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:

Reports

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.

That post was originally published here on cyclonepress.com, but now lives on the website for my tech coaching company, first pixels. I still write tech tutorials and occasional software reviews, but those make more sense on that site, so subscribe to first pixels tech if you’re into that kind of thing. Click the button below to read the full review.

Note-Taking Apps: Evernote vs. Bear

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.

Embedding a Google map on your WordPress website is no longer a simple (or free) process. Find out why and how this affects you.

In May 2018, Google announced pricing plans for Google Maps.

Beginning June 11, you’ll need a valid API key and a Google Cloud Platform billing account to access our core products. Once you enable billing, you will gain access to your $200 of free monthly usage to use for our Maps, Routes, and Places products. As your business grows or usage spikes, our plan will scale with you.

via Google Blog

Here’s the most important note for our clients: “We estimate that most of you will have monthly usage that will keep you within this free tier. With this new pricing plan you’ll pay only for the services you use each month with no annual, up-front commitments, termination fees or usage limits.”

As cyclone press works exclusively with small businesses and soloproneurs, most of you should be fine unless you have crazy high traffic on your website. In this case, the people this affects most are developers. It’s now become a pain for us to embed a Google Map on your website (or more likely, fix the map on your website that is now broken), because we now have to create a Google Cloud billing account and have you log in and assign credit card info.

Here are the key things to note in less intimidating bullet point form:

  • Use of Google Maps now requires 2 things:
    1. A Google Cloud billing account connected to a valid credit card
    2. An API key (this was already in effect)
  • You will receive $200 of free monthly usage to use for Maps, Routes, and Places (for now)
  • Most small businesses will not have enough traffic to exceed the free monthly usage, meaning you will not be charged
  • Google Cloud has a notice saying they will notify you before billing

So how does this affect you?

If you’re a website client of cyclone press and have an embedded Google Map on your WordPress website, we’ve already emailed you with steps to add billing info to Google Cloud. You’ll need to do that to remove the “Oops! Something went wrong.” notice. Instructions below. We’ll have already created a project in Google Cloud and generated an API key.

How to add credit card info to a Google Cloud account:

  1. Log in to Google Cloud Console: https://console.cloud.google.com
  2. Billing > Manage Billings Accounts > Add Billing Account
  3. Agree to Terms, then enter business name, address, credit card information

How to create an API key for Google Maps:

If you are not a client of cyclone press and don’t have a dedicated developer who manages your website, here’s how to create the API key yourself (do this after creating a Google Cloud account above).

  1. Log in to Google Cloud Console: https://console.cloud.google.com
  2. APIs & Services > Dashboard
  3. Create new project
  4. Enable APIs and services
  5. Maps Javascript API > Enable
  6. Credentials > Create Credentials > API Key
  7. Copy > Restrict Key
  8. Rename /  HTTP referrers
  9. Copy API key
  10. Paste the API key into the API field in your WordPress theme (location/setup will vary)

Conclusion

While this won’t end up being another bill for most of our clients, we’ll still be keeping a close eye on the competition and looking at alternatives. The free $200 credit feels like a promotion, which makes me wonder if they’ll remove that as soon as businesses have gotten used to the new normal.

Additional Links:

We’d love to know what you think about this change, whether you’re a website owner revising your strategy, or a developer still looking for his lunch money. Let us know in the comments.

Website encryption changed a lot in 2018, so I’ve updated this post with the current state of website encryption and SSL certificates.

First, a quick explanation. We’re talking about the lock icon that’s displayed next to the URL in your address bar (see note at the end of this article about how this is changing).

The padlock (and the use of “https” instead of simply “http”) announces the presence of a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which encrypts the connection between your browser (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer) and the website you’re visiting.

“SSL allows sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and login credentials to be transmitted securely. Normally, data sent between browsers and web servers is sent in plain text—leaving you vulnerable to eavesdropping. If an attacker is able to intercept all data being sent between a browser and a web server they can see and use that information.” via DigiCert.

To set this up, you would purchase an SSL certificate for your website URL and install it on your server. SSL certificates contain a pair of keys (public and private) used to establish a secure connection between the viewer and the website. If you’d like a rough analogy for how this works, click here.


Do You Need SSL? Yes.

Several years ago, when I originally wrote this post, I recommended purchasing SSL for the following reasons:

  • if you collect personal information through forms
  • if you collect credit card information/sell products
  • if customers log in to your website
  • if you have restricted content
  • if you wanted a potential SEO boost

Part of the reason for this criteria was because the average certificate cost an additional +$99 per year for hosting costs. It was a good practice to have it, but for a small business with nothing more than service options and contact forms it didn’t seem necessary.

However, in February 2018, Google announced that it would begin marking all HTTP sites as “not secure” in Chrome beginning in July 2018. Since Chrome is currently the most popular Internet browser, this is a big deal. It’s not like your site suddenly became less secure, it just looks that way, particularly to someone who might not understand the nuance of browser security warnings.

We include SSL certificates free of charge with every website we build.

No longer a nice option; SSL is now a must have for every small business on the web. This is also a great example of the power an industry behemoth has – if Google even announces they’re thinking about a change, everyone stops and listens. In this case, it’s a good thing, because it’s making the web more secure.

Important Note About the SSL Icon:

Google is changing the style of the padlock icon. “Users should expect that the web is safe by default, and they’ll be warned when there’s an issue. Since we’ll soon start marking all HTTP pages as “not secure”, we’ll step towards removing Chrome’s positive security indicators so that the default unmarked state is secure.”

This means that instead of looking for a padlock, you won’t even have to think about a secure connection unless you get the red “not secure” notice (in Chrome). This is beginning October 2018.


I hope this article was informative, practical, and gives you a decent idea of how SSL certificates work and why they’re now a must for every business. Keep in mind that while this is a best practice, it doesn’t mean that every website will abide by it. Always check for SSL when submitting credit card or personal information online. Thanks for reading and feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

If we built/maintain your website, you already have SSL. If you’d like us to send you an estimate to build a new WordPress site (or redesign an existing website), schedule a discovery call.

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