Adding Some Spark Back to Email

I’ve been a long time Airmail user. It was the closest thing I could find to replace the now-defunct mail client Sparrow (RIP), but for as long as I’ve used Airmail, it’s never been without bugs. Even worse, those bugs seem to not get fixed. Over time, those bugs, mainly one where emails I’d already processed continued to show back up in my Inbox, started to irk me.

So when the Sweet Setup posted an update to their Best Third-Party Email App earlier this month, they caught my attention at just the right time.

They didn’t change their pick. It’s still Spark, and I’d tried Spark in the past but decided to stick with Airmail. Still, I found myself wondering if there wasn’t something to their recommendation.

It turns out, Spark’s grown up a lot since the last time I tried it – enough so that I’ve made the switch.

So what’s good?

  • I haven’t come across any bugs. Once I clear my inbox it stays clear.
  • Readdle, Spark’s developer, is a pretty big name, so I don’t feel worried about their ongoing development.
  • Search is incredible. I even have a few saved searches which have replaced any need for creating project-based labels.
  • It doesn’t add a bunch of extra labels to my Gmail accounts.
  • The smart inbox is pretty handy, although it does require some tweaking to get the training right.

And the bad?

  • Spark doesn’t have all the integrations Airmail had. For instance there is no DevonThink integration. (Airmail’s wasn’t great though.) Moreover, it doesn’t have a native share extension so I’ve been relying on Hook more to create links. It does have integrations with both Things and Evernote though.
  • Both Spark and Airmail create links using their own URL scheme so I’m finally experiencing the pain of email links being tied to a mail client.
  • I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Seen behavior in Spark’s Smart Inbox. If I happen to view an email without processing it, I wish Spark would leave it alone. Instead it either removes it from your Smart Inbox entirely or moves it to a Seen section.

So I’m still trying to understand Spark, but overall, I am happy with the decision to switch. What mail client do you use?

Advertisements

Keeping Track of Meeting Notes with Agenda

thomas-martinsen-2443-unsplash.jpg

I love finding apps that make my life easier, but somewhere along the way I also developed a habit of trying to consolidate apps. Purpose-built apps were abandoned in favor of apps that could be used for multiple things. In doing that, I ended up with fewer apps that did most things but not all of them did everything all that well.

My desire to eliminate purpose-built apps went away after reading Take Control of Your Productivity by Jeff Porten. In his book, Porten mentions that it’s perfectly acceptable to use multiple purpose-built apps as long as you feel they’re the best tools for the job. After thinking about that point for a bit, I realized I still use plenty of purpose-built apps (OmniFocus for tasks, 1Password for logins, Paprika for recipes, and Pocket for long-form reading, etc), and they’re essential because they serve their purposes incredibly well. The key is not finding that one app that does everything but tying all of your best apps into one cohesive system.

I originally heard about Agenda and its new take on notes on Macstories around the time I was experiencing Note-Fail, so I decided to try it. I tried it a few times actually, but I had a hard time figuring out why I should use it instead of one of my other apps. Then I realized I was thinking about Agenda all wrong.

Agenda isn’t there to replace your everything bucket apps like Evernote or DEVONthink. It’s not there to replace your notes app, your calendar, your task manager, or your email either. Instead, Agenda is there to live on top of all of them as the glue holding your projects together. It compiles the narrative of a project from beginning to end, making sense of all the notes you’ve taken, meetings you’ve endured, tasks you’ve completed, and emails you’ve sent and received. With this shift in thinking, Agenda not only made sense, it became essential to my organizational system.

Browsing Agenda’s forums, it seems I wasn’t alone in my struggle of using the app, so with so many people trying to figure out how to use Agenda, I figured I’d share how I’m using it.

First off, Agenda’s primary function is to store what else other than my agenda notes. There are short dated bulleted lists and action items I take while in meetings. I’d already been keeping them separately within my organizational system for a while so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to move them to a separate app.

Within Agenda, I created 3 categories: Personal, Work: Current Projects for current one-off projects I’m collaborating on, and Work: Ongoing for regularly scheduled meetings pertaining to my roles at work.

Each category holds projects containing a collection of notes. In my old system, I’d either append my meeting notes to a single running document for recurring meetings or create individual notes for project-based meetings. With Agenda, every meeting gets recorded as its own note.

Within each project, I also have a pinned note at the top (a premium feature) titled Resources that holds links to related files and other items such as shared running agendas in Google Drive, corresponding projects within Omnifocus, or groups of resources in DEVONthink. Having the pinned Resources folder really helped me see Agenda as the central hub of my organization system that ties projects together rather than just being another spoke on the wheel of tools.

It’s also worth noting I use linking throughout the meeting notes I take, linking to Google Docs, resources archived in DevonThink, emails within Airmail, and data in any other app that supports linking in that way.

Now know having a project with linked notes isn’t particularly game-changing. I could easily have used Omnifocus’s notes field or a note in DevonThink to link everything together, and to be honest, I do just to make my life easier. but what sets Agenda apart is the ability to tie notes to a calendar event. Not only are my notes chronologically ordered within each project, I can also see my notes chronologically ordered across projects (e.g. view all my meetings on August 3rd). Agenda also supports tags, meaning I can type @NameofPerson to tag someone in a note, and then later find all notes with that person. When you’re working with people across projects, this is incredibly helpful.

Another feature of Agenda is a section called “On the Agenda”. You can set Agenda to add any new note to this section automatically. I use this more like a flag to keep notes on my radar until I’ve had a chance to copy any action items into OmniFocus.

In moving my agendas outside of DEVONthink, the only thing I needed to figure out was what to do with one-off projects once they’re completed. Typically I archived them into a Reference folder within my note-taking app, but Agenda does not have any archiving feature at the moment (although they say they’re working on it). I didn’t want to just delete everything either. Thankfully, Agenda makes it easy to export content. When a project is completed, I simply export the entire project as a single Markdown file (another premium feature) and import it into DEVONthink. Quite nicely, the exported Markdown file preserves all the links and even tags allowing me to open the file in an app like FoldingText maintaining all its functionality.

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

An Experiment: Migrating from Evernote to Apple Notes

IMG_B3A6CE032CBD-1

The other day I got a crazy idea to migrate everything in Evernote over to Apple Notes.

Why you might ask?

Having my shared notes in Apple Notes while everything else lived in Evernote really bugged me – probably more than it reasonably should have, but such is my life.

The other issue nagging at me was having to pay for Evernote Premium. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind paying for the service if it weren’t for their 2 device sync limit seeming like a total cash grab. Also, I’m already paying for the iCloud storage so why not use it.

Making the switch was a bit time-consuming, but I really didn’t have to give up as much as I thought I would. In fact, in some cases, Apple Notes has actually turned out to be better.

What I’m Liking:

  • Sharing Things to Notes – It’s no surprise that Apple has baked ways to add things to Notes into just about every part of MacOS and iOS, with one notable exception which I’ll discuss a bit later.
  • Sharing Notes with Others – Sure Evernote allows you to share notes, but none of my friends or family use Evernote, so the feature was lost on me, and a big reason I was stuck using Apple Notes.
  • Simplicity of Design – I really started to notice the feature bloat of Evernote. (Evernote, if you’re listening, please let users with only one account hide the account switcher in the sidebar.) Apple Notes brings me back to a much more minimal design.06_20_18 at 12.11.23PM
  • Folder Hierarchy – I don’t need crazy folder structures for my notes, but Evernote’s insistence on a two-level hierarchy forced me to adopt some weird workarounds including prefixing my notebooks and using tags as a way to add additional levels. As long as you’re adding folders from a Mac, Apple doesn’t seem to care how many levels you want to have.
  • Apple Pencil Support – Evernote claims to have Apple Pencil support but it’s horribly laggy and a real pain to use. As a result, I was already using other apps, including Apple Notes to do any sort of Apple Pencil work.

What I’m Missing:

  • Searching Notes – You’d think searching notes stored in the stock notes app would be easy for a Mac, and if you use Spotlight, it is. Unfortunately, I use Alfred, and for whatever reason, Apple has chosen to store notes in a database that seems to be ever changing preventing any Alfred workflows from keeping up. For now, I’m searching my notes using Spotlight, which means remembering a separate keyboard shortcut. (The fact that Apple’s storing these notes in a database could also be a real pain if I ever need to get my notes out of Apple Notes, but I’m going to choose not to think about that right now because Evernote’s no better.)
  • Evernote’s Web Clipper – It’s really hard to come anywhere close to Evernote’s Web Clipper. Apple Notes can only save links to websites not a full page unless you do a web archive or save it as a PDF which requires a few additional steps. That being said, I was noticing Evernote’s Web Clipper had been doing some odd things to some of my clipped websites, so maybe not all is lost.
  • Note Links – I like to include links to other notes in my notes, as well as within Omnifocus tasks and projects. With Apple Notes, you can’t actually get a link to a note unless you pretend to share the note with someone.
  • Saving Email Content – My mail client of choice, Airmail, has native support for sharing content to Evernote, but surprisingly not Apple Notes. I frequently save important emails for reference, so this is one of my most frustrating features to lose. Surprisingly, Apple’s own Mail apps also lack any ability to share to Notes.
  • Tags – I didn’t use tags extensively in Evernote, but they were helpful in grouping things by topic without having to create a full-blown notebook. For now, I’m dealing with this by sub-folders, but I hope Apple considers adding tags in the future.

There are a few scripts and tools to help you migrate from Evernote to Apple Notes, but I opted to migrate most of my notes manually unless they were purely text-based, which meant this was a pretty time-consuming experiment. (Thankfully, it seems to be a successful experiment.) I’m nearly done migrating the last of my Grad School notes, but already I’m feeling a lot better having one single place for all of my notes.

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

What’s on my home screen? (2017 Edition)

I try to post an update on my home screen at least once a year, but admittedly it has remained fairly stable… at least up until now. This year, I actually have a few new apps to show you! So without further adieu, here’s my home screen for 2017.

The top row still serves as a gauge for my day, but this time around all of the apps are new. I’ve switched back to the stock calendar app (read more about why here). Carrot Weather has replaced Dark Sky, due to it’s superb Apple Watch complication. My Ulla obnoxiously blinking at me is still my biggest motivator to stay hydrated throughout the day, but because it lacks any sort of tracking capability, I use Waterminder to track what I’m drinking throughout the day. I like it because it includes other types of fluids (even soup). Streaks is in the last spot, and I use it to keep track of well… streaks… It’s nice to keep tabs on various habits I’m working on (mindfulness, daily exercise, steps taken, hydration, etc) over time. Streaks and Waterminder are both rare apps that are deemed important enough to break my no notification badges rule.

The next row is my row of folders which serves as a nice visual barrier on the screen. Following a tip from CGP Grey to relocate any lesser used apps to the second page of a folder, I keep only the essentials here and rely on search for getting to the others.

The third row, my Media row, has remained relatively unchanged over the years. These apps seem to be here to stay.

The last two rows are a collection of miscellaneous utilities and things I like to incorporate into my life. 1Password and Waze always get a spot on the home screen. Notes is primarily used for quick access to carry out menus. Given that I still haven’t officially started classes yet, I’m still working my way through some TV shows so Television Time is being used fairly heavily at the moment. To balance it out and serve as a reminder to meditate, I also have Meditation Studio on my homescreen.

My home row, like my media row, hasn’t changed at all. Messages, Airmail, Safari, and Omnifocus are definitely her to stay as well.

Stay tuned for an iPad Pro version coming soon.

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Using Keyboard Maestro to Send Tracking Numbers to Deliveries in Airmail

I’ve been using Airmail since the day it came out, so I was ecstatic when it came to iOS. The iOS version even added a bunch of new features, and the most recent Mac update for brought most of those features to Mac as well. On iOS, one of my most used features is the ability to send emails to Deliveries to track shipping notifications via the Action List. Sadly, there is no Action List on the Mac version.

Deliveries does have a Share extension on the Mac, so you can right click the tracking number and send it to Deliveries, but in my experience, the share extension doesn’t always grab the right information. For example, capturing an Amazon order grabs the “#” before the tracking number, which prevents Deliveries from recognizing it as an Amazon order. Not only do you have to delete the symbol manually, you still have to confirm the dialog before it gets added to Deliveries – all unnecessary steps in my opinion.

Deliveries offers another way to send things to the app – forwarding them to an email address, so my first thought was to set up an IFTTT recipe to forward emails to Deliveries. I quickly realized that to capture all shipping notifications automatically, you either need to create rules to pick up all the specific types of order notifications to avoid missing any emails or create a generic rule that searched for something like shipping which caught way to many irrelevant results.

So I abandoned fully automating the process and instead turned to the trusty Keyboard Maestro which I seem to be using for everything these days. I was able to set up a hot key, only available in Airmail, that will forward the email to Deliveries and then archive the message. It works for any order type without creating multiple rules, and it reduces the number of steps required to add something to Deliveries down to one.

You can see the workflow below:2016-06-15 screenshot