Tag Archives: Hazel

Moving from iPhoto to Dropbox

Who is this for? Those looking to move their images out of iPhoto and into Dropbox.

For those who were tempted by Unbound, here are two ways to make the move from iPhoto to Dropbox:

Creating an OmniFocus HotSpot

Who is this for? OmniFocus users looking to automate the process of sending files to their Inbox.

From Thanh Pham at Asian Efficiency:

Here’s a simple yet oh so effective way of getting tasks in your OmniFocus inbox for files you need to review. […]

It works with a combination of an AppleScript, Hazel and OmniFocus. It’s super simple.

I still prefer my Evernote-based approach for creating tasks from files, but this is a nice alternative approach for those looking to conveniently store a file while simultaneously creating a task.

Sandpaper Apps

The need for certain applications is obvious. It doesn’t take the average user long to grasp the need for applications like nvALT, Mailplane, Evernote and OmniFocus. They help with universal challenges such as idea capture, correspondence management, file storage and to-do management. It’s why applications like these make up the foundation of a workflow.

Next you have the applications that help you meet your own needs. For my writing, I use apps like Byword, Scrivener, iThoughts HD and Marked. While these have less of a universal appeal, they help me achieve my writerly goals in a way that appeals to my geeky nature.

Last but not least, you have applications like Keyboard Maestro, LaunchBar, Hazel and TextExpander. What they do is clear; what you can do with them isn’t always obvious. At a glance, they can seem unnecessary, yet when used well they make a a real difference in the way you work. These small, focused apps make my workflows better. They remove the friction that exists between key applications. They are my sandpaper apps.

Are Sandpaper Apps Necessary?

No. They are helpful. Here are a few examples:

Keyboard Maestro lets me string together several actions across multiple applications in a single “macro”. For example, with a single keyboard command in Byword, I can copy the HTML of a blog post, open up MarsEdit, create a new post, extract the post title and paste both the title and text in the correct spots. I also use a macro to close all unnecessary applications before recording a podcast and another to restore things back to normal once I’m done (ever try to use Skype while backing? I don’t recommend it.). Is Keyboard Maestro required to do this? Not at all, but because of it, everything gets taken care of before I can even recall the steps I’d need to take.

LaunchBar is activated by hitting a keyboard command. Once activated, it can do just about anything or, more accurately, make my computer do just about anything. While it’s primarily used to launch applications, it can perform all kinds of magic. With a single keyboard command, I can search Google, look things up in the dictionary, do calculations, and act on selected files or text. I can open websites or even log into websites through integration with 1Password. It has a clipboard manager that gives me access to up to forty of my last copied items. It’s the digital equivalent of slicing, dicing and making Julienne fries. Could everything here (excepting the clipboard manger) be done manually? You bet, but it’s far more enjoyable to use a computer when just about everything is a few keystrokes away.

Hazel watches folders and acts on files, often before I’ve had a chance to think about what I’d want do do with them. With a single “Rule” a properly named file on my desktop is added to Evernote and placed in the trash with no additional effort on my part. With a minor tweak to the name, I can even create a task from the new note in Evernote. Can I do this manually? Of course, but Hazel ensures that everything is properly filed. It also does wonders to help avoid the backlog and errors that happen when I attempt to do this my own.

TextExpander takes text abbreviations and turns them into larger text snippets. You can even get fancy by including text on your clipboard, adding customizable pop-ups, selecting from multiple options or creating optional areas within snippets. This can be used for everything from automatically correcting commonly misspelled words (and boy do I commonly misspell words), to shortening up things I type every day such as my email address. You can also go crazy and make elaborate snippets for things like customer service emails). Could I just correct these words as spell check catches them, get better a typing or copy and paste long bits of text out of a document? Obviously, but why on earth would I want to do that?

Note: This is an oversimplification of what each app is capable of, just wanted to offer a few tangible examples.

So Where Do Sandpaper Apps Fit?

You want to start with the applications that make up the foundation of your workflow. After that, it pays to prioritize the tools that can help you execute on your own goals. Once these are in place, don’t forget to check out the sandpaper apps. There may not be much that you can build with them on their own, but they help remove friction between all of my applications and make everything a whole lot smoother.

Sending Files to Evernote While Creating Tasks in OmniFocus

As is well documented on this site I:

All of my text files are stored in nvALT and most other files are stored in Evernote (larger files live in Dropbox).

Now all of this is well and good, except for one small thing… I wasn’t doing the upfront work on filing. Over time, I’d either:

  • Toss files into a single folder on the desktop;
  • Leave them in my downloads folder.

And active files, well, they would just live on the desktop. For the most part this was an effective system, as it kept most things “out of site, out of mind,” but I’d run into plenty of situations where I had to go looking for something that should have been filed away in Evernote, but wasn’t.

Geek Phase I – Automatically Filing Using Hazel and Evernote

So, as most geeks do, I made a few changes that improved my workflow by:

Now, when a file on my desktop is properly named (i.e. Workx – File Name – 13–01–24), Hazel sees that little “x – ” bit and works its magic. Since making this change, I haven’t tossed a single file into a random folder and no longer store anything in a downloads folder that I never think to check. Everything is where it’s meant to be: still on my desktop, properly stored in Evernote or, best of all, in the trash.

Geek Phase II – Adding These Files to OmniFocus

Much as this change was an improvement, I couldn’t help but notice that the increasing number of files that were building up on the desktop. Traditionally, only files I was actively working on would live there, but since there was no folder in which to throw things, files for future actions/projects started piling up.

As I’ve shared in the past, I’m a bit nuts about keeping my digital desktop neat (this probably has a lot to do with my struggles to keep a physical one tidy). So the answer was obvious, but clunky: throw the files into Evernote, then create a task in OmniFocus with a link to the note. This worked, but required a multi-step process that involved naming the file, opening Evernote, selecting the right note and then using a Keyboard Maestro macro to pull the note into a new task in the OmniFocus clipper. Not bad, but not ideal.

So I did what most geeks who don’t know how to code do: I whined about this to smarter nerds. In this case Brett Kelly, Nick Wynja and Justin Lancy were kind enough to help me figure out how to use AppleScript to get the link to a newly created Evernote note. Once I combined this with some AppleScript that Ken Case provided in a previous post and tweaked my Hazel rule, magic started happening. Any file that has “- of ” (i.e. Workx – File Name – of – 13–01–24) in addition to my naming convention is sent to Evernote and a task is created in the OmniFocus Clipper with a link back to the note. My desktop is clean once more and my files are easily accessible, either for reference or use in a task.

Geek Phase III – The Little Details

I’m not quite done with this. My skills are very limited (and Justin is having fun watching me struggle to finish the job), but I’d like to get it so the additional “- of ” is removed from the file name before it gets saved into Evernote and added to my task. That said, I figure this is at a stage where you might benefit from it as well (even though you’ll probably need to make some changes to suit your own needs).

While I’m sure this will be updated periodically, here’s the code (or you can just download it here):

--RESET VALUES
set myNote to {}
set noteLink to missing value
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to {" - "}

tell application "Evernote"

--TEST TO SEE IF EVERNOTE IS CURRENTLY SYNCHRONIZING... repeat until isSynchronizing is false --THIS EMPTY LOOP WILL PAUSE SCRIPT UNTIL PREVIOUS SYNC IS FINISHED end repeat

--CREATE THE NOTE set myNote to create note from file theFile

--SET THE NAME

set myName to (filename of attachment 1 of myNote)

--SYNCHRONIZE WITH EVERNOTE'S SERVERS synchronize

--PAUSE UNTIL THERE IS A VALUE FOR NOTE LINK repeat while noteLink is missing value --GET THE NOTE LINK FOR THE CURRENT NOTE set noteLink to (note link of myNote) end repeat

end tell

– These are the parameters you might want to tweak set TaskName to second text item of myName set TaskNote to noteLink

– Here is the script code itself tell application “OmniFocus” tell quick entry — open the quick entry window open — Create a new inbox item set NewInboxItem to (make new inbox task with properties {name:TaskName, note:TaskNote}) — Expand the note so it’s visible in the Quick Entry window set note expanded of last leaf to true — Start editing the task name select last leaf — Select the new item activate — Make the app active so it gets our scripted keystrokes delay 0.25 — Give it a chance to activate tell application “System Events” if UI elements enabled is true then tell process “OmniFocus” keystroke “e” — Starts editing the current row keystroke “a” using command down — Command-A selects the text end tell end if end tell end tell end tell

Geek Phase IV – The Big Workflow

Crazy and excessive as this all may sound, this is actually one of those “life hacks” that will save me time and headache on a daily basis. It’s also a great reminder that it’s not about one application, but one workflow. The process involves triggering a snippet in TextExpander, which triggers a rule in Hazel, which creates a note with my file in Evernote, which adds a task with a link to my note in OmniFocus, but to me it’s all one fairly seamless step (there is a bit of lag, as the note synchronizes). It’s amazing what the right apps can accomplish (especially when you know the right nerds).

Thanks to Ken and Katie for the head start as well as Brett, Nick and Justin for putting up with me on this.

The Things You Keep Telling Yourself You Can’t Do

Yuvi Zalkow. Yuvi is a bit of a fixture on this site. My obsession with his I’m A Failed Writer series is well documented. One of the things I love most about these videos is how Yuvi constantly pushes himself to try new things. Rather than iterate, he innovates with each new effort. Today, Yuvi, the author of A Brilliant Novel In The Works (GO BUY IT NOW!), shares how someone as neurotic as he is manages to keep pushing himself forward.Note: While I’m away this week toiling away in the desert (read: I’m working and playing in Las Vegas) I’ve asked a few friends to step in and take over for me. Today’s guest is

I have a real affection for the phrase, “there’s no way I can pull this off.”1

When I started writing short stories many years ago, I felt there was no way I could write a story that would affect others. It took quite a few years, but I started getting published by better and better magazines. At first I was strictly a short story writer, actually a VERY short story writer (had a problem with commitment), and so when I realized one day that I was mistakenly working on a novel, I thought there would be no way I could sustain a story for more than 20 pages. But then I completed a draft of the novel. And four more drafts after that. And then I thought no one would publish this insane novel. Forty rejections later, I found a publisher. And a fabulous literary agent. And the book is coming out in August. When I started making these silly “I’m a Failed Writer” videos, I assumed they would be incomprehensible to others. And yet here I am, a year into the series, and I’m shocked and honored by the positive (and even the constructive negative) feedback.

So what’s my point with this arrogant laundry list? Well I’m not suggesting that by saying, “There’s no way I can pull this off,” it is somehow a guaranteed formula for success. I have entire closets (and thousands of files, effectively sorted by Hazel) that represent my wasteland of things that I, in fact, could not pull off, just as I predicted. (For example, no one will ever — EVER! — want to see my attempt at writing a particularly long story about an aging, incontinent man.) I just wanted to point out that my brand of pessimism is connected to something that can actually amount to a few successes.

But it’s definitely more complex than just, “There’s no way I can pull this off.” That sentiment alone will leave a person too demoralized to proceed. There’s a second part to it. A part that I only whisper — if I admit at all. And that is another voice that says, “Let me see if I can pull it off anyway.” These two voices may seem like they could cause a case of multiple personality disorder, but there’s a way to use these voices in a surprisingly productive chorus. The first one helps keep your expectations low, keeps you from arrogantly expecting to write a bestseller in a month (or in a year, or in five years). The second voice gives you the curiosity and stamina (and stupidity) to keep at it — at least so that you go far enough to genuinely assess the (in)sanity of your project.

Together these two voices (with preferably salty tongues) can give you the audacity, the tenacity, the other-cool-word-acity to do something that no sane person would ever try to do… and occasionally succeed beyond your somewhat wildish dreams.

Over time you learn to use these voices more effectively. You become more efficient at the process. You learn to filter out the ideas that really are too absurd (see: incontinence) versus the ideas that might turn into something interesting even if they are risky (see: failed writer series). But you also need to hold on to a sort of child-like innocence that allows you to fiddle and experiment without being shackled to an end goal, at least not right away.

The more I talk about it, the more it sounds like a real tightrope walk. And maybe it is — balancing these two parts of the creative process. But I know that I need a mindset (even if not approved by my therapist) that allows me enough crazy to be creative and enough dedication to occasionally make something of it.

What do you think? Do you buy it? Am I full of shit? Do you have a similar (or a very different) set of kooky mantras to guide you?

Be sure to stop by Yuvi’s site and say hi to him on Twitter while I’m gone. He’s probably lonely…


  1. NOTE: Real-life quote has more swear words in it.  

The Four Pillars of A Productive Foundation

I’ve spent years of my life struggling to get things done. I’ve done my fair share of trying to persevere through my challenges with the hopes that my desire would be enough to make things happen. Sadly, it isn’t and it wasn’t until I took a giant step back to build a sound foundation that I began to get anywhere. Most of my time and effort over the years was spent getting better at my job, focusing in on the specific tasks and skills needed to excel in my field of choice. This approach did not get me far.

It wasn’t until I discovered and dealt with the key fundamentals that I was able to become more ambitious in the projects that I undertake. It wasn’t until I built a sound foundation that I was able to improve at doing something specific.

Over time, I came to realize that there were four key areas that needed to be dealt with before I could ever do the things that I hope to accomplish in my life.

Idea Capture

It doesn’t matter if you have a great memory or the recall of a goldfish like I do, we live in overwhelming times with more input than even the most organized brains can handle. You need to have a place to put your ideas and a quick and easy process for calling them up.

My Suggested Tools: nvALT for OS X (Your Mac) and Simplenote for iOS (Your iPhone and iPad), Instapaper for iOS, Evernote for OS X and iOS.

Correspondence Management

While email tends to be the true beast here, we receive and insane amount of contact through a comical amount of media. Having a process for organizing and responding the messages that come our way is an essential part of every career.

My Suggested Tools: Gmail, Mailplane for OS X, TextExpander for OS X, OmniFocus for iOS and OS X and a CRM (I use Simplenote and nvALT for correspondence notes).

File Storage

At some point your crap will overwhelm you. Without a method for giving the tangible and digital information in your life a proper home, you will find yourself distracted (if not buried) by the reams of paper and gigs worth of files that get created every single day in the pursuit of our best work.

My Suggested Tools: Dropbox, Evernote for OS X and iOS, Hazel for OS X, Fujitsu ScanSnap1. and David Spark’s Paperless.

To-Do Management

Without a way to store the things you need to do, you will find yourself overwhelmed and you will notice things slipping through the cracks. No matter how good you are, it’s improbable that you can keep this all together without a system. For some, that will be as simple as a sheet of plain paper; for others, robust task management systems like OmniFocus will do the trick.

My Suggested Tools: OmniFocus for iOS and OS X, Due App for iOS, Fantastical for OS X, Listary for iOS and David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner.

There will be a wealth of specific tactics you need to learn and master in order to achieve your goals, but these four general areas serve as the starting point for the disorganized souls amongst us. Regardless of how obvious this list may seem, it is essential to figure out how you can best approach each of these areas. I don’t care what it is that you’re looking to do, I don’t care how hard you work, if you are one of the many amongst us who struggle, you need to create this foundation before you become distracted from your true focus. Steal what you can (both from myself and from others), but experiment and find the way that works for you. The more natural the process, the less you will have to think about it, and the more you can focus your energy on what matters: the work you’re meant to be doing.

What other skills do you believe to be essential for a sound and productive foundation?


  1. This is an affiliate link. Regardless of that fact, I still love this frigging scanner.