Weekly Digest

January is one of those months that just never seems to end. Still two weeks to go until the end of the month. Christmas is a distant memory and already there are chocolate Eater treats in the shops for sale. There should be some kind of law that prohibits this nonsense!

Anyway, life continues. Full week of client work, full week of kids back at school (yes!) and all the usual things that happen in the house return to normal.

Busy week for Ethan with his golf. Tuesday night session at the golf centre, lesson with the club professional on Thursday and his first half-round on the course for 2018. Windy conditions today with temporary greens and a very wet course, but he played well on the front nine. Aiming to repeat this next week and keep up lessons and practice to be ready for the start of the season.

I watched the highlights from Saturday nights divisional playoff games this morning and then settled down for the Jags/Steelers game tonight. It was a great game, and probably the games of the season.

No product updates this week, although I did manage to break down a few larger tasks into smaller ones and completed a move of several projects from Trello to GitHub. I've got one master project that tracks everything else using GitHub's ability to track projects in cards. There's a few features that I miss from Trello but this one feature alone makes managing multiple projects and repos a lot easier.

I'm still sticking with Trello for client projects though. Trello is simpler for business owners and non-developers to use than GitHub's projects and issue tracker is.

I'm opting to stay away from any depressing news items or links. There's only so much negative news you can take. Have a good remainder of your weekend.

Making the Most of Feedbin's New Twitter Integration

Today Feedbin announced a new feature to their RSS reader which allows you to subscribe to Twitter users, searches, lists and hashtags.

I've been looking at this for the last couple of hours to find a way that will allow me to continue to use Twitter, but without mhaving to check on my timeline as often. Here's just a few ways that I see me using Feedbin's new Twitter subscription options.

Vanity Searches

A few months ago I removed analytics tracking from my blog. It was a decision based on the fact that I'm not interested in the numbers anymore. I don't want to see how many people viewed my blog in the last 24 hours, and I don't want to see how many visitors I've had in the previous week. These numbers don't drive why I blog. It's the content that drives why I blog. It's about getting links back to my blog from other bloggers.

To do this, I have a saved search in Feedbin that only includes blog posts that contain my name. Sure it doesn't have the accuracy of analytics tracking, but through the blogs that I follow and the times that my name appears in this search, it's a great indicator of what other bloggers like on my blog.

Feedbin's new Twitter integration will allow me to broaden my reach so that I can use searches on Twitter to include tweets that either includes my Twitter handle or my domain name.

Better Reading of Lists

Twitter's lists have always been difficult to use. I'm not a big fan of reading Twitter on my mobile and changing between lists on other apps is not great either. Feedbin's new Twitter integration will make digesting lists a lot easier.

I have some accounts on Twitter I follow, but I would like to bundle into lists. I've tried in the past to do this, but I frequently forget to check these lists. Separating these accounts into lists makes my timeline much easier to follow.

With these new lists to follow through Feedbin, it is a lot easier to follow and scan through.

RSS to the Rescue

Right, so Twitter dropped RSS a long time ago, and since then it's been difficult to follow people through anything other than Twitter on the web or through one of the many Twitter clients that are available. So it's not RSS to the rescue but Feedbin to the rescue by providing a genuinely different way of consuming Twitter.

The next few weeks will see the accounts I follow tail off to perhaps around fifty or so accounts, but I'll continue to use Twitter for sharing content from this blog and my micro-blog as well as responding to replies on Twitter.

Michael Wade once again delivers a gem of wisdom:

Move more into the role of “Creator” and away from that of “Reactor.”

Your Role and the Time In-Between

Reading Twitter with Feedbin

This is a great move for Feedbin. Rather than following a single collection of accounts, I can now subscribe to a core collection of users, lists and perhaps even some individual accounts.

You can start adding Twitter content to Feedbin the same way you would subscribe to a feed. Feedbin will recognize any Twitter URL that contains tweets. It also supports shortcuts for subscribing directly to twitter @usernames as well as #hashtags.

Feedbin is the Best Way to Read Twitter

Best of all though is that I can read these tweets alongside my existing RSS subscriptions.

My First MailChimp Campaign

A few weeks ago I had an idea. A newsletter that would provide help and guidance for a particular type of organisation in using the Internet and social media to promote and connect with their target audience.

To make this happen, I decided to use MailChimp to handle the sending out of the newsletter. I’m already a subscriber to several newsletters that use MailChimp, so if it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me.

I was able to put together a template for my campaigns over a couple of hours. One thing that I had to do some digging around for though was how to send welcome emails out to new subscribers. I eventually found this and was able to have that email setup in about half an hour.

The final task was to update the landing page with the correct form attributes so that email addresses are sent to MailChimp directly. Again, straightforward.

I spent a couple of hours over the holidays putting together a landing page where people can sign up; I just needed the MailChimp form to complete this. The first pass is pretty much on par with every other landing page I’ve seen for such newsletters, so I’m happy with the results. It will be tweaked over time though to encourage sign-ups.

I already spent a couple of hours last week writing the first campaign. After a further few passes at it and some feedback from Jen, I had an initial campaign ready to send out.

I spent about 30 minutes testing the two emails that get sent out. I spent a bit more time on the first campaign, tweaking parts of the email design and ensuring that I had all the correct information in the right place.

MailChimp allows you to preview email and include live merge tags in your preview so that you can see what your subscribers see, but the real test is in sending out a test email. A test email allows you to look at all parts of the email as the subscriber should see it. Great for checking that everything is in place and that it reads fine.

The next part of this little project is to send out a few invites to organisations that would benefit from this newsletter and invite them to subscribe. With the first campaign sent out, I have an example of the content available through the newsletter for organisations to see.

I’m not expecting a massive rise in sign-ups over January, but I’ve got a goal in mind, so I’m aiming for that.

I was surprised by how quickly I was able to get a mailing list up and running on MailChimp. Previous attempts using MailChimp have always resulted in me turning away from it. This time though, I kept it simple, so I just got the absolute essentials in place. A welcome email and a first campaign.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be spending a bit more time digging into MailChimp and seeing else it can help with in maintaining an email list.

This bug on Ghost is driving me round the bend. Every character you type in is registered as two keystrokes so ‘t’ becomes ‘tt’ and pasting from the clipboard doesn’t work either. Why am I using Ghost again? 🤔

I’m considering a set of wireless headphones for client calls and blocking out the kids whiles I’m working. Recommendations?

Damn. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Forgot about them. 🎵

Staying on Track

When it comes to planning the day with bullet journaling, there’s one aspect of it that frequently throws me. Knowing when a block of work should finish, and a new block of work should start.

I’ve been using plan bars (both daily and weekly) to plan out my day. When it comes to working through the day though, I usually find myself losing track of time and working through a block of the day that I had reserved for a particular task.

The first and obvious solution here is to use a calendar with reminders to let me know when I have to switch tasks, but if I’m using a calendar app then what is the point in using the bullet journal?

Also setting up a calendar like this requires a lot of clicking and typing, which I’m not keen on doing.

The best idea that I’ve come up with this for this problem is to split the day into blocks and have recurring alarms set for the start of each block. This alert will give me the nudge I need to look up and switch tasks if I need to. Most days the blocks will start and end at the same time, but there will be days where blocks will change from the usual times during the day. The Reminders app on macOS comes to mind, but I'm wondering if there's something even more straightforward than that that I could use.

If anyone else has any other ideas for staying on track through the day with bullet journaling, then I would love to hear them.

Experimenting with numberless actions on Twitter

In keeping with Micro.blog’s lack of counts for things like followers and likes, I’ve decided to do the same on Twitter.

I have created a few CSS rules to run on the Twitter website using Stylish. These rules remove any counts from the actions section of a tweet.

The idea is that any action by myself to like, retweet or reply, isn’t swayed by the same actions of others. Just because a tweet is being liked by everyone else, it shouldn’t influence my decision to like it.

I’d like to see more of this on Twitter. Less about the numbers and more about content and discoverability.

Benefiting from the Constraints of Pen and Paper to Tame Tasks

In the last 18 months, I’ve moved from using a task manager application to using pen and notebook and a technique called bullet journaling. The transition to this method hasn’t been without its challenges, but there’s one thing that it provides that I don’t get with any task manager application that I've used. And that is constraints.

Task management applications like to sell lots of benefits like being able to go with me wherever I go, work wherever I am and manage anything I throw at it. That last advantage is quite interesting because it’s here that I find that task management applications work quite well for me for a while, but I usually end up over-committing with a crazy list of tasks sometimes running into hundreds.

Thanks to improvements in technology, we have these little portable devices in our pockets that can potentially hold thousands (perhaps even millions) of tasks. These same devices also make it simple to add more tasks with the ability to type, speak or automate the process of creating new tasks. There are very few constraints in creating new tasks other than perhaps losing the wi-fi signal or running out of battery. These are not big constraints given that the world is more connected than ever and we have portable chargers to keep our devices topped up.

I keep all my tasks together at the back of my notebook. Written by hand and double-spaced. Sounds labourious right? Bear with me.

With each new task added, I often find myself questioning the value of the task and whether it is even worth writing down. I also look at the number of tasks I have decided if I need to focus on those first before adding anything else.

When it comes to moving tasks from one page to another, again I question the value of the task and whether it is worth moving.

My master list of tasks is usually about three pages long. Take into account that the notebook is smaller than A4 and my writing is double-spaced, that’s not a lot of tasks to do. The constraints of time to write a task and the effort in maintaining it when using paper mean that my complete list of tasks is manageable.

You can enforce these constraints on your favourite task management application, but I’ve often found that this is difficult to do given how easy to use these types of applications are.

Now, I’m not saying that bullet journaling is the silver bullet solution to all productivity hacks; it isn’t. However, the constraints of notebooks are why I find that bullet journaling works so well. It allows me to manage a smaller and more focused list of tasks and that in turns stops me from over-committing.

Right, so my predictions for the Wildcard Weekend were 1 for 4. Only got the Saints results right, but close games all round.

Weekly Digest

That’s the holidays over and everything is getting back to normal. Well, almost!

Managed to make it to the movies on Tuesday to see Jumanji and then a visit to the driving range with the boys on Wednesday rounded off their holidays before they went back to school on Thursday.

Also watched Bright on Netflix this week. Not a bad movie and I didn’t think it deserved the criticism it got. Me and Jennifer have also started watching Godless on Netflix as well. Really enjoying it so far.

I’ve managed to set Star Wars Battlefront 2 (it’s growing on me) and Overwatch to the side and installed Assasin’s Creed Origins. So far I’m impressed. I haven’t played the series since Black Flag, so the absence of playing any of the recent AC games might be the reason I’m enjoying it so much.

I’m reading Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in the Expanse series. This book picks up sometime after the events of Babylon’s Ashes. I’m still enjoying this series and it’s been great getting to know what the crew of the Rocinante have been up to.

Right, calling it with a victories for the Bills and the Saints today.

First half of wildcard weekend done and I got both predictions for yesterday wrong. Maybe I’ll have better luck today.

I'm Starting a Newsletter Again, With a Difference​

With a rising interest in newsletters, I started one last year. I tried to publish one long-form post a month as well as a collection of links at the end.

I intended to keep this newsletter going through the year, but after a few months, I decided that a newsletter of this kind wouldn’t be of any additional value that my blog couldn’t already provide.

Now I’m also blogging on a daily basis, so there’s no need for such a newsletter, and most likely I’ll never publish a newsletter of this kind again.

The newsletter experiment did not succeed in the way I thought it would, but although I closed the newsletter down, I learned something valuable from the newsletter.

Newsletters themselves are great, but the real value of a newsletter is the niche the newsletter caters to. This niche could be an interest, a topic, a market or anything like that.

This year I’m starting a small side project to build a newsletter aimed at a specific type of organisation who are looking to make more effective use of their digital presence and other tools to help those organisations.

I’m sending out a few invites to sign up for some local organisations that meet this criterion. I’ll then run the newsletter for a few months, collecting feedback on the first few editions. If the feedback is positive, I’ll keep going. If it's terrible, I’ll adjust the content to either suit the feedback or close the newsletter down.

I’ve already got a landing page up and running and I just need to dig into how to send a welcome email to each new sign up. Once done, I’ll be ready to accept sign-ups as they come. I’m not going to market this though until I decide that it has any lasting value as a product.

There are a few added benefits from this experiment.

I get some hands-on experience with running a newsletter using MailChimp. TinyLetter was an ideal service for my previous newsletter, but for this newsletter, I need a few more features like more options for formatting emails and their content.

I can spend a bit of time researching and writing content for the newsletter. I’m budgeting a fixed number of hours a month for this, and in that time I need to have the material ready to send and handle any replies or feedback. A test of time management and improving my writing.

The final benefit is that this is a testbed to a more significant opportunity. I’m using the newsletter to gauge the interest in a range of services that could help a particular market. This newsletter will be the on-ramp to that range of products and services and will determine if there’s any value in them.

I think I’ve found a niche market with this newsletter but only time will tell. I do believe that this will have a better chance of success than my previous attempt at a newsletter, but the only indication of this is whether organisations that sign up for this and find it useful.

I completely missed the part of GitHub’s project tracking feature that allows you to track projects in other repos as well. Might be the game-changer for managing my own projects.

Just found out how to use the SUMIF function in Numbers for the first time. Every day is a school day.

GitHub’s Projects feature is increasingly becoming an alternative to using Trello, but Trello’s native apps still make it my preferred project management tool.

Nicholas Bate reminds us of the basics when we’re stuck.