How to quickly add tasks to your to-do app

The usual workflow to add tasks to any to-do app involves loosely a few steps:

  • Find the app on the computer
  • Open the app
  • Find the Inbox folder
  • Click the Add task button
  • Type the task name
  • Hit Enter to add task

These manual steps of adding tasks are way better than not having a to-do system in the first place. But the problem with manually adding tasks is the number of steps it involves. The six steps I listed above don’t even include deciding the project of the task, priority, due date, labels et al. The basic six manual steps are hard to do (and hence easier to skip) especially when we are busy doing other things. This often meant, I missed adding some tasks or had to distract myself from my current task and take a detour to my to-do app just to add the tasks.

This has been my biggest problem with how I used Wunderlist. Until I discovered Zapier early last year.

Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time.

After seeing some of my colleagues use Zapier for automating some work tasks, I got curious and started exploring it. This lead me to learn about zaps.

A Zap is a specific link between two services you’ve connected on Zapier.

Zapier provides a ton of app integration ideas. You can start from here: https://zapier.com/apps/integrations/ and explore some integration ideas depending on the apps and services you use.

My recent move from Wunderlist to Todoist wasn’t complete until I have also moved some Todoist zaps on which I rely a lot for work and personal life.

For work I use the following Zaps:

  1. Add new starred emails to Todoist as tasks (so when I just star a Gmail, it appears as a task in my Todoist with the link to the email for the context)
  2. Add new starred Slack messages to Todoist as tasks (so I just star a Slack message, and the message would appear in my Todoist with the link to the Slack message)
  3. I use Alfred a lot. So I setup Zapier for Alfred workflow which allows me to add tasks to my Todoist from the Alfred window.
  4. Unrelated to Todoist, but I also set up an Alfred workflow to add events to my work calendar right from the Alfred window, through a Zap in the background.

I also have a version of all the above zaps (except the Slack to Todoist zap) to work with my personal email, calendar and Todoist lists.

All these zaps allow me to add tasks to Todoist or calendars without having to stop what I am doing and without leaving the keyboard.

Regardless of which apps you use, there are a ton of zaps and Alfred workflows that offer myriad options. But a word of caution though: too many options means often we end up using none! After experiencing this for a long time, I optimized my workflows for simplicity and inexpensiveness in terms of both my money and cognitive energy. This means, I use Zapier’s Free plan which allows me to have only 5 zaps, and each of those zaps can only connect two apps. And I can use only 100 tasks per month. This seems to be sufficient for my needs and is working pretty well for me.

Likewise, if you use Alfred, you will find many sophisticated workflows that allow you to set tasks labels, priorities and other details right from Alfred window. While these options are good, it also means I need to learn those options and remember them. This often requires mental bandwidth and energy. This mostly lead me to stress and confusion and as a result, uselessness. So again, I optimized for simplicity and just use a basic workflow that sends whatever I write in Alfred window to Todoist’s Inbox from where I will triage later, so I don’t have to remember much or leave what I am doing. This works well for me rather than trying to use complicated workflows that require me to learn and remember their options.

How to declutter your Twitter timeline

I recently changed my Twitter iPhone app from Tweetbot 3 to the default Twitter iOS app.

Twitter for iOS app is largely good. But I noticed that my Twitter timeline both in the browser and iPhone app got noisy than they should be for the fifty people I follow. This is making me spend (not waste) more time than I would like to spend on Twitter. The clutter also means the actual tweets from the people I follow, the tweets I would love to see, are buried in the noise. This made me feel like I am missing important tweets.

I only ever wanted to see the tweets from the people I very carefully and deliberately choose to follow, in the order they are tweeted. Nothing more.

On a deeper look, I noticed that Twitter is not just showing me the tweets from the people I follow, but also the tweets liked (marked ♥️) by the people I follow as well as the conversations the people I follow are having with other people I don’t follow.

This has been a great revelation for me! This is my first-hand experience of Twitter’s aggressiveness and setting the defaults that work better for Twitter but cleverly wrapped as what I likely care about most.

For many weeks I thought there is no way around it and felt like I have to live with it. But having had enough, this week I decided to check if there is a way to declutter my timeline. I poked around the settings on my Twitter account and found this gem (in the red box) at https://twitter.com/settings/account:

Turn off best / top Tweets in Twitter web app.

Clicking the blue Learn more link took me to What’s in your Home timeline page on which I found this:

You can choose between viewing the top Tweets first or the latest Tweets first in your timeline (Twitter for iOS and Android only). Top Tweets are ones you are likely to care about most, and we choose them based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more. You can find instructions on how to toggle between the two timeline views below.


So instead of showing me what I want to see (latest Tweets), Twitter is showing what it wants me to see (top Tweets)!

At the end of the same help page, I also found the instructions to turn off Top Tweets in the iOS and Android apps.

Turn off best / top Tweets in Twitter mobile apps.

So changing the Twitter’s default settings by turning off Show the best Tweets first in the browser and toggling to latest Tweets in the iOS app made my twitter timeline much cleaner and calmer in both the places I check my tweets.

Barring these little annoyances, Twitter is the only social network I use and find really helpful by being deliberate about who I choose to follow, and override some of its default settings I mentioned in this post.

Alfred workflow for managing windows in Mac

I am constantly looking for better workflows and today I stumbled upon this useful workflow to manage the app windows in Mac using Alfred.

I set it up and used a few times. I loved using it!

Thanks for making and sharing it, Paweł.

I am also on the lookout for better Space Manager apps and ideas. But more on that later, when I find a solution that I love.

Three foundational skills everyone needs to get ahead in life

Over the past few years, the following foundational skills have helped me shape my career. I am not going to perfect them anytime soon but I think I don’t have to. I believe these skills takes life-long practice and I really don’t want to get done with them. I think it would be silly of me to think that someday I will master them all. I probably won’t. But by simply being aware and practicing them, I feel like I can adopt growth mindset and get better in my life and career.

Focus

Regardless of what I do, being indistracable and being able to focus on the task at hand for longer periods of time is a great skill. It is hard; if it isn’t everyone would do it. Being able to focus gives me a great competitive advantage, so I think it is very well worth learning how to be focussed. I learned that even a few focus blocks each week makes me  highly productive and effective. Having said this, it is really hard. I fail more often than I would like to believe. But that’s the challenge I signed up for.

Feedback

Willingness to ask and accept feedback without getting defensive is another essential skill to develop. It sounds simple. But being told on the face that you have a lot of room for improvement —which is generally true in most cases— is inconvenient and deeply cuts through my most precious possession called ego. But however harsh it may sound,  feedback on how I can improve is exactly what I need to get ahead. So I consider feedback as a gift. To get ahead in life, I need tough love, not being told how awesome I am. That’s why I am always open for feedback.

Flip-flop and iterate

It takes a lot of courage to be comfortable with changing my mind and ideas often. Everything around me is changing constantly. So should my ideas and opinions, I think. I am not obliged to stick with anything just because I felt certain way at certain point in time. Rather than being dogged about my ideas, I found that being open, adapting to feedback and iterating has helped me do cool things.

Can you think of any other skills that are useful regardless of what we do?

Next time I will share what I believe are foundational habits and how I learned about them.

Also, this is my first attempt with a cheesy clickbait title 😉

Example of a nagging app

Only yesterday I blogged about apps and their tricks to grab our precious attention by making us  install them on our phones in the pretense of helping us.

This morning I wanted to check the menu of a local cafe. I googled and clicked on one of the search results. It’s a Zomato link that looked like what I wanted:

I click on it and get this:

When I click on SEE MENU link, I get this:

If I think a bit about this…

What I wanted to do: check the cafe menu.

What Zomato wanted me to: install their app.

If Zomato’s aim is to help me, it will get out of my way and provide the info I need as soon as possible without any friction. But it seems Zomato’s aim is to make me install their app and advance its interests.

These are exactly the kind of apps and services I should avoid.

WiFi and VPN

I usually don’t offer free advice. But I will make an exception this time for the greater good.

Don’t connect your phone and computer to public WiFi networks without VPN.

Install VPN software in your computer and phone and turn that on every time you are about to hook on to public WiFi.

But how? Ask Google. There are many free VPN services for Windows and Mac; iPhone and Android.

Using any VPN software is magnitude better than using none to protect your privacy and security. You don’t need to be a celebrity to get snooped or hacked.

 

Hide media in tweets

Twitter embeds are cool, just like everything else on WordPress.com. You just paste the link to a tweet and the editor auto-magically embeds the twitter card.

While this is great, WordPress.com does a bit more that I don’t like: it also includes the images in the tweet. I don’t like it because the image increases the size of the twitter card.

When I published my previous post, I wanted to just post the tweet without media.

What I wanted is this:

What I got by default is this:

I wanted a way to hide images in the tweets. But I wasn’t sure if that is possible. So I scouted the Twitter Embeds support guide and found hide_media=’true’ option which hides the media item from the linked site.This is exactly what I am after. Besides its description, this option also hides the media in the tweet like an embedded image.

Here is the shortcode that got me what I wanted:

[tweet https://twitter.com/WPDiscover/status/697842590951931904 hide_media='true']

This isn’t as slick as just pasting the link to the tweet, but with a bit of editing, I get a clean result.

Three ideas I learned from Derek Sivers

I learned three great ideas from Derek Sivers over the last couple of months. I am very grateful to Derek for the following ideas.

  1. Hell yeah or no.
  2. /now page.
  3. Mastering self and helping others.

Hell yeah or no

I came across Derek’s “Hell yeah or no” idea via Leo Babauta’s tweet.

I instantly liked it and started saying no to anything that is less than hell yeah. It has helped me focus on my priorities and say no to everything else.

/now page

Being part of Derek’s /now page movement and writing my /now page has helped me think what is important to me and write how I am spending my time. I read my /now page regularly to make sure I am spending my time on my priorities.

Mastering self and helping others

Derek recently shared this idea in this second episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. I strongly recommend you listen to it. I enjoyed the two-hour long first episode as well but if you have only little time, just listen to the second.

He shared this idea at 28:03 of the second follow-up episode when someone asked him how does he define success.

I am amazed by how most of the things I do – which you will find on my /now page – perfectly aligns to this philosophy.

Exercising, doing push ups, running are to master my body and be in shape. Meditating, playing Elevate, and eating healthy helps me master my mind.

I am here first to help and take care of my family. Thankfully they don’t take much of my time or help but I don’t think twice to drop everything else if they ever need me that much. Then, my day job and Chaitanya 3.0 project are too about helping people, learning new things, and solving others problems.

Thanks a lot Derek. Your ideas are  some of the best I learned in 2015. I am super excited to continue living them in 2016 and be more useful to others.