Todoist

One of the most important applications I use on a daily basis is my to-do app. My app of choice for this is Todoist. Like most people I’ve been around the block on to-do apps. I’ve tried a lot of them from Things to Omnifocus, Doit.im was good for a while but I’ve settled on Todoist.

There’re a few reasons why this app works for me. The first is the context sensitive input. I like to type “do this tomorrow” and the app will figure out I mean tomorrow and put it in the schedule for me. The filers are very flexible. The app doesn’t come with a ‘Next’ category out of the box so I made one via a filter. This category shows me all tasks currently in the manager separated into projects. This means that each day I can do a quick scan of the tasks and see where I need to be. You can do the usual labelling of tasks then create a filter based on labels. A feature I really like in the new Things app is the concept of today and this evening. To get this in Todoist I’ve created an ‘evening’ label and setup filters to show me which tasks are for today and which are for this evening.

The app is multiplatform which is one of the main reasons I’ve settled and stuck with it. My main machine is a Mac but I often work with Windows based machines and knowing I can access my tasks from the app or any web devices is comforting.

Moving on to projects, there’s a nice a nice feature to colour code your various projects. This helps me group them better and you can also easily nest projects into other projects. This is particularly useful to me as I like to separate my projects into different types. Todoist holds everything I need to think about from work tasks to washing the car so it’s nice to separate things into project ‘buckets’.

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Some of the features above are premium features but at £28 a year for the premium plan this is a great price for the time (and mental capacity) this app saves me.

The Notebook

I’ve always been surprised how many people have moved over to digital notetaking. I’m quite a tech savvy person (I hope) but I’m not one for digital notes. I find it much easier to take hand written notes in meetings and when brainstorming ideas and thoughts. I have tried multiple times to take notes on either an iPad or a Laptop in meetings but it ends up taking me longer and I’m better at taking notes down by hand so I can circle things or doodle in the margins.

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My notebook of choice is the Baron Fig confidant notebook with dot grid pages. This particular notebook is excellent quality. The pages are nice and think and the hard-covered notebook opens almost flat on the desk. My current notebook is A5 size but I’m thinking of upgrading to the slightly larger version when I’m due a new one.

Having just purchased a new iPad 6th Generation model through work I’m interested to see if the iPad will take more of my note taking function. I can’t see it. I’ve always been keen to choose specific things for a specific purpose and the iPad certainly has its uses as a consumption device. It’s loaded with my eMails, PDFs and various IT Management Apps that are really handy to have quick access to. The only way I think I’ll ever move to digital notes is by incorporating the Apple Pencil into the mix. The 6th generation iPad supports the pencil but I didn’t decide to take the plunge on that purchase just yet. Time will tell.

Apple Event Summary

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Although I didn’t watch the Apple Event from 27th March I did keep up with the announcements via the usual live blogs. My initial response was a little disappointment. Not because I didn’t like what Apple announced (I’ve been waiting for a new iPad so the 6th generation model couldn’t come soon enough) but because I think we’ve come to expect more from Apple than they deliver. The products and services they announced last night are great. They look great and I’m sure they work great but they’re not a game changer. They’re nothing we’ve not already seen before in cross-platform, web-based Virtual Learning Environments that schools and colleges have been using for years. The price drops are good but not nearly where they should or could be and folding iBook’s author functionality goes further backwards than forwards.

I’m not saying these things don’t have value. I love the price point of the new iPad and the fact it can now use the pencil is brilliant. I just wish Apple wouldn’t keep saying how much they care about things (like education and the mac) and then come out with average services and hardware. I’d prefer them to say “we’re interested but not that bothered really”.

Starting a fresh

It’s always nice to start a fresh in a new job. Especially when you’ve felt a little unsettled for a few months. I started a new position last Monday and what always amazes me is how starting somewhere new can mess with the systems and processes you had setup for managing your day. I used to think that the systems I used would translate over into any role and although the role I have now is very similar to the one I had previously, my systems still need tweaking to adjust. For a long time now, I’ve been trying to focus in on using specific tools (either hardware or software based) for specific purposes and as I’m now a week into my new roles I’ve settled nicely into what to use for what purpose.

There’s a few basic tasks that help me get through my day.

  • List tracking and to do’s
  • Note taking
  • Mind Maps
  • Documentation – Technical and User

Between these four things I have my productivity sorted so I’ve decided to use four/five distinct applications to get each of these things done.

  • Todoist – for projects and to do items
  • OneNote – for Note taking and logging things for reference
  • MindNode – for mind mapping on macOS and iOS
  • Microsoft Word – for technical documentation
  • InDesign – for pretty user documentation

Whilst I’d like to use a more Apple friendly alternative for OneNote and Word, my organisation uses Office 365 heavily so these integrate well.

There’s a range of other software and hardware I need to get things done but these five individual apps are the ‘tent pole’ applications of my workday.
 

About Time

A recent survey found that the biggest barrier to candidates wanting to study IT certifications (and I would image a similar statistic was found in other areas of academia) was time. I struggled with this issue myself recently. Having to find time for a full-time job, family, friends and then to slot in time to study something was a real problem.

It also leads to procrastination. I’m not behind with my certifications as such. I’m an MCSA in Server 2012 and Windows 8 but the move to Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10 meant that the hill to climb for upgrading certifications was so steep and the time I had was so little it was daunting to know where to start so I ended up avoiding it.

The best advice I could give is to split things down as much as possible and set aside a daily study target when you can dedicate yourself. If it’s hard to find an hour a day to study then do 30mins. If it’s hard to find 30mins then do 10. The key here is to do something, anything to move you forward. The hill may still seem steep but you’ll find that making short sharp steps will get you going and it’s much easier to keep going once you’ve set off.

Personally, I started with 30mins per day on a main certification, exam or topic. I then have 20 mins or so per day to split into secondary topics or exams. This is just a minimum though. I try to keep to at least this minimum. What I often find is that once I’m into a particular section or topic I often go over my minimum without realising.

Things like this take time to embed into a habit. Taking time to study seems like such a huge task and so it often takes a back seat. Commit to something small, anything, to get you going.

Free Azure Credit for Students

Microsoft have recently launched their Azure for Students programme. Students can head over to azure.microsoft.com/education to verify their student status and gain access to $100 of Azure credit. The credit includes virtual machines, AI, databases and more. It’s super simple to register so if you’re studying any cloud certification or computer science qualification then there’s no reason not to claim your free credit.

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There’s also an option for educational institutions and educators to enrol so if you’re not a student but work in academia there’s something for you too.

Head over to azure.microsoft.com/education to get going.

Mac Power Users Podcast

 
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One of my favourite podcasts lately is Mac Power Users. The show, hosted by David Sparks and Katie Floyd, takes an in depth look at Mac workflows highlighting specific software and hardware. They occasionally interview key people who are known to the show to explore their setups and explain a bit about how they use their Apple gear and what they use it for. Episode 418 on 19th February was an excellent episode. Interviewing Rose Orchard the two hosts go through her role, hardware and software in detail. Rose was excellent. Very clearly spoken and to the point. Above all her setup and workflows were inspirational and gave me some food for thought about my own setup. You can find her interview on episode 418 of Mac Power Users right here. The show notes also include the extensive list of hardware and software talked about in the show. Each of the episodes are really good but this one stood out for me. Have a listen.

Goole & Howdenshire Business Excellence Awards 2018

Friday 16th February saw the eighth annual Goole & Howdenshire Business Excellence Awards. I am proud to be an awards committee member and, as artistic technology, provide all the audio-visual services for the event.

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The highly successful event sees businesses from the Goole and Howdenshire Area come together to celebrate their hard work and find out who are this year’s category winners.

From an AV perspective the event requires an opening video and a category video which are all produced in Adobe After Effects. The opening video this year had a ‘looking back theme using the Matchbox Twenty song – How far we’ve come. Each category opens with a slideshow video showcasing the best of the businesses shortlisted in that category. The presentation itself is run from Keynote with supporting sponsor presentations produced in Microsoft PowerPoint.

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The production is delivered from one Apple MacBook Pro and a standard Windows laptop with audio provided by a first-generation Apple iPad Mini. Video is switched using a Kramer VP720 video switcher which feeds two 50-inch digital signage displays and a large cinema style Epson projector.

As well as audio visual content there's also a printed brochure for each attendee and certificates for the winners. This material as you would expect, is produced with Adobe Photoshop and InDesign.

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The event was a huge success and it’s a privilege to be part of it. You can find out more about the awards themselves by heading over to www.goolebusinessawards.co.uk.

What's it all about?

I setup this site not simply as a commercial venture but to provide an online space to share digital art, branding and technology ideas.

I’ve worked as an IT Systems Manager in education for over 10 years and digital art has featured heavily in the IT systems I’ve designed and managed. I’m excited to now offer these services to others.

As well as the design packages I'll also be offering various resources for IT training and systems management, showing a creative side to these sometimes complex and mundane subjects.

This is not a marketing company or even a design company. This is simply about providing cost effective digital art services and a place to showcase creativity and technology coming together.

If you find something you like please feel free to take inspiration from it. If you're interested in some of the design work on show and would like some for yourself, please get in touch.

Gareth Harle