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How I Optimise My Mac For Getting Work Done

Screen Shot 2013 11 19 at 13.23.37 300x242In the epic movie Magnum Force from 1973 with Clint Eastwood starring as “Dirty” Harry Callahan, he utters the words:

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Well, I know my professional limitations:

  • I need to be inspired to good work.
  • Repetitive tasks kills my inspiration.

So, I really need to safeguard my inspiration by keeping all the mind numbingly boring repetitive tasks at bay.

Are you like me?

In this blog post I explain how I’ve set my Mac up, not to become a Tayloristic productivity robot (yuck!), but rather to take as much of ‘boring’ out of the equation as possible.

Here’s how I get stuff done on my Mac:

My Inbox Zero System — Mastering Email

In this section, you’ll find these techniques:

ARCHIVE ALL | NO-REPLYS | FLAGGING | SEND LATER | SIGNATURES

Let’s start with the inbox. I use the native Apple Mail which is a little wonky at times, but it’s good enough for me.

However, I hate manually moving messages to folders. No joke, I really hate it. So I ARCHIVE ALL emails. The search function is so fast and back in the day, when I had tons of sub folders, I always used search anyway.

So make sure to add the Archive button to the tool bar. The archive button looks like this (you might have to add it):

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 17.46.47

Except for the folders automatically created by either Mail or IMAP, I only have one self-created folder named NO-REPLYS based in iCloud. You can see my folders here:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 17.53.40

So, what’s the NO-REPLYS folder?

It’s want notifications of new comments, new links, traffic increase alerts from Google Analytics, newsletter subscriptions and stuff like that. To automatically send all of these emails to the No-Replys folder, I only need to set up one rule (but as you can see I constantly add new conditions):

Screen Shot 2013 11 17 at 20.03.19 222x300

This way I keep my inbox clean from stuff that aren’t super important, but still important enough not to unsubscribe from. I can go here maybe once a day and then, after just a click run-through, I just delete everything.

Swoosch! It’s a nice feeling.

Still, there are many inbox emails left to take care of. I turn off push mail as well as all notifications and all sounds and make sure to check emails only in-between actual blocks of work. If an email can be answered or delegated within 20 seconds, then I’ll just do that. In other words, classic Inbox Zero.

But let’s say I have emails left that require further action that requires more than 20 seconds each. Before I archive them all, I make sure to do some FLAGGING. My flag system looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 18.01.05

Leads — Going into this folder makes me excited, because this folder is full of exciting potential.

Personal — Going into this folder makes me all warm and fuzzy, because it’s mainly emails from my wife, family and my closest friends.

Delegate — Going into this folder boosts my inner narcissist, because it makes me feel like a “f*****g Napoleon” (yes, that’s an Ani DiFranco reference).

Money — Going into this folder makes me happy, because here’s all still unresolved emails from my paying clients. When I’m doing work in this folder, I’m literally making money. Wohoo!

Structure — I hate admin, so I’ve named this folder ‘Structure’ instead. Creating structure and running a tight ship is creating value for my business long-term. And you gotta love that.

Community — Going into this folder inspires me, because it’s emails from my beloved online community. Their feedback, their praise and their valuable questions.

Wasters — Going into this folder makes me happy, because in here I’m allowed to be a bad boy and swiftly deal with people who are trying to waste my time without giving anything in return. I get really creative here at times.

Getting down and dirty in the flagged folders is designed to be meaningful and fun. As I get into a flag folder, I also enter that specific mindset, which makes the work more coherent and “flow-y”.

I haven’t installed a lot of third-party scripts, but there’s this one I really like, SEND LATER (find it here). I don’t want to prime my surroundings to expect emails from me 24/7/365, so I make frequent use of the send later function:

Send Later

It’s pretty cool to start work on Monday morning and – boom! – all emails sent to the outbox during the weekend are sent out to their destinations, really kicking off my workweek and putting me ahead of everyone else.

Now, how do I use SIGNATURES?

Personally, I hate including images in the signature. Or any HTML stuff at all, links included. I think emails should be as clean as possible, so I prefer text-only signatures.

I also use signatures for a variety of standard-reply emails. Because you know, some type of emails you find yourself writing over and over and again. So, I set up separate signatures for these.

For instance, if someone’s applying for a job but there isn’t any openings at the time, I’ve got an email signature template which includes a PDF with my best tips and tricks on how to get on our radar in the future.

My Workflows — Making Tasks More Fun

In this section, you’ll find these techniques:

ACTION SPACE | NAMING | SWOOSCHING | X. FILES | HOT CORNERS

I use my desktop as the destination folder for all downloads and screenshots. I like to call my desktop for my ACTION SPACE, since everything that’s on my desktop requires action. I like that, because my desktop is always there, right in my face.

In the past, I’ve had other folders setup for this, but I simply never go into them. They just accumulate lots of files (that takes forever to sort).

One of the most important tasks in the Action Space is NAMING. Because the way I name files matters a lot for my system (more on that later).

I have a very basic naming system:

Type – Name – Client

For example:

Presentation – Beta User Feedback – Amnesty

(I don’t include dates created or revised. It’s in the file info anyway, right?)

I’ve installed a software called Dropzone to do what I call SWOOSCHING. When I bump my cursor into the right of the screen, four folder shortcuts pops out. Like this:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 18.41.21 940x519

Templates — I like to be able to start working quickly, and here I have the agency’s 42 (the answer to everything) different deliverables templates (documents, presentations etc.) — just a click away. It helps me start a new project really effortlessly.

Active Projects — This is a shortcut I use all the time. It leads to the Google Drive folder where all currently active projects are stored.

X. Files — This is my most beloved folder – and the most efficient one. More on this a bit further down this text.

Zip & Email — This is a nice little script. If I drop files here, it will automatically .zip them and enclose them into an email.

Now, let’s say I have my newly named file Presentation – Beta User Feedback – Amnesty on my ACTION SPACE. Using Dropzone, I can very quickly SWOOSCH the file to the mysterious X. FILES located on Google Drive when I’m done with it:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 18.51.16

I use a software called Hazel. The program monitors my X. Files folder and I’ve got full control of a set of rules that are running in the background for this folder. One of these rules are named “Amnesty”.

So all files file names that ends with ‘Amnesty’ gets automatically moved to the Amnesty folder in 1. Work on my Google Drive. Hazel allows you to be really creative with a wide array of options for what rules you set up.

So let’s say I need to clean out my Action Space for the day. I then just make sure that the files I want to keep are named correctly, then I drop them all into the X. Files via DropZone. And lovely Hazel — swisch, swosch! — just automagically puts every file where I want them.

Swoosch! It’s an awesome feeling!

I actually use this method for scanning physical papers with my Fujitsu ScanSnap, too. Scanned files goes to my desktop, I name them (did I mention I like to name stuff?) and then drop them into X. Files.

Also, I love HOT CORNERS, they make drag and drop more fun. Here’s my setup:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 19.02.37

Thanks to Joakim Leijon over at Whispr Group, I’ve also learnt to love to have my mouse cursor set to maximum speed. Now I even wish that I could get it to go even faster!

One could say that I spend more work time on my Action Space, because I feel free, unrestricted and creative there, much more so than in the confinements of my mail program or in any browser window.

My Browser Tweaks — Less Is More

In this section, you’ll find these techniques:

BIG WINDOW | EVERNOTE | ONETAB | FLUX

I actually don’t optimise my browser all that much. I use all sorts of browsers, since I have to check my work in different ones quite often. But most commonly I use Chrome.

I don’t use the bookmark bar, simply because I really don’t like it. It looks cluttered. And instead of having seven to ten shortcuts, I can really just get to my most of my most visited websites by just typing one or two letters in the URL window and hit enter.

So when I go through settings for a browser, I remove as much wonky stuff as I possibly can. I want a BIG WINDOW in my broser — and with as few distractions as possible.

See an example (nevermind my Pinterest boards, ha!:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 19.35.12 940x570

I do however use three browser extensions:

  • EVERNOTE
  • ONETAB
  • 1PASSWORD:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 19.32.41

Evernote is used to save websites and snippets for later, and it allows me to capture and tag pages with full control. But more on Evernote later.

I use OneTab, of course. It’s just such a great little program. You know the feeling when you’re about to close down the computer for the day and you find yourselves having 40 tabs open? And you don’t want to close them down because you want to do something later with some of them?

You could of course go through them one by one and either close them or save them to Evernote. But going through 40 tabs takes time. So this program just saves them in a browser archive like this:

Screen Shot 2013 11 17 at 20.10.17 940x706

Swooosh! Awesome feeling.

Truth is, I rarely go back and use these sites (survival gear from Amazon, what was I thinking?), but they are at least there in your archive — should you want them. And on the plus side, you can get to them from whatever unit you use and having fewer tabs open actually saves both Mac battery and performance. Like Hazel and DropZone, a lovely little program.

Then I also have the 1Password extension. However, the native iCloud solutions for keychains are constantly getting better and 1Password is really close to getting tossed out from my setup. It’s clunky with both an extension, a helper running in the background and a program in the Applications folder.

I’m thinking of getting rid of it. Less is more.

Instead I would recommend FLUX (read more here). Sure, it’s not a browser extension, but it saves your tired eyes when surfing after sundown.

My GTD System — All Trello, Baby

In this section, you’ll find these techniques:

COLLABORATION |  DELEGATION | FRIDAY DEBRIEF | TO-DO

Let’s take a closer look at how I use Trello for COLLABORATION and DELEGATION. Trello has an ugly interface (unfortunately), but the workflow as such is very clean.

I use this same (original) setup for all boards:

Screen Shot 2013 11 17 at 19.58.19 940x226

To Do — Here goes things that needs to be done in the nearest future, weekly deliverables that needs to go out the door. I can easily add checklists, info and stuff like that. I can also easily assign tasks t team members.

Doing — This might seem strange, but it’s really good to be able to see what you’re supposed to be focusing at right now and at the same time, I’m able to see what my colleagues are doing and I can make changes in priorities in an instant.

Done (Month) — This board is at first glance pretty pointless. These tasks are done, and they could just be archived, all of them. But seeing all of them there gives me a warm of fuzzy feeling. I can see that work has gotten done and I really like that.

When we have our FRIDAY DEBRIEF, the team can quickly browse through what’s left to do (“are we good for next week?”), what’s currently still being done (“can we help each other out to finalise these tasks before the weekend?”) and to archive and feel good about the things we done (and dish out some well deserved praise!).

But not everything I personally need to do goes into Trello. Since this is sort of a “shared to-do list” to better our collaboration, it only gets messy if I start putting in minor stuff that really no-one but me needs to know about (like buying dinner on my way home). For this, I use Evernote.

In Evernote, I simply have a Notebook named To-Do. This list in Evernote rarely gets cluttered, actually. This is because Trello takes care of a lot of things. And my Flagging System in Apple Mail takes care of a lot as well. And my iCal also takes care of a lot of stuff.

This is actually how I use Evernote overall. The stuff that “end up here” hasn’t really “taken form” yet. But more on Evernote below.

My Portable Brain — How I Rock Evernote

In this section, you’ll find these techniques:

PORTABLE BRAIN | MENTAL CONCEPTS | ASPIRATIONAL ROLES

I use Evernote as my PORTABLE BRAIN. When I get ideas, I want to make sure to write them down. This actually reinforces and strengthens the brain from a neurological perspective, i.e. the physical feedback loop.

If my other systems are optimised for simplicity, my Evernote system is where I go … wild. The more strange stuff I allow my real brain to put into my Portable Brain, the more crazy shit my real brain comes up with — and so it goes. And that’s why I love hanging out in my Portable Brain!

In my Portable Brain (Evernote), I have two separate systems:

  • Mental Concepts (notebooks)
  • Aspirational Roles (tags)

My Notebooks are based on what I call MENTAL CONCEPTS. These can be anything. One such notebook is my Bucket List (a list of stuff one wants to do in a lifetime).

I have hundreds of different notebooks, i.e. Mental Concepts. I don’t go into these different notebooks very often, but if I’m bored with life in general and I need to do something about it, I just think “Bucket List” and jump into Evernote to get inspired.

This is actually quite magical; when you see all of these snippets of informations gathered as one Mental Concept, you really learn something about yourself. But not all Mental Concepts are creative, I should say. I have one that is ‘Business Cards’ and one that is ‘Business Receipts’, for instance.

When it comes to Tags in Evernote, I have use a totally different system. And I admit that it’s somewhat … odd. Most people use fewer categories (notebooks) and lots of tags. I do it the other way around; I only have seven different tags, my ASPIRATIONAL ROLES, pinned as shortcuts in top right of Evernote:

Screen Shot 2013 11 18 at 23.26.09

These tags are based on the different types of roles I aspire to play in my life. Please note that these are aspirations and meant to be funny and shouldn’t be seen as stone cold assessments of myself and my character!

Again: I don’t consider myself to be a ‘creative genius’, for instance. But I love to try to be both creative and smart, and I try to remind myself to always keep trying.

Why is this system so powerful? If you only have one to-do-list, it’s easy to forget about your aspirations outside of work. Sure, I want to make money so that I can put food on the table, but I also want to remember to do cool things, to be creative and to care for my family as well. Just to name few.

Combined, the Mental Concepts (notebooks) and the Aspirational Roles (tags) makes my Portable Brain (Evernote) very useful to me. For instance, if I see a website with a surfing course, I might capture it into the Mental Concept ‘Bucket List’ and tag it with the ‘LifeHacker’ role.

And to repeat the core point with all of this — the interesting thing is what I learn about myself when I see all the accumulated bits and pieces together. It helps me keep my priorities straight without having to stop dreaming. And most aspirations (like surfing) will probably never become reality, ha!

All in all, I find these simple tips and tricks makes my work more fun and less repetitive. I hope you got some inspiration from my “less is more” approach! Let me know if you try some of them out yourself!
What’s your favourite “optimise my Mac” tips and tricks? Please share in the comments to help me make this post more resourceful! The best tip will get an Amnesty hoodie so you can create awareness about human rights and look insanely cool at the same time!
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