OmniFocus – Syncing Faster

I like OmniFocus. A lot. The sync service works really well. It didn’t seem quick, but it was reliable, and seemed to remain reliable when the connection wasn’t great. That’s handy when I’m syncing my iPhone on the way in to Tesco – the signal isn’t very good there, but I need my shopping list to be up to date. Otherwise, I might forget to replenish my stocks of Cherry Garcia, and that would be bad.

While reading the forums for something else, though, I just discovered the secret to faster syncing. Sync all devices often.

I have OmniFocus installed on my iPhone and MacBook Air. It’s also installed on my iMac, but rarely used on there. Because I don’t use it on there very often, that copy doesn’t sync very often. OmniFocus uses a transaction-based system for it’s sync files, where every change (or small set of changes made together) are turned into a zip file and uploaded. They get deleted when all known clients are up to date. I had over a thousand of them, and syncing was getting a bit slow. After syncing my iMac, then letting the other devices catch up, they all cleared away, and my iPhone now syncs in a couple of seconds.

On the Mac, you can check in Preferences, Sync for a list of the client machines it knows about. If you have any listed that you don’t use any more, you can remove them from there. You can also see from there when each copy of OmniFocus last synced. Once they are all recent, the zip file count (shown in iOS in OmniFocus Settings) should drop over the next few syncs.

Yet Another Filofax Again – Pocket Guildford

When I wrote my last Scribbles post, I’d just settled on using the Mini Guildford Filofax. I ended that post with:

It’s quite possible I’ll be back to the Moleskine within a day or two, or that I’ll try to stretch my jeans pocket to cram in my Pocket Filofax. I have a worrying amount of fun trying them, though, and that’s the important thing.

I was writing that entry in the Filofax at the time, and by time I’d written it, I was feeling cramped on such small paper. It doesn’t help that the Mini paper has slightly wider lines than the larger Pocket paper. By the time I was typing that post up, I’d pretty much decided that the Mini was too small. I tried my old Pocket Lyndhurst again. It was good, with a lot more space for my notes, but a bit of a stretch on the pocket. Although they call that size “Pocket”, it’s only really for quite big pockets.

The Lyndhurst is one of the biggest Filofax binders in any given size – the Pocket Lyndhurst is the biggest of the Pocket binders. So, I decided to have a look at the other Pocket binders, and see how much difference it made. We had a trip to Staples, and I tried a few, including the pocket test (which must look very suspicious – especially when I have one Filofax in my pocket at the start of my testing, so end up grabbing one back from the shelf and into my pocket before leaving). None of them seemed small enough that I was sure. I bought some paper in both Pocket and Mini sizes so I could continue my experiments with the binders I already had.

I switched everything over to the Pocket Lyndhurst, and used it for a few days. Despite being a bit of a pocket-bulge, it went well. I finally gave in when we popped into another branch of Staples for more paper, and bought a Pocket Guildford. I already had the Mini Guildford, and it’s a really nice binder – a big full ‘wallet-style’ pocket around the outside, zipped section and card pockets on the inside, but keeping quite a small, thin profile.

So far, I’m getting on very well with it. It’s still quite big for a pocket, and probably not what most people would count as pocketable, but it works well for me. The Pocket sized paper is just big enough that I don’t feel like I’m getting through too many sheets, and lists can consist of a reasonable number of items. It’s just like the Pocket Lyndhust, but slightly easier on the pocket.

Alright Michael, I get it. Now help me.

I used to take the proverbial out of my husband for the way he’d constantly be fiddling around with his ‘system’. He’d scribble his thoughts and ideas into notebooks, various sizes of filofax, various digital devices, but nothing really sticks and he’s always changing his mind. It seemed quite hilarious and very odd to me, until a week or so ago. As 2007 prepares for the final curtain and 2008 waits in the wings, I also find myself in need of a comfortable and reliable way of recording my food diaries and other bits and bobs.

This year, as I settled into doing Slimming World, I played around with various different ways of keeping a food diary and planning shopping lists. I had a Hipster PDA for a while, various notebooks and two different sizes of Filofax. I ended up settling with a Paperblanks diary that the Organisational Master himself bought for me back in Nottingham last year. It worked a treat. So, you’d think the solution would be easy… get another one? Yeah, I thought that too until I couldn’t bloody find one. Our local suppliers seemed to run out of any diaries around, er, Christmas…

In the absence of the obvious answer, same again for ’08, I went on the hunt for a suitable replacement. It seems no other diary has the same layout as the Paperblanks, and most seem to think that weekends don’t need as much space as the rest of the week. I looked at Filofaxes, and in a moment of utter lunacy bought a cheap ‘personal’ size one. I was happy with this for a while, until I tried using it. It just doesn’t feel right. There’s not enough room, the damn thing’s too big, and it’s not a Paperblanks diary, dammit!

So today I’ve tried going the way of the DIY Planner, making my own special custom diary with space to write everything down, little tickboxes for what day I’m doing and… feh, it smacks. Frankly it requires more time using Excel than I’m willing to when I’m not being paid.

Michael, it’s no good. I’ve got to get a Paperblanks. Nothing else is going to work. You know how it is. That’s why you’ll be asking for your A5 Lyndhurst back in a couple of months, and this time I promise I won’t take the piss. I know how it feels now.

43Folders Gets Drupal

43Folders has just relaunched using Drupal. It’s looking really good so far – Merlin drafted in a few people who actually know what they’re doing with Drupal, where PigPog just had me and a poking-stick to try to make things work. If you’re into productivity pr0n and GTD stuff in any way, I’m sure you’re already a big fan of Merlin’s site, but it’s certainly worth going and having a fresh look.

60 Ways to be More Creative

Latest Update: Removed final suggestion to follow PigPog – we don’t talk about creative stuff as often these days. Removed a few other things that aren’t relevant any more, so the total is a bit under 60 now.

Derwent Graphitint 24-pack Inside

Many of us want to be more creative in our day-to-day lives, so here are a few ideas to get you going – many of them very quick and easy…

Eleven Ways to be Creative with Art

  • Check our Recent Posts about art, and make sure you’ve seen our Main Articles – you might get some ideas there.
  • Find a way of sharing your drawings or sketches with other people – the feedback you get could really help. Try deviantART (see our review) – because it’s aimed at art more than photography, you’ll get more feedback than you would using a photo sharing site.
  • Have a go at Tea Sketches (halfway down that page). You have to prepare when you drink tea, or splash some coffee, but you can build up a little stash of prepared cards. Turning one into a sketch doesn’t take long.
  • Doodle more. All you need is a pen by the phone. Even at work you can doodle. Doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not, just doodle.
  • Try out ArtRage – a paint simulator for Windows or Mac. The basic version is free (and the full version is pretty cheap if you get hooked and want the extra features), but it’s still plenty of fun. It’s even better if you have a graphics tablet or a Tablet PC.
  • Try drawing something. Doesn’t matter what, or when. Just grab a sheet of A4 from your printer, and draw something nearby – maybe even the printer you just stole the paper from.
  • If you do a bit of drawing already, try drawing with something different – if you usually use a pencil, try switching to a pen. Some people have found it gives new life to their art when they know they can’t keep erasing and correcting – it makes it more alive. If you usually use a pen, try pencil. Try charcoal. Try whatever you can find.
  • Try this drawing upside down exercise – it tricks your brain and you’ll be amazed at the result!
  • Learn to Draw or to Draw People
  • Why not join The Drawing Club? You can join in with the Yahoo! Group and share your drawings with other people. (Update: the club is somewhat dormant these days.)
  • Draw on something unusual – doodle on your food packaging, or whatever else comes to hand. A Sharpie is ideal for this.

Seven Ways to be Creative with Craft

  • Try making a ‘sketch’ with Post-it notes and scissors. Cut the note into the shape of something, and stand it up by sticking it to your desk and folding just behind the glue.
  • Get yourself to your local craft supplies shop, and pick up some card making stuff. Especially if it’s not the sort of thing you’d usually do. Make cards for people this year, instead of giving all your money to Hallmark.
  • Explore craft supplies stores like Hobbycraft for all-in-one project sets. Gives you the chance to try out whatever you fancy without investing in large amounts of equipment.
  • Bored? We’ve got a few papercraft projects for you to try.
  • Keep an eye on Make: for plenty of unusual projects to inspire you.
  • Get a few basics in that you can make anything with – Duct tape, some different types of glue, a craft knife, a metal ruler, string, and maybe a Swiss army knife or Leatherman.

Seven Ways to be Creative with Music

  • Have a play with some of the toys listed in our Online Music page. Desktop Blues is great fun, and takes no musical skill whatsoever – even I can do it.
  • Don’t have an instrument? Get one. It doesn’t need to cost too much – a cheap electric guitar or keyboard can be had for surprisingly little. If you’re in the UK, eBuyer have electric guitars for under £50, and you can get electric and acoustic guitars from Amazon in the US.
  • Be brave. Go to a music shop and try out a few instruments. Most people who work there don’t bite, and if they do, it’s on their own time.
  • Get everyone else out of the house. Lock the door. Take the phone off the hook. Put on your favourite album and rock out. It’s good for you.
  • Sing along – the car is the best place. When you’re not stuck in traffic, it’s difficult for anyone else to see or hear your embarrassing wailing.
  • Have a bang at the Virtual Drum Kit.

Eight Ways to be Creative with Photography

  • Buy a photography magazine. In the UK, Practical Photography is my favourite. There are plenty of magazines out there full of ideas, though.
  • If you’re not already signed up, give Flickr a go. You can share your photos there with other people, and see what other people are doing. Add tags to your pictures, then click the little ‘world’ icons next to them to see what other people have taken with that tag.
  • Once you’ve tried Flickr out, try joining some Groups. There are groups for just about anything you can imagine, and if you can think of something that doesn’t exist, you can make a new group yourself. Groups can be really inspiring, as you start looking out for things that match the groups you have joined.
  • Drool over toys at DP Review – they do the best reviews out there, and they get all the best toys.
  • Think of a theme to take pictures of. Peter Bryenton has an ongoing theme of threes – anything that comes in threes. You’ll be surprised how much more you notice things, if you pick something good. I joined a group on Flickr for ‘Bright Colours on Gray’, and suddenly I was seeing bright things on gray backgrounds everywhere. Getting stuck in roadworks became a great photo opportunity.
  • Try doing more of something you don’t do. If you normally shy away from photographing people, try snapping your family and friends. If you usually only do people, try pointing your camera at inanimate objects more often. Think of something you don’t do, and do it.
  • Take 3 digital photos from your collection and turn them into a collage in Photoshop (or Paint Shop Pro, The GIMP, etc). Don’t try to join them invisibly, and feel free to use more than three. Have a look at my attempts.

Seven Ways to be Creative at Work

  • If your job is sapping your creativity, it might be worth thinking about a change.
  • Keep an eye on 43 Folders – Merlin is full of ideas for being more productive, and the people over at 43 Folders have a more creative take on the whole thing than most.
  • Try a change. I change my whole ‘productivity system’ around three or four times a week, and I don’t recommend it, but if you’ve been using the same system for a while and it’s not getting the results, a change might do you some good. If nothing else, it forces a full review of what you’re up to, which can make a big difference in itself. If you’re all paper-based at the moment, why not try doing everything on a computer? If you’re using a computer now, why not try setting up a DIY Planner for yourself, and see how you get on with paper and pen?
  • Suffer from the opposite problem? Like me, can’t you stop ‘playing’ with your system? Try forcing yourself to stick with something simple for a while. Just a few bits of paper, of a few text files, maybe. You might get some insights into more creative ways of using the simple tools, rather than just throwing more tools at the problem.
  • Try mind mapping, if you don’t already. Just write the heading in the middle of the page instead of at the top, and start scribbling outwards from there. You can find this really frees up your more creative side, and can give you new insights.
  • Keep something handy for making notes anywhere – never lose an idea. A folded index card in a pocket is enough.

Eight Ways to be Creative with Writing

  • Have a look through some of the articles linked from our Improving your Writing page – there are lots of great ideas in there.
  • Try switching methods. If you usually only write at your computer, try gabbing a pad and a pen, and sitting somewhere a bit more pleasant. If you normally use pen, try writing directly on your computer.
  • Read more. Sounds obvious, but if you’re going to output, you need input. To write, it can help if you read. Sign up at Bloglines if you don’t already use an RSS reader, and find a few interesting blogs to subscribe to. Stick a book in the bathroom, and you’ll get at least some reading each day ;)
  • Why not start a blog of your own? It’s easy enough to get started somewhere like WordPress, Blogger or Vox, and it doesn’t have to cost anything. It can give you a bit of incentive to write regularly (though you’d be surprised how many blogs consist entirely of a post every three months saying “I should blog more”). If you hope to sell your writing, it can also serve as an easy way to keep contact with potential customers, and to make new contacts.
  • Get a copy of Writing Down The Bones (Amazon UK, Amazon US) by Natalie Goldberg), and dip into it whenever you need a push.
  • Set up a system for storing the little nuggets of information you happen on, and store them somewhere you can find them again. See my post on Storing Nuggets of Information for some ideas, but you probably don’t want to get too hung up on how – just stick them all in a folder for now (computer folder or cardboard), and work that out later.
  • Keep a journal for the year. The only person you’re writing for is yourself, so you can just let go and get all your thoughts down on paper.

Twelve Ways to Mix ‘em Up!

Where the categories above meet…

  • Write about your productivity system.
  • Take photos of a musical instrument.
  • Draw pictures on cards for people’s birthdays.
  • Write about the day you took your favourite photo.
  • Take a photo of a place you spent a happy day.
  • Write a tune inspired by one of your photos.
  • Make a musical instrument. Probably start with something percussive ;)
  • Take photos of your favourite productivity tools.
  • Draw your camera.
  • Make a case for carrying index cards. Clue: duct tape ;)
  • Draw something from your favourite fiction book.
  • Buy a guitar magazine and draw your favourites.