Category: productivity

Mac snippet solution: Quicksilver Shelf

I’ve been looking around for something that I can store little bits of text in and then easily grab them when I need them. There are a few note-taking solutions for Mac out there that would suit, but I tend to use TextMate for notes – its templates and snippets are great for the majority of what I do – fairly big chunks of predefined text. Then I stumbled across an item on Lifehacker about Quicksilver’s Shelf. I use Quicksilver for other things anyway, so I gave it a whirl.

Using Quicksilver’s Shelf

Quicksilver’s Shelf is fairly basic for text, but it suits my needs fine. To use it, you’ll need to make sure the Shelf is installed.

The notes below will guide you through setting up the Shelf. If you’d prefer a visual guide, Sherwin Techico has recorded a useful screencast showing you how to set things up.

  1. Open up Quicksilver’s plug-ins preferences and find the Shelf Module under All Plug-ins.
  2. Make sure the box next to it is ticked.
  1. Once it is installed, you may need to restart Quicksilver.

To save an item to the Shelf:

  1. Invoke Quicksilver (I use Control+Space Bar).
  2. Press the . key (period) to enter Quicksilver’s text mode.
  3. Type or paste in some text that you want to save on the Shelf.
  4. Hit the Tab key and as you begin to type “shelf” you should see the “Put on Shelf” action come up.
  1. Hit Enter and your text is saved.

To recall items from the Shelf:

  1. Invoke Quicksilver.
  2. Type “shelf” and you should see the Shelf item appear – not the Shelf & Clipboard (Catalog) entry.
  3. Press the Right Arrow key to see the items on your Shelf.
  4. Press the Tab key to select an action. for some reason Large Type tends to be the default, but as you begin to type “copy” you should see the “Copy to Clipboard” action appear.
  1. Hit Enter and the item is in your clipboard ready to be pasted out.

If you’re a Quicksilver freak, it’s definitely worth checking out some of the Shelf’s other capabilities though. Check out the item on Lifehacker about Quicksilver’s Shelf for more on that.

Deleting Quicksilver Shelf items

The one thing that I really needed to do as I was testing it out was to delete a Shelf item once I’d put it in. There’s no option to delete a Shelf item in the command window or the catalog. According to one source, you used to be able to drag your saved Shelf items off to Trash. Nope, don’t work for me. Actually, if you invoke Quicksilver, bring up the Shelf, hit Tab and select the “Open” action, the Shelf window will pop open. You can drag items from this Shelf window to Trash.

Update: Thanks to a comment from Michael, I now know that the easier way to bring up the Shelf window is by invoking Quicksilver and then using Command+Option+S. From there you can select the item you want to delete and then hit Delete or Backspace.

Code monkeys will be fine with this approach though: Find your Quicksilver Shelves in your home directory, typically in /Users/[you]/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver/Shelves. Open up the Shelf file in your favourite text editor and remove the offending dict item from the XML.

Get more from the Shelf

I might be wrong, but I get the feeling the Shelf feature has been neglected of late. It seems you used to be able to dock the Shelf to the side of your screen, which might be useful, but I can’t get that to work in the latest version. Mind you, I’m quite happy invoking Quicksilver whenever I need something.

One thing you can do to help is set up a custom trigger (keyboard shortcut) that opens up the Shelf window. To do this:

  1. Open up the Triggers preferences in Quicksilver.
  2. Hit the plus icon at the bottom to add a new trigger; select HotKey.
  3. Bring Shelf up by typing “shelf” in the “Select an item” box.
  4. In the “Action” box, select Show by typing “show”.
  5. Save that and then double click on the HotKey symbol to the right to edit the action’s keyboard shortcut.
  6. Select the “Edit” button and set your chosen shortcut; I use Control+Option+Command+Space Bar.
  1. You can then close the window and try it out.


Things have been busy for me lately, which is never a bad thing. However, I’m feeling unfulfilled by what I have achieved – or not achieved!

Where have you been, dotjay? Why did you leave us?

I’ve been beavering away like Dexter on some epoch-making projects in my secret lab. OK, that’s a lie. The truth is that I’ve just been busy. Ain’t we all? But most people probably have something to show for their hard work. Recent weeks have just felt like one of those times when you look back and think, “what the heck have I done with the last few weeks?!”

“Proper” work has been quite busy. However, most of the stuff I’ve been doing has either been maintenance for long-term projects or subcontracted under a non-disclosure agreement. It has left me with a feeling that I’ve done a whole lot of work, but have little that embodies that work.

I’ve been up to London and back a few times over the last two months as well. And there have been quite a few things to do at home lately. So, this site just hasn’t had a look-in!

It all started when…

Attending @media in June did its usual thing in hyping me up with some ideas for projects and provided some new opportunities and challanges on the horizon.

Now, I’m in no way blaming the conference, as Patrick and his team organised another great one this year. The social events were great and the sessions were good. There were plenty of friendly, like-minded people to meet and loads of familiar faces to catch up with… a haven for concocting plans and fertilising ideas.

But I felt much the same way after last year’s @media as well. The trouble is, I come home and begin to catch up with work after a couple of days good drinking networking at conference and find myself in a wheelspin – a “burnout”. I’m eager to get into some new projects and try out some new ideas, but I fail to realise that I’ve got the brake firmly on.

Perhaps “burnout” is a good word for how I feel at the moment. Maybe the problem for me right now is mental exhaustion, but part of me thinks that just can’t be right. I mean, if I’ve been working so hard and exhausted myself, why don’t I have much to show for it?

Besides “proper” work, there are so many pet projects I want to work on (or get started on, even), but it’s just not happening. While wanting to do one or more side projects, you still have to make a living. Can there be a balance? Am I balancing it well enough? Feel free to give me any pointers you may have in that respect. Judging by the lack of updates here (despite quite a bit of recent experimentation that might be worth reporting) and lack of activity elsewhere, I’ve not been doing much else but work. Is that healthy?

Work and home

I work from home, which has been hectic lately too. After moving home last year, all the little things that come with that have needed doing; finding homes for things, getting rid of stuff that we no longer need, the little bits of DIY, the garden (not that we have much of one), visits from friends and family, and so on.

Usually, work and home don’t mix. I think I’ve managed quite well over recent weeks, sticking to deadlines despite distractions. Continuing to successfully juggle work and free time has become the issue now I think. While some people really need to separate work and home stuff in order to get things done, I’ve always found that I can be productive on both accounts if I’m organised about it. That’s where things have fallen apart – organisation.

Getting some traction

It hasn’t helped that I’ve pretty much abandoned my flipbook since we moved home. I still list tasks in it every now and then, but I no longer get the “I’ll take that on-board but deal with it later” filing mentality or the daily prioritisation of the things I have to do, both of which the flipbook provided.

So, I’m going to start using my flipbook again. I haven’t really gotten on with the other productivity tools I’ve tried. I’ll often fail to open Sunbird for days or weeks. Open Workbench seems like overkill. Basecamp, as wonderful as it might be, doesn’t fit in my pocket like my flipbook. So, that’s step one – get organised again.

I think I also need to set myself some goals, or give myself a new challenge. I’ve been considering something for some time now – a slight shift from Web Design. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet though – I still need to make a living. So, setting realistic goals it is for the meantime.

First and foremost, I think I need to focus on getting more on top of work. I feel quite comfortable with it at the moment, but being complacent can sneak up behind you and bite you on the arse. So, I want to get ahead of the game.

I’ve managed to half-finish a few blog posts over the last couple of months, but almost nothing has been published. I’m hoping to change that. Everyone needs an outlet, and I think it can be really helpful and motivating to get a regular dialogue going. I’m going to try to post things without being my usual perfectionist self and see how that goes.

On @media 2006

Being as I’ve mentioned @media, I may as well tag this on the end as I never did write a post-@media post this year. Suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I met you for the first time, it was a pleasure. If I already knew you, it was a pleasure again.

Now, who wanted copies of this photo?

Free Personal/Project Management Tools

Following on from my last post on the Manage-Do Flipbook, I thought I’d also post a few links to free personal/project management tools that I use from time to time. Feel free to add to the list.

  • FreeMind – A free mind mapping application that allows you to organise things as you would in a spider diagram, only it’s a little more flexible. Requires Java. Article about FreeMind.
  • Open Workbench – An open source alternative to Microsoft Project. Requires Java.
  • OpenOffice – An open source suite of office applications. Makes a good alternative to the Microsoft Office suite.
  • EssentialPIM – Free software that you can use to keep notes and contacts as well as organising tasks.
  • Sunbird Free calendar software from the nice people who bring you Firefox.
  • ScrapBook – One of the most useful Firefox extensions around, ScrapBook allows you to accurately save Web pages to your hard drive, organise them, make notes…

Anyone use or know of any other good ones? I know about the useful online tools that 37signals provide, but have never got around to trying them out.

The Manage-Do Flipbook

There have been a few bloggings recently discussing techniques for organising yourself and your projects, so I thought I’d share the system I’ve been using for the last couple of years.

In summary, it’s just a flipbook that you use like this:

  • Brain-dump your tasks into your “inbox” in one side of the flipbook.
  • Manage your tasks daily, prioritising the tasks in your inbox and writing them into the other side of the flipbook.
  • Do the tasks in your flipbook, ticking them off as you go.
  • Revel in the feeling of triumph when you finish your tasks for the day; success in the face of chaos!

A Little Inspiration

During my final year at university, my project supervisor was really interested in different techniques for self-organisation/life hacks/whatever you want to call it. He was reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done and applying some of the principles himself. He would always have his “inbox” folder with him, which was somewhere to put things as they came to him, whether it be a report or a quick note on the back of a napkin. Items in this folder would get sorted periodically and either filed, actioned or put aside for later.

He also mentioned that keeping your inbox as empty as you can was a good way to stay on top of things. Likening this to an e-mail inbox: the e-mails that you can handle straight away, handle them – others, file appropriately.

When it comes down to it, organisation is subjective. What works for one person won’t work for another. On the other hand, some people are just beyond help. =) Anyway, I want to share how I used these ideas to come up with a system that works quite well for me.

The Manage-Do Concept

Undertaking a project on your own, you find that you take on two roles. Half the time you’re a project manager, figuring out what needs doing and when. The rest of the time you’re a worker, doing the actual tasks involved in order to reach the desired goal.

My flipbooks.

Realising this gave me the idea of using a flipbook (like your typical policemen’s flipbook) to organise myself – not just my projects, but pretty much everything. No matter how hard you might try to separate work and home life, the two are always merging – especially if you’re self-employed. You might suddenly think that you need to pay the gas bill during your lunch break. Or you might come up with that killer new software feature when you’re putting your laundry in the washing machine. Having one book like this makes sense and takes up less space in your pocket.

I use my flipbook in both directions. I go through the book in one direction for managing things and in the other direction for doing things.

Da Management

This is my “inbox” for things: the “manage” side of the book. It’s a big waiting list of things I need to do with one item per line and space at the end of the line to tick each one off. Some things I find useful to break off into dedicated inboxes. For example, I have a “people” inbox for those things I need to remember when I bump into someone or when e-mailing. Another example might be to have an inbox for contextual aims, like things I’d like to get done when I’ve got a spare moment and a piece of paper handy.

Together, these inboxes form my organisational aims at the highest level. Sometimes specific tasks will find their way in, but in general, these are aims rather than objectives.

I regularly attend to these inboxes and plan the next couple of days. I figure out what I need to get done and when I am likely to be able to do them. As I have a general overview of things in the manage side of my book, I can prioritise and order tasks to best suit the next day or the week ahead. I list activities for each day in the flip-side of the book: the “do” side.

Do the Do

As with the manage side of the book, each activity has one line with space to either check it off as done, mark it as “postponed” or “will do later”, or cross off completely. I sometimes also add context to an activity. For example, it can be useful to list several things I need to do while I’m at an Internet connection.

If I’m honest, I don’t always stick to the plans I make, but the system is flexible enough to handle when things don’t quite go as planned or when deadlines changes. Just as long as I leave a little space to add any new tasks, it’s fine. Also, if I’m not sure how things are going to be over the next couple of days, I can plan day-by-day rather than several days at a time.

Why Not Use a PDA?

I borrowed a PDA from a friend last year and used it for a few months. I found having a single point of reference really useful. I had a note pad, diary, to do list and address book all in one place. But when I had to give the PDA back, I found it good to get back to my old system, even though it meant that I had to use a separate diary and address book. I found the Pocket PC software didn’t allow me enough flexibility as I’d hoped.

On the PDA, when tasks got completed, they got deleted. I found it useful to go back through my daily lists or my inboxes to trace when I did something or whether I actually did something at all. A couple of tasks on the PDA had mysteriously disappeared on me, leaving me wondering whether I (or the PDA) had deleted them accidentally or if I just didn’t remember ticking them off. Also, I couldn’t break down my to do list enough.

Now, with some tweaks to the to do list and a little more integration with a decent diary program, I’d find a PDA so much more useful. One place to keep notes, maintain a calendar, add new contacts, run mind mapping software… It’d also be great to be able to keep everything in one place and then just back it up occasionally, instead of keeping information in a few different places.