How I Work…

A couple of people have sent me a list of questions entitled ‘How I work’, here is my completed list.

Number of unread emails right now?

  • Personal (Gmail) – 15 / Work (Outlook) – 2

I keep personal and work email separate, and try to batch process email.  I have no notifications on my PC or phone.  I don’t believe in endlessly pursuing Inbox Zero.

First app checked in the morning?

  • Outlook, then the Guardian newspaper.

First thing you do when you come into work?

  • Drink my coffee, wait and look out of the window peacefully for 10 minutes. I use this time to recover from my commute and settle myself for the day.

What is your email management strategy?

  • I ditched ‘filing’ email a long time ago. Automatic folders for common emails, a single archive for everything else.

Most essential app when traveling?

  • Daily Commute – The Trainline App / Otherwise – Uber

How do you keep yourself calm and/or focused?

  • Pause. Deep Breath. Carry On.   The key is the length of the pause if something is really bothering me, then the pause will be longer.

What’s your perspective or approach to work/life balance?

  • I change the word ‘balance’ for ‘blend’ – I don’t live to work, but I know when to switch between the two to protect the ‘crystal moments

Are there any work rituals critical to your success?

  • Not really – although I always carry a notebook, as much as I love Evernote as a second brain, I need a blank paper page to help focus.


  • Work – Central London, in the Shard
  • Home – My Ikea standing desk

Current computers:

  • Work – HP ProBook G4 running Windows 10
  • Home – Old Dell desktop as a media player/server & Ipad Air

Current mobile devices:

  • iPhone 7 / Kindle / Apple Watch 3

What’s your workspace like?

  • Organised, clear – at the start of the day

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack?

  • I’m pretty good at batch reading and processing email on my phone whilst on the train, saves a lot of time in the office. I think this is a good way to use time, whilst listening to music or podcasts.

What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else?

  • I put together an Excel spreadsheet pretty quickly.

What are you currently reading?

  • I’m trying to read more in 2018, and review as many of those books on my blog. This weekend I started reading The Rules of People by Richard Templar

What’s your sleep routine like?

  • Pretty good – I get to sleep around 11pm, up at 5.23am – I like odd alarm times. We have a dual control electric blanket that we use in the Winter to warm the bed, which helps me get to sleep quickly.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

  • Keep moving, even if its the wrong direction, you can course correct – but you must keep moving.

Tools: SiteStacks – spy on on any website

SiteStacks is an excellent addition to the toolset, allowing you to examine the technical stack of any website and understand how it is built.

I’ve used a number of similar tools in the past to examine the WordPress theme and extensions in play, but this tool is slightly different in that it gives the entire tech stack in play.

When you visit the SiteStacks homepage, you simply put in the URL of the page you wish to analyse, and a list of the technical components in play are displayed.

This is useful for finding server platforms, analytics tools, e-commerce services, email and even security tools.

Each component gets a link to a description/review on Siftery which gives you more information on the service. SiteStacks also has a Chrome extension to deliver the same functionality.

SiteStacks is currently free and delivers a useful service which is a great addition to the toolbox.


Five Apple Watch apps for commuters

I’ve been using an Apple Watch for the last couple of weeks, a Christmas present to myself, and addition to my toolbox.

Here are the five best Apple Watch apps I’ve found so far for someone who spends two  hours a day commuting:

  • Trainline (UK) – search for departures on your phone, and they’ll come up on your watch. Handy if you are travelling through a busy station and you need to know what (random) platform your train will be departing from.
  • Uber – Does everything that the phone app does. Excellent for quickly ordering a ride when you are emerging from a station.
  • Evernote – Read notes, dictate a short note, from your wrist.  Very handy for making a note of something you are reading. See also Braintoss which is emerging as a good solution for capturing stuff in your head.
  • BBC News – A quick glance at the top 5 stories whilst travelling, great on a crowded tube.  Will also deliver news flashes direct to the phone with an alert.
  • Calm – Start a quiet meditation, or just some stress relief during your travel time, making the commute useful for your mental health too. Highly recommend this if you already enjoy the excellent Breathe app that is preinstalled.

Links out are to the very useful Watchaware which tracks the latest Apple Watch news, and reviews many of the apps available. A great resource for keeping up with Apple Watch information.


Migrating to Evernote #2 – Organisation

This is the second part of my Migrating to Evernote series.  Part One is here.

Evernote has some excellent ways to organise your work – I use both notebooks (individual notes get stored in a notebook), and stacks (piles of notebooks).

I have also created a few other individual notebooks with specific uses.

Here’s how my navigation looks:

A quick explanation:

  • _inbox  – where everything comes in, all my default actions happen in here – and once a week, I sweep through and file things in the right place
  • _people – I’m using this as a simple CRM – capturing key stakeholders I am working with, and notes on them as well as tags to indicate workflow stages (more on that later)
  • 9 Spokes – my work ‘stack’ with a series of Notebooks on key projects or workstreams
  • Favourite Tweets – exactly as it says, I do a lot of my networking and connections through Twitter and this notebook is automated to receive anything I mark as a ‘favourite’ through an IFTTT applet
  • MattR_Personal – personal reading, record keeping, multiple notebooks
  • MattR_WebClients – a notebook for each of the websites I help manage and support
  • Templates – some useful templates, meeting minutes, 1:1 forms etc.

That’s it. I try to keep the top level as simple as possible so it’s easy to navigate and find things, although searching is the key to finding things fast.

Evernote Tags – keep it simple

You can tag any note, with unlimited tags.

With this much power, it’s tempting to file everything into very granular places, and then use hundreds of tabs to cross-reference your notes.

However, Evernote has a great search facility (more on that later), so you can find anything, anytime.

With this in mind, I use tags as a way of keeping track of workflow. Any note that needs to have progress tracked, gets assigned a stage in the workflow; idea/todo/in progress/done. I clear down the tags on a regular basis to ensure that I see the right status of items that are currently tagged.

In my people folder, I mark contacts as to call/follow up/action to act as my simple CRM.

Here’s how my tag list looks:

With stacks & notebooks defining your structure, and tags defining your workflow, you should be able to set Evernote up to support your knowledge capture and handling to your specifications.

In part 3 of my series – I’ll be looking at how I use Evernote to gather and capture information.

If you want to try Evernote for yourself – please use this link.


Migrating to Evernote #1

For many years I had been a OneNote devotee, with a work culture that encouraged using the free software, there really wasn’t an alternative for an electronic note-taking solution.

However, some recent problems with synchronisation and organisation meant I wanted to find another solution.  I’ve recently made the move to Evernote, and I thought I’d capture some tips for anyone planning the same move.

Why Evernote?

I mainly use paper for note taking, removing the barrier between me and anyone I am meeting with and allowing me some creativity.  I enjoy the act of writing something down, I use Moleskine books and disposable fountain pens.

However, over the years I have discovered that having a second brain is also really useful, so I have become dependent on electronic notes as a kind of wiki to back up my brain.

I spent a lot of time evaluating my needs and my ecosystem and came to the conclusion that Evernote had the best solution for me, combined with reliable syncing across PC and IOS devices, and a layout and workflow that seemed to fit my way of thinking.

Moving from OneNote to Evernote

Once I had committed, this was actually the easiest step. Evernote has the ability to Import from OneNote books – open your Evernote client and select FILE, IMPORT, MICROSOFT ONENOTE:

The wizard will hand hold you through the process.

Using that function I was quickly able to pull in my multiple Notebooks from OneNote.  The whole process took less and ten minutes, leaving me with all of my OneNote items listed in a single notebook, but with the taxonomy I had built in OneNote applied as Evernote tags.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I have defined my organisation in Evernote, and how I use notebooks and tags.  If you want to try Evernote for yourself – please use this link.


Toolbox 2017

Times change. Jobs change. Tools evolve.  Here are the tools I touch nearly every day, certainly every week.

  • Microsoft Office – (paid) still there, because Microsoft.  Outlook, Excel, Powerpoint, Word – in that order
  • Evernote – (paid) Am currently running an experiment to test whether Evernote is better at syncing than OneNote
  • Power BI – (paid through O365) my default BI solution, connected to internal sources and services like ZenDesk
  • Chrome – may not be perfect, but settings sync is perfect and allows me to move devices
  • Whatsapp / Skype / Slack – staying in touch on all the devices
  • Spotify – (paid) All the music, all the time
  • Monzo app & card – (paid) personal banking on the move, simple & focused
  • Tweetdeck – multiple twitter accounts, news, lots of features
  • Dropbox – (paid) Early adopter, pro account
  • Lastpass – (paid) so many passwords, so little memory
  • Inoreader – (paid) all my reading goes in here, simple interface, works well on IOS as well as desktop
  • iPhone 7 / iPad Air / Kindle – portable reading and connections

What should I looking at to make my life easier, slicker, faster?