A review of my JoMo week

I started my JoMo week on the 25th of June, and as I wrote on my initial post, I was planning to write on the blog my experience throughout the week. Well, no posts were made since then and now its the 20th of July. I guess that can say a lot about how it went 🙂

I was hoping to be feeling a lot of “things” in the first few days, but perhaps due to the fact that I am not THAT addicted, it went just fine. Also, considering the fact that my free time is scarce, I didn’t really had a problem to deal with boredom.

During the week, it did happen just once or twice that I felt the urge to pull the phone and browse… but it was empty of any “browsing” apps… or so I thought, until I opened my local classifieds apps (facepalm).

All in all, I got to the end of the week just fine and didn’t really miss anything at all. I also used my time better and more productively.

On the first day after the JoMo week I was happy to visit a few couple sites and read whatever messages people might have left me… which were very few actually (terrible social life, I know!).

Since then, I decided not to install twitter or instagram on my phone, nor to enable any shortcuts on my browser to news sites. So now I only check twitter/instagram when I’m on my computer, and I don’t really feel the need to do it at all.

All in all, I really feel some sort of “detox” has been accomplished as I stopped visiting and wasting time in many sites I used to before. Of course that, like in any detox, nothing lasts forever so I’ll be aware of how my tech-dependency goes and will do more of these every X months (X to be defined later).

10/10 would recommend 🙂

A Guide on re-creating Hey’s features

Following up on my last post “Why I loved Hey but it isn’t for me” here’s a short guide on bringing some of Hey’s features back into my email service.

I’ll be demo-ing this using Fastmail because it’s my main email, so you will need to adapt somethings to your own app/service. Make sure to check the manual/help pages in order to figure out how to do it. (in some cases it might not be possible at all).

Just for fun, I’ll be re-creating as much as possible of Hey, but keep in mind I don’t actually use my email like that 🙂 Take what you like and leave the rest.

Overall preferences

Let’s start by going to Settings -> Customize -> Preferences

Under Remote images make sure to select Always ask before showing remote images (or the other option that allows remote images from your contacts).

Under Mail, select Hide reading pane, to have a more focused view of each message.

Still in Mail , choose to organize by Folders instead of Labels. This makes it easier (and honestly I just prefer folders to labels).

Head to the Notifications page. If you want notifications, turn it now, but select from My VIP Contacts. VIP Contacts is a Fastmail group, which can be used here to restrict important messages that are notification worthy.

As shown in the picture below, in case you have filters, you can also specify other folders where notifications should be used.

Folder Structure

Let’s add a few folders now. In the Folders settings, add the following folders

  • Screener
  • The Feed
  • Paper Trail
  • Reply Later

I moved the Screener to the top, as it is a kind of an Inbox, really. Feel free to give them other colors to help distinguish them.I’ve also used some of Fastmail’s advanced folder settings to customize the behavior of some of these folders.

The Feed gets newsletters and other non-important stuff. So you can hide it if there are no unread items (or if empty). I’ve also enabled the option to delete messages after 31 days.

Saved Searches

We can use advanced search criteria and then save those searches as folders to quickly access them again. Think of it as “virtual folders”. I’ll be using 3 of them. Docs, PDFs and Set Aside. Docs and PDFs are just a quick way to see emails with these kind of attachments. YMMV, so make them as you see useful for you. Set Aside will use the “pinned” state of messages. Of course that, if you prefer, you could also just create a folder with this same name, and move the messages in and out of the folder. But I prefer to keep them organized in folders.

So here are the details for each:

  • Docs: filetype:spreadsheet OR filetype:document
  • PDFs: filetype:pdf
  • Set Aside: is:pinned

Rules: where the magic happens

Now lets see how to create rules (aka filters) to put new messages in their proper places

Fastmail rules’ system processes rules in order, so it matters which rule comes first. Here we want the screener to be the top priority because nothing should go to any other folder before being screened first.

The Screener rule is the most simple one. We will rely on a contact being or not part of our contact list. But I’ll explain the workings later.

For the Feed and Paper Trail I think we can make something even better than Hey’s. I think Hey relies on manual filters. You decide which email address goes to the feed or paper trail, and then it applies the same rule all the time. This may not be ideal. So here’s how I did it: if we find that there is a list-id in the email header and the word “unsubscribe” in the contents, we can be pretty sure this is a newsletter.

You can obviously still create other ways. For  instance, a good method would be to create a contact group for newsletters and then filter by the group. You can then just add contacts to that group the first time you receive an email. So far, I didn’t feel the need for this.

For the Paper Trail, again I think my system is better as it avoids me doing decisions one-by-one. I tried to create a smart filter that works not only in english but on my own native language as well. Just add more words as you see fit

Putting it all together

Here’s a short walk-through on how to work with all of this.

My Inbox is my priority, but sometimes things will end up in the Screener (especially in the beginning when you need to “approve” your contacts). When you feel like it/have time, open the messages in the Screener and decide

Open an email and ask yourself, do I want to completely block this sender? To do so, click the More button and select Block sender. (you can undo this later in the Filters sections of the settings). Then delete the message.

If you do want to receive more emails from this contact, click it’s name in the header and then Add to contacts. This will bypass the screener filter next time. You can now move this message to your Inbox, archive, delete…

As for Reply Later, it’s as simple as dragging any email from your Inbox(or other folder) to that one. It’s a convenient way to sort out emails that need a reply.

If you want to Set Aside some emails (for reference, etc). Just pin them and our smart search folder will do the rest.

Conclusion

I hope this was useful! I actually think Hey’s way to organize emails is not the best, but its definitely a step up (or several!) from the usual chaotic way people have their inboxes, so kudos to them.

I’d love if Fastmail could improve and add a few simple features that would make a ton of difference to better use folders like

  • showing the unread OR total count by each folder – this would allow folders/labels to be used as lists (I dont care if its unread or not, just tell me how many emails are there)
  • better organization of saved searches. I would love to be able to bring them up in the list, especially the “pinned” one.

Did I miss some creative way to do something even better? Do you know how to expand this? I’d love to hear more ideas 🙂

thanks for reading!

Just one more thing

You can check the advanced preferences of the Settings for this useful option

Assuming that if you are writing means you don’t want to block him/her, this will save you the trouble of having to screen the email later 😉

From FOMO to JOMO – an experimental week

I read Christina’s Crook book “The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World” some years back. Since then I did a couple of unplugged days/weekends. More recently I’ve been finding myself too stuck in the never ending loop of checking news(the good ones) and social media (even though I don’t use Facebook, twitter and IG still pull me a lot).

I found myself brushing my teeth in the morning and checking twitter at the same time. Mind you, I’m not even a very active user and don’t really care for follower counts or likes. But it’s a habit… a bad one.

And there’s really no point in arguing your way out of bad habits… our body and mind needs harsh training to get discipline.

At the same time, I’m at a point in life where I really need to make a better use of all the time I can, and even though I don’t keep track of it, I’m suspicious of wasting quite a good chunk in social media and news.

So I’ve decided that this time I’ll do something a bit more extensive. One full week without twitter, Instagram, reddit, tech news. I’ll keep my email due to work going on, but that’s about it.

I’ll probably want to journal the experience to register what I felt during the week, so I’ll be using this blog for that. I love mental experiments!

In order to avoid breaking my own rules, I’m going to cut all possible shortcuts to open said apps and websites. That includes:

  • uninstalling apps on the phone
  • removing shortcuts from firefox mobile
  • removing shortcuts from firefox desktop (those in the new tab page)
  • turning off all notifications (I have 90% of them off since years ago, but just to make sure I’ll turn everything off)

Very excited for this!

 

Loved Hey, but it’s not for me

Hey is full of refreshing ideas. I really enjoyed its launch especially because it got people talking about email again. I was really excited once my invite arrived and gave a good test to the web and mobile app.

Hey brings to email what Ruby on Rails brought to webapp development: convention over configuration.

See, most people nowadays have really bad email practices. Mostly because they either lack the knowledge on how to create a good workflow with email, how to properly organize that medium and/or organization in general (both in and out of email).

Hey is great for these people, because it protects them from chaos. By designing good workflows, the Hey team made it such so that even if you are terrible with email, you will by far have a better experience with Hey than with any other email service.

I don’t consider myself to be in that target audience. Being a productivity freak and a lover of email, I value control and flexibility over any convention or automation of where my emails should go.

I tried to adapt my workflows to Hey, but then its shortcomings become evident soon enough. Either you use it like they plan you would, or you are in for a frustrating experience.

The price tag is a bit steep if you are not in a “first-world country”, but not as bad as some people say it is. The price per month is in the range of other paid email services.

What significantly made it a no-go for me was the lack of integration with a calendar. I’m in the process of abandoning Google. That means I need to have my email, contacts and calendar hosted elsewhere.

For a fraction of the price, Fastmail gives me all of that and more (files and notes), plus everything is supported by standards such as CalDav and WebDav, which I love!

Still, I really enjoyed some ideas Hey introduced and, just for fun, I tried to replicate a few of them in my Fastmail account. It wasn’t hard:

Of course, YMMV depending on your email service. Fastmail has an absolutely amazing filter system and level of customization. (disclaimer: I’m not associated with fastmail nor is this a paid promotion ;))

I’m actually in the processing of writing a short tutorial on how you can re-create some of Hey’s workflows into your current email app. Stay tuned or leave a comment if you want to be notified.

Many new things about Hey are not reproducible because they are tightly tied to their own app, not part of any email protocol. Things such as email notes and snippets.

One funny thing is to see people so happy for having such a great, clean email. But all of them probably said the same when Gmail launched 16 years ago. It’s only after some months and thousands of emails later that you can really test if it works like you think it does 🙂

All in all, if it wasn’t for the price (a bit high for my country) I would recommend it to lots of people, and get one for my wife as well.

Always eat your own dog-food!

So a few days ago I decided to open registrations for my (still alpha/beta) service www.MyDaily.email in order to get feedback and better guide future features.

This is a service inspired in Google Calendar’s 5am daily agenda, but instead of limiting it to send you a summary of events for the day/week, it lets you include all sorts of stuff that matters to you.

In my case, I’m receiving events from different sources, plus a couple of RSS feeds, a daily quote, summary of my Stripe transactions for the past 24hrs, nasa’s astronomy picture of the day, and even the state of my solar batteries at home.

3 days in, I woke up and my 5am email was missing! I logged in to my account and clicked “preview” which builds the content exactly in the same way as when the email is about to be sent. So an error flashed, I found a bug! (ok, I confess to not properly do unit testing!)

Turned out that NASA’s astronomy picture of the day was to blame! On that day they didn’t send a picture but a link to an youtube video, and the json format was not as I expected it to be. A small glitch in my code made the whole content-building process fail and the email was not sent.

So even though I was sad that I couldn’t get any users to help me try it, I got happier due to the fact that at least I got more time to fix nasty bugs!

In the meantime I found a second bug, also because I’m using my own product daily, as a user.

Always eat your own dog food 🙂

Starting a new SaaS side-project

They say you need to launch at least 10 products to be able to find some success. So here I am again, after a couple of failed attempts, starting a new side-project (details to follow soon).

Starting a side-project at this time in my life is a bit crazy. Besides working on a full-time project at the moment with tight deadlines, I also have family life which demands a lot of care and attention and our never-ending off-grid to-do list with plenty of things to fix and improve. On top of that I also provide free IT help as volunteer for 2 organizations.

Still, this project was something I was really excited to try. I have a list of many ideas for software and games, but this one was not one of them! It just popped up some weeks ago, I let it marinate for a while, but it kept growing and growing and I felt I just needed to start something!

My major productivity tips are always the same: break things down in small, doable (and, if possible, easy) tasks. That way, it’s possible to keep the pieces moving forward even with little time.

Of course that, for a software project, you won’t be able to reach far if you don’t find some good chunks of continuous time to focus your mind and write code. But I found out that if I manage to take care of everything else, whenever those opportunities to code appear, I am much more willing and productive, as a result of having a more clear direction and motivation. It’s like an overall preparedness.

I’ve been using Trello for pretty much everything in the past few years (one board to manage my life in general, and then one board per major-project). My first steps were then to prepare a Trello board for this new project. My project lists tend to be somewhat the same all the time:

  • Inbox (new things I remember, but not sure what do to with them yet – just a place to unload without worries)
  • Research (things I need to think, search online, find answers or ways to solve)
  • Dev/Tasks (clear tasks of things to be done)
  • Bugs
  • Later (all the cool stuff I want to do, but need to keep out for now to avoid creeping too many features. Having a clear idea of what your MVP looks like is important)
  • Milestones (one card per milestone, and in each card a checklist of all the important things I need to achieve). I interpret “milestone” differently according to each project. Is just a loose way for me to keep track of where I am and I love that sense of progression.

This weekend, despite being full of household chores, I still managed to put in some solid 3 hours of work into this, 2 of them with code and the other one doing all those small tasks that are important and help keep me motivated. Simple things like:

  • registering the domain
  • setting up email
  • signing up for a few services that I’ll use during development (github, mailtrap)
  • initializing the git repository
  • reading some more laravel docs to better understand how I’ll use it to achieve what I need

So being able to send and receive email with my new product name already feels like something is becoming a reality! Never underestimate the small tasks, the mental motivation they can give is really valuable 🙂

Hacking my way through off-grid survival

Intro

Last August, after a full year of plumbing, wiring, digging, painting – our family of four has finally moved to our offgrid wooden house.

Off-grid was not the purpose, but given the location, it was not something we could avoid. I always had a personal desire for solar, so for me it was a great chance to materialize it. Our budget was extremely low, so we ended up choosing many parts of our solar system by price instead of quality/reliability. This was a great mistake.

Before moving, I spent many months doing research and using a watt-meter to calculate our average consumption. We had decided to avoid gas-powered equipment in our future house, so electric was the way to go in everything. Usually you’ll find the opposite. People that depend on solar as their only source of electric power, usually try to delegate some things to gas. Most common examples of this (at least in my country): gas water heaters and gas stove.

In our case, we opt to use an electric water heater and an induction cooktop. Everyone told me it was crazy, especially with such a small solar system. Continue reading

Switching to FastMail

I finally took the plunge and subscribed for a year of Fastmail’s email service. I’ve been looking for a new email provider for sometime. Trying more and more to slowly leave Google’s ecosystem towards something more open and less controlled by a huge corporation.

So why Fastmail? Well, many reasons:

  • its a small company, focused on email, and with a good record on it
  • its a company that seems to support (and improve!) standards instead of creating its own thing
  • it includes calendar, contacts, file storage and notes (these last two I don’t use so much, but its a nice to have)
  • the sync is made through well known and open protocols (webdav, caldav, carddav, ftp)
  • the price is great, the support is great (I tried it during the trial)
  • the features are great! (really, try the trial!)

For sync’ing the contacts and calendar with my android phone I am currently using OpenSync (which is opensource). There are other apps but not free. You also don’t need to use any apps to sync if all you need is email. But android doesn’t support carddav and caldav by default, so in my case I needed something to help in that. Continue reading