Keeping Your Phone on Silent

Have you ever been waiting in a queue for service for some time, only to have to wait a bit longer because the assistant stops to take a phone call? When I’ve experienced this I’ve often been frustrated, and I think this is because I wonder why the person on the phone gets priority over those waiting in person.

Following a link from John Gruber I saw this article at Vanity Fair about the iPhone of Dave Morin, the founder of Path.

When asked about his ring tone, Morin replied:

I don’t use a ring of any kind on my phone. This is so that I am always on offense and never defense

I gather that Gruber was not impressed with Morin’s opinion. Personally I thought that the statement about always being on offense was a bit dicky. It kind of felt like he tries to always be offensive….

With that said, I keep my iPhone in the silent mode 95%+ of the time.

One of the key things in personal productivity is managing interuptions. In many respects, we live in an attention deficit society. Mobile phones ring, email alerts pop and alerts twirp incessantly. And we all tend to allow ourselves to be interupted.

When I present, conduct training, chair a meeting or act as an MC, I ask people to put their phones in silent mode or turn them off altogether. Sometimes I joke that I offer a half day training course in how to do this. Or a week long residenetial off-site course for managers and executives…

The “interuptitis” epidemic is a key barrier to real productivity in the 21st century. One popular suggestion is, as described by Leo Babuata of Zen Habits, to

Turn off all notifications. Trying to focus while something is notifying you of an incoming email or tweet or Facebook update is impossible.

I think this applies just as much to the phone as it does to other notifications.

When I advocate this, people ask what happens if I miss a call. There are three options:

  1. If the caller leaves a message (with a clear, relevant purpose that has value to me), I’ll call back;
  2. If they don’t leave a message, then they will probably call back; or,
  3. If they don’t leave a message and they don’t call back, it probably wasn’t important.

Although my phone is on silent I do leave the vibrate function on. As my phone sits near me on my desk, I hear it vibrate if I am close enough. If I don’t hear it, or if I am focused on something else, then the above three options kick in.

When I am on-the-go, my phone is generally in my pocket. I’ll feel the vibrations, and will take the call if I am in a position to do so. When I am presenting or conducting training the phone is usually in Airplane mode to avoid interuptions altogether.

Now I occasionally I do switch the silent mode off. That’s generally reserved for when I am expecting an important call. If I am with other people, I explain this up front, if possible, and I will leave the room or the immediate area if the call comes in. For the sake of the other people, and the important call coming in, I will quickly silence any calls from other parties.

Phones, email, text messaging, RSS feeds and social media are all tools that can be important parts of our productivity setup. And they can all very easily become time sinks, or what I call productivity sink holes. Use notifications, ring tones and alerts wisely, and never be afraid to turn them off.

The Point of Paperless: Eliminating Paper-bourne Clutter

2013 is for me the year where I am completing my transition to a fully paperless life in my business initiatives, and in my personal life. In order to get a picture of what this actually means, I’ve thought long and hard about the definition of the term “paperless”.

I’ve been intending to post about this thinking process for a while, but was motivated to do so when I saw this quote from Jordyn Russell of Fujitsu America:

Tracking invoices digitally is one of the many benefits of PDF. And yet, we continue to print a large majority of invoices that were once PDF.

Coupled with the fact that “the average US office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year”, it really is time that we consider just how much paper we actually use, and how much we realistically need to use.

So what does “paperless” mean? Wikipedia states that:

A paperless office is a work environment in which the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced

Eliminated or greatly reduced? Which is it?

Well I think that eliminated (i.e. paperless being “without paper”) would be the perfect goal, but the problem with perfection is that it is unattainable.

I think it’s far more realistic to set the sites on greatly reduced. In other words, paperless being “less paper”. Significantly less. Eliminate it wherever possible. Without getting stupid about it…

Paper comes into my life all the time – invoices, bank statements and similar items come in by hard copy all the time. Throughout the typical day you collect additional paper-bourne clutter as you go about life. Receipts, business cards, tickets, brochures, etc all end up in little piles in your wallet, car and house.

As David Sparks said beautifully in the Paperless MacSparky Field Guide:

“We are bombarded with bits of paper and digital information every day. Much of it (too much of it) is trash but some of it is absolutely essential.”

Making front-end decisions when processing bits of paper into your life is critical. Having the tools to do so is important. I plan to continue posting from time-to-time on this journey talking about my workflows and tools I use.

What’s your view on paperless – do you aim for total elimination of paper-bourne clutter or do you seeks great reduction?

Use Alfred 2 to mimic Drafts cool Append to Dropbox function

Greg Pierce from Agile Tortoise (the developer of the fantastic Drafts app for iOS) shows us how to mimic Drafts’ "Append to Dropbox" using Alfred on a Mac.

the example I’m providing here mimics the default “Append to Dropbox” action in Drafts. In it’s current setup, you trigger Alfred with it’s hot key, type “j”, space, then the text you want appended to the file and hit return. The text is then added to the a file at “~/Dropbox/Apps/Drafts/Journal.txt” along with a timestamp

This looks cool and I’ll try it out as soon as I get back to a Mac…

From: Agile Tortoise Blog

Apple’s Two-Step Verification has a good security backup

I was quite excited when I awoke this morning to find news that Apple has released 2 Factor authentication for Apple ID. Apple seems to have done a good thing and built this into a “trusted device” upon which you use a feature in the Find My iPhone app, or receive an SMS each time you try to log-in. Sounds like a great approach, and it doesn’t surprise me that Apple chose not to use the Google Authenticator.

Apple 2 Factor

Following the attempted hack on Evernote, I made a determination that online service I use for personal/private/confidential “stuff” should support 2 factor authentication. Heck, if Facebook could do it, what was stopping Evernote and Apple. Very quickly App.net rolled out 2 factor support, and today was Apple’s turn. This was all part of my (perhaps peremptory decision to return to return to Google, something that following this and the GReadier debacle I am quickly reconsidering.

I went to the Apple ID site to set up two-step verification, and immediately was asked to answer security questions. It’s been a while, and for some reason I didn’t record these in 1Password. Having had more than 1 best pal at school, I went for the backup plan, and had a password reset sent out to my alternate email address.

Of course, I setup new security questions, and then went in and changed my alternate email address to one that is not linked or forwarding to any other email address I have. I took the opportunity to really tighten the hatches.

Next I went back to complete the setup of the two-step verification process, and almost immediately received a block telling me to wait three days. They also mass emailed every linked email address I had.

I guess that I had just changed a lot of security settings, and this raised an alarm at Apple that perhaps I might be hacking, and potentially locking someone else out from their account, a la the Mat Honan saga. So I think that Apple has paid a good bit of attention to the process to ensure that unintended consequences are minimised. Three days gives plenty of time for a real owner to get an email and intervene if necessary.

So at this stage I can’t provide a full review, but one thing that I noted from Katie Floyd’s post is that the two-step verification doesn’t (yet) support iCloud services, such as Documents, Calendar, email, etc. I assume (hope) these will come shortly, but will require a lot of apps to be updated. Today’s initial release was a good test for Apple, as the only app that needed to be updated was Find My iPhone.

Don’t forget to check out my list of web services that support 2 factor authentication.

2 Factor Security

Following the attempted security hack on Evernote, I determined that I would:

Use only reputable services that provide 2-factor authentication for cloud storage of personal, sensitive or confidential data

With more and more services like App.net and Apple joining Google, Dropbox and Facebook in enabling 2 factor support, I thought it would be cool to have a list of the online services that support 2 factor authentication security.

Let me know if you find updates or note any missing services.

RSS Feed for this site

With the move by Google to discontinue Google Reader (the “GReadier Debacle”), I am moving any mission critical, non-paid services away from Google.

As part of that, the Feedburner feed for this site is no longer going to be the default feed, and at some point it is likely to be discontinued.

Although it will continue to operate for existing users until that time, can I suggest you unsubscribe and resubscribe to the RSS feed for Des Paroz On-The-Go, which is at www.desparoz.com/feed/.

New MacSparky Field Guide for Markdown

Since the dawn of this weblog, I’ve undertaken different approaches to my writing. I’ve used different content management systems (it’s currently a self-hosted WordPress blog, but I also have Squarespace and Scriptogr.am sites), and I’ve used a variety of tools and apps to making writing for this blog easier. Although I have a reasonable handle on HTML, I am not a coder, and hate writing in it. It’s a poor format for editing, and an even worse format if I want to re-use my writing for other purposes.

My current writing process involves Multimarkdown Composer and Mars Edit on OSX and Byword and Poster on iOS. I could just use the WYSIWYG interface on MarsEdit or Poster, but find that I like to write first in plain text so that I can edit and re-use. Frankly, the HTML rendered through most WYSIWYG tools is pretty clunky.

The “glue” that binds these disparate sites and apps together, however, is John Gruber’s Markdown syntax, which makes writing easy, regardless of whether I start in Drafts on iOS or nvAlt on OSX and then continue in Byword/Multimarkdown Composer, or start straight in Byword/MMC. Every time I start, I start in Markdown.

Markdown is quite easy to learn, but it is still a little “geeky”. It is also cool because most non-geeky people could read a text document in Markdown and get it. And it renders well in a variety of outputs – HTML obviously, but it also works nicely for written publications.

David Sparks of MacSparky and the Mac Power Users podcast has published his latest MacSparky Field Guide – this one being the MacSparky Markdown Field Guide, co-authored with Eddie Smith. It follows on from his wonderful Paperless Field Guide, which is one of the best resources for Mac users (in particular) who want to move to a paperless lifestyle.

I saw David’s post today announcing the release of the new Markdown Field Guide. I immediately downloaded it from the iBooks store (it’s also available as a PDF book) and will start reading it today. I may review it in detail later on, but if my experience with the MacSparky Field Guide’s and Markdown is any indication, this is one that any writer (particularly for the web) will want to download today.

The MacSparky Markdown Field Guide is available for A$9.99 from the iBooks Store, or from the MacSparky website.

Wishful thinking with the Dropbox-Mailbox merger

Perhaps its wishful thinking, but I wonder if I am alone in hoping that following the acquisition of Mailbox by Dropbox, perhaps Dropbox will launch email hosting as part of its suite of offerings[^1] .

I love Dropbox – it’s a vital tool in my personal file management, and I am proud to have been a paid customer for several years. I have implemented many features – shared folders (I have many of them), 2 factor authentication (one of my must-have features in an online service) and integration to a variety of iOS and OSX apps.

I must admit, one of the things I like about Dropbox is the fact that I am customer. Being a paid service, Dropbox benefits out of maintaining my business, which means providing me with a stable product that best meets my needs, and not using me and data they glean about me, to sell advertising (or sell to advertisers).

I’ve been enjoying using Mailbox on my iPhone, and it provides me with some features that are great – easy ability to clear my inbox down to what’s important, then make it zero by clearing those things out. It also has a way of making things come back later, perhaps when I am in a better place to deal with them.

But there are one or two things that bugs me – Mailbox is effectively an extra point of failure between me and my mail. If their servers are down, I can’t get my mail through the app – although at least I can get the mail through normal Gmail means. It also relies on Gmail, and like many people I am nervous about relying on gmail following the GReadier debacle. It’s also a free app, so I’m nervous about trusting it – but at least I have workarounds.

If Dropbox were to build a new email system from ground up, and use the front end features of Mailbox as a guide to the “UX” (user experience), this could make for interesting days. I’d love to see it as a paid service, part of the Dropbox Pro offering. Obviously the ability to map your own domain would be a necessity, but could be for a further premium.

This may be speculative and wishful, but it makes more and more sense as I think about it. I would move off Google Apps in a heartbeat if there was another offering that was similarly feature rich, but without the creepiness factor.

Get PDFpen and PDFpen Pro for Mac for half price – 48 hours only

One of my must have apps on both iOS and OSX is Smile Software’s PDFpen – an elegant, iCloud supported PDF tool that allows you to truly manage PDFs on both platforms. The app allows you to easily create forms, correct and redact text and even sign PDFs on-the-go.

Smile has announced the release of version 6 of both PDFpen and PDFpen Pro for OSX with a bunch of new and improved features, including the ability to turn PDFs into Word documents and many enhancements to the look and feel of the user interface.

To gain iCloud support, you must purchase PDFpen or PDFpen Pro through the Mac App Store (MAS). With the lack of upgrade pricing in the MAS, Smile has released both versions today at half the normal price. I’d suggest that all Mac users take advantage of this offer, which only lasts for 48 hours.

PDFpen is an incredibly important part of my PDF workflow on both OSX and iOS. Having only played with it for a short time, I can honestly say that version 6 of PDFpen Pro for OSX is a major upgrade that will likely bring new possibilities to my workflow.

Google announces closure of Reader service

In the week that I discussed moving back to Google for some of my usage, including RSS feeds, Google has announced that it is killing Google Reader.

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

I like the way Google snuck this announcement in as the fifth bullet point on a post about spring cleaning aimed primarily at developers.

As Brett Terpstra said in a post on App.net:

“Usage of Google Reader has declined” = tons of people using it for sync, but we can’t put ads in that

Google Reader was free to we users, meaning we were the product, not the customer. Brett is spot on – if the majority of users access through apps where Google can’t control advertising, then the service isn’t viable.

It’s one reason why I initially moved to Shaun Inman’s Fever – having a self hosted, paid platform meant that I was the customer, and that the provider would not be in a position to simply shut up shop and go away.

I moved back to Google Reader solely because apps like Reeder and Mr Reader don’t support other RSS reader platforms, like Fever 1. I wanted more than a browser interface, particularly on iPad.

So, we’ve got a bit over 3 months for the developers of Reeder and Mr Reader to support other RSS platforms. I hope that Fever is first among them. I will move back as soon as there is a good iPad app – which I fully expect will happen in that time.

I also wonder whether the App.net social media platform will have a foundation upon which developers can build an alternative RSS service.


  1. I realise that Reeder 3.0 for iPhone does support Fever. I moved back to Google Reader because I need iPad and OSX support for it as well. Browser based access was ok, but not powerful enough for my usage. 

My return to Google

In June of last year (2012) I posted about how I was concerned about how Google was becoming “creepy”. At that time, I decided that I didn’t want any one company to have all my data. This would prevent Google (or anyone other company) having a complete picture of me, and also it would mean I wouldn’t be too exposed if any one company was to go away.

I was also concerned that as a user of Google’s services, I was more of a product than a customer. This may be the case for the free versions of those services, but as a paid Google Apps user, I may have over-thought this a little!

To achieve my move away from Google, I moved my email, calendar and address book to iCloud, and I moved my RSS feeds to a self hosted Fever installation. I also started playing around with alternative search engines, including DuckDuckGo and Bing. I thought’d it be interesting to check in with how that process has gone.

Let’s start with search. I found DuckDuckGo and Bing to both be excellent – I was particularly surprised by Bing, which I didn’t think would hold much chop. At this time, Bing is my default search engine on my iPhone, while Google plays that role on my iPad. It’s not possible to make DuckDuckGo the default search engine in iOS, but I do use the app, and have made it the default on my MacBook. All are good, but in general I do tend to find that Google continues to excel in giving accurate, fast and relevant search results. I’d say 70%-plus of my search goes to Google.

As for RSS, I continued to happily use Fever for sometime, but the lack of choices for quality apps, particularly on iPad and OSX continued to grind. Navigating the web interface on iPad was bearable, but clunky. Reeder for iPhone was and is an excellent choice, but interestingly Reeder for iPad and OSX has yet to be updated to include Fever support. In the meantime, other apps were released to support Google Reader, but none have Fever support.

Notably, MrReader became more and more recommended by many power users, and my curiosity grew. In particular, it’s support for URL schemes made it compelling. So around New Years, I made the call to switch back. It was nothing to do with the excellent Fever platform, but with the lack of quality front end app support. I may well switch back if app support for Fever takes off. 1

The most recent switch back has been to move all my email, contacts and calendar back to my paid Google Apps account. There were three things that gradually became show-stoppers for me with respect to Apple’s iCloud:

  1. The lack of ability to host your own domain with iCloud. I don’t want a me.com or icloud.com email address when I have my own domain. I want my contacts and calendar fully integrated with my email, so they all travelled together.
  2. iCloud calendar sharing outside iCloud is difficult, at best. I want to share calendars with colleagues easily. Google App’s systems are generally more open.
  3. Security. I am of the opinion that any online site which I use for storage of personal, sensitive, business-in-confidence or confidential information needs to have more than simple password security. A minimum of 2-factor security is my requirement, especially since the security attack on Evernote.

I know that there are other options for hosting my online world, but with a paid Google Apps account with 2-factor security enabled, I believe this is the best option for me, going forward.

As for my documents, these are for the most part in Dropbox. I have a small number of files in iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud service. These are a small number of iWork and specialised documents for which I really appreciate the fast and seamless syncing. But since most of my writing is in plain text using several different apps for iOS, OSX and the web, these best live in Dropbox. I am not considering using Google Drive for these.

Any choice of services utilised is a fine balancing act, considering a range of factors, including security, open-ness and functionality. At this point in time, Google offers the best options in the email, calendar, contacts and RSS for me. I also consider Google the primary option for most search requirements.


  1. Update on 2013-03-14: Google announced the closure of Google Reader, effective 1 July 2013. I will definitely be moving back to Fever between now and then, probably as soon as either Reeder or Mr Reader supports Fever on iPad. 

Brooks Duncan reviews doo

A week or two back, a new productivity app called doo popped up in the Mac App Store. Tagged as a way of accessing "every document of your life" wherever they are, in seconds, doo is a document organisation system that appeals to me as part of my quest for a paperless lifestyle.

I’ve been using Evernote as my primary document repository, but I have been growing increasingly wary about storing everything online in a third party system that stores documents in a proprietary format. Following the attempted hack on Evernote user data, I’ve made the decision to move any personal or business data that would be sensitive or confidential in nature back to a local database. I would prefer to be able to access key data on-the-go, so have been looking at systems like Yojimbo, DEVONthink and now doo.

I had installed doo last week with the intent of playing around with it a little, but since Sunday I’ve been gradually moving all the sensitiive Evernote data back to it. So far, it looks like a very powerful system that makes going paperless quite straightforward.

Today, Brooks Duncan of DocumentSnap has posted his initial review of the doo Mac OSX app. He gives what I think is the best description yet of doo:

You can think of it as a combination of Evernote and Dropbox, but unlike Evernote you can completely use the software without ever having to touch the web service, and unlike Evernote your documents do not get moved inside the application, and unlike Dropbox there is a nice local application to help you organize and find your documents

Right now doo has an OSX app and a Windows 8 app (interestingly, the Windows 8 version was launched several months ago, well before any other versions). In development are iOS and Android versions, as well as versions for other systems, including "legacy Windows".

doo is free for local storage, and has a range of plans for their optional doo Cloud backup and sync services. There is a 30 day free trial of their 25GB sync plan.

It’s fair to say that doo is in its early stages. Although not a beta release, I think that as the mobile apps come online, and as additional features are added, doo has the potential to become a very powerful organisation system, and could well be my flagship app for my paperless document management system.