works for you may not work for me and we know that, that's why we try every bleedin' idea under the sun. But there are some ideas I hold to be self-evident – and there are people who disagree. Here's one I think is completely wrong yet that could be exactly why it is completely right for you.

When something distracts you like an email, a call, some sudden demand:

Do it now. Then it’s off your mind, and you can fully focus on the next matter.

That's FastCompany quoting Buffer founder Leo Widrich quoting Zen Habits' author Leo Babauta.

The usual thing against this is that fine, sure, maybe you can deal with this thing right away and get it done but you were already dealing with something else and that has been knocked aside. The time you spend switching to see what the distraction is and the time you spend switching back is probably about as damaging as the time in between when you're off doing this new thing.

I very strongly recommend that you finish the thing you're doing now. Do it and then it's done. One way I help myself, one way I stop being distracted by other shiny problems, is to try preventing the distractions getting through to you at all. Switch off emails. Switch off you phone.

I can't do either. I do try. And sometimes I manage it, sometimes I therefore learn that it really does help me. The rest of the time, I elect to ignore the distractions. I'll check email at the top of the hour when I'm busy and if I hear a bleep after then, even if it's only one minute after the hour, I will not look again until the top of the next hour. Invariably, I then look and I find that the email that bleeped is just a trivial ad.

And that is the argument in favour of this deal with it now business: even when I am successful at making myself ignore the email for up to 59 minutes, I bet I spend some of that time wondering about whether it's important. With this alternative method, I'd know.

So read the full article and see what you think, okay?

Countdown of 2013’s worst passwords

There's a new kid on the block with this year's countdown of the worst passwords you could possibly have but do. It's a first-time top ten appearance for “adobe123”.

Also breaking into the top ten with a rise of two places is “iloveyou” where it's amazing five-place jump for our number 8 password, “1234567”.

The unforgettable “111111” is up two to 7 while it's another new entry at 6 with “123456789”.

Then it's the chart's first fall with “abc123” down one to 5.

Replacing that at 4 is the classic “qwerty” which is up one spot.

Into the top three now and still steady at number 3 is “12345678”. Number 2 is a shock drop of one place for the all-time legend that is “password”.

That top ten again:

  1. adobe123
  2. iloveyou
  3. 1234567
  4. 111111
  5. 123456789
  6. abc123
  7. qwerty
  8. 12345678
  9. password

Which means that rising one place since last year, the worst password of 2013 is… “123456”.

There are a few qualifications to make about this chart countdown but the thing to take away is that all ten are equally stupid. And if you use any of them, or any like them, you must change them now if only because it is embarrassing that your best idea is the exact same one that millions of other people had too.

Fixing your passwords is more important than hearing me snark at the data so go, be gone, get yourself over to 1Password. I couldn't endorse that software any more if they paid me.

But now. Snarking.

The definition of worst is debatable, I think. This countdown comes from SplashData, and firm that of course works in password management, and it's really a ranking of the most commonly used passwords. That's not quite the same thing as the worst: “password” is surely still the one you would try first if you were going to break into something. Or “pencil” if you're hacking WOPR, obviously.

Morgan Slain, SplashData CEO:

“[An] interesting aspect of this year's list is that more short numerical passwords showed up even though websites are starting to enforce stronger password policies.”

The definition of most commonly used is also debatable: SplashData says that this year's list is heavily influenced by the troubles Adobe had when a security breach meant quite a few of its users passwords became known.

So many, in fact, that the list has to have been distorted by that group – and you can see it the top twenty which includes such gems as “photoshop” and “adobe123”.

But, seriously, 1Password. On your way.

Pattern Weeks part 4 – did it work?


Last year I cracked getting up at 5am every weekday to write and it was a boon. It was bigger than that, it was huge. This year I want to stamp some kind of structure on my weeks, a base pattern for how Monday-Friday should go. It never will: no week is ever going to stick to a plan. But by having one, I hope to be aware of what I should be doing and have each hour be more of a conscious choice to do the plan or go off it.

Six days ago I told you my plan was finally ready for you to see, albeit a bit redacted. Now, read on.

Day 6.

I stuck to the plan perfectly for Monday to Wednesday, inclusive. Then Thursday was a day of meetings and a talk in the evening that ran late into the evening. I can't ever just go to bed when I come back from one of those so it was a late night and that had its impact on Friday.

The best thing from the pattern week is easily that it got me to make calls. This is, for some reason, a real weakness with me: I'm far better yapping face to face and I can write a crackin' email, but cold phone calls are tough. I do go in phases, though. There's a bit about this in my book, The Blank Screen, (US edition, UK edition) where I mention that my most successful calls happen between 11am and noon. That's quite true: I don't understand it, I can't see a particular reason, but I've noticed it. When I was writing that chapter, though, I think I was on a high for some reason because I said I had five calls to make and that I'd just whack through them. I did have them to do and I did whack through them.

But it was unusual. And I have to be aware now that while calls are a difficulty, I do seemingly have these highs and so it's far too soon to tell: did I make my calls this week because of the pattern schedule forcing me to or did I just happen to be good at phoning people? We'll see next week, I suppose. But for now I'm choosing to think it was the pattern. I made sixteen calls and perhaps seven of them were successful.

If you've ever worked in sales – and I haven't so I'm just guessing here – then I imagine the figure of sixteen doesn't impress you but the success rate might. It's certainly encouraging.

There was one other thing that was good about working to this pattern instead of my usual chaotic plate-spinning. And it was also a bad thing. That's great for having something to tell you about, it's ace that I can have a natural bridge between the good and the bad, but I didn't want any bad.

Here's the thing. At 10:59 on each day I was making calls, I would rush to start and then at 12:00 I would stop it and feel great. So far, so excellent. But that happened with each hour that I had planned and the pattern has huge, giant gaps which is where I'm supposed to be doing the work and instead, I'd look at that and think phew, I can relax a bit now. And I did. Too much.

As a result, I don't feel I got enough done in the week and that is exactly the opposite of what this was all supposed to do.

So I'm just going to have to work harder, aren't I?

OmniOutliner 4 released today

The short take on this is that if you bought OmniOutliner 3 from the Omni Group's site any time since January 6, 2011, wait.

Wait for an email that is reportedly heading your way with details of how exactly you can get the new OmniOutliner 4 for free. Free. Nothing. De nada.

Similarly, if you bought version 3 of this extremely good outlining application from the Mac App Store in that time, you'll also get it for free and you also have to wait a bit. The app has yet to work its way through the Apple approval system but when it goes live, it's yours.

But otherwise, go to the Omni Group site now with a credit card. If you've ever bought a previous version of OmniOutliner, you'll find you don't have to spend a huge amount to get the new one. And if you never have, wait a second: watch the introductory video about the new version.

And then whip out the card or tap whatever dangerously handy keystroke you have to make 1Password enter your CC details into online store forms.

Full price is $49.99, paid upgrades start at $24.99 and if you're eligible for a free upgrade, you'll never guess how much it will cost you.

I can't say I have a on/off love affair with outliners, it's a bit more of a tepid relationship that that. But I used to loathe them, I still get edgy, but OmniOutliner just got me through so many different and difficult projects that I am a fan.