Posts tagged with "productivity"

Streaks 3 Review

Streaks helps you set personal goals and stick to them using a combination of reminders and tracking. One of the hallmarks of the app, and what undoubtedly won it an Apple Design Award in 2016, is its obsessive attention to ease-of-use. By the very nature of its mission, Streaks is an app in which you shouldn’t spend a lot of time. Whether it’s in the main app, widget, or Apple Watch app, Streaks is designed to remove the friction of turning goals into habits by tracking tasks in a way that doesn’t become tedious, which makes it important to be able to mark items as completed quickly and easily.

It’s been interesting to watch Streaks evolve. As Streaks has added functionality and customization options with each version, the simplicity of its design has remained the app’s core design principle. One of the app’s most opinionated design decisions from the start was to limit users to tracking just six goals. Limiting the number of goals was meant to constrain users to an achievable number of goals and helped reduce complexity.

When I heard that Streaks was doubling the number of goals that can be tracked and adding in-depth statistics and other customizations, I immediately wondered whether that could be pulled off while maintaining Streaks’ signature design. The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ Version 3.0 of Streaks not only remains true to its roots, but it’s also the best version of the app yet.

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Yoink is the macOS Shelf Utility I Want on iOS Too

At WWDC, I was disappointed that the iOS 11 announcements didn't include a shelf where content can be temporarily parked. When Federico and Sam Beckett made an iOS 11 concept video earlier this year they included a shelf, which felt like a natural way to make touch-based drag and drop simpler. I found the omission in the iOS 11 beta somewhat surprising. On the Mac, people use the Desktop as a temporary place to stash items all the time, and without a Desktop on iOS, a shelf that slides in from the edge of the screen seemed like a natural solution. In fact, it’s a solution that has an even more direct analog than the Desktop on macOS that makes a solid case for implementing something similar on iOS: Yoink, from Eternal Storms Software.

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NotePlan Calendar + Markdown + Notes Comes to iOS

When I first heard about NotePlan, I was intrigued. It was a Mac app that used a text format (Markdown) as a calendar-based system, a note for each day, allowing you to easily create tasks and take notes, then see it all in an organized calendar. NotePlan for iOS was released today, and it's enough to sell me on the idea.

I have a lot of side projects (I suppose my whole life is side projects these days), and organizing todo lists is vital. I love using the TaskPaper format, with TaskPaper on Mac and Taskmator on iOS, to track action items for individual projects. I also have a calendar, and a bucket of notes. Combining all of this in one place is appealing to me, and being able to use it on both Mac and iOS makes it truly useful.

In NotePlan, tasks are created as Markdown lists. You can have it recognize any list item as a task, or tell it that only lines with a checkbox (- [ ] Thing to do) are action items. There's an extra keyboard row available when editing that makes it easy to create items, complete or cancel them, or even schedule them for a future date.

Tasks can sync to Reminders lists as well, so it can incorporate into other workflows (and even shared lists). In the calendar view you can tap a day to see the note and associated task lists for that date.

Each day on the calendar gets a note, and you can add freeform notes in the All Notes area. A note can be bits of information, its own action list, or both. You can use #tags anywhere in the notes to organize, and wiki style links ([[title]] or [[YYYY-MM-DD]]) to reference other notes. Tasks added to freeform notes can be scheduled to the calendar with a tap, so you can use notes as a central project repository and schedule out the day's (or week's) tasks as you're ready to tackle them.

NotePlan on iPhone

NotePlan on iPhone

On the new iOS version, you can drag and drop tasks around by pressing a text block until it turns blue and sliding it into place. You can also press and hold until it turns blue, then release and press another one to expand the selection between them, at which point NotePlan will offer you a toolbar to allow batch completion, rescheduling, etc.

I'd label NotePlan as a day planner, not a task manager like OmniFocus or Things. It's ideal for planning out your day, Bullet Journal style. You won't find extensive project management features or perspective overviews, but the combination of scheduling, tagging, and (plain text, portable) notes in one place makes it a true productivity tool.

If words like productivity, GTD, Markdown, TaskPaper and Bullet Journal cause a stirring within you, you're probably the right audience for this one. Check out NotePlan for iOS, and then try out the Mac version for fully-synced productivity. Today and tomorrow, NotePlan for iOS is $11.99. After that, the price will be $14.99. NotePlan for Mac is $16.99.


Timing 2 Makes Time Tracking on Your Mac a Pleasure

Timing 2 for Mac is out today. I've been a long-time user of Timing, and have had the pleasure of beta testing the new version for a while now. It's an excellent update to a great tool.

Timing is an app that runs on your Mac and tracks everything you do. Sounds creepy at first, but the data is completely safe, and the tracking is only for your own productivity purposes (never uploaded anywhere). By helping you see how you're spending your time, you can start to change behaviors. Plus – because it can intelligently associate activities with actual projects – it serves as a detailed work timer for your paid projects.

Timing 2 comes in three versions: Productivity ($29), Professional ($49), and Expert ($79). No recurring payments needed, you own the app and you own your data. Some of the features I'll be talking about are from the Expert version, so be sure to check the feature list before you purchase one of the other versions.

Timing tracks more than just what app you're using. It will record what websites you visit, what documents you open, what folders you work in, and every way you spend time on your Mac. You can even add in notes about what you did while you were away from your Mac.

Timing 2 does a brilliant job of grouping tasks together and automatically assigning "keywords" to add new tasks to groups. You can also assign tracked tasks to projects, and do fine-grained editing on the criteria Timing uses to determine the purpose of the time it tracked.

Keywords and manual assignment of activities can be grouped into categories such as "Research" or "Podcasting." As a result, you can easily see what activities you spent the most time on – and possibly realize that you're not focusing on what you thought you were.

Timing also provides automatic suggestions for blocks of time that might belong together. It makes it easy to group activities and reap the benefits of manual time tracking with the ease of automation.

Timing 2 reports

Timing 2 reports

Then you get the reports. Timing 2 has truly upped its game in the data visualization section. Beautiful and useful graphs showing your most active times, most productive times, the type of work you spent your time on, and a pie chart of your most-used apps. Keep in mind that all of this is gathered automatically – you don't have to configure anything to start getting detailed overviews.

When you edit a task, you can even assign a productivity rating to it. For me, an app like VLC gets a 25% productivity rating. A quarter of the time it's active I'm watching something educational, but 75% of the time is probably less than productive. Now when I get reports, time tracked in VLC can automatically contribute to my overall productivity rating without unduly distorting it, and without me having to go in and manually mark each video as "productive" or "not."

Timing 2 is the result of a solid year of development by Daniel Alm, who left his job at Google to work full time on it. In the process he's turned a useful tool into an indispensable one for freelancers and productivity nerds. If that sounds interesting, go check it out!


Annotable 2.0 Adds Deep Customization Features

Annotable, an image annotation app from developer Ling Wang, received a major update yesterday. Version 2.0 of the app is all about customization. From the tools that appear when you open the app, to the formatting of text added to an image, Annotable gives you precise control over how you use the app and the look of marked up images, making it my hands-down favorite app for image annotations.

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Tomates Time Management: Elegant Pomodoro Timer for Mac

If you're a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, you'll be interested in Tomates Time Manager. Version 4 is a great-looking menu bar app with detailed reporting, Touch Bar support, and a handy Today Extension.

If you're not familiar with it, the Pomodoro Technique is a timer-based way of getting work done in 25-minute sprints with short breaks between, and then a nice long break after a set of four. I first tried the Pomodoro Technique many years ago and it worked well for me, but I didn't stick with it. Over the years I went back to it a few times, but it still didn't stick. It was only last year when issues with my ADHD caused me to desperately need a system exactly like this.

There are a plethora of good timers available for Mac and iOS, including the elegant Zen Timer on Mac (which I've mentioned here before) and Focus Time on iOS. What sets Tomates apart is the combination of elegant design and powerful utility. It allows customizable work and break times, Work Series counts, alarm sounds, and handles task names and reporting.

Version 4 introduces a Today Extension, providing an overview of your progress right in the Today View of Notification Center, tracking your tasks and sessions along with trophies for reaching your goals.

Reporting is also enhanced, with both task and time-based reports. The time-based reports can show today, this week (or this workweek), this month, or a custom time period. The reports can also now be printed or saved as beautiful PDFs. I'll admit those reports aren't something I really need hard copies of, but they are nice looking.

Lastly, version 4 adds Touch Bar support so you can work with the timer from the Touch Bar on your MacBook Pro. Manage and reset timers, and reset the session and goal counters with a tap.

Head to the Mac App Store to check out Tomates Time Management. $2.99 US isn't a bad price to pay for something that could change the way you work.


Interact Scratchpad for Mac Takes the Pain Out of Adding Contacts

Last year, Agile Tortoise introduced Interact for iOS, a powerful app for managing contacts. One of the most popular features of that app is the scratchpad that parses contact information, making quick work of turning a block of text into a new contact. Agile Tortoise has ported that functionality to the Mac in the form of a menu bar app called Interact Scratchpad.

Adding information to contacts is tedious. Too often I find myself switching back and forth between a webpage and the Contacts app typing information into field after field or copying little bits of text and pasting them into those fields. Scratchpad does the monotonous part for you by automatically recognizing all kinds of contact information.

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Bumpr Expands Your Choices of Where Links Open

Bumpr is a clever Mac menu bar utility that is set as your default web browser and email client to give you more choice of how you open web and email links. That seems counterintuitive at first because setting a default usually means picking one app over another, but here’s how Bumpr works. Instead of opening a particular app, Bumpr intercepts the link and opens a menu of options for each of the browsers or email clients installed on you Mac depending on whether you click a web or email link.

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Terminology: A Comprehensive Research Tool for Words

I've been a fan of Terminology by Agile Tortoise since it debuted in 2010. There are a lot of dictionary apps on the App Store, but most are bloated messes that foist multimedia experiences and games on me when all I want is a definition or synonym. Terminology has alway been just about words. With today's update, the app has been redesigned from the ground up with new features that make it a must-have research tool for anyone who writes.

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