Much Ado About Inbox Zero

I’ve always been an Inbox Zero kind of guy before Inbox Zero was even a thing. From the time I got my first email address in 1995 to today, I’ve felt that the inbox should be empty nearly 100% of the time (I’ll outline my own exceptions below). Recently I told a friend that my inbox was empty and he was astonished, envious, and perhaps a little annoyed. It got me thinking about the practice, and about the relative merits or consequences of such a rigorous approach.

My inbox as I started typing this post up.
My inbox as I started typing this post up.

Inbox Zero has been widely discussed among productivity mavens and life hackers for the last few years, with many staunchly defending it’s usefulness, and others claiming it is a colossal waste of time and energy. Opinions on email seem to be in no short supply – some argue that push is the way to go, others take the opposite approach and pontificate that checking only once or twice per day will up your productivity to the stars.

If it isn’t blindingly obvious by now, the discussion boils down to what works best for the individual. For some, Inbox Zero will be the way to inner zen. For others, the inbox count is just a number, not one to be worried about or praised. In my experience over 20 years, I’ve found that I’m happiest when my inbox is nearly empty, so I keep up with that. If you’re experiencing email overload, you might find Inbox Zero satisfying as well (as soon as you dig out of your current overload!). For what it’s worth, I’ve tried ditching Inbox Zero and experience quite a bit of anxiety over it (which kinda scares me) – I’d like to be ‘cool’ with having stuff in there, but I suppose old habits die hard.

One final note – I mentioned that I do allow email to sit there in some circumstances. What are those?

  • Emails that serve a reminder function but aren’t important enough to get a real To Do item in my to do manager. So the student who says “I’ll be a bit late for class in 3 hours” may stick around until they arrive in class – the email then gets archived.
  • Emails that I don’t want to respond to right now! Yes, even though productivity mongers will tell you that you should respond as quickly as you can and not procrastinate, there are times I just don’t want to deal with that email yet.
  • Emails that I’m planning to show someone later on my mobile device – because once it’s in the black pit of the Archive folder, it can be hard to find it again.

This brings up the last bit of my email peculiarity: I archive everything, and never sort it. Gmail search (for my private email) and Exchange search (for my work email) tend to do things pretty well. I also backup my mailboxes every 6 months or so.

What They Aren’t Telling You: San Bernadino Shooter’s iPhone

USA Today and others made headlines today reporting “Apple ordered to break into San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone”. The topic of government access to encrypted devices has gotten a lot of attention lately, and I’m not writing this post to take a stance on either side. My goal here is to inform some of my less tech-minded friends of a curious thing I noticed…

Fact: This iPhone was owned by San Bernadino county.
Fact: Deploying iPhones to your workers should only be done if they’re properly managed.
Fact: Apple’s management software, Profile Manager, allows you to clear passcodes.

Here’s the proof from my own Profile Manager installation – this is the list of options I get when I bring up my own iPhone from the management console:

In case you’re wondering, it’s also possible to prevent a user from wiping his/her iPhone using Profile Manager:

In case you’re wondering what “supervised only” means, it indicates that the phone has to be setup using the Apple Configurator software, which is free.

Obviously I don’t know what happened in this case, and won’t pretend to, but from an IT guy’s perspective, this problem seems like it would have been avoided if the devices were configured appropriately. In any event, I figured this would be useful information to my non-tech friends who noticed it was a government owned iPhone and wondered why the government couldn’t unlock it.

Actually Keep a Diary / Journal with Day One and Workflow

For years I’ve tried to keep a daily diary / journal and have struggled with two problems: Remembering to write, and finding something to write. Lately I’ve tackled the second, and the first is easily solved when you think about it…

In this exercise, I’m using 2 apps on iOS: Day One, an excellent diary app, and Workflow, an excellent automation app. I’ve created a little Workflow module that does the following:

  • Downloads a daily motivational quote (although you could replace this with any RSS feed item)
  • Looks up my calendar for the day
  • Asks me 2 questions (In my example: What do I plan on doing, and how will I do good that day)
  • Rolls it all together and creates a new entry in Day One.

So with 1 tap of the Workflow shortcut, I have my phone prompting me to create my diary entry (and I can customize the workflow whenever I like). You can get my Morning Journal Workflow here if you’ve already got Workflow installed.

So get Workflow, Get Day One, and get journaling. Having problems with the first issue (i.e. remembering?). Well, just ask Siri to remind you or set a reminder to recur daily. Problems solved!

Microfiber Cloth To The Rescue – The Best Palm Rejection

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had when using a stylus on my iPad is the problem of palm rejection. It seems that no software tweak known can keep my palm from screwing up what I’m writing on the iPad. But today I had a revelation – a microfiber cloth (that I carry with me anyway) make the best “wrist rest”. My writing speed immediately amped up, and I’m much happier with the results as well. Give it a try next time you’re writing on a screen – the added bonus is it also cleans the screen rather than smudges it while you move your wrist around!

Hiding your Apple Watch in Plain Sight

So, you’ve got a fancy Apple Watch, but sometimes don’t want to show it off. Maybe you’re going to a part of town where your watch might make you a target for crime, or maybe you want to customize your watch without permanently changing it, or maybe you just like to throw people off. Well have no fear – I have the answer.

This is my Apple Watch, it’s pretty normal in all regards. I purchased it the night it was available for order, with the black sport band. Since then I’ve upgraded the band (well, honestly I’ve bought a few bands…) and wear it daily. I’m happy with it.

42mm Apple Watch with Link Bracelet

Anyone who knows about the Apple Watch knows that they aren’t exactly cheap. Unfortunately criminals know about this too, and without something like Activation Lock (Which is coming, but not here yet), wearing this particular watch could make you a pretty appealing target. But from a distance, it looks a lot less expensive dressed up like this…

Jony Ive’s nightmares look like this…

What have I done to my beautiful Apple Watch?!? Well, actually nothing that can’t be undone. First, I picked up a set of bumper cases off Amazon for about $14. They included 5 colors, and are easy to slip on and off as needed

Next I bought what I can only classify as the world’s cheapest “leather” band from eBay. I think I paid around $14 again, and it came with the adapter I’d need to attach it to the Apple Watch (A handy thing to have if you have other watch bands of higher quality you might want to use). So for $30 or so, I had my Apple Watch’s disguise.

Why would you take a $1,000 investment and make it look like some goofy oversized toy with a questionable leather band? Well as I noted, camouflage is one reason. Also the bumper cases by themselves can add some protection if you’re going to be doing something that might cause damage to the watch case. Moving boxes around tight doorways comes to mind. They’re also nice for accessorizing – Delta State’s colors are Green and Black, so I’ll put the green bumper on for “Go Green” Fridays (With a nicer black band). In the end, maybe you just want to mess with people (or avoid having people ask to play with your watch). Whatever the reason, you too can hide your Apple Watch in plain sight!


The Immortal Royal Organizer

Gather round for this history lesson, youngsters, as I tell you about this bad boy – the Royal DM2070 Organizer

(That’s right, it had a flip cover)

As best as I can remember, I bought this thing sometime in 1999 for around $30. This was a time long before smartphones, when the best PDAs around were still quite expensive. I was a broke high school kid who had data to store, and this bad boy fit the bill.

What did I have to store? Funny you should ask. In 1999 Karey & I started dating, and we ran into a weird problem that also seems prehistoric today: the prohibitivly high cost of voice contact. While we could chat through our dialup internet connections, no good voice solution existed – especially at the speeds we both had. So I spent a lot of money on pre-paid phone cards to avoid the anger of my dad (upon reviewing the phone bill). I also found places online to get pre-paid cards via email, and at the end of the day had a list of PIN codes that would give me 10-30 minutes of talk time.

As you can probably guess, teenagers talk a lot more than 30 minutes at a time, so I had a lot of codes to keep track of – which ones I’d used, which ones I hadn’t. I printed them out briefly, but began to weary of all the paper I had lying around. So I bought this thing and used it’s “memo” feature to put in the lists of codes (which was easy given the numeric keypad). I did this for a few months until I found a flat-rate long distance service in 2000 that let me pay only $80 a month for unlimited long distance. Ah the expense of romance before Skype and Broadband!

I found the Royal organizer yesterday while cleaning, and decided to see if it still powered on. And yes, after 16 years, it not only powered on, but it had the correct date! Time was off a bit, but the date was spot on. Goes to show – just because you’re old, doesn’t mean you’re out of the game!

The Single Biggest Problem in Web Development Is…

By: Pietro Zanarini

… Remembering to update the page. Was asked today to take on additional web management duties at DSU (We’re making a push to have up-to-date contact information for everyone). Not a big deal – the contact system is very functional and takes very little time to update. It’s a push to de-centralize updating it, which makes a lot of sense, as long as people are on board. It is hard to find an organization with a “vibrant” web page that has decentralized administration of that page. Yet it’s even harder to find a large organization that can devote people solely to web updating. The classic conundrum: updating web pages tends to be a NIMBY issue (not in my back yard!) Everyone agrees it needs to be done, no one likes to do it. Hopefully as the bar gets lower and lower in terms of ‘hassle’ (i.e. modern CMS’s do a great job of making it easy to publish / update things), we’ll get rid of the 3 year old webpages that should have been updated last month.


Colleagues of mine have looked at the interesting relationship between anticipating a favorable event (Savoring) and lumbering up to an unforable event while forlorn (Dread). And I can attest to experiencing both of those emotions. Thankfully today it’s the former, not the latter.

The earliest rumors of the Apple Watch date back to 2012, and as a smartwatch geek (My first smartwatch was the Timex Datalink 70 (then a 150) back in 1996), I’ve been waiting ever since for the newest and greatest wrist accessory. Not much happened from about 2000 to 2008, with only the Microsoft Spot Watch being the only real contender for much of that time (Before Microsoft axed it). But as of late, we’ve been lucky with the Pebble (which I have the Kickstarter edition of, as well as the Pebble Steel that’s currently on my wrist), the Android Wear watches, and now the Apple Watch.

Hopefully tomorrow afternoon I’ll place the Pebble in my watchbox and try on my Apple Watch. Until then, I’m in Smartwatch Savor mode.

I realize that I Sometimes Comment Selfishly

Recently I’ve found myself writing comments on other people’s posts and then deciding at the last moment not to post them. Obviously it’s a good idea to always read over what you intend to say before you say it, and it’s usually at that point that I realize that what I’m about to say isn’t as much helpful as it is selfish. How can one be selfish when virtually commenting? It’s really easy – it starts with the “Oh yeah, I do that too!” feeling.
For example, friend A posts that they’re thinking of trying a new restaurant, and you feel a sense of comraderie since you’ve also eaten at that restaurant (or eat at new restaurants too). You rush to post something like “Yeah, I love that place – I stumbled upon it a few years ago and really liked it”. Then it hits you – that’s an absolutely useless comment. All it does is tell the person that you agree with them, and that you did what they propose first. A better response? “Yeah, I love that place. The chicken marsala was good, and the salads were unique – not just a standard salad you could get anywhere”. Now you’ve given some actual information – a mini review – and held off the urge to say “I did this first!”. Your friend finds your comment useful, as do others, and it doesn’t sound like the internet equiviliant of the old message board mantra “Me Too”.
My goal is to try to add more substance to my comments and less selfish boasting. I’m sure I’ll fail multiple times in the process, because talking about oneself is so easy to do, we do it without thinking, but at least I’ll be making the effort!