Go Plain Ubiquitous Plaintext Capture, Part 1: nvALT

In my Go Plain manifesto, I said that the first thing I plan to deal with is ubiquitous plaintext capture solution.

So here I am, trying to deal with it, having some success on the Mac, mostly failing on mobile…

This post is part 1 of several posts on the subject of plaintext capture. I am dividing it to parts because it is still work-in-progress, and I wanted to share as I go along.

To reiterate and elaborate, my expectations for a “ubiquitous plaintext capture solution” include:

  • Available across all my devices. To prioritize: MacBook, Android phone, iPad, Windows laptop.
  • Sync “captured items” across all said devices, given connectivity. Handle poor connectivity with dignity – we are talking about plaintext files here. Handle sync conflicts gracefully.
  • The act of “capturing a piece of information” must be totally frictionless. This means as few clicks and taps as possible to get to “capture mode”. No messing with filing and categorizing a “captured item”. It should just be there, waiting for when I’m ready to deal with processing it.

A tl;dr version of where I am with this, at the time of writing:

  1. Decided that “captured items” are plaintext Markdown-formatted files in my Dropbox GoPlain/Notes directory. Flat structure (e.g. no sub-directories) to force simplicity. Filename is note title, file text is note content.
  2. Decided on nvALT for capturing notes on OS X. Been using it for a couple of weeks. It’s perfect!
  3. Became frustrated with the options I evaluated on Android. Remained unsolved for now 🙁 .
  4. Got overwhelmed with options on the iPad (iOS in general). Got to join nvNotes beta testing. Loving it so far!
  5. Didn’t do anything with my Windows laptop. It just sat there, streaming my Google Music library. Just as important for my productivity 🙂 !

In this part, I go into some detail about nvALT and my “ideal capture experience”. If you stick around, there might also be a mobile rant 😉 .

Continue Reading…

Go Plain: My Simplicity-Driven Personal Productivity System

In the previous post, I announced that I am ready to reinvent my personal productivity system.

Today, I present Go Plain: My simplicity-driven personal productivity system. Well, it’s not yet a “personal productivity system”. It’s the working title for my work-in-progress system, and this post is a high-level “manifesto” for this system. I use “manifesto” here loosely, and mostly mean “high level roadmap and requirements”. Just thought it was a fun word to use 🙂 .

You can refer to the Go Plain project page for an always up-to-date list of posts related to this project.

Continue Reading…

My Productivity Porn Season Has Begun

My name is Itamar, and I’m an addict. My addiction is hardcore productivity porn (don’t worry, it’s SFW).

I do my best to keep my addiction controlled. Under normal circumstances, I don’t tamper with my “productivity system”, beyond minimal maintenance, and the occasional incremental targeted workflow improvement.

The issue with the statement above is an underlying assumption that “the system is mostly good, and fits my current situation in life most of the time”. That assumption has been overwhelmingly false for a little over two years now.

Continue Reading…

Some More Google Inbox Feedback

Following up on my earlier Inbox thoughts and feedback, I wanted to share new feedback from the last 3-4 days.

This time I’ll jump straight to to feedback:

  1. When I get an email that was auto-forwarded from one of my aliases (e.g. Google Apps email), the default “Reply” behavior in Inbox is to “reply to all” (including myself). This is not desired, and not consistent with Gmail, where the default behavior was “reply to sender” (and set “from address” to the alias).
  2. In Gmail, I used to apply labels using the keyboard. L would open the label menu, and I could type a label prefix to filter the labels list and apply it. This doesn’t work in Inbox. I had to use the mouse to click “Move To”, and scroll and select the label / bundle to apply. When I forget that typing doesn’t filter the list, I accidentally perform unexpected operations on the item…

The last, most painful one:

  1. No more multiple labels support?!?! There’s only “Move To”! Moving to a bundle / label replaces the existing bundle / label. OMG, why???

If you agree with any of these – please submit it too, so the issue gets the attention it needs! To submit feedback, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar, click “Help & Feedback”, and “Send Feedback”.

I also encourage you to share your feedback that I didn’t cover!

Continue Reading…

Google Inbox: Initial Thoughts and Feedback

I started using the new Google Inbox with my personal Gmail account a couple of days ago. Here’s my initial impression, along with some feedback that I sent to Google.

First, it’s important to understand that people use Email in extremely diverse ways. This means that most people probably try to apply their existing Email workflows with Inbox. As a result, the experience may be very different!

Before Inbox, my Gmail workflow can be generally summed up as:

  • Daily inbox zero.
  • Mostly not using email as “todo” items.
  • Using Boomerang for Gmail to followup on sent email.
  • Using Priority Inbox (not the categories that replaced it) heavily.
  • Archiving everything that I can (search-don’t-sort).

Moving to the new Inbox, I am forced to switch from Priority Inbox to the bundles (same as categories). I will need to get used to it.

The “Done” concept is identical to archiving email, so that’s something that I can preserve from the Gmail workflow. Seems that keyboard shortcuts are the same. At least those I use regularly – y to archive-and-return-to-list, [/] to archive-and-move-to-prev/next, and j/k to move-to-prev-next.

Looks like “Pinning” is similar to “Starring” email. In practice, I used stars in Gmail to pin email in Priority Inbox, so it fits the same workflow. A nice feature is the toggle between “show all items” and “show pinned items”.

“Snoozing” is new and interesting. It’s pretty much identical to setting “Email reminders” with Boomerang, which I rarely used. I think I didn’t use it mostly because the Boomerang implementation was clunky. To make the item “jump up”, they had to reply-to-self when the reminder is due, which I didn’t like. Being able to snooze “better” may help reach inbox-zero by snoozing instead of processing, which may be good or bad, depending on my will power at the moment.

The UI is all modern and nice (material?). Bundling many items into one “UI element” is a little weird. What value do I get from seeing one line that says “Social (25) Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and 10 others”, that I need to click to see another list of 25 items? I’m not sure what I think about it yet.

I like it that the web UI and the Android client are much more in-sync compared to Gmail. I remember avoiding a couple of Gmail-tweaks that could have been useful, but were available only with the web UI. It’s important that I can do the same things from my different devices. Yay Polymer?

There are, of course, a couple of things I don’t like (or I miss) in the new Inbox. For each of the following bullets, I submitted feedback to the Inbox team. If you agree with any – please submit it too, so the issue gets the attention it needs!

  1. Attachments are shown as big icons in the main view. They take a lot of space, but produce very little value… Especially on mobile!
  2. Not clear how to modify bundles. Couldn’t figure out how to move a specific mailing list from the “Forums” bundle to a dedicated one.
  3. Feature request: Allow “snoozing” also outgoing emails (e.g. “remind me to followup on this if no reply within X”). Like Boomerang.
  4. Feature request: Support scheduled outgoing email (e.g. “send this email / reply at X”). Like Boomerang.
  5. Support Google Apps domains! Why is it too much to ask?? O_o

To submit feedback, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar, click “Help & Feedback”, and “Send Feedback”.

I also encourage you to share your feedback that I didn’t cover!

Continue Reading…

Quick Evernote Template-based Note Creation with Launchy

Recently, I redesigned my GTD system based on Evernote as the main tool.

I believe strongly that the chosen tools should not “get in the way” of interacting with the system, so when I noticed that several of my Evernote workflows include too much repetitiveness and friction – I looked for ways to reduce that friction and enable me to concentrate on the content and not the meta.

Since I am already a fan of Launchy keyboard launcher, I sought for the ideal integration between Launchy and Evernote – something that would allow me to quickly create template-based notes in Evernote, whatever the active application is, in as frictionless way as possible, while still being flexible and powerful.

I found a couple of ideas, like Brandon’s My Simple Curiosity post on Evernote note templates, and Stephen’s Thought Asylum post on the same subject. These posts were inspiring and helpful, and I wound up developing my own solution, relying on stuff I learned from them.

The result is a collection of scripts and utilities I wrote, that does exactly what I want.

This Evernote-Launchy integration allows quick creation of parametrized template-based notes from Launchy on Windows!

Continue Reading…

My Favorite Chrome Custom Searches

Custom search engines are an awesome feature in modern web browsers at large. This is especially true in Google Chrome (which is incidentally my favorite desktop browser for daily use).

In a nutshell, custom search engines power-charge the address bar (or omnibar), and allow the user to assign keywords for special operations. Custom operations include searching in a specific site (e.g. Wikipedia, or this blog 🙂 ), run some JavaScript, or invoke commands in various web-apps using crafted URL’s (e.g. creating a new calendar event).

See Google’s support for more details.

In this post I describe my favorite custom search engines, as I configured them in Chrome on my computers, including site-specific searches, time-constrained searches, etc.

It should be noted that other browsers have a similar feature with similar syntax, so the same definitions might apply as well. Note that I did not test them on browsers other than Chrome.

Continue Reading…