If you bill by the hour, you need a time tracking app. This is how I use TimeCamp.

As a consultant and web designer, and someone who for some reason wants to see how much time I spend maintaining Inbox Zero (it’s depressing), time tracking is especially important.

You could use the timer on your phone or pen and paper, but that’s kind of a pain. The market has exploded in recent years, and there are lots of options for apps that promise to solve your time-tracking woes.

I’ve tried many of these apps for kicks, but only half-heartedly. I’ve happily been using TimeCamp since 2016. It’s been long enough I can’t remember what I used before.

One of my requirements for most all of the software I use is that it has a Mac app. I absolutely despise software that runs in-browser. Most time tracking apps should have a Mac app, but there’s one very specific feature in TimeCamp that’s the reason I’ve been so loyal, and that’s the way it runs in the menu bar. Here’s what it looks like:

As you can see, it shows my current task, which is writing this post (the M stands for Manual–more on that in a minute). To switch to a different task, all I have to do is click the task name, and this window pops up:

I can double-click the task if it’s under Recently Used, scroll down to select, or type it in the search bar.

The way this is set up means I can switch between tasks with 3 clicks. I want my time tracking to be frictionless. I’ve used Toggl in the past, and while it’s great for iPhone-only personal tracking, there is WAY too much friction around adding a new task on a Mac. I don’t have time for that.

If I’m starting a new task or project, I can click “Create Task, and this is the window that pops up:

All I have to do is type the name, parent task (if I want this to go under another project), check the box to start working on it immediately, then click Add Task. So 3 clicks + typing a few words, and I’m working.

Auto Time Tracking

That keywords section in the middle is for TimeCamp’s automatic tracking feature. Auto mode uses your Mac’s disability access features to watch for the keywords in that second field. It uses those to categorize your current task while you focus on work. So if you want to do an automatic “Billing” task, you could use keywords like “Quickbooks, Overview, All Sales, Invoices, ” etc. When TimeCamp sees you doing a task where those keywords are present, it will start tracking “Billing.”

I only use the Manual settings. Yes, I am a nerd about security settings, but that’s not why. By virtue of what I do, it’s too hard to use keywords to track different projects. I’m in WordPress dashboards all the time, so I’d have to really drill down into every possible unique keyword for a specific client’s website. Design software is used for everything, all the time, and there aren’t necessarily keywords available to differentiate between clients/projects. Because I use time tracking reports to bill clients, I’m not going to take any chances with automatic tracking, so I manually switch between everything. This is why quick task switching is so important for me.

End of Day Review

I can view how I spent my time at the end of the day in the TimeCamp dashboard:

This is where I can manually add or remove time on tasks if I know I forgot to switch on something. I can also view unassigned activities, and assign them to the correct project after the fact:


The best thing about time tracking apps, of course, are the reports. You can view any task by any increment you like. This is what I reference to bill clients at the completion of a project. One-off tasks will be archived, but if it’s an ongoing project like a monthly newsletter I’ll keep it as a consistent project so I can see how it changes over time.

There are a million ways to view reports and statistics, but I practically never use these. TimeCamp also integrates with many popular productivity apps. I haven’t found them necessary with my current workflow.

The main feature I would like TimeCamp to add is a built-in Pomodoro timer, but beyond that, the menu bar click-to-switch system is better than anything else I’ve seen, so I’ll be sticking with it.

Did you know?

I have another business solely focused on tech coaching and process consulting for Mac users who’d like to better wrangle their technology. Check out first pixels tech if you’d like 1:1 coaching or to talk processes for your business.

best note-taking app Evernote vs. Bear software review

I’ve been using Evernote since 2011. Unfortunately, over the last several years it’s started to go downhill. Speed alone on the iOS app is atrocious. I’ve been keeping an eye out for alternatives, so in 2020 I decided to migrate to Bear and try it out. After 2 weeks of use (I use note-taking apps daily) I wrote a comparison review where I contrasted Bear’s features and how they compare to Evernote.

There are two apps I cannot live without. 1Password, and Evernote.

I’ve been an avid Evernote user since 2011. By avid I mean daily, which is why I can’t live without it. Every random idea for an art project is immediately saved. Every epiphany is recorded. Every quote that strikes a chord. Every haiku. Everything.

Evernote has been around since 2004. An eternity for apps, and it doesn’t feel like much has changed. In many ways, that’s a good thing. However, a few years back they tried to nudge people off the free model by limiting uploads to 60 MB per month and devices to two (iPhone + MacBook for me, which is fine). Because I love it, I’d be happy to pay, except that it’s $7.99/month, which feels way too high.

Bear comes highly recommended, and I’d had my eye on it for a while. 2 weeks ago I decided to take the plunge.

I get overly excited about new tech tools (I mentioned Bear in this post), and I was thrilled with it initially. Mostly the design. Migration from Evernote was quick and easy. I only imported personal notebooks, since I planned to keep using Evernote for work. At the time I liked the idea of separating work/personal notes. Now I think that might be unnecessarily complicating things.

2 weeks in, how is Bear stacking up?

Not so great, as it turns out. Less because I dislike Bear, more because I’ve learned what I need from a note-taking app.

Instead of doing a classic pro/con comparison, I’m going to talk about each of Bear’s features and how they compare to Evernote. I’ll outline about my initial impressions, and how they changed after 2 weeks.

App Design (Mac and iOS)

Bear Initial Impression: LOVE – especially icons, customizable fonts, themes, etc.

Have I mentioned I’m a designer? I don’t care how good your app is; if your app design sucks I won’t use it. Custom icons for categories were beyond exciting. Which makes sense, because I’m the kind of person that will stop testing actual functionality in order to assign the perfect icon for every tag.

  • There are custom themes and typeface options for Mac and iOS.
  • The overall design is sleek and fits right into the rest of my Mac apps.
  • While importing notes on the desktop app, dragging/dropping felt very natural and intuitive.

After 2 Weeks: Evernote needs icons

Still love Bear’s design. Everything feels better and more modern. However, I discovered that I do not like the entry screen on Bear’s iOS app. It opens directly to the list of notes, and the new note icon is in the bottom right. Evernote’s in bottom center and has many more options, including shortcuts.

Design Winner (Mac App): Bear

Bear wins for sleekness and customization. Evernote is functional; the unassuming businessman stock photo next to the trendy freelance photographer’s aesthetic. But looks can be deceiving; I missed Evernote’s additional features.

Design Winner (iOS App): Evernote

Turns out I like their utilitarian layout a lot better. Bear is just too simple on iOS. Bear does have customization options Evernote lacks, like themes that change the app icon color and fonts. Cool, but functionality is more important.

Tag Categorization vs. Notebooks

Bear uses tags like Evernote uses notebooks.

It’s like a regular hashtag. Type # + category anywhere in the note and it’s filed. You can nest tags, meaning if I want to file this years art project under “The 100 Day Project” I’d do it like this:

Bear Initial Impression: I can file the same note in two places? Sweet! Wait…

In Evernote there’s no way to have a note in two notebooks, and I’d like to do that on occasion. Hashtags feel intuitive, although this feature made me uneasy. There are no notebooks in Bear, so tag-only categorization felt a little weird and loose. That’s all the categorization there is.

I didn’t like how I had to nest tags in order to get subcategories, but I figured I would get used to it.

After 2 Weeks: I miss Evernote

I like this less and less as I use it. It’s easy to use, but it feels messy. Also, it turns out I need to use hashtags in the body of my notes without them actually being tags for the note.

Example: I’m currently doing the 100 Day Project, which I post on Instagram. I create a note with the painting details that becomes the comment/description for each Instagram post. That comment needs to contain a bunch of hashtags, but pasting that list into Bear means I suddenly have a pile of new categories cluttering up my sidebar that I don’t actually need. I can’t do clutter.

I really missed notebooks. In Evernote I have 3 main categories: Creative, Personal, and Work. I categorize every other notebook under these three notebooks. I collapse them to keep things clean. There’s no way to do something similar in Bear without having 30 character hashtags. Not cool.

Winner: Evernote

I need notebooks. (Evernote still has tags. They have their own area where I don’t have to see them unless I need them). Of all the things making me return to Evernote, I think this one was the dealbreaker.

Actual Use/Formatting

Initial Impression: Finally! Easy adjustments and I guess markdown is good?

Markdown(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markdown) is a way of typing where you manually style words by enclosing in asterisks, slashes, etc. For example: this is bold. Most editors are rich text, where you can use a button or dropdown to change text to bold, but the actual designation for that style change is hidden in the backend.

I’ve never really had a need for Markdown, although I’ve used it in the past. I thought it would be nice to just type a shortcut to designate what should be a heading, italic, etc.

After 2 Weeks: What I really wanted was shortcuts

Turns out seeing the markdown notations in my otherwise clean document really bugs me. Which is kind of the whole point, but as mentioned above, I can’t do clutter.

Evernote has shortcuts to change your text styles. ⌘b will make text bold, for example. I feel like an idiot for only discovering this now, especially because I consider myself a shortcut ninja. Ah well, now I know.

Formatting Winner: Evernote

I guess I don’t need markdown, and evidently I need to learn more shortcuts for Evernote. I just don’t have a use case for this. It doesn’t mean there is one… just not for me at this time.

Quick Access/Favorites

In Evernote you favorite a note, and it shows up in Shortcuts. I love this feature and I use it daily. In Bear you just pin the frequently accessed notes to the top of the massive chronological note list. Not a fan.

Winner: Evernote

I need multiple favorite notes in a separate list, quickly accessed on iOS. Evernote does this beautifully.


Because Evernote has been around for forever, it’s built into everything. It’s in IFTTT, there are browser extensions, etc. Bear has some of the basic OS, iOS and Shortcuts down really well, but as a smaller company they aren’t going to be baked in to so many other mainstream services like Evernote is.

Bear makes it easier to link notes to each other within the app. They don’t have a web app, so if you want to email a note to someone, it’s going to copy the body of the note in an email. In Evernote, you can share a link that opens in browser and will update if you update the note. Evernote also has chat, which kind of goes along with the sharing thing. I don’t really use these feature, but it’s there.

You can also email to a notebook in Evernote (although not on the free plan). I didn’t see that feature in Bear.

Winner: Evernote

Ubiquitous is good when it comes to this kind of thing.


I didn’t even think about this until after I migrated everything. I was looking for the insert table button, and… wait, there isn’t one? Bear doesn’t have tables?!

I don’t use this feature a lot but I still want the option. Mostly because I already had notes using tables, and importing them into Bear destroyed the formatting

Winner: Evernote


Evernote and Bear both offer passcode or fingerprint protection for the app. Bear also has the ability to password protect individual notes. I don’t have a need for that, but it’s there.

One huge downside to Bear is the fact that you subscribe through iCloud. I do NOT like purchasing this kind of app like that. I use separate email logins for every service I use.

That Bear subscription is now tied to our main iCloud account, which is personal/family. I don’t want that, and here’s why:

I keep forgetting to turn off that stupid feature where apps auto-download on the iPad after download on a different device. Meaning that Bear automatically downloaded itself onto the family iPad, which I just noticed yesterday. When I opened it, it immediately began syncing all my notes. This means that I just gave my 5 year old access to my entire life of notes he could have been in there swiping and deleting unbeknownst to me. In Evernote, you have to download the app, then sign in. AS IT SHOULD BE.

If I were to start paying for Evernote, it would be through my login, through Evernote itself. I could put it under my company credit card, completely separate and having nothing to do with iCloud. That is what I want.

I feel like longevity kind also goes in this category. Evernote has been around for 16 years at this point, so I feel a little more confident about them existing 16 years in the future.

Winner: Evernote.

iCloud purchase is my second dealbreaker. I almost didn’t sign up for the trial when I got to that point and realized it was my only option. That auto-download confirmed it’s a bad idea.


Again, I’m on the free plan for Evernote, because it’s all I’ve never needed (just text notes, 2 devices).

Winner: Bear

No contest here.

Bear – $15/year.

Evernote – $95.88/year (Basic plan).

Note Details

Bear has this beautiful little info bar in the top that shows word count, read time, and export to many different formats. This is one of the things I was most excited about. When writing this article I found that information in Evernote, but it doesn’t have read time, and of course, it’s not as pretty.

But, it led to the biggest epiphany of this whole app testing débâcle.

It turns out my needs are less for a note-taking app, and more for a writing app. I do all my writing in Evernote, which works fine. But this trial with Bear has shown me that if I were to switch to something other than Evernote, I would actually require more functionality, not less. Which means I should have been running a trial of Ulysses, which is a feature-rich writing app.

In summary:

Bear is a sleek, simple, note-taking app. If you want hashtag-based functionality for basic notes, you’re only using it on Mac and iOS, and you like using iCloud for purchases, it’s fantastic. It’s also very enjoyable for writing because it’s so clean and uses markdown.

Evernote is a robust, dependable note-taking app with a lot of additional features (easy sharing, chat, reminders, better categorization). It has everything Bear does and a whole lot more (except the sleek design).

The Final Verdict: Bear or Evernote?

My recommendation for using any note-taking app hasn’t changed. If you keep your phone around, you should use one, and use it consistently. Apple Notes have gotten a lot better and syncs to iCloud, so that’s not a bad (free) option, although they don’t make export easy.

If you want an app that’s simple and sleek, you can’t go wrong with Bear. If you’d like the additional functionality of an app that’s been around for years, it’s Evernote, and I’m glad to be back. I imported the new notes from Bear and went right back to normal, albeit with a few new tricks. I also started running a trial of Ulysses, only for writing. It’s lovely, although I’m not sure I need a dedicated writing app. If I decide against it, I know Evernote can handle that too.

Captain’s Log, April 1, 2020: Working from home with no end in sight.

I’ve been working from home for 10+ years. Or more frequently, out of local coffee shops. I’m missing both the cafe vibe and the ability to support the small businesses who need it most (other than the occasional drive thru or online order for pick up). The biggest challenge, however, is having a small, needy child at home the entire day. It’s really put a damper on the whole consistent work schedule thing (it died an immediate death).

I’ve seen a lot of articles about working from home. Most of them I haven’t read. The couple I skimmed were mostly fluff (one exception). So I’m just going to type a quick list, as things come to mind, after having done the work from home thing for years.

0. Get up at the same time every day.

After publishing this I realized something: I was assuming the reader would continue to get up at the same time every day. It was pointed out that this isn’t obvious to everyone, so I’m adding this caveat. Get up at the same time (or close to it) every day. Pretend you’re going to work. You are. It’s just in your house now.

If you had to be up at 7 every day previously, maybe it’s more reasonable to push it to 8 (no commute), but try to stick to a specific time. Factor in when the kids get up. But don’t sleep in until 11 and then drag yourself into the “office.” This list will not work for that. OK now, moving on…

1. Pajamas are for sleeping, not for working.

Isn’t it a cliché that people who work from home do so in their PJ’s? I feel like it is, but it’s dumb. Don’t do it.

The thing about clothes is that they affect your mental state. Imagine giving a presentation. You’ll put extra thought into what you wear, and when you know you look good, it affects how you present, doesn’t it? Most of us know this. What kind of work do you feel like you’re producing if you’re wearing pajama pants?

Don’t go overboard; there’s a middle ground between PJ’s and slacks. My modus operandi when home: leggings and light hoodies (i.e. comfy/no need to protect from cat claw snags). The important thing to note is that they’re different clothes than what I wear to bed. In a parallel universe, I suppose one could wear an evening gown to bed and flannel to work from home. It’s not the clothes themselves that matter so much; it’s the intention and mindset you’re stepping into.

1a. Make the bed.

You don’t have to, but it takes 2 minutes and it starts the day on the right foot.

2. Create a morning beverage ritual.

My love for coffee is well known. Perhaps less so is the fact that I’ve been mostly abstaining from caffeine the last several years. My dream is a cup of black not-decaf, but alas, my body is better off without it. I really miss the ritual of Aeropress coffee, which is my preferred method, but if you don’t like coffee, don’t feel like you have to miss out. I alternate between:

  • BioCoffee, which is this weird instant coffee mixed with wheatgrass that I don’t consider coffee at all
  • Decaf black tea
  • London Fog (black tea + lavender syrup + steamed milk)
  • Matcha latte (powdered green tea + steamed milk)
  • Chai latte (black tea + chai spices + brown sugar + steamed milk)
  • Decaf latte (decaf espresso + steamed milk)
  • Hot chocolate or drinking chocolate

Find something you enjoy and be consistent. Again, it’s the ritual that matters. The day really starts when you smell that coffee/tea/whatever and it signals the work is about to begin. Yes, I love coffee, but it’s less about the contents of the mug and more about the fact that I have a mug with something hot to drink. I could probably achieve the same psychological result with a mug of hot water, but who wants to drink that?

3. Create a dedicated work space.

This seems like it should be obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway. If you have an office, use it. I have a studio that doubles as my office on one side and and my art studio on the other. I mostly work at my desk. I often move to my beanbag for personal writing, so that’s where I am now. This afternoon it was beautiful so I worked on the porch for a bit. There are a couple spaces I’ll move to for a change, but 90% of the time I’m at my desk.

Come up with something to delineate your work space from the rest of the house. The key in this point is about setting boundaries: this is the place I work. It’s what you’re telling your brain, and your kids. If you have an office with a door, fantastic. Unfortunately, my studio is an attic room and does not have a door, so the kid can burst in at any time making laser sounds with LEGOS. Which leads me to…

4. Block off set periods for working and not working.

Full disclosure: I suck at this one. Like most entrepreneurs, I would be working nonstop if left alone (I’m not saying this is a good thing – just telling it like it is). My normal schedule (work while kid is at school) has turned into work when kid is not bothering me. Meaning the second he’s wrapped up in his LEGO scene I’m sneaking to my studio to knock out a few things. He inevitably realizes I’m gone, and Boba Fett decides to take his battle to the Studio system.

Because of this, it’s important that you are clear up front about WHEN you will be working. I clearly state I’m going upstairs to work, during his “morning playtime.” Depending on the day (and your kid), you might want to set a timer for an hour or something (don’t come into my office until the timer goes off). Apple finally made the obvious design decision to have a visual timer countdown on the Clock app, so if you have an iPad you can set that up where they can actually see how much time is left.

Another helpful thing here is to ask what special toy they’d like you to get out for that morning’s playtime. In our case, that’s either kinetic sand, a bucket of dry beans, playdough, car track, or potentially worksheets, coloring, or an easy puzzle. Just make sure it’s an activity that doesn’t require assistance. (Pro tip: hide some toys and only let your kids have them on occasion. You’ll always have something “new” and exciting to distract them). Obviously the iPad itself can be an activity, which is what we do for the afternoon work session (no game screen time until after 3 pm).

Not working: make sure you’re also scheduling time for other things. Not just chores either. See #10.

5. Figure out if you like ambient noise or silence.

Having worked out of coffee shops for years, I prefer ambient cafe sounds for working. I have a friend who used to rent a conference room just to work in complete silence. If you’re not used to working from home, finding your preferences might require a little trial and error. There are many curated playlists to choose from if you prefer music, but again, it’s the ritual that matters. Give yourself permission to experiment.

6. Take frequent breaks.

This one is tough. I prefer to sit down and work for a solid several hours. That’s not entirely healthy, and your productivity goes down after a certain point anyway. But the big reason for this one is that you will be interrupted. You can’t have the same expectations around work as you did when things were, well, normal. It’s best to just step into a different frame of mind, and be intentional about stepping away to refill the tea, make the sure the house is still in one piece, let the dog out, whatever. The weather has been gorgeous lately, so use every excuse to step outside for a bit. I need to be better about taking breaks anyway, so I’m trying to use the distractions that could be are frustrating as a way to develop healthier work habits.

Also, it makes you appreciate the occasional late night work session with no interruptions (but don’t do it too often).

7. Don’t work out of your email.

If your project management “software” is a notepad and a pen, it’s still better than using your email to manage projects. On a normal day, it’s a guaranteed way to prioritize the urgent over the important. On a day in the life of someone who doesn’t normally work from home, who can’t leave because they’re sheltering-in-place, with their kids… Yeah, not a good idea.

There are a million project management systems to choose from, but you need to first decide if the system is going to be more work than the work itself. Now might not be the time to try to learn new software (or maybe it is–your call). There’s nothing wrong with a notepad, which is how I effortlessly managed projects as an employee. As an entrepreneur? Eh I wish… I wear too many hats now, so I need something more robust.

“Your inbox is a to-do list to which anyone in the world can add an action item.” – Chris Sacca

Take the requests out of the inbox, then work off your list. It doesn’t matter what kind of list you use. If wrangling your inbox is a daily struggle, read my post on getting to Inbox Zero.

8. Use technology to your advantage.

If there ever were a time in history to be quarantined, it’s now. You can stream Netflix, Disney+, download games, order anything you want online, livesteam on social media, Facetime your family and friends. Most people know how to use these services (or they’re learning). Do the same for your business.

Here’s what you need to do. Map out your desired workflow. Figure out what areas you could streamline using software. Google that kind of software, and narrow it down to a few possible options. Ask your network for recommendations or sign up for free trials. Think about how you can automate things. Feel free to contact me if you need help or suggestions with this process.

  • I use Vectera for video chats, which doesn’t require software downloads. If you’re a Google Workspace (G Suite) user you have Google Meet.
  • Time tracking software is a must. I use Timecamp (love the menu bar timer), and I also recommend Toggl (free tier allows teams up to 5, better UI).
  • For project management we used monday, which is amazingly easy to use immediately, because it’s set up like a spreadsheet. It’s built for teams, so if you’re a single user it might not be a good fit. ClickUp is actually what we use now, as it’s similar but more affordable.
  • My CRM is Daylite, but unless things are slow for you, now might not be the time to get into CRM’s unless you’re also using it for project management.
  • I cannot speak highly enough about 1Password. This is 2020: you should be using a password manager. And no, Google Sheets is not OK. If passwords are a daily struggle, if you have time now, sign up for an account and input all your logins. You’ll wonder how you lived without it.
  • Specifically for teams; if you’re needing to work things out creatively and miss the whiteboard, look into a tool like Miro or Milanote. Project management systems are great for staying on top of things, but for mapping out strategies it helps to have a tool that’s more fluid.

9. Plan the next day the night before.

At the end of the last block of your work day, prioritize your tasks for tomorrow. Clean off your desk. Prep so that when you complete your morning ritual on the following day everything is ready for you.

If you check your email first thing in the morning, chances are what you work on will be what came in. So work off the list you made the night before. Do the important work first, when your mind is fresh and the coffee’s hot.

10. Make time for downtime.

This is a weird time we’re living in. If you run a business, you’re probably used to actual running to get things done. When you can’t do that, it might be tempting to be in your email all the time, or do low-value work that feels like being productive. Don’t do that.

COVID sucks. I know a lot of people are scared, but dwelling on the unknowns… it’s not helpful. For the first time in recent history, the entire world is united against a common enemy. At the same time, some of us are recognizing how unhealthy our workaholic tendencies have become. There are many articles that talk about how productivity is higher when working less hours, or how we should have 4 day work weeks, or allow more flexible schedules for employees. Social distancing, sheltering-in-place… this is finally forcing movement on a lot of these issues. It’s become a giant experiment instead of just talk.

If you’re a small business owner, you might feel helpless. But you might also feel like it’s a good time to reconnect with your family, spend time with your kids. Maybe pick up that hobby you’ve been neglecting. Actually read a book for fun. Take advantage of the downtime instead of just constantly working. If you’re someone who isn’t sure what to do with that downtime, I wrote An Introvert’s Guide to Quarantine Bliss for my personal art website. It’s all the things I will be/am doing when I get through the website and email updates/announcements and other client work.

People generally don’t start businesses because they want to work less (if they do, they’re in for a shock). Most of us work too much, because it’s hard work. I’m not advocating you fall asleep at the wheel, or don’t do everything in your power to set your business up to survive whatever is happening to the economy. But I know you’re already doing all that. Don’t forget to take a breath and take some time for yourself.

Bonus: create a daily schedule for the entire family.

This seems to be the best piece of advice I’ve seen. I’ve enjoyed seeing other families work from home schedules, but I don’t have anything so well organized at the moment. See HBR’s Guide for Working (From Home) Parents.

I hope you found this list helpful. If you have questions or there’s something you’d like to hear more about, please comment below or send me an email. I’m planning a future post about how to use this time to work on your business (hint: it’s storybranding).

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

After months (!!!) of not seeing the bottom of my inbox, I finally achieved Inbox Zero, and it feels amazing.

Lest you think I had a backlog of several thousand emails, I should clarify. If I’m managing projects well, 10-15 emails is normal. Most of this year it’s hovered around 60-75. That still low number is a good thing: it means my email habits have been keeping things under control.

You could spend hours reading about tips and tricks to manage your email, but after analyzing my own habits I discovered I only use two main rules. I added a third after seeing a bad habit that had crept in.

If you’re ready to take control of your inbox, here’s how to get started.

1) Batch process your email at set times.

Tim Ferris advocates checking email twice a day, at 11 AM and 4 PM (and setting an auto-response). The idea is to intentionally process your email all at once, rather than multi-tasking. This is one of the biggest recommendations you’ll find in email management advice.

Although I’ve done this in the past, it’s not something I usually practice. I’m often waiting on changes or approval for print projects via email. I usually quit Apple Mail while working and reopen only to send proofs, then move on to the next project. If you need to check more than twice a day, great. Try 3-4 times and see what works for you. The key is making a choice to check your email and actually deal with it at that time. Don’t default to the inbox when you lose focus. That leads us to the most important rule…

2) Don’t open an email unless you plan to do something about it.

  • If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now, then delete it.
  • If it contains info for a project:
    • save the attachments to your project folder
    • turn the text into action items on your to-do list
    • delete it
  • If you must keep emails, put them in folders filed by project/client (whatever works for you). Just get them out of the inbox.

TLDR: Don’t leave stuff in your inbox. I only leave emails in my inbox that need replies. If I can’t answer a question immediately, I’ll leave it in the Inbox until I have an answer, reply and delete (you could also move it to a “Reply To” folder).

Your email is not an archiving system. Please do not use it this way. It becomes large, unwieldy, and complicates web server migration. How many emails have you accidentally deleted? How many notes have you lost to long threads or unhelpfully named subject lines? Your email is an information receiving system… not an information collecting system. Important documents should always be securely stored elsewhere.

3) Get information out of your email and into your project management system.

Until recently, I used Apple Mail as a pre-task management system. I would flag emails in different colors for different tasks required (yellow = reply, green = design edits, purple = invoice, etc.). The problem is, I also have (and use) a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. This meant I had to split my attention between tasks in two different places. Most of the questions and estimate requests were in my email, while next steps for projects were in my CRM (I use Daylite). This was not a good arrangement.

“Your inbox is a to-do list to which anyone in the world can add an action item.”

– Chris Sacca

If you use a CRM, that should be home base for managing projects. If I miss a detail or forget a task, it’s usually because I’ve forgotten to create a new project or task in Daylite. The more I work out of my email, the more likely this is to happen.

I started turning edits into tasks in Daylite, instead of leaving them in my email. I already saved photos or copy into the project folder, but I’ve stopped leaving the email in my inbox. It’s not like I’m going to forget to send a draft once I’ve finished a design.

This month I cleared out my email in one fell swoop to get to Inbox Zero. Now that I’m aware of my email-as-to-do-list bad habit, I’ve been maintaining an inbox that might have 2-5 messages in it. It’s great.

A Note About Best Practices:

  • Use an email client (I love Apple Mail).
    I dislike in-browser applications. Browsers are for (wait for it…) browsing. Using a browser for email is asking for distraction. Please note that using Gmail does not mean you actually have to use the Gmail interface. It’s not bad since you can apply rules/filters and use shortcuts, but I’d still set up Gmail in an email client.
  • Try not to check email on your phone.
    Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I haven’t used email notifications on my iPhone for years. Turn off sounds and badges (Settings > Notifications > Mail) so you’re not constantly distracted.
  • Use email rules/filters whenever possible.
    Send promotional emails to a promotional folder – that kind of thing – to get them out of your inbox. Sometimes 20 emails will download, but only 3 will be legitimate requests. There’s no reason monthly reports, newsletters and spam all need to show up in your inbox. You can review that stuff after the real work is done.

Don’t check your email–process it. Go in with that mindset and these guidelines, and you’ll be on your way to a consistently cleaner inbox in no time.

Any tips I missed or workflow hacks you’ve discovered? Let me know in the comments below.

I’m a productivity nerd and I love seeing how other people work and picking up new tricks, so here are the apps I use most and how. If you read enough of these types of posts you’ll see the same apps repeated over and over, so you know what’s worth downloading or purchasing. Notes to keep in mind:

  • These are all Mac/iPhone options, although there are Android counterparts for most all of them.
  • My criteria is “can’t live without”… so this isn’t a long list. I’m also writing primarily to the clients of cyclone press; if you’re a total productivity nerd, you probably already use all these, but you’re not who I’m writing to. We work with startups, entrepreneurs, small business owners, artists… some of you guys dig this stuff, but most of you just want to know how to make your lives easier by harnessing the power of glorious technology. You’ve got to start somewhere, and that’s what we’re here for.
  • I’m going to give a couple examples of how I use these so you’ll know if they might be useful for you as well.

(1) Evernote

This is a classic, and an appropriate one to begin with since I’m using it right now; I do all my writing in a full screen Evernote window, as well as save my final posts here for my own safekeeping. Evernote has been around since the beginning of productivity apps being a thing, which is probably about how long I’ve been using it.

The beauty of Evernote (other than the fact that it’s always at your fingertips) is that you can create “notebooks”, so categorize to your hearts content. It’s not just text, either; you can also snap a quick photo of that thing that reminded you of the other thing that makes you want to go do some other thing. You can save a voice note, sketch directly in the app, save articles from the web. You can also tag notes for additional categorization, and it will save the location where you wrote them down.

I literally could not survive without Evernote – I would never remember anything. That’s not to say there aren’t other note-taking options, and now that Apple has tied their default Note app into iCloud that’s a perfectly feasible option. I still use the free account on Evernote – text notes don’t take up much space, although they limit how many devices you can sync on now (only two, which is all I use it on). I even tried an alternative, Bear, and ended up switching back to Evernote. Read about that comparison here.

How I Use This App:

Within my account I have a bajillion notebooks divided into Personal and Work categories. 90% of my usage is personal; as an artist, every little flash of inspiration becomes a new note within my “Art” notebook. Every business idea gets saved into the “Business” notebook. Every ridiculous quote my husband drops gets saved into the “AJ Quotes” notebook. You get the idea.

I have a “Books” notebook; as I’m reading if a quote stands out or a thought congeals surprisingly well I’ll save that into a note for that specific book. If I’m having a conversation later and happen to remember a good quote from a certain book, I can pull up that note on my phone on the spot.

(2) 1Password

Password security is a big deal, people. I know it’s endlessly discussed, but it’s never enough – I see average passwords all the time and they are terrible. I have a whole separate blog post on this, but let me give you a quick reminder of why it matters. No one is guessing your password, ok? Unless you have an ill-meaning cousin-in-law snooping around your bank account testing pet names and house numbers, this is generally not what we’re worried about (but please don’t use pet names or house numbers). Computers crack passwords; it’s a brute force thing. How long do you think a random dictionary-cross-checking computer is going to take to decode that short easy password? The longer, the better. Your response: but I have to remember it! No, you don’t.

1Password creates and saves all your passwords for you. It connects to all your browsers – there’s a standalone app you can use to mass add Software Licenses and other such things, but it’s mostly used as an extension in your browser (it works with them all). Let’s say you pull up your bank account. Click the 1Password icon, select the proper login, and it fills the fields for you – hit Enter and you’re in. No need to remember that insanely long string of numbers.

I believe you can use Apple’s Keychain in a similar, limited way, but this is not something I have experience using. There are also other competitors I won’t mention, but it is my personal opinion 1Password is absolutely the best and I’m more than happy to pay for their product. They also have family and team plans which would be super handy. Highly, highly recommended for anyone who spends a significant amount of time on the internet.

How I Use This App:

This app is not optional for me; while I’ve always used secure (memorized) passwords, I work with hundreds of client accounts per month and there’s no way I’m going to keep all that data in a spreadsheet. If you’re one of our web design clients, rest assured that your login information involves a ridiculous password that’s different for every login required (also very important) and is stored in 1Password, not in a text file somewhere. I’m insane about security. I also store all my software license codes here.

(3) Pocket

This app was a lifesaver. During the course of a workday, whenever I found a new article I wanted to read, I’d open it in a new Tab to read later. This meant I clogged up Firefox with too many tabs to articles I never got around to reading and finally closed. No longer.

Pocket adds a lovely little extension to Firefox (who purchased them – yay on that decision guys). Now if I open an article I want to read later, I’ll hit the Pocket icon and it saves to my Pocket account. Later if I’m winding down in the evening or standing in line at the DMV I’ll pull up the Pocket app on my iPhone, and there’s a massive list of all 6,385 of those articles I’ve saved. On a nice dark background with no ads! (Yes, I do read on my phone… suffice it to say that I’ve been in the top 1% readers of Pocket in the last couple years).

If you have an iPad it would be even better, and there’s an app for your Mac too, although I spend enough time on the laptop I don’t want to be reading on it too. I’ll also add that they tailor articles to your interests over time – the recommended email they send every week is great. You can also follow people in the Pocket app to see what they’re recommending if you’re into that kind of thing.

(4) Google Voice

If you’re a small business owner, a freelancer or an artist who already uses Google, you really should be taking advantage of Google Voice. This is how I keep my business and personal phone numbers separate, while receiving both on my iPhone. It’s free to set up a number you can then forward to your regular mobile phone, and if you log in online you’ll also have the equivalent of a Gmail inbox for voicemails. I’ve helped several clients get this set up, but it’s super easy.

How I Use This App

I use the Google Voice app to make outgoing calls (shows as coming from your work number). I use Google Hangouts (also an iPhone app and connected to Google Chrome on my laptop) for texting clients, which has a better interface and can send/receive photos (the Voice app can’t receive photos via text message).

(5) Headspace

I’m a bit of an evangelist for meditation, especially if you tend toward the ADD scatterbrained high-energy side of things. While it can be a spiritual practice if you bring that approach to it, it’s about as religious as yoga. It’s simply a way of training your mind; seeing your thoughts for what they are, and having greater mindfulness as you go about your day. In beginning new habits, it’s incredibly important to track your progress, and Headspace excels at this. It will show your current streak (how many days in a row you’ve meditated), as well as give you badges for 15 days, 30 days, etc., and subscriptions to give away for as long as the streak you just completed. Sign up for an account to get a free 10 day trial and you’ll figure out pretty quick if you want to keep going. Yes, the paid subscription is worth the money, but you have to actually use it.

How I Use This App

I was never able to stick with a consistent, daily meditation practice until I started using Headspace. I exclusively use the iPhone app, which is absolutely beautiful and incredibly well designed. Although I actually want to hear surrounding noise, I have used the app with earbuds on a plane and in other distracting locations. While I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t need my phone to meditate if I’m doing an unguided session, I always use the app simply to track my progress.

(6) AnyList

I love this app, and my favorite feature is that you can sync with Reminders in order for it to work with Siri. The recipe import feature and meal planning is something I’ve just started playing with recently and I’m seeing a lot of potential.

How I Use This App

If I suddenly realize we’re nearly out of butter, I’ll whip out the phone and say “Add butter to Sprouts list” and Siri will add it to that specific grocery list.When my husband gets off work and goes to the store, he pulls up the list on his phone and sees that we need butter. Currently, we use separate lists for different grocery and home improvement stores, etc., but the Premium version allows sorting by each store.

(7) iCal

I know this is just the default Apple app and not real exciting, but I run into people all the time (usually couples with unwieldy work schedules) who have issues with scheduling. It can be so easily remedied; create separate calendars for each person/activity, and the second you get next month’s work schedule or something gets planned, put it on that calendar.

iCloud syncs everything between phones so you always have the latest updates. You can also share and subscribe to calendars.

How I Use This App:

My husband puts his work schedule on there as soon as he has it, so when I’m making plans to go visit a friend who has a ton of adorable baby goats (actually happening) I can pull up the calendar to see what days he’s off work this month. Later, when a friend texts him to ask about getting coffee, he can pull up the calendar and see we’re already going to see adorable baby goats that day (coffee later, dude). How people survive life without this, I do not know.

(8) Everlance/Quickbooks Mileage Tracker

I previously wrote about an app by a local developer which is no longer supported. I’m currently testing Everlance as a replacement, so I’ll report back on how it works out. So far it does basically the same thing but in a less pretty/less intuitive fashion. I find a mileage tracking app is a necessity. The Quickbooks Online app has now started tracking mileage. I’m comparing the two to see how accurate QBO is, but I’ll probably cancel Everlance since I’m already paying for Quickbooks.

How I Use This App:

I review and categorize trips at the end of each week. That’s it. I’ll export mileage and send to my accountant at tax time.

I have a few honorable mentions. These are apps I use often, almost daily, but don’t add quite as much value to my life as the ones above.

Honorable Mentions:


As a designer, I need to run timers while I’m working on projects. TimeCamp is how I’ve been doing that for the last year, and it’s been pretty great. I actually started using it to track personal things as well – I can view a chart at the end of the day that shows how much time was spent on each activity. There’s an iPhone app to track stuff on the go, so I use that when I want to log reading time or something in order to keep on top of overall goals. The interface is a bit much – I feel the developer could have used a strong design lead in working on this but overall it works for me. If you want to get creepy, you can assign keywords to a task and it will automatically track you. I work on too many similar projects for that to be an option, but it might work well for some people.

Parcel App

This is a basic little app that saves your tracking numbers for shipments. I have a widget in my Notifications pane and the iPhone app, so I can check shipment days remaining and get notifications. I use this to confirm delivery for client business cards and such, but sometimes I’ll throw personal shipments in there too.


This is how I keep track of the many, many books I want to read, and the 7 or so I’m in the middle of currently. I’ve recently started trying to leave reviews, but mostly I just use this app for the bookshelf saving options (Want to Read, Currently Reading, Read). Note: I’m currently testing a new, non-Amazon owned player: Storygraph.


Yes, I own the paid version, and I use it almost daily.

Paprika Recipe Manager

I’m a foodie and an advanced cook because of it (also baking – these things are different) and I keep track of all my recipes in Paprika. It automatically imports recipes with the click of a button. After I’ve made a recipe worth keeping, I’ll save it with my changes/notes, so I’m not dependent on a random food blogger’s website or the buggy Epicurious app. I’m often asked for recipes, so it’s nice to hit a button to email recipes from the app. I would point out that while not as robust, AnyList has a recipe feature than has imported from websites beautifully when I’ve used it.

That’s it. I try to update this periodically if things change. If you’re interested in learning more about harnessing the full power of tech and your Mac or iPhone, check out our companion company, first pixels tech. Assessing and helping streamline workflows with technology is something I love to do.

Do you use these or similar apps? Other suggestions or options you’ve recently discovered? Let us know in the comments.

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00