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