Category Archives: Productivity

Archiving Sent Mail with imapfilter

My “sent” folders are a morass. I think that’s true of most folks. I wrote a little script in my imapfilter config.lua to duplicate some handy functionality from the venerable pine. I’m sure it could be cleaned up a bit, but it does the job for me. On the first of the month, it creates a folder called “Sent-Monthname-Year”, and moves everything from sent that’s older than a day to it.


function moveSentMessages()
  --------------------------------
  -- On the first of the month  --
  -- move all older messages to --
  -- a date marked sent folder  --
  --------------------------------

  theDate = os.date("*t")

  months = {
    "January",
    "February",
    "March",
    "April",
    "May",
    "June",
    "July",
    "August",
    "September",
    "October",
    "November",
    "December"
  }

  if (theDate["day"] == 1) then
    dateString = "Sent-" .. months[theDate["month"] - 1] .. "-" .. theDate["year"]
    
    messages = personal["Sent"]:is_older(1) + personal["Sent Messages"]:is_older(1)
    messages:move_messages(personal[dateString])
  end
end

Audio apps for relaxation and focus

Like so many people (everyone?), I sometimes struggle with focus. I have a number of strategies that work, but sound plays a role in all of them. In this article I’ll take you through my focus-related audio tools.

Focus-related audio falls into four categories: music that’s acceptable background music like classic ambient; generated noise (white, pink, or brown); binaural beats; environmental audio (like rain, oceans, trains, etc). Most serve to mask distracting sounds or soothe you. Binaural beats actually adjust the way the brain is working, helping you relax or concentrate. Many folks claim that’s a little “woo”. I know nothing about the science, and I accept this may be a placebo response, but they work for me.

Relax Melodies Premium

Relax Melodies Premium interface
This app on the Mac is number one tool for audio focus.

Relax Melodies Premium features all the options: binaural beats, environmental audio, noise, and music. You can add as many of them as you want by clicking or tapping on the icon, and adjust the audio of each track individually. Mixes you enjoy can be added to favourites.

The interface is both over-the-top and hard to use. You can only adjust the audio of a playing track by stopping it and starting it again. You can’t adjust the overall volume, it’s on a track-by-track basis. So if you have four tracks playing, and you want to reduce the volume on all of them, that’s 4 × 3 clicks for a total of 12. This doesn’t really matter, though. You’ll start it, set a few favourites, and let it go.

There are specific versions of this app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. I own the Mac and iPhone versions. The iPhone version at 2x is good enough for me on the iPad. My one beef with the iPhone version is the omission of my favourite sound: rain on a tent.

Noisy

Noisy is a modern rewrite of Noise, which I used for years as well. All this app does is play white or pink noise. Lately I’ve found it has started to stutter, but I have all kinds of nonesense running on my Mac these days. This is perfect to drown out conversations just enough so they don’t draw your attention. You can even run it at low volumes under your music. Pink noise is much less harsh that white, I’d recommend that.

Single-Site Browsers

I have three single-site browsers set up that I use to create a nice work environment. The first two are sounds: the engine sounds from the Next Generation-era Enterprise, and ambient noise from the Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both are HTML files on my local machine that contain nothing but an embed of these videos. Every hour or so they need to be restarted, but that’s not really an issue: if I notice, I restart. If not, then I’m focusing, and their services aren’t needed.

The third is a bit of an oddity: it gets the time from your system, and then loops the appropriate track from one of the Animal Crossing game soundtracks. The Animal Crossing games are great games, if kind of pointless and grindy. More to the point, the music from them is simple, and sounds like the music one would hear while puttering. There’s an inherent performing-a-task sound to each track. The late night tracks are my favourites…maybe I should futz with my system clock?

Ommwriter

(from the Ommwriter site)

(from the Ommwriter site)


The last app is the odd one out. It’s actually a distraction-free writing environment/plain-text editor. The unique appeal of Ommwriter over the competition is that it really seeks to be an environment, and that’s how it fits this theme. There are different backgrounds, different audio themes, and the keys click. It can feel really satisfying to be typing away, hearing the clicks like rain on a window. I use the seventh key sound with the chromatherapy background, and the music track with the nice vinyl fuzz to it.

Lenten web fast

Last year I observed a web fast during Lent. It was really successful, so I’m doing it again this year. I want to share a bit about my thinking.

Most people are familiar with the Lenten practice of forgoing luxuries or fasting. The purpose of this practice is penitence, and to prepare the mind for Easter through contemplation. It’s this second point that really resonates for me. My mind is full of a lot of garbage. I want to spend more time on reflection, but instead I’m tapping the “j” key, powering through long lists of stories debunking the same dumb Apple rumour. Or I’m reading something political that’s tweaked to provoke outrage. Or I’m stuffing yet another interesting tutorial into Instapaper, where it will languish until I declare Instapaper Bankruptcy.

Last year I set aside time I would usually spend on these things to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, and Do Nothing and Change Your Life by Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading. Both were very powerful, and directly related to my desire to be more mindful in how I spent my time and mental energy.

This year I am spending time in my mindfulness meditation (I’m taking the Headspace training programme), and journalling. The other time I free up will be spent blogging, and trying to make the most of my six-month membership in Learnable. It will actually be pretty challenging; I would describe mine as a “mind forever voyaging through strange seas of pointless kitten gifs alone”.” At the end, though, I know I will find it profoundly energizing.

The tools

The most important part of this is Mindful Browsing for Safari. This is an extension that allows you to add sites to a block list. When you visit a site on your list you first see a message telling you that you have chosen to block the site. After a configurable number of seconds (I’ve chosen 15), you have the option of continuing to the site. For me, this short-circuits the habit I have of popping to the offending sites whilst waiting for huge Photoshop file to open, or a git push or file transfer to complete.

I have a Concentrate license that I was going to try to use for this. Unfortunately Concentrate can only block entire domains (blocking happens with ipfw), which means that to block Google Reader, I’d have to block everything Google.

I really wish I could find a good, solid whitelisting tool that worked system wide. I have a Little Snitch license, I may try that.

The rules

Google Reader – This is the main offender, and it’s gone from Monday to Saturday inclusive. Instead, I’ve picked a few sites to visit once a day for important stuff. Important does not include Apple rumours, gadgets, indie games, or Cheezburgers.

Social Networking – I don’t visit Facebook or Twitter very often. Instead I interact through the Mac and iPhone’s built-in connections, and a fantastic summary service called NutShell Mail. I’ve suspended NutShell Mail.

Last year I had access to a thrice-a-day summary mail called Summify, but Summify is dead after Twitter bought it. I haven’t replaced it with anything.

I am allowing myself some access to social networking. If I receive a message, I can reply to it. I have some clients who contact me regularly through FB and Twitter, and I don’t want to go dark on them. I can also wish friends happy birthday on FB. That’s it.

Political sites – these need to go anyway. They’re information light, and manipulative. No access at all. I can read the front page of the Star, or the Toronto region page on the CBC.

As I mentioned before, I found this a really profound experience. Six weeks of not being able to indulge in mindless distraction had a very dramatic impact on my state of mind. I was actually happier, and felt more peaceful, and my ability to focus improved. You don’t have to be religious to give this a shot. I’d encourage everyone to set their own parameters for a web fast. When you’re done, hit me up on Twitter or App.net and let me know how it went.

GTD Incompletion Trigger List in OPML

Update: the link to the Organise IT trigger list seems to be pretty popular. Unfortunately it’s gone from their site. You can see an archived version of the list on the Wayback Machine.

As part of my 2013 planning, I’m doing what David Allen’s book Getting Things Done calls a “mind sweep”. It’s a process of dumping everything that’s floating around in your head in an unfinished state into some kind of system where it can be evaluated and organized. To help you do that, the book has a list of “incompletion triggers”, things to dredge up the stuff from your brain. I had the list from the 43 Folders Wiki open, and two things occurred to me. First, man, some of the stuff on this list hasn’t aged well. Second, I wish I was doing this is MindNode.

Those thoughts lead to this: gtd-opml. It’s an OPML list suitable for importing into an outliner or mind mapping application. My hope is that folks will be able to use it to simplify getting organized, and that they’ll contribute updates to the list to modernize it. Enjoy!

(Incidentally, in looking for something illustrative to link for “incompletion triggers”, I found a more updated list at Organize IT. I may try and incorporate some of this down the road.)