Posts Tagged @Productivity

Learning Notion

Hi! In this blog post I talk about some new discoveries I’ve made in the world of productivity apps: Notion, (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking.

  1. Notion as an alternative to Evernote,  (Here’s my Notion tutorial playlist on YT.)
  2. PARA (only in passing, no details in this blog post as I’m still figuring out what it is – here’ s my PARA YT playlist)
  3. Active Recall and the Cornell Note System as a more effective way to learn new material than highlighting (here’s my Active Recall YT playlist), and
  4. timeblocking – a truly awesome yet simple way to make sure that those things you’d like to do actually get done (all those “Important but not Urgent” items). Link to my yt playlist

After watching a video by a veteran Evernote user on why he was thinking of moving over to Notion, I decided to check it out.

Particularly useful and helpful I found were the videos by Keep Productive (Francesco D’Alessio), Rebecca Ford and Marie Poulin (tho Marie is a power user and sometimes goes a little fast and sophisticated).

The key thing about Notion is, as Marie, Rebecca and Everyday Apple say, that it allows important info to re-surface and come to your attention more easily and effectively than Evernote. Evernote, of course, has its reminders, but in Notion you can created a calendar and put all your to-dos in there, and then created a daily calendar that filters only the tasks you have for that day. This is a huge advantage and though the learning curve for Notion is a little steep, the tutorial videos I found are very helpful.

“Unlike other apps that force me to silo different parts of my planning and task management system between different apps, Notion allows me to keep all of the parts of my system.”  (Rebecca Ford, “Task Management in Notion“, 23 Oct 2018)

Notion basically uses blocks, like the new WordPress interface (the artist formerly known as Gutenberg), but in a much more powerful way than you can in WordPress.

Keep Productive and Marie Poulin also offer Notion mastery courses which I plan to sign up for later this year.

Marie, Keep Productive, Rebecca Ford, GroovyWinks’ Maria Aldrey and super-productive Cambridge (UK) doctor Ali Abdaal have all mentioned another organizing principle which I am currently learning about: PARA (part of a larger concept called Second Brain). Marie Poulin and Maria Aldrey have both done videos on this. It’s different from GTD which I’m a little familiar with, so I’m finding it a little hard to get my head around these concepts, particularly Areas (is that like GTD’s “areas of responsibility”? And,“A resource is “a topic or theme of ongoing interest.” Say… wha???)

Dr. Abdaal also did a video on a study and review method he has used very successfully called Active Recall (video 1 and video 2). Shu Omi also did a neat and brief video on this.

Shu Omi’s video on timeblocking also helped me get over a major stumbling block: saving videos and websites and articles to watch or read later then never getting to that “later”. The simple solution: schedule a time or date to do just that. Well, duh!

So, today, I went through my “Read-Review” notes (because I’m dividing them into “ToReview” and “ToRead”), then I realized what’s going to happen: I’m going to re-tag these and then… probably never read them because I don’t have a way for those to pop up again right under my nose so I can’t miss them. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind. When am I going to review them? As I was already in Evernote, I decided, as well as re-tagging these, to use Evernote’s reminder function to fix a date and time to actually do these. I fixed a day for –

  • doing my weekly review (which will now include reading articles and notes on this topic)
  • working on my business (which will include reading my Evernotes related to business, marketing, etc)
  • working on a new website I’m building, which will include reading my Evernotes tagged with marketing or website
  • learning Notion, which mainly means watching Notion tutorial videos and reproducing that in my Notion sandbox
  • learning more about Active Recall which I’m using to study assignment design.
  • learning more about other memory techniques such as the mind palace (yup! I recently watched again BBC’s Sherlock.)

Each of the above now has a time slot and a day allocated to them, and that will pop up in both an Evernote reminder, and a calendar item in my Notion Master To-Do list.

I also watched Timeboxing: Elon Musk’s Time Management Method. Shu Omi said timeblocking is also used by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Here’s a blog post Cal Newport did on it: Deep Habits: the importance of planning every minute of your workday.

“Atomic Habits” author James Clear makes a similar point about the importance of intention (which timeblocking facilitates) in this clip.

Cal Newport’s new book is called Digital Minimalism.

On Newport’s blog, I found this article about learning and how these days, the hard work of developing good study habits seems to have gone by the wayside.

To Olser, it was clear that training a new generation of thinkers required teaching students how to actually put their mind to productive use, which is hard, and requires “bull-dog tenacity” before it becomes a “good habit.”

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

He repeats this in this interview here: Don’t follow your passion (Do this instead.) |Cal Newport | Top 10 Rules. And at the end of that same video, rule #10, is timeblocking.

Dr Ali Abdaal in his video on Active Recall and particularly the part where he talks about why it works, why it’s effective, says it is the hard work, the difficulty of the task (trying to remember the answers to your own questions) that makes it valuable and helps the information to stick.

As it happens, Notion has an active recall template: Cornell Notes System. Active recall is very similar to a system of note-taking developed by a Cornell University professor in the 1940s.

There are 3 parts to the active-recall/Cornell Notes system:

  1. Read or watch or listen to the original, taking notes as you go. E.g. I’m now learning about how to design effective assignment sheets to teach academic writing to college students. As I read, I make the following notes:
    1. Your assignment sheet should:
      1. Link the writing task with specific learning goals
      2. Describe rhetorical aspects of the task, i.e., audience, purpose, genre
      3. Make explicit any constraints such as word count minimums and maximums
      4. Specify formatting requirements
  2. Create your own recall questions. E.g., for the above notes, my recall question is “What 4 things should an effective assignment sheet do?”
  3. Recalling, which involves looking at the questions only and trying to recall the original notes or answers.
    1. In his video “My favourite note-taking app for students – Notion”, Ali shows how to use Notion’s toggle-list function to hide your notes or answers to your recall questions. 
    2. It also involves, if you’re really trying to master a body of knowledge, repeating the recall step again after some interval of time. Here’s how Ali Abdaal used this technique to revise for his medical exams at Cambridge University.

This blog post briefly introduced the following productivity apps or ideas: Notion, PARA (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking. Thanks for reading!

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Dropbox Cuts Pricing And Adds Great Sharing Features

I’ve been a Dropbox user for several years now. I rely on it more and more, and use USB thumb-drives less and less.

Dropbox has a referral system which gives you 500MB for each referral who joins and installs Dropbox, up to a max of 16GB (if you join after clicking the link above, I’ll get yet more space!). I’ve accrued an extra 3GB this way, and I use just 2.5 GB of my 5.75 GB, so I use the free version, as the number and size of my files don’t justify the Pro version.

But I was still glad to read in a recent blog post by paperless master Brooks Duncan that Dropbox have dropped (geddit?) their prices to compete with Google Drive and others.

I was particularly interested in some of the new features that have been added. Here’s Brooks:

New Sharing Features

Dropbox outlines their new features in their blog post, but the key changes are:

  • Password protection: You can now assign a password for a shared link. This is great! You’ve always been able to generate a link to a file or folder, but theoretically anyone who came across that link however unlikely that may be would be able to see your information. Now you can password protect that link. More on that here.
  • Expire shared links: Another great feature when it comes to going paperless. Often when we share a link to a file, the recipient only needs access for a short period. You’ve always been able to review and remove those shared files, but now you can set the link to expire automatically. Here is how it works.

Filepost offers the same service and there’s a Filepost Japan, too. I was toying with the idea of using Filepost when I read Brooks’ article. Filepost isn’t really a storage service like Dropbox, tho; it’s just for sharing files on a short-term basis. Back to Brooks:

  • Folder Premissions: One of the problems with sharing a file with someone via a file syncing service like Dropbox is that if the person deletes or modifies the file, it is deleted or modified for you too. You mark a recipient as read only so they can see a folder but can’t mess it up. More on that here.

via Dropbox Cuts Pricing And Adds Great Sharing Features.

I recommend DocumentSnap Solutions’ Paperless Document Organization Guides. Be sure to try DocumentSnap’s free email course on going paperless first before buying his products. Sign up for it on his homepage.


How to disallow comments for old blog posts – in bulk

WordPress has a single ON/OFF switch to enable and disable comments on all posts in a blog. But what if you want to turn off comments on just a few blogs, or all blogs older than 1 year old, for instance? Is there no alternative to editing each blog one at a time and turning off the comments? Yes, there is. Here is how.

In your WordPress administration, click on “All Posts”.  If you have 20 or fewer posts, they will be listed on one page. If you have more than 20 posts, they will be spread over several pages. I have 3o pages, and I wanted to switch off comments on all posts older than 6 months. So I clicked to the last page with the oldest blog posts. Then,

2014-04-20 19-38-18Click on the downward-pointing triangle next to the words “Bulk Action” and choose “Edit”.

2014-04-20 19-39-29Next, underneath the word “Edit” you’ll see the word “Title” with a checkbox next to it. Click the checkbox and all the checkboxes to the left of the title of all the posts listed on that page will also be checked. If you don’t want to edit all the posts, just unclick the ones you don’t want edited.












2014-04-20 19-40-09Now click the word “Apply”, next to the “Edit” window. You will see a new small window appear at the top of all the blog posts which will list them all in miniature, together with a bunch of options (see the next graphic below).



2014-04-20 19-43-29(Click the image to see a larger, clearer version.)

You can make bulk edits to several different elements. I wanted to just edit the comments options, so I clicked on the downward-pointing triangle next to “Comments” and chose “Do not allow”, like this:

2014-04-20 19-43-29Then click the big red button named “Update” and hey presto! All the blog posts listed on that page should now have had their comments disabled. If there were any comments on any of those pages, they won’t be affected. They should still all be there. It’s just that from now on nobody can write a new comment on those posts.

As I had about 25 pages of old posts I wanted to disable the comments on, this took me quite a while, but it was still a damn sight quicker than fixing each post one by one!


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The Beginner’s Guide to Writing With MultiMarkdown | Michael Hyatt

I’ve heard about Markdown, a simple way of marking up simple text so that it appears as formatted, and have started exploring it (well, I downloaded an app, and saved an article on it to read later). Then recently this article by Michael Hyatt convinced me to get going with it.

I started using Drafts app recently, but have not explored its Markdown function yet, mainly because I use Drafts solely to get notes quickly into Evernote on my mobile devices, and Evernote doesn’t recognize Markdown (I think).

But if you want to know more about Markdown, especially how simple it is to use, and/or how a busy blogger and writer uses it, read Hyatt’s article. It’s not a comprehensive overview, just a brief introduction.

I have used a number of “blog processors,” including BlogJet and then MarsEdit. But in the last few years, I have completely converted over to MultiMarkdown.

It’s a way of writing that turns minimally marked up plain text into well formatted documents, including rich text and HTML. You can even use it directly with WordPress. If you are a writer, you owe it to yourself to explore MultiMarkdown.

And, before your eyes glaze over, it is honestly the easiest way to write anything. The syntax is so simple, you already know it. If you can use an emoticon, you can write in MultiMarkdown.

via The Beginner’s Guide to Writing With MultiMarkdown | Michael Hyatt.

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Word Stats for this blog

Science-fiction writer and Evernote Ambassador Jamie Rubin loves stats, keeps track of them and manages to pull them together into meaningful and interesting slices of information for others, as well as for himself. Quite an achievement.

After reading a recent blog post of his Blog Stats for Q1 of 2014, I got interested in the idea of keeping track of how much I write, on this blog and elsewhere. Rubin has created lines of code that automate this process, but not being a coder I’ve had to resort to more primitive methods: a plugin. I just installed Word Stats (another overview over here), and so here we go.

Because in Japan the school and fiscal years begin in April, and as I live and work in Japan, I’m going to follow suit, so these are for last “year”, April 1, 2013 – March 31, 2014.

  • 113 posts
  • 42,454 words
  • 376 words/post (average)
  • 75% of my blog posts are at an intermediate reading level, 24% are at a basic level, and just 1% at an advanced level (must have been drunk at the time).
  • just 2 of my posts were tagged “too long”, meaning they were over 1,500 words (this is the default standard for “too long”)
  • 37 posts were tagged “too short”, being fewer than 200 words (this is the default standard for “too short”).
  • My most prolific month was March 2014 (7,519 words) – not surprising as I almost no classes in that month, so had more time to spend on blogging.
  • I blogged the least in the previous month, February 2014. Not sure why. Most of my classes finished in the first week of February. After that I was focussed on calculating final grades. I did get sick in that month, but that only lasted a few days.

Visitor Stats

My visitor stats go back to 2008, when I started this blog in November. I had 88 visitors that month.

  • By 2010 I was getting 100-200 visitors/month.
  • That all changed in March 2011 when the earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima nuclear meltdown happened, and I started blogging about that. In March I got 2,004 visitors.
  • In April 2011 I got 3,203 visitors. Numbers dropped to below 2,000 after that until November (2,398) and then they went up gradually reaching a peak in February 2012 (5,195).
  • Numbers from then on dropped slightly, hovering around +/- 3,000 visitors/month until
  • May 2013 when they dropped below 2,500 and have continued to drop ever since, falling below 2,000 in August 2013  (for the first time since October 2011) and
  • below 1,000 since January 2014 (for the first time since Feb. 2011).

The low numbers since Jan. 2014 are perhaps due to the fact that I have been blogging less since Dec. 2013.

  • I wrote just 3 posts in February this year, compared to
  • 13 in March, and
  • 7 in February, 2013
  • 39 in February, 2012!

So there seems to be a correlation between frequency of blogging and numbers of visitors. Tho it can’t only be that, because visitor numbers have not picked up even though I’ve started blogging more ( high word count), and more frequently.?


Revamping my Evernote

Revamping my Evernote. Why?

  • I had too many tags (over 1,000)
  • Too many notebooks (around 60)
  • Too many “todo’s” scattered across 1 ToDo notebook and 1 ToDo tag (what the…?)
  • Notes piling up unattended to in my inbox and ToDo tag and notebook
  • Not doing regular daily, weekly and monthly reviews.
  1. Mission creep was affecting my original purpose for using Evernote.
    1. My original purpose was to use EN as
      1. an archive of ideas for the future, as well as reference materials for present and possible future projects, and
      2. my GTD system.
  2. BUT I was spending too much time collecting notes and clippings, and not enough time reviewing them and/or using them for live projects.
  3. Too many ToDos and ToReads and Someday/Maybes piling up.
    1. Why? Probably because these items do not pop up on my radar screen when they should, or as often as they should.
    2. Why not?
      1. Probably partly because I’m not conducting regular Daily and Weekly Reviews.
  4. Too many clippings.
  5. Too many notebooks, meaning too much time spent deciding which notebook to file a note under.
  6. Too many occasions when I was unable to locate the note I wanted because I could not search across multiple notebooks (but you can search across multiple tags).
  7. Storing too much and not trashing enough, i.e. not reviewing old clippings or other notes and discarding things I no longer need. Being too much of a packrat, in short.
  8. Lost track of my projects: too many items labelled as “projects” which weren’t.
    1. Solution: review David Allen’s definition of “project”, and re-label my “projects” which aren’t really projects (actions that require more than 2 steps).
  9. Lost track of my long-term goals, visions, etc.; my 30-, 40- and 50,000-feet perspectives.
    1. Possible solution: regular reviews (Daily, Weekly, Monthly)
    2. This means that my long-term goals and visions, etc., need to come up on my radar on a regular basis, in one or more of my reviews.
    3. That means organizing my saved searches.

I decided to re-read Ruud Hein’s article on using Evernote to GTD, where he describes in detail his extensive use of saved searches to make sure what needs to come up does actually come up. That is (for me) the biggest lesson of GTD: something important you must take to work the next day, you put it on your shoes or right in front of the front door, so next morning when you’re still bleary and fuzzy despite your coffee, you stumble over this and think, “What the heck? … Oh yeah, I gotta take this to work” and you pick it up and take it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Experience Curating Book Free Until Mar 8 • Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog

Paperless master Brooks Duncan blogs:

In my post How I Manage My Life Without Paper, I mentioned that I am becoming more and more interested in the concept of personal tracking and simplifying in general.

I am taking baby steps in that regard, but the master of this has to be Joel Zaslofsky from Value Of Simple.

Apparently his [new] book Experience Curating: How to Gain Focus, Increase Influence, and Simplify Your Life is free on Amazon until March 8, so I picked it up (what can I say, I’m cheap).

via Experience Curating Book Free Until Mar 8 • Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog.

It’s a Kindle version, and is also available for free on Amazon Japan. (Disclosure: that is my Amazon Japan affiliate link.) I just downloaded it.


Evernote Descriptive Search | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog

Evernote has added Descriptive Search, a new way to search using natural language instead of difficult-to-remember search syntax. So far, just for the Mac, but I’m sure the Windows version won’t be far behind.

From Brooks Dundan’s excellent blog:

For example, one of the biggest wins is how easy it is to find notes that contain a PDF. Previously you had to do some pretty wacky search syntax, but now it is as easy as typing “notes with pdf”.

via Evernote Descriptive Search | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog.


5 Apps That Make Evernote Even Better

Brett Kelly, author of the ever-popular “Evernote Essentials” (click here for more info), blogged recently about 5 apps that make Evernote better. The short version: they are

  1. Powerbot for Gmail (I don’t use Gmail, but many still do)
  2. Placeme (if you really want to tell the world and the government exactly where you were all day every day)
  3. Everclip – totally useful; I’ve been waiting for this one.
  4. Drafts – will check it out
  5. and FastEver Snap – is this better than Skitch? I dumped Skitch because it was so frustrating to use (it wouldn’t do most of the things I thought it should do), but I recently re-installed it because they’ve improved it and now it does many of those things I think a photo-editor for Evernote should do. Many, but not all, so maybel I’ll give FastEver Snap a whirl.

As you get beyond the Evernote basics and your love affair with Evernote deepens and you start keeping more and more of your life and work inside it, you’ll almost invariably come to the conclusion that you might be able to do even more with Evernote.

Well, you’re in luck because you totally can thanks to the thriving community of smarty pants developers who have built some really great applications that work with Evernote.

Having tried and tested dozens (and dozens) of different Evernote-capable applications and services, I’ve found these to be crazy useful.

via 5 Apps That Make Evernote Even Better.


Going Paperless: Using Shortcuts in Evernote to Speed Up Your Work | Jamie Todd Rubin

Fiction-writer and Evernote Ambassador Jamie Rubin writes regularly about Evernote (and fiction writing and related stuff), and I’ve found his posts on Evernote to be extremely valuable and interesting. Here’s a recent one, on shortcuts in Evernote.

I received an email from a reader of these posts noting the shortcuts I have in Evernote in one of the screenshots I posted. The reader suggested that how I use shortcuts in Evernote might be a topic of interest to other readers. Considering how much I use the shortcut feature in Evernote, I agreed and I’m surprised I didn’t think of it sooner.

What are shortcuts?

Evernote 5 introduced the concept of shortcuts. A shortcut is essentially a list containing links to notes, notebooks, searches and tags. Unlike “recent” notes, the shortcut list is entirely arbitrary, meaning you can put whatever you want into your shortcut list. You can put the items in the shortcut list in any order you want simply by dragging them around. Then, rather than having to search for these notes, notebooks, etc., you can have quick access to them from the list.

via Going Paperless: Using Shortcuts in Evernote to Speed Up Your Work | Jamie Todd Rubin.