I ran into an odd bug with my iPhone and iCloud account last month. My phone comes with a 9GB monthly data limit which I rarely exceed. Last month, I discovered that I had burned through 80% of my allowance with 10 days left. I checked again 3 days later to find I had only 500MB and this soon ran out later that evening.

data-ran-out.png

Running out of data or turning off Mobile Data entirely is an annoyance. Apps like iMessage stop working consistently when out of WiFi range. I checked my Mobile Data Usage in Settings > Mobile Data and looked for entries with an abnormally high value. System Services > Documents & Sync seemed to be the main culprit.

docs-sync.png

I read similar reports of data loss to this process but couldn't find a definitive fix. Turning off iCloud Drive > Use Mobile Data didn't seem to have an effect. Likewise, turning off iCloud Drive on the phone also had no effect.

I stopped the rot by completing these steps:

  1. sign out of iCloud account on all devices
  2. back up my iPhone to my Mac
  3. wipe phone using General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings and set up as a new phone. I didn't want to restore it in case the back up re-created the problem.
  4. re-installed apps as and when I needed them
  5. sign back into iCloud on all devices

Resetting the phone to fix this loss of data had an unintentional but helpful side-effect. I cut down the number of apps installed on my phone from 53 to 18. This means I've 35 fewer opportunities for distraction. This can only be a good thing.

new-home-screen.png
Posted
AuthorRhyd Lewis
CategoriesWeb

I use Markdown whenever I'm writing or making notes. Depending on what I'm writing, I use either Sublime Text, Byword or nvAlt as the text editor. In most cases, it's Byword for longer pieces, nvAlt for notes and Sublime for shorter pieces.

Seeing the rendered text side-by-side is often useful too. I've created this Alfred workflow to help me open any Markdown file in Marked (a fantastic preview tool written by the author of nvAlt).

To use it, I open Alfred (⌘-Space) and type pmd.

then type a query to find the file I want to see:

Which means I can do split my screen and see my changes as I make them:

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to create this workflow:

  • Open Alfred Preferences and create a new workflow
  • Add a File Filter input with set the keyword as pmd
  • From the Finder, drag a Markdown file into the File Types box to ensure Alfred only shows Markdown files in the results
  • Add an Open File action and drag in Marked.app (or whatever app you want to use) from the Applications folder
  • Link the input to the action and you're done!
Posted
AuthorRhyd Lewis
CategoriesWeb

I updated my OmniFocus and Personal Kanban setup last week. Whilst writing about it last September (part 1 and part 2), I realised that some aspects were wrong causing my setup to become stale:

  • I wasn't reviewing my work often
  • I had stuff languishing in my Someday lists for months (even years)
  • I spent too much time doing work of low value

To fix this, I decided that a clean start was the only answer. Here's my step-by-step guide.

Reset OmniFocus

  1. Back up Omnifocus data:
    • as a spreadsheet and HTML file (using File > Export...)
    • make a copy of the OmniFocus SQLite database
  2. Open Projects perspective, switch view to All, ⌘-A and hit Delete (more info from Omnigroup support)
  3. Open Contexts perspective, switch view to All, ⌘-A and hit Delete

Contexts

I had created 14 contexts in OmniFocus but I wasn't using them effectively. I had trouble prioritising work on my Personal Kanban board. Assigning a work item a context of @Email or @Computer was no longer a useful distinction. I wanted to know - at a glance - what was important and what wasn't. I redefined my contexts as:

  • @Important: actions I want to focus on
  • @Work: actions I have do for work (probably important as well but only because I have to do it as opposed to me wanting to do it)
  • @Conversation: actions involving some sort of discussion (whether by phone, Slack or text message)
  • @Writing
  • @Chore: tasks that need little or no mental effort ('fetch X from the shop', 'check bank balances', etc.)
  • @Waiting: actions that depend on someone else before I can make progress

Weekly Review

My method of reviewing my work wasn't intuitive or much fun. I regularly avoided completing it as a result. I broke the process down into a set of tasks and, in the Single Action List 'Each Week', I added a 1-week recurring task with these sub-tasks:

  1. Review last week's completed work
  2. Empty your head
  3. Process wallet, inbox & downloads folder, physical inboxes
  4. Process new notes captured in nvAlt & physical notebook
  5. Process Omnifocus inbox
  6. Update finance tracker with recent transactions
  7. Review budget
  8. Update this month's expenses tracker with any new expenses
  9. Review calendar for completed & upcoming events
  10. Review projects and redefine any unclear outcomes
  11. Review next actions
  12. Review waiting for actions
  13. Update Day One with summary of review

Personal Kanban board

My Personal Kanban board contained over 4000 archived cards. I exported the layout, created a new board based on this and made these changes:

  • added 2 new swim lanes: 'Writing' and 'Home'
  • added a 'Reading' to help track books in progress
  • removed the 'Train Home' lane (I wasn't using it as much as I thought)
  • updated the WIP limits

Results

Purging all the stuff captured over the last couple of years means that I have less to review. Starting again is refreshing and scary at the same time. I think I checked my backup process at least 5 times. I haven't looked at these old files since I reset everything.

Rethinking my new contexts and board layout is helping me to focus what's important.

It's a positive change. I'm happy.

Posted
AuthorRhyd Lewis
CategoriesKanban

Welcome to the second post in my series on how I use Personal Kanban. In the first post, I explained how I started using this approach. In this post, I will describe what works for me and what I've learned since I started using it.

My Personal Kanban setup

I use these tools:

  • Omnifocus: for capturing and organising work
  • LeanKit: for visualising my work in progress
  • my own app: to synchronise work captured in Omnifocus and visualised in LeanKit

Omnifocus is a fantastic tool for organising work into folders, projects and actions but I don't use it to visualise my work. Seeing my work arranged in Omnifocus' list of lists format hides some of the subtleties about the work and the process I use to finish it. For example, actions in Omnifocus are either done or not done. My Personal Kanban workflow has more states than this which are difficult to show in Omnifocus. Whilst you can use contexts and perspectives to help infer this information, I only use Omnifocus to organise work.

LeanKit is one of the leading online Kanban tools. It's expensive for a single user but I still use it because it has a decent API and a straightforward approach to configuring the board. I looked at Trello but the lack of built in Work In Progress limits put me off and their API is confusing. I am keeping an eye on tools like MeisterTask and Rindle to see if a switch away from LeanKit makes sense.

I use my own app to retrieve flagged tasks in Omnifocus and create corresponding cards on my LeanKit board. This also closes tasks in Omnifocus for cards marked as Done on my Personal Kanban board.

Visualising work

I started with the To Do, Doing, Done default board but moved on from this (my first post explains this). After some iteration my process works well. The picture below shows an example of my board:

I move work I want to finish today but can't until later out of the Backlog into these columns:

  • Train Home: work I want to do on my way home (I commute to and from London).
  • Later Today: non-time specific work I want to do - or can't do - until the afternoon.

The next four columns show the work that has my focus. I introduced three swim lanes (Work,mishmash Personal and Home) to help me distinguish between different work types. For example, I move cards that are specific to my job into the Work swim lane whereas cards that I can only do at home go into Home. This approach is bit of a mishmash of GTD's context and Omnifocus' perspectives. This works for me since I can pull the most appropriate next action into In Progress without having to sort through the cards first.

  • Ready: work I can start now goes here
  • Next: work that I want to focus on after finishing an In Progress card
  • In Progress: this shows actions that I am working on. As I write this, there is one card in this column about finishing the 2nd draft of this post. I use a Work In Progress limit of three for active work. Limiting my work helps me to finish work faster and avoid lost time when switching between tasks. (Note, Jim Benson's series 'Why Limit WIP?' is a good read if you want to know more).
  • On hold: for stalled work. By 'stalled', I mean either anything I can't finish right now (for example, because I need someone else to do something first).

The Waiting For column contains actions that I need someone else to finish. There is a subtle difference between these and any work within On Hold. The latter is for work I start with the expectation of finishing but then find I cannot.

I track finished work for a time and categorise it as either:

  • Dropped: for anything I have started but is no longer relevant. Not finishing work is a waste of my time so I limit cards in this column to three at most. Reaching this limit allows me to review why and decide if I could've done something different.
  • Done: finished work.

Work types

I use different coloured cards to help show the type of work required. I define the card types to match my Omnifocus contexts. For example:

  • Red means work I need to 'Consider' or think about more.
  • Orange means I need to 'Read' something.
  • Purple is the opposite and requires me 'Write' something.
  • Pink represents something I need to 'Discuss' with others.

Looking at the board now, I realise that I can't remember what all the colours mean without looking them up. I think I have too many contexts.

What I've learned since I've started

  1. Limiting Work In Progress helps finish work faster. The more work you take on, the longer you will take to finish it. Therefore, reducing your work load will reduce the time you take to finish this work. It sounds obvious but most people consistently take on too much work without understanding the consequences.
  2. Focusing on finishing work is essential. I am as guilty as the next person as wanting to start something new instead of finishing something already started. Finishing this post is a great example. I have twenty five cards held in Backlog as of this morning. The temptation to pick one of these tasks instead of finishing this post is palpable. I try to use two techniques to help me finish work quicker:
    • finish work that is closer to Done than something further away. This helps me keep my Work In Progress under control.
    • avoid pulling work into In Progress from Backlog when I have work queued in Ready or Next.
  3. Regular reviews of my Personal Kanban board help keep the system relevant to my process. My approach and working situation changes which my board should reflect. I review and update my workflow every month or so to keep it relevant.
Posted
AuthorRhyd Lewis
CategoriesKanban

It's a good question. Clearly, I am writing now but this isn't what I should be writing, oh no. What I should be writing is what I'm calling The Book. I should also play the guitar more but that's for another discussion in another time in another place.

Let's rephrase the original question to see if that helps: writing, why am I not? Ah, that's much clearer. I think I know the answer. Let's turn to Steven Pressfield and a quote from his book The War of Art:

The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

This fear leads to an inability to make progress. Pressfield calls it resistance and says:

the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us

This describes exactly what I'm doing or, rather, what I'm not doing. I think it's time I got over myself and got stuck in.

Posted
AuthorRhyd Lewis
CategoriesWeb