NOW Years Day →

Who is this for? Anyone struggling to effectively use their calendar.

From Mike Vardy:

As of today pre-orders are now available for The NOW Year: A Practical Guide to Calendar Management.

My podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy, has been hard at work on a solid overview of how you can put your calendar to better use. While the guide is technically a follow up to The Productivityist Workbook, his latest project also serves as a “how-to” guide for his first book, The Front Nine.

The guide only costs $5 and, if you order by November 5th, there are tons of great pre-order bonuses including interviews on how some truly smart folks like Erik Fisher, Mike Rhode, Srinivas Rao, Todd Henry, Julien Smith, Chase Reeves (and more) use a calendar to push their work forward.

If you’d like to check out a sample interview or are curious as to how I put my calendar to good use, be sure to check out The Now Year, A Practical Guide to Calendar Management pre-order page for Vardy’s conversation with yours truly.

The Thing About Focus

Who is this for? Those who are worried about keeping focused on the right things versus the wrong things.

We’ve been pretty silent here at Workflowing for the past week and a bit.

Schechter and I have both been traveling, and with plenty on our plates before and after said travel, our focus has been split … somewhat. The reason I consider it “split … somewhat” is because we had an inkling this would happen. We knew that when we started develping Workflowing in public that in its early stages there would be other things we’d committed to that would keep our focus elsewhere for periods of time.

And we were okay with that. Why? Because in order to have focus, you need to accept that you will have to put things aside.

That doesn’t mean you can let things slide – especially if the expectation is that you’ll give those things some of your focus. For example, I had writing assignments that I couldn’t let slide – as outlined in a post earlier this week on Productivityist – but I prepared accordingly so that I could give those assignments the focus they deserved when I could afford to give them that focus. The result was that I delivered as promised and no one was let down in the process.

By being up front about how this site was a “work in progress” (so to speak) and then taking that one step further and broadcasting that on Twitter, we gave this site the focus it needed before we shifted focus to the other things we needed to focus on. So we didn’t really split our focus at all. We shifted it – and we did so accordingly.

This week on Mikes on Mics we talked with Julien Smith, who recently unveiled what his new company, Breather, was all about. During the discussion, we talked about “zooming in” and “zooming out”, and Julien makes a point of saying how he couldn’t focus on being a founder of a brand new venture if he was focused on being a best-selling author at the same time. Making that distinction – and that decision – is going to have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your workflow. Admitting that you can’t be everywhere all the time despite having access to everywhere most of the time is huge.

We did that over the past couple of weeks – and we’ll do that again. Maybe not in the same way, but we’ll still do it so that we can shift our focus rather than split our focus.

Did we have the tools to do this with us? You bet. Would it have been done well? No. Neither would the other things we had to do. Going forward we’ll need to figure out what happens when neither one of us can be here to man the ship because clearly it will happen. As I mentioned in an exchange over on with Kevin Rothermel, while the Internet is everywhere, our focus can’t be.

The takeaway here is that it is perfectly fine to pay attention to what needs attention rather than all that needs attention. That’s how good work becomes great work – which is the kind of work we all should be striving to do.

A Leap Forward for TextExpander on iOS

Who is this for? TextExpander users who have been hoping to see more of the functionality of the Mac come to iOS.

To date, TextExpander for iOS has primarily served as a sync engine between the snippets on a Mac and those on an iOS device. Their iOS offerings shared some of the functionality of the Mac counterpart, but it was primarily something you’d setup once and occasionally reopen to update your snippets. The real magic happened when you used it in tandem with other applications.

Today that changes with TextExpander 2.0 for iPhone and iPad. Rather than just serving as a conduit for your snippets, the latest update adds in essential functionality that has been missing from iOS including fill-ins and pop-up menus. A visit to the app makes it possible to take advantage of more advanced snippets and can send them to the clipboard, a text message or a new email message.

In addition to its own new tricks, Smile Software has also updated their SDK. This will make it possible for other applications to take advantage of this new functionality. You can already see this in action in latest version of Drafts.

While I agree with Federico Vittici’s thoughts on the design, his desire for URL Schemes to expand snippets and that it would be helpful “to build popup menus using variables as options, not just pre-defined text,” TextExpander 2.0 is a strong step in the right direction.

For more, be sure to check out Vittici’s comprehensive review over at MacStories. And if you’re yet to do so, be sure to download TextExpander for Mac, iPhone and iPad. It is easily one of the best time saving applications ever created and as you can see, it keeps getting better.

Create Your Alternative Settings

Who is this for? Those looking to make more of the time they spend (or waste) waiting.

I’m captivated by the video that was created from a 2005 commencement speech from David Foster Wallace.

Like some, I’ve been fortunate enough to change some harmful default settings. This isn’t always easy. It forced me to observe habits and routines that were deeply ingrained and then decide to remake them.

For far too long my default setting was “Waiting.” I commute for over 80 minutes a day, there are long lines at the supermarket regardless of when I shop and there are often lulls between projects at work. All of this time spent “Waiting” was wasted. Without even realizing it, I let my situation limit my opportunities.

At some point I got fed up. I chose to no longer allow circumstance to dictate my choices. Just because I had to wait in line, on the train or at my desk didn’t mean that I had to wait. Since I didn’t want to change jobs or pay even more to get groceries delivered, I had to change the one thing I could control, my own default setting.

Rather than change circumstances—a common overreaction to a real-life limitation—I set out to make better choices. I changed my default settings for the previously squandered moments spent “Waiting.”

Now when I find myself “Waiting” in line, on the train or temporarily without anything to do at work or home, I choose between the following settings:

  • Making: While you can’t do everything while waiting in line or sitting in a car, you can do a lot more than you’d think. When I decided to write regularly, I still had the realities of a job and a family to manage. Deciding to watch way less TV went a long way towards freeing up some creative time, but it would not have been enough had I not found a way to write while on the subway or expand on an idea while waiting in line.
  • Learning: Long commutes and checkout lines are ideal places to learn. Rather than encouraging your brain to go numb, pick something better to capture your attention. Just about every smartphone and tablet out there gives you access to a wide range of books, blogs, audiobooks and documentaries. Take advantage of them.
  • Maintaining: This isn’t ideal when waiting in line or stuck in a daily commute, but it’s the perfect choice for downtime at home or at work. With 90% certainty, there is some level of cleaning up, filing or organizing that you could be doing right now. There’s value in regularly scheduling this kind of maintenance to ensure that it gets done, but getting it out of the way when you have downtime give you more free time.
  • Enjoying: All too often, we overlook the value of that which cannot be tied to a tangible result. Vegetating in front of the TV is often the thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to be doing, but in moderation it can also be a treat that allows your mind to wander somewhere unexpected. You’d also be surprised by what you’ll notice when keeping a watchful eye online at a supermarket or stuck in a daily commute.

Your default setting and your alternatives may differ from mine; that’s fine. Take a hard look at your own, determine the ones that are holding you back, then create the alternatives that help you to do better.

Train the Spotlight →

Who is this for? Those who feel that the distractions in their lives keep them from accomplishing their goals.

From Jamie Phelps:

It’s up to me and you to be conscious of where we train the spotlight of our top-down attention. It also means taking appropriate measures to reduce the number of distractions and improve the signal to noise ratio for bottom-up attention stimuli so that when something comes in, it has a very good chance of being a welcome tap instead of a distraction.

Excellent 30,000 foot examination of how our attention, distractions and tendency to procrastinate interrelate. I’m particularly fond of the spotlight analogy that Jamie uses throughout the post to describe the singular nature of our attention.

Change Your Default Setting →

Who is this for? Everyone who has ever felt frustrated by the routine aspects of life.

From David Foster Wallace:

The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.

If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.

You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

As David Foster Wallace also says in this video:

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting.

If you’re yet to watch this video, make time. It will change the way you will look at the time you have, even the seemingly mundane and soul crushing bits.

Real vs. Expected Productivity →

Who is this for? Those whose peak performance tends to stray from hours of the traditional work day.

Peak Productive hours

Clearly this is meant to be funny, but it’s also important. There are many things you can do to change your habits, but occasionally your best option is to realize what’s working for you and embracing it.

It’s not always possible to align your life with what this image calls the “Magical Hours of Productivity”, but if you’re aware of your own, you can certainly take better advantage of them.

Hat tip to Craig Jarrow

Better Gmail and Evernote Integration with Powerbot

Who is this for? Those who use the Gmail interface for email and calendaring, but store files, notes and agendas in Evernote.

I currently use Mailplane to send email threads to Evernote, but for those who live in their browser Powerbot for Gmail takes things to the next level. You can save new and received email messages to Evernote with ease. You can also attach notes to an email without having to leave the Gmail interface. It’s pretty slick.

There’s also Powerbot for Google Calendar. It lets you create a template for your meeting notes or agenda in Evernote when creating or accepting a new calendar event.

There is one downside, Powerbot is only available as a browser extension for Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. If – like me – you use an application like Mailplane for email or Fantastical for scheduling, you won’t be able to take advantage of this integration between Gmail and Evernote.

Here’s hoping that Powerbot has future plans that look beyond the browser.

Hat tip to the Evernote Blog

The Productivityist Workbook →

Who is this for? Those looking for some introductory thoughts, tips, tools and tactics on better managing their ideas, time, email and tasks.

From our very own Mike Vardy:

Becoming more productive doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t require an incredible amount of time spent searching for answers and reading numerous “how to” posts. It doesn’t need to overwhelm you.

You can improve your efficiency and effectiveness using simple ideas and simple actions.

You can pre-order today through May 14th to get additional bonus materials.

Multiple Calendar Entries with Drafts and Fantastical →

Who is this for? Anyone who has ever gotten an email or text with multiple calendar events (read: anyone with a non-technical partner or co-workers).

Great solution from Eric at Geeks with Juniors for converting a list of events in Drafts into individual entries on your calendar in Fantastical.

Hat tip to James Gowans who points out that this might also work with other apps as well.

Update: James modified this action to work with Drafts and Due as well. Click here to add this action directly into Drafts.