Water In The Morning

The most important action I take in the morning comes as soon as I wake up and take that slow, ambling walk downstairs into the kitchen. I reach into the refrigerator and drink half of the 16oz glass of water I placed in there the night before.

The effects of this are almost magical. Within ten minutes, my senses are heightened, my focus has returned from it’s overnight slumber and I’m ready to take on the rigours of the day. Within half an hour, I’ve finished the other 8 oz and am cracking on with my daily To-Do list.

So why is drinking water so effective? Well just imagine what would happen if you went between six and eight hours during the day without drinking water. You’d feel tired, lethargic, your concentration would wake easily. Well we do this to ourselves at night so it’s crucial that you rehydrate yourself as quickly as possible. Your body needs fluids to function and water is the best option out there.

As well as kickstarting your metabolism, drinking water first thing will help flush out unwanted toxins from your body.

Lastly, your brain tissue is made up of over 70% water so by depriving your body of water for any period of time, you are actually, without realising it, depriving your brain of this valuable fuel at the same time.

So coffee is all well and good, but it’s no longer my wake-up beverage of choice. Water is definitely the way forward in the morning.

Water is not just for the mornings either. Keep your brain topped up with this liquid fuel throughout the day and get ready to reap those benefits. 

Quickly Close Safari Tabs

Quick and Simple tip. 

Do you find yourself looking at your Safari tabs and wondering you got into the position of having so many open at once? I hear you, I’m the same. It’s organic and surprising how quickly it can happen. 

If you right-click on a tab, you’ll see the option to Close Other Tabs.

That’s an easy solution right there. 

Not many people know, however, that if you press  whilst clicking on the small x at the corner of the tab you wish to keep open, all other tabs will close too. 

Very handy. 

Lastly, you can use the shortcut ⌘ ⌥ W in the same way. 

Even handier. 

Pick one and run with it and keep Safari tidy.

Using Tabs in OmniFocus

This is a quick post, however if you are an OmniFocus user on macOS and are unaware of the ability to use Tabs, this could well be worth two minutes of your time. 

Tabs has been a feature of OmniFocus since shortly after the release of macOS Sierra and allows you to view different perspectives/contexts/projects from one single OmniFocus window, via the use of tabbed windows. 

There are a variety of methods you can use to create a tab. Firstly, the trusty keyboard shortcut. ⌘+⌥+T will open this (although you can remap this using a tool such as Keyboard Maestro. Secondly, there is a + button to the right of the open tab. Clicking this opens a duplicate of the tab currently displayed. Finally, you can go to File - New Tab via the menu.

So how is this useful? Well, dependant on your own setup, there are many ways that you can find the benefit. I’ll briefly run through my own workflow. 

I have a Perspective called Dashboard that acts as my main focus of the days. Contained within this Dashboard are Flagged/Due Tasks. I love being able to refer to this Dashboard with the click of a button whenever I wish, so I always keep this as the far left tab. 

The tasks that are contained within this Dashboard are frequently meta-tasks (a system I took from Kourosh Dini’s excellent book Creating Flow With OmniFocus. Contained within the notes field of these tasks is a link to the Project that they relate to. If I decide to work on one of these Projects, I’ll be sure to open it in a new tab. Better still, you can right-click on the Project name and select Focus In New Tab to have the tab open in Focus mode. 

When I’ve completed work on that particular project, or my session of work has finished, I’ll close the tab using ⌘+W and move back to the Dashboard to identify the next task/project for attention. 

I’m working on a system at the moment that will automatically open the Inbox within a separate tab either on a timed interval, or when a tab other than Inbox is closed. The reason for this is that when I complete a session of work, I like to browse the Inbox to tidy up any thoughts I captured. 

It’s crude and rudimentary but it works for me really well. I’m looking to really work on using tabs to reduce the real estate on my screen and truly focus on the task at hand. There is scope for different workflows of various complexities out there and I’m enjoying the process of researching how others are currently working.

The Power Of Voicemail

I used to hate Voicemails. Everything about them. I’d return from a meeting where my phone was either off, or on silent, only to be greeted by a flashing light on my phone telling me that I had several people trying to get hold of me. I’d then have to find the time to retrieve the messages, work out when I’d be able to call them back. I slowly found myself begrudging the time I was actually spending retrieving the messages. 

I thought there could be better, more valuable ways of spending my time, especially given the number of urgent tasks I used to find myself committed to. 

That’s of course when I remembered to listen to the message in the first place. Back in those heady days, productivity management was not an important part of my life so I certainly wasn’t making notes or reminders that I had calls and actions to deal with. The more voicemails I found myself receiving, the more I would miss and this portayed a very unprofessional approach to both customers and colleagues. 

Leaving messages on voicemail systems for people was even worse! The mere notion of talking to a machine used to leave me tongue-tied and I would end up conveying a completely different message to the one that I had originally intended! Also, I’d find that when trying to get in contact with a company during office hours about a product or potential sale, I’d find myself put through to an answering machine and I generally wouldn’t leave a message. I guess in the back of my mind I was worried there was somebody like me on the other end who wouldn’t get to the message, or it would be accidentally deleted! 

No, Voicemails used to be a problem for me. However, I realised that they weren't going to be going away any time soon so needed to find a way of being able to use them to my advantage. 

Well, I did it. 

Firstly, I realised that Voicemails are an entirely one-way conversation, which means you have a fantastic opportunity to condense a lot of information into one small, 90-second soundbite, without the fear of interruption and straying off-topic. This is actually a really productive use of your time. 

So when I feel that I would genuinely like to talk to someone about a particular issue rather than send impersonal emails (I will ALWAYS talk rather than type. People are nice, why not converse with them properly?), I always have a prompt sheet in front of me, acting as a form of guide that ensures I cover all of the points I intended to make. This way, if I find myself directed to leaving a voicemail, I’ve got a script that will stop me from getting tongue-tied. 

As far as my own personal voicemail greeting goes, I change the message on a regular basis to ensure that people know when I am available if they wish to talk about something in person. In general, people I speak with know that I check my emails two or three times a day and if something is urgent, then by all means phone me, leave a message and I will get back as soon as I can. 

However there will be times when I just can’t, so I think it’s both productive and polite to explain this in my Voicemail greeting. I say that I am unavailable (sometimes even why - seems more personable and the caller knows that it isn’t an impersonal, stock message) and give an indication as how to progress if they desperately need to get hold of me. Either leave a message and I will reply with x hours or at a given time of the day. I also leave other contact information for non-urgent matters, which reduces the number of messages I have left. The more detail I can give in my Voicemail greeting will help reduce the number of messages I have to wade through, as well as making me look a lot more professional to my customers. 

Another advantage that Voicemail can give you is the power of preparation. When somebody leaves a message and, more importantly, gives you details as to WHY they are trying to get hold of you, it gives you plenty of time to be able to formulate a response if required. This can come in very handy. All too often, I can find myself in a conversation with someone, only for the call to conclude with me having to phone them back anyway because I don’t have all of the information required. This is especially true when you are trying to provide a service to someone. Information is knowledge and the more information you can get from your voicemail, the better prepared for the conversation that will ensue. 

I also batch times when I will process my voicemails and ensure I am sat in front of OmniFocus, (failing that, pen and paper, but I HAVE to record the information being given) where I create a task with a TextExpander snippet (xxcall expands to Return Voicemail Call from xxxxxx) and I input the name, with the number details etc in the Notes section, as well as any other information that may be relevant. 

So Voicemail can be a very powerful productivity tool if you use it in an organised, structured manner. I’ve changed my workflows to embrace it and when the day comes where the final message is left after the beep, I may even be quite sad. 

Adding Photos to Contacts on iOS

It’s a feature that not many people utilise but adding pictures to the contacts in your iPhone or iPad is a great way to add a touch of you to your iOS device. 

There are many ways you can assign pictures - lets start with the Photosapp. 

1) Start by launching the Photos app on your iOS device

2) Find the photo you would like to use 

3) Tap the Share icon in the bottom left hand corner

4) Select Assign to Contact

5) Find the contact you wish to assign it to then tap on them. 

6) Move and Scale the picture to suit and tap Choose

Job done!


You can use the Contacts application directly for this as well:

1) Launch the Contacts app and find the contact you wish to modify.

2) Click Edit in the top right hand corner.

3) You’ll see that on the left hand side, you have the circular placeholder for the image. Tap on edit below. 

4) You’ll see a pop up menu, allowing you to either Take a Photo or Choose a Photo from the camera roll. Choose your option. 

5) Move and scale the picture to suit and you’re done!

My Stop Doing List

The To-Do list is considered by some to be the most crucial part of your productivity arsenal. It’s certainly important and at Think Productive we certainly extol it’s virtues. 

I’ve started looking at implementing another list though. This list is the absolute opposite of the To-Do List. 

I’ve started working on my Stop Doing List

I know, it sounds bonkers right? In many ways you may be right, but hear me out. 

We’ve all got intentions right? Good intentions, things that we want to do, projects and actions that need to be completed if we are going to reach those lofty goals? We want to be happy, the majority of us want to achieve some measure of success, we have a desire and requirement to be healthy - all good things, filled with positive purpose. 

Focusing on actions that we need to do to achieve those intentions is important, yet I feel that sometimes I will develop some positive momentum by concentrating on things that I need to stop doing

I know how to set goals, I’ve got the art of developing positive habits pretty much nailed, I review weekly as I should do and I’m able to split time between my work and family reasonably well. When it comes to the positive actions, I’m all good. (I certainly hope so anyway, I coach this stuff!)

What I need to concentrate on now is those roadblocks that slow me down. Think of it like driving a car. I’m at the wheel of my ‘productivity’ car and I know how to drive it like a pro. I’ve got all the tricks, I know the shortcuts to get around town. Every now and then, something appears that blocks the road, or slows me down like a traffic jam. It could be a bad habit I’ve developed or a project I’ve taken on that I should have declined. I need to identify these areas of my life and work to reduce the negative impact they have on me achieving my intentions. (I know I’m using the word intentions a lot, I just find it so much more energetic than plans or goals. More personal). 

I’ve decided that I’m going to see if what I stop doing is going to have as significant an impact as what I start doing

As part of my weekly review, I’m going to look back on the last week and identify areas that truly sucked. No-one has a perfect week, there are going to be things there. I’m fortunate enough that one of my daily habits is journaling so all I need to do is go through my Day One entries and identify these ‘road-blocks’. I also add two extra questions to each project that I have stored in OmniFocus. They are simple ones. 

Do I Want To Do This?

Does My Family Need Me To Do This?

If one of those answers is a Hell Yes, it stays. If the answer to both is a Hell No, it’s on the Stop Doing List. 

Ruthless - yes. Effective - hell yes

Here’s an example of the additions to my Stop Doing List from last week. 

1) Stop looking at Twitter before 9am in the morning.

2) Stop buying a bag of delicious Pret A Manger Rock Salt Popcorn for the commute home from London every day

3) Stop logging into Skype For Business first thing when arriving at the office. Don’t you realise people are waiting to see your status change to Green (you’ve all been there)

4) Reject the writing offer.

5) Delete Injustice 2 from your iPhone. It’s a great game but you aren’t strong enough to resist it’s lure when you should be reading. 6) Stop having your phone on hand when with the girls before bed. Give them your full attention, they deserve it. 

Each of those is going to help me work towards the intentions I have set, be they related to health, family or business. 

Doing by not doing - why didn’t I know about this before?!


Review - Timing 2.0

As a freelancer who balances (or tries to!) multiple income streams, the ability to track my time effectively is essential. Especially when some of that time is billable. There are lots of time tracking applications available for macOS that track billable time, as well as others that track activity on your Mac itself. There are few, however, that do both. I’d also add that there is only one that does this to a level that I’d be comfortable endorsing, and that’s Timing 2 by Daniel Alm. 

A word on Daniel first. Daniel released the first Timing application in 2011 to great acclaim. Between 2013 and 2016 he worked at Google, however the pull of earning a full time income through app development proved to be too strong and he left to do just that. 

Timing 2 has all the hallmarks of an app that has received full-time care and attention.

Let’s start with the layout. As you can see, there has been no skimping on detail. In fact, if this is your first time using any kind of time-tracking software, you may consider the amount of information to be daunting. That’s a fair comment - there is a lot there. Stick with it though. After purchase, you’ll receive emails daily for the first week that nudge you gently through the different features. I deliberately held back on diving in too deeply and used these emails as my guide, so that I could fully appreciate the experience of a new user. I can say that the content of these emails is perfect for beginners and experienced users alike. 

On the Overview you’ll see that there is a timeline of the day’s activity as well graphs that show Projects and Tasks as well as Apps. There will be some initial work involved for setting up your Projects for tracking, however once done, a lot of the follow-up actions are performed automatically. Timing 2 is able to group tasks together and automatically assign “keywords” to add new tasks to existing groups which is a great feature. As well as this, keywords and manual assignment of activities can group together into different categories. As an example, I created a category called “Business Development” as a lot of my coaching work involves finding people to coach! This can be over the phone or through my laptop, however I need to track these activities. I also research for these blog posts (believe it or not!) so have a category called “Research”. I love this because just by looking at a report, I can see if there are any categories that I have been neglecting over a period of time.

Timing 2’s ability to automatically associate activities with actual projects is down to the following key points:

  • The time tracking is automatic. Configure it to start at login and everything you do is tracked (securely, no data is transmitted from your Mac, it’s all for your own productivity development)
  • Timing 2 will track apps, document paths, URLs, email titles, Message conversations as well as a lot more
  • Timing 2 offers automatic suggestions for blocks of time that belong together. Do you have a meeting and then write up the minutes afterwards? Block them together in one category. Timing 2 can then intellligently track.
  • You can create rules that will further automate the categorization of activities

As well as the automatic tracking of what you are doing whilst at your Mac, Timing 2 also allows you to create notes about tasks you’ve been working on AWAY from your Mac. Great for logging phone calls or meetings where you don’t have your Mac to hand. 

Getting data into Timing 2 is clearly an intuitive process. Is reading that data the same? 

You bet.

Timing 2’s ability to automatically associate activities with actual projects is down to the following key points:

The time tracking is automatic. Configure it to start at login and everything you do is tracked (securely, no data is transmitted from your Mac, it’s all for your own productivity development)
Timing 2 will track apps, document paths, URLs, email titles, Message conversations as well as a lot more
Timing 2 offers automatic suggestions for blocks of time that belong together. Do you have a meeting and then write up the minutes afterwards? Block them together in one category. Timing 2 can then intellligently track.
You can create rules that will further automate the categorization of activities
As well as the automatic tracking of what you are doing whilst at your Mac, Timing 2 also allows you to create notes about tasks you’ve been working on AWAY from your Mac. Great for logging phone calls or meetings where you don’t have your Mac to hand.

Getting data into Timing 2 is clearly an intuitive process. Is reading that data the same?

You bet. Timing 2 has a real focus on design and aesthetics. The graphs are beautiful as well as functional and easily show you your most productive times, the type of work completed as well as a chart of your most used applications. You can even assign a productivity score to a task. I have Safari set at 75% as an example as I use it a lot for research, however, there will be times when I’m goofing around looking for funny prank ideas for my colleagues. With each task having a productivity score assigned, I can feel confident in my overall Productivity Rating.

As an aside, I’ve given Twitter a Productivity rating of 0% to try and help stop me going onto it without using another third party application to prevent access. So far it’s working.

Timing 2 is great. If you are a freelancer with a Mac who needs to carefully track and manage their time windows, I’d say it needs checking out. There’s a great trial offer available, after which pricing comes in at $29, $49 and $79 for the Productivity, Professional and Expert editions respectively.

Check it out

Nine Top Tips for Working From Home

More people are working from home in the UK than ever. A study conducted by the TUC in May 2016 reveals that the number of home workers sits at over 1.5 million, an increase of nearly a quarter of a million in the last decade. 

Having worked from home regularly myself for the last two years, I can safely say that whilst the practice is liberating, you should take care to ensure that you continue to be productive. The flexibility is great but needs harnessing in order to maximise your output. This is especially true if you have a family - something I have fallen foul of many times before - as recently as last week!

Here are some of my top tips to help you with your setup for a home-working lifestyle.  

Define Your Spaces

If you have the luxury of having a dedicated room you can call your office, then that's great. Try to make this the only place that you work. You should walk into the room and a subconscious part of your brain automatically shift gears into work mode. 

For those others (myself included until recently) who need to use a living space for working, it's important to try and create an environment that differentiates between work and leisure. Sometimes, it can be something as simple as closing a door. This action tells the brain that you are about to start work, as well as others around you. Perhaps using some noise-cancelling headphones whenever you are in work mode, which you wouldn't do if you were in leisure mode

Dress For Work

I know many people who will still dress formally for work, even if they are at home! This works for them as it helps them get into the mindset of work easier. Personally, this doesn't work for me - I still like an element of comfort, however I always make a point of making sure that I don't touch the keyboard until such a time as I have washed, dressed and prepared for the day ahead. 

Set Regular Hours

One of the great things about working from home is the flexibility that it can bring. I would caution against relying on this. If you can still aim to set yourself regular hours, you will find it easier to get into a working mode of flow as your brain will wire itself into the routine. The flexibility can come with not having to work 8 hours per day. Perhaps you could work for five hours, with a twenty minute gap in between. You will probably achieve as much with this as working eight hours in a busy, distracting office. Just be sure to be intentional and regular with the hours. 

Communicate With Your Family and Friends

This has been the hardest part for me, especially with young children. Seeing Daddy in the house must mean that it's open season for jumping all over me and grabbing my attention. It's vital that you setup some agreed boundaries with your loved ones. I try to ensure that I'm in a room with a closable door and, when it's shut, I'm not to be disturbed. One colleague I know uses coloured tape and sticks it on the door to let everyone know his status. Red means Do Not Disturb, Yellow means knock first and Green means you can get your little butt in here - kids love that approach and find it easy to read. 


Without a commute, that can invariably involve walking, you may find that your fitness can suffer when working from home. Don't let this happen. Use the fact that you can take regular breaks to get out of the house for walks, maybe even put your exercise gear on and get our for a full run or cycle. The endorphins will push the brain into another creative gear when you return home and you will find that you don't look quite as "desk-shaped"!

Meet Others

It can be a lonely business - I can attest to that. If you can mix your routine up, by working in more public locations such as coffee shops, you will feel slightly less like a hermit. Even if it's just a regular chat with your barista, it's a lot better than just having yourself for company, no matter how great you may think you are! There may be groups in your local area that meet early morning, such as a Business Institue or similar network for entrepreneurs. 

Schedule Time For Friends - No Drop-Ins

This is tough, but one scenario I guarantee you will come across when you start working from home is as follows:

- Cue Phone Ringing
- Friend/Family Member "Hi - it's me - are you working from home today"
- Busy Telecommuter "Why Yes I am, got a busy day ahead"
- Friend/Family Member "Oh good, I'll pop in for a catch-up then. See you in a bit"

Harsh as it sounds, you just have to nip this in the bud before it becomes a 'thing'. If you were in an office in town and they were just walking past, would they pop in for a chat? No - you need to set these boundaries and help people understand that just because you are home in body, you are not there in spirit. You are working in exactly the same way as you would be if you were at a different location. 

You don't have to be an idiot about it though, there are ways and means of getting this across. I always make a point of offering an alternate time for a catch-up that is more amenable to both parties. You see, it's important to still maintain relationships, even during working hours sometimes because it's easy to drift into a reclusive state when you aren't interacting with colleagues regularly. Spending an hour for a coffee with a loved one may be a great break in the day for you - just make sure it's on your terms. 

Pretend You Are Not At Home

I do this one a lot, especially when it comes to phone calls on the land line. When I'm working from home, I ignore what we call the *house phone* and will only answer the door when I'm expecting a delivery. If I was at the office, I wouldn't be responding, so why should I now? No reason in my eyes. 

Watch Your Focus - Be Flexible

Lastly, I would say that working from home offers some great flexibility. There are times when you need to leverage this, none more so than when your focus starts to drop. You know those moments when you're on your laptop and the temptation to wander to a social media site or news article starts to become too much to resist. You start thinking about what to cook tonight, wondering what the kids are doing at school - anything apart from the task at hand. Those are the times when you should embrace your new found freedom and get away from your machine. Go out and get some fresh air, maybe run a couple of errands, go for a run/cycle. You could read a book, or watch some self-improvement videos. If you are particularly struggling with your attention, then maybe a twenty-minute power nap is exactly what you need. There is nothing wrong with doing any of the above, as long you are intentional about them. You are sleeping because you need to recharge, a quick jog will help with the endorphin creation and prepare your mind for the next session of work. 

So there we are - nine tips for working successfully from home. There are much more out there, I'd love to hear them.