Category Archives: productivity and writing

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.

Highly Focused People

Each day we bombarded by multiple commitments, emails from co-workers, the occasional fire to put out, and so on. Additionally, there are probably several tasks that need to be completed, some more that you would like to do, and others that just seem to be in the distant future. You can’t do it all. And, as research shows, we can only do one thing well at a time. When you go back and forth from task to task you will always be underperforming. This is just on the day-to-day.

There is also something to be said for focusing on one project for a longer period of time until you see it to completion. Trying to juggle multiple commitments doesn’t allow you to get into the flow on the project.

I found James Clear’s advice on Twitter helpful, especially the line “If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.”

Tweet Link – @james_clear

Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They make choices. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.

The great irony of this is that by limiting your options and remaining focused until you master a skill, you actually expand your options in the long run. Life-changing optionality is a byproduct of providing great value, which can only be achieved through focus.

So commit, focus, and complete then move on.

∞ Kickstarter: The Panobook from Studio Neat

I’ve bought a couple items from Studio Neat, including the recent Glif. They always put out a good product and are worthy of backing on Kickstarter. In their latest offering they have seemingly succeeded in marketing a notebook gone sideways. Its actually a clever idea and one that I will probably use quite often for taking notes at my desk. I’ve backed it and so should you.

Here is Panobook, in a nutshell:

  • The unique panoramic format (160 mm x 288 mm) is designed to sit nicely on your desk, either in front of, behind, to next to you keyboard.
  • Each page contains a subtle dot grid, with guide markers to help with layout.
  • We really sweated the details. All of the materials have a premium feel and are very nice.
  • Panobooks are designed to be kept. Put it in the included slip case, annotate it if you want, and line a bunch up on the shelf.

Image from their Kickstarter page

Back the project on Kickstarter

Additionally here is a podcast episode with the guys from Studio Neat discussing the Panobook

😳😳😳😳

😳😳😳😳

Deliberate Practice

Developing grit in your activities is a combination of several things such as passion, practice, and a feeling a purpose with what you are doing says Angela Duckworth in Grit. When it comes to practice you can’t merely go through the motions. Practice must be deliberate if you want to improve and get to a state of flow at your task. Deliberate practice allows you to “experience the thrill of getting better, and the ecstasy of performing at your best (137).” When you achieve these two aspects you are one step further in developing perseverance at your work.

So what is deliberate practice? Duckworth outlines three elements:

  1. Know the science. Why? Because without a reason for your deliberate practice too often you will just cruise through life and not improve. The science includes
    1. A clearly defined stretch goal
    2. Full concentration and effort
    3. Immediate and informative feedback
    4. Repetition with reflection and refinement
  2. Make deliberate practice a habit
  3. Change the way you experience and think about deliberate practice. If you are just going through the motions without the proper feedback and goals then you are likely to become less motivated. Deliberate work should be rewarding giving you a sense of accomplishment.

Following Your Passion

I’m currently reading Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which explains how to persevere through your work. Too many people get started on one thing, switch to another, then another, then another, and so forth. Grit, according to Duckworth consists of three aspects: interest, practice, and purpose.

In the chapter on interest she discusses the popular notion of “following your passion.” At graduations everywhere numerous speakers will talk about how they followed their passion and love what they too while often being highly successful. Duckworth, agrees, in principle, with this advice but argues that there is more too this. Generally, people don’t develop a passion for something right away but developed it over time. Thus, following your passion is true but before you can follow your passion you must have one.

First, you need an interest, which contains three elements:

  1. Discovery – finding your interest and passion must first begin with that discovery. This can take time and you should be forced into one thing or another. She says that play should come before work. Find out what types of things interest you.
  2. Development – “interests are not discovered through introspection (104).” Interests take time to develop through a series of interactions with the outside world. When you get started on something you won’t know if you like it or not, it takes time to develop that interests through doing. “Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention–again and again and again (104).”
  3. Encouragement – after discovery and development your interests often need encouragement from those closest to you. Your family, friends, and peers “provide the ongoing stimulation and information that is essential to actually liking something more and more…positive feedback makes us feel happy, competent, and secure (105).”

At the end of the day “follow your passion” isn’t bad advice but you first need to find out what your interests are and what drives you. This takes discovery, development, and encouragement from others.
In my own life, I’ve seen this play out in a couple of ways. I’ve always been driven by helping others improve what they are doing. Looking at something and saying we can make that better. This baseline interests has taken the form in what my current position is working in online learning at Southern Seminary. When I first saw this idea of education I wasn’t too familiar but I had ideas of how to make it better in this context. Its taken time to develop (and its still developing) but this interests is now what drives me. How can we improve what we are doing here. At the end of the day, I’ve had encouragement from friends and other peers, which has sparked further interest and passion in this. If you would have asked me four years ago if I had an interest or passion in online theological education I would have said no. But I’ve discovered, developed, and been encouraged in this interest to where now its become a passion that I want to continue developing and improving.

Mac Tip: Pasting as Plain Text and Using a Free Clipboard Manager

If you do any sort of copying and pasting on your Mac then you know what a pain it can be when you paste text that is formatted from its original location. This is especially frustrating when copying from the web, PDFs, or software such as Logos or Accordance. There are a several different options for fixing this problems. Here are two of them:

The first option is native to the Mac. It is simply using the keyboard shortcut Option+Shift+Command+V. This will paste as plain text stripping all the formatting.

Another option that I use all the time is through a clipboard manager called Flycut (its free!). This app stores everything you have copied and allows you to cycle through and then paste as plain text. This relieves the stress of going back and forth between apps to copy and paste. Instead, just copy everything you need then cycle through your latest copied texts and then paste. You can do all this by holding Shift+Command+V then continue pressing V to cycle through everything.

3 Simple First Steps for Overhauling Your Productivity System

Everyone has a system for getting things done. Unfortunately, for many, that system is in their head, post-it notes scattered around, or their email inbox. I can’t speak for everyone but my guess is that if this is your system then things you need to get done are either all happening at the last minute as something triggers you to remember or they are falling through the cracks. This is no way to live!

If you are wanting to overhaul your productivity system you can take some simple steps to make life much easier. I could tell you that you need to read Getting Things Done, purchase the best task manager, and sit for hours recalibrating everything in your life. Yes, this would work but for most people this is overkill when you are just starting. The best productivity system is the one that works for you. The trick is to find that balance of the simplest method for keeping track of everything without being unnecessarily complicated or burdensome. Being a productive and efficient person should give you clarity and time for the most important things in your life. Productivity is not about (necessarily) getting more accomplished but organizing your life in such a way that you have a good balance for everything.

I love these two quotes from Tim Challie’s book Do More Better (you can find my review here):

  • “Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose.”
  • “I don’t want you to do more stuff or take on more projects or complete more tasks. Not necessarily. I don’t want you to work longer hours or spend less time with your family and friends. I want you to do more good. I want you to do more of what matters most, and I want you to do it better. That’s what I want for myself as well.”

Below, I outline three first steps that you can take to help your productivity system. These are just initials actions that you can do in order to boost your productivity and free your mind for engaging in the most important aspects of your life.

3 First Steps

Perform a mind dump – this idea comes from the GTD system. At the most basic level the idea is to get everything off your mind. One of David Allen’s most popular quotes is “Your mind is not for keeping ideas but for having them.” If you are storing everything you have to do in your mind then you are not free to think through the most important ideas in your life. The only way to remember that you have to do something at the end of the week is to keep reminding yourself of that task. That’s just one task. Now think of everything you have to do and you can quickly see that this can become overwhelming.

So, my first suggestion, is to think of different areas of responsibility in your life. For me, this falls into 3 broad categories: personal (family, home, church, dog, etc), work, and school. Gather three pieces of paper and 15, 30, 60 minutes to sit down and just write down anything that comes to mind that you have to do in those areas of responsibility. I think you’ll be surprised about how much you are actually storing in your mind.

Just this simple process of performing a mind dump will give you clarity about what all you have going on in your life. Once you have done this, develop a plan with your most important tasks. If there are events you need to go to or prepare for then put them on the calendar. For projects, write down the next action that you need to do in order to move the project forward. Many tasks can be deferred until later. Keep a list of these on a separate sheet of paper that you can review at a later date.

This is just a first step in order to help you realize what all you have going on and to clear your mind. Unfortunately, this is not a one-time deal. I try to perform a mind dump every month or so because inevitably I forget to write things down. The next step, will outline what to do moving forward so you don’t develop a habit of constantly trying to remember things.

Create an inbox for your tasks – whenever something comes up that you need to do then you need to write this down in a consistent location. A dedicated task manager is best for this in my opinion (I recommend OmniFocus, Things, or Todoist) but getting started you can use anything such as the Notes app on your iPhone, Evernote, or even just go old fashioned and use a pocket notebook such as Field Notes or a memo pad.

You don’t want to just keep these tasks in your inbox though. You consistently need to clear this inbox and put the tasks in the right place. If it is a larger project then open a file or a separate note for the project and write down some next actions (Evernote allows you to set reminders for notes). For simple tasks put them in a reminders app such as Reminders or the Due app (this is what I use). For time sensitive material such as events use your calendar. By using an inbox it will give you one central location to review new tasks and deal with those appropriately.

The key is not to try to remember everything. This is not how your brain is designed to work! We are naturally forgetful. Don’t keep tasks in your email, brain, or post-it notes scattered around. One location will help you track everything you have going on in your life.

Review – finally, I recommend that you review your tasks on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Personally, I do a Friday weekly review (see my post on this here) but you can do this anytime that works best for you. By reviewing your tasks and projects you will be able to see what is coming up and plan accordingly. The review does not need to be complex but you do need to take a 20,000 ft. view of your life and see what all is going on.

Conclusion

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of tasks that you have to do I recommend starting with these three steps. In further posts I will talk about a more complete system but these three things will help you get started in creating your own system. Everyone’s system will be different but I think there are certain pillars that will improve everyone’s productivity.

If you are interested in more then I suggest looking at David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. Much of my productivity system is based on principles that he outlines in this book. As I said above though, I don’t follow it completely but it gives me a better vision of how I work and how I can track everything going on. The key is to develop a system for you and stick to it. You will have ups and downs. You will need to reset, perform the mind dump, and recalibrate what you are doing. At the end of the day, make your system work for you and you not working for your system. It should always work in the background helping you focus on the task at hand.

Book Review: Do More Better by Tim Challies

I don’t want you to do more stuff or take on more projects or complete more tasks. Not necessarily. I don’t want you to work longer hours or spend less time with your family and friends. I want you to do more good. I want you to do more of what matters most, and I want you to do it better. That’s what I want for myself as well (5).”

Challies nails what should form the foundation of every productivity goal and system. The goal of productivity is not to add a another plate to your life with a bunch of “todos” but to rather arrange your existing todos to flourish in life. One of your goals might be to spend more time with your family. Or maybe you have a healthy work/school/family balance but you are always rushed at completing your projects. Being more productive in this sense would allow you to manage your time and more efficiently work to improve the projects at hand. Regardless of what your goal is remember don’t become more productive so that you can do more in you life but rather how can you do what you are currently doing better. The more aspect can come later when you have a grasp on your own efficiency with the tasks that you do have on your plate now.

One of my biggest complaints with productivity blog posts/articles/books with a theological foundation is that they become too “Christianized” and the advice ends up littered with out-of-context proof texts and twisting and forming scripture to fit ones productivity goals. Some do this better than others but on the whole I am continually disappointed with productivity advice from an explicitly Christian perspective.

Recently I was lamenting to a friend about this problem and I remember thinking why can’t someone just lay down some solid theological foundations and based upon those write a productivity book.

Finally, enter Tim Challies.

The first chapter serves exactly this purpose. He calls it a “productivity catechism” that lays out the foundation for the rest of the book. Hallelujah. Finally. I find the catechism to be a helpful primer preparing the reader for the practical and helpful advice that comes later without much of the cheesy Christaineeze.

Challies defines productivity as “effectively stewards your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.” This simple definition fits with what I was arguing above should be at the heart of any productivity system: to learn how to use the time you have wisely.

A productive person is not about finding all the latest tools, tweaking the most intricate systems, or learning all the shortcuts but forming yourself into a new person (24). Productivity only happens with a life change in the individual. The way you go about your life needs to drastically change in order to transform into an efficient person. All the outside help in the world will not aid you in becoming more efficient if you are still a lazy and distracted individual.

The rest of the book comes boils down to a modified (and simplified) Getting Things Done (GTD) system. This includes figuring out what all your responsibilities are in your life and putting them on paper (ch. 3), stating your mission (ch. 4), picking the right tools (ch. 5), collecting your tasks (ch. 6), plan your calendar (ch. 7), gather your information (ch. 8), live the system (ch. 9), and maintain it (ch. 10). Challies’ writing is simple and clear. Each of these chapters is filled with sound advice and practical examples, solidifying the content of the chapter. He also includes two bonus chapters on email (don’t skip!) and 20 tips.

For this review it is not necessary to go into all the details of each chapter or even summarizing them. The book is already short and to the point (perfect for a productivity book). I would recommend this book both to those who are looking for a helpful guide for becoming more efficient in their life, or, if like me, you have read much on productivity systems (especially GTD based systems) you will find little tidbits of helpful pointers throughout the book. For example, a short section on expecting interruptions provides two potential pitfalls that one might run into when dealing with interruptions. First, the fear of man, which means that you are keen on pleasing people that you end up saying yes to everything. And second, pride, which signals that you already know best so you will say no to everything (95).

Is this the only thing you should read on productivity? Probably not. I imagine Challies would agree. This is a basic introduction and primer to get you started on your feet and it serves it’s purpose well. Another book I would recommend in conjunction with this is the classic Getting Things Done by David Allen. This book goes into more details and stands as the foundation of the GTD system. Remember, everyone’s productivity system will look different for each individual so don’t think that you will have to fit the mold of someone’s system. Take the best of what your read and hear from others and incorporate it into your life. But remember, knowing a lot about productivity won’t make you more productive. That takes the hard work of transformation, focus, and discipline. The tools and system just help you along the way.

Now get to work!

Purchase

My Friday Review for a Better Monday

Starting another week is often difficult because after the weekend any momentum you had during the previous week is gone. Monday is a time for restarting, Tuesday rolls around and you're back in the swing of things, Wednesday and Thursday can be productive days, and then Friday comes and its almost the weekend. So, in very general terms you potentially have 2-3 days of productive and efficient work.
I've followed a modified GTD system for several years now but I never really implemented one of the core pillars, the weekly review. It was always one of those steps that seemed nice in theory but I never made the time to actually try to do it. Several months ago I decided to implement the weekly review into my schedule.
I began to block out my Friday afternoons. The first couple weeks I tried doing it in the office but "better" things always came up, questions to be answered, and distractions challenging me every minute. I decided that I needed to get out of the office in order to focus. Now, shortly after lunch and wrapping things up in the office, checking with others to make sure any questions need answered before the weekend, and (generally) tidying up my desk so its ready for the next week. I then head over to a local coffee shop in Louisville, Quills Coffee, with just my iPad and headphones to get started.

  • [ ] For the following, I am just going to outline what I do in my personal weekly review. For canonical GTD methodology see David Allen's book.

    Looking Backwards

    First, I review my calendar from the past week. How many times have you had meetings or appointments, took good notes, maybe some action items, and then forget about them until a later date? When reviewing my calendar I write down all meetings, appointments, and other interactions I had with other people. I then briefly summarize what was talked about, collect any action items that need to be completed and add them to my inbox, and then finally, gather any notes and store/label them appropriately. If there are people I need to follow-up with I will usually make a separate list for this as well. This allows me to close the loop with others and not have that hanging over my head through the weekend trying to remember what happened in the previous week.

    Project Review

    The next action I take is to review all my projects and tasks that I have going on. Using OmniFocus for this is easy because it has a review function built in. But even if you do not have a task manager then you can still easily manually review your projects. Reviewing projects does not mean going through all the details. For me, the process is getting closure for the week and preparing myself for Monday. I've found extremely helpful to write down action items, or next steps, that need to occur on the project to move it forward. Most projects, just taking that next step can be the difference between delivering on-time or forgetting about it or delaying its completion.

    Clearing Inboxes

    Next, I begin to go through me email inbox according to the "two-minute rule." Basically, if an email can be taken care of in two minutes or less then I complete it right then. This allows me to move quickly through my email. Also, you would be surprised at how fast you can take care of several things when you employ the two-minute rule. At the end of the day I want my inbox to be clear. This doesn't mean that I have taken care of everything but I've either delegated the task, put the email in my task manager for a later date, stored it in reference, or, for many emails, just delete them.

    Looking Forward

    Finally, after looking back at the week, reviewing projects, and processing my email I am ready to make a game plan for the next week. The reason I do this last is because every other step I am adding tasks that probably need to be added for the following week. This is especially true of email. Being at inbox zero doesn't mean everything thing is complete. It just means that the task in the email is in the right location to be accomplished at the right time.
    I first open my calendar and on a separate piece of paper I begin to right down any appointments that I have to be at (note, I also look at my personal calendar to just verify if it will effect the work day and make note of it if it will) . If it is a meeting, I ask myself what level is my involvement, do I need to prepare anything, and who will be at the meeting. If I need to prepare anything I write this down with a note that it will take XX time to prepare for. I find writing everything down separately to be helpful.
    Once time-sensitive events are taken care of I look at projects and other miscellaneous tasks that I have going on. I usually think more big picture. What is my goal for the week? Where do I want to be next Friday. From there I write in tentatively what I would like to accomplish each day. This is always very fluid once the week starts but it helps having a reference point at the beginning of the week.
    I usually have a couple major projects that I need to devote "deep work" on. For these, I mark out specific times that I will work on these projects. I add this to the calendar as well (see this previous post on some ways I use the calendar). Additionally, I plan out time I need to prepare for any meetings so when Monday rolls around and there is a meeting Tuesday morning I know that sometime Monday I need to sit down and review for the next day.
    Finally, for my situation, I have a review meeting every Monday with my Instructional Designer's in the online learning office (they do a great job btw!). I make sure I have written anything down that I need to talk with them about, review the projects they are working on and make any notes or questions, and just make sure I am ready to devote the 1-2 hours with them. This process has saved so many potential future disasters. Finally, I review for our "continuing education" time after my Monday review with them.

    Conclusion

    This process takes anywhere from 1-4 hours. Often, it depends on the time that I can devote to it. If I can leave the office right after lunch then I have about 4 hours in the afternoon to devote to this so I will go through everything in more rigorous detail. Sometimes, things come up and I have 30-60 minutes so I review much more quickly. For Fridays that I don't do a weekly review the next week just seems like a disaster. I am ill-prepared, forget things, and Monday just seems like a freight train charging at me. Doing a weekly review will make your next week more efficient and productive. Taking the time to review backwards and forwards helps you stay on track, meet deadlines, and keep pushing ahead. Ultimately, it clears your mind to be able to think of the big ideas to change things.

Setting Aside Time to Prepare for Meetings

Over the past several months I’ve implemented the process of setting aside times for certain activities and putting them on my calendar. Previously, I only used the calendar for activities that I had to physically be at. My philosophy was that tasks should be kept in the task manager (OmniFocus), events such as meetings and appointments on the calendar (Fantastical), and quick one-off tasks in a reminders app (Due). I still largely keep this distinction but I am finding that certain tasks such as working on a project for work, prepping for a meeting, or reviewing the week were not getting done.

Deep Work

I first began setting aside “deep work” sessions to work on specific projects. On Friday, I would look at my week and set aside 10-15 hours to specifically mark on my calendar [Deep Work: Project Name] in certain time slots. I marked the slot as busy, tell my team during this time I’m unavailable, remove the distractions, and get to work. This has been immensely helpful. Sometimes I’m not as dedicated as I need to be or something comes up in the “Important-Urgent” category that needs to get done but for the most part I’ve been able to make step-by-step progress on a couple long-term projects.

Meeting Prep

The second activity I’ve been adding to my calendar is setting aside time in order to prep for certain meetings. Some meetings you just need to be there and little prep is necessary. Others, you could probably wing it but preparation would make the meeting more fruitful. Sometimes, preparation is necessary otherwise the meeting is mostly a waste of time. And finally, there are others based on a long term project that you’ve been working on for awhile so you are already prepared for those. For meetings that would be better for all parties if there was preparation on my end are the ones that seem to fall through the cracks. I always think that I’ll have time to look over some documents before but inevitably life happens then it is 1:45pm and the meeting starts at 2:00pm so I just quickly look over some things and go. Sure, the meeting isn’t a disaster but it would be 10x more efficient and productive if I had taken the time to plan.
Thus, enter another category I’ve been putting in my calendar: meeting prep. Ideally, I’d like to set aside time 30-60 minutes depending on what the topic is right before the meeting so ideas are fresh but if I can get any prep in then that is alright. Therefore, when I look at my calendar at the beginning of the day or week I visually see time that I have set aside to prepare for certain meetings. Don’t just “get by” when it comes to meetings. Yes, most of us find them a necessary evil but don’t compound that by not preparing for it on your end (even if you aren’t the one leading it).

Protect the Non-Appointments

The key for putting these “non-appointments” in the calendar is to treat that time as sacred. When someone wants to get together then when you look at your calendar then those times should be marked as busy. Protect those times because each time you don’t it will be easier and easier to let your week fill up with other miscellaneous tasks.
At one point, I tried filling in my whole calendar. I marked “deep work” sessions, meetings, and other appointments then also slotted in times for “admin work,” which simply meant that I’m available, in the office, and doing various tasks. I found, after 3-4 weeks of this that it was visualization overload when looking at my calendar because every slot was filled up. I was available during certain times such as the “admin work” that could be filled with other events but it was not visually helpful to see everything slotted the same way. I did try to distinguish different types of work by changing the title to [Admin Duties] and [Deep Work] but I still found it not to be clean enough.
So I still think the calendar is best suited for appointments but I’ve increasingly found that slotting in certain activities can be a useful visualization for planning my day or week. Take the time to plan for meetings, everyone will be better off because of it. Most of us can “fake it” and still have a slightly productive time and sadly that becomes the norm. Instead, plan in order to make efficient and productive use of not only your personal time but other people’s time in the meeting as well.

Eliminating Distractions and Boosting Focus with Noizio

Whenever I am trying to concentrate, music in the background is generally distracting, especially if it is not techno, classical or other non-verbal music. But even this instrumental music is often distracting for some reason. For several years now I’ve ended up listening to thunderstorms in the background. This serves as a way to help minimize distracting noises around me but not be fully immersed in musical instruments or lyrics. Over the years I’ve tried different apps and methods for this but for awhile now I’ve stuck with an app called Noizio .

Coffee Shop Mix: This is just the first screen of sounds. If you scroll down there are several more. 

Coffee Shop Mix: This is just the first screen of sounds. If you scroll down there are several more. 

Noizio plays several different sounds such as rain, thunderstorm, coffee house, wind, waves, river stream, farm animals and several more. You can mix and match the sounds together and also choose how loud you want each individual sound to be. After figuring out your preferences then you can save it and create another one.

Personally, I use two different mixes. One in a quiet atmosphere and another for a louder atmosphere such as a coffee shop. One of the major differences between my two mixes is the presence of the ambient coffee house noise. In a silent location the coffee house noise is actually quite helpful for me but in an actual coffee shop the real background noise coupled with the artificial noise just becomes way too much. Either way, I like to be able to save different mixes for different atmospheres.

After using this app consistently for many months I’ve found that it helps me get into a state of deep focus quicker because my brain now knows that when these noises are going on then it is time to focus and write or research. So not only does it block out the noise but it also helps me get into the writing flow even quicker than without out it.

So if you are looking for an app to help you stay focus and block out distractions around you then I highly recommend the app Noizio.
It is available on both iOS and MacOS

Saturday Recommendation: Cortex

Saturday Recommendations are a brief highlight of something I enjoy that I think is worth you checking out.

The Cortex podcast is one of my favorite podcasts on the Relay FM network. Myke Hurley and CGP Grey basically think out loud about how they work and the most efficient way of getting things done throughout the day. This may sound completely boring to you but I find they have a great chemistry and are an enjoyable listen.

Check it out!

RSS, Twitter, and Newsletters OH MY

RSS used to be the predominant method that most people gathered and curated their reading content on the web. Google Reader was the free and dominant choice of the internet. Then, unexpectedly, they shut down back in 2013 . The internet went into a state of frenzy as people were then forced to rethink how they gathered their content from different websites. RSS made it easy to follow blogs and news site because you chose the content, went to one place to see that content, and mark items as read or for reading later.

Many people turned to Twitter and Facebook in order to gather links. But with the fleeting nature of both, especially Twitter, it can be easy to miss what is being shared unless you are constantly engaged on the platform, which, sadly, many are because of FOMO . Additionally, if you are trying to cut back on your social media consumption, which many are, it has become difficult to both be engaged in writing that you want to follow and avoid the blackhole of social media.

RSS

Personally, I still predominantly use RSS through a service called Feed Wrangler. RSS usually has two aspects:

  1. The service that curates the feeds from websites
  2. A reading platform to view the feeds

Feed Wrangler is 19 $/yr and I've been using it since the Google Reader shut down. They have an app that you can read your subscriptions from but I find it fairly basic and instead use an app on my iPhone and iPad called Fiery Feeds to read everything. Additionally, you can do local syncing without an RSS service but it won't be available on multiple devices. One of the great aspects of Fiery Feeds is the ability to add feeds with the iOS share sheet on websites. Thus, if I am on a blog I want to start following I don't need to hunt around for the RSS link but instead I just invoke the iOS share sheet and click on Add to Fiery Feeds and it links to it my Feed Wrangler account for syncing. Another popular and free RSS syncing service is Feedly, which can also work with Fiery Feeds.

Nuzzel

Another app, Nuzzel ( MacStories review ), has a little different purpose for curating reading content. Instead of following Twitter and getting sucked into the endless list of tweets being sent out every second I use Nuzzel to curate the most popular content from people I'm following on Twitter and my lists. Nuzzel uses as algorithm to find articles that have been shared multiple times by either just people you follow or another level down of people they also follow. This allows me to just open the Nuzzel app and view popular content on Twitter that is, in my experience, good content to read without getting lost in my timeline. In addition, you can setup a weekly or daily newsletter that Nuzzel curates to send to you at an interval at your choice.

I use a combination of both RSS and Nuzzel for most of my content. I've found that not having to open Twitter for content purposes helpful for both my sanity and productivity. Inevitably, getting on Twitter generally puts me on rabbit trails that I never intended and I lose 30, 40, 60 minutes of my day!

So check out some of the new RSS syncing services out there such as Feedly and Feed Wrangler and also use a social media curating app such as Nuzzel to allow you to still find new and interesting content without being so connected with social media.