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! 

Quick View with Alfred

Quick View with Alfred on macOS

I’ve been using Alfred on macOS to locate and open files for years now. It’s quick, efficient and just the sort of tool any serious Mac user should use. One thing I didn’t realise though was that when searching for files, you can perform a Quick View in the same vein as the native Finder application. 

All you have to do is type in your search keys as normal and when the potential results are listed, press or ⌘+Y to bring up the Quick View. 

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When I found out about this, I did a quick search online to see how many other ‘one-key’ shortcuts were available within Alfred that I had neglected over the years and I was pleasantly surprised! I’m going to play with some of them and report back on the ones I think you may find most useful. 

How To: Improve the Battery Life of your iPhone

One thing that Apple has worked on a lot recently is the performance of the battery in the various models of iPhone. Battery Life, which is the amount of time that your device is running before it’s in need of a recharge, as well as Battery Lifespan, which is how long your battery lasts until it needs to be replaced, have improved greatly. 

There are, however, steps that we can take as end-users to improve both of these metrics and prolong the life of our devices. Let’s be honest, they aren’t cheap and if you aren’t worried about upgrading every single year then eeking out some extra battery life is always a good thing. 

Temperature

With the (mini) heat-wave we’ve just enjoyed in the UK, I was curious as to what happens to my phone when left in direct sunlight. Quick research pointed out that the optimum temperature for your phone is 16º-22º C (62º-72º F), although it’s still designed to perform well between 0º and 35º, so on this side of the pond, this isn’t too much of a problem. If it does go over 35º, you may find that you permanently damage your battery capacity. Also, if you charge your device at a high ambient temperature, this can damage the battery further. 

On the note of temperature, be mindful of the case that your iPhone is in. The case may act as an insulator and warm your phone up whilst charging. If you notice your phone getting excessively hot whilst charging, make a point of removing it from its case beforehand. 

Latest OS

With the majority of iOS updates, there are tweaks designed to improve battery life and reduce energy consumption. If practical, try to keep up-to-date with the latest version of iOS. This also has security benefits too. 

Brightness

Reducing the brightness of your screen can make a tremendous difference to the battery life. I have mine set to Auto Brightness and (so far) have never felt the need to increase the level manually, even in brightly lit areas. 

Wi-Fi

There are two main points to note with Wi-Fi. Firstly, if you are out and about with no plans to join a Wi-Fi network, then turn it off. If Wi-Fi is enabled then your phone will poll for new networks at regular intervals, reducing the amount of charge you have on your phone for this cycle. Switch it off until you know you need it. 

To that end, not many people know that if you have a choice between using your data connection and using Wi-Fi to access data, Wi-Fi actually uses less power, so always opt for that where possible (and secure). 

Background Activity

Do all of your apps need to be polling in the background for new information? Go to Settings -> General -> Background App Refresh and you’ll see a list of applications with toggles next to each. Turn off the ones that aren’t needed. If you’re feeling daring, turn them all off with one switch at the top of the screen. 

Location Services

Lots of applications try to enable Location Services by default, however, I’d say there is only a handful where this is truly useful. To see your applications that have this enabled, go to Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services. Turn off those that aren’t needed. 

View Battery Usage Information

If you go to Settings -> Battery, you can see a list of applications that have been in use over the last 24 hours, or 7 days, listed in order of battery consumption (highest to lowest). From here, you can see the culprits that need tweaking, although be mindful of the fact that the percentage is not an exact science, it’s just relative to the total amount of battery used. If you don’t have a battery problem, then the percentage is OK. For more information, click the clock icon to see some facts relating to exact amount of time on screen as well as background activity to ascertain whether you need to take action. 

I hope that helps. Any other advice for readers, please feel free to post in the comments

How To: Link To Separate Trello Boards with Drafts

My workflow for Task Management has taken a bit of a new direction over the last few months or so. I’m not putting everything into Omnifocus anymore. There are some things that are simply better suited to another style of application, which is why I’ve started playing with some Kanban alternatives, namely Trello and Zenkit

If I have a project that has a number of recurring steps (for example, creating a series of videos), this is much better suited to a Kanban board, with a centralised task sitting in OmniFocus telling me that today, I’m going to be working on this project. In that task is a link to the Trello/Kanban board that I’m working on. 

I’m also using these boards for capturing ideas and moving them to maturity. Which booksdo I need to buy/read/am I reading? A board system is great because I can move the book title card as I purchase/read/start reading accordingly. I can tag the books with author names to keep a record if I wish. What apps do I want to perfect? Are there new TV Programmes or films that I want to buy/watch? GamesGift Ideas - these boards really help me with projects that always follow the same template

As lots of ideas go into these boards, I need to be able to capture efficiently, so that’s why I’m going to show you how I use Drafts on iOS to process these ideas and send them to the Trello. 

1 - Get your Board ID

Each Trello board has a unique Board ID. The easiest way I have found to locate this ID is to:

  • Navigate to the Web Interface of the board
  • Click on More Settings
  • You will see a box named Link To This Board and within is a URL. The Board ID is the character string that follows http://trello.com/b/. Make a note of this Board ID. 
  • Obviously if you wish to use Drafts to post to other boards too, each will have a unique Board ID so these will need to be collected.
 
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2 - Configure Drafts

For the purposes of this walkthrough, I am using Drafts 5 however the process is very similar for Drafts 4. 

  • Within Drafts, go to the list of current actions and click on the + button in the bottom right hand corner. Select Add New Action
  • On the next screen, name the action appropriately, click Steps and then + again.
  • On the Step Type screen, scroll down to Callback URL
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  • On the Callback URL page, copy the following text into the Template box, substituting BOARDID with the ID you captured earlier. 
 trello://x-callback-url/createCard?shortlink=**BOARDID**&name=[[line|1]]&description=[[line|2]]&x-success=x-drafts5://x-callback-url/create
 
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  • Go back to the main Drafts page and type your text. 
  • In the Actions list, click on your newly created action and the text should go to Trello. Also, as we have defined the success parameter within the callback-url to go back to Drafts when completed, so it doesn’t keep you in an application you don’t want to use right now.
  • Repeat this for as many boards as you need to add to. 

I love the fact that I don’t have one central inbox anymore for all of these ideas and I can send them directly to the correct board with one touch. They stay in the left-most list until I’m ready to process and this works really well for me. 

I hope this helps - feel free to comment with how you automate this kind of idea capture with Drafts/Trello/Omnifocus or any Task Manager of your choosing! We’re always happy to hear your thoughts.

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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