Using Pinboard, IFTTT and Hazel for adding URLs to Safari’s Reading List from IE 9 on my work PC

Background and Goals

Typically, I try to keep non-work related browsing/research away from my work PC. I can only run IE 9 and my company monitors any website an employee visits, a totally reasonable and transparent policy. That being said, over the past three months, I have sent myself 42 emails that contain a link I wanted to add to my Safari Reading List for future processing/investigation. On the PC, in IE 9, I click on File, hover over Send, click on Link by e-mail, type my personal email address and click send. On my iPad I open Mail, tap the link, tap the Share button in Safari and finally tap Add to Reading List. Way too many clicks and taps if you ask me.

As I’ve written before I use Safari’s Reading List as my inbox for quickly saving sites, articles, products, etc. I process the Reading List into Pinboard bookmarks for future reference, Instapaper for articles I want to read (usually longer form), or add the URL to a task in Reminders if it’s something I need to take action on.

What I want is a single bookmarklet in IE9 that “magically” sends the current URL to my Safari Reading List. Below is how I made this work.

Side note: The PC that I use for my day job is locked down. I can’t install Safari and iCloud tools that would make this possible with fewer steps.

Implementation

My initial thought was to use a Rule in Mail.app on my Mac that triggered an Apple Script telling Safari to add the content of the email, the URL, to Reading List. Somewhere in the research on how to write this Apple Script I came across a great write up by Jono Hunt for pulling links from Instapaper into Reading List using IFTTT (RSS and Dropbox) and Hazel. I had all the tools to make this work but I decided to use Pinboard rather than Instapaper (I use Instapaper solely for reading longer form articles).

Of course, Pinboard has a RSS URL for just about everything you bookmark so my next decision was how am I going to tag or mark the bookmarks so IFTTT could see them and take action. I settled on using the built in “To Read” tag that Pinboard offers as a type of Read Later service. The reason I chose this was Pinboard has a pre-built bookmarklet that can be placed in my IE bookmarks bar.

I now have my one magical button that I renamed to Safari Reading List.

NB: The remainder of my post closely follows the steps that Jono describes on his post but I thought this was so cool that I had to write it all out just in case I was dreaming.

I used Jono Hunt’s recipe as the basis for my own RSS to Dropbox IFTTT recipe. I grabbed the To Read RSS URL from Pinboard – it’s a private tag and it all still worked great, Pinboard has that covered by including a secret key in the URL string – threw that into the recipe and then picked a folder in Dropbox where the URLs, saved as individual text files, would briefly live.

I tested it all at this point and sure enough when I added a site to my Pinboard using the newly created Safari Reading List bookmarklet in IE 9 a text file with the URL showed up in my Dropbox folder. I then set Hazel to monitor the same Dropbox folder as used in the IFTTT recipe and execute an Apple Script that grabs the URL from the text file, sends it to Safari’s Reading List and then deletes the text file. I used the Hazel rule that Jono provided on his post.

As soon as the Hazel rule was applied I received a notification that it had processed the URL’s I used in the previous test. I fired up Safari and sure enough there were new items in my Reading List. I went back and ran a start to finish test of this workflow and everything ran successfully. The only hold up is from IFTTT as recipes are only triggered every 15 minutes. This is fine for me as I tend to process my Reading List over the weekend.

I now have an easy, one-click method of sending URLs from my work PC to my Safari Reading List.

I need to get better at tracking my time

TL;DR If you want to track your time, within an application/file or on a website, without having to remember to do so then take a look at RescueTime

The Problem

I have never developed the habit of starting the clock, or even looking at the clock and noting the time, at the outset of a project. I work on a task (or two) and when I’m done I start on another. Sometimes I’ll remember to write down what I worked on and other times I luck out and find some data that supports what time I started working (last modified, created, email, phone call). Typically though I make a guess on how long I worked. That guess is often made days later when creating an invoice.

I think this mentality came from my stint in IT. I worked on salary and there was no requirement to track my time – appointments were billed at a flat rate. When I switched to freelance IT and web work I took those bad habits with me. I would end up spending a full day or two every month going back through emails and voicemails trying to piece together what I had worked on and for how long. I’m sure I left money on the table because of this.

Now that I store all my information within text files (using nvALT) I have been a little better at tracking my time. I have a Text Expander snippet that I call with ttrack which gives me:

%snippet:nappend% – date and time stamp

Client: %

Time Spent:

Tasks Completed/Worked On:

I have also have a Drafts action that can append the same snippet to my “runx timetracking.txt” file, which means I can add the time from anywhere – very helpful if I remember to log the time while I’m laying in bed.

The real problem is: I still forget to write it down.

Possible Solutions

I started thinking today that I would love a method for my brain’s brain (my Mac) to remember my time for me. I have tried timer apps (like the one built into Billings) but I would never actually start them. So rather than a physical button to click I am wondering if OS X or a third party application can look at the applications/URLs I’m using and realize it’s related to a project (I could specify all possible triggers at the outset of that project) and at the same time count how long I am using one or all of those applications/URLs.

For example, below is a ficticous project and what the system might track:

Project: Migrate website to new hosting provider.

Track:

– Coda 2: when logged into specific sites (I use Coda for FTP tasks too like move/copy).

– Safari: current and new web host admin panels/phpMyAdmin. As well as the website URL during testing phase.

– Mail: message to a specified recipient (client or web host).

It may also ask you questions like: did you make any phone calls, travel, think about this project that requires tracking?

I know it would be difficult to implement correctly – apparently not impossible though, see end of post. What if I left Coda and Safari open all night? Would it track that time? Perhaps you could build in safegaurds for system inactivity. More importantly, could it handle tracking two projects simulaneously? I will often apply updates to commonly used WordPress plugins at the same time and there are always overlaps of projects. How about working on one project while backing up files on another.

Wow, I just found RescueTime which seems to do exactly what I described above, tracks how long you use an application or URL and can apply that time to a project. Looking forward to taking this for a spin and sharing the results.

Safari Bookmarket to view a Twitter profile in Tweetbot

The Problem

While in Safari on my Mac I come across someone that I think would be a good follow on Twitter, usually after reading their website/blog. I try to avoid Twitter.com whenever possible. I much prefer firing up Tweetbot and looking at a person’s past tweets, photos/videos, who they follow and who follows them etc. Typically, I would have to open up Tweetbot go to the search tab, copy the username from Safari, paste it into the search field, select the user and hit follow. I do this quite a lot while on following binges and it gets really old to be constantly copying and pasting and switching back and forth between apps.

This annoyance becomes a life-threatening disaster when I’m on my iPhone or iPad. So I decided to find a quick and easy way to get to a Twitter user’s profile within Tweetbot after discovering them somewhere on the web. I wanted a Safari based JavaScript bookmarklet right from the outset. The only problem was I had no idea how to make one and 15 minutes on Google didn’t yield any quick solutions so I started off with a much simpler, but still step heavy, workflow.

Text Expander workflow

I resigned to just create a TextExpander snippet that contained the URL structure needed to view a profile in Tweetbot. The snippet that I call with “tbotp” is: tweetbot://[my<em>screenname]/user</em>profile/[profile_screenname]

When that URL is entered into Safari it automatically switches the application to Tweetbot and goes to the specified user account. I would copy the [profile_screenname] – Twitter username – portion of the Twitter.com url from Safari, select the entire URL, enter my tbotp text expander snippet and hit enter. It worked just fine and because I have my Text Expander snippets synced through Dropbox I could also perform this workflow on my iOS device.

It didn’t take more than a week before this workflow felt slow and unintuitive too. So I decided to sit down and get the JavaScript bookmarklet working and put this to rest once and for all.

Javascript bookmarklet

I wanted to:

  1. Extract the Twitter screenname from the current URL in Safari.
  2. Insert that screenname into the appropriate Tweetbot URL scheme.
  3. Execute the URL so that Tweetbot would show me the profile page of that user.
  4. Use that code to create a Safari bookmarklet so I could use a keyboard shortcut to execute it on my Mac and also have it synced, though iCloud, across to my iPhone and iPad.

It turned out to be much easier that I thought it would be. I’m not 100% sure this is an ideal way of doing it but it certainly works for me and that’s all I really care about.

I relied on Google for almost every part of this.

  1. I looked at how to grab the current URL in Safari and found window.location
  2. I looked at how to extract portions of a URL using JavaScript and found href.split
  3. I chose the split to occur after at .com/ so the script would grab everything after the .com/ which is typically the Twitter screenname.
  4. I created a blank bookmarklet in Safari called tweetbot.
  5. Combining the JavaScript elements above with the correct Tweetbot URL I started experimenting. I looked at how other bookmarklets were formatted and soon I came up with:
`javascript: window.location='tweetbot://rmjh/user_profile/'+window.location.href.split('.com/')`
  
which worked perfectly when using the ⌘+3 keyboard shortcut.   6. I went to my iPad and iPhone, the bookmarklet was there when I opened Safari and after visiting a Twitter.com profile page the bookmarklet sent me to Tweetbot for iOS in exactly the same way as on my Mac.

Even with something so simple as this bookmark I can’t tell you how satisfied it made me feel to figure it out. It was a good day.

If you would like to use this bookmarklet feel free to drag the button below into your Safari Bookmarks Bar and then edit the bookmark replacing my Twitter username with your own.

view in tweetbot

The tools I use to GTD

After reading GTD, extensive blog skimming, podcast listening, App Store review reading and plenty of preference pane tinkering I have locked down my GTD tools. My system revolves around synced text files and lists of next actions and projects. A fast and light weight task management app and the ability to search for and quickly find something specific is paramount to trusting my capture system and for effective daily, weekly, monthly reviews.

Before you read further: No, I do not use Omnifocus. Yes, I know how great everyone says it is for GTD. I simply have not had the need (or desire) to implement a tool that robust and expensive into my system.

Hardware

My GTD system is based in the Apple ecosystem. I use an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro for all of my personal and freelance work. My day job does require me to use a Win 7 PC though and therefore I wanted to adopt software and services that could be accessed using Windows through a web interface.

Note Taking and Reference Material

Markdown and plain text files: Everything I write is in a Markdown formatted plain text file synced through Dropbox… everything (even this post). I know that whatever I write in the text file is what I’ll see on any platform, any browser, any text editing software. The real power of Markdown comes with how its syntax is parsed by 3rd party software like Marked or nvALT.

My text files contain content like: blog posts (and outlines of posts during development), reference material – like markdown/multi-markdown syntax or project support documentation, random thoughts or ideas that need further R&D, time tracking for freelance projects, podcast notes, checklists of common tasks etc. – check out how I name them all.

nvALT: When I’m on my Mac nvALT is always open. I use it to create, edit and manage all of my text files that are stored within one folder in Dropbox. I have about 100 text files as of this writing and search is lightning fast. Brett Terpstra created it as a fork of Notational Velocity and by pairing his Markdown Service tools with nvALT I have everything I need for note taking.

Markdown Service Tools and SearchLink: Let’s stay on the Terpstra Train for a second. Brett has created a slew of Services and Workflows that allow you to quickly manipulate and generate Markdown (and Multi-Markdown) syntax. By selecting a portion of text you can convert it into a bulleted list, create a footnote, or add a link to a word or phrase. SearchLink is my most used service. It allows you to “just write” adding links (in a specific format) as you go. Once you’ve finished writing you can select all the text, run the service and all of the links you added will be generated for you. Links to google searches, specific sites, searches of specific sites, App Store and iTunes searches, Amazon searches can all be automatically created without ever leaving nvALT to find the link. I use it a lot for marking items that need further research while writing and linking to the show notes page for a podcast that I have accompanying notes on.

Marked: Another one of Brett Terpstra’s creations is Marked. It takes a text file that is written in Markdown and converts it into a HTML document. This is insanely useful for writing and previewing blog posts but it’s also very useful for reviews of text files. I can add links into my text file for further research or for wiki style documentation.

So it occurs to me that, just as I gave credit to Merlin Mann in a previous post for getting me interested in GTD, I want to send a huge thank you to Brett Terpstra for creating a vast majority of the tools I use to actually implement GTD.

Drafts: When I need to create a quick new file or append/prepend a regularly updated file on my iPhone or iPad I use Drafts. By creating custom actions you can open the app, type your text and send it off to the appropriate place quickly and easily without leaving the app. So far I tend to use Drafts for on-the-go note taking or thought capture. If I am stationary and able to think for a few minutes I will fire up ByWord.

Byword: I use Byword for writing projects (not for note taking) which, for me, are typically blog posts or idea development. It’s interface encourages focus and as stupid as it may sound I feel like a writer when I use it. Just like nvALT I have Byword connected to my Dropbox notes. For a while I kept my polished Byword files in iCloud separate from my messy Dropbox notes but after I established a solid naming convention for my text files I can very quickly filter out my scratch pads and just show the serious writing projects I have going. The Markdown editing bar greatly increases writing speed and prevents you having to switch keyboards every 5 seconds.

PlainText: While I don’t typically take a lot of notes using my iPhone or iPad when I have to I use PlainText. Sync and search is fast, interface is simple. Not much to it but there doesn’t need to be.

Editorial: Up until Editorial came out I couldn’t get into a rhythm taking notes on my iPad but this amazing new text editor/workflow automator has changed that. Using the built in workflows (or others that are popping up everywhere) I can achieve a lot of the functionality that I enjoy with nvALT on my Mac. Still early days yet but the past two weeks have seen my note taking/writing increase 10 fold using only my iPad.

TextDrop: When on my work PC I use TextDrop to access all of my notes. It’s appearance is similar to nvALT and search is quick. I miss all the services available to me while on OS X but I can always go back and edit/run services later when I’m back on my Mac. TextDrop has improved my workflow at the office and it prevents me from losing ideas/tasks/projects that I wouldn’t normally capture on my work PC.

Pen and Paper: I love using a notecard (lined on one side, blank of the other) with a Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine Black for taking notes. I don’t do it enough and I always feel guilty about using the notecard and then throwing it away after I’ve typed the notes into a text file and taken a photo of any sketches but I find that I end up with superior notes using pen and paper.

Tasks, Projects, Committments

Reminders.app – I used Things for a long time and have played with Omnifocus but for me Apple’s default Reminders App does everything I need from a project/task manager. I keep a list of open projects that feed my context lists like @home, @iPhone, @errands, @waiting-for etc. New actions are added to my inbox and then processed at the end of each day. The project list makes my daily/weekly reviews very easy. As I’m reviewing my project lists I can add new next actions to the Inbox by using an Alfred Workflow.

One feature I think I’m missing out on is the ability to assign a task to a project. As a workaround I add “Project: [Project Name]” to the first line in the notes field. It’s purely for isolating all the open tasks related to that specific project when using search.

The biggest advantage to using Reminders, for me, is that it’s baked in to iOS, OS X and iCloud. That means it works great within each OS and the sync through iCloud is ridiculously fast and reliable. A huge benefit to me is the iCloud web interface for Reminders. I can have it open on my work PC, just as I would on my Mac, to ensure I don’t miss anything. It means I don’t have to email myself (or maildrop) tasks or enter them twice.

There are time/date and location specific reminders that are awesome for trusting that I’ll be reminded at the right time and place about a task.

One last trick I use is inserting a link in the notes field to an nvALT note. It saves me from writing a lot of text in the Reminders note field, which doesn’t support Markdown, and isn’t visually appealing at all.

If you want to read more on using Reminders as a GTD app then Mike Vardy has a good write up of how Reminders can be used as a task manager

Fantasical – I don’t directly enter items into my calendar a lot as Reminders has great support for adding date specific tasks. Those date driven reminders will automatically show up in Fantastical (on the Mac at least, and accoring to the developer it’s coming to the iPhone). It has plain language parsing so entering “lunch with my wife at noon tomorrow” is all I have to type to get it on the books. Honestly, most of the time I use the calendar function within Reminders more than Fantastical or Calendar.

R&D, Reading and Bookmarks

For keeping track of articles, posts etc that I think I might want to read later I use Safari’s Reading List, Instapaper and Pinboard.

Reading List is a quick capture of anything I think I will want to read later. I then process that into Instapaper, if it’s a longer article that doesn’t fit into the 2 minute rule, or Pinboard, if it’s something that I will want to reference again sometime in the future. If the URL proves to be useful to a project or action item I will add the link to the notes field of the Reminders task.

Email

I use the default Mail.app on both Mac and iOS for my primary iCloud based email. I have the slew of other accounts forward into that one inbox for processing and task creation. I do keep one gmail account that stays outside of the iCloud inbox. I use it as a newsletter, marketing email, junk mail inbox that I quickly process on the go using Mailbox. I don’t get a huge number of emails everyday, typically 20 or less, so I try to process an email as soon as it comes in to get it out of my inbox. Either, I reply to the email quickly (2 min rule) and then archive the message, a task is created (email dragged into a task in Reminders) and then archived, it is just archived as reference material or it’s deleted. With smart folders for emails regarding active projects and search I can always find an email quickly and easily. No need for a ton of folders.

Keeping it all in Sync

Dropbox makes note syncing on all devices a breeze and requires minimal setup. iCloud handles the syncing of tasks, email, calendar and requires no set up at all (after you sign in with iCloud).

WWDC Keynote impressions

Why do I even care?

On Monday I watched the WDDC keynote and I’ll probably watch a lot of the other sessions too through Apple’s WWDC app. I’m not a Mac or iOS developer, I don’t make money writing about Apple and I don’t own Apple stock so why would I be that interested in WWDC and the future of iOS, Mac and Apple?

I tried explaining it to my co-workers, who are surely sick of hearing about all the features I’m excited to start using, and it goes a little something like this:

  1. WWDC gives you a glimpse of life on the cutting edge. Apple shapes our everyday lives and I know that I’ll be using this stuff soon. I want to know what’s coming for the devices that I use constantly and it’s exciting to imagine the possibilities.</p>
  2. There were no leaks this time around (other than iTunes Radio), no one knew what was coming and what it looked like. I didn’t expect a total redesign. I didn’t think Apple had enough time to do that, boy was I wrong, it was a great surprise.</p>
  3. It’s entertainment – The Designed by Apple in California intro video sums up why this company is so influential and attention worthy. It also set the stage for a very entertaining event. The intro video made it clear that something major was coming today and the presenters delivered the announcements with precision. Apple events have always been a crash course on how to present and how to sell products without a sales pitch.

Announcement I thought were cool

iOS7

  • New design – I like the new look. Jony Ive, for my money, has contributed to and advanced design standards more than any other designer in my lifetime (the past 30 years). I’m going to go ahead and trust him and the Apple designers/engineers on this. I’m sure once we all use it there will be clarity for this design change. I am dreading the day that my family updates to iOS7 though.

    </p> It was a little weird that we didn’t see iOS on the iPad at all (other than a screenshot) this makes me think that there is still a little work to do, which may mean some additional design tweaks.

    The system app redesigns look amazing especially Photos, Mail, iMessage, Calendar and the OS level stuff seems great too. I like the Calendar, Photos, Camera icons the most and I actually don’t mind Safari with the white background.</li>

    • Photostream – multiple contributors, video support – This is now a perfect solution for sharing photos/video with those close to me.

    • Control Center – A no brainer addition really and I like that it’s separate from Notification Center. My favs will be quick bluetooth, orientation lock, and AirDrop.

    • Support for 3rd party game controllers – It’s easy to imagine a future AppleTV supporting this and becoming a great gaming platform. Also, if iOS now supports game controllers perhaps it could support TV/entertainment system remotes too. AppleTV could get a remote that doesn’t cost a minimum of $230 (iPod Touch) and perhaps attract more users who warrant more content.

    • Reminders redesign – I use Reminders more than any other app. It’s my GTD inbox. The new design looks interesting with an interface similar to what we’re used to in Passbook. The screenshot shows an accordian style navigation that I hope will cut down on taps. I’m really interested to see the reminder creation process and if it’s faster to add a time, location and notes. I’m guessing the new slide out date picker shown in the demo of Calendar will also be present in Reminders, in which case: YAY.

    • iTunes Radio – might save me $10/month that I’m currently paying to Spotify. I doubt it though as I love being able to just jump to and play any song in the Spotify library.

    • Airdrop – I imagine using this mostly for sharing URLs and photos. I’m hoping it will keep track of previous items sent for future reference (something that I rely on in iMessage). If it allows sending files from Mac to iOS then it will be extremely useful to me. Great that it’s accessible quickly from Control Center.

    • Siri – I might use it more now that it searches wikipedia and twitter… but probably not much more.

    • Notification Center on iOS – great that I can get to it from the lock screen, that’s probably the only time I’ll access it. I tend to deal with notifications immediately when using the device. Today view looks promising. I use today in Reminders a lot when planning my day.

    • Multitasking – Other than a new WebOS-like look what I hope to be impressed by is the ability for apps to multitask all the time. I don’t like getting a notification, launching the app and then waiting 3+ seconds for app to update with content it already knows about. My one big hope for multitasking is faster app switching on the iPad through four finger swipe. Right now there is a 2-3 second delay as the app is moved back into the active status. I can’t stop myself from starting to tap or type before it’s live again.

    • iOS in the car – when I’m next in the market for a new car this will be one of the criteria.</ul>

    OS X Mavericks

    • Calendar – I don’t use calendar much but I can see myself taking advantage of maps integration and travel time frequently. On MPU today, Katie wondered why there isn’t travel time added to the end of the appointment too. I guess it’s not a big deal if you’re return location is the same as your starting location unless traffic conditions are vastly different. If you have back to back appointments I assume the travel time is calculated from your first meeting location to the following meeting location.

    • Maps for Mac – The biggest feature that I will use is send directions to iPhone.

    • iCloud keychain – I love 1Password but this will really simplify the process of storing and using hundreds of passwords. I can see it being less secure though, once someone is on your Mac/iOS device, they’ll also have access to your keychain. I wonder if there will be an option to add an additional master password to Keychain (probably not). Big question: will the keychain be accessible from iCloud?

    • Tags – After listening to Generational Ep 37 I was considering updating my file naming conventions to add some form of tags to the file name for better search but I think that this tagging system will work perfectly. I especially like that you can drag and drop files into a tag rather than typing the same tag over and over.

    • iBooks for Mac – the only part I know I will use a lot is the highlighting and notes features. I doubt I’ll read many books for enjoyment on my Mac. Although, I can see textbooks/educational books working well (think about learning to write Objective-C on your Mac being able to make notes while experimenting in Xcode or Terminal). I think it will replace my need for Papers or Sente, which I haven’t used much anyway, for research.

    • Notifications – Synced notifications and the ability to reply to iMessage/Mail within the notification are good additions.

    Hardware

    • Mac Pro – I won’t be able to afford it but I want one, BIG TIME. I don’t know why – it will be crazy expensive and I would never be able to make the machine sweat – but the idea of having the most powerful, cutting edge Mac is very appealing. Size is great, design is great, inside specs are great and even the page on Apple.com is amazing. I love the idea of focusing the insides of the machine on core stuff and not storage. Everything soldered onto the logic board and thunderbolt 2 for very fast externals – it does look like the PCIe flash storage is removeable. The ability to output 4K to three displays is bankruptcy worthy and it seems obvious that we’ll see a Retina Thunderbolt Display soon.

    I had a lot of fun watching the keynote and the WWDC app is great for watching the other sessions through which I’m hoping to learn a lot more about the inner workings of Mac and iOS. With a new overall concept for iOS just released it makes a lot of sense to start learning the tools to be successful in that space. I’ve tried a couple of times to learn the skills required for app development and I hope this time I’ll have the discipline to stick with it.

How I came up with my GTD system

Building a GTD system that I could trust to catch all my “stuff” was one of the more daunting barriers to adopting it as part of my day-to-day workflow. Rather than investigating every possible tool myself (and there are hundreds) I relied on those people who already had a system and wanted to share their thoughts about specific tools. I would definitely encourage anyone wanting to get into GTD to spend some time extensively reviewing the books, podcasts and blogs that cover the GTD world before adopting your own system.

The Book

David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity has to be your starting place. It’s available on all major platforms. I read it on my iPad so I could add notes and highlight as I went. I wouldn’t say it’s an “easy” read. Even though the language is written for anyone it takes a decent level of focus and concentration to connect how the principles in the book can be applied to your circumstances. I read the whole book cover to cover before implementing anything. I was tempted to start getting everything out of my head after reading Chapter 5 but I decided that I wanted to grasp the entire concept of what I was getting into before starting out.

Pro Tips:

  • Read it twice. Once at the outset and then again once you’ve implemented and actually used the system for a bit.
  • David Allen’s company has many good podcasts that cover the topics of the book and beyond. It’s a good reinforcement tool.

Podcasts

Speaking of podcasts, I’ve found many regular programs that, while not specifically about GTD, contain awesome snippets that have added value and improvements to my system (in this post I’ll cover only two.) If you’re not into podcasts then you’re missing out on some great advice and information from some smart, prolific and often hilarious people. If you have an iOS device you can grab the Apple Podcasts app from the App Store and start subscribing or you can visit iTunes on your Mac or PC. If you get hooked like I did then I recommend spending a little money on Instacast for iOS and now Mac – Instacast

A quick note about Merlin Mann: The first time I heard about GTD was while listening to Back to Work (B2W) Ep. 81 in August of 2012 (the first episode I ever heard). I had just begun to listen to podcasts and for the most part I dismissed GTD as self-help junk. I did, however, enjoy listening to Merlin and Dan (mostly Merlin) talk about a wide range of topics on B2W and soon I was exploring some back story on Merlin’s now static but still useful blog 43 Folders. Along with Merlin’s writing on the topic the GTD system really grabbed my attention after listening to episodes 95-99 (and bit of 100). I had recently decided to stop all of my freelance jobs (more on that here) and listening to these episodes of B2W, which were specifically about David Allen’s GTD book, gave me hope and inspiration that I could learn to manage multiple projects, environments and people in a manner that didn’t lead to mental bankruptcy. I think it’s important to state that the only reason I decided to try and eventually adopt GTD as a personal productivity system was Merlin Mann’s belief and passion in it as a way to become a better worker, thinker and person. Thank you, Merlin.

  • Back to Work – Host(s): Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin.

    Every episode is great and if you have time start at Episode 1 and run through them all. Other than the episodes I mentioned in the previous paragraph go listen to episodes 7, 20, 113 and especially 120.</p>

  • Generational – Host(s): Gabe Weatherhead (and now Erik Hess)

    Gabe’s series on task management is superb (episodes 17,19,22.) It helped me get a grasp on the vast range of tools out there. Also, I thoroughly agree with Gabe’s premise that while GTD as a system is a great foundation for anyone wanting to work better it almost certainly needs to be customized to the individual using it.</p>

There are many other GTD slanted podcasts. I have sampled most of them but the B2W and Generational episodes I have mentioned above have proved to be the most informative and instructional for me while I was defining my own system. If you’re interested in my complete list of GTD related resources then jump over to runx GTD Resources or check out a full list of the podcasts that I listen to

Blogs

Like with Podcasts there are dozens of productivity or GTD blogs. While many are fantastic reads you can get everything you need from 43 Folders. Merlin’s about page on 43folders is a great starting place and his Getting started with “Getting Things Done” post (from 2004) sold me on buying the book.

Here’s a ton of other blogs that I read almost daily some of which relate to GTD and productivity.

Introduction to my Getting Things Done series

In August of 2012 I went back to working in an office environment full time (I had been a freelance web designer for the previous two years, working from home.) On October 11 our daughter was born. On November 14 I stopped all freelance projects I had open. Over those 34 days I found myself so far behind that I just stopped working on anything out of the fear that I would never finish, the work seemed insurmountable. I was lucky to have amazingly understanding clients who let me off the hook easy but those 34 days made it clear to me that I needed to step away and reassess my processes and workflows for getting my daily tasks accomplished.

At the time I stopped working on freelance jobs I had a sloppy, thrown together system for accomplishing my work. Most of my tasks were tied to one specific email somewhere in my inbox of close to 48,000 emails – I had never paid attention to the term “Inbox Zero” – that I had to search for in order to jog my memory of what I needed to do. I haphazardly threw tasks like “work on website” or “clean house” into Things or Calendar or often just on a scrap of paper. I knew I had a horrible system but somehow I scraped by. Looking back I don’t know how I ever got anything done and I wish that I had stumbled across David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) when I was 20. Although, knowing me at 20, I’m not sure I would have wanted to read it then and I’m almost glad I didn’t because after I finally did (at 30) it allowed me to analyze how I had approached tasks, events, projects and relationships up to this point.

What became clear was that I performed extremely well when I had to deal with one task that was in crisis. It focused my attention, my next actions became evident and I had an absolute idea of what complete looked like. If more tasks reached crisis my brain began to switch back and forth between them, unsure of priority or next action, and soon after I was 5 episodes of Arrested Development deep in a “quick break” to give my brain a rest. What reading GTD made embarringly obvious to me was that by utilizing a trusted system of collecting, processing, orgainizing, reviewing and doing I could achieve the same clarity of action that I experienced when in crisis mode. My brain would leave the remembering up to my trusted system and in turn it could focus on executing.

I’m writing a series of blog posts about my experience with GTD and personal productivity, not as lesson to anyone but as a means to articulate what my system is and how I operate within it. It’s selfish really. The more I think and write about my system, while fine tuning the processes, the more ingrained and natural it will become. I’m also writing it for others who are trying to define their system. Again, it’s not meant to be a guide but just an experience story to reinforce the efficiency you can achieve through a system like GTD. I know, when I was first exploring how I would beef up my productivity, reading about other people’s experiences and processes helped legitimize and reinforce the path I was embarking on.

I hope, if you’re reading this, you’ll get something out of this series.

A change of scenery improves productivity

A big reason I was excited about leaving a formal office was that I often found my energy and productivity depleted after looking at and being in the same environment everyday. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change when you make the shift to working from home, in fact, a decrease in productivity is probably more likely when you work at home. Here’s why I think that is.

Whether you work in an office or from home you associate sitting at your desk with work. Very few people love having to do work and thus they find other things (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter) to occupy their time rather than just putting their head down and working. If you spend every day in your home office you’ll look for distractions, just like you do in a formal office environment. Unfortunately, there are many more distractions available to you at home and no one around to look over your shoulder and keep you on task.

If you mix up your scenery and instead work from a local coffee shop, restaurant, park bench, co-working space or even a bar your attitude towards work will become a positive one. The new surroundings feel fresh and all of a sudden work isn’t the chore it usually is. In a new environment you’re not aware of what the distractions are or how to find them so you tend to keep on task. Obviously, don’t venture down to Starbucks everyday expecting to maintain your focus, eventually your mind will start associating Buckies with tedious work too. The trick is to mix in a field trip every other or every few days. That way each location is remembered as being a place where productivity thrives.

It’s also a great way to meet new people, talk about what you do and potentially score new clients.