8tracks: Your All-Day Stimulus Shelter

October 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The last few weeks? Busy busy busy. And it’s not the kind of busy that has me rushing from one meeting to another. It’s the kind of busy that has me shackled to my desk, with a million little blurbs of copy to write. This is no small feat, considering I work in an open-plan office that is rife with distractions.

In previous posts, I highlight apps like WriteRoom and Isolator that help address this. See no distractions, check. Now it’s time to hear no distractions.

Earphones are the office worker’s salve for the open-plan epidemic that plagues many workplaces. I would even go as far as saying it’s an absolute essential these days. I read somewhere that the brain is naturally predisposed to zero in on voices, so even when you’re reading or writing, the brain will gravitate to the voices it hears nearby. Add that to the other noise around you, and it becomes a bit of a challenge to truly focus. What the mind needs is a stimulus shelter. This is where earphones and music come in handy.

Now I don’t have to tell you that music is a great way to drown out office noise, improve mood and increase productivity. Some people have set playlists for specific tasks, but I just kind of wing it. When I’m particularly busy, I don’t want to bother with endless fiddling with my iTunes, deciding what song to play next, so I’m really glad I found 8tracks.

8tracks is a free social music app on the web or on your mobile device where you can stream playlists that users create for every mood.  Type in a genre, an artist, or even a keyword and 8tracks will generate a list of playlists you can choose from. Follow people whose musical taste you love, create your own playlists, and share them on your social networks. I can just leave it on, enjoy the music, and get working on that mountain of copy. I’ve been on 8tracks for a few months now and its gotten me through a lot of stressful work days. I haven’t made any playlists yet, but you can follow me and check out some of the people I follow.

Any suggestions on who else I should follow? Drop me a line here!

Choose from several playlists on 8tracks



What’s Your Excuse?

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Learning new things always makes me happy. There’s just something about it that is so exhilarating to me. The synapses start firing and new ones are blooming and I feel alive. Suddenly, my world is filled with possibilities again.

If going to school wasn’t so expensive, I swear I’d be a professional student. I remember being down in the dumps a few years ago and my dad signed me up for Illustrator classes to cheer me up. It worked like a charm.

Christmas came early when I saw this link a few weeks ago: The No Excuse List

Nerdgasm, anyone?


Looook! All the online classes you could ever want! For free! If I knew how to do cartwheels, I’d be doing them down the street.

Tons and tons of classes in front of me, I didn’t even know where to click first. The only thing that was missing from this site was YouTube and iTunes U. It’s not that I want to take every single class that’s out there, but my nerdy little heart just sings with joy at the thought of all the things that are available for us to learn.

Right now, I’m taking up a gamification course on Coursera. I’m a bit behind on the videos (okay, who am I kidding, I am WAY behind), but I’m really enjoying it. I haven’t done the written assignments, so I probably won’t qualify for the certificate of completion, but that’s alright. The site is easy to use, and the material is presented in a clear and organized manner. Learning at your own pace, from wherever you are, has never been so easy.

There are a lot of resources on the web for learning, and the No Excuse List makes most of it a breeze to find. So rejoice my fellow lovers of learning, looks like we have enough to keep us gleefully busy for the next few years.


Clear: The Pretty Way to Productive

September 17, 2012 § Leave a comment


I am one of those people that are forever making lists. I make the lists, cross a few things off it, then I make new lists. I write them on little scraps of paper, I write them on my notebooks, and I write them on my gazillion apps. (I kinda wish there was an app to manage all my other to-do apps.)

Why I find comfort in making lists and why making my to-do list takes up half a day will be a topic for another post. But what I wanted to write about today is an app called Clear.

Clear is a to-do app that takes full advantage of the gestures feature on the iPhone. Pull down or up to create a new item, swipe right to mark as done, swipe left to delete — all the while giving each item its own place in a spectrum of color to live in. That makes it way more pleasing to look at than a plain white list with a tick-box, which I suppose could help motivate you into at least looking at your list. There’s nothing magical about Clear. Just an app that does what it does, but boy, it sure does look pretty doing it.

Clear turns your to-do list from a cold, austere thing impatiently tapping its foot into a warm and pleasant guide, if you will, to making your day more productive.

So pretty.

Clear is available for $2.99 on the app store.

Haiku Deck: Short and Sweet

September 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever attend a presentation and be absolutely wowed by the deck? Or sit through one where you had to lean forward in your chair, squint and read the teeny tiny text on a crowded slide? The presentation deck can make or break a pitch and more often than not, we see decks that confuse rather than convince.

“But presentation apps can be such a pain to use sometimes,” you complain. “What font? What layout? And where do I find the visuals to go with my slides?” I hear ya. I know you’re tired. I shed a tear for you every time I see a deck filled with bullet points and hideous clip art. That’s why a lightbulb went off in my head when I stumbled across Haiku Deck for the iPad.

Haiku Deck comes with five free themes you can use to get you started. Once you’ve picked a theme, just type in your text, and the app will take a keyword from your slide and fetch Creative Commons-licensed photos that you can use as background. Choose your text layout, and wash, rinse, repeat until your last slide.

Present directly from your iPad, or share your deck via email, Facebook and Twitter. Haiku Deck will help you make your slides as spiffy and as can be and as easily as can be.

View the gallery of some featured decks here: http://www.haikudeck.com/gallery

Screenshot of one of the sample haiku decks by Adam Tratt

Haiku Deck is available for free on the App Store and requires an iPad with iOS 5.0 or later.


Single-Task Like A Boss With Isolator

August 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

There are a million and one things happening on the internet and we want to be a part of it all. We have multiple tabs open on our browser, apps running in the background, email that keeps pouring in, and various other odds and ends beeping endlessly.  Follow, comment, like, share, update, refresh, subscribe…explode.

In my previous blog post, I talk about a writing app that helps address the distraction problem. But distraction-free working, I realize, isn’t just for writers. This technology-borne attention deficit is an equal-opportunity vexation.

Enter Isolator.

This tiny slip of an app is a wonderful addition to your arsenal of distraction-free solutions for today’s distraction-filled desktop. Isolator sits quietly on your menu bar until you need it. Set the background color, set the transparency (I recommend setting it opaque, otherwise it just defeats the purpose), and you’re good to go.

Turn it on when it’s crunch time and watch the world wide web melt away. Ah, glorious. That’s what it feels like when the voices stop.  Revel in that for a moment, then get to work. It’s time to let the magic happen.

Isolator isn’t on the Mac App Store yet, but you can download it here for free: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/24052/isolator

Requires PPC/Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 or later

WriteRoom: A Writing App That Lets You Write

August 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Every writer needs time to let their mind roam. Ideas are often found where you least expect them, so going off-leash is highly encouraged. But once you have to sit down and do the actual writing, you gotta lock that imagination down and focus.

Distraction is the enemy of every writer. Lock yourself up in a room, turn off your phone, travel to a secluded spot, get the best noise-canceling headphones ever — do whatever you can to give your muse a fighting chance.

One of the tools I’ve found very useful in keeping the ADD at bay is an app called WriteRoom. I’ve been using it for years and have never been happier.

WriteRoom takes the bells and whistles of most writing apps and throws them out the window. No more worrying about how big your margins are, wrestling with an ungainly chart, or fiddling with your list-formatting. WriteRoom lets you focus on the task at hand so the words can spill out onto the screen. Just write. Worry about the formatting later.

The highlight of this app is its full-screen feature that blocks out everything on your monitor, freeing you from the bells and whistles of the entire internet. So it’s just you and your words. And you can finally complete a thought without any 140-character disruptions. You can set your background screen to whatever color you want too. You know, in case you feel like matching it to your mood. (Okay, that was a teeny bell. Or whistle.)




WriteRoom is available on the Mac App Store or at http://www.hogbaysoftware.com/products/writeroom

Be a Late Bloomer

March 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the 2011 Oscar Awards, David Seidler won Best Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech. At 73 years old, it’s his first Oscar and he is the oldest in the category to ever win the award. In his acceptance speech, he mentioned that his father always said he would be a late bloomer.

David Seidler

David Seidler, 73, is the oldest person to win in the Best Original Screenplay category

Not the most memorable Oscar moment to others, but it was to me. I found it pretty uplifting, watching him accept his award, particularly amidst all the buzz of Zuckerberg being the youngest billionaire ever, the phenomenal success of Lady Gaga, and all the other wunderkind that have risen to great heights so early in their careers.

There’s so much pressure to accomplish a particular set of goals by a certain age. But that doesn’t always happen. Talent and hard work are two very key ingredients, but so many other factors come into play. The client suddenly shelving the project. The editor who really thinks you should go another way with your novel. Or life just taking over until you’ve completely forgotten to pick up that paintbrush again. Before we know it, so much time has passed by, we feel that we somehow got left behind.
But the thing is, it’s really not a race.

So how about we just toss that deadline off to the side and focus on just doing the work. It’s never too late — no matter how many obstacles life threw at us, no matter how many wrong turns we took along the way. The important thing is that we keep on keeping on. Don’t get discouraged by a missed deadline or a rejection letter. Even if you feel like chucking it all, just keep putting in the work and one day, it’ll pay off.  Be a late bloomer. When you get to where you want to be, it’s not even going to matter how long it took you to get there. It’s just going to feel wonderful. I’m pretty sure David Seidler will agree.

David Seidler has given more than stutterers their voice. He’s given a couple of late bloomers some hope too. Read more on David Seidler’s Oscar win here.