Maintaining Focus with Keyboard Maestro

About a week ago, I decided to move Instagram to the second page of a folder on my iPhone. I didn’t really think I had any sort of problem with Instagram. I just wanted to be more intentional with how I used my phone after seeing my weekly Screentime reports. Little did I know, just seeing the Instagram icon (even the tiny one inside a folder) had become an incredibly strong cue to unconsciously open the app whenever I picked up my phone. A week later, and Screentime is already reporting my phone usage is down 36% just by moving the app!

Features like Screentime and Downtime are great for iOS devices, and that 36% is huge, but the 19 hours I spend on my iOS devices pale in comparison to how much time I spend on my Mac. I couldn’t help but not think of how many cues on my Mac were stealing my precious time without even realizing it. For now, there is no Screentime for Mac, but services like RescueTime work similarly to give you a good idea of where you’re spending your time so you can start seeing where you need to cut back.

That being said, breaking bad habits requires more than just knowing where you’re spending time. If you want to actually change those habits, you also need to disrupt your behavior patterns. Plenty of apps can block apps and websites during specific times. Unfortunately, most of the ones I found require subscriptions, and as much as I want to support developers, paying for another subscription is just not in my budget right now.

As I thought through my options, I realized I had already broken a pretty well-conditioned habit of compulsive email checking using a fairly simple Keyboard Maestro macro paired with Marco Arment’s Quitter app. The Keyboard Maestro macro just gave me an alert every time I opened my email client just to remind me I was opening it. Usually, the notification was jarring enough to make me stop and realize what I was doing. The Quitter app quit my email client after 20 minutes of inactivity. Within days, the combination opened my eyes to just how often I was opening my email client throughout the day and also kept me from being pulled back into email when I forgot to close it.

It worked so well that I’ve gotten checking my email down to 3 times a day while at work (8AM, 12PM, and 4PM). In fact, I had to create a new Keyboard Maestro macro that opens my email client at those times because I often forget to check my email. For added fun, I recently added an option to the macro that lets me delay opening Airmail for 5 minutes if I happen to be occupied with something else.

With how well this worked for breaking compulsive email checking, I figured I could apply it to other applications, so I set back to work in Keyboard Maestro. Having recently learned how to incorporate times into my macros, I was able to come up with a vastly improved macro that lets me “limit” certain apps during certain hours. I’m using the term limit loosely because I didn’t want to be completely blocked out of an app if I didn’t need to be. If a predefined app activates during the hours I’ve set, I get a notification reminding me I probably have more important things to do, along with 2 options – to quit the app or accept the notification and open it anyway. More often than not, just as with my email app macro, just the alert is enough to snap me out of my muscle memory.

I’ve only been using it for a week or so, but it’s been working so well, I wanted to share it with you. The macro first sets the variable Time to the current hour. If it’s between the hours set, it will pause briefly to allow the app to load and then prompt you with a notification. Clicking Quit continues to the next action of quitting the frontmost app. Clicking the other option cancels the macro.

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Of note, instead of referring to specific apps within the macro, I made use of the variable %Application%1% which refers to the front application. I’ve created macros to refer to the “Front Application” in the past, but until recently, I didn’t know you could pass the front application’s name as a variable as well. This lets me avoid hardcoding any of the applications into the macro’s actions and dialogs so that adding new apps just a matter of adding a new application trigger at the beginning.

Have you set up anything on your Mac to keep you on track? I’d love to hear what others are doing.

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Learning from Everyday Activities with Exist

I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker regularly for the last several years. Every single tracker I’ve worn (Fitbits, Jawbones, and now my Apple Watch) has had one problem – they just track numbers. Eventually, you reach a point where the numbers become predictable. You know how many steps you usually take and how much sleep you get. Yet we keep wearing them, so what’s next?

Meet Exist. Exist lets you connect a number of web services together, not to track numbers but to help you find trends.

Right now, Exist is pulling in data from my Apple Watch, my weight and body fat from my Fitbit scale, events from Google Calendar, how I’m using my computer from RescueTime, emails from Gmail, weather from Dark Sky, my Spotify listening history from Last.fm, and posts from Instagram and Twitter.

Once you’ve had everything connected for a few weeks, that’s when things get interesting. Even for someone like me who’s used fitness trackers for years, you start to see new and surprising patterns emerge. It might let you know you’re walking less 20% this month, and maybe that’s because you spent more time sending emails. Sending more emails is also correlated to your weight going up. While those may seem fairly obvious, what about knowing your weight tends to be higher when you listen to certain music? Exist can let you know. (If I have any hope of reaching my goal weight, I should listen to less Lana Del Rey and Florida Georgia Line.)

Here are a few other correlation’s Exist has found. Apparently, Tweetbot and Instagram aren’t as detrimental as I thought.

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One of the areas I’ve been paying considerable attention to is Exist’s mood tracker and the recently added custom tracking. Each day, Exist’s iOS app can prompt you to rate your day on a scale of 1-5. Within that same prompt, you’re given an opportunity to write a quick recap of the day and add any custom tags for further tracking.

While it’s still too early to see any correlations for custom tracking, I’m excited to see if any new trends emerge. Does meditation actually lead to any noticeable changes in my mood or productivity? How does that afternoon Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks affect my sleep? Being able to track anything, the possibilities are endless – although right now, tracking is limited to binary yes/no options.

Thanks to Exist, I finally feel like I’m getting something out of all of these areas of my life I’ve been tracking. Exist is free for 30 days and $6/mo or $57/year after that. You can get an additional free month by using my referral link.