Text The Days Calendar Events with Apple Shortcuts

My day is filled with adhoc and irregular meetings times that aren’t predictable. To coordinate my work life with my wife and family, I setup a Apple Shortcut automation that runs on it’s own every morning, grabbing my Google Calendar events for the day and texting/iMessage’ing the times. To accomplish this, I

Created the shortcut:

Then Setup an ‘Personal Automation’

To run at 8am, which runs the Shortcut

The ‘Do’ is simply the ‘Run Shortcut’ action, which points to the ‘Text Meetings’ Shortcut setup before.

The only caveat I have so far is it’s the start time only, not end time or duration. This isn’t a big problem as most meetings are around an hour anyways.

Stop Alerts From Shared Google Calendars in iOS / macOS Calendar.app

Tips for silencing calendar events that don’t matter, leaving only the ones that do.

At work, I’m shared a whole bunch of Google Apps / G Suite calendars that are very relevant for looking up events, but none of which I need to actually alert me. For several weeks, I was plagued with dozens of notifications that weren’t relevant to me whatsoever, and made a sea of noise that took away from the few importance of the tasks I actually needed to alert me. Meetings were missed.

I tinkered with Notification settings over and over, but nothing worked. For me for whatever reason, the solution to this wasn’t straight forward. It turns out you need to explicitly silence specific calendar alerts – here’s how:

macOS

  1. right click the noisy calendar in the sidebar
  2. Get Info
  3. Select “Ignore Alerts”

iOS

  1. Calendars
  2. Hit the (i) button for the noisy calendar
  3. Turn off “Event Alerts”


I presume there’s a similar process for watchOS.

Separating Work & Life

This is something we know, we hear about, we’re reminded about, but we rarely do. After all, contrary to stereotype, we’re the hard working millennial who don’t know how to quit.

One of the many parts of preventing chronic burn out is to properly separate work and life, with no exceptions. For me personally, I found the most impactful method to separating the two was by untethering my devices from each other and silencing almost all notifications.

I’m not going to go into the obvious here, but reading work emails during dinner, takes you away from life around you. Getting a text message notification from a friend while you’re in the middle of writing an email to your manager takes you away from work. Each app on your respective device is prying for your attention with notifications of messages, new posts, upgrades, releases, etc. It’s distracting and disruptive, it weighs on you mentally to respond sooner than later or take action.

After reading the article linked to above, I realized yes, I must have something like chronic burn out. I needed to start behaviors to correct the course I’ve been on for a decade now. The biggest impact for me was having two devices, for two different purposes: one for work, one for life. With little to no conflicting overlap. This physically forces me to ‘quit’ when I don’t know how to myself.

To separate like this, I needed to think of “work” as more than my 9-5, I need to think of work as my “career” since in our generation, building our personal “brand” and a social presence (like this blog post, or contributing to open source) is part of the expectations in our careers. I’ve also bundled in household “admin” tasks like bills and research (for things like purchasing appliances) into “work”. It’s admin work and it’s actually ‘work’, to do it effectively you need concentration and alone time (things life doesn’t usually offer).

Separating devices was a bit of a hurtle to undo as over the last 5 or so years, Apple has designed their ecosystem to be seamless between devices. Everything on all devices. This was a selling feature and I ate this up with a spoon and loved it! SMS Text messages on my macbook? Sold! Check out the homepage of any modern app, their first selling feature is it works both on smart watches and desktop. This was and is such a mistake, and only now am I realizing how problematic and damaging this meshing of work and life is.

To stop this, I first made a clear list of what goes where:

Laptop (career)

  • Things (todos)
  • Bear (notes)
  • Slack
  • Email
  • Documents
  • Firefox
  • Other work Apps

Phone (life)

  • Reminders (hubbydo, grocery lists)
  • Notes.app (life notes)
  • Messages / Texts
  • Photos
  • Safari
  • Email
  • Slack

Each device gets it’s a seperate app for the same thing. I used to belive in having “everything in one place”, but having two Todo list apps, one for each device, has been a game changer.

I then visited each devices iCloud settings I disabled almost all of the device sync settings (Contacts being the one exception).

I took this steps further by disabling all notifications for both devices, turning each apps notifications to “none”. I then did a second pass, turning on things that were truly actionable or urgent: Calendar events (for important calendars only), Phone Calls from family members, Slack messages on desktop. That’s it. No pings for new emails, no pings for updates, releases, new features, new posts, no text messages during work. Everything besides direct real-time requests that require immediate action, is silent and asynchronous. I check my emails when I want to, not when my devices tells me to.

This is contrary to what these devices offer us, but this is how life was only like a decade ago, and honestly, it’s so much better. This makes these rules in my life so much more manageable:

  • When I’m working, I’m working.
  • When I’m “offline”, I’m living my life.
  • The only notification I receive are related to what I’m currently doing, and are actually critically important, and actually require immediate action.

Since implementing this, my phone is now terribly boring, I rarely pick it up – but now I’m not thinking about work first thing in the morning during breakfast like I used to. I’m not brushing my teeth at night mentally preparing my next-steps for an email I just received. This change makes me feel so much more energized and refreshment for my work day, and allows me to be more present and enjoy small things in life a little more.

This isn’t a miracle ‘fix all’ post that suggests if you do this all problems disappear – this is just something that worked for me and has me feeling healthier, balanced, and more productive at work.

Alfred 3 – Tips & Tricks To Becoming A Better Power User

This is not a list of “the top 5 workflows for Alfred” this is instead tips and tricks to become a better Alfred user. It’s easy to setup Alfred and get some really cool workflows going, but it’s just as easy to forget about Alfred and it’s potential in a week or two.

However, as you know by the desire to install Alfred initially, you’re aware of the benefits of being a power user and know it’s very worth while. The seconds and minutes shaved off of your day will surely result in earlier retirement!

Anyways, here’s my recommendations on becoming a better power user with Alfred, please note you’ll need the Powerpack for most of these tips.


Use Bookmarks & Custom Searches

If you’re using your browsers Address Bar or Bookmark Bar, you are not using Alfred right! Getting to any website, or searching on the internet should always all be done via Alfred.

  • For searching, default Alfred behaviour will offer to search your query on the web using their “Fallback Results” feature, if it was unable to find results for anything else. So, when you’re wondering “How many eyes does a spider have”, just ask Alfred. In Settings > Features > Web Search, you can add any website that uses search into a custom Alfred search. A good example is caniuse.com, instead of going to their site and using their search bar, I’ve setup a custom search and now a simple Alfred command of caniuse {query} searches the website for me. You can then add these any of these searches into the “Setup fallback search” option in Features  > Default Results. I have about 10 of these custom searches and I use all of them many times a day, think about the sites you search in and create these custom searches!
  • For typing a website, default Alfred behaviour recognizes that you’ve entered a domain or a URI and it will offer to launch the website! It’s that easy. For example, in Alfred type the command wordpress.org. So when you’re looking to launch a site, don’t think about your browser, go to Alfred instead.
  • Bookmarks, this imho, is the best feature to improve your Alfred experience. Alfred can index all your bookmarks and you can quickly reference them by title and url. This is great for tools you use frequently. For example I use regex101.com several times a week, I used to search it in google or the address bar to get to it. Instead with Alfred, simply typing rege in gathers that result right away as it’s a bookmark. I highly suggest taking the time to organize your bookmarks, making them well organized, and remind yourself that if you’re using the address bar or bookmark bar, you should be doing it with Alfred. I’ve got about 150 sites bookmarked, and they’re all available within a few characters through Alfred (The TITLEs of bookmarks can sometimes be long, I always edit the bookmark to make it short and sweet, and also include any keywords or typos/alternate-spelling that I’ll likely need). I don’t use bookmarks traditionally, I instead think of them now as “Sites to Add to Alfred”.

To enforce these rule, I’ve set the homepage of my browser to be a local .html page that simply says “Use Alfred” in big text.  I’ve also made by bookmark bar hidden by default, and all bookmarks are deeply nested (hard to navigate via bookmark ui) and then everything is nested in a folder called “Use Alfred”. I really does work to break habits.

Use Alfred For Emojis

The snippet and text expanding options on Alfred are enormous. They are amazing second savers – but they are also vary so greatly from user to user. If you find yourself typing the same things over and over, or looking up the same things over and over, you probably should take the time and really configure your snippets and text expanding!

I personally had a hard time starting out with the idea of text expanding, however after installing joelcalifa.com/blog/alfred-emoji-snippet-pack/ I found it easy to get into the habit of using Alfred for text expanding!

Keep in mind that if you turn on the ‘automatic text expanding’ feature, you can selectively opt snippets out of being auto expanded. It is not all or nothing, the choice is in your hands.

Use Text Expansion instead of Bash Alias’

I used to have a lengthy ~/.bash_alias file, filled with many minute savers. Lengthy commands with impossible-to-remeber flags and args. I was always running into a brick wall though when on a different server or advicing a colleague: I’d need to use or share a command, but I was leaning so heavily on my aliases that I had long forgotten the actual command. I’d often have to open my ~/.bash_alias file to just look up commands. Keeping everything in Alfred was the simple solution. All of my aliases commands are now auto expanded, allowing for use on any server or for any app.

The added bonus is when you’re setting up a new machine, everything’s already in Alfred! You do not have to add in all your aliases. This is also true for anyone using a Code Editor with a snippet library – keeping everything in Alfred ensures use among all apps and an easier transitions when going onto a new machines!

‘If It Takes More Than One Step’ Rule

If you’re taking more than one step to do get into or start doing anything, you’re probably not optimizing Alfred properly. Take notice of yourself, are you clicking the dock icon for Chrome, clicking into the Google Search field, and typing? Besides the obvious lengthy workflows, these often overlooked tiny three or two step workflows that you may not think need improving. Always try to improve and reduce!

Go Mouseless

Alfred is about being a true power user – being a true power user doesn’t start and stop at using Alfred, you may never fully understand the power of Alfred if you’re still leaving your keyboard for the mouse after you’ve arrived at your App.

For the Apps you’re using every day, really take the time to print off the shortcuts and learn them! Start with the browser, learn to close and jump between tabs. Make sure you know all your macOS commands, like taking between Apps, getting to the Desktop, and hiding or quitting windows. Head on to apps like Slack and use the quick jump feature. Learning to ditch the mouse is tough, but dedicating time to it, and focusing on staying on the keyboard improves your workflow immensely.

Ditch the Dock & Finder

The dock is a waste of screen real estate and useless if you’ve got the power of Alfred, ditch it! If you’ve got the “hide dock” feature on, but still use it, trick yourself: move the dock to instead hide on the right or left, try to forget about it all together, train yourself not to use it by tricking yourself of its location. If you’re used to dragging files into your App, remember that’s the GUI “shortcut” for that import action – there are other ways to accomplish an App receiving files.

Alfred is incredible at navigating Finder. If you don’t believe me, just type the ~ character. You’re there. You’re now browsing Finder with your keyboard. This is a beautiful little way to use Finder without Finder. I often use this method to grab the path of what I’m after, then throw a command in the front of it. For example, I’ll type ~ then navigate to /project/wtv/, I’ll then hit cmd + left then type >code which I’ve got to open that folder in VS Code.

Terminal via Alfred

As touched upon above, start any Alfred command with > and you’ll be talkin’ to your Terminal.app (if you’re like everyone else using Hyper, there’s ways around that). This is an often overlooked feature, but it has great powers for your workflow. No matter what you’re doing in your terminal, you’ll always start with one command, so that first command combines the action of opening the Terminal.

Like I said, I often will type ~ to start using Finder and gather the path of my current project. I can then jump to the beginning of my path within Alfred, and prefix it with >code this too will open my project in VS Code. But there are obviously many implications of this workflow.

Often commands I run are single or two commands. Move this here and delete that. Open this with this and set that. Run this on that with that. And so on. For these small needs, I’ll combine the commands with && and end my Alfred command with && exit. This runs the command from Alfred and closes my Hyper terminal window. For example I’ll often do this all from Alfred: >cd ~/projects/wtv/ && npm install && exit

You can imagine the power of this for getting a project started with git clone. ?

Use The Clipboard History

There’s nothing special to note here. Just use it! Get it into your workflow and don’t forget about it. It’s amazing when you start to learn how to carry more than one piece of info from one app to another without switching back and forth.

Always Improve

Dedicating time to improving is a great way to learn! I used to dedicate my Fridays to being a little more “experimental” with my workflows, I often dubbed it on the calendar as “GoMouselessFriday” and would literally put the mouse far out of reach, in an uncomfortable location, forcing myself to use the keyboard. This seems self destructive, but it forces you to break muscle memory and old habits and makes your brain work: “I bet there’s a keyboard short cut to do this.”

Alfred has a wonderful Usage tab in its settings page. Make sure you’re always improving and that graph is always going up!

Browse The Alfred Settings. Repeat.

It’s easy to think, “Okay, I’m good at Alfred now” because you’re using it a lot. I’ve thought that. However, remember you’re always a student, there’s always something to learn on or improve on. Take a peak in the settings page! Browse every tab, every panel, even the ones you think you’re the master of. Read each option description! This may seem like a waste of time, but some very powerful features of Alfred are often just one checkbox on or off.

Furthermore, as you master some features, there’s often variants of that feature which you may not own known about or understood the context of when originally setting up! Or customizations to a feature that you now realize you can optimize.

At least once a month, take a peak at the settings and see where you can improve or which features you’re not fully using.