Overcast 5 and Siri Shortcuts

Over the last few months, I’ve actually been trying hard to make use of some of the stock apps on iOS. There are several reasons for this, however one of the main reasons has been to have a quicker interface with the core OS between devices. An example of this comes with the Calendar application. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fantastical on both iPad and iPhone, however there would be times when I’d add an event on one device and it wouldn’t show up on another for a period of time. Not always - just sometimes, whereas this isn’t something I’ve ever experienced with the native application. My calendar needs to be spot on, so I moved. 

To that end, I thought I’d give the native Podcasts application a spin so that I can sync between my iMac and iPhone, alternating which device I use to listen dependant on my circumstance. Also, using Siri to launch a podcast, or playlist, is really handy. The Apple Podcasts application is certainly better than it was, however there are features with Overcast that I definitely miss. Smart Speed helps cut out those annoying pauses that you get within the dialog and Voice Boost is great when you are listening on the iPhones built-in speaker rather than headphones. The layout of the application is beautiful, with great attention to detail that the developer, Marco Arment, is renowned for. 

Now, we have Siri Shortcuts added to the mix and I’m totally back on the Overcast bandwagon. I’ve only just started playing with it and I’m certainly not leveraging it to it’s full potential, however I’m definitely saving time when it comes to how I access my favourite podcasts. 

I’ve got three core playlists in my Overcast app - Football, General and Timed. Football holds all of my football and Tottenham Hotspur related podcasts, Timed  is for tech/news podcasts that discuss current issues and General is a bucket for everything else. I’ve recorded a Siri Shortcut for each of these:

Overcast Football, Overcast Timed and Overcast General will play the current podcast in the respective playlist. It’s a small difference, however when driving, it’s massive. When laying on the sofa with AirPods in and my iPhone on charge at the other end of the room, it’s massive. I’ve elected to go with the name of the application first, as I know I’m going to be embracing the Siri Shortcuts functionality in every application I own that supports it, so I don’t want to ever have any confusion in what the shortcut phrase actually is! 

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I’ve named a couple of specific podcasts as well - Overcast Mac Power Users is used quite often, along with Overcast The Mac Show (love those British Tech Network chaps!). Setting the speed is available as a shortcut too. I listen to most of mine at 1.6x however when Merlin Mann is going off on one, I need to reduce the speed a lot as it can sound four times faster than normal! Overcast Speed 1x is my go-to in that scenario. 

You can seek forward/back by a chosen number of seconds, skip chapters and even start your sleep timer, all from Siri. 

It’s a great update to a wonderful application and well recommended. 

CleanMyMac X

It’s been around for ten years - TEN years! Wow, it’s been such a staple of my productivity tool kit for macOS that I didn’t realise it had been around for so long. To celebrate this anniversary, MacPaw have released CleanMyMac X

So for those who don’t know what CleanMyMac is all about, it’s an application that keeps a close eye on your system and offers recommendations about items to delete. That’s what it does at it’s lowest level as there is a lot more functionality. You can complete Maintenance Tasks which purge DNS records, free up RAM, Speed up Apple Mail as well as others. I actually have an OmniFocus task that repeats weekly prompting me to carry this out. I know you can do a lot of these tasks from within macOS itself, however I love the speed and efficiency of executing from the touch of a button. 

CleanMyMacX has added some new features which makes it a more complete tool in my opinion:

Malware Scanner - it’s a myth that Macs don’t get viruses or unwanted software running on them. Anyone that has looked at MacKeeper will attest to that! CleanMyMac X will check for malicious files and viruses and whilst I can thankfully say I haven’t had it report anything bad, I have faith that should the time come, I’ll be in good hands. 

Personal Assistant - I was pleasantly surprised when I first ran a scan in CleanMyMacX. A small chat bubble appeared which offered suggestions for clearing my system down. You can access this assistant from the top right corner of the window whenever you wish. Nice touch. 

Faster Scan - it’s actually up to three times faster (and to be fair it was pretty swift before!). 

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Improved scanning algorithms - now there is more chance of something being found on your Mac that you don’t need anymore. 

The app also looks and feels better as it’s had a complete redesign from top to bottom. Lovely backgrounds, bright icons and looks at home on a Retina display for sure. 

t’s not the cheapest software around, that’s for sure. You can make a one-time purchase for $90 or have a yearly subscription for $40 (there is a 50% reduction if you are upgrading from CleanMyMac 3) however I think it’s a great update to an already fine application and I recommend it fully to users of new and older systems alike. 

See it here.

Creating Focus with Freedom

How I Focus with Freedom

Maintaining a level of clear focus within the workplace (and indeed, at home) can be the single biggest obstacle that you need to overcome if you want to be the most productive version of yourself that you can be. Whenever I deliver a training workshop, there are always delegates that tell me it’s almost impossible to work for a given period of time without being interrupted. 

This isn’t just dealing with interruptions from other people though. The majority of interruptions come from our technology

I’m as guilty as anyone of this. The lure of the latest message, or the email that I’m missing out on can tempt me away easily from the piece of work I’m doing (especially if it’s something I really don’t want to do!). I’m a human being after all. 

That’s why using an application like Freedom is vital for me to get anything done on my Apple devices and as it’s now a part of my toolkit, I want to share how it works with you. 

Freedom is an application that runs on your macOS or iOS device (Windows too if you have to use a PC for work) and it can block applications and websites for a given period of time. It sits in the menu bar on macOS for easy access at any time. 

Devices

When you take out a subscription, you are able to install Freedom on multiple devices. I’ve got it installed on all of mine (four) and I can start a session on any device, from any device - which is very useful. Sometimes in my office, I have my iPhone, iPad and iMac connected at once and I don’t want to have to start a session on all three devices. Clicking the Freedom icon in the menu bar, selecting All Devices and starting a session is quick and easy. 

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Sessions

Sessions can be started on the fly, or if you are lucky enough to have a routine for work, you can schedule them to start automatically. You can define the length of time that the session will run for, which blocklists will take effect as well as the devices that will be affected. If you want to schedule a single session for later, click Start Later or, for recurring sessions, there is an link for that too. 

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Blocklists

There are two Blocklists created by default - Block All Websites and Block Desktop Apps. It’s very rare I’ll block all sites as, quite often, I need to carry out research as part of my work. Therefore I just use a couple of custom blacklists instead, that stop me from being to access any Social Media sites. 

You can manage which Desktop Apps will be blocked in a session by selecting Manage Blocked Desktop Apps from the Freedom menu bar and selecting the installed applications that you wish to be filtered. I do use this, as there can be some applications, or games, that may tempt me a little too much when I’m trying to get stuff done. 

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Locked Mode

You can Lock a session, which means that you cannot override the settings at all once a session has started - this is a must if you have problems with your willpower! Let’s be honest, without this option, if you want to just turn Freedom off for your machine once a session has started, you can do so very easily. This takes that further level of temptation away. 

I love Freedom and can’t recommend it enough. You can use it on a free trial to see if it’s suitable for you. The trial gives you 7 sessions. Other pricing options include a Monthly plan, at $6.99 per month, a Yearly plan at $29 per year and a Forever plan, at $119 that does at is says - gives you Freedom forever, including all future upgrades. 

Black-belt members of Think Productive’s Productivity Ninja Academy get 40% off of the Yearly/Forever plans. As a Productivity Ninja, I create some of the content within the Academy so come over and see what’s available! 

Why I Love: MailButler

As I recently mentioned in one of my posts, my mail workflow, particularly on macOS, has changed a lot in the last few months. I’ve moved back from using Airmail to the native Mail application. This is no way a reflection on Airmail, it’s a great app and I still recommend it to anyone that wants to have a plethora of bells and whistles included within their email client. In fact, I still use the iOS version on my iPad as the native Mail app is sorely lacking on there. 

I do find that the macOS version of Mail has improved in recent years and one reason I moved back was the integration with DEVONthink Pro Office, which is great when you wish to archive individual emails, or even entire mailboxes. 

There were some features included with Airmail that I missed at first. The ability to Send Later is something I utilise a lot. I don’t always want people knowing I’m in my Inbox and at their beck and call, so I schedule emails to go out when I know my email client is going to be closed - with Airmail, they will still be sent. So I started looking for a plug-in for Mail.app that includes this feature. 

In the end, I settled on MailButler, for both Apple Mail and Gmail. The main reason for this was not only the ability to have a Send Later option on my emails, I can also track receipt and open of messages, create templates for emails that are easy to access, configure follow-up reminders for messages that haven’t been replied to by the recipient as well as create amazing signatures with a handy little signature editor. Also, you can add notes to emails, as well as create tasks directly from emails if that is important to you. I have a separate workflow for this, however I know many people that would definitely benefit from being able to do so!

Send Later

I love this because it allows me to compose an email when I’m in that particular mode and schedule it to be delivered at a time of my choosing. When the message has been scheduled, It doesn’t disappear from Mail. Instead, it is moved into a Scheduled folder. If you wish, you can delete it, edit or reschedule.

It’s important to note that the email isn’t stored on MailButler’s infrastructure.

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Tracking

Sometimes it’s important to know if a message has been received and, at times, read. Now I’m not the email police at all when I’m working! I never reply to an email straight away and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to. If I do, however, find myself needing to follow-up on someone, I do find that I will adopt the right approach if I know whether the recipient has received/read the email. To do this, I click the Tracking button to the right of a new email message. 

A blue double tick shows that the message has been received and opened, with a date/time displayed. 

A blue single tick shows that the message has been received, whereas a grey single tickshows that the message hasn’t been picked up by the receiving mailbox. 

You can enable tracking by default if you wish on all messages. I don’t have this setup.

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Follow-up Reminders

The follow-up reminder feature allows you to follow up on your emails at a time you have set. If you have AsanaWunderlist or Todoist, these accounts can be linked and the reminder will appear there, which is a real benefit.

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Notes and Tasks

Mailbutler allows you to create a note and attach it to an email to either remind you, or your team of something important. These notes can be both private and public. Simply select the message that you wish to add a note to and click the Note icon your menu bar. 

You can also add integrations to external note services, such as Evernote and OneNote. This is isn’t something I’ve leveraged, however I’m sure there will be teams that I work with in the future that will have this kind of set-up. For now, I don’t use the Notes feature in any great depth.

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If you want to create a task directly from an email, then select the email you know you need to work from and click the Task icon. You can schedule this task to give it a due date if you wish and this can be integrated with Todoist, Asana and Wunderlist currently. You can also view your tasks directly from your Mailbutler dashboard on their website.

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There are other features I love too. You can set a Send Delay on messages you are replying to in the moment. Mine is set for 10 seconds so when I click Send, a countdown timer starts that gives me just enough time to change my mind and undo the send if I wish! This can save a lot of embarrassment. 

If you mention the word 'attachment' in the email subject or content, yet forget to attach a file, you will be prompted. Again, this has come in handy on more than one occasion!

You can Auto BCC emails to your favourite CRM tool, Snooze emails so that they reappear in the future if you really don’t want to deal with now, create wonderful signatures and much more. 

There are three price plans, EssentialProfessional and Business and you can see the feature set for each below. If the circle isn’t filled then you are limited to 30 actions per month, which may well be enough. 

Essential is free, Professional is $6.50 per month and Business is $24.95 per month.

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Why I Love: TripMode

I’ve found myself tethering to my iPhone from either my MacBook or iPad more and more over the last month or so. 

I’ve got a very generous data allowance with my service provider, however, it’s still crucial that I don’t accidentally allow an application to use more data than I’m comfortable with. As vital as Backblaze is to my backup workflow, I don’t want it sending data whilst I’m on the train!

True, I could spend time in those individual apps and pause the syncing - Dropbox is another great example - yet a central application that manages this for me is what I need and that’s what I have with TripMode

With TripMode, no application can access your network connection without you explicitly saying so. It sits in the menu bar and monitors for requests to send/receive data. When an unchecked application makes an attempt, the icon flashes red, so you know that it’s working. 

Allowing applications is a simple process. Click the menu bar icon to view a list and click the check box to permit as you feel appropriate. You will also see the amount of data that an application has used in the current session - although this can be changed to show the totals for the day, as well as the current month. I’d love to see a weekly option here as well. I set myself allowances and targets on a weekly basis for data and it would be good to see how much data I have remaining for the week. Maybe in a future release.

 
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Another great feature of TripMode is the ability to create Profiles. A profile contains settings for allowed/blocked applications as well as your own personally defined data caps. 

When you run TripMode for the first time, a Default Profile is created and any changes you make from the menu bar icon will be reflected immediately in this profile. If you open up the Preferences menu for TripMode and click on the Profiles tab, you have the ability to switch profiles Automatically. I have activated this setting, as this allows TripMode to automatically switch profiles based on the network connection I am currently using. As you can see from the screenshot below, when I tether to my iPhone, I have set a weekly cap of 5GB of data to be transmitted. When the total reaches 4GB, a warning will pop up alerting me to this fact. It’s a weekly cap because I’ve set the renewal period as Weekly (there are also options for manual, daily and monthly). This is great because it allows me to ‘set it and forget it’ in true automation style.

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Next to the Monitoring tab is the Application tab and from here, I can define the applications that are permitted on the iPhone USB connection. The benefits to this are obvious on a cellular connection however if you look, you’ll also see that I have profiles for my current contracting clients network (CDP Guest WiFi) and my home network (LKSLA Secured 2 5GHz). Whilst I’m not as interested in the amount of data that is being transferred whilst on these networks per se, I am interested in ensuring that the correctapplications have enough bandwidth to do what they need to do. The CDP Guest Wi-Fi network can get very congested when there are lots of people in the office so when I’m using applications that have a very strong reliance on internet connectivity, I need to deactivate applications that may be getting in the way - so this profile only applications that I need to get that particular job done. 

Oh, and Apple Music. I need music to work.

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Within Preferences, there is also an Advanced tab that defines how you treat local traffic. By default, all data that enters and leaves your computer will count against the data totals. In the same vein, it doesn’t count loopback traffic (network traffic from your computer to your computer). If you are not fussed about monitoring all data that doesn’t pass through your local internet gateway/router, then you can change this behaviour by checking the Treat local as loopback checkbox. If you do have a concern, you can Block loopback traffic and add whitelisted application exemptions.

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TripMode is a great app if you regularly tether in order to access internet services or hop between different networks with varying bandwidth constraints. I can’t recommend it enough and It’s available as part of the Setapp subscription bundle.