Using Things To Get Things Done

I’ve always had such a hard time getting organized. My desk is a mess and using paper or post its to organize things I need to get done just creates more clutter, as I’m one of those people that keeps everything. The more paper I generate, the more I start shuffling it around in case I might need it.

When I read the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen as the result of a recommendation from Tom The Architect, the very first thing I thought of was that there was no way this would work for me – I would be drowning in paper that I would never throw away. For some reason, no matter how small the writing – I feel like I just might need it someday and wind up keeping it around – forever.

My first foray into automated organization was getting Things for iPhone (available for $9.99 in the iTunes App Store), thinking that, along with the rest of my life – if I had my to do lists in my phone I would pay attention to them and be motivated to actually do them. The fact that you could categorize things in order of importance, or schedule things for a certain date added even more sweetness. I could pay attention to things that were important, but remember things I wanted to do “someday”.

The main problem I had was disciplining myself to take the time to type these items into the phone. I am a touch typist and tend to try to type very fast, resulting in numerous spelling errors. I’m also one of those people that do not just “go to the place where there is an error and fix it”, but for some reason have conditioned myself over time to just delete everything I’ve typed up to the error, no matter how much, and retype. Needless to say, this kind of killed my motivation for actually keeping my list up to date. The times when I did – I was really productive – but I was still forgetting things – as the effort it took to get them in the phone was more than I was willing to spend.

Enter desktop version of Things. The desktop version gives me the ability to sit down anytime during the day (while I’m home) and be able to type and categorize my to do lists on my desktop. Once I am finished, I pull out my iPhone, open up the phone version – and everything synchs automagically. Things I have completed on my phone are completed on the desktop and things I’ve entered on the desktop are now entered on my phone – where I can leave for the day and begin executing.

The official version 1.0 of Things for the desktop (Mac only) will be released at the Macworld 2009 Expo. Until then, you can download the application for free and receive updates as necessary. Retail price for the official 1.0 version will be $49.00 – unless you sign up for their newsletter, in which case you can buy it for $39.

Now of course, I’ve signed up for the newsletter, but I would gladly pay the $49 for the productivity I’ve gained with the integration between these two applications. With both applications, you realize the true power of a smart phone coupled with your desktop environment.

Just to give you an example of the productivity gains, lets look at the numbers. Since first installing Things on my phone, I have entered 134 separate items to get them out of my head. 69 of those were entered between August and October 26th, before installing the desktop app (thanks Twitter, for tracking my life). That means that in 7 days, I have kept track of the equivalent number of items (65) that I entered in 3 months.

The good thing is that, of those entered, 98 are complete, with about 6 in the someday category and the rest sitting in queue waiting to be done. The scary thing is that I have no idea how I kept track of everything until now.

I know this is a lengthy review – but for someone as disorganized as I am this software has been a god send. I highly recommend that you give both a try and see how more productive you become – and how satisfied you feel at the end of each day being able to look back and actually see it. It has made all the difference in the world to me – and I’ll probably be the first one paying for the desktop app in 64 days, 4 hours, and 7 minutes.

Oh, and yes – this blog entry was actually in my list … 😉

Leopard Upgrade Completed

Well, I got my MacBook updated to Leopard last night. I chose to upgrade over Tiger, despite reading quite a few articles recommending against it like this one. Truth be told, I read those articles after the upgrade process had already been started – so it was kind of too late to turn back.

I’ve had few issues. Leopard did wipe out my printer settings that I worked so hard to figure out (this apparently happened to others as well). I thought there was some extra magic that I had to do, as I set up the printer last night multiple times with no ability to print. As I started to look at it this morning, it wound up the Windows machine went to sleep. Once I woke it up, the printer worked fine. I suppose this would have been an easy thing to check last night but I stopped work and went to bed, opting to let Spotlight and Time Machine do their thing while I got some sleep.

All of my applications seem to work fine. I did have to reinstall the FeedBurner Dashboard Widget, and Twidget seems to be a little flaky, but honestly I can’t tell right now if its the widget or Twitter itself. I also had to update the Cisco VPN Client to version 4.9.01.0080, which I found on MacUpdate.

Overall though, everything looks fine. My impression of Leopard over Tiger at this stage can be best characterized in one word: “eh”. Time Machine is cool and I can see it will make my life much easier than manually backing things up to my external drive. Coverflow in the Finder is cool, but I can’t see a practical use for it. Spaces will be great, if I can figure out how to use it.

I guess its fair to say I just haven’t spent much time with it yet. Time will tell whether it was worth it or not. I’m just glad the machine booted.

How To Set Up Mac OSX To Print to a Windows Print Share

I found one annoyance about Mac OSX. I could not figure out how to set my Mac up to print to our shared printer that is connected to a Windows XP machine.

Well, thats not necessarily true. I figured it out once, but for some reason it just stopped working using the standard printer setup. Since then, I’ve been printing to PDF, emailing the document to myself, and grabbing it on the machine with the printer and printing the PDF. Since we were setting up Jonna’s new Vista machine anyway and working through those connectivity issues, I decided to work on getting printing to work for real.

After culling through a bajillion posts today, I finally figured out how to do it. I figured this ‘pictorial’ could give you all of the steps you need to do without having to go through the effort that I did to get the information.

As an aside, all images were grabbed and marked up using Skitch.

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Apple made it very non-intuitive to get to the advanced options. You have to hold down the Option key, then click “More Printers” in order to get to it. This annoyed me. The advanced option should be there no matter what. I shouldn’t have to do anything special to add the smb: address of the printer.

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‘username:password’ is the username and password to log into the Windows machine with. IP Address is the IP of the Windows machine with the printer, and finally share name is the name you gave to the printer when you shared it.

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I hope this “graphical representation” of the process helps you get your shared printers up and running. This is what I needed. Rather, I had to read through many false starts and theories before getting to the meat of the issue, which was essentially getting to the ‘Advanced’ options in the print manager. Now you know the secret. Happy printing!

iPod Power Adapter – Sold Separately

Photo by rbieber

Kudos to Apple for getting an even larger share of my wallet. When you buy an 80G iPod, the only way you can charge it is through your PC. In order to charge via AC power (say when your getting ready to travel and will not be taking your home machine with you), you have to spend another $40 on a USB Power adapter. These use to come WITH the unit.

This Weeks Drunk and Retired Podcast, OS X, and Dashboard Widgets

Dave Fayram sits in with Cote this week on his podcast talking about Rails backends. This was all interesting, but what really caught my ear was the last 11 minutes or so of the podcast, where Cote and Dave start talking about using OS X in businesses, and Dave describes his all Mac office and brings up the use of Bon Jour as “their own personal twitter server” and the use of dashboard widgets to perform work in context, much of what I was thinking about when I wrote Metrics As a Side Effect last week. Its cool to see that other people are thinking about this stuff, and a shame that businesses are so stuck in the “business use” of Windows that we cannot take advantage of some of the ultimately cool things available on the Mac to increase personal productivity, such as the dashboard, Growl, and Rendezvous.

It was interesting to hear Dave talk about how “beautiful” their infrastructure is, because they have been able to focus on things aside from security, VPN, notification frameworks and the like because a lot of the things that infrastructure folks spend most of their time on are taken care of already on a Mac network.

I have to say, I am at least 5x more productive at home on my Mac than I am waiting 15 minutes for my Windows machine to boot and log into the network in the office. I tend to do my most important work off hours now, just to be able to work on a more intuitive and easier to use machine. I feel like I can concentrate more on the problem I am working on than how to do it, which again, tied into the whole Rails conversation for me.

Very interesting discussion. Excellent content. I highly recommend this one.

First Trip To The Genius Bar

Since buying my Macbook in June, I’ve become extremely addicted. I’ve made an investment in repurchasing software where necessary and buying software that I’ve talked about on the blog and have converted over to it being my primary machine. I’ve been extremely impressed with the machine thus far and actually, at this point, find it torture to move back to Windows for any period of time.

I’ve had really no problems until recently. All of a sudden over the past four weeks or so, I’ve had issues with the magnetic AC adapter plug actually seating properly. At first, I would go into the living room unplugged, come back to plug in and would notice that the light on the AC adapter plug didn’t go on. A quick jiggle and the machine was charging again.

More recently, the light would just turn off randomly and the ‘jiggling’ became a more concerted effort to get the plug seated. So I decided on Saturday that it would be a good time to make my first trip to the Genius Bar over at the Apple store in Woodfield to see what they could do for me.

Once again, I have to hand it to Apple. I walked into the store and explained my problem and the person at the register kindly explained to me that I could walk to any machine in the store, hit the ‘Concierge’ button on any of them, and schedule time with a ‘Genius’. As soon as we registered, my name appeared on a screen above the bar, along with a ton of iPod and OS X tips that circulated on the screen so I knew exactly where I was in line and had something to do while I waited.

When my turn came, I went up to the bar, pulled the machine out of its original box and explained the problem. A quick test of another plug found the AC plug to be bad. A few minutes later I had a brand new AC adapter and was walking out of the store to have lunch with Jonna.

I like the environment that Apple has created in its stores. Its a marked difference from going to the ‘Geek Squad’ at Best Buy. Going with the same problem there would have been standing in line getting irritated because nothing was there to keep my head busy except watching the 4 people in front of me, only to get up to the counter to watch some kid fumble around with the machine (not the plug) until I had to direct him to what the actual problem was (I’ve had this happen, its rather irritating). Apple obviously realizes the problems with standing in line with a problem and has gone to the lengths to keep people occupied and interested in something as they wait.

I also found the staff to be extremely knowledgeable and polite as I watched the people in front of me get their problems solved with their iPods, which usually came down to a reboot, which while is documented in the manual, even I had issues with (I tend not to read manuals). The staff dealt with even these common sense (once you know them) questions politely and like it was the first time they had answered them.

I have to give major kudos to Apple for the concept of the Genius Bar. It made for yet another positive Apple experience for me.