Keep your todos out of Slack

I read through a P2 thread at work discussing Slack and productivity, and figured I should share my thoughts and practices here.

These were some ideas mentioned for Slack messages:

  • Star if you need to take action.
  • Mark as unread until you respond.
  • Open the Slack archive page in a browser window.
  • Slackbot reminders.

I’ve done the first two, but these all blur the primary purpose of Slack: communication and collaboration.

Embrace your task manager and calendar. When used properly, these are your spam-free lists of time-specific events, todos, and projects. When I’m unsure what I should be doing next, I check these.

Embrace your inbox, and “empty” it often

A colleague asks for a favor that isn’t time-sensitive while you’re in the middle of something. What do I do?

Next, designate a few blocks of time daily to clarify the items in your Inbox3, which leads to organizing them out of your inbox. 😉

Now what?

When you need to settle down for deep work, communicate that with your team, then work from your calendar and task manager!


Also highly recommended: The five steps of GTD Methodology


  1. Reference — Quick Entry for: OmniFocus, Todoist, Wunderlist (called “Quick Add” 
  2. This could also be a prompt to gain clarification. For example, “Ask David for sanity check re: documentation update”. 
  3. See also: Battle To-Do Debt 

Workflow: Alfred and DMCA predefs at Automattic

In November 2014, my pal and colleague, Clicky Steve, posted at Transparency Report for Automattic, “Open Sourcing Our DMCA Process“:

[…] we are pleased to announce that today we are open sourcing our DMCA process docs on GitHub – under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

[…] there is also a comprehensive set of detailed ‘predefined replies’ that we use when corresponding with both users and complainants in specific situations.

For awhile, I had these saved as Snippets in Alfred, which meant I couldn’t easily share those with my team.

So, I made an Alfred workflow with the DMCA snippets I use most frequently:

screen shot a8c dmca predefs.png

When using the predefined reply To User → Processed Notice, we’re working with two browser tabs because we create a new ticket to the site owner.

After I confirm the notice is valid and process the takedown request, I do the following:

  1. Copy the text of the DMCA notice from the complainant, then press Control–Tab to switch to the new ticket in the other browser tab.
  2. Clicking in the body of the message, I summon Alfred ( ⌘–Spacebar ), enter the keyword dmca.b.proc, then press Enter.

How’d I save time?

  • Since I have the {clipboard} dynamic placeholder (Alfred) inserted where the complainant’s notice needs to be pasted, it saves me the motion of another copy-paste. Estimate: 5 seconds.
  • I don’t have to navigate through our ticket system snippets by trackpad. Estimate: 5 seconds.

Save ten seconds per notice — I’ll take it!

Assuming I don’t have any blockers for uploading the Alfred workflow to Automattic, I’ll work on sharing it in the near future. 🙂

Using a Productivity Journal

I listened to the following podcast a couple of times today, and it features Mike Vardy and Shawn Blanc:

The Fizzle Show, episode 99: 2 Experts Share Exactly How to Use a Productivity Journal (& Increase Productivity by 23%)

At the end of each workday, Mike writes a freeform journal entry in Day One. His intent is to describe what did or didn’t work, then describe whatever is next. Minimal friction.

This time investment gives him a head start for weekly reviews. I dig!


Initially, I set five reminders1 in Day One for iOS. Then, I moved three work-specific reminders to Day One on my Mac, and kept two other on my iPhone.

To simplify, I’ll try writing daily in the evening — tagged “Daily Review” — with the help of a scheduled todo in Apple’s Reminders app.2

My goals for developing this new habit are to help me:

  • Summarize what I’ve done for the week more quickly (versus reviewing my Logbook in Things and my calendars).
  • Make weekly/monthly/yearly reviews less daunting.

  1. Three reminders for work (beginning, middle, and end of each day), then two personal. That’s too much, even at five minutes a pop. 
  2. This should be a calendar entry. Since I could punt it for a few minutes/hours (when needed), I’d rather not see it on my calendar. I’ll experiment! 🙂 

Noizio

Noizio is a slick, flexible, and free(!) app that plays ambient sounds. I just installed it on my Mac and iPhone to use when listening to music isn’t proper for the task at hand.1

The current version offers fifteen ambient sounds. I dig the simplicity and ability to mix the various sounds at different volumes. Saving different “Mixtures” will be fun to try.

If you’re a fan of Coffitivity, Noizio is worth checking out. 🙂

Just turn on the sound and allow yourself to become engulfed in the tranquil sounds of nature. Whether you wish to feel as if you’re sitting near a fireplace under a cozy blanket, or that you’re meditating on a desolate sea shore as gusts of wind ruffle your hair, Noizio will be there to set the mood. With this ambient sound equalizer, not only will you be able to relax, but you will also increase your productivity, as you’re trying to concentrate on your work!


  1.  Playing in the background while I write this post: Campfire, Winter Wind, and Deep Space. 

Things: Faux running to-dos

I was working on a to-do in Things that I didn’t finish today, but wanted to make sure it was:

  • Noted in the Logbook when my completed to-dos are archived at the end of the day, and
  • Copied to the my scheduled tasks for the next day…

all from the keyboard within a few seconds.

(Aside: Seeing the completed to-dos in my Logbook is more visible as something I worked on that day. The alternative is not keeping the to-do as incomplete, and adding notes to the to-do.)

Steps

  1. Duplicate the item by pressing ⌘+D (Command–D).
  2. Complete one of the items by pressing ⌘+. (Command–Period).
  3. Arrow down () to select the other duplicated item.
  4. Reschedule for tomorrow by pressing Control+] (Control–right bracket).

Why not make a new project in Things?

The project is on an Automattic internal P2. I’ve kept it as a single to-do in Things, and kept recreating it if I couldn’t mark the P2 thread as resolved.

And…I’ve talked myself into realizing that I should create a project for this. Starting…

Increasing use of Siri

I’ve been experimenting with using Siri more often. When I use compatible verbal commands, they’re faster than manually typing my requests. Some ideas:

  • Set alarms or timers.
  • Add an event to your calendar.
  • Add to-dos to Reminders. (e.g. Remind me about this email/webpage tomorrow.)
  • Add a to-do to a specific Reminders list (e.g. Groceries). Bonus tip: If you want to add another item to the same Reminders list, you can tap the microphone icon and continue. For example, “Also add spinach.”
  • Check weather.
  • Open apps. (Perhaps they’re buried beyond your home screen, and will take more than a few swipes.)

Some people mentioned Siri recently, which prompted me to give this a try. In the Back to Work podcast, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussed iOS 9 and improved Siri functionality earlier last month:

Nick Momrik mentioned a few handy examples. Apple also has a few iOS 9 tips and tricks for iPhone.

Simplenote: Embed Ideas and Tips

I was reading an internal P2 at work1, and saw a note beautifully embedded in a post. I’d like to share some thoughts on doing this.

Add a tag for quicker reference. When I don’t want to search for these by typing.

Tagged “siteEmbed”, place one note on your WordPress.com site to keep an ephemeral realtime status. I have date and time buttons in my custom keyboard when writing in Drafts for iOS, and a snippet in Alfred for a time stamp (keyword: “fts”). Copy to clipboard, paste in Simplenote.

Your team can display the status of their projects or active to-dos on a single page. Each member embeds their published note. Rather than wading thru the text from other members, you’d only see your own items when editing in Simplenote. Tag: “TeamEmbed”. (I just thought of this.)

Another note can be your Logbook, which could be on another page in your team P2. Each member embeds this published note, too. (Tag: “Logbook”.)

Once a week, the completed items from the previous note — active projects and to-dos — get cut and pasted into this note (Logbook) with dated headings. At the end of the year, those get copied permanently, and a new Logbook page/note is created for the new year.

Keep a team status page (working, ticket queue status, AFK, errands, nap, jog, vacation2). Editing your own status in Simplenote on your phone is quicker than editing the P2 page. And, again, you wouldn’t need to edit the status of your other colleagues.

Wow. That all sounds great! 😎


  1. Automattic. We’re looking for Happiness Engineers — join us
  2. I need to test Markdown image support. I could use Cloudup from my iPhone, then share a photo while on vacation or something. Update: Markdown images won’t auto embed within a Simplenote embed. Not a deal breaker for me, it would’ve been fun. 😄 

Things: Repeating Projects!

Things - Repeating Projects

Browsing the Cultured Code support pages, I stumbled onto this gem, “Creating Repeating To-Dos“:

If you have an entire set of to-dos which need to be repeated on the same day, group them inside a project and then repeat that entire project.

Regarding project templates, I shared this idea:

Important weekly/monthly checklists

I grouped recurring (predefined) to-dos by adding repeating projects. This allows me to:

  • Focus on doing work.
  • Keep the Logbook “clean” going forward, and
  • Save time from manually copying the to-dos.

David Allen might not condone having the Today focus overflowing with to-dos and projects because some of the items don’t need to be completed that day. However, I know I have the freedom to reschedule or delete items for another day.

(By the way, the Logbook displays all to-dos and projects marked as completed or canceled, regardless of importance or length of time to completion. The repeating projects I share in the above screenshot image—and list below—aren’t that notable.)

If I see a long list of to-dos in the Logbook, where many took 5–10 minutes to complete1, and the large remaining chunk of time is dedicated for the main part of my job, it can be more difficult to identify the higher impact projects or to-dos2.

Here are my current ones:

  • Work (Weekdays) — Triage a few ticket queues.
  • Work (Weekdays) — Work in our regular ticket queues.
  • Home (Monthly, three days before the last day of the month) — Prepare and mail our rent check.

As an example, our landlord requests a mailed check for our rent payment (project3 and successful outcome). Here are the to-dos needed to mark this project as completed:

  • Write rent check.
  • Print USPS label.
  • Mail rent check.

I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share them in the comments, or publish a new post on your own blog, and link back to this one. 🙂


  1. Examples of minor to-dos at work: catch up on reading P2 threads, or watching new intro videos. 
  2.  Writing this post, I realize I can make this easier by adding a tag to filter the Logbook. It’s exactly what I did to single out the three repeating projects in the image. 
  3. If you’re using a task manager with tasks and subtasks, the main task would be “Mail rent check”, and the two subtasks would be (1) write rent check, and (2) print USPS label. The subtasks would need to be completed before the main task.