The Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Be Organized and Productive

The theme of 2012 was all about getting organized and productive using software. I may have spent 2012 developing Kifu and some internal applications for clients, but I spent a lot of time this year getting better organized and more productive on my Mac. It’s ridiculous how much this has paid off.

So, instead of a cool-products-of-2012-year-in-review post, here are many of the things I do and tools I use to be organized and productive, with thanks to those to shared the ideas with us. Maybe these ideas, tools and folks can help you too.

Getting Organized

To me, being organized is for everything to have its place and for it to be easily found in that place.

  • All todo’s in OmniFocus: I have been using OmniFocus since it came out on all my devices. This year I reinvented how I use it twice, and I am still working on improving it. Everything I need to do goes in to OmniFocus, everything, an action, a reminder, a bill, a software feature. With a single F11 keystroke, I get the quick entry box from anywhere to capture a new to do.
  • All time in Billings Pro: Every minute I spend working on anything gets tracked in Billings, even my own personal project work. It gives me a great baseline for estimating future work, as well as tracking and billing real client work.
  • All projects in standard folders: All current projects are now organized in my Project Folder Layout so it’s easy to navigate to files when needed, easy to know where to find files and easy to know where to save them.
  • All text documents are in Markdown: All contracts, reports, notes, documentation, knowledge base articles, blog posts, anything that gets written on all my devices is in Markdown (actually MultiMarkdown) format. It’s plan text, cross platform, very searchable, extremely readable and ubiquitous. See The Markdown Mindset.
  • Project reference data is in VoodooPad: All contacts (client and third party), IP addresses, server names, logins, passwords, and other project level information are stored in a single VoodooPad document in the project root. I no longer struggle to come back to projects and figure out who to call and how to get things done.
  • All non-project notes are in nvAlt: Any other non-project related notes, call logs, ideas, and scratchings are edited in BBEdit and stored in nvAlt’s folder in Markdown files, shared using Dropbox, using standard file names. I can find a note using nvAlt’s built-in search quicker than anything. And I can edit notes on any device seamlessly.
  • All bills are electronically filed and named: I have moved to paperless billing everywhere and file all bills in their correct folders using Hazel. The filer also creates a to do in OmniFocus so I never forget to pay a bill.
  • All passwords are strong and in 1Password: I moved from a single simple password for all sites and applications to unique strong passwords for each, easily accessible using shortcuts from 1Password. Safer too, and synced via Dropbox.
  • All social interaction logged in Day One: Using SLogger I capture all my tweets, posts, instagrams, facebooks, web stats and stock prices into Day One. It’s a live journal of what happened every day, without me having to write it.
  • All source code in GitHub: I moved all source code from svn to git this year, and back it up on GitHub in private and public repositories. And I am in the habit of git push origin all the time in case things go wrong.
  • The big backup to Backblaze: I took backup to the next level this year moving beyond Time Machine and manual disk clones to an offsite backup using Backblaze. It just works.
  • Key files are saved and replicated using Dropbox: My notes, passwords, journal, BBEdit settings, and key encrypted files are all kept in Dropbox folders for anywhere access. It’s the first application I install on any new device, followed by 1Password.
  • Key processes and big data are now on the Server: I have an old Mac Pro running OS X Server, hosting SLogger, my production server backups, old files, and all my music, photos and videos on RAID drives, so that they no longer need to be on my Laptop. And I don’t need to leave it running all the time either.

Getting Productive

To me, productivity is all about doing less to get more done.

  • Keystroke based automation using Keyboard Maestro: Keyboard Maestro gives me the ability to do a lot of things with a single keystroke, from launching a set of contextual applications to creating markdown links. The longer I use this, the more macros I create, the faster I work.
  • Background file organization using Hazel: Hazel keeps my desktop clean, files my bills from Downloads, and archives old data. It handles all the maintenance tasks I used to do manually, and without the human error.
  • Typing repetitive text with TextExpander: I must have over a hundred of my own expansions in TextExpander, from terminal commands, file names, email text, symbols, macros to names, numbers and addresses. I save hundreds of keystrokes a day using it.
  • Scripts and Macros for Terminal: Since I have been spending a great deal of time in the UNIX terminal this year, I now have a bunch of scripts and bash functions to speed things up. It’s amazing what you can do when you start writing scripts to automate stuff.
  • One-key todo creation in OmniFocus: F11 and OmniFocus is there. And I now never forget what I need to get done.
  • Quick calendar management using Fantastical: I hide most menu-bar extensions using Bartender, but not Fantastical. I can launch it with a keystroke and start typing the appointment details in plain text. Fantastical magically interprets it and creates the event.
  • Quick launch and search with Alfred: I started using Alfred to just launch apps, the same as I used to do in QuickSilver. But now I also use it to quickly get a Google search, or log in to a site using stored 1Passwords, or search notes using a file filter, or navigate to a file. As a result, my dock is now hidden.
  • Spatial layouts with Moom: I love working spatially, I find myself much more productive if my windows are where I expect them to be. I have set up Moom with keyboard shortcuts to place my windows where they need to be.
  • Automatic file sync using ChronoSync and ChronoAgent: As soon as the desktop computer wakes up, ChronoSync wakes up too and ensures that the files on the Laptop and Desktop are the same. It’s easy for me to switch between them and trust the files are all ready to go when I run out of the office.
  • Better programmer editing with Sublime Text: I started to do more and more programming in Sublime Text 2 this year, its plugins and productivity gains are amazing. However the past few weeks, I have been going back to TextMate 2, it just feels more Mac-like. But Sublime Text 2 runs on all platforms, and so I do not lose anything when jumping over to Windows or Linux to code there.
  • Faster calculations using Soulver: I used to either reach for the HP-12C or launch Excel to perform calculations too complex to be done in the old noggin. Nowadays, unless it’s a single calc, I use Soulver. Yup, even for project estimates.
  • Faster artwork generation using Slicy: I switched to an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription this year so I am back on the latest Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, these already improve my productivity. But setting up all my artwork using the right folders in Photoshop and using Slicy to generate the application art files has saved me days of work.

Lesson Learned

It turns out that building the habits to be organized and more productive are easy. In a way, maybe we all have been using computers incorrectly all these years, relying on ourselves to do things that the computer can do perfectly well. It takes no time to get into the habit of starting a timer before working on something, jotting to do’s into OmniFocus, leaving BBEdit running for note taking, and saving files in standard locations with standard names. It takes no time getting used to the shortcuts needed to kick off Keyboard Maestro macros, access things quickly in Alfred, save keystrokes using TextExpander expansions or start trusting Hazel to take care of things.

There is some investment of time and money to get organized and productive, but the payoff is huge. You will get to spend more time focussing on the task at hand and getting it done, offloading interruptions to tools, speeding through automated repetitive processes and letting the computer do some actual work for you. You will quickly get used to having everything available at your fingertips, in the way you need it when you need it. And you’ll free yourself up to spend more time creating or reading or away from the computer without losing any productivity.

Thank You

A lot of these ideas were not my own. This year I started reading and following a lot of very good people who are also into organization and productivity, and who share their ideas freely. So thank you, in no particular order, for inspiring me to:

With special mentions to:

Note: The links above to the App Store are affiliate links, so if you purchase any of these products, I get a few pennies. The rest are direct to the developers home pages or Twitter pages, please support them however you can.

Follow the author as @hiltmon on Twitter or @hiltmon on App.Net.

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