My Productivity Boosters — A random collection of tricks and tools
I love working on projects. I’ve been working on all kinds of projects for 12 years now and over time, some patterns emerged.
Here are some of my non-technical workflows that work very well for me and that I want to share.
Most of the time I work with the keyboard. And as I am a keyboard enthusiast in general I’ve spent some time experimenting with my keyboard setup. I use two tools to customise my key bindings.
The one and only key remapping tool for MacOS. If you are not sure what could make sense, have a look at the gallery of customisations for inspiration.
CapsLock to Ctrl/Esc
I use SpaceMacs in evil mode, so I have a lot of use for `Ctrl` as well as `Esc`. This custom modification allows me to use the `CapsLock` key for both. When pressed alone it acts as `Escape`, when pressed together with another key it registers as `Ctrl`.
Almost all common modifier actions in my controller can be triggered with my pinky now, without leaving home row and without bending it too much.
I mostly work with 65%-keyboards or laptop keyboards, but sometimes I miss my num pad, which I used very heavily back in the days.
This modification will remap the alphanumeric keys of my right hand¹ to resemble a num pad. Not perfectly, because the keyboard still doesn’t have an orthogonal layout, but it comes very close.
Better Touch Tool
The Swiss army knife called Better Touch Tool is a productivity allrounder that enables you to manipulate input devices of all kinds on a higher level than Karabiner Elements. Sometimes this means more input lag, but also much more possibilities.
Double tap left shift for emoji menu
Most important for communication: If I double tap `shift` I open the macOS emoji menu. It even includes a search bar, so adding emojis is super fast and easy. 👌 💯 🔥
Backticks as quotes
Especially when editing markdown documents, the backtick is semantically more of a quote for me. That is why I remapped it to `Opt+’`, so I have all kinds of quotes in one place.
It’s a native feature of Better Touch Tool and I use it all the time. I had some problems with other window managers, but BTT works all the time!
App specific Ctrl+j/k up/down mappings
I try to avoid the arrow keys and to stay on the home row as much as possible.
For apps where it makes sense, like Slack, I remap `Ctrl+j` and `Ctrl+k` (remember CapsLock is remapped to Ctrl) to `up` and `down`.
Finding a good note-taking app is the hardest of all.
I used Evernote for about eight years, but I was very dissatisfied with the mobile sync and at some point I just did not accept anymore that they don’t provide end-to-end encryption. Right now I have a semi-satisfying double approach on note-taking:
The good thing is it can be edited easily, works mobile and I can do it with my favourite code editor. But everything beyond plain text is terrible and it is not end-to-end encrypted as I use Dropbox for sync.
The only thing that came close to a note-taking app that I wish for is not really a note-taking app, but rather a journal. But it has a nice UI, E2E encryption and can embed multimedia files.
I use it for more sensible data and long-term notes. Searching and organising notes is not as good as in Evernote, but it works fine for most cases.
If you have a better setup (E2E and mobile access is crucial though) — please take my money!
Every personal or professional project that grows bigger than one note becomes a Trello board.
I practiced GTD for some years and it highly influenced the way I arrange my lanes on a Trello board. These are my default lanes for most projects:
Everything that is actionable right now and should be done as soon as possible.
Everything that should be done but is not actionable for me right now. This idea is straight from GTD and every task management system should have something like this.
An example: I want Bob to setup a staging environment, so “Setup Staging Environment” is on my TODO lane at first, because it is actionable (ask Bob) and it should be done asap. But what after I asked Bob to do it? It is not done, I cannot forget about it, but it is also not actionable right now. That’s what I have @waitfor for.
Don’t forget what you are working on ;)
This makes sense if it is about a project that I only work on irregularly.
Actionable, not asap, but soon after.
Things I want to do someday. In a Scrum backlog, this would be the Icebox. 50% the task will die here, but they won’t clog the lanes I focus on right now.
Important lane for most of my personal projects. There are two kinds of DONE in a project:
First kind is just a chore, an obstacle that you have to get out of your way so you can proceed. This is nothing I need on my board, e.g. in a DONE lane.
The other kind is something where the outcome of the task becomes part of the project, e.g. booking a band for an event. I want to keep this knowledge in a handy manner, that’s why I usually keep an additional lane with given facts about the project. Every card is a fact and contains additional information, links, contacts, etc.
Taking Notes on Mobile
Trello is also the way I take notes with my mobile phone, using a special Email address to add cards to the TODO lane.
This may sound cumbersome, but it is indeed the fastest way I know to you down three words to remind me later.
My use case is: Get Phone out of pocket, write down three words, put phone back in pocket. Most note taking apps will waste my time booting up, syncing or being stuck with brittle network connections. The only app that works for me on my iPhone with acceptable performance is Apple’s Mail app.
For long time I used to send the notes to myself via mail, recently I switched to sending it to Trello directly. I saved the secret mail address in my contacts as `tt`, so addressing the mail is only two keystrokes.
I used to use Postbox for a long time and I still think it is the best mail client if you are a power user and have to compose a lot of mails.
Right now, I consume a lot of mails, but actually almost never write one on my own. That is why I switched to AirMail, which has good keybindings and is generally a lot faster, although with less features.
I practice Inbox Zero. If an email hits my inbox, I either act immediately or write down a Card in the according Trello or do nothing. However, the mail will be archived by the end of the day.
I have no fancy automated email rules set up. For me, setting them up always turned out as a waste of time.
10 years ago, I read a Lifehacker article saying something like “it’s 2007, just use the search feature” — I’ve been doing it this way ever since, never missed a mail, never lost a mail.
I have exactly one folder set up, it’s called “Invoices” and it contains tax-relevant stuff. The rest gets archived completely unsorted and I look it up if I need it.
I try to keep myself focussed and don’t get distracted to much by the usual storm of Slack messages, notifications and emails. If I really need to concentrate I make use of the Pomodoro Technique.
My setup is the following:
I keep the ticking timer in my macOS menu bar to remind me to focus on this single task.
The Pomodoro technique works well for me, but I only use it if it makes sense for the task at hand. I learned quickly that it does not work well for every task, but when chosen wisely it can be a real productivity booster.
That’s it for now! 🎉 Just a quick overview of some of the tools that make my work a little bit more productive. If you know other ways to do it, or you missed something, please let me know in the comments!
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