Team meeting via Google Hangouts

Daily meeting via Google Hangouts
Daily meeting via Google Hangouts

Last week I had to work from home one morning. Our team meets at 09:30 every morning to catch-up. Years ago I suppose I would have had to either phone in or miss it.

We used Google Hangouts to allow my colleague Lewis and I to take part, connecting remotely.

Isn’t the world wide web an amazing thing!

Viewing Trello label titles on cards

UPDATE: Trello now includes this capability ‘out of the box’.

On a desktop or laptop browser, simply click the label colour—it will expand to include the name of the label.


It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Trello.

I use Trello pretty much exclusively on Google Chrome, as there are plenty of plugins written to extend its capabilities; far more than for Firefox, which surprises me a little.

One of my favourites is Scrum for Trello, which allows me to add Agile story points very simply. My new favourite is this: Card Color Titles for Trello.

Default labels

In Trello you may set an unlimited number of labels. Originally, there were only six, organised in the order of the original Apple logo.

Here are the labels that Trello themselves use for their development board.

Trello label names
Trello label names

When applied to cards, the labels appear as coloured bars at the top of each card.

Trello development board with standard labels.
Trello development board with standard labels.

The problem is, and particularly now with unlimited labels, it can be difficult to remember what each colour means—especially if you use different labels on different boards.

Card color titles for Trello

That’s where the Card Color Titles for Trello plugin comes in: it adds the name of the label to the label.

Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now
Labels, colours, titles—it all makes sense now

I’ve been using this for the last week and it has been so useful, particularly at work where we have labels for MoSCoW prioritisation. It has made re-ordering cards so much easier and quicker.

It’s definitely an extension to add if you use Trello on Chrome: Card Color Titles for Trello on Chrome web store.

Todoist vs Trello vs Wunderlist for managing small tasks

Since moving from Outlook (Exchange) to eM Client (Google) a few weeks ago I have needed to find a suitable task management application to replace Outlook’s excellent task tool. I’ve found a really nice application in Todoist.

I used Outlook tasks a lot on both my desktop PC and my mobile phone (Windows Mobile then Android), so my requirements were:

  • Must be cloud based.
  • Must sync quickly between mobile and desktop.
  • Must have a native app for both Android and Windows 8.
  • Must be able to handle multiple contexts/projects.
  • Must be affordable.
  • Should have a usable Android widget to both add new tasks and view a particular context/project.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist interface has a brown, wood-effect background with two columns: contexts on the left, tasks on the right.
Wunderlist (Windows 8 modern UI app) is really pretty.

The first application that I consider was Wunderlist which I had trialled a few years ago before moving to Exchange. I thought it was time to give it another go.

I migrated my tasks into Wunderlist and used it for a few days.

I really love the aesthetics of Wunderlist. It looks uncluttered and simple, and I selected a rich wood-effect background to complement the dark grey wood wallpaper both my PC and smartphone.

Following the GTD methodology, I was able to create multiple contexts (e.g. computer, desk, finance, garden, home, shopping, etc.). Moving tasks from one context to another is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks. Further details can be added to individual tasks (due date, reminders, subtasks and notes).

I really liked the ability to star important or favourite items, and to view all tasks, grouped by context in the order shown on the left-hand sidebar.

Wunderlist was looking promising, and I probably would have continued to use it had it not been for two issues.

The first issue I had was more of a niggle: the Android widget it really fiddly to use. I love that you can scroll left and right between contexts but I found with my not-too-enormous fingers that I had to jab at the screen four or five times to hit the sweet spot before it moved.

The second is a known problem: there are sync issues between Wunderlist 2 and 3. The web interface and Android both use the newer version 3, the Windows 7 application uses version 2. When I used both in conjunction I discovered discrepancies in my data.

I didn’t want to use the Windows 8 modern UI app or have to access my lists through Chrome, and the niggle with the Android widget was enough to get me looking elsewhere.

Trello

Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.
Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.

I’ve long been a fan of Trello from Fog Creek Software. We use it extensively at work, and I use it to manage all my personal projects. So I quickly migrated my tasks from Wunderlist to Trello and used it for a few days.

As much as I love Trello for managing larger projects I didn’t really warm to it as a simply list/task application.

Contrary to my experience with Wunderlist, I was quite happy to use the web interface but then that’s how I have used it for the last few years. The Android app is great and improves with each release.

The Android widget didn’t give me the information that I needed, though: it isn’t granular enough for my requirements. All it offers is a list of cards assigned to me, optionally grouped by due date. The problem here is that it lists EVERY single card assigned to me, starting with those cards that are dated in the past. Right now that is 461 cards. All I wanted to see was all the cards within a particular board, or even better within a particular list on one particular board.

Todoist

Todoist interface has two columns: list of contexts or projects on the left, checkbox list of tasks within that project on the right.
Todoist has a very clean interface.

That was when I discovered Todoist which appears to be available for just about everything: web, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, web, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail and Postbox. I’d love to see a plugin for eM Client—that would make my productivity life complete!

Todoist has a very minimalist and uncluttered look. On the left are your contexts, which Todoist calls Projects. It also offers labels and filters, but I don’t use either.

For the third time in a week I migrated all my tasks to yet another application. But this time they’ve stayed there… the ones that I’ve not checked off.

Todoist has met all my requirements. It is cloud-based, the Windows and Android apps work beautifully, I can add multiple contexts/projects, can easily drag and drop items from one list to another.

The Android widget does exactly what I need as doesn’t suffer from the same navigation issues that I experienced with Wunderlist. I’ve found that I use that a lot now, and the big plus (+) in the top-right corner of the widget allows me to add tasks quickly to any of my existing lists, and assign a due date too if I need.

The only thing that I miss from Wunderlist is the ability to view all tasks in one long list, [see correction below] but something that I found myself using much more than I ever did with Wunderlist is scheduling tasks. This is probably because Todoist offers two new views: ‘Today‘ and ‘Next 7 days’. (A perfect example of how user interfaces can affect user behaviour.)

CORRECTION: I’ve discovered a “View all” option listed under Filters. This lists all tasks by project. I wish there was a shortcut for this at the top of the application.

What is quite fun too is that Todoist shows your productivity trend and gives you points (which it calls ‘Todoist Karma‘), which I guess is there to help motivate you.

Graph and bar chart showing my productivity trend for the last seven days.
My productivity trend for the last seven days.

When you tick off items your points go up, when you don’t your points down.

I’ll definitely be sticking with Todoist for the foreseeable future, and I may even buy the upgrade to Todoist Premium which is a snip at GBP £18.00 per year, which gives you more project and label colours, task notes and file uploads, reminders, iCalendar feeds, etc.

Using eM Client with Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Contacts

eM Client

A few weeks ago I blogged about moving from Microsoft Outlook (and an Exchange account) to eM Client using Google’s productivity tools Gmail, Calendar and Contacts. These are my reflections on using eM Client for the last month or so, having been a faithful Outlook user for the last 14 years.

Why move?

My reasons for moving were three-fold:

  1. Simplify—I was using at least three email accounts, as well as trying to synchronise Outlook calendar and contacts with Google. This way I could keep everything in one place.
  2. Share—I needed a more robust way of sharing my calendar with (my wife) Jane, and she uses Gmail as her primary account, so it made sense to move.
  3. Cost—Though they do offer a terrific service, buying an Exchange account from Simply Mail Services was costing me about £70 per year. I could put that money to better use.

My hesitations in moving were two-fold:

  1. Email address—I really wanted to keep my [email protected] email address, and for email to send as that. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that was just vanity. So long as all mail sent that address was forwarded to me it didn’t really matter what email address I was sending from; besides some people were emailing me there anyway. (As it is I can configure Gmail to send as my own domain, I just haven’t done it yet.)
  2. Email client—I’ve enjoyed using Outlook because I like having everything in the same place: email, calendar, contacts and tasks. I’ve adapted my workflow around this set up. and it works for me. I knew that Outlook wasn’t suitable but didn’t know of an alternative. eM Client proved to be a near perfect replacement.

Setup

Setting up eM Client was so simple. Upon installing the application I was asked to enter my account details. I typed in my Gmail email address and password, and eM Client did the rest.

Enter your account details and eM Client does the rest.
Enter your account details and eM Client does the rest.

The free version of eM Client allows you to connect a maximum of two accounts, the pro version (£29.95 GBP) allows unlimited accounts. I’m currently on the free version but I intend to upgrade to pro at some point, simply to support the company.

IMAP

During the setup eM Client alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t enabled my Gmail account to use IMAP. This was easy to do within Gmail settings.

IMAP is now enabled in Gmail.
IMAP is now enabled in Gmail.

IMAP enables two-way communication between eM Client and Gmail, so any changes made in one client are immediately made in the others. This makes it really useful when trying to access your email from multiple devices, e.g. Windows and Android.

Once connected to my Gmail account eM Client took only a few minutes to download my email messages, calendar and contacts data.

I also connected my Facebook account which allows me to use eM Client as a chat client, and to update contact details and avatars from Facebook.

Review of eM Client

The following is a summary of my experience of using eM Client over the last few weeks.

Bear in mind that I am using eM Client only for Email, Calendar and Contacts. eM Client also supports Tasks and what it calls Widgets, which are plugins like an RSS reader.

I discovered, quite by accident, that if you right-click the left-hand panel you can decide which modules to display.

Right-click and select which modules you would like to display in the left-hand panel.
Right-click and select which modules you would like to display in the left-hand panel.

This also affects the shortcut keys to quickly navigate to these modules. With Tasks and Widgets removed these are now, for me:

  • Ctrl + F1 Mail
  • Ctrl + F2 Calendar
  • Ctrl + F3 Contacts

The full list of shortcut keys can be viewed at Tools > Settings > General > Shortcuts.

Using Gmail with eM Client

Email view within eM Client. Four columns, from the left: folders, messages, message details, chat
Email view within eM Client

The email client looked very similar to Outlook, albeit with a simpler, cleaner look. The screen shows four columns (from the left):

  1. Folders (Gmail labels)
  2. Mail received
  3. Message (full text of the currently selected message)
  4. Sidebar (showing contact details, agenda or chat)

Themes

eM Client comes with a number of built-in themes. I’m using a light blue theme called Arctic which is very clean looking. It clearly distinguishes the different areas of the screen: menu bar, mail folders, message, sidebar allowing me to get on and work undistracted.

Folders and labels

One feature I used a lot in Outlook mail was folders. Gmail doesn’t use folders. Instead it uses labels.

For many years I have used the following primary folders:

  • Action
  • Archive
  • Hold
  • Mailing lists
  • Projects
  • Waiting for

I tend to create sub-folders for Projects and Waiting for to make it easier to find emails. Then when the project is finished, or the item I’m waiting for (e.g. Amazon – CD order) has arrived I destroy the folder and either delete the emails or move them into the Archive folder.

In Gmail email can be categorised with more than one label. I have decided to use only one label per email. This matches the way that I used folders in Outlook. I find it simpler this way.

Something else I had to learn about Gmail is that “Inbox” is a label too. If an email doesn’t have the “Inbox” label then it is regarded as archived and appears under the “All Mail” label.

In eM Client Gmail labels appear as folders. So if I drag and drop an email into a folder in eM Client, it applies that label in the Gmail web client.

Once I understood these subtle differences between Outlook and Gmail I was happy to explore setting up rules to automatically filter my email.

Rules

Something that I relied on a lot within Outlook were rules. I created a lot of rules to filter all my regular newsletter and mailing list emails into a sub-folder called ‘Mailing lists’ (who would have thought?).

I’ve found this prevents my inbox from clogging up with ‘noise’, enabling me to see the more important emails from friends and family.

Gmail calls these rules filters. But unlike in Outlook, you cannot set up these filters within the eM Client. They must be done using the Gmail web interface.

Initially I thought that I might find this a bother, but in reality I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is. And besides, for each newsletter I only need to do it once.

It has also allowed me to review.all the mail I’m getting and decide whether I should cancel the subscription or not.

Filtering an email within Gmail.
Filtering an email within Gmail.

I tend to use the same rules for each message:

  • Skip the Inbox (Archive it).
  • Apply the label: Gareth/Mailing lists.
  • Never send it to Spam.
  • Also apply filter to X matching conversations.

Categories

As well as labels/folders, eM Client supports categories.

List of categories for email.
List of categories for email.

There are four contexts in which categories can be used: contacts, emails, calendar events or tasks. Categories can be unique to a context or shared across any of the four contexts.

You may set the context when editing the category.

Computer category is used only for emails.
When editing a category you may choose where it is used.

I have still to finalise the categories, but I tend to use these only for grouping items within my “Action” folder/label. These are emails that I have identified that I need to do something with: reply to, read, or follow a link to download something, for example.

Standard replies

Something I used quite a lot in Outlook was “Quick Parts” where you could store standard replies to certain questions. I used these a lot for replying about Psion repairs or certain mahjong questions.

eM Client doesn’t support this feature. However, you can create a number of custom signatures and using the “Insert signature on caret position” option to can use this to insert these standard replies into your text. And unlike Outlook 2010 you may add more than one signature to an email.

If your reply is longer then you could opt to use templates. As far as I can see, however, you cannot insert template text into a reply. You may only use it to create a new email. So if you don’t mind a bit of copying and pasting then you may choose to do this. Otherwise, stick with the signature workaround.

Spam

When I used Outlook with a standard (POP3) account I needed an add-in to filter out spam emails; I used Cloudmark DesktopOne, which I found excellent.

After I moved to Microsoft Exchange I paid extra for a Postini server-side spam filter to be activated on my account, which I found gobbled up more than a few genuine mailing list emails.

Having moved to Gmail, only a few rogue messages have got through to my inbox, and I’ve had maybe only four or five false positives.

Right-clicking the Junk E-mail folder in eM Client allows me to empty my Gmail junk mail.

Conclusion

On the whole I have been able to use eM Client in exactly the same way that I used Outlook. In other words, my familiar workflow hasn’t really been upset.

The only real difference is needing to go to Gmail itself to set up mail filters.

I am actually surprised at how easily and seamlessly I’ve made the transition from Outlook to eM Client, after 14 years of using the former, but I suspect that reflects the quality and flexibility of the software.

Using Google Calendar with Em Client

eM Client calendar displaying five Google calendars on top of one another.
eM Client calendar displaying five Google calendars on top of one another.

As sharing calendars was one of the drivers for moving from Outlook I reckoned that this had better work seamlessly. And I’m delighted to report that it is.

I have five Google calendars that I display:

  1. My default calendar (green)
  2. Children (orange)
  3. Home (grey)
  4. Jane (violet)
  5. Scottish Episcopal Church saints days (rose)

Colours

Regardless of the device (web, eM Client, or Android) Jane and I have synchronised the colours of the calendars. So my calendar is always green, Jane’s is always violet, children is always orange, etc. That way we don’t need to think twice about what we’re looking at.

eM Client draws its colours from Google Calendar itself. On our Android devices (Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini) you have to set the colours on the device itself.

Categories

I used to use a lot of colours and categories when using the Outlook calendar to denote different activities, e.g. coding, writing documentation, meeting in the office, meeting in St Andrews, meeting/conference outwith St Andrews, etc.

I expected to miss that when I moved to a mono-colour calendar but again I’ve surprised myself. The clarity offered by colour equals person has been really valuable.

I don’t use any categories now for events. eM Client comes with four built-in (vacation, must attend, needs preparation, birthday) but I don’t use any of them; you cannot delete these four.

Sharing calendars

Another decision we made was to give each other full read and write access to each other’s diaries. That way we can add appointments directly to each other’s calendar without having to go through the rigmarole of inviting each other to events.

Calendar for home events

Another innovation was to add a generic, shared calendar for home events such as which recycling bins go out and when, gas boiler service dates, car tax, etc.

I chose grey for that calendar which makes it neutral but helps it stand out enough to notice it.

Google Calendar’s recurring event feature was ideal for this calendar.

Performance

Like eM Client’s handling of Gmail, the lag between adding an event within eM Client and it appearing either on the Google Calendar web interface or on our Android device is minimal. It is almost instant.

While eM Client displays an Agenda view in the sidebar, I have not found myself using it and tend to leave the sidebar set to viewing Facebook chat contacts.

Tasks and calendar

One feature of Outlook that I used a lot was to drag and drop tasks from the sidebar onto the calendar.As it’s not possible to do this in eM Client I am now using Todoist to manage my tasks.

I now either manage the dates within Todoist itself or simply copy and paste tasks into my calendar. It’s a little overhead but really not that much.

Conclusion

As this was one of the primary functions that we needed to get right (sharing multiple calendars) I have been quite delighted not only with what Google Calendar itself offers but also how eM Client handles the management of these calendars.

Unlike Gmail there is very little that I have needed to do using the Google Calendar web interface, once we got the calendars created, shared and set to the right colours.

Using Google Contacts with eM Client

Google Contacts within eM Client
Google Contacts within eM Client

Google Contacts is yet another area where eM Client excels.

When I used Outlook (either standalone or connected to Exchange) I would every now and then import my Outlook contacts into Google in the vain hope of keeping them backed-up and synchronised. It was an overhead that I didn’t need and it’s been quite a relief, actually, to have them all in one place for a change.

Views

There are five ways to view your contacts, as well as a couple of ways to filter them. The five views are:

  1. Phone list
  2. By Company
  3. By Location
  4. Custom View (which by default shows you every contact card field in a spreadsheet-like table)
  5. Business cards

The default view is Business cards, and this is generally the view that I prefer. Each tile shows you the person’s name, email address, telephone numbers and/or company:

Contact card showing my details
Contact card showing my details

The coloured blocks on the left-hand side represent categories.

Categories

In Outlook I used to categorize almost all my contacts, but I used the Company field for that. I used this field to record where I met the person, e.g. National Youth Choir of Great Britain, School, Family, etc. I can use the “By Company” view to display contacts in this way; although it displays them by default as First name, Surname.

I have also created a number of key categories, e.g. colleagues, family, home-related contacts (plumber, joiner, etc.) so that I can filter my contacts by these categories.

These categories also come in handy when viewing contacts on my Android phone.

One thing that I discovered was that for contacts to appear in Google Contacts they seem to need to be categorized as “My Contacts”,

The other way to filter, of course, is by search. I would have found it handy if the search updated the list as you were typing but you have to hit Enter before the search begins.

Navigating contacts

Using a combination of categories, search and the scroll bar you can quickly locate the contact you are looking for.

Something I really miss from Outlook 2010, however, is the A-Z list down the right-hand side of the contacts cards view. This allowed you to very quickly navigate within your contact cards. I do hope eM Client adds this to a future version.

A-Z index in Outlook allows you to quickly navigate within your contacts list.
A-Z index in Outlook allows you to quickly navigate within your contacts list.

Contact photographs

One neat feature, once you’ve connected your Facebook account to eM Client is the ability to have your contacts’ profile photographs imported into Google Contacts.

That obviously requires your contacts to be using Facebook, and for them to have used the email address that you have for them to be registered in their Facebook account.

Duplicates and conflicts

Occasionally things can go wrong. When I used a Psion to sync with Outlook on two PCs (home and work) I was forever needing to remove duplicate entries. This isn’t as big a problem with eM Client as it is in Outlook.

eM Client comes with its own built-in duplicate remover (Tools > Deduplicator…).

eM Client has its own duplicate remover, which works for mail, events, tasks and contacts.
eM Client has its own duplicate remover, which works for mail, events, tasks and contacts.

I found it pretty effective, to be honest. It found a number of duplicates and where possible it combined information very effectively and deleted the rest.

A couple of times while updating contact cards I found that I made too many changes in a short space of time. In these cases eM Client asked me which data I wanted to keep and which I wanted to overwrite: local or remote.

Conclusion

Another win. To be honest, I can’t see myself needing to use the Google Contacts web interface terribly much. More or less everything is handled very nicely within eM Client.

Final observations

All in all, I am pretty delighted with eM Client. It does exactly what I needL which is to manage Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Contacts in one place. I really couldn’t ask for much more.

Sure there are a few niggles, like the lack of A-Z navigation in Contacts, and needing to set Filters in the Gmail web interface, but really these are minor issues.

If you are looking for an Outlook replacement (and eM Client does support Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, as well as other standard POP3 and IMAP email accounts etc.) then I can thoroughly and warmly recommend eM Client.

If I was to score it for its integration with Google services then I would need to give it a full 5/5.

Focus on one thing, not everything

Richard St John's 8 secrets of success on TED
Richard St John’s 8 secrets of success on TED

I spotted an interesting article on Lifehacker last week about the eight most common traits of successful people.

The article references Richard St John’s book The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common that documents what he learned after spending seven years travelling around the world interviewing 500 of the most successful people in all kinds of fields.

You can watch his very short presentation on TED: 8 secrets of success.

He learned that their success was not down to simply being smart, lucky, talented, beautiful, privileged, confident, popularity but rather down to eight traits:

  1. Passion—love what you do.
  2. Work—work really hard.
  3. Focus—focus on one thing, not everything.
  4. Push—keep on pushing yourself.
  5. Ideas—come up with some good ones.
  6. Improve—keep improving yourself and what you do.
  7. Serve—serve others something of value.
  8. Persist—keep on going, because there is no overnight success.

What I find encouraging is the simplicity of this list.

What I find most challenging is number three: focus on one thing, not everything. That’s the one thing that I struggle with most. In the words of Queen, I want it all. I want to develop websites, write books, write music, play guitar, cycle, play mahjong, play chess, read. And that’s all after spending quality time with my family, praying, and going to work.

Perhaps this could be my challenge for the rest of this year: focus on one thing, not everything. Richard St John has a downloadable sheet where you can rate yourself on the 8 traits: Rate your 8 traits (PDF, 173 KB).

Once I get my eyesight back, of course, At the moment focusing isn’t exactly my strong point! In the meantime, I’m going to continue to spend quality time with my three amazing boys, who are definitely my biggest successes to date.