Get more out of that expensive computer of yours

I’m not saying you and I should spend more time in front of our computers. I’m saying that while you’re there, you can make these things work harder for you.

Seriously, how much did that thing cost you? And you’re just switching it on to write in Word, check out Facebook and send the odd email?

Take a minute to just look into it a bit more. You spend a lot of time writing, for one thing: start there. Start with how no matter what word processor you use, I know that it is replete with shortcuts. You know how much, much, much faster it is to open a document by pressing Control-O on PCs or Command-O on Macs? There’s more. Google the name of your word processor and the phrase “keyboard shortcuts”. You will recoil at how many there are, but learn a couple of them now and they will become muscle memory.

This isn’t about teaching yourself something, not really, and it’s not even exactly about getting faster at the repetitive things you have to do on your computer. It’s about removing obstacles. Someone asked me recently about the whole Blank Screen thing and why I prattle on in workshops, books and online. Among many reasons – you know me, I can’t be concise – I remembered that I’d shown someone how to speed up a thing on her website.

I created a button for her which meant to write something on her site, she pressed that instead of schlepping through the most tortuous series of steps to get into where she could right. The result is that, yes, it’s quicker for her, but the real result and the reason I talk to you so much, is that because it’s quicker, she does it.

She does it more. She does it a lot. It is great to see her dusty old blog become this active, sparkling new thing.

My book goes as far into this as you usefully can while keeping you awake and more specific issues have cropped up in most mentoring sessions I do. I wouldn’t want to force you to become as technology dependent as I am – but you already are, you already have that computer, get more out of it.

I wanted to say this to you now because it’s on my mind and it’s part of a project I’m working on for later in the year. But you say something and then you realise it: do take a look at my Blank Screen mentoring service as this is just one thing you’ll find it good for.

Better copy-and-paste: the simple things that speed up everything

They’re called clipboard managers and suddenly I have the image of a time and motion person scribbling down notes about how slow I am. A Clipboard Manager, let’s give it initial caps and explain a bit more, is a type of software that makes your copying-and-pasting better.

It’s hard to see what you could really improve there. You copy something, you paste it. Not a lot of room for technological innovation.

Except there is.

With any such app, you can copy something, then copy something else, something else. An hour later, something else. And then tomorrow paste each of those into an email. Paste them all in one big go. Paste the third thing first, the second thing second, the fourth third, anything you like.

I’ve been aware of these for a long time and paid them no attention at all. But I’ve recently reviewed two apps that happen to include this feature amongst their many others. It was the many others that made them worth reviewing but it’s this clipboard management that was most important in making me keep the software on my Mac. Here’s why. If I got to paste something, it pastes like normal. But if instead of pressing Command-C, I press a slightly different keystroke – with what I’ve got it’s Alt-Command-C – then this is what I see:

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 10.19.00

Click on that to see it full size and to also see exactly what I’ve been copying and pasting for the last few minutes. I’m hoping there’s nothing private in there.

What you see there is how the software Alfred 2 displays its clipboard manager: you get very much the same thing in LaunchBar 6, the other app I was reviewing that has this. There are others and while all of this is Mac-only, there are PC apps that do it too. Do spend some time havering over LaunchBar 6 or Alfred 2, but don’t spend any time hesitating over buying a clipboard manager. It’s that useful. I am that converted.

The Alfred 2 official website is here; LaunchBar 6’s home is there.

There’s more than Google out there

You used Google today. Certainly you used it yesterday. Right? If you’re looking for something online, that’s what you do. But there are other options and some of them are so much better at certain types of search that they are extraordinarily useful to have.

Lifehacker has half a dozen suggestions, including somewhere you just ask people – that seems so quaint – and it’s first one is a favourite of mine:

Wolfram Alpha Crunches Big Numbers and Statistics

Wolfram Alpha is to Google’s answer cards as movies are to paper flip books. Google will tell you everyday things like how many ounces are in a cup. Wolfram Alpha can tell you about median salaries in a given field, or perform key financial calculations. You can even estimate your blood alcohol content. The site is excellent at in-depth research and calculations that go beyond web search results.

The Best Tools for Finding Information When Google Isn’t Enough – Eric Ravenscraft, Lifehacker (6 January 2015)

Take a look at Wolfram Alpha yourself: it’s a website but there’s also an app for it that’s rather useful. And read Lifehacker’s full piece for the rest.

Review: Beesy, the bionic productivity app

This is going to be like reviewing a car by detailing how good the radio is. I’ve been using Beesy for a few weeks and I like it but I’m very aware that I’ve used it to scratch just one specific itch.

I have been, I remain and I suspect I will long continue to be an OmniFocus devotee but I have two problems with that. The first is a minor one, for me, in that OmniFocus is designed for individuals so whenever I have to delegate a task out to someone, it’s a bit convoluted. Beesy is more project-management-like with its ability to assign tasks to people.

Two or three times a month, though, I also have meetings where I come away with a lot of tasks. When Beesy approached me, I was struggling with how to both make notes during meetings – I’m secretary for some of them – and collect tasks. I’d ended up with a process whereby I’d make lots of notes and interrupt them with lines like this:

— William to phone Acme re delay

Then at the end of the meeting, I’d look for every line that began with those two dashes and I would copy them into OmniFocus. It works, and I have a Drafts thing that lets me send a pile of them into OmniFocus in one go, but not always successfully and always with a bit a of a fiddle.

Plus because I was writing all the notes, I found that my own little tasks got written so briefly that I would later struggle to know what they were about. Which particular delay? Who at Acme? When has this got to be done by?

So Beesy came along with its ability to take meeting notes and tasks simultaneously. Fairly simultaneously: I still have to break off from the minutes to tap a task button but, for instance, with that Acme one I’ll tap the Call button and the task goes in as that, a phone call, rather than me having to specify it. Since this is my To Do list, I can presume that all tasks as mine unless I say otherwise so that’s another time saving.

I find I use those moments to make the task clearer:

Tell Jeff at Acme that Project Diatribe is waiting on test results

That kind of thing.

I found that very quick and rather useful. It’s taken me a time to get used to where everything is in Beesy: there is so much you can do with entering tasks, assigning details, managing projects, managing calendars that it is overwhelming and you will not pick this up in twenty minutes.

But if you dive in with a particular need, as I had, then I think you pretty swiftly get to use that. Then you can expand out to the rest. You need to devote some time to this and I think you really benefit from jumping in completely. Don’t try to run your life through both Beesy and OmniFocus, as I have, make it your only system. It is more than capable of that, it just does take some effort.

However, I think it’s effort that pays off and that over time you will become immersed in it to the point that it is both easy and automatic to use. The company has a nice line about how Beesy is really a note-taking app, that you just use it to make notes and then everything else comes from that. It handles tasks, it produces proper meeting minutes for you, it’s the To Do manager for people who loathe To Do lists.

I think the complexity of Beesy comes from the volume of options and that the ease of it comes from how those all work together. Look at your projects, look at your calendar, look at your tasks and you see the same things in different ways. You don’t tend to have to think about much when you’re entering a task, you just know that it is in the pot and that when you need it, it’s there.

It’s also got a true Dwight Eisenhower grid view of your tasks: Eisenhower used to divide jobs into Urgent, Non-Urgent, Important and Non-Important. I’ve not been a fan of this, I think the time spent assigning priorities is usually better spent on doing the things but when you have a lot on, it’s a neat view. It’s just your tasks written out in squares but it works simultaneously for visual thinkers as well as word ones.

That’s in the app’s Dashboard view and, oddly, I’m least keen on this. It’s a simple overview with your calendar and that grid but I found I was always tapping on Project, People or Actions just to move on to those screens. It’s only an aesthetic thing: I’m not taken with how the app shows notes as pieces of paper at the foot of the screen. That’s a lot like the way Evernote used to do it and actually Beesy integrates nicely with Evernote. (So much so that Evernote wrote a blog about it.)

Very nicely, Beesy is being worked on extensively. I took a lot of screenshots as I was learning how to use it and then the software was entirely updated to an iOS 7 look. I was thinking about how you need your iPad always with you to use it – and then the company released, a web-based service that you can use anywhere.

Not to make this a Beesy vs OmniFocus scrap – they are both powerful, both take some learning but both are aimed in different directions – but it has been a common criticism of OmniFocus that it doesn’t have a web version. That doesn’t bother me but it does others and I see the benefit of a web version.

Take a look at the new video Beesy has done about its software and its web version.

Beesy for iPad costs £3.99 UK or $5.99 US. If you want to manage just one project you can use the web-based for free otherwise pricing starts at 5 Euros per month. It’s in Euros because Beesy is based in Paris: if I’d looked up their website while reviewing the software, it turns out that I could also have just looked up and seen them. I spent much of the time using Beesy in Paris myself, coincidentally just a couple of miles from their offices. This doesn’t help you or matter at all, but it tickles me. I love Paris and it’s good to see a French firm doing well internationally.

It’s interesting that it is so firmly an iPad app. I’d like there to be a native Mac and PC one as well but I suppose that itch is served enough by the online version. It’s also interesting that it’s so cheap. This is the kind of software tool that would’ve cost businesses hundreds of pounds in the past and I would call its £3.99 UK or $5.99 US a bargain if that weren’t such a huge understatement. Pricing helps you get noticed on the App Store but I do wonder if Beesy is undermining its own worth by being so cheap.

Still, that’s the firm’s choice: grab it now before they change their minds.

You can get Beesy for iPad here and there is much more detail about the software and its services on the official site here.

UPDATED 14 AUGUST 2014: Changed the official site address from (where you can find the web version of the software) to where you can find everything.

Favourite productivity apps now (briefly) on sale

There’s a bunch of productivity apps that have just had price reductions. As ever, the price of these is rarely all that much so if you miss a sale, shrug and buy at the full price anyway. But if you’ve been havering over any of them or you just want to try a category of app out, this is a good time.

From all the ones I can see, this is what I’d pick out for you. Click on the titles to go take a look.

Mind-mapping software that plays very nicely with outliners and To Do lists such as OmniOutliner and OmniFocus. It’s now £2.99 UK or $4.99 US instead of £6.99 UK or $9.99 US

Appigo ToDo
This was the app I lived in before discovering OmniFocus. There’s a huge amount to love in it and I did deeply love it, I’ve just found OmniFocus is a far better fit for me. Since I moved on, Appigo has released a range of versions and I get a bit confused – some have Cloud syncing, some are for older devices – so read the release notes before you buy. But this one is now £1.29 UK or $1.99 US instead of £2.49 UK and $4.99 US

Never used it. Never heard of it. But it went on sale today and I’ve already told three people it looks worth a go – and they’ve all bought it. One has bought and is sold: it’s just what she needed. Now 69p UK, 99c US instead of £1.49 UK or

Very important: this is for the iPhone version of iDatabase and you’ll benefit from having the Mac version too – and that’s on sale as well. It’s an even bigger sale: iDatabase for Mac is now £1.99 UK instead of £13.99 UK ($2.99 US instead of $19.99 US) and the second I found that out while looking up the price for you, I bought it myself.

Fantastical 2 for iPad
The app that finally got me to change away from the regular Apple Calendar on both my iPhone and my iPad. Buy the iPad version now for £5.49 UK or $7.99 US instead of the usual £6.99 UK or $9.99 US and you’ll be buying the iPhone one soon. Right now that is also on sale: £2.99 UK or $4.99 US instead of £6.99 UK or $9.99 US.

Launch Centre Pro and Launch Center Pro for iPad
Use this to set up one button that, say, rings your mother. Instead of tapping on the phone icon on your iPhone, then contacts, then scrolling to your mother’s name and finally tapping on whether you want to ring her mobile or her landline, you just tap once and your iPhone does the rest. Maybe that would be handy enough for you but LCP can get really powerful – also, disclaimer, I found it a bit confusing – and it can do all sorts of things for you. Ridiculously detailed things.

I recommend you take a look but, confession, I keep popping it back onto my iPhone home screen and taking it off again. The biggest use I had for it was rapidly adding a new task to OmniFocus and it was faster than going through OmniFocus itself and tapping on Add Task. But now OmniFocus 2 for iPhone is so quick, I just don’t find the benefit.

Launch Centre Pro and Launch Centre Pro for iPad (two separate apps) are both $1.99 US now instead of $4.99 US

Take a potter around the App Store’s productivity category for more, but these are the best ones.