Getting things done the Galavant way

I’m a huge fan of lifehacking, by which I mean “I am completely overscheduled and need more hours in my day, so in lieu of a Time-Turner I’m going to need to be as efficient as possible”. I sometimes call this life in beta.

My preferred tools and techniques have evolved over the years – I used to be full-on hipster PDA, for example.

Here’s my GTD toolkit circa September 2012, ranked in order of measurably-improve-my-(perceived)-productivity.


Quicksilver – this is by far my favourite application launcher for OS X and it’s consistently the first application I install on any new Mac. Use this constantly. (Free)

Divvy – Found via this post on Reddit, Divvy is the single best window management tool for OS X. Use it about once every 10 minutes. At least. ($)

– Google Apps – Google organizes my life. I’ve been a Gmail user since 2004 (when Blogger users received invitations to the beta), and a Google Apps user since at least 2008. I won’t tell you how many email addresses I have. But it’s a lot. I use Google Apps for calendaring, document collaboration, email hosting and analytics for my domains.

Asana – I use this for everything – at work for project management, at home for grocery lists and travel planning.

 – iDoneThis – I started using iDoneThis in July 2011 (from my first entry: ‘wrestled inbox back into submission’). At the time, the iDT team were alpha-testing what has become their primary product: iDoneThis for teams (then called ‘WeDoneThis’). I use iDoneThis to keep track not just of “what I did today”, but also what I ate, whether I had a migraine, what time I woke up. It’s part #gtd, part quantified self. ($)

Alfred – I confess to being late to the Alfred train – I used it on and off while Quicksilver was on a development hiatus – but after reading this post on how to integrate iDoneThis and Alfred I coughed up the GBP 30 for a Mega Supporter license. Don’t be a free user, etc. (Free, $ for the advanced feature set)

Fantastical – Holy calendar management, Batman. Fantastical allows you to use natural language to enter calendar events (like “breakfast next Tuesday at 8am with Brianne at Ground Support); it syncs with iCal, BusyCal, Entourage, or Outlook (and by extension, iCloud and Google Calendar). Use this hourly. ($)

Evernote – Recipes, yoga poses, notes from classes I’ve attended, pages ripped from magazines and newspapers, receipts, bills, travel itineraries  – Evernote is my go-to digital filing system. (Free, $ for features like offline notebooks and searchable PDFs)

BusyCal – Because iCal is terrible, terrible piece of software. Even without the skeuomorphism. I rarely ever have to open BusyCal – because Fantastical is just that good – but when I do, I’m able to seamlessly manage my (embarrassingly large number of) Google Calendars which span two different Google Apps accounts.

DropBox – DropBox makes it automagical to access and sync files across all my devices, or from wherever I am. And I never have to travel with external harddrives again. (Free, $. Referral link)

CrashPlan – After one catastrophic hard drive failure and a subsequent roommate-formatting-my-iPod incident, I converted to the way of the backup. My backups have backups. TimeMachine + CrashPlan + multiple external drives = peace of mind.

Lastpass – Even though I’ve been increasingly been moving to the xkcd approach to password management, Lastpass is a brilliant, useful tool. (Free, $ for premium features like mobile access)

Pinboard – I was a long, long time Delicious user. And then – that whole thing. And that other thing. Cue swift switch to Pinboard, which is a brilliant service. The archiving feature is well worth the paid upgrade. ($)

Instapaper – Flirted with Read it Later (long before it was Pocket) and Readability. Subscribed to Instapaper and paid for the app when there was still a free option available. No regrets. (Free, $)

IFTTT – The glue of the internet. IFTTT makes my phone ring when I get an email with certain terms in the subject line or body. It sends articles I like in Instapaper to my Pinboard archive. It’s awesome. (Free)

– MailChimp – I switched to MailChimp from TinyLetter (which was acquired by…MailChimp) for the Galavant Times newsletter. Easy to use, full featured. (Free, $)

– Shoeboxed – Paperless life, activate. Every month or so I gather up my receipts, assorted business cards, hand-written notes and other paper-based odds and ends and mail them to Shoeboxed. Shoeboxed scans all those documents and allows me to download the scans to Evernote or in the case of business cards, export the collected contact details to a CSV. ($)

Week Cal – Because calendars on the iPhone don’t have to suck. ($)

Tweetbot – RIP Tweetie. Long live Tweetboot – brilliant on the iPhone, tremendous on the iPad. ($)

LiftFoursquare for habits. Simple, elegant. (Free)

Hardware / Offline:

11″ Macbook Air – The best laptop I have ever owned, bar none.

iPad 3 – Great for my ploughing through my Instapaper backlog. And catching up on Tumblr.

Kindle – The basic, ad-supported $79 edition.

iPhone – 4S, via many Blackberries and preceded by an HTC Sensation.

Sennheiser HD 380 Pro – Money well spent (as recommended by Marco Arment).

Doxie – A lightweight scanner with solid software and seamless Evernote integration.

Moo – Gorgeous, cost-effective business cards and stickers. ($, referral link)


‘a click on a Read Later button is…an act of desperate, blind hope.’

As part of my never-ending quest to hack my life to fit more into 24 hours, I’ve been rethinking my Instapaper strategy.

Previously, my Insta-workflow went something like this:

– Favourite a tweet in Twitter + ifttt = add to Instapaper

– Sifting through RSS on mobile or iPad + “ooh, that’s interesting but a bit long and probably about something related to finance” = add to Instapaper

– Skimming aggregator emails à la Percolate’s Daily Brew or Jason Hirschorn’s Media Redefined  + 50 tabs open and Chrome yelling that I need to kill some of them = add to Instapaper


Result: crazy, crazy long Instapaper queue, which I tried to manage by viewing oldest-first, and by binge-reading on planes, trains and weekends.

Result: only a slightly shorter queue, and constant feeling of unease about not being caught up induced by the near-endless scrolling of said.

Could I ever read everything? No. Was I in denial about that? Maybe.

Which is why I found this piece by Megan Garber at the Nieman Journalism Lab (in my Insta-queue since December…) so interesting (emphasis mine):

…if my own use of Read It Later and Instapaper are any indication, a click on a Read Later button is, more than anything, an act of desperate, blind hope. Why, yes, Foreign Affairs, I would love to learn about the evolution of humanitarian intervention! And, certainly, Center for Public Integrity, I’d be really excited to read about the judge who’s been a thorn in the side of Wall Street’s top regulator! I am totally interested, and sincerely fascinated, and brimming with curiosity!

But I am less brimming with time. So, for me, rather than acting like a bookmark for later-on leafing — a straight-up, time-shifted reading experience — a click on a Read Later button is actually, often, a kind of anti-engagement. It provides just enough of a rush of endorphins to give me a little jolt of accomplishment, sans the need for the accomplishment itself. But, then, that click will also, very likely, be the last interaction I will have with these worthy stories of NGOs and jurisprudence.

This strikes me as a modification of the Gollwitzer premise – that there’s a gap between intention and action that is worsened by a (public) declaration of intent. In other words, saying you will substitutes for doing; in this case, bookmarking is a substitute for reading.

To quote Garber again:

The line between the aspirational and the actual is thick

I’ve since changed my bookmarking behaviour. Now, Twitter favourites go to Pinboard (via ifttt) where they are marked as unread. And then, when I have (set aside) the time I very deliberately go to Pinboard, choose some of these unread items, and send them to Instapaper for proper perusal on my iGadgets, or better, my Kindle*. 

Result: Pinboard now acts as a digital repository for all things I would-like-to-read (intention) and Instapaper acts as a platform for things-I-will-read (action).

And I find that while I might be skimming much less, I am reading much more.

The lifehacking continues.

[*Re the Kindle – reading on the Kindle is a much more immersive/much less distraction prone environment for me than reading on the iPad. The downside is the Kindle makes it damned hard to then tag/archive those articles in a way that fits into my metadata obsessed intensive workflow. Using the Instapaper app on an iGadget, for instance, I can easily email articles, share them on Twitter or add tags/comments and archive them to Pinboard. If I read an article on the Kindle that I want to share or tag, I have to fire up an iApp or my computer…breaking me out of the immersive reading experience]