Automating your GTD flow… If you’re on a Mac

I recently switched computers again and now any working environment is 100% Apple iPhone 6 and MacBook Air).

Also I was assigned a new Coca-Cola corporate e-mail that means working with Exchange so I’m tied to Outlook for Mac to make the most of it (like being able to share my availability and check the availability of others before setting up meetings). I love Office in general: nothing comes close to it if you need to be completely compatible with everyone else’s docs and honestly Excel and Word are both great products. Keynote vs PowerPoint could be more tied but then again ppt is widespread so converting back and forth will always eventually lead to trouble and PowerPoint is very good product on its own. All of them fairly powerful in their latest Mac incarnation too, except for Outlook. I miss folder rules and macros so my solution to automate workflows as much as I can has been to rely on Keyboard Maestro macros. KM is a great value for money on a Mac, and you can use it with other tools such as Automator and AppleScript to get real automation power. I have KM macros plus Outlook general account rules to earmark messages or make sure they are in the right folders / with the right tags.
Evernote for Mac is great and still my main note-taking and info warehouse solution. And  being on a Mac opens the temptation to switch to Things or Omnifocus as GTD apps. I’m sticking with Nirvana for now because of best pricing and because I hope the promised Mac desktop app will add offline working support and AppleScript. All this would counter the most obvious advantages than native Mac programs such as Things or Omnifocus offer. But if you are on a Mac, make no mistake, those two should be on your shortlist: a breeze to use, good design, solid features for your flow.
But for now I’m on Evernote plus Outlook plus Nirvana. And both the lack of macros for Outlook and the excess of to-dos in Evernote made me explore options for automation with AppleScript.
Enter AppleScript
If you don’t know what it is, AppleScript is a native OS scripting language. It’s main advantage is that it’s pretty simple to learn and read — it’s a pseudo-code-like language, think python… and it’s pretty powerful to automate pretty much everything on your Mac applications. This pretty much depends on the extent of Applescript support that each app wants to include, but many include at least a ‘good enough’ one so you can effectively control your programs through coding. Which is great in combination with other Mac programs such as Automator (free with OS) and the excellent Keyboard Maestro — a program that would automate most interface and menu selections in any program, and it can also run an Applescript as part of a flow, or through a hotkey combination or at a given time.
All in all, Applescript can give you extra firepower for automation of processes and avoiding manual work.
Problems I solved with Applescript (sometimes in combination with Keyboard Maestro and IFTTT):
  • I want to send all Evernote unchecked to-dos to my task manager as tasks.
  • I want to auto see my personal Google Calendar a part of my Outlook calendar, so at least anything added to my personal Google Calendar shows as a private appointment in my Outlook calendar.
  • I want to send all my Outlook e-mails that are actions to my task manager as tasks.
  • I want to share my calendar availability with 3rd parties without manually spotting “empty slots” and collecting them in an e-mail.

For real freaks out there I’ll cover some of that in next posts.

But to finish this post, let me recommend one last automation software for Mac that pays for itself: Text Expander. There are Windows alternatives (such as Phrase Express) so a text expansion software should be part of your life anyway. Transform basically most repetitive words and even sentences into short abbreviations and save time and keystrokes every day. Good for your productivity and for the health of your wrists. You’ll also notice you get work done faster whenever you need to type. One of the great things about Text Expander is that it coaches you: it will suggest you to add a new abbreviation when it detects you’re typing the same thing over and over again. And if you did create an abbreviation and are not using it, it will remind you of it so you make the most effective use of the tool.

So next steps if you find yourself on a Mac: get Keyboard Maestro and Text Expander… And get some time to learn the basis of AppleScript in pages such as this one. It will pay off.

Automating your GTD flow… If you’re on a Mac

¿Fallo estratégico?

Mmm aquí no suelo hablar de política pero sí de estrategia y de cómo algunas decisiones pueden pesar en el largo plazo si no están ponderadas. Así que no me resisto.
Mi apuestilla de diez euros sobre Ferraz tras un fin de semana que ha sido de todo menos aburrido:
 
1) Sí, al PP le interesaría ir a terceras elecciones para pillar a un PSOE ‘débil’. No lo hará. Habrá mucho ‘ooooh’ y ‘aaaaah’ y al final claro que habrá investidura sin terceras elecciones porque todo esto estaba hablado antes de empezar.
 
2) Sí, algunos del PSOE dicen ahora que ellos no son muy pro abstención. Y habrá mucho ‘ooooh’ y ‘aaaaah’ y al final encontrarán alguna maravillosa pirueta dialéctica o supuesta concesión para abstenerse.
 
3) Compadezco al pobre tipo que tenga que hacer la próxima campaña del PSOE… Yo digo que en dos legistaturas están en Grupo Mixto, a lo PASOC en Grecia. Pero no se ponga nadie triste, todos los que han salido en plano este finde tienen la casa pagada, faltaba más.
Es difícil que las cosas salgan bien cuando el interés de la organización a largo plazo y el de sus líderes a corto no coinciden… Y nadie se atreve a decirlo claramente.
¿Fallo estratégico?

Yahoo y el barranco de no tener estrategia

Verizon va a comprar Yahoo, y los análisis parecen considerarlo el canto del cisne de la que fuera una de las primeras grandes empresas de Internet.

El mejor análisis que he leído es una pequeña pieza de The Economist que recomiendo, como siempre con esta cabecera. Y de donde saco la frase que para mí tiene la clave de todo:

Yahoo’s executives have always struggled to decide what it really was.

(‘A los directivos siempre les ha costado decidir qué era Yahoo’).

Yahoo llevaba al menos 15 años sin ser relevante. No era innovador, no era líder, no era una de las empresas clave para el futuro de Internet, aunque lo había sido para el pasado. El resultado no ha sido una bancarrota fulminante, no: se van a pagar casi 5.000 millones de dólares por la compañía. Pero hablamos de una empresa que desde 2006 ha perdido el 90% de sus ingresos por publicidad online, que pasó por varios tres CEO en cuatro años antes de decidirse por Marissa Mayer. En definitiva, una empresa que mostraba signos de que no sabía ni qué era ni qué quería ser. Quedaba meridianamente claro con su política de adquisiciones: Yahoo compraba cosas prometedoras para, en general, echarlas a perder o quitarles cualquier atractivo.

Y el problema no era de recursos financieros ni de oportunidad ni, estoy seguro, de talento. Era un problema de estrategia. O de carecer de ella.

Me parece un ejemplo notable porque la estrategia de alto nivel, la visión a años vista, es muchas veces percibida como algo académico, para lo que no hay demasiado tiempo en el día a día ‘real’, sobre todo en ámbitos como la pyme.

No cometas el mismo error. Si necesitas un ejemplo de cómo ese tipo de cojera puede dejar tullido hasta a un grande, vuelve a leer el artículo de The Economist sobre Yahoo. Recuérdalo siempre: la estrategia puede no ser suficiente pero sin estrategia no tienes futuro.

Yahoo y el barranco de no tener estrategia

How to Power Up Your Google Apps Email

Google Apps is a terrific alternative to Outlook and I just switched for a few months (corporate environment provided Google Apps as a new standard, no more Exchange accounts). I never settled for a desktop client, as I first wanted to make the most of Gmail webmail itself. The results were quite good.

These are the things I missed from Outlook and how to fix them I you find yourself in a similar situation:

  • Evernote add-in. The one add-in I found useful in Outlook. Luckily you can install Powerbot in Chrome and get a nice replacement. A whole thread, with attachments, saved for reference in Evernote. Good.
  • Custom shortcuts to execute common tasks such as sending an email to the folder of “immediate action required”. Gmail uses filters for that, so it kind of works, but I’m yet to find how to use that with my own keyboard shortcuts – I thought about giving AutoHotKey a try but at first glance it seemed too complicated and time-consuming to configure. No time for learning curves so I had to park this mini-project.
  • Snooze email for later is a must for me. I do have a GTD system outside email but why spend time creating follow-up reminders when I can tell that thread to come back to my inbox in a certain moment of the future. It’s faster, easier and convenient. Streak does this (and more) for free in Gmail. I didn’t have this in Outlook although shortcuts let me send mails to a follow up folder to ruthlessly chase them. Snooze feature is so much better.

Mobile productivity is a challenge though. I absolutely need snooze on the go. Evernote saving can be an email ‘left for later’ or snoozed, although not ideal. But if I’m working with snooze on desktop as part of my flow for to-dos, then I need it on mobile as well. I tried CloudMagic but my favorite (with its flaws) was Mailbox, which I used for a while but then shut down. Maybe Inbox by Gmail would be the best contender along with CloudMagic as a replacement for Mailbox.

All in all, I still missed my little macros but Google Apps proved a very pleasant working environment with all the basics you need, and some very interesting third parties extensions. What’s your personal favorite?

How to Power Up Your Google Apps Email

Todoist review after five months of use

I’ve been using Todoist for almost five months now.

First impressions were very good. Paying was easy and in a few minutes I was up and running in all operating systems plus Outlook, Gmail, browsers… I had my Todoist with me everywhere. A little tweaking of Outlook actions, IFTTT and Zapier helped with whatever little inter-app communication I needed that was not built-in. Todoist delivered on any front as expected.

Since then, the system has been reliable and that is a very good thing to say. But I miss a few things that didn’t seem that important before.

-Next Actions. Yes you can have the discipline to mark one task per project as priority 2 and filter. These would be your next actions per project. But any time you complete a task you have to manually change the priority of the next one that will become a ‘next one’. One more layer of maintenance for your system, one more chance to derail.
-Tags by category. If there are only tags, marking a task as exceptionally long or related with Mr. Smith falls in the same list of tags. The list is soon bigger than what is comfortable to keep controlled and tidy. Nirvana gives you that by the way: contacts are one kind of data associated with tasks, energy is another, etc. So you can review you contacts-related tasks more easily.
-Better management of non-English characters. A very probable problem with encodings makes import feature useless if you didn’t write your tasks in English. Any special character such as “á” will be ignored and, worse, switched for a line break, which means each task affected will be imported as several tasks, each with incomplete text.
-Some kind of note associated with the project itself. To link to general reference or to describe the final deliverable of the project in more detail than just a project name.

Oddly enough, Nirvana provides all of what I lack now. Sure Todoist is prettier and has more native integrations, but like a said a little use of IFTTT or Zapier can solve most of that. Sure Nirvana is priced at around twice as much but still within reason at 39 USD per year.

And there are bells and whistles I don

So I’m not exactly unhappy or disappointed with Todoist but I may be close to switching again and claim Nirvanahq is after all the best GTD app for 2015, or at least the most balanced for my personal workflow (i.e. not seeking  collaboration feature, etc).

I will miss color-coding my projects and having sub-projects though, two things I expect from Nirvanahq roadmap as no-brainers. But ultimately I can live without it.

I have to say there is one feature that was indeed promising but I won’t need: Outlook integration. It seemed like a big deal for me… before trying it. First, any third-party add-in makes your Outlook slower, specially on startup, so it has to add value. Well, Todoist didn’t really converted emails into tasks in a way that made it easier than copy-pasting the subject to my Todoist window and adding desired tags. For instance, attachments were not respected. Compare that with the excellent Evernote add-in and you know its the only Outlook integration you’ll need. I switched off Todoist add-in and instead saved critical emails to Evernote and linked to that note from my related Todoist task. I can even use an Evernote public link to share that email – with its original attachments. Easiest and fastest way to collect/share that I’ve found when forwarding the email is not an optimal solution.

In both cases Evernote is and will remain my app of choice for taking notes and archiving anything from Outlook emails to screenshots. But as task/project management goes, I needed something else and Nirvanahq may well be the perfect match.

Todoist review after five months of use

Facile Things vs Todoist vs Nirvanahq: Comparing Three Great GTD apps

After extensive research and testing, I was stuck between the three best GTD apps I found out there: Facile Things, Todoist and Nirvanahq. They all have pros and cons but are very solid products. They all include my ‘must haves’ and nice features like being able to create tasks by e-mail. I needed to look feature by feature to choose one. So this is how I did it.

Questions for Tiebreak Facile Things Todoist Nirvana hq
Is data export allowed? Yes – xml No (shortcut via templates to export project by project – in plain text) Yes – xml, json, csv
How easily can you filter by contexts AND projects? Tagging (tags and number of items in each tag is sorted by view, you can see only the count for Next Actions lists) Pretty Good – Filters and labels combined should do (premium feature, not able to test it at this stage) Easiest of all three
How easy is it to create new projects? Mouse required, 3 clicks mininum Mouse required, 2 clicks minimum One click
Sub-projects allowed? No Yes No
Beauty of design? Fine Highest Good
‘Joy factor’ of marking tasks as completed? Medium High High
Is it easy to check some tasks i.e. as the three most important for the day? Yes – starred tasks Yes – priority 1, 2, etc. would allow that Yes – starred tasks
How easy is it to re-order tasks inside a project, i.e. by drag-and-drop? Medium Easy, drag-and-drop Easiest and most flexible of all three
Can you show only next steps, i.e. next actions for all of your projects? Yes No Yes
Integration with other apps and services? Evernote, Google Calendar, Twitter, and email. Outlook, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Dropbox, IFTTT, Zapier No
Automatic Backups (personal)? No – Manual export No – Manual, but automatic backups available online and downloadable No – Manual
Good keyboard shortcuts? 50% 50% (quick add, not fully controlable with keyboard) 50% (Quick add, some navigation, not full control with keyboard)

 

Interface beauty and simplicity of use are what make me drop FacileThings despite its many strengths. You need to feel comfortable as this GTD app is going to be the screen you’ll look at most of your day.

Non-export feature in Todoist should be a deal-breaker. But, like I said, beauty is a must. Nirvana wins the race if you think about it rationally, but Todoist at this price deserves a longer try. Ultimately it will be Todoist or Nirvana. But I decided to try Todoist premium for some months.

So here you have it. Todoist is my choice for 2015. I paid for the yearly suscription last January. I’ll soon be ready for a verdict on how it actually works and if it’s worth the time and money. But I hope this little list can help you make your own decision. I really think you can’t go wrong with any of these three.

Facile Things vs Todoist vs Nirvanahq: Comparing Three Great GTD apps

The best GTD apps for 2015

So I’ll write this one in English for two reasons: First, I know for a fact many people look for good GTD apps – not just Spaniards. And second, I benefited myself from the generosity of other bloggers reviews of GTD apps – mostly in English, even if not all authors were from an English-speaking background. So if they made the effort to share their findings in English to reach the widest possible audience, I’ll do the same.

First things first. I had been a user of Nirvanahq in the past. I was pretty happy in their free beta, but opted out after paying the first year. The fact is, I felt I was left with not enough time to react between the warning (pay or lose your projects) and the deadline. I was getting married shortly after so maybe I was on a worse schedule than usual and I’m being unfair, but this is just how I felt and why I almost stopped using Nirvana, which is otherwise awesome and has been getting better. For a time I used Evernote with extensive tagging, even digging into The Secret Weapon approach. But Evernote does not allow for the simple joy of just crossing out completed tasks. And tagging for GTD becomes just too much pain (for every note you need context, time, energy and project, at the very least). Evernote is great but not a GTD app, lets face it.

Other good contenders tested in the past included Doit.im (but wasn’t reliable enough as far as syncing goes, specially for data entered while offline), Remember The Milk (a fine product, just not my preferred look&feel and UX).

So I decided to scan the market again and test something new, even if it was a paid option. My requirements for a GTD system may not be the same as yours, so for me priorities included:

  • Good UX and performance (easy to use, fast response). My goal is not to learn how to use a new toy, but to have actual job done, quickly. Performance speed is measured with my usual devices, of course. I don’t care if it’s very fast on someone else’s laptop…
  • Beautiful design. I’m going to live in this damn app all day. Don’t make it depressing to look at.
  • Cross-platform. Sorry for Things and other platform-specific solutions. I can work from a Windows laptop (most of the times) but I also own a MacBook Pro. I have a personal iPhone as well as an Android phone for work. And there is an Android tablet too at home. I’m cross-platform and I’m not going to buy any solution that ties me only to one device or operating system.
  • I need as many keyboard shortcuts as possible. I suffer from repetitive stress injury in both wrists and love to save keystrokes when possible.
  • Some help with reporting is greatly appreciated. I need to report on my weekly or monthly work so I was used to use Nirvana logbook to remind me of tasks completed on a particular date. Authomated reporting would be even better.
  • As a user that would migrate from another system, batch import or at least adding tasks by e-mail is a plus. Being able to export easily (not feeling ‘trapped’) is important, too.
  • Call me silly, but I want to re-organize my tasks to have them sorted out by priority for any project. Nirvana lets me just drag and drop. Make it that easy, please.
  • Of course, if I’m looking for a GTD ‘trusted system’, it has to be… well, trustworthy. That means reliable, with a good backup policy, and able to work offline when needed.

With this in mind, I read (a lot) and tested myself some of the best apps found through some research and also the most-recommended in post like The Best GTD Apps and others.This are my results:

Tested And Rejected (Honorable Mention For The First Two)

Workflowy – Not that bad. Allows for heavy keyboard use, and it’s a very flexible tool. But not really GTD-oriented. I mean, no report or date-based logbook of completed items, lots of tagging required to include contexts, energy, etc., which is some of the cons of Evernote anyway.

Organize Pro (from taskfabric.com). 50$ license – Web version not-so-fast and lacks a few features such as tagging and filter by tag (energy, time required to complete the taxt, drag-and-drop tasks to reorder). iPhone app pretty good and good-looking, a serious contender. Tested downloadable version (trial): not so fast.

Omnifocus – Not being cross-platform is a deal-breaker for me. I can’t solely rely on my iPhone and have no desktop version of my system during office hours.

Producteev – Not recommended after its redesign. It would be free for the features I would use and interface is not that bad but contexts, etc., are added as tags. No task drag-and-drop to organize priorities. Good reporting due to activiy log. Can be used as a collaboration tool. Exports CSV.

2doapp – Windows browser only through Toodledo, not-so-good interface

iQTell –  A promising product, integration with Evernote and email, too expensive for me.

Conqu – Not bad, but I wasn’t impressed by interface.

Droptask – Good but too visual, slow response. Also no keyboard shortcuts.

Eisenhower – Too simple, not flexible enough, not really GTD-oriented.

SmartTM – Web on beta version, logging in wasn’t simple so… nope.

ZenDone – Interface wasn’t good enough for my taste.

GQueues – Not a bad pricing but too linked to Google, Gmail-like interface, file uploading through Drive…

Smartytask – Too expensive for my personal use. (99$ per year).

Top Of The Crop

GTD con letras de madera de juguete.
GTD with wooden letters.

I ended up with a shortlist of three good alternatives to practice GTD: Facile Things, Todoist, and again good old Nirvanahq. So I had to look for a tie-break by closely comparing key features.

Let’s first take a closer look to all three.

Facile Things, at about 64€ per year, is a bit pricy for my taste but still between sight of what could be reasonable if it’s the right tool to keep my life under control. While a little slow to respond to inputs (specially on a mobile device), it’s absolutely GTD-oriented, in fact it covers all possible aspects of the method. Its Done list can act as a solid start for any reporting or self-control.

Todoist proved to have the wider use of keyboard shortcuts. I couldn’t test iOS app but its webapp was not bad, just not ultra-fast. A good daily summary by e-mail and a small price (23€/year) are also good points.

I ended up re-testing Nirvanahq. Like I said, its logbook (that shows the date when something was completed) is helpful for reporting. It’s also one of the cheapest paid solutions that I found at 39$ per year (32€ aprox.). You can easily export data if you switch providers.

Any of these three deserve an extended testing if you are serious about GTD. If you care at all, I’ll soon tell you how and why I chose one of them.

The best GTD apps for 2015