My Perfect Computer

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Note: Each link will take you to a more detailed post on how I use each application. You can find direct links to the apps in those posts.

After last’s weeks post on building the perfect computer, it seemed appropriate to share my current setup. It’s also an ideal way to offer an overview of I’ve been (and will be) sharing in the Techie Scheky series. While I’ve talked about my undying love for my MacBook Air, I’m actually referring more to way I setup the machine and the apps I use to accomplish my work. I split my time between the Air and the 27” iMac at my office. My goal is to have these two machines as in-sync as possible in order to 1) allow me to make the most out of my workflows and 2) do my work anywhere it needs doing.

The Foundation

So much of a great system depends on a great foundation. For me, this a combination of the Lion OS and the array of invisible apps that allow me to move across my system faster, seamlessly share information between my computers, and stay on top of how I’m doing.

Here is my current list of secret weapons:

  • Dropbox: Dropbox often does the heavy lifting by providing a folder system that automatically syncs between all of my devices.
  • 1Password: Provides secure access to all of my passwords across all of my devices.
  • TextExpander: Allows short snippets of text to expand out to larger ones (e.g. mS expands to Michael Schechter).
  • LaunchBar: Quickly launches applications, opens files in certain applications, sends things to email or accesses previous clipboard entries.
  • Keyboard Maestro: Lets me create my own workflows that can be launched with custom keyboard shortcuts. Simply put, it can string several manual steps (e.g. copy text, open a specific application and paste text).
  • RescueTime: Tracks how I spend my time across all of my Macs.

Task Management

I go out of my way to keep appointments and tasks separate. I find it is the best way to keep things organized while never missing a specific commitment.

  • Appointments: If something has a specific time tied to it1, I use Fantastical (greatest quick calendar entry application EVER!) to add it to iCal which syncs up to my Google account making it possible to see all of my upcoming events on any device.
  • To-dos: Essentially anything I am looking to do but don’t have an exact time tied to them, are all handled in Omnifocus. For the longest time, I held off from using this application thinking it was more than I needed. It’s certainly robust and the learning curve is steep, but it is easily the best application I’ve ever used for keeping myself on task.

Writing

Much of my time at the computer is spent writing and much of the time I’ve spent figuring out my workflows has centered around finding the best applications to get this done.

I’ve tried quite a few, but here are the ones that I love:

Reference Materials

Keeping all of the crap you come across in your day can make or break any system. While I use things like iPhoto, iMovie and iTunes to keep personal pictures, music and movies organized, just about everything else has proven to be a challenge.

I keep everything else organized using a mix of the following:

  • nvALT: Anything that is strictly text based goes in here.
  • Evernote: Pretty much everything else goes here, including PDFs, files under 50MB, images, scanned documents, screenshots from Skitch, web clippings and essential emails.
  • Dropbox: Larger files go into these folders so they can be accessible from any device.

Web Browsing

These days, I use Safari, mainly due to the fact that your bookmarks can quickly be triggered by keyboard shortcuts (Command-1 for your first bookmark, Command-2 for your second and so on). I use these to quickly send articles to Instapaper, to share quotes to Tumblr, to check my Google Reader account or clip things to Evernote.

Email

I use and love an application called Mailplane that essentially takes the Gmail web interface and makes it feel more like an application. This works exceptionally well with both Evernote and Omnifocus for saving reference material from emails or creating tasks from a specific message.

So there you go, my perfect computer, at least for now anyway. If you want to learn more about how I’m using any of the apps mentioned above, click the links to check out their individual Techie Scheky posts. I’m always looking for tools and tricks that remove friction and make things easier and would love to hear more about what is working for you in the comments below.

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  1. Although the occasional all-day event does sneak on there. []
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=567959148 Ron Lipke

    Great stuff!  I use a very similar setup with two major exceptions/substitutions: Eagle Filer for Evernote and Elements for Simplenote.  I find that since Dropbox serves as the backbone of my system, I’d rather keep as much of my data there instead of keeping up multiple accounts and services.  Eagle Filer just acts as a front end for Dropbox by allowing me to quickly import data from any application (and keeping it easy to get out unlike Evernote) and Elements points to the folder containing my nvALT notes, not to mention it’s stellar Markdown support.  

    Although I put a lot of trust in these apps specifically, I love the amazing breadth of competition on both Mac and iOS platforms.  I’ve restrained myself from tinkering with what works for me after reading every singe setup/workflow post, but I really appreciate something as insightful and well written as yours.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I keep hearing great things about Elements, but tend to love the simplicity of simplenote. At this point it’s like a tornup, yet comfy t-shirt that I don’t think I could give if I tried. I just manage to do so much writing in there and find Brett Terpstra’s TextExpander snippets for Markdown get the job done for me. That said, I do love me some Markdown support… may need to finally give it a shot.

      Haven’t heard of Eagle Filer… off to do some digging, but as you said, I’m pretty tied into Evernote at this point :)

      As for the tinkering, I hear you there. If something is working for you and the problem is no longer a pain point, why change it. Tinkering can kill.

  • Phil Olson

    Great article!  I’ve only recently moved to the mac world (27″ iMac) and am loving it.  Already using Evernote, Dropbox and Scrivener (as of yesterday).  You say that you use Scrivener for your blog – does it tie in directly, or do you just copy and paste it in?  Very interested in that as I have my own blog (http://virtualpizza.wordpress.com)

    Lots of toys to try out this weekend – thanks again!

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I use Scrivener when I’m writing a more structured post like this one. It allows me to take an OPML outline and import into Scrivener as nested folders (if you click the Scrivener link in the post, it will show you exactly what I mean). Once I start writing, I can move things around and edit as needed. It’s just far faster and far more organized than cutting and pasting things around a document. That said, you can’t post directly to WordPress, I either go in directly to the web interface or use MarsEdit.

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  • annapost

    i just stumbled across your post. I use a macbook air (which is my BEST apple purchase EVER, easily), and scrivener, dropbox, evernote, omnifocus, omnioutliner, etc. – almost anything you name up there. following questions: - which os X are you on? - have you heard of eagle filer and if so, how does it compare to evernote? - how do you (if you do?) the editing tasks/exchange/track changes parts of the writing (i.e. with a publisher etc.) in your scrivener workflow? - do you use evernote on your ipad / iphone as well, and have you found a way to solve the offline file deletion problem?

    thanks!!!