Creative Focus Summit – Day 1

In my mind, a new year started December 1st. Well, on a personal level I should say. Professionally, I’m looking forward to something to share come the first of the year. Between then and now, my primary goal is develop some habits that will be necessary to balance a workload unlike anything I’ve tackled before. So I was intrigued when Shawn Blanc announced the free Creative Focus Summit. While I knew it was partly marketing for his Focus Course, I’ve been reading his blog long enough to know that it wouldn’t be a gimmick.

Here are some bullet notes I took from the first two conversations.

Jocelyn K. Glei @jkglei

  • Value emerges as the product of focused work.
  • Focus on doing your best creative work.
  • 2 90 minute focus blocks in morning. Don’t open brain to other people’s ideas.
  • Make todo list night before. Wake up knowing what you want to accomplish. Deep attention work
  • Hyper attention – can be interrupted, editorial/curatorial items later in day
  • Mark McGinnis – different templates for the day. Not about one routine to rule them all, but set of routines based on context of where work is.
  • Gary Keller – The One Thing (book)…best work is way out on fringes…seasons of life
  • Create built in feed-back loop. 3 month cycle, daily schedule
  • Make time for reflection – time for course correcting
  • Time for exploration
  • calendar is best place to go on offense
  • 3 todo lists – 1 we write down, email and calendar bring them into alignment (for me email == async comms–BC, GitHub issues)
  • rhythm of the constant optimization ??? Work/life balance more about Fitz and starts, track how you are doing, journal at end of day small wins/progress (Progress principle)
  • metric is the accomplishment itself, not the system to track how productive you are.
  • completion bias – checking off things that may not be part of the deep focus project
  • create a Stop Doing List!!!!

Todd Henry @toddhenry

  • Making tough choices creates value
  • focus is how you define the problem you are tying to solve, and working on most pressing problems/solve those problems.
  • Projects come as as a result of a set of problems
  • Define work by establishing challenges
  • what you do know but not doing
  • top 3 problems always around you. in front of you consistently (Phone screen, at bottom, clear apps to make room)
  • establish adjacency – clustering attention
  • continuous partial attention
  • theme – afternoon less taxing, early day creative work
  • Circles – Three Questions for your Circle: (1) What are you working on right now? (2) Is there anything we can help you with? (3) What’s inspiring you right now? Would be a great bi-weekly coffee get-together.
  • innovation happens in the white space
  • dedicate time every day to study, take notes and truly contemplate what you are taking in.
  • what do you with the stuff you take in? How does this apply to my goals/ambitions.
  • fake work is more dangerous than no work.
  • create for yourself but not necessarily in the same vein as your “job”.

A Couple of thoughts I jotted down were:

  • Find a way to make sure world isn’t on fire without getting sucked into social media/lesser news
  • Try to have research materials in place BEFORE starting focused work to avoid rabbit holes of search. Bookmarks, tabs already open.

After day one, I’m looking forward to the rest of the week’s conversations and hearing more about the course now.

Productivity Status Early 2016

I broke one of my new rules today by tweeting out more than politics snark or sports and briefly outlined the direction I’m moving with my productivity this year. I’ve been toiling the past year or so trying to shoehorn my brain into Omnifocus to no avail, so at the beginning of the year I started exploring other methods. About 2 weeks ago, my brain just started to work in regard to using TaskPaper. If you aren’t familiar with TaskPaper, it is a plain text method of tracking todos that has tools built around it to filter by tags and projects. I’ve owned the app for awhile, but not until 3.0 was in beta did things begin to click within the app organizing projects. I always wanted (wrongly) to keep separate files for each project. Maybe that is one thing I learned using Omnifocus was structuring projects. Now everything personal is one single text file. I do have a separate one for the free lance work I’m doing because that’s a different mode. I don’t want to be distracted by anything when I’m trying to mow through items for work.

The other element of my productivity was how to keep and better use and Siri. I knew TaskPaper had Applescript support, so that was the first place I looked. Sure enough, I found a script that would import from Reminders to TaskPaper. Unfortunately, TP3 changed it’s scripting method to new JXA, so the old Applescripts were not compatible. Luckily, someone did the work before I fried synapses trying to learn more advanced methods of JXA. A thread in the support forums,
Using Siri covered exactly what I wanted.

From there, I devised the idea of having an “Inbox” for Siri and a corresponding list for TP. I also have a Grocery List and my main reminders is for timed items. I prefer Apple’s reminders because it’s nag is truly a nag. If something must be done on a certain day, it will sit on the lock screen of my phone. I can snooze it for an hour if it’s not time sensitive, and if it really can wait, I can put off until next day.

Now I can say, “Hey, Siri, add build a robot to my inbox” and she will. Later, I can run the script which will migrate (including deleting) the reminder to an Inbox in TaskPaper, which I can move to an appropriate project or create a new one if it is warranted. My next goal is to set up a cron job on the always-on iMac to run the script every night.

For iOS, I’ve tried a few different apps for TaskPaper, but it seems Editorial is going to stick. Also, I’ve not given up on Omnifocus for long term project tracking or potentially work related where contexts and due dates might be necessary, something OF excels at. An upcoming update to Omnifocus for iOS will vastly expand on the URL schemes, and there is already a demo using WorkFlow to build projects in OF from TaskPaper formatted lists in Editorial. Sounds snazzy.

All in all my new system isn’t that fancy or original, but again, that’s the trap of chasing productivity, apps and systems. They become complicated and burdensome to the point you abandon them for the next shiny object, never truly doing the stuff you really wanted to keep track of in the first place.

I hope when I visit this in the fall, I’ve not made many changes and can focus on what I’ve accomplished over the summer.

Customizing Atom Editor

I doubt anyone who writes code for a living or tinkers for that matter hasn’t spent more hours than they’d care to admit tweaking their editor of choice. Suffice to say, I’m in that boat all to well.

My current editor of choice is Atom. It’s open source and more than fits the customization itch.

Aside from deciding on which packages to use (I’ve
starred the ones I use) the other element I’ve gone back and forth with is theme & syntax UI. I’ve long been a fan of both Solarized Light and Dark, but have finally settled on Atom Dark and Oceanic Next. I can also recommend Oliver Pattison’s Newbound syntax themes My dream font is Operator Mono, but until I can justify the purchase of that, I’m using Input.

One tweak I just discovered is for adjusting the font size in the panel, or the sidebar. I’d been able to easily make the font larger for code/markdown, but sometimes had to break the readers out to discern what file was what in a nested folder. To the rescue I found atom-panel.tool-panel for just that. I’m currently using 1.4em. Mind you this is on my old 11 inch Air. I’ve not had as much an issue on the iMac.

Another tweak I’ve added to my custom styles.less file is to italicize attributes. I’m also a fan of italicized comment blocks, which is included in the snippet.

     .entity.other.attribute-name {
         font-style: italic;

     .comment {
       font-style: italic;

I’m sure as I expand my development world, (I have a goal to learn python by Building a Twitterbot ) I’ll continue to tweak Atom, but for now, I’m as close to happy with an editor as I have ever been. Feel free to share with me on Twitter @miklb your tips and trick.

Note Taking Nirvana?

notebook collectionLike most, I’ve struggled with note taking and mind dumping solutions. I’m easily caught up in chasing the productivity pr0n, looking for the perfect system (hell, I gues by writing this post, I’m still doing that). At first glance however, with the discovery of my most recent set of tools, I believe I’ve found the most streamlined, cohesive solution yet.

My most recent excursion in a single note taking solution was EverNote. Certainly versatile, perhaps too so, and it never felt like the right fit. It was just too something. I wanted a no frills solution that I could easily access my notes from my desktop, laptop and on the go (currently using an iPhone). Certainly EverNote fits that bill, but again, too cumbersome and too busy.

A little while ago, I stumbled on a Habari plugin, SimplyNoted, which interfaced with an iPhone app SimpleNote. Quite an elegant little app/plugin, I could take notes on my phone and be able to pull them up in a Habari Silo, and turn them into a blog post, etc. Nice, but my iPhone isn’t the only place I take notes or want to do a brain dump. So it’s lingered on the second page of my phone, starring at me, taunting me to use it. Then the other day, the always with a great idea Merlin Mann, resurrecting his invaluable 43folders website, posted a screenshot and short post about his workflow.

Wait, did I just read about something syncing with SimpleNote? Sure enough, Merlin was espousing the virtues of an app he’d been using, and how it now syncs with SimpleNote. Notational Velocity is a no frills, desktop application (is there a mobile, I didn’t look) that snycs with SimpleNote, quietly saving behind the scenes,with plenty of keyboard shortcuts but no fluff. It gets out of the way and makes it easy to just jot notes, brain dump, or I’m sure in the hands of someone like Merlin, far, far more. But for this simple guy, it was the missing link to being able to have an app on my Macs that did all the things that SimpleNote could do.

So far in two days of using it, it’s been more usable than any other system I’ve tried. I was able to bang out some thoughts before bed on my laptop, both gather links for this post as well as some outlined thoughts (yeah, this was actually thought out), as well as some ideas for some work I had to do today. I was able to grab those notes when I hit the desktop this morning without doing anything, add to them, and then pick them back up on the laptop later in the day to finish up the writing I needed to do for my new job. After dinner, I was able to then login to the admin of the blog, start a new post, open the SimplyNoted silo, and bang, all of my links and notes were there to write a post. I can’t count how many events I’ve been to the past year that I took notes at either in EverNote or with TiddlyWiki, but never got around to copying them over to writing a post. I look forward to this being the missing link between thinking about blogging, and blogging. Time will tell.

Late to the Party—My 99 Dollar iPhone

Though the fact that most who know me consider me to be a “Mac fan boy”, over the years I’ve become quite the hesitant buyer due to the common malady of being always afraid of a new and better version being right around the corner. Add to that my disdain for the requirement of signing a long term contract with cell phone carriers, I have been living with antiquated mobile technology. That is, until AT&T offered $99 refurbished 8 gig 3G iPhones in a post Christmas promotion (the offer was only good through 12/31/08). I figured at that price, no matter what might come around the corner, I wouldn’t feel bitten if a new model came out 3 months after buying. Couple that with the fact that the non-contract plan I had with AT&T was creeping up close to the lowest iPhone plan, I took the plunge. The phone arrived already set up, much to my surprise. I didn’t have to go through any registration to speak of, I plugged it in, named it, updated the software, and it was ready to go. The phone came with the standard headphones, the USB connector, the wall charger attachment, and I would have never known it was a refurbished item aesthetically. The refurbished phone even has the same 1 year warranty that a new iPhone comes with. I haven’t checked on extending the warranty with Apple Care; I’m not even sure if it’s an option.

Primary Hurdle

hurdleAs I’ve blogged about recently, , I have been using Thunderbird 3.0 and the nightly build of Lightning calendar extension, and didn’t want to change that system. The same issues that I had with the Nokia are present with the iPhone. However, goosync wasn’t an option for the iPhone. Something to do with Apple not allowing access to the built in calendar. Some extensive Googling didn’t turn up many options, save using NuevaSync, yet another 3rd party “beta” service. Some of the initial concerns people had with NuevaSync were sharing their Google username and password, however that’s long since been remedied, as they use Google account authentication. Meaning, once you register with Nuevasync, you only provide your Google user name, and Google will authenticate your account with the Nuevasync account, no password is ever passed to Nuevasync. The only downside is if you are already using an Exchange account (for email for instance), you will not be able to also use Nuevasync, as the iPhone only supports one Exchange server synchronization. Set up for Nuevasync is well documented on their site, straight forward and very simple. I did have a bit of trouble actually getting the iPhone calendar to sync with my Google calendar, and quite honestly, I’m not sure what I did to finally get it to sync. Disabling, then re-enabling the account might have been the trick, but as I’ve been suffering a cold, it could have been user error, however, within their documentation, they have several troubleshooting tips and nothing I did was outside their suggestions.. Needless to say, my iPhone calendar is synced to my Google Apps calendar, desktop iCal, and Thunderbird 3.0/Lighting 1.0pre. Unlike with goosync and my Nokia, there is no need to manually sync the calendars. Nuevsnyc also supports sync contacts within your Google account, but I have no need to use that service, as I also believe iSync supports Google contact syncing (something I’ve kvetched about previously in that you have to have an iPhone/iPod to enable that feature).

Moving from calendar, next was email. I had previously used Apple with my Google Apps IMAP accounts, so they synced directly to the phone on first sync. I did need to modify some advanced settings regarding mailboxes for things like drafts and sent mail, but that’s common when setting up IMAP accounts and email clients. Google has well documented the settings, so I won’t rehash the obvious. Previously I was using Google’s mobile mail app on the Nokia, and was a bit hesitant about using the native mail client, but so far I’ve been quite pleased with it, and have no qualms.

Syncing my contacts, along with email addresses in my Google Apps account was also a seamless process. It also the catalyst I needed to do a much needed cleaning of my address book. I’ve been a user of the (neglected) Google service Grand Central for some time now, and though it’s a handy one, it’s support for mobile devices leaves more than something to be desired. My only attempt to play a voice message via their mobile site failed to play the .mp3, and from previous use on the Nokia, is all but useless. However, I found a handy iPhone app, Grand Dialer, which allows you to call a contact directly from your address book with your Grand Central number, so for the occasion you need to call a client and do not want to expose your personal cell number, you’re covered. (Google, if you are listening, please, no, make that pretty please give Grand Central some love, even if that means a nominal monthly fee).

LIke any new iPhone user, I spent a fair amount of time perusing the App Store. Again, I won’t rehash the obvious and common popular apps. I didn’t really test any of the alternatives to the mobile versions of the desktop apps I knew I wanted. As I use NetNewsWire on the desktop, it was an obvious choice for the iPhone. My unread feeds are synced with my desktop, so I’m never reading feeds I’ve already read. Also, for Twitter, I simply chose the ad supported version of Twitterific, same as on the desktop.

The Camera

I’d become accustomed to being one of the few people left on the planet to not have a camera on their cell phone, and didn’t think it would be something I’d take much interest in now that I did, but I did explore some of the apps available. Merlin Mann blogged abouttaking pictures with his iphoneright about the time I ordered my phone, so I booked marked the app he mentioned, Camera Bag. It was actually the first app I purchased. My next search for was for an app that would allow me to upload my camera shots to Flickr. Flickr does have the native ability to email photos directly, however the combination of the email client and Flickr (not sure which does it), the images are resized to 640×480. Granted if you get a really good shot and want to post the bigger one, you’ve got the image on the camera, could snyc it to iPhoto, and then upload it, but if an app could save that step, why not give it a shot? So far, the free Klick app seems to fit the bill. Due to the aforementioned cold, I’ve not really explored the Klick too extensively, but I was able to upload a full size image via the 3G network with no problems, though I haven’t figured out if I can add an image to a set via the app. The other app I’ve download is Dark Room (App Store link). This app uses the accelerometer for a “steady cam”. Basically it waits until the camera isn’t moving to snap the pic, which is handy for low light situations. A case I’m curious about is the Griffin Clarifi, which has a built in macro like lens for taking close up shots. Apparently the iPhone lens doesn’t do well at focusing below twelve inches. This would be handy as the technology and apps evolve on snapping UPC codes and doing info/price comparison queries. Also for going paperless, and just snapping business cards, receipts, etc.

The Final Frontier

Like most people, I struggle with being organized and actually productive, and often fall into the trap of perpetually tweaking a system, rather than actually getting things done. I’ve yet to find the right piece of software that just fits, seemingly having tried them all, Actiontastic, Omni Focus, Things, the list goes on. However, I’m leaning towards Remember the Milk, and am testing a combination of using to run RTM on the desktop, and the iPhone app. I’m not sold yet. One iPhone app I found is CheckOff, a relatively simple list app. What is nice about it is something I’ve not really seen in another list type app. You can create templates for often repeated tasks. So each time you want the list, you do not have to recreate it. I’d actually love to have a desktop app that does the same thing. I’m still searching for the set of tools that fit like that favorite pair of jeans, and would sincerely love for any and all suggestions. I’d even entertain scrapping my use of Thunderbird and Lightning if the shoe fit.

Twitter Productivity

Twitter Productivity. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Well, with the recent announcement of i want sandy’s demise, I came across a Twitter bot that actually seems like a productive tool for the Twitterer. Timer allows you to simply follow it, in which it then follows you. Then you simply send Timer a direct message to remind you of something upcoming, ie, d Timer 60 call client X. You’ll then get a direct message 60 minutes later reminding you to call client X. Seems it only recognizes minutes, so I’m not sure how efficient it is for reminding you of something past the short term, but it’s still an interesting tool. Couple the concept with the fact that the developers of i want sandy are now working for Twitter, we might see similar type tools integrated into Twitter.