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Posts tagged with "productivity"

Things 3.4 Brings Powerful New Automation Features and App Integrations

I switched to Things as my task manager late last year, sometime before the holidays. While I discussed this decision at length on Connected and AppStories, I didn't write about it on MacStories because I didn't want to rehash Ryan's in-depth review of Things 3. In terms of design and features, everything I like about Things is covered in his original review.

My personal motivation for switching to Things boils down to this: the way projects and the Today screen are designed in Things fits well with my schedule, and doesn't stress me out. Things has a "calm" interface that doesn't turn overdue tasks red, making me feel guilty; projects are clearly laid out with a tasteful use of San Francisco, and further organization can be applied to a project using headings, a feature I've never seen in any other task manager. And among dozens of thoughtful touches, Things' separation of Today and This Evening for the current day is absolutely in line with how I think about my typical day. In short: I want 2018 to be less stressful than last year, and Things is helping with the task management part.

That said, as someone who used 2Do and Todoist in the past and heavily automated them for integration with other apps, I was missing some solid automation options from Things. Cultured Code has offered a basic URL scheme in their iOS app for a few years now, but the supported commands never went beyond the ability to create basic, metadata-free tasks in the app.

This is changing today with Things 3.4, which I've had the opportunity to test and experiment with for the past couple of months. With this new version, the folks at Cultured Code have shipped one of the most powerful and versatile URL scheme action libraries seen in a task manager for iOS – comparable to Omni's work on OmniFocus, and, in a way, perhaps even more flexible.

The new Things URL scheme, which has been documented here, lets you create tasks, projects, show specific sections of the app, and search across your entire Things database. This may not sound too impressive on paper, but what sets this feature apart is the level of customization and detail that can be applied to every single parameter of every action. As a result, Things is now a first-class citizen of the iOS automation scene, and, within the limitations of iOS inter-app communication, its URL scheme unlocks several new possible integrations with apps and workflows.

Furthermore, Cultured Code wants to make it easy for third-party developers to natively support sending data to Things from their apps. Today, the company is also introducing a JSON-based command to allow more control when adding items to Things from external apps, and they've created a set of Swift helper classes that apps can use to easily generate the JSON needed to pass data to Things. As I'll demonstrate later in this article, a couple developers of two of my favorite iOS apps are already taking advantage of these capabilities to great effect.

As you can imagine, I've been busy experimenting with the new automation features of Things and identifying aspects of the app I wanted to speed up by integrating them with other apps. Below, you'll find a collection of the launchers and workflows I've put together for Things 3.4. These are the actions and scripts I find myself using the most on a daily basis, and which I believe considerably extend Things' capabilities on the iPhone and iPad. More advanced workflows will follow over the next couple of weeks (and months) exclusively for Club MacStories members in the Workflow Corner section of MacStories Weekly.

Let's dig in.

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The Sweet Setup Launches ‘All the Things’ Video Course

Today The Sweet Setup launched 'All the Things', a video course primarily aimed at explaining how to get the most out of Things, the popular task manager for Mac and iOS.

Like they did for their Ulysses screencasts last year, the folks at The Sweet Setup have produced a series of videos covering Things with walkthroughs of its basic features, project organization, as well as more advanced options such as iPad drag & drop and workflows. The videos included in the $29 'All the Things' Basic package are:

  • Walkthrough of Things on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone
  • Anatomy of a Task
  • All the ways to Capture
  • Anatomy of a Project
  • Anatomy of an Area
  • Cloud Sync & Backup
  • iPad drag & drop
  • AppleScripts & Workflows

In addition to the screencasts, the Basic package includes setup interviews with Things users who rely on the app to get work done. I was honored when Shawn asked me to participate in the course, and it was fun to answer his questions about my decision to switch to Things and how I use the app. You can find my interview here.

I'm a fan of The Sweet Setup's screencast courses. I like Shawn's style of demonstrating features and how they work in practice, and I think the Basic video package is a great deal at $29 if you're looking for a way to get started with Things and learn how other people use it.

There's more, though. In the Pro version of the 'All the Things' package, available at $39 for a limited time, you'll also get access to Shawn's productivity training videos that contain general tips that work for any task manager. So whether you use Todoist or OmniFocus or something else, videos such as 'How to Schedule Your Day' and 'Weekly Planning & Reviewing' will likely give you something you can apply to your own workflow. And if you just want these videos without the Things screencasts, that's also an option at $35.

I watched nearly every video of the 'All the Things' Pro bundle over the past week, and – I don't say this because I was interviewed for this series – I think $39 for the discounted Pro package is great value whether you want to learn Things or optimize the way you work. You can find all the details about 'All the Things' and purchase the course here.

Agenda Review: Mac-Based Note Taking with a Calendar-Focused Twist

Agenda is an intriguing approach to note taking on the Mac that’s organized around dates and your calendar. The app is beautifully-designed and notably feature-rich for a 1.0 but lacks an iOS counterpart, which is still in the works, and collaboration features, which will limit its appeal to some users. There are also areas of the app that lack polish, but overall, Agenda shows a lot of promise and should be attractive to anyone who juggles multiple calendar events and deadlines.

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Cardhop by Flexibits Takes on Contacts

Flexibits took much of the frustration out of calendars when it introduced Fantastical for macOS in 2011 by leveraging natural language input of events. It followed up with iPhone and iPad versions. Now, Flexibits wants to do the same for contacts with a brand new app called Cardhop by integrating contact creation, management, and interaction into a single text field of a macOS menu bar app. The app is beautifully-designed and powerful but solves a problem that I’m not sure many people have today.

Many contacts apps are notoriously clunky, hard to get information into, and prone to creating duplicates, which limits their utility. However, contacts apps are less necessary today than ever before. Email clients and messaging apps automatically fill in contact information based on past messages you’ve sent. Other apps and services make it easy to bypass contacts apps altogether with favorites and recent contacts lists. In a communications app-centric world, I expect Cardhop will be a tough sell.

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PCalc’s Delightfully Insane About Screen

As apps updated for iOS 11 begin to trickle out onto the App Store, it’s fitting that the first of what will be many reviews on MacStories in the coming days features ARKit, which from all indications is a big hit with developers. Even more fitting though, is that the app reviewed is PCalc by James Thomson. PCalc is an excellent calculator app that was one of Federico’s ‘Must Have’ apps of 2016. It’s available on iOS devices, the Apple Watch, and even the Apple TV. Still, you wouldn’t expect it to incorporate 3D animation or augmented reality, but that is exactly what the latest version of PCalc has tucked away in its settings.

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Trello Launches Mac App with Custom Keyboard Shortcuts, Native Notifications, and More

Today Trello introduced a new dedicated Mac app that includes features built for power users, such as customizable keyboard shortcuts, desktop notifications, and more.

Any serious productivity app on the Mac needs to include keyboard shortcuts, and the team at Trello clearly knows that. There are shortcuts for all the expected things like adding a new card, navigating between boards, and more. Where Trello impresses is that you can customize these shortcuts to your liking, making them easier to remember. One unique shortcut allows you to set a specific board to automatically open every time you start the app, saving an extra click.

Since it’s a native app, Trello includes native macOS notifications now, an improvement over the sometimes-janky Safari-powered notifications. It also enables opening boards in separate windows. Lastly, the app supports the Touch Bar for MacBook Pro owners.

Trello is available for download from the Mac App Store.


Elk Adds Lock Screen Currency Conversion

Elk, the currency converter app that we reviewed earlier this year has been updated with a smart feature that allows you to access a currency conversion table from the Lock screen of your iPhone. The feature is a hack in the best sense of the word. By leveraging your iPhone’s Lock screen wallpaper, Elk allows you to quickly get a ballpark sense of what something costs in another currency without unlocking your phone and navigating to the app.

The simple feature grew out of the developers’ practice of manually creating a currency conversion table and setting it as their Lock screen wallpapers. Like many tedious tasks though, there was a better solution through software that eliminated typing a conversion table before every trip.

To create a currency conversion wallpaper, open the currency table you want to show on your Lock screen in Elk and tap the share icon. By default, the app will show you the system wallpapers available on your iPhone along with previews of three different currency tables overlaid on the selected wallpaper. You can also navigate to the photos on your iPhone and pick one of those for your wallpaper. After you select an image, you can save it to your photo library with the currency conversion overlay as a still or Live Photo wallpaper. Finally, open up the Settings app and set your newly created image as the lock screen wallpaper.

That’s all there is to the feature, but it’s extraordinarily handy when you want to get a rough idea of a conversion on the go. I particularly like the Live Photo version of the wallpaper because I can enjoy the image on my Lock screen, but still get to the currency table with a short press on the screen.

Of course, the data overlaid on the wallpaper cannot be updated, but it’s close enough for short trips, and you can always regenerate the wallpaper periodically with the latest rates.

Elk is available on the App Store.

Soulver Updated with Split View Support and File Management Features

The iOS version of the calculator-replacement app, Soulver, received a big update today. The app, which combines elements of a text editor with a calculator, lets you work out problems the way you would describe them in writing. The latest version of Soulver, released earlier today, adds some key features for iPad users, greater cloud storage flexibility, and a host of other improvements.

For iPad users, Soulver has added support for Split View and Slide Over. Soulver is the perfect app to put in Split View as you reference other apps to collect numbers. I expect to get a lot of use out of this feature alone.

You no longer need to pick between storing your Soulver documents in iCloud or Dropbox. The app can now access documents in both cloud services and move items between them. If you enable support for both services, you can set one as the default in the app’s settings. You can also migrate documents from one service to the other from settings.

Soulver now supports importing from any file provider on your iOS device by long-pressing the plus button in the navigation bar and can recover deleted files from the trash by tapping the folder icon. Shake to undo, which is a nice trick, but not very discoverable, has also been abandoned in favor of a dedicated button in the navigation bar.

Flexibility is necessary for utilities like Soulver to remain relevant. With Split View support and more file management options, Soulver has laid a foundation for iOS 11 and beyond.

Soulver is available on the App Store.

ETA Update Automatically Calculates Calendar Event Travel Times

In the past, I rarely added locations to my calendar events unless I was going someplace I’d never been, but that’s changed since I started testing the update to ETA that was released today. The reason for the switch is a powerful new feature available as an In-App Purchase in ETA, which uses locations associated with events in your calendar to tell you when to leave for an appointment and how long it will take to get there.

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