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Enable the Hidden Microsoft Outlook QueryBuilder

After discussing Search Folders in a recent episode of ProdCast, Joel pinged me after the episode asking me about some more advanced search options. Specifically, he wanted to create a search folder with a little more complex logic behind it (like using AND or OR for several potential criteria).

Microsoft does support this without any extra add-ins, it’s a feature called Outlook QueryBuilder, but it’s not very obvious how to turn it on. In fact, it’s hidden and is enabled by adding a key to the Windows registry. I wasn’t able to find a video on creating this key, so in an attempt to give back I present the following brief how-to.

As a word of caution, editing the registry does carry some risk with it. In case you’re not familiar, the registry is where a lot of critical details are stored that makes Windows (and your installed software) work as you would expect it to. Making edits can have unintended consequences. That said, the update in this video is pretty safe, but always be careful whenever you go into the registry 🙂

1

Create an Outlook Search Folder (and only search one folder)

On the most recent episode of the ProdCast: The Personal Productivity Podcast, Joel Lindstrom and I talked about Search Folders as part of a strategy for dealing with the deluge of email.

In case you haven’t already listened to the episode, I was talking about setting up special folders inside of Outlook 2016 (or 2013) that look through your whole mailbox for a match (even if it’s in a sub-folder, or sent items, or wherever). In simple terms: a search folder is a saved search that saves you time by storing several search terms, allowing you to find matching emails in just one-click.

Joel asked me if the Search Folder could focus that search to look inside of just one specific folder (e.g. “only mail in your inbox” and not any other folders). The answer is yes…but after recording the episode, I felt like I made it sound over-complicated to set up a search folder that only searches through a certain set of folders. I whipped up the following video to show just how easy it is!

If you’re not familiar with ProdCast, it is a podcast about personal productivity, getting more done with the time you have, avoiding procrastination, and being more efficient. We separate the hype from productivity tools and talk about ways to use your email and task list to become more productive. If you’re interested you can subscribe on iTunes.

Announcing ProdCast – the Personal Productivity Podcast

I’ve teamed up with my co-worker and friend Joel Lindstrom to create a bi-weekly podcast on personal productivity, called ProdCast (Productivity Cast). The topics we’re planning to cover are very much in line with the topics of many blog posts here at Connecting the Data–the apps, systems, and strategies that help with personal productivity and time management.

In the first episode, we discuss the format and direction of the show. Along the way, we cover a couple of tips from my recent Skype for Business e-book release.

You can subscribe on iTunes right now or listen to the latest episodes on the web at prodcast.show. We’re joining up with the crm.audio podcast network–so if you’re already subscribed to the CRM Audio podcast you’ll see ProdCast in your feed automatically as well.

 

via ProdCast 1: What is productivity

 

 

Evernote Mobile Update – What About Android?

I usually see a lot of variety in my news feed, but one unexpected story that’s taken off is the release of the new Evernote mobile app for iOS earlier this week. I’m a big fan of Evernote, but I didn’t realize or appreciate the pain that my Apple-phoned friends were experiencing with their experience with the app. This got me thinking about the Evernote app for Android and why my experience is so good.

Evernote did its latest major release of the Android mobile app in mid-2016. I remember the user experience improvements that came with the update, as the whole app was a bit faster and less cumbersome. After over half a year of usage, I’m still really happy with this version. I’m not alone either. As of this post, the app has 4.5 stars on Google Play Store (with over 1.4mm votes).

There are a handful of things I love that make the app such a pleasure to use…

The Step-Saving Evernote Action Bar

evernote mobile widget

Yes, it’s actually that prominent on my home screen

From my home screen in Android, I have several easy-to-select actions that are hooked into Evernote. By tapping any one of these buttons (or the elephant head) I can capture a specific type of note without even having to open the Evernote app.

This makes good use of a key difference I really appreciate in Android that is lacking on the iOS platform: Adding widgets to the home screen. In iOS when you go to the main screen, you see icons that launch your apps (and maybe folders with apps in them). This is perfectly fine and does help make sure you can quickly get to a large number of apps. That is, of course, assuming that

Similarly in Android, the icons that launch apps are front-and-center. However, in Android, if you want to include special widgets that have special functionality. In the case of Evernote, they have a few widgets, my favorite of which is the Evernote Action Bar.

When adding it, you get to control which quick actions are shown (and what order they’re in). You can control the order, too. One of these options, the “Quick Note” doesn’t even open the app, it just provides a simple box where I can enter a title and/or note text. This is lightning fast, and each of the icons in the Evernote Action Bar saves a few seconds every time I use it—which adds up.

For those who are familiar, the Evernote Action Bar itself was not totally new with this release, however, it became part of the core application (rather than a separate “Evernote Widget” app that needed to be installed). The simplicity of having everything in the one app is important!

 

 

The app design is simple but powerful

Over the last near-decade, I’ve seen the Evernote service grow–which brings opportunity to overload the user interface with too much stuff. With various releases of the Evernote mobile app, this has been one of the biggest challenges. The Android app was updated in the middle of 2016 and re-introduced this simplicity. From what I’ve read (and seen) this is exactly what this week’s iOS release was all about. Finding ways to simplify the user experience to make it fast and more intuitive. Here are a few examples from the Android app:

  • The first screen you interact with is all about notes
  • New note button perfect location for right thumb, and tapping on it lets you pick the type of note to capture (text, photo, audio, etc.)
  • Swiping from the left brings access to notebooks, shortcuts, tags, and, most importantly, search.
  • The quick note in the Action Bar doesn’t force me into the app–saving on load time and distraction 🙂
evernote mobile - several screenshots

Looking through some of the screenshots on Android

Final thoughts

Despite the fact that my primary phone is an Android, I’m glad to see that the iOS experience has been updated. The more happy Evernote users are out there, the more stability they have as a company, allowing them to innovate. I’m actually quite excited to see some of their upcoming offerings that will leverage machine learning to improve the user experience.

Are there other things you want to know about Evernote mobile or what their service is like? Let me know in the comments!

How the real secrets of inbox zero put hours back in my week

When someone catches a glimpse of my email inbox, they usually make a comment about how few emails are there. Co-workers especially, since they have an appreciation for how much email we get in an average day–and they know that I do in fact respond to emails. Just a little over five years ago, the concept of inbox zero, having literally no email in your inbox, seemed like complete fantasy.

matt's actual inbox with inbox zero

Here’s a screenshot of one of my inboxes. As of this writing my primary work and personal inboxes each have one item in them.

In my work inbox alone I was getting 200-300 emails every work day–with about half of them ending with some sort of to-do item or request from me. The sound of an email arriving on my iPhone 3GS (back before you could set your own sound) actually made me physically cringe. It seemed like all I could do was fight through it to make sure that the “important” emails didn’t slip through the cracks. This was a battle that I was not winning.

To put some numbers to this–an average of 30 seconds per email (including responses, if needed), that would be up to 2.5 solid hours per day just dealing with email. That doesn’t include any of the research or real work that needed to be done.

It was with that realization that I started a journey to see what was in my control to try solving the problem. That’s when I found an article about Inbox Zero.

I didn’t actually save the that first article I read, but I very badly wanted that better future where I wasn’t drowning in email. I tried really hard to follow the advice to set up filters, automate similar replies, and identify the appropriate action for emails. There were still a lot of important emails coming in that demanded my attention.

I had become more efficient with processing email–but the speed and volume of email wouldn’t let me get to inbox zero. I didn’t have a chance as long as the circumstances stayed out of balance.

The first secret I learned: Slow the flow of email

Before you say, “hey Matt that’s great and all, but I can’t change how fast email is coming in” just give me a chance to explain what I mean.
By analyzing my email (through a categorization exercise that initially added to my email time) I found that there were a few categories that stuck out to me:

  • Emails asking about the status of previous emails
  • Rapid-fire back-and-forth emails (almost like exchanging text messages)

Depending on the day, up to 1/3 of my email fell into one of these two categories. That’s up to 100 emails a day! What seemed especially notable was that both of these are areas where I might be able to cut down the amount of these emails. I did! I won’t sugar-coat it–this isn’t an easy process, but it was a total game changer that made inbox zero within reach.

The method I used was to work with people to reset expectations with people that were sending me email requests. Setting expectations is so important in life, even with things like how you communicate through email. Doing this virtually eliminated this type of email–saving me an average of nearly an hour every single day.

The second secret I learned: Living in an inbox zero mindset

By slowing the flow of email and using techniques to efficiently process email, I have been able to get my inbox nice and tidy. But here’s the thing–it’s not always at zero emails. It’s usually between one and 20 emails, but sometimes it rises above that level.

An important part of inbox zero for me is recognizing that I don’t need to fret about whether I literally have zero things in my inbox. There will always be another email that comes in, sometime, whether it’s in 3 seconds or 3 hours, it’s coming and it’s completely outside of my control.

Focusing my energy on the things I can control is a core part of how I manage my time. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that I regularly remind myself of, and an important practice to keep in mind with respect to inbox zero.

I very much can control how deliberate I am when processing my email. I don’t let myself go into my inbox constantly looking for new email. In fact, I turn notifications off for a lot of the day. Even 2-3 seconds spent looking at a new email alert has an additional cost of 5-6 more seconds as my mind darts to another couple of related thoughts before I refocus on my active task. 8 seconds per email for 150 emails is nearly 20 minutes daily. Instead, I let it pile up for an hour or two, then I process email and take-no-prisoners in dealing with the new pile-up in my inbox.

Final thoughts (for now)

I was in an extreme situation with how much email I was getting, as well as the supposed importance of those emails. There were certainly other factors that added to the stress, but my email dilemma weighed heavily on my daily life both at work and outside of work. Embracing the inbox zero mindset was a total gamechanger once I learned to reduce the flow of email, set expectations, and focus how I deal with email.

Are you drowning in email? Have you tried something like this before (and what worked for you)? Is something getting in your way? Share your experience in the comments.

2

Evernote – The first freemium service I paid for (and still do)

If you’re anything like me, you process a ton of information throughout the day. I used to find that a lot of that stuff went in one ear and out the other. I was (and am still) pretty good at remembering the important stuff, and frankly some of the not-so-important stuff too, but there’s just way too much out there to remember all of the details after a quick glance. This is when I turn to Evernote.

Evernote is software that helps me capture notes (text, recorded audio, photos/scans, documents, web pages, etc.) and provides a service that lets me access them from any device using a great text search. It’s easy to capture notes and just as easy to find them later.

Every note sits in a “notebook” which is kind of like a simple folder that the notes sit in. Evernote lets you have as many notebooks as you want.

I started using Evernote as a free app back in the late 2000’s, then in 2010 I made the decision to start paying for their premium version to get a few more features. It’s the first time I was wooed by a freemium service and I have been extremely happy with my investment!

Evernote is the first app I install on my mobile devices

That's my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

That’s my actual home screen. Accept no substitutions.

Yup–the very first one. Before anything else. Not only that, but on my Android phone I set up their little widget so I can launch the app, capture a note, capture an image, or record some audio each with only a single click.

It’s a tool that frees me from having to carry a bunch of extra stuff around. I don’t have to save some little scrap of paper that I (or that a friend) scribbled an idea on. I don’t have to tear that ad or article out of a magazine. I don’t have to send an email to myself with that web page or quote I want to reference later. Instead I can send it to Evernote (when I’m on my phone or tablet) or use the desktop app or “web clipper” (when I’m in a browser on my laptop).

Evernote did a good complete reworking of their mobile apps a year or two ago which got rid of a lot of the issues that plague older apps.

The app itself is snappy even on older devices. I have an old phone from a few generations ago that I keep around as a media player and note-taking device which still does just fine running Evernote.

One thing that does cause me occasional issues is that, because I have so many notes in there, space can become an issue. While the app is smart enough to only download the contents of my notes when I need them, the amount of storage space used on the device grows as more and more notes are opened. I’ve dealt with this by clearing the downloaded files, but it’s something I’d like to see be a little more user friendly.

I’m a huge user of Microsoft OneNote, and yes I still use Evernote

It feels important to call this out. I’ve been a OneNote user since Office 2003 (embarrassingly long since it wasn’t that great in 2003). I use OneNote nearly every day and yes I use Evernote just as often. They both work well for different purposes, largely because of the way they are architected.

There are plenty of blog posts out there comparing the two services so I won’t bother with that here. Instead, I want to comment on a couple of the reasons that Evernote continues to be worth the investment even when compared to OneNote which wouldn’t have an incremental cost.

  1. Evernote notes are fantastic containers for all sorts of information. Evernote acts as a simple database for me, but it allows for unstructured data to live inside of these notes, as well as a limited amount of structured metadata like the title, dates, URL (source of a clipping) notebook, and tags.
  2. Evernote provides a more consistent experience across the various platforms (desktop, web, mobile). There’s a trade-off that both Microsoft and Evernote make when it comes to how rich the text/photos and complexity of the way they’re laid out in a note. Microsoft provides a richer experience on the desktop, but those don’t translate as well to a mobile device or to a pure web version. Evernote’s approach, while more limited in the layout features, provides a consistency that I really appreciate.

I got started with the free version, and you can too

I wrote a blog post back in 2010 where I talked about how they had a very compelling offering even with the free version. It wasn’t a crippled version of their product–in fact at the time they included just about every feature, but limited the total upload storage space I could consume each month.

The big feature I wanted when I started subscribing to the premium version was to be able to extend the search to return results inside of attachments like PDF files and pictures. So when I wanted to find a PDF file and the only thing I can remember is that Boba Fett was mentioned in it, I can search for his name and it’ll find the note and the PDF.

Since I became a user, they’ve added a ton of features to the premium offering, but the basic service still lets you create, save, and search notes from the web, a mobile device, or your desktop. When I tell friends/co-workers/random people about Evernote, I usually suggest they just try it out since the free version is so representative of what you get with the paid services.

evernoteversions-2016I grabbed a screenshot of their free vs. paid models. They’ve added a middle tier into the mix as well. The most important reasons I see for the paid versions are:

  • Text search inside of images (plus) and PDFs (premium) — like I said before, it’s a big part of what got me to move
  • Offline notebooks on mobile devices (plus or premium) — There are only a few notebooks I keep offline, but but when I do need it it’s invaluable.
  • Sync with more than 2 devices (plus or premium) — I have too many devices.
  • Remove upload limit of 60MB/mo. (1GB/mo plus, 10GB/mo premium)– This was a thing for me back in 2010 (when the free cap was an at-the-time-generous 40MB). 60MB will probably suit you just fine for text notes and the occasional web page or picture, consider that snapping a quick picture will take up 4MB…yeah that cap is just itching to come off

I could go on and on about how I use it…

…but I don’t want to bury my more detailed stories inside of this post (which feels kind of like unpaid advertising, but I really can’t say enough good things about their service).

In short, I’ve been using the premium subscription for over 6 years and I’m as satisfied now as I was when I started. There aren’t many services I’ve been that happy with–especially when it includes desktop apps, a cloud app, mobile apps, all connected with a cloud-based service. Seriously, when I think of how many freemium services have seemed great and then faded with subsequent releases, I’m really glad they’ve been such a solid team.

Do you use Evernote or perhaps know of something else that’s better? (I question whether the latter is possible…but I am curious) Leave a comment and let me know.