How to compose a message without seeing your inbox in Apple Mail

Of course you’ve read all the email advice from David Sparks and LifeHacker. So, I’m assuming you’ve turned off email notifications and badges and set Mail to only fetch manually.

But, how do you compose an email message without getting ambushed by your inbox appearing?

I use this trick in Apple Mail to keep my in boxes accessible but hidden, and compose a new message without having to see my inbox:

  • Open Mail *
  • Select an empty mail folder ** (I add one to my favorites bar so command-8 selects it. On a related note, I close the email sidebar and have my frequently accessed inbox and archive folders in the favorites bar).
  • Minimize the Mail window (command-M or click the yellow button). This puts it down in the right side of your dock (or bottom if your dock’s on the side). This means when you bring Mail to the front, your in boxes will stay minimized. No ambush.
  • To compose a new message, click-hold on the Mail icon (the app, not your inbox) in your Dock and select “Compose Message”. You get a new message window, and no in boxes. Compose (body, subject, then address, of course, per MacSparky’s excellent advice) and send.

* At the time of this writing, I’m using MacOS 10.10.4 with Mail 8.2.
** This prevents inbox ambush if you do accidentally un-minimize your mail reader window.

My top computer tools

I’m on the computer a lot (over 40 hours/wk), and there are a few tools I’ve noticed I have on every computer that have become a standard part of my setup.

  • Firefox
    On my Mac, I tend to use Safari, but at work and on any PC I’m on, I use Firefox. Safari pissed me off a couple of days ago (Flash crashed it again again again), so I set Firefox as my default browser (I’m using it to write this, in fact). It seems that even the worst AJAX-abusing web sites work in Firefox, it’s pretty standard across all platforms, and it wraps plugins well enough that when certain Adobe products explode, the browser just displays “Sorry, the flash plugin has crashed” or similar, instead of crashing itself. Firefox pre-3.6 was frickin’ slow, but 3.6 is about as fast as Safari. Of course, I do lose syncing of bookmarks to my iPhone, but honestly I almost never use bookmarks on my iPhone.
  • Lastpass
    I used to use 1Password, but Lastpass took over because 1Password didn’t work on Linux (it may now, I don’t know). I still run 1Password (Pro) on my iPhone, but that’s mainly to look up passwords that aren’t in Lastpass yet. Lastpass is web based, which makes it really convenient if you end up on a hotel computer and need to log into a web site, and may not have your iPhone handy. Of course, there’s also an iPhone app, but I haven’t gotten that yet. 1Password also requires too much setup: you need to store your password file somewhere and sync it yourself (via Dropbox, iDisk, whatever), and the iPhone sync requires you to manually run the program on your Mac and phone at the same time. See, Winbloz users just went away. Lastpass just lets you store passwords. It handles the syncing (to their servers), and is still secure, because they’re just storing encrypted information.
  • WordPress
    I’ve used a lot of blogging products over the years, starting with straight HTML in a text editor. WordPress has great features, and is the standard for setting up a blog. I use the installed version, which is conveniently a 1-click install through Simplescripts on my current web host. Before this host, I installed it myself (and even wrote scripts to do installs/upgrades automatically before that was built in). Current wordpress is stable, feature-rich, and very easy to use. Themes and plugins usually work with little modification (you used to have to tweak the heck out of things to make a new theme work – “Widgets” fixed that). Updates are automatic like most desktop software these days. The Askimet plugin combined with the “Bad Behavior” plugin stop 99% of my comment spam (which is a huge problem and time sucker if you’re setting up a blog these days). WordPress lets you set up a blog very quickly and easily, and add/change features as you go. In short, it’s quite flexible, but easy to get started with. Although you can use it as a CMS to set up web sites (and I have), it’s really designed as a blog platform, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to find a web site builder. If your web site is a blog with some extra pages, however, WordPress is fine.
  • Dropbox
    This is a must on all my computers now. Dropbox’s syncing is impeccably handled, it works on all platforms, and it allows 1-click sharing of folders. I have an “Assistant Share” folder (shared with my assistant and girlfriend), a “Bookkeeping” folder (shared with my bookkeeper), and an “Accounting” folder (shared with my accountant). If I need to get tax documents to my accountant, I just drop them into my Accounting folder, and they’re on her computer immediately. Need to update some procedures for my assistant – I update the document in my “Assistant Share” folder. The syncing is immediate and I have never had a problem with file conflicts (well, I did once, but my girlfriend was copying files into her Dropbox folder and I moved them on mine while they were syncing. Even then, cleanup was pretty quick, and Dropbox didn’t break anything – just moved the files I said to move, while leaving others in place because she’d just put them there). To share a folder, you control-click (or right-click) and select “Share” (the option varies slightly depending on the OS you’re running). Works on Linux, Mac, and Winblows.
  • Ubuntu
    I had to use a PC for work, and I tolerated Windows for a couple days of instability on it before I borrowed my friend’s Ubuntu CD. I still prefer MacOS X, but if I can’t use it for some reason, Ubuntu’s next in line. In some ways I even prefer it to MacOS. Software updates (for all software) are built in. You can customize the desktop to behave like Windows or MacOS X, or some weird hybrid if you want. It’s almost as stable as MacOS X (although I do run into occasional glitches that require a Google search to remedy). It’s got a good user base, so most issues you run into can be solved by Googling and following the instructions someone’s spelled out. It’s 99% an end-user-friendly OS now, including Firefox, OpenOffice, an iTunes-like music player/store (which even has built in), and a host of other applications pre-installed. Getting new software is unique – you go to the “Software Center” menu item and search (or browse by categories such as Office, Entertainment, etc). Most software is free (open-source). Software updates are usually automatic, as when you “download” software, you’re not actually downloading an application, but installing a package description, which then tells the software update tool (“package manager”) to include that software in its updates. Fancy. To the end user, that means that the software just magically stays up to date. Plus, it’s free, and in many cases better than certain commercial equivalents. (I don’t bother with MS Office any more, as OpenOffice runs on PC/Mac/Linux).
  • Netflix
    I don’t know anyone who isn’t a Netflix subscriber, but I figured I’d mention it anyway. I use it both for DVDs and to Watch Instantly on my Mac and the PS3. Netflix jumped in as part of the beginning of the switch from broadcast to on-demand content. (Tivo was the other part).

So that’s a few of my favorite non-obvious tools. I also use the iPhone, running Shazam, Omnifocus, Now Playing and Siri on my home screen. (Now Playing is there to add movies to my Netflix queue when I see cool previews). Shazam is awesome for figuring out “what’s that song”, and Omnifocus is the best GTD-based organization software for Mac/iPhone (although the lack of a Linux version is problematic for me – if there was an equivalent web-based tool with an iPhone app I’d use that instead).[ad#Adsense]

Google Pac Man page severly impacts office productivity

This morning, in honor of Pac Man’s 30th anniversary, Google’s “Doodle” logo changed to a Googleized version of Pac Man.

With 255 levels, 2 player mode (click “insert coin”), and a statement that the game will NOT be archived, offices across the world have seen a dramatic drop in productivity.

When asked about the game’s effect on his department, a manager at a well-known dot com company, who wished to remain anonymous, stated “What? No, wait a minute I just. Dammit! Why did you interrupt me? I was on level 15! Get out of my office!”.

Similar responses have been heard at all levels of management in many corporations around the world.
In an exclusive interview with a VP at Google, we were told that the game was developed as part of Google’s ongoing plan for world domination:

“Using the IP address of the player and data such as the length of time playing the game, level achieved, etc, we can not only determine the immediate effect on office productivity to our competitors, but also gather information regarding the problem solving skills of their employees. Using the Google cookies already stored on the employee’s computer, we can make intelligent hiring decisions, stealing our competitor’s top talent.” *

So, there you have it. Innocent game? I think not.

* Nobody was interviewed at any company in the writing of this article. Were they too busy playing Pac Man to talk to us? Maybe.

How to get things done

If you’re like me, your “to-do” list is more like your “to-don’t” list. There are certain things I just hate doing, like paying bills, sorting snail-mail (ever wish there were spam filters and mail rules for snail mail?), and doing certain little random tasks (like getting the debris from the remodel two years ago out of my garage).

On “accounting day” (when I paid bills, etc), I would be in a reeeeally bad mood, to the point that I had to learn to not answer the phone or I’d be mean to the caller, no matter how close a friend. I realized something had to change.

So, I implemented a new system: I figured that I could handle 15 minutes of bill paying a day. I was right. It’s amazing what you can do in 15 minutes a day. I just stack the incoming mail on my desk and have a special email folder for incoming bills (“your online statement is ready”, etc). I wrote up 2 lists that are taped to the wall in front of my desk: One shows the “process flow” (order in which I do things), the next shows a list of bills, how they come in (mail versus email), and what needs to be done with each (needs to be paid online, send an online payment through my bank, auto-paid, etc). (I printed the lists not because I like paper, but because it makes getting into and out of the 15 minutes very easy – nothing to find or open, just sit and start).

Process flow looks like this:

  1. Paper Inbox (stack on desk)
  2. Incoming Bills email box
  3. Download Bank Statement into Quicken
  4. etc…

So, at the start of my day I just sit down, note the starting time, and start with the first thing on the top of the stack. When 15 minutes is up, I stop and get to more important things. (Maybe you want to pick a time after work instead :).

The system’s worked so well that I added a second 15-minute chunk to my day (mine goes right after the “accounting” chunk): The to-do list. This is very different from the to-don’t list. Items on this list get “processed” in order during that 15-minute chunk of time. I’ve made a covenant with myself: During that 15 minutes, I’m in what I call “execution mode” (’cause I’m a nerd) – I do not think about the list, I just start at item#1 and start processing. Doesn’t matter if that processing is just taking inventory of the crap in the garage – it’s the first step in the task, and after 15 minutes I stop. Next day if the task is still there, I continue it. Of course the other side of this self-covenant is that I carefully think about what goes on the To-Do list. It’s actually a separate list in my calendar named “To-Do”. There are other “to-do” lists on my calendar too – things that are good ideas, might be good to do, etc go there. But when something gets to the To-Do list, it’s special. It will get done. And it does!