Productivity

Building a Development Environment

I've already discussed the machine I use for development, a Mac Pro with a couple of cores and a dash fo ram. But what about the actual development environment? Not the tools, but the environment you create to keep yourself focused and motivated?

The reason I chose a Mac Pro is so I can have multiple monitors. In reality, I have 4 on my work machine, and 3 on my home machine.

They are arranged so that I can get to my clipboard, Slack, notes, spreadsheets and whatever else without having to open and close windows all the time. It is painful experience trying to copy and paste dozens of pieces of information from one app to the other when you have to switch back and forth.

Another huge benefit, especially when working in "open space" offices is noise cancelling headphones. I honestly can't stand the ring of someone's phone, the knock of a Slack message or the ding of an incoming email. Headphones are fantastic for blocking all this out so simple noises don't throw you completely off.

I've also discovered that certain types of "Trance" music are very effective for me. It has a high beats per minute, almost no singing, and the music flows together so there is almost no beginning or end. You don't jump into the middle of a song and go, "wait, let me back up to get to the good part." I find the music carries me along very nicely.

Some Trance Music to Explore

I know this is becoming more difficult, but the distraction of Slack, Email, Messages, phones all need to be turned off. When it comes to Slack, 90% of the channels are set to mute. I make note of incoming emails, but don't immediately open them. People send me text messages, but I'm not going to immediately reply. I know things are happening, but unless someone mentions me directly, I'm not needed. My project managers know this.

It is a difficult exercise, but in order to really get things done and focus, these distractions need to be contained. I focus on my task at hand and work on it for at least 25-30 minutes at a stretch. If I'm making progress, I know what the next step is. If I'm not, it's a good time to stop, rethink, and try another approach.

Despite how many people would like to spin it, being constantly connected does not make you more productive. It's easy to use tools like Alfred or Keyboard Maestro to shut down mail, Slack and Messages for 30 minutes, get real work done, then start them back up again. The world and your company will not come apart if someone has to wait 30 minutes to hear back from you. If the need is that desperate, then can walk the 10 feet to talk to you.

I've also started to use one of my monitors to help create an "environment." In some cases I have a video of a fish tank running. Other times it's a video of a train rolling through the countryside. I also have a colorful kaleidoscope that basically acts as a digital lava lamp.

Some may say that is a distraction, but I find it very enjoyable. I can sit back for a moment, watch the fish, colorful swirls or the scenery go by before jumping back in to my task.

I wouldn't say I'm distracted easily, but with open floor plan workspaces it's very easy to get side tracked. They can also be very noisy, even when people are trying to be respectful and keep the noise down. Small sounds like a mechanical keyboard can be grating.

I have set up my workspace where I can easily block out these noises, close intrusive apps, at least for a little while, and have a screen layout that makes it easy for me to find what I'm looking for an work with it. This set up may not work or be feasible for everyone, but there is still the goal of finding a peaceful and productive work environment in an open sea of other work environments.

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Productivity Tools for 2020

As we get 2020 underway, I wanted to list a few of the tools I've been using that make a huge difference in my productivity. I use these on a daily basis and they have proven their worth on multiple occasions. This isn't a complete list, but just about everyone can benefit from these tools. They are extremely powerful in what they do, yet easy to learn and understand.

Productivity Tools for 2020

2Do – My choice for task management when testing, for creating checklists, for creating ToDo lists and keeping track of bills and appointments.

Alfred – An automation and workflow tools I have recently added that has already saved huge amounts of time. Navigate Finder using the keyboard, set up custom web searches, find files, set up snippets, make a clipboard manager and build workflows. I've made several of my own custom searches and built some very nice workflows.

CodeRunner – My choice for writing and testing small snippets of code. Works for Java, Groovy, Bash, AppleScript and others.

CopyLess – A very useful clipboard manager that sits on a secondary monitor so I can pull out names and figures with a click.

DevonAgent – An absolute must for those doing research and deep dive searches. Search through hundreds of websites for the information you need while tossing away duplicates.

DevonThink – The most powerful document management tool I have ever used. It stores documents, web site archives, source code, emails, news feeds and just about every other type of information you have on your machine. An absolute gem.

Dozer – Clean up the menu bar with this well designed tool.

Infinity Dashboard – Monitors websites so I don't have to. I use it almost exclusively to monitor price changes on Amazon. In that regard, it's already saved a couple hundred dollars.

Keyboard Maestro – The other half of my automation engine. Set up keyboard shortcuts, automate applications or build your own. An incredibly handy and extremely powerful tool for getting work done in a fraction of the time. You can probably replace paid applications by using this one.

LibreOffice – No interest in Microsoft Office by whatever name they call it. LibreOffice is powerful, effective and has features I actually use.

MiniNote Pro – I have several note taking tools, but MiniNote is the most used. I use it for quick notes about a project or topic I'm working on. It has effective organization to group topics together. It's also a great way to push notes from my Mac at work, to my Mac at home.

MWeb – Another very powerful note taking tool with Markdown capability. Great organization, themes, formatting tools, export capabilities and can publish to the web.

PopClip – My little friend to help format, link, delete or push my selected text to another app. I didn't know how useful this would be until I started using it.

Quitter – A great tool for closing down apps you aren't using. Keep you system tidy and regain some memory for tasks you've completed or will come back to later.

Scrivener – The most glorious word processing tool I have ever used. I've had Scrivener for 5 years now and I don't write documents in anything else. If it's more than a paragraph, it's written in Scrivener.

Simon – It monitors websites so I don't have to. While Infinity Dashboard has some built in modules, with Simon you can monitor anything. Check for new articles, software updates, uploads, or be notified if a site goes down. It's a little more "do it yourself" but very powerful.

SnagIt – One of the best screen capture tools around.

SnippetsLab – If there's a code fragments I'm going to use again, this is where it goes. Great for all types of notes, not just code.

TextSoap – An incredible text formatting tool with a solid editor. Parse text with built in cleaners or build your own. I'm not entirely sure there's a limit to how this can be used. It's an IDE for building ways to parse, clean and copy text.

TypeIt4Me – My choice for text expansion. This has saved so much time and helped fill in so many forms. If you write code, send template emails, work in tech support, or have any reason to write the same piece of text more than once, TypeIt4Me is a must have. It's easy to set up and will save you days of typing.

WindowManager – A great way to keep windows organized. Snap windows to a position on your screen. Maximize, half-size, center, or in the right hand corner, this app makes window position incredibly easy.

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CopyLess and PopClip Jump Aboard the Party Barge

Since I’m building up a host of efficiency tools, I’ve added CopyLess 2 and PopClip to my arsenal.

At first glance having CopyLess might seem contradictory since Alfred already has a clipboard manager. Under normal circumstances that would be correct, but I want to use a clipboard manager in a slightly different, but very specific way.

Since I have multiple monitors (4), I want the clipboard manager to float on a second monitor and be visible at all times. It needs to be on top of other apps and not disappear when it loses focus. When filling out forms and working on certain test scenarios, I want to move back and forth as quickly as possible to copy and paste data. I don’t want to repeatedly press key combinations or go to the menu bar to make my list appear.

There are a lot of really good clipboard managers out there, including the one built in to Alfred, but CopyLess was one of the few that could actually stay on top of other applications, keep track of a large list and set aside text as favorites. And because of that, it’s working out really well for me. It also comes in at a very affordable price with some nice customizations.

CopyLess 2

Another tool in the efficiency category is PopClip. This was also a new one to me, but I can see why people are fans. When you select a block of text, it creates a floating bar like you see on iOS devices. But it’s more than just Copy/Paste. There are a hundred plugins available that allow you to do something with that selected text whether it be reformatting it, creating an appointment, performing a search, or turning it into a note.

The popup bar is very handy on it’s own, but when you add the extended functionality of plugins, you get a tool with almost limitless possibilities. It’s another way of linking actions and functions together so you can continue from one task to another in a seamless way.

PopClip

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Alfred Climbs Aboard the Party Barge

To get in shape for 2020 I have been looking up productivity tools. Since Alfred is a name I see on dozens of lists, I have to ask myself, who is this Alfred chap and what can he do for me?

Turns out, a lot.

The goal of Alfred is to keep apps and task at your fingertips. With the launch bar you can find a file, open or close an app, send a query to a specific search engine or query a certain site. For example, you can open TextSoap or Scrivener by pressing Alt-Spacebar and typing scrivener. At this point, Scrivener will open. The same would be true to close Scrivener – Alt-Spacebar and type quit scrivener. That alone may not sound like much, but once you do it a couple of times, it's incredibly quick, especially since you don't need to put in the entire app name.

Another big feature is the Web Search. Alfred provides a series of shortcuts to search specific engines or sites for a query term. Using the shortcut bar, you can search Google, Amazon or Youtube directly.

Custom searches can be created for your own sites. In my case, I query for solutions directly against Stackoverflow.com and Katalon.com. It bypasses the steps of opening the browser, entering the address of the site, then entering the search term. It all happens as one action and saves a lot of time and clicking.

The free version offers a lot of speed and functionality gains. But the fun starts when you can hook into Workflows. This is something I am just starting to explore. It's like an Automator tool with Alfred. You can create Actions, Triggers, Hotkeys and kick off several processes all at once.

There are several examples and lots of integration workflows for Slack, Github, Stackoverflow, Amazon and others.

Additionally, if you don't already have a Clipboard manager or Snippets tool, Alfred is ready to help out.

There are all sorts of new possibilities and functionalities here. I can certainly see why Alfred gets a lot of high marks. That, and he's British, with a bowler hat. What's not to love?

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