Author Archives: Brian Renshaw

Podcast Episode Recommendation: Focused 64: The Power of Habits

Link to show

I really enjoyed this first episode of Focused (previously Free Agents) with David and Mike. I particulary liked their discussion of James Clear’s new book Atomic Habits. Additionally, they talked about framing habits and actions in terms of identity, which is helpful to think about.

The switch from Free Agents to Focused is a welcome one. While I always gained a lot of value from Free Agents I think the more productivity focused show will be even more helpful. You should give it a listen.

Summary

David and Mike kick off Focused with an in-depth look at why New Year’s resolutions usually fail. They discuss the power of tiny gains, why systems are more important than goals, and how you can change your identity by implementing better habits.

Siri Shortcut: Send Discourse Forum Posts to OmniFocus

Several podcasts I listen to and apps that I use on a regular basis are using Discourse to form online communities to promote discussion related to the shows and apps. These communities are much better than Facebook groups and help organize topics and conversations in a logical manner. Over the past couple months I’ve found myself posting and interacting with others in the group and am gaining a lot of value hearing others perspectives, giving my opinions, and obtaining help for problems that I face. I check in these groups throughout the day and make note of the conversations that are happening. What I’ve found is that oftentimes there is a post I want to respond to but I don’t have the time to respond at that moment. Instead of trying to remember that I need to respond and or want to go back and read a post, I decided this would be good to utilize OmniFocus.

The four Discourse forums I commonly participate in (with links to them):

  1. Automators Podcast
  2. Drafts App
  3. Focused Podcast – This is a subgroup of the MPU Discourse Forum
  4. Mac Power Users Podcast

I first started by clicking on the link to the post to bring up the share sheet and send the link to OmniFocus. Every time I went through the steps of renaming the action, moving the link to the note field, adding tags (somewhat inconsistently), and then saving.

Of course there had to be a better way so I opened up Siri Shortcuts to create a workflow. This workflow has several different steps (scroll down to see the entire shortcut).

The first action (get name) gets the name of the webpage from the URL. In Discourse (even within the iOS app) it is the title of the forum post.

UPDATE: I’ve added an action that removes " from the title field and replaces it with an actual quote.

The second set of actions utilizes choose from list action. I’ve learned after working with Siri Shortcuts for a little while how to better use this action. First, I use the text action and type in the different forums that this could be. I will use this as one of my OmniFocus tags. As you can see there are four main forums that I converse in. You, of course, can easily edit this for your own needs (Automators Podcast, Drafts App, Focused Podcast, and Mac Power Users Podcast). The second action with this is the split text action, which makes sure that each item is on its own line. Since this creates a list, I use the choose from list action to select the forum.

The third set of actions uses the choose from list action again but this time I want to delineate between if I want to just go back and read this post/replies or respond to it. This will be used as my action word at the front of my OmniFocus task.

The Nothing action may or not need to be there (?) but using it works and doesn’t break anything so that’s why I have it there. My thinking is that this separates the actions from the final action and doesn’t send any input into the last action that I don’t want.

Finally, through the use of Magic Variables I’m ready to create my OmniFocus task via the Add OmniFocus Item action:

  1. The name of the action consists of the “Read” or “Respond to” prompt for my action word.
  2. The second Magic Variable is the Get Name action, which is the name of the topic.
  3. The Context (or Tags…this still needs to be updated!) is Discourse Forums and the name of the forum that I chose. In OmniFocus I have a perspective that utilizes these tags so I can see my list of items to go through in Discourse quickly.
  4. Finally, the Notes field of the task is the Shortcut Input, which is the URL to the post. I then have a Ask When Run prompt that allows me to type in any other information I would like.

UPDATE: I add an action to open the Discourse app again since that is where I originally grab the link.

That’s it! It’s a pretty simple Shortcut but one I find helpful for managing my time and not sorting through and trying to remember what posts I want to respond to or read.

You can download the updated shortcut here.

Brydge Keyboard Pre-Orders for the New iPad Pro are Open

Jason Snell over at Six Colors had a pre-production version of the keyboard and posted some great initial thoughts on it.

My favorite keyboard for the iPad Pro has just started pre-orders for the new iPads. I previously had one for the 9.7 iPad Pro and it was by far my favorite keyboard for the iPad. Like I’ve said before, the Smart Keyboard is good but not ideal. Personally, I hate typing on it. The limited range of viewing angles, lack of controls for iOS (c’mon Apple), and most importantly, the typing experience is less than ideal. The Brydge Keyboard gives you a laptop typing experience for your iPad.

Additionally, since the new iPad Pros have USB-C connection you can charge the keyboard via USB-C or if your Bluetooth connection is spotty you can just connect it via a cable for a no lag experience.

If you’re looking for the best keyboard for your iPad this is it.

Other Features:

  • One Bluetooth keyboard
  • One protective cover for back of iPad for Apple iPad Pro (2018)
  • Full keyboard with dedicated iOS keys
  • High-grade aluminum body
  • Any-angle viewing from 0-180 degrees
  • 3-level backlit keys
  • Matching iPad Pro color, design and form

Pre-order here. I believe they will start shipping in April.

Image from Brydge

iOS Tip – Quickly Share Screenshots

When you take a screenshot on iOS, it now presents a little preview in the bottom left corner of the screen. Most people know that If you tap the preview, then the edit screen will appear and you can markup the screenshot.

What many don’t know is if you would like to share the screenshot right away you can tap and hold the preview image, and it will bring up the share sheet.

Additionally, if you would like to save the screenshot to your camera roll without any edits, you can swipe the preview to the left side of the screen, and it will disappear and be saved to your Photos.

Shortcut Monday: Using Drafts and Siri Shortcuts to Send an Email

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

Download shortcut

The following is a shortcut that I use to email our apartment complex for maintenance requests. The basic skeleton of the shortcut is how I’ve set up several different email Siri Shortcuts.

The first question asks whether or not I would like to type the email in Drafts. I could just ask for a prompt within Shortcuts, but I prefer writing in Drafts so I have access to some of the formatting and the email will also be stored and archived for reference. The reason that I ask if I need to type it in Drafts is that I found that sometimes I had already typed the email in Drafts and copied the text before opening the Shortcut. So, if I already have the text of the email on my clipboard, then I just choose no.

If I do need to type in Drafts then choosing yes will open up the Drafts app. From there I will type out my email in Markdown formatting. Once I am finished typing the email I need to copy the text and return to the Shortcuts app to complete the workflow. I created an action in Drafts that will copy the text of the Draft and open Siri Shortcuts. Since I use it so much in other workflows, I set a keyboard shortcut to it as well for when I’m on my iPad.

Once I return to the Shortcuts app, I am prompted for the subject of my email. For all my email workflows I have the prompt for the subject last. By default, I have “Maintenance Request for CURRENT DATE (format SHORT)”. I could change this if I would like, but most of the time I keep the default there. Also, here is a reference to all the different date formats used in Siri Shortcuts.

The next step of the workflow grabs the clipboard (the text I typed in Drafts) and converts it to Rich Text for the email.

The last step opens the compose window with the To, Cc, Subject, and Body already filled in.

While I do not use the default Apple Mail app for my email, I actually find that it works most consistent when sending an email through Shortcuts. Part of this is that if I switch from Spark at any time in the future, I don’t want to change all my workflows that are dependent on Spark. This will always work.

While this simple Shortcut is for a maintenance request, it could easily be changed for your own purposes for an email that you have to send often.

Download shortcut

Date and Time Formatting in Siri Shortcuts

I’m always trying to remember the different date formats when using the Shortcuts app. Apple has some of the basics on the Shortcuts help page but it doesn’t look into all the options. I’m not a programmer so much this language was foreign to me so I went ahead and took the time to outline what each option looks like as a reference.

If you would like, you can download a text file of this information with Markdown formatting or download the shortcut, which produced this information.

Date Formats

  • Relative: Today
  • ISO 8601: 2019-01-07
  • RFC 2822: Mon, 07 Jan 2019 06:53:12 -0500
  • Short: 1/7/19
  • Medium: Jan 7, 2019
  • Long: January 7, 2019
  • Custom (EEEEE): Mon, 07 Jan 2019 06:53:12 -0500
  • Custom (EEEE): Monday
  • Custom (EEE or EE or E): Mon

Other Custom

Note: Each of these can be customized with different combinations but at the most basic level M = Month, d = Day, y = Year

  • M – 1
  • MM – 01
  • MMM – Jan
  • MMMM – January
  • d – 7
  • dd – 07
  • y OR yyy OR yyyy – 2019
  • yy – 19

Time Formats

  • Short: 6:53 AM
  • Medium: 6:53:12 AM
  • Long: 6:53:12 AM EST

Quotes: Clarity in Leadership and Your Message

The whole podcast episode is worth listening to but a couple quotes stood out to me:

People say when it comes to leadership that they want character but they always follow clarity. At the end of the day we intuitively and instinctively follow clarity – Andy Stanley

People will not move into confusion. People will not follow you if they’re confused about where you are going – Donald Miller

Andy Stanley Podcast: Communicating for Change – A Conversation with Donald Miller

Shortcut Monday: Text Multiple People at Once

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

Download Shortcut

This simple shortcut can send a message to multiple people at once (without being in a group).

I have several friends that are fellow St. Louis Cardinals fans that I enjoy texting articles or thoughts throughout the season about our favorite baseball team. It doesn’t make since to put them all in a group message because they don’t all know each other. But it is also quite annoying to try to send the same message or link to multiple people.

Enter Shortcuts. This is a super simple shortcut but one that I use all the time.

First, it will ask you for the text that you want to send to each person. Once you enter in the message it will send to each person individually in the background.

That’s it. Seriously.

Perfect for not creating an unnecessary group message or copying and pasting the same message multiple times.

Another real world use case for me is sending a message to both sets of parents. Since we adopted Jax I am constantly giving the same update to both Jen’s side and my side. This makes it quite easy to do so.

You can download the Shortcut here.

A very simple but extremely useful shortcut

A very simple but extremely useful shortcut

Study and Focus Music: Chris Potter Playlist

Chris Potter is one of my favorite jazz artists. His upbeat style with a modern flare always makes for some good background music. I’m in no way a jazz aficionado so I don’t know the particular differences between him and someone like Miles Davis but much of the jazz out there doesn’t work for me when I am trying to study or focus on a work project.

I’ve put together a playlist of several albums of Chris Potter. All (I think) of the tracks do not have words so its ideal for background music while studying.

You can listen to the playlist here on Apple Music and add it to your library.

Additionally, if you add the playlist to your Apple Music library you can run this Siri Shortcut:

  1. Sets your device to Do Not Disturb (it will ask you how long)
  2. Shuffles the Chris Potter Jazz playlist
  3. Sets the volume to 75%

When you add the Siri Shortcut you can modify it to better fit how you work.

Download the Chris Potter Jazz shortcut.

Scheduled Shortcuts and Location Triggers

One feature that the Shortcuts app desperately needs is the ability to run shortcuts in the background based on a certain time or location. Launch Center Pro recently released version 3.0 and one of its selling features is the ability to run shortcuts based on a certain time or location (listen to the discussion from Viticci on Connected). Not only does this feature require a subscription or a one-time in-app purchase but it can not run the shortcut natively in the background because they are limited by Apple’s API.

Personally, I’m hopeful that Apple will add this type of integration into the Shortcut app sooner rather than later so investing in an app such as Launch Center Pro seems premature and more work later. Additionally, there is actually a way to do something similar without an additional third-party app.

Enter the “Siri, remind me of this later” feature. I think many people forget about the Siri feature which allows you to say, “Siri, remind me of this…” and you can quickly return to whatever you were doing by tapping the icon. I use this method to “schedule” a shortcut. I realize that you still have to tap something but at this point its the fastest and most efficient way to run a shortcut at a certain time or when you arrive/leave a particular location.

For example, I send an email on the first of every month. I have a shortcut that helps me populate the email with the correct date and information and then sends it to the correct people. Using this method, a reminder will pop up on my phone at 9 am at the start of every month, I tap on the Shortcut icon in the reminder, and then it will take me right to the shortcut to run.

Additionally, in the Reminders app you can also set a reminder based on when you arrive or leave a location instead of a time-based reminder. Theoretically, if you wanted to run a shortcut every time you arrived at work you could easily do so.

The video below is just a minute long and shows the process.

Note: In the video, the audio cuts out when I use Siri. This seems to be a limitation of the screen recording feature on iOS but you can still see what I say because Siri types out the words.

Quickly Go Back to the Home Screen in OmniFocus For iOS

This is quite the hidden feature and am glad that it exists:

If you long press on the back button it takes you back to the OmniFocus home screen.

This is a game changer for me as I would often get frustrated because I would be deep into OmniFocus and have to tap the back button 4 or 5 times to get back to the home screen.

Heard on Mac Power Users #461 at 47:13

My Favorite Photo Editing App: Darkroom (now on iPad)

Darkroom has long been one of my favorite photo editors on the iPhone (also voted best photo editor at the Sweet Setup). I’m excited that it is now on the iPad so I can take advantage of the large 12.9” screen, Apple Pencil, and keyboard shortcuts.

Hero

I’m not a professional photo editor, but I have been trying to learn how to do better photography from my iPhone and also edit photos. This app has allowed me to learn about the editing process without using some more advanced apps such as Photoshop, Lightroom, or other “pro” apps. Instead of outlining everything that Darkroom can do I just want to highlight some of my favorite features. If you want a full review of Darkroom 4.0 go check out the excellent article from John Voorhees over at MacStories.

  1. Portrait Editing – This by far is my favorite feature of Darkroom. When you take a portrait photo Darkroom allows you to edit the background and foreground separately. This will enable you to get some outstanding photos from Portrait mode. Often I will increase or decrease the contrast and/or brighten or darken the background, which allows the subject of the photo to really stand out.
  2. Batch editing and exporting – Many times I will take several photos in the same location and would like a similar edit on each of them. I will first edit one photo then batch copy those edits to all the photos in that same location. From there I will go in and fine tune each one. Additionally, you can batch export your photos to either modify the existing photo or create a new one. If you edit the current photo, you can still go back and see all your changes.
  3. Filters – what’s a photo editing app without filters? Darkroom has some of my favorite filters out of the popular photo editing apps. Additionally, you can modify a filter and save it for use later.
  4. The User Interface (UI) – The UI is one of the most intuitive aspects of Darkroom. It reads your photos right from your photo library and has easy to identify markers to know which are portrait photos, what photos have been edited, and photos that have been exported.
  5. Adding borders to photos – When sharing to Instagram and other social media it is helpful to add a border, so you do not have to crop the photo. I particularly like adding a white inset/border to specific photos when sharing to Instagram.

Overall, Darkroom has always been very intuitive to use and has become my go-to photo editing app. I can get into the nitty-gritty with the color palettes or just add a simple filter. Whatever my needs have been Darkroom has met them.

Now that the iPad app is out, I’ll be able to edit photos on a nice large 12.9” screen with my Apple Pencil. With the addition of keyboard shortcuts for the iPad, app editing will be a breeze. This will be ideal when I’m going through hundreds of photos after a family gathering instead of editing on my iPhone.

You can download Darkroom here.

Some Photos Edited in Darkroom taken on the iPhone XS

  

Shortcut Monday: Dictate a Daily Reflection to Day One

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

Since we adopted our first child, Jax, we noticed that we talked much less about our lives with each other than we previously did. Our conversations largely focused on our son but not about what is going on emotionally such as stressors, happenings during the day, or even just what is on our mind. To this end my wife had a brilliant idea of us asking four simple questions to each other every day. These questions help let each other know how our day went but also how we are doing emotionally both positively and negatively.

While we do this everyday in conversation with each other I wanted a way to capture this in Day One on my way home. The transition from work to home can sometimes be difficult. I often will just listen to a podcast but this will not only help me prepare for our conversation but also help with this transition (download the shortcut here).

I created this specific Shortcut for these four questions but I will probably use the same logic with audio prompts and dictation for other types of entries.

The Four Questions

  1. What was your low (or worst thing) about your day? This question is fairly simple and just answers what was the worst thing about your day. Most of our days are pretty mediocre but this gives us a chance to reflect on our day and share something that happened. Sometimes this is as simple as “I went out to eat and I didn’t eat as healthy as I would have like” or sometimes more complex such as recounting a conversation with a co-worker that was difficult during the day. This also gives each of us the chance to expand on what happened during the day and we will often engage in a lengthier conversation about what went on.
  2. What was your high (or best thing) about your day? This is the same question but on the positive side.
  3. What has you feeling negative right at this moment? This question is similar to the one above but the focus isn’t on something that necessarily happened today. The goal of this question is to look at the stressors in our life that may be weighing us down. It’s a time to pause and focus about what is going on inside emotionally and to verbalize that to one another. This could be the upcoming stress of trying to get everything ready to go in order to leave for Christmas, to a project at work that is hanging over our head, our son’s schedule, or a whole host of other things going on.
  4. What has you feeling positive right at this moment? The same question as above but we want to end on a positive note.

The Workflow (download)

You will need to first download the audio files here then upload them to iCloud Drive and create a folder within the Shortcuts folder titled Daily Reflections (iCloud Drive/Shortcuts/Daily Reflections)

First, I get the current volume of the phone and store that in a variable. I want to set my volume to the max so I can clearly hear the prompts but afterwards I would like my phone to go back to the previous volume.

Beginner Tip: The “Get Device Details” can grab all sorts of information from your phone from the volume, brightness, version number, etc. This can be handy in a variety of situations.

Grab the current volume then set the phone volume to the max
Grab the current volume then set the phone volume to the max

Next, I wanted to be able to do this while I’m driving so I need this to be completely hands free. I created four audio files of me saying each question. This gives me the prompt and then a slight pause so I can begin to formulate what I would like to say. The dictation box then comes up and I can just speak my answer. After I pause for a second it moves onto the next prompt. This same action will run four times but with a different audio prompt.

Beginner Tip: The “Get File” action grabs the audio from iCloud Drive. The “Play Sound” action takes that audio and plays it through my phone. When you are working with Shortcuts you have to think like a programmer. Thus, you can just use “Play Sound” because the app doesn’t know what sound you want to play. You have to provide it with some sort of audio file first.

Grab the previously recorded file and play the sound
Grab the previously recorded file and play the sound

Before going to the Day One action I want to reset my phone’s volume so I use the “Set Volume” action and using a “Magic Variable” I grab the device details from the first step in the workflow and use that for the new volume.

The nice thing about the Shortcuts app is that I don’t have to store each of these dictated texts into a variable for later. By using “Magic Variables” I can grab each of these dictations in the Day One action.

Since Day One can use Markdown I use the # sign to do my header then type in the prompts in bold via the asterisks. Each “Dictated Text” variable is just obtained from the workflow.

The final step
The final step

Next, the workflow will open up in Day One. When I’m driving I have my phone in a holder on the windshield which can read my face without really moving it in order to get into Day One so it can save it.

That’s it. You can download the workflow here and of course feel free to modify it however you would like.

Don’t forget that you can also setup your own Siri command to run this Shortcut. The default is set to “Daily Reflection”

The entire shortcut
The entire shortcut

Recommended Coffee Shops in Denver

ETS in Denver, Colorado is right around the corner. I’m excited for many reasons but coffee is definitely near the top of the list. Here are some recommended coffee shops so you don’t have to lower your standards for Starbucks, Panera, Peet’s, or any other subpar coffee experiences.

Sweet Bloom: at the top of the list is Sweet Bloom roasters. I’ve had their coffee several times and it is always top notch. If you’re looking for the best cup in Denver then look no further. When you go in there is a small seating area and if you’re lucky enough you can watch them roast their coffee. The Breve Cortado was fantastic this morning. Sweet Bloom is a 25 minute drive or a two-hour trek from the conference center (https://sweetbloomcoffee.com/).

Instagram: @sweetbloomcoffee

1619 Reed St

Lakewood, CO 80214

Amethyst: another favorite in Denver is Amethyst coffee. I love the aesthetics of this shop and they have quality coffee. They also have a good seating area as well. Amethyst is about a 15 minute walk from the conference center (https://www.amethystcoffee.co/).

Instagram: @amethystcoffeeco

1111 Broadway

Unit 101

Denver, CO 80203

Commonwealth: Last time I was in Denver they had already closed by the time I was able to make it but they kindly let me in anyways. This features an industrial space with many good coffee options. It’s about a 25 minute drive from the conference center (https://commonwealthcoffee.co/).

Instagram: @commonwealthcoffee

5225 E 38th Ave

Denver, CO 80207

Black Eye Coffee: Last time I was in Denver these guys had some of the best espresso that I’ve had. If you get a chance you should check them out. It’s about 3 miles from the conference center (https://www.drinkblackeye.com)

Instagram: @blackeyecoffee

3408 Navajo St

Denver, CO 80211

Other Recommendations (close to the conference center)

Little Owl: One location that was recommended to me that I haven’t checked out is Little Owl coffee. I’ll be headed there sometime on this trip. Lille Owl is located about a mile away from the conference center (https://www.littleowlcoffee.com/).

Instagram: @littleowlcoffee

1555 Blake St

Unit 100

Denver, CO 80202

Novo Coffee: Located about a half mile away from the conference center this also should be a worthwhile place to get a cup of coffee (https://novocoffee.com/)

Instagram: @novocoffee

1600 Glenarm Pl

Denver, CO 80202

United States

Thump Coffee: Seems to be a great location to go hangout for coffee and conversation (https://thumpcoffee.com/coffee/).

Instagram: @thumpcoffee

1201 E 13th Ave

Denver, CO 80218

Crema Coffee House: http://cremacoffeehouse.net/

Instagram: @cremadnvr

2862 Larimer St

Unit B

Denver, CO 80205

Initial Thoughts on the New 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple Pencil 2.0, and Smart Keyboard Folio

Some initial thoughts on the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

  • Initial Impression: Walking into the Apple Store this morning the screen reminded me why I loved the 12.9-inch model in the first place. It is big and beautiful with tons of space to do your work. The Liquid Retina display feels like the OLED screen on the iPhone 10XS but it is slightly different but still beautiful nonetheless. Compared to the 10.5-inch model its a definite improvement.
  • Size: The new 12.9-inch model is noticeably smaller than the original 12.9-inch but it’s not so small that you don’t really notice. After reading John Gruber’s review I thought it would actually feel smaller and more portable that what it actually feels in my hand. Don’t get me wrong it is definitely more portable than the original 12.9-inch model but its not as portable as the 10.5-inch. That said, I think it is small enough for me to enjoy casually plus large enough screen for more serious work. The reason I returned the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro was that just holding it the thing felt huge. Now, I feel like I’m holding a screen and nothing is wasted. It will be different but I think ok. Having the larger iPhone again keeps that ultra portable space with a nice large screen.
  • Smart Keyboard Folio: One thing that I was worried about with the Smart Keyboard was it would be difficult to remove the iPad and use by itself. I removed the other 10.5-inch Smart Keyboard all the time. This one is different, not quite as easy, but still quick to remove and just use the iPad by itself. With that being said the size of the folio really doesn’t bother me. It is still a thin device. I probably won’t flip the folio behind the iPad and hold it most of the time but I never really did that either. That said, when you flip the Smart Keyboard Folio back the keys do disable even though you can feel them so you don’t have to worry about typing while holding it. I enjoy typing on this one more than the 10.5-inch model.
  • Did I say the screen is gorgeous?
  • FaceID on the iPad is almost better than the iPhone. You are always looking at the iPad so anytime you need a password it just automatically registers. I haven’t had to move my head once and its worked in every orientation.
  • Home Button and Bezels: No home button seems natural. Swiping gestures just seem natural This is not an issue whatsoever.
  • The Apple PencilThe magnetic charging and holding mechanism on the top/side of the iPad is absolutely genius.
    • The Apple Pencil feels really good in the hand with the matte finish
    • It’s a little bit shorter so a little nice to write with
    • Using the double tap to switch to an eraser in GoodNotes is magic. Love that feature. This will be great when teaching and I’m sure will be a natural workflow here in a couple days