Since switching to Macintosh I've been trying out tools for GTD, playing with productivity tools, and generally being very pleased with the move from Windows. In addition, I decided to switch from my paper-based action management system to a digital one, and wanted to share with you results from both. I'd love to hear your Mac tips and tricks for productivity too.
Tools I switched to
In no particular order:
- Contacts: I entered my ~1,000 contacts into the built-in Address Book program. Creating and editing using this program is painful , but well worth it: Address Book + Spotlight = fast. command-space, type a few letters, down-arrow (if necessary), hit return, ta da. Also, because Address Book is the inter-application standard for contacts, every program uses it for synchronization, so no other choice, really .
- Calendar: I switched from a paper calendar to iCal, which went rather smoothly. iCal has importantly limitations, but, like Address Book, is usable. And again, it's the standard for inter-app communication of events.
- Lists: Hand-in-hand with the calendar switch was my move from paper lists to electronic ones. Rapid list creation, search, and completion is central to the work I teach, so this tool choice was harder than the previous ones. Because the Mac attracts creative programmers (why is that?) there's a huge number of GTD-compatible programs available. I won't go into detail, but I found them either too complex or too limited. For me, Things showed the most promise. I'll give it another look after its release. As a result, I decided on a vanilla implementation using iCal's To Do feature, and the "one calendar per list" approach (i.e., creating separate calendars for actions, projects, etc.) Works well with some tweaks and add-ons , and led to a sweet little happy accident . Same note re: iCal being the standard for task interoperability.
- Portability/PDA: What good is a digital implementation without an expensive and fragile tool to take with you? Since Address Book and iCal are standards for synchronization, I had some flexibility. Sadly, unless you use an iPhone , you need to buy a third party program called The Missing Sync. In my case I bought a used HP iPAQ h4155 Pocket PC, which syncs, but in a "I'm not sure if it worked this time" way. Not great. Unfortunately, Palm sync support is at least as poor. Still, from a former paper guy, the two killer features are alarms, and all my contacts.
Other Mac productivity goodies
In addition to the "bread and butter" tools above, I found other great work enhancers, including:
- Spotlight: Like Apple's initial "you have to buy a Mac for one feature" hit (desktop publishing) I'd have to say Spotlight almost justifies buying a Mac by itself. It has fundamentally changed how I use my computer - launching apps, finding files, and looking up contacts, events, and to do items. Apple absolutely hit this one out of the ballpark. And almost every program you buy integrates with the Spotlight database. Extremely powerful.
- Quicksilver: Quicksilver is a Spotlight-like program that lets you operate on data (files, contacts, events, etc) in a contextual Noun Verb manner. For example, to send a file you'd invoke Quicksilver (control-option-command-space on my Mac), search for the file ala Spotlight, and select an action, such as "Email to..." There's a lot of potential here, but be forewarned: This tool is complex to set up and really get your head around. That said, there is one killer app that I couldn't live without: a very fast iCal front-end to events and to dos. More below .
- TextExpander: After trying the major text expansion tools I found TextExpander to be the best for me. (I just use it simply for abbreviations - nothing fancy.) Does the job and works like you'd expect out of the box.
- Screen sharing: If your mother uses computers, buy her a Mac. Why? In addition to "simple and works," iChat's built-in screen sharing is a tech support dream come true. Yes the same feature is available for PCs, but this is zero set-up, and easy to use. Plus, it makes for some great April Fools Day pranks. (Video chat's another argument for mom.)
Mac productivity tips
Finally, here are a few tips I've collected. Some are found elsewhere, but in case they're new to you:
- Global: F11: Your single-key "get focused" tool. Hides all windows and shows just the desktop. Great if you're on the phone and want to work on the project in front of you, or avoid EMV (E-Mail Voice - see Overly Wired? There's a Word for It, from CrazyBusy). Related: option-command-h (hide others). More shortcuts here.
- Global: command-shift-/: This is a very cool UI trick, and allows you to search menu items without knowing which menu they're located in. Hit the shortcut, type part of a menu item, down-arrow to it, and hit return. Bonus: Slick animation + you can see the direct keyboard shortcut for next time.
- Firefox: command-return in find mode: This took forever to find: When in find mode (command-f), command-return toggles the "Highlight all" button.
-  I find Address Book usable but frustrating, esp. for creating and editing. I ranted a bit about it here.
-  I looked at Entourage 2008, but found
far too manyenough issues to decide against it, in spite of a strong integrated feature set.
-  iCal lacks a list-based "control center" that shows today's events + To Dos. I worked around this using Dashboard and two widgets: iCal Events and DoBeDo ToDo. Side-by-side they give me an interim solution. For rapid entry, see the Quicksliver section above.
-  When I printed my to dos I accidentally got them in random order. After a short "crud" moment I realized this was good: It made me look at each one fresh, a kind of "enforced" daily review. A keeper!
-  I'll no doubt get one, but not until a) they support Verizon (best service in my area), and b) they get To Do lists (!), something everybody's speculating about.
-  I searched pretty hard for a smart command-line front end to creating events and to dos - rapid capture is crucial to maintaining focus, and keeping lists up-to-date. The closest I've found is Quicksilver's iCal support. To create an event 1) invoke QS (control-option-command-space on my machine), 2) type "." to enter text mode, 3) type the to do or even text in compliant format (e.g., "tue 2pm call matt"), 4) type tab, 5) type "ev" or "to" to get to get "Create iCal Event" or "Create iCal To Do", and 6) type return. Not bad, and a big improvement over using the mouse in iCal. More at How To: Add a new iCal event from Quicksilver.