Why I Love: Airmail on macOS

As much as some of us would love to do without, email remains a constant in our lives. It's a vital communication medium that, despite collaboration tools such as Slack and Skype For Business, isn't going away anytime soon. 

Thankfully, there are some great tools out there. Apple Mail, despite great improvements in the last few releases, isn't without its faults and the power users out there need something more. 

My app of choice is Airmail on macOS.I'd like to point you to a post that I wrote for Think Productive that outlines some of the key features that keep Airmail as part of my weapon-savvy arsenal. There are far too many to outline, you have to dive in and look for yourself, however, there are some must-have components to Airmail that are sadly lacking in Apple Mail and some competitors. 

Check the Think Productive post out here. I'd love to know how you utilise Airmail or if there are other tools that you prefer (and why..!). I've turned the comments on below so you can feedback. 

How To: Batch Rename with Pathfinder 7

I recently wrote about some of my favourite features within Pathfinder 7, a great Finder alternative from Cocoatech. Here, I’d like to dive a little deeper with one of the core features, batch renaming. While it’s true that you can rename multiple items within the native Finder application, it’s limited - PathFinder exploits this limitation and allows for a greater array of formatting options. Let’s run through the process:

Firstly, we need to highlight the files that require renaming. Once highlighted, select Commands -> Batch Rename from the menu bar, or press ⬆⌘R .

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How I Use: TextExpander and OmniFocus Together

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TextExpander, it’s a utility that runs on macOS, iOS (and Windows!) that takes small snippets of text and expands them into much larger pieces. For example, I can type in an abbreviation such as xsig1 and it will transform into an email signature. I can (and do) use similar snippets for letters to clients, creating date stamps, sending messages, filling in forms and much more. 

I also use TextExpander when creating tasks or updating notes in OmniFocus. If you use OmniFocus (or any task manager for that matter), I’m sure you find yourself repeating the same text again and again. Phrases such as Follow up on or Create Report for, as well as Send Email to or Phone are very common to us all. You’ll have your own set of common prefixes to tasks based on your own vocation.

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Why I Love: HeartWatch 3

Like most men who have just turned 40, I’ve become more than acutely aware of my own mortality! As healthy as I try to be, there is always the worry that I’ve more years behind me than ahead, so I’m keen to use the tools I have at my disposal to allow me to make better life-style decisions.

I’ve had a slightly elevated heart rate for a while now, so I recently started to look at different applications that take the basic heart data the Apple Watch collates and look at how it’s presented. Are there any applications that can be more pro-active with regards to alerts? Do any display the data in a manner that allows me to track patterns and make data-driven decisions? 

The answer is Yes - and my pick of the bunch is HeartWatch 3

There are so many reasons to love HeartWatch 3. It’s highly customisable, visually great and the notifications that are available (not mandatory) are reason enough to purchase. 

Let’s look at some of the different views that are available from the Views tab:

Regular Heart Rate

This shows you the heartbeat readings for when you are not working out or sleeping. You’ll see a badge with a number in the middle (your heart rate) and various colours that fill the badge. Blue indicates that the heart rate was within acceptable parameters (that you can define for yourself), Purple means it’s elevated, whilst Red means it was high. This data is great, I mean I don’t think you can put a price on it. If you swipe the badge to the right, you can see other days.

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Waking Heart Rate

This is much easier if you wear your watch to bed, however you can use the Take Pulse option directly from the watch app when you wake if you are competent enough when you have just woken up! Myself, I wear the watch through the night and put it on charge for an hour whilst I work through the non-fitness elements of my morning routine. As you can see from the pic below, my waking heartbeat was a tad high this morning - there’s a peek behind the curtain for you! I need to look at why that was. Maybe I wasn’t in a truly deep sleep before waking or struggled to sleep during the night. (I’ll look at this with another application that I use called AutoSleep).

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Sleeping Heart Rate

Similar to the above two, Heartwatch 3 can present you with a graphical view of how your heart rate fluctuates when you sleep. Again, you need to wear your Apple Watch overnight for this. 

Calendar View

If you click on the calendar icon in the top right-hand corner, you will see a view of all readings for a particular month as well as a graph showing statistics for the last 12 weeks. You can switch between the regular view, min/max heart rate, waking heart rate, workout heart rate, sleeping heart rate and the sleep recharge rate (how much sleep you are getting). 

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Dashboard

The Dashboard offers an overview of your activity rings, goals and heart rate for the day, week or month. This view is great, oozing with colour and options for moving to other windows. Almost any icon you press presents you with more data to analyse. 

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Activity

This tab shows you how you are performing with the your Activity rings. Moving enough? Getting enough steps in? My favourite feature here is the ability to view a graph that shows what my heart rate was when walking a particular distance. You’ll see from the image below that I can gauge when I was walking, and for how far, through the green bars on the chart. How cool is that?

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Notifications

You can set your Notifications to alert you when your heart rate exceeds a certain level. If you buy this app for any reason at all, it should be this. It could save your life, let’s be frank. You can set this as high as you like. There is also a setting to alert you when it plummets to a certain rate. Of course, you can tell Heartwatch to NOT alert you during workouts.

I think you’ll agree that as far as Apple Watch applications go, this is by far one of the most useful. I feel more confident that when my heart rate goes up to an unacceptable level, I’m going to know about it. Who knows, maybe that security and knowledge helps keep it a touch lower than it would be otherwise. I like to think so. 

You can get Heartwatch 3 directly from the App Store here.

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The Importance of Thinking Time

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful business magnates and philanthropists in history. He has accumulated a net worth in excess of $75 billion, yet unlike his peers, the majority of that time wasn’t spent working in the conventional sense. 

No - Mr Buffett estimates that he has spent 80% of his time thinking

Crazy, right? Almost counter-intuitive you would think. You don’t see other pioneers such as Elon Musk or Tim Cook following the same pattern. But no, there is a lot of method behind this apparent madness. 

When do you find yourself having your best ideas? Is it when you are focusing on a task? Having a conversation? Running to a tight deadline that you aren’t going to meet? What about in your downtime, do you find inspiration for how to progress the project you are currently struggling with by watching Netflix or your favourite sports team?

I’m guessing that for the majority of you, the answer is No to all of the above. 

That’s not to say that the above actions aren’t important. Far from it, if we are going to be successful and happy, there are times when we need to focus on deep work or chill by watching something we truly enjoy. That’s fine - however, there needs to be time set aside in our week for true thinking. This is the brains opportunity to process. It has room to breathe because it doesn’t need to concentrate on anything else. 

How often do you find yourself having a great idea whilst taking a shower? I know I have and it’s because my brain isn’t concentrating on anything other than getting clean! Well, I can do that pretty much without thinking, so my brain then decides to wake up and remind me of things I have upcoming that I may have otherwise forgotten. If I have a worry, then I can process it, massage it, query it further until I’m in a position to take action, or at least write these thoughts down when I emerge, sopping wet!

When I go for my daily walks, the practice used to be that for every walk I took, I would listen to some form of motivational podcast each time. That’s now changed. I alternate between listening to podcasts and just - being. Walking around the neighbourhood, looking at the sights and just taking in what is around me is a great way to decompress. Invariably, when I take this walk now I have ideas coming into my head that I can capture quickly through Siri on my iPhone. I use this time to process problems I’m having. 

A brain is a tool of creative brilliance. It’s not designed to hold lots of facts and figures, it’s certainly not wired for multitasking in any way, yet when it’s free of distraction and isn’t processing tasks, it’s capable of some amazing things. 

I could give you loads of tips and tricks on how to ensure you have the best thinking time possible but that’s not the point of this post. I like things clean and simple and to give you the chance to develop your own ideas. There’s the opportunity for me to over-complicate this premise so I’m just going to give one tip - the master tip for ensuring you have time to think. 

Schedule Your Thinking Time

That’s it, nothing else. Make sure you know when you’re going to take the opportunity to down tools, take a break and just - think. Just - be

It doesn’t have to be long at first. After all, a good idea can be had in seconds. Imagine what you could do with just ten minutes of peaceful, distraction-free time to yourself. You could solve a problem, work out the next action or have a moment of inspiration that takes your whole life forward. The important thing is to have trust in the fact that this thinking time is going to take place. Then, when you are focusing on a complex task, or just relaxing and switching off completely, you can rest in the knowledge that you will have time to sit back and think. 

Maybe, after reading this, use your first block of scheduled thinking time to look at how you may be able to manipulate your environment, or your calendar to sustain this new habit. Where will you go? Do you need quiet music in the background? Will your best ideas come from walking or exercising as the blood flows freely to and from the brain? 

Be intentional with your thinking and you could go on to great things. 

I’ll finish with one of my favourite ever quotes from Abraham Lincoln:

Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe

Think about it.

How I Use: Alfred to open OmniFocus Items

Regular readers will know that Alfred and OmniFocus are two of my most used applications. Alfred is my application and document launcher, whilst OmniFocus is my To-Do list manager of choice - or, as we like to call them at Think Productive, my second brain. 

Recently, I discovered a great Alfred workflow that allowed me to open OmniFocus project and tasks directly from my launcher window. This can be incredibly handy because you don’t need to have OmniFocus as your primary window, (or even running!), to obtain information. I had an instance yesterday where somebody asked me what the state of play was with regards to a certain user’s migration to a new mobile phone network. All I had to do was open Alfred, type in the abbreviation followed by the user's name and OmniFocus opened, with the project I needed sitting in front of me. 

I won’t run through all the scenarios that this workflow will help with - I just need to show you how to install it and list the default abbreviations that you can use, so here goes. 

Installation

Here is a link to the OmniFocus forum post that discusses the workflow. I’ve linked here, as opposed to the GitHub repository directly as there needs to be some serious kudos given to rhydlewis for the work he has done to get this up and running. 

Click the link, download and install the workflow as you would do normally. It’s quick and easy. 

Shortcuts

Once installed, open the Workflows section in Alfred and you’ll see the default shortcuts and flow paths listed. 

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To give you a one shot summary as to these shortcuts and what they do, feel free to copy and paste this list below into Apple Notes, DEVONthink or whatever for ease of use:

.s - Search OmniFocus

.sa - Search OmniFocus for active tasks only

.se - Search OmniFocus for processed and inbox tasks

.g - Search OmniFocus for flagged tasks only

.ga - Search OmniFocus for flagged active tasks only

.n - Search OmniFocus for tasks via note contents

.na - Search OmniFocus for active tasks via note contents

.ng - Search OmniFocus for flagged tasks via note contents

.d - List overdue and due OmniFocus tasks

.r - Show 10 most recently modified OmniFocus items

.ra - Show 10 most recently modified non-completed OmniFocus items

.p - Search OmniFocus for Projects

.pa - Search OmniFocus for active Projects

.i - Search OmniFocus Inbox

.f - Search OmniFocus for Folders

.lf - List all OmniFocus Folders

.lc - List all OmniFocus Contexts

.c - Search OmniFocus for Contexts

.v - Search OmniFocus for Perspectives

.lv - list all OmniFocus Perspectives

I hope you find the above useful!

Why I Love: Path Finder

Apple have made some great advancements with their default Finder application on macOS. For Power Users, however, it still won’t be enough and that is where third party applications come into their own - and Path Finder from Cocoatech is my tool of choice. It’s a Power User’s dream and while there isn’t scope within this post to run through everyfeature on offer, I’d just like to write about why I use it and explain some of the features that get used heavily on a daily basis. 

The Sidebar

I think the feature I love most about the sidebar is the fact that you can hide sections as needed and, from this reduced view, create a completely different view for a given situation. By default, Path Finder displays sections for DevicesSharedPlacesRecent Documents and Search For. There are times, however, when I let my daughter use the MacBook for homework and I don’t want her to inadvertently make changes to certain important drives! I can hide these sections and create her a whole new sidebar, customised to her liking! (Well, I minimise it and hide everything I don’t want her to see!). 

I also use this to create different sidebars for streams of work. I have a minimised sidebar, for example, that only shows a few key folders I may be working from so that there isn’t a lot of noise on the left hand side of my screen. Swapping between custom sidebars is as easy as clicking on the cog on the bottom left hand side of the screen and selecting the sidebar you wish to switch to. 

You can also add colour to the default icons within the sidebar. From Preferences, choose Appearance and select the option Use color icons in the standard sidebar (there is a custom option as well). 

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The Toolbar and Favourites Bar

Like the Sidebar, the Toolbar is highly customisable. Like Finder, by default, you can view your files/folders as iconsa list or in columnsPath Finder differs from Finder, however, in its ability to access dual panes and shelves from the toolbar. More on these later.

As I’m sure you expect, you can customise the toolbar to your liking, adding and removing icons to suit your workflow. 

Below the toolbar is a Favourites bar. I use this feature heavily. You can add and remove content from this bar via Drag and Drop. Drag a file or folder in to the bar to add and drag it back out to remove. This is great when you know you are going to be working on a key set of files for any given project. Yes, you may be quick when it comes to using a tool such as Alfred or Spotlight, however, if you are not conversant with those tools this is a great alternative.

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Color Editor

Even though there is the ability to add colour to your sidebar icons, the default colour scheme within Path Finder is a fairly drab affair. I don’t know, maybe that’s just my opinion as I’m a very visual person and need colour to help my mind focus. There is a great Colour Editor in Path Finder that allows you to modify the colour within the frames, toolbars, active windows etc. The first change I made was to assign a more vibrant colour to the active window when in dual pane view. Sometimes, I found it hard to differentiate which window was the source and which the destination when transferring files. Not the case now! I have a nice shade of orange to signify the active pane and this helps a lot.

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Shelves

Now that iOS 11 has been released, the concept of shelves is coming to the fore. They have been around for a while though, as Path Finder attests to. With the click of a button, you can create shelves on the bottomright or both sides of the Path Finder window. 

So what do these shelves do? Well, quite a lot! These shelves can display information that would otherwise be accessed via a contextual menu or some form of keyboard shortcut. There are modules for Get InfoTags and RatingsPreviewAttributes - even other applications can be accessed, such as iTunes or Terminal

Myself, I have a fairly simple setup as I think it can be easy to get lost within the cruft of information available. On the bottom, I have the shelf enabled with InfoPreviewTags and Ratings and Recent Documents on show. That’s it, no right hand shelves. If there was ever a point where I needed to have more information on-hand, I know where to go to activate it but for now, less is more - and it’s still more than I would see with Finder. 

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Batch Renaming

You can rename files in bulk once you’ve selected them within Path Finder. Pick the files you wish to rename and then go to CommandsBatch Rename (or use the keyboard shortcut ⬆⌘R). You can elect to replace certain text, insert text, change case, add date - you can do almost anything here. You can also build steps so that it’s not just one action you are taking. Want to replace text in a group of files whilst adding a date? Easy. Just build the action. 

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Drop Stack

The last feature that I use heavily is Drop Stack. Drop Stack is an area within Path Finder where you can drop files that you wish to move/copy later. I often find myself needing to gather files from different folders to either email or move to a different location - the Drop Stack is a great, simplistic medium for this. Drag files into the stack to move them (Press alt and drag to copy) and then drag them out to the destination when you are there. You can also access the contextual menu to compress the files and then email them. 

There are other tools that take this feature to a much higher level, such as Dropzone however this is a great feature to have within a Finder application. A sensible place to have it running. 

 

There are so many other features within Path Finder that I’ve only scratched the surface here. These are just the key features to my own workflow that allow me to work a little freer and easier. I haven’t touched on Folder SyncSmart Copy/MoveFolder Merging or Group View, as well as the plethora of options within Preferences. Maybe as time permits, I’ll dig a little deeper. 

Do you use Path Finder? How does it help your flow? Let me know in the comments section below!

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How To Use: Launch Centre Pro and the Today Widget

How To Use Launch Centre Pro’s Today Widget

Launch Centre Pro by Contrast is a highly customisable launcher application for iOS. I’ve used it for years to access actions from within applications that would otherwise have taken several key presses and clicks to get to. Many people use it as a speed dial for their contacts, others use it for one touch access to their Safari bookmarks - there are lots of uses out there and I’m planning on releasing a post soon that runs through my use case for both Launch Centre Pro and a similar application called Launcher

Today though, I’m just going to explain briefly how to activate the Today Widget for Launch Centre Pro. I find myself spending more time in the widget view than ever nowadays! It’s so easy to just swipe to the right from the home screen and access a wide variety of information and accessible shortcuts. Launch Centre Pro is definitely on this bandwagon and it’s handy to have some of your most used shortcuts on hand from the lock screen. 

Let’s quickly walk through the configuration:

1) From within Launch Centre Pro, click the gear icon in the top left hand corner. 

2) Select Today Widget.

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3) You’ll see there are no actions currently configured. Click Add Action

4) Choose some of your pre-defined actions that you’d like to access form the widget. Remember that the original view will show you four, however you can click Show More from within the widget to show you as many as you select here. 

5) Click Settings again and then Close

6) Now, form the Home Screen, swipe from left to right to bring up the Widget screen. If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see the Edit button. Tap this. 

7) If you scroll down to the Launch Centre Pro widget and tap the green button to the left, it will join the list of currently active widgets.

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8) Tap the movement handles on the right to place the widget in the location you wish. Then tap Done

9) Now when you look on the widget screen, you’ll see the action buttons ready for you to tap.

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Easy!