My Personal Reading Workflow

Having recently joined a book club, my personal reading habit has started returning back to normal levels.  Having recently wrote about how I read for grad school, I thought it might be interesting to detail how I go about reading for fun too.

First things first, I almost always pick the Kindle version when possible. They’re delivered instantly, don’t take up any space, and I honestly prefer the reading experience more than I do with physical books. I get most through my local library’s website, but occasionally I will buy them through Amazon or check them out through the Kindle Lending Library. Since Kindle Lending Library books have to be read on a Kindle (not just the app) this is usually last resort, but it’s nice for books that aren’t available from my library that I don’t want to buy.

Once I’ve picked a book to read (and I’m usually reading a few at a time), I set up a project in Omnifocus. I have a template saved in Keyboard Maestro. Triggering it prompts me for the book’s title and author, and then generates a project with corresponding tasks for progressing in the book in 10% increments, along with one final task which I’ll get to in a second. I also add the book to my currently reading list on GoodReads just for good measure.

For the actually reading, I use either the Kindle app for Mac or my Kindle Paperwhite. Even several years old, the Paperwhite is still one of my favorite devices and my preferred way to read. As I’m reading, I take notes on or highlight anything that seems worth remembering using the Kindle app or Paperwhite.

Once I’ve finished a book, my final task before marking my book project complete is to export my highlights and notes. To do this I use a bookmarklet called Bookcision, which exports your notes and highlights in plain text. From there, I copy them into a repository. Any sort of destination will do. I’m currently using Evernote, but have used Day One in the past. I do this so that I can search across all my highlights and notes, which not only helps with recalling what I’ve read but helps to establish connections between books I might not have otherwise seen.

I hope this has been helpful. Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of and remembering what you read? If so, I’d love to hear them!


Omnifocus Project Templates with Keyboard Maestro

Two years ago, I wrote a post about using checklist templates in Omnifocus. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve written on the site, but, honestly, I never really felt like having a folder of stalled projects that I could duplicate was all that great of a solution. Not only did they add visual clutter to an already complex system, but some of my more complex ones required fiddly applescripts.

Thankfully that’s all changed. With version 2.7, Omnifocus is finally bringing the TaskPaper support it first introduced on iOS to the Mac, and it’s allowed me to drastically improve my templates.

The folder of stalled projects has been replaced in favor of a new set up that uses Keyboard Maestro. Seriously, I can’t say it enough. Every day I find a new use for this app. If you haven’t bought it yet, go do it!

I’ve set up a hotkey to display a macro palette that displays a list of my templates while in Omnifocus. You could just as easily trigger this with a snippet. I just think the palette looks nice, and makes it look like I spent a lot more time making my templates than I actually did.


The beauty of TaskPaper support is that you can just copy and paste tasks in Omnifocus preserving all of the meta data like contexts and due dates, so the simplest of my templates (e.g. my packing list) do just that. They paste the TaskPaper template using an “Insert Text by Pasting” action. All I had to do was select the template project I had in Omnifocus, copy it, and paste it into the Keyboard Maestro action. Essentially these are just text snippets, so you could just as easily do this with a TextExpander snippet.

For the templates with fill-in variables, I just added an additional action to prompt for input and updated the template to include the variable tokens. Again, this is something you could also easily do with an app like TextExpander, which also supports fill-ins.

Of course, Keyboard Maestro’s incredible power actually inspired me to take a few of my templates a step further than just variables, and this is where I think it’d get a bit more complicated if you were trying to use TextExpander. Some of my project templates have action groups that are conditional (e.g. if x, also do y). My previous templates just included all the groups and I deleted them if I didn’t need them. With Keyboard Maestro, If, Then rules automatically add or remove the groups based on other variables of the template.

Healthy Habits with Keyboard Maestro

By this point, pretty much everyone knows about the dangers of sitting in front of a computer all day. Unfortunately, some of us work desk jobs and just don’t have a choice. Even more unfortunate is my tendency to forget to get up and move around unless I’m reminded. I don’t have an Apple Watch to remind me to move, and I’m hesitant to create too many alarms on my Fitbit Charge HR that might detract from my main reason for using alarms, medication reminders. Thankfully, Keyboard Maestro has saved the day once again.

Inactivity Reminders

A little over a year ago, I bought an app called Healthier. It’s a simple app that lives in your menubar reminding you to take a break by overlaying the screen after a time period of your choosing (between 10 and 90 minutes). Unlike most of the break reminders, you can override it so that it doesn’t prevent you from working when you’re in the zone, which I like.

I found having Healthier running all the time a bit too much though. For instance, if I’m in class, I can’t always get up to take a break as much as I’d like. Thanks to Keyboard Maestro, I was able to set up a macro to launch Healthier only when my Time Machine back up in my office is attached. This allows me to get reminders to get up when I really need them, sitting in my office, rather than all the time.

Note: If you don’t want to buy Healthier, and just want notifications or alerts to get up and move (without the screen overlay) you can also just use Keyboard Maestro to send you reminders periodically. Keep reading for more information.

Hydration Reminders

I’m terrible at remembering to drink water throughout the day. Even with a water bottle in front of me, I still forget, so you can bet I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the best app, water bottle, reminder – anything to remind me to drink water. None of the things I tried managed to stick though. It turns out Keyboard Maestro is perfect for this too (provided I don’t need reminders on my phone).

I have two separate macros enabled. The first sends me a notification reminding me to drink water every 45 minutes between 11 AM (when I’m typically done my morning coffee) and 4:30PM. The second is a bit more extensive, and actually prompts me to enter my how much water I’ve had and then enters it on the Fitbit website twice a day. (All I need to do is hit submit.) I have a tendency to forget to track my water intake, so this removes nearly all the friction of having to open the app or go to the website.

Mindfulness Reminders

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m fairly high strung and easily get worked up about things, so I’m trying to be better at staying calm throughout the day. There are plenty of mindfulness reminder apps available but most seem to rely on a chime of some sort. Since I normally keep my Mac muted at work, none of these really worked for me. Much like my hydration reminders, I set up a Keyboard Maestro macro set to remind me to take a deep breath every 90 minutes while I’m in the office.

Keyboard Maestro seems to be the app that keeps on giving, and keeping me healthy is just one more reason to love it.


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


On TextExpander’s Recent Announcement

Yesterday morning, Smile announced some pretty big changes to one of my favorite apps, TextExpander. Like many, the minute I saw TextExpander in the headline of a post on MacStories, I was jumping for joy at the chance to buy the new version and support Smile. Sadly, my excitement was quickly quashed as I read through the changes. With version 6, TextExpander would become a subscription service.

Now, to be fair, my disappointment was not solely because of the new subscription model. While I do feel the price is a bit steep, I’d have still considered it given the sheer amount of time TextExpander has saved me over the years – over 30 hours as of writing this.

2016-04-06 screenshot

I have no qualms about paying for an app who’s features add value to my life even at a higher price. Unfortunately version 6 of TextExpander did not add value. Two features highly touted in version 6 are snippet sharing and a Windows client. Most of my friends and coworkers look at me like I have two heads when I mention any sort of automation, so sharing snippets is definitely out of the question, and given that I haven’t used or owned a PC in years, I don’t need a Windows client either. New features, as others have remarked, seem to heavily favor teams rather than individual users like myself.

What really concerns me the most, however, is the fact that my snippets would be stored on TextExpander’s servers. I’ve yet to see any details about encryption or security of their new sync service, and since TextExpander is essentially a keylogger, watching for whenever you type a snippet abbreviation, the idea of the service being online is quite frankly terrifying.

So where do we go from here? I’d hope that Smile takes their customers’ reactions seriously and reconsiders their decision. As a long time customer, I hate to see a good company like Smile suffer, but if they don’t there are plenty of alternatives ready to step up and fill the void. (Check out aTextTypinator, TypeIt4MeKeyboard Maestro, or Alfred. Heck, even OS X has the ability to expand snippets these days.)

Personally, I’ve ported all my “snippets” over to Keyboard Maestro, which I already owned and used. There wasn’t a handy import/export feature, so the process was a bit tedious, but many of my snippets are now vastly improved thanks to the added power of Keyboard Maestro. I’m still quite dissappointed to have to leave TextExpander but I think Keyboard Maestro will suit my needs just fine, and if nothing else, I have one less app to buy updates for.

March 2014 Favorites

Monthly Faves March

Happy Friday lovelies!

It’s been a while since I did a monthly favorites post, but I’m back today with a bit of a nerdy, tech-centered list of faves.

First up, we have the UP24 band by Jawbone ($149.99). For those of you who didn’t know, the Fitbit Force was recalled due to a nasty rash that it was causing people. Despite using it for months with no issue, I was one of the unlucky people who eventually got the rash and I was forced to stop using it. I was offered a refund or my choice of other Fitbit trackers, but I didn’t necessarily want to downgrade back to the Flex. In the end I opted to go with the Up 24 band which has a lot of fun features like idle notifications and insightful tips that I’ve been enjoying.

Next up, is a terribly addicting game available for iOS and Android, Threes ($1.99). I downloaded it on a whim because it was popular. 12 hours later… I was still playing it… I’m not sure what it is about stacking cards to make combinations of 3s, 6s, 12s, etc. that is so addicting, but I’m sold. It’s a great way to pass the time, but given my 12 hour stretch, I’m always mindful of the time, because clearly I lose track quickly with this game.

My third favorite is BusyCal ($49.99). I have to admit this one is a bit unexpected. For years, I’ve had a Fluid app running Google Calendar on my Mac. I know I could have used iCal, and that would have been my preference, but I make changes to events frequently (e.g. when a student is late for a shift), and I hated that iCal didn’t allow me to make changes without sending an email to anyone attending. It does way more than just that though, so if you’re looking for a good calendar app for OS X, check it out. BusyCal has solved so many of my calendar issues, and I’m kicking myself for not giving it a fair chance sooner.

Here’s where it starts to get nerdy. My fourth favorite for the month has been Keyboard Maestro ($36). I’m a firm believer in the idea that computers should make your life easier. If I find myself doing something on my computer more than once, you can bet I’m going to start looking for a way to have my computer do it. Keyboard Maestro is one tool I’ve added to my toolkit to save me time. I’m still playing with it on a regular basis to tweak and add things, but for now some of my favorite “macros” are the ones that get my computer set up for my day at work and close programs before I leave for the day. My latest addition has been a macro that draws a red circle around my mouse when I hit a certain hotkey because having a 27″ display and my 15″ display on my MacBook Pro equals plenty of room to lose my mouse. {First-world problems…}

And last but not least, we have TextExpander ($34.95) and its iOS counterpart, TextExpander Touch ($4.99). Seriously, why did I not buy these sooner. Working in tech support, I’m constantly typing the same thing over and over. Our support knowledgebase has reduced that significantly because I can now just send customers links to our articles, but there are still things I type constantly, for instance, the links to those articles. I also use it to generate emails I regularly send to people. Another use I’ve found is remembering required information. When we hire an employee, I have a snippet that inserts the list of required information I need to submit to our payroll preparer which saves me having to find the email that has the information in it. One of my most used snippets is my gratitude snippet which gets filled in and logged each night before bed. I briefly described how I use it here.

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