Putting the recipient last… With Let.ter

Email is one of the most important ways people communicate in the contemporary world, yet it is one that is often frought with problems, most of which seem to stem from a lack of attention to detail before hitting the send button.

Over at MacDrifter, Gabe Weatherhead discusses a simple concept:

The last thing you write is the recipient address

Gabe discusses writing using non-email apps like Drafts on iOS and nvAlt on OSX.

I also use Drafts to prepare up new emails on iOS (both iPhone and iPad), but have found what I think is an ideal for preparing new emails on the Mac – the wonderful Let.ter app.

Let.ter starts with a simple blank screen, with four easy steps.

  1. Enter a subject
  2. Write the body in plain text / Markdown
  3. Enter the recipient(s) email address(es)
  4. Preview and then send

In both Let.ter and Drafts I extensively use TextExpander so they are both powerful yet simple apps for sending email.

I think that the utility behind Let.ter is that it is truly minimalist, and that it allows the use of Markdown. But since reading Gabe’s post, I am also thinking that leaving the recipient address until last before previewing is part of what makes the app useful.

David and KatieFloyd Talk Email on MacPower Users

I’ve been away on work related stuff for the last few weeks, and am catching up on lots of things.

This morning I listened to the MacPower Users podcast episode on Email, which was a really good indepth study on the state of play of best practice in email management. Well worth a listen.

Prior to listening to that episode, I started reading David Sparks’ latest book: Email – A MacSparky Field Guide[1]

I plan to review this book, but I want to finish reading it first. First impressions are fantastic. In the meantime, go listen to Episode 165 of MacPower Users where David and KatieFloyd talk about the ins, outs and best practices of the email beast!


  1. Affiliate link. Thanks in advance!  ↩

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.

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.

Enthusiastic review of the new iOS Mailbox app

Mailbox AppA very enthusiastic review of the new Mailbox app by Orchestra.

But Mailbox is worth waiting for. It belongs to a selective category of iOS apps that boast such a high-standard of excellence that they redefine the core experience of the service they are dedicated to on the iOS platform. Think of what Tweetbot did for Twitter, or Clear did for to-do lists, or Fantastical did for Calendars, or what Sparrow did for email on iOS before Mailbox came along to make it look old and hopeless.

Read the review. It sounds like Mailbox has been designed from the ground up to take advantage of iOS gestures, and to help you get to Inbox Zero nirvana on a regular basis. It seems to have some aspects of Sanebox baked into the app and its backend.

Mailbox sounds like an app worth waiting for. Which is what you have to do considering that although the app can be downloaded from the App Store now, you have to wait in a queue to be able to use it. Seems reasonable to manage the roll-out, especially since there is some backend processing to scale up for.

I’m intrigued enough that I’ll happily wait for it. Once I’ve got it, I’ll probably be less patient waiting for an iPad versional, if the app is as good as the hype!

From: Cult of Mac | Mailbox By Orchestra: The Best Email App We’ve Ever Used

The Perils of Automatic Email Signatures

Following the brilliant SMBC comic on automatic email signaturesDon Melton wrote:

…including irrelevant crap in your signature is neither witty nor useful

I dislike boilerplate email signatures, although I do leave the “Sent from my iPhone” (or iPad) signature on to let people know that there’s a reason the email is brief.

When I compose an email that requires a signature block, the reason for the signature block will vary depending on the context. As I have a variety of roles, I have different signature blocks for each role.

What I do is have a TextExpander snippet (on Mac OSX or iOS) for each of those contextual roles, and then insert those manually into my email when required. And if its not required, I leave it out. When I used Windows, I would typically use ActiveWords to do the same thing (and more).

Communications (including email) should be mindful, not mindless. Put thought into all elements of your email, including the signature block.