One of my favourite apps on the Mac (and on iOS) is Things, by Cultured Code.
It's a beautiful, easy-to-use, yet powerful to-do list app, and it helps me stay productive, and keep on top of the messiness of daily life.
This weekend I decide to put together a basic video – I just wanted to share the basics to help you be more productive:
What is Things?
How do you add tasks?
What is the "Inbox" vs "Today" vs other options?
And how can you add tasks to Things when you think of them?
I hope you find this video helpful – it's my first adventure into YouTube movie making, and I know I have a lot to learn!
But if you find this even vaguely helpful – either for yourself or your friends, then please let me know – I'd love to share more about the tools I use every day with the aim of helping others get more from their day.
I’m a total Apple geek, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
As soon as I had a chance, I pre-ordered the iPhone 12 Pro with the goal of receiving it on launch day.
The unbelievable strength of Apple’s marketing prowess dawned on me – I didn’t make a rational decision, I didn’t think too much – I decided and I purchased.
My previous iPhone has been the iPhone X – and it’s been a fantastic companion for three years.
To Pro or not to Pro
This was the primary area where I was surprised at how little I thought about the purchase. The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro are both incredibly good devices. And there is hardly any trade off by choosing the 12 vs the 12 Pro. It’s primarily about cameras and “look and feel”.
There are some software features that Apple holds back for the Pro only – primarily, one could argue the reason for some software features only being availble on the Pro is the extra 2GB of RAM. But it feels like there’s increasingly a decision from Apple to use software to distinguish between models, rather than just hardware.
What I realised in this process of choosing the iPhone 12 Pro is that Apple has made me classify myself. I knew I wanted the Pro instinctively. I mentally tuned out of what the 12 could do and jumped straight to the Pro. Why? I don’t know – it feels like it’s hard wired into me.
This is crazy, because in many ways I love the look of the iPhone 12 – with aluminium band, and the fact it’s a little lighter.
Pre-order day came and I made my purchase. Launch day came, and I eagerly anticipated the delivery.
There’s been some fuss around the new iPhones coming in a tiny box and Apple choosing to not include a power adaptor or headphones.
Initially my reaction was: “come on, Apple!” With regards to the lack of a charger – especially given the cable that ships in the box is a new USB-C cable rather than a traditional USB 2.0 cable. For those unaware, USB 2 ports are the kind that people started wiring into their wall sockets in the UK several years ago, somewhat shortsightedly.
In reality, the decision to remove these accessories makes a ton of sense – and I am finding it hard to complain. Smaller boxes (considerably smaller boxes – to the point where I thought the delivery driver had given me a SIM card and some O2 packaging, and not my iPhone) are good for the planet, and therefore everyone.
I have enough old Apple Lightning cables and adaptors around my house to keep me going for some time. In actual use, the lack of adaptor in the box is nowhere near as big of a deal as the now ancient switch from Dock Connector to Lightning. Everyone will be fine.
Everything’s faster – it feels so snappy – like having a new watch. Every animation, every tap, every interaction feels almost instant.
Hand washing – it works. Features like this truly change behaviour. Try as I might – I have not been washing my hands for 20 seconds every time. Just as I love to close my rings, this is another habit I’m now far more inclined to build.
The set up for everything sleep related was fantastic. There were a lot of options, but everything was extremely clear. I experienced “Wind Down” last night as my iPhone and Watch were both telling me “James, get to bed now, for heaven’s sake!”
The Watch went into a mode similar to Theatre Mode where the screen is switched off and unresponsive. You have to wake it by hitting the Digital Crown and then turning it a satisfying amount to unlock. And notifications are removed from you Lock Screen on iPhone to keep your bedtime routine as distraction free as possible.
Sleep tracking – I tried it last night, and I’m not totally sure what data goes where, now that I have about four apps all helping me sleep better. Needs further investigation.
No more Force Touch
Lack of Force Touch – haven’t felt the loss of it at all in my first 24 hours. All interactions I stumble on regularly have been replaced Force Touch with a button or other interface element that’s easily visible.
I still find the instal process for watchOS updates pretty convoluted. Maybe I’m too keen and should just let it install overnight while I’m sleeping. Yesterday I spent part of my lunch hour messing around with ensuring my Watch was on its charger, charged more than 50%, on WiFi, that my iPhone was close, and it also was connected to WiFi. And then I just waited. Progress seemed slow. I did something wrong, or something went wrong – either way, it wasn’t perfectly smooth.
Thankfully, eventually, it was all done, and as if by magic I had watchOS 7 ready for the evening. It felt like I had a new Watch.
Go get it
Every year, iOS and watchOS get a little bit better. This version of watchOS is a delight on so many levels. Go install it if you haven’t already!
Patrick’s list includes the first version of Amazon Prime (six weeks), the first iPod (approximately 290 days), and Disneyland (366 days).
This weekend I also read a profile on Elon Musk in Rolling Stone – this quote stood out to me (emphasis mine):
Beyond all this, most maddening or exciting for Musk’s employees, depending on which one you ask, is the time scale on which he often expects work to be done. For example, one Friday when I was visiting, a few SpaceX staff members were frantically rushing back and forth from the office to the parking lot across the street. It turns out that during a meeting, he asked them how long it would take to remove staff cars from the lot and start digging the first hole for the Boring Company tunnel. The answer: two weeks.
Musk asked why, and when he gathered the necessary information, he concluded: “Let’s get started today and see what’s the biggest hole we can dig between now and Sunday afternoon, running 24 hours a day.” Within three hours, the cars were gone and there was a hole in the ground.
Not everyone is comfortable moving fast, but I don’t think there’s any option when running an internet business: you have to move fast or you die.
When someone says something will take two weeks, you can either take them at their word, or you can challenge them to think: what would it take to achieve this in two days? What needs to change?
Since remote working became default, we've all been trying different ways of working – from those adopting Slack or Teams for the first time, to doing one-on-ones over Zoom.
There's never been a better excuse to try radical changes to team collaboration.
The weekly kickoff
Every Monday morning we start the week with a kickoff.
We have a Notion doc that everyone has access to, with a clear agenda and structure.
The person who owns each “department” of the business outlines how they're doing against their objective for the quarter, and their action plan for the week to get closer to achieving it.
We used to do these kickoffs in person in our office. And then one of the team moved to Scotland (who can blame them!), so we started do do our kickoffs with one person on a video call and the rest of us in the office.
And then 2020 hit and we were forced to all join our Scottish colleague and communicate via Zoom in these Monday morning meetings.
Lack of engagement and no lack of chaos
We started to notice a few trends in these meetings:
Some people would speak for more than they needed, while others would speak less.
We saved questions to the end and found many of the team would not have the opportunity to ask what they needed.
Regardless of Zoom it was often hard to digest numbers and explanations on the spot when spoken aloud.
Most of all, we started to question the very purpose of these meetings – what's the point of us all getting together at the same time on a call if we aren't going to interact? If we are just going to speak at each other?
Meetings are expensive.
“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin
Take an hour for the meeting (assuming it starts on time and finishes on time), plus the hour before to prepare, plus the 30 mins after to fully get back into your flow, multiplied by the number of people in the meeting.
Add all this up and you quickly realise you're taking 15+ hours of the team’s time.
Every member of the team is incredibly skilled, ambitious, and driven. One resource that is impossible to replace is their time – once it’s spent they’re not getting it back. So I try to be extremely cautious of any time we take from anyone on the team. In that time, does every member of the team feel like it was valuable to help them grow, perform better, and achieve their goals? Or do they feel like that meeting just robbed them of an hour of their life?
15 hours is a lot of collective team time, and when you also consider that everyone is being paid to be there, a lot of money being spent too.
Efficient, well run meetings not only matter morally but they make financial sense too for
I came across Ulysses after asking on Twitter if there was a better way to write blog posts on my iPhone or iPad, instead of relying on the Ghost web interface.
It appears there is – it’s called Ulysses and it’s what I can only describe as a delightful native app for iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS.
It’s so great, the (rather talented) developers would rather you paid for a subscription.
Subscribe to an app for writing? Really?! It’s a very reasonable subscription (£5 / month), but it still feels weird to pay a monthly fee for an app to write when so many free options exist.
I took the plunge and I am going to see how it performs – if I write more because of Ulysses then it’s easily worth the 2 coffees a month for the experience.
I’m writing this in Ulysses right now and the writing experience on both iOS and on my Mac is just delightful. I love Markdown and I love the balance they've found between complexity and simplicity to make an overall experience that is easy to get started with, but advanced enough to cater to every need I've had so far.
The Scaleup podcast is led by Charlotte, CEO of Equalture, as she chats with other founders and CEOs from all over the world about their journey of building a team and the impact that their teams have on their businesses. Milestones, failures and lessons learned.
I was honoured to speak with Charlotte earlier in July, and we had a fun discussion about some of the highs and lows of running GoSquared, about mistakes we've made along the way, and we dug into the back story of starting GoSquared in the first place.
Be sure to check out the full series for many other honest and open discussions with founders.
For the first time, you can now send emails to your contacts using GoSquared, without needing any external tools or integrations, and benefit from the wealth of data, insights, and segmentation options that we've been building for years.
Automation has been a long time in the works.
I remember when we released Customer Data Hub (at the time, we called it People Analytics) – back in 2015(!) – one of the top requests we received from customers from that point onwards has always been: I want to use the data in GoSquared to send better emails to customers.
It's exciting to have this huge new set of functionality in the platform. So many hours of hard work across the team went into this release, and I am so proud of what we've all achieved together to get to this point.
If you run a software business, and you're in the market for a better way to engage with your customers, you should take a look at what we've been up to.
Today is Sunday 26th April – the date of the 2020 London Marathon. Except it's not happening today.
Last year, I ran the marathon – for the first time, and it was one of the best days of my life.
Before the memories of the day blur too much, I wanted to write them down. Perhaps someone else is thinking about taking part on this incredible day once the world returns to some form of normality.
Here's my story.
The build up
“Good luck! I’ll be watching from the pub.”
This was the first person I saw after leaving the house – a black cab driver – on my walk to East Dulwich station. What an appropriate way to start the most London of days – by bumping into someone with the most London of professions.
It was early. It was quiet. And it wasn't raining. Not hot, but also not cold. Perfect running weather.
It was eerily quiet – was it really the right day? Was this just a dream? Can I return to bed?
I had nothing but nerves. I could barely speak from the moment I woke up.
Should I drink more water? Should I drink less? Have I eaten enough? Should I eat more? I don't feel hungry! I don't want to be sick! Will my top rub? Will my knee hold out? What if I trip? Are my trainers going to be OK? What if my timing chip doesn't work and my times don't get counted? What if my bib number falls off? Did I actually register everything OK? What if I injure myself and have to pull out – my whole family are following me from the app? Am I going to get there too early? Too late?
Once I reached the station – the platform was quiet, but a handful of other runners turned up. Clearly they've done this before. This is the correct day! This is the correct time.
When I arrived at London Bridge Station, the atmosphere became real – it was busy, despite being so early on a Sunday. People were shuffling around, following coloured flags to different platforms.
When I reached the top of the escalator up to the platform for the train to Maze Hill there were plenty of police around and lots of runners. The helicopter in the sky set me off – this is real. This is the London Marathon – and I am taking part in it.
Police were everywhere – looking after the runners, helping guide everyone to the right place. An immediate wave of positivity, of excitement, but also of collective nervousness diffused through the air.
London Bridge is where you must say goodbye to anyone you've been travelling with up until this point. You're on your own from here. I had to disconnect from the warm reassurance of Lauren. What I'd do to go and sit in a cafe and have a bacon roll right now...
The train journey vanished past, and before I knew it, we were at Maze Hill station.
It's not every day we're featured on BBC News, but after a quick back-and-forth with Katie Prescott, the GoSquared team made an appearance in article about the unexpected shenanigans of conference calls today.
The screenshot was taken on my birthday when the team sang happy birthday to me via Zoom.
Sure, it has the trackpad that many have been clamouring for for many years, but it’s the hinge that blew me away.
I felt the previous keyboard covers for the iPad were some of the most confusing products Apple has ever made – the hinge and flaps were so complicated. They always reminded me of when you have a large map and you try to fold it back up to put it away and can never quite fold it exactly as it needs to be.
This new hinge – with the ability to adjust the screen on multiple axes – appears to give the user more options in viewing angle than any current laptop.
It begs the question – if it's great for the iPad, would a "floating cantilever" not be great for MacBooks too?
There’s never been a better time to get back into RSS. – John Gruber
I recently started using NetNewsWire on both my Mac and my iPhone to consume news via RSS feeds.
I made the change just before everything kicked off and the world got turned upside down, but it’s proved to be good timing.
I had previously been using Apple News to both keep up to date with the wider world, as well as follow specific sites.
But right now I can’t take it – the sensationalist headlines, the click bait, the fear mongering. I don’t need more of that in my life.
RSS isn’t a new technology, but it’s making yet another resurgence, and for me it’s because of one app – NetNewsWire.
NetNewsWire – the beautifully simple RSS reader for iOS and Mac
NetNewsWire shows you articles from your favourite blogs and news sites — and keeps track of what you’ve read.
It’s like podcasts, but for reading.
If you’ve been going from page to page in your browser looking for new articles to read, let NetNewsWire bring them to you instead.
NetNewsWire is free for both platforms, and it’s open source. Don’t be fooled by the term “open source” – it can often be misconstrued as synonymous for “designed by developers and decided by committee”, but that couldn't be further from the truth here.
NetNewsWire is an unbelievably great piece of software – opinionated , fast, light, accessible, and beautiful, and it’s unapologetically native. 
It’s apps like NetNewsWire that make me want to learn to code – to think that one day I could build something as great as this.
If you’re looking for some serenity in your news reading habits, and you’ve got an iPhone or a Mac, I implore you to go check it out.
Opinionated software tends to trump "please everyone" software – especially when you agree with the opinions of the decision maker. Brent Simmons, the creator of NetNewsWire has a fantastic blog where he shares his thought processes for many decisions he makes in bringing this wonderful app to life. ↩︎
Every year, the pressure to outline dramatic resolutions mounts as January looms.
But every year I grow older, and hopefully a little wiser, and this time I’m not throwing out my previous resolutions, I’m just evolving them.
I feel extremely fortunate to be in a position where I can choose what to buy and where I buy it from.
In the last few years I’ve grown increasingly aware that I can vote with my wallet and choose to actively seek out the shops I want to support, the products I want to buy, and to actively choose to avoid the businesses I don’t agree with.
This year, I intend to focus on this further – rather than just consuming less – less meat, less alcohol, less plastic, less electricity – I also want to ensure the meat, alcohol, products, and energy I consume are better.
Better for me, better for the environment, better for everyone involved.
Last year I tried creating more.
Creating more certainly helps you build habits, and it helps you maintain your craft.
But I couldn’t bring myself to meet the schedule I set to myself – I found myself creating just to hit a self-prescribed goal. Perhaps I aimed to aggressively – trying to write something new on a daily basis for a few weeks.
I’m done with creating in quantity for now. I want to focus more on quality – on deeper thought, on more unique writing, art, and design.
This year I want to create more, but not too much more. What I really want to do is create better.
A few weeks ago I was fortunate to see one of the first screenings of General Magic in London.
Since seeing the movie, I've been telling everyone I meet about it.
It’s a story of one of the greatest teams of product, engineering, marketing, and leadership people coming together to build a device eerily similar to the iPhone, but in the early 90s.
The movie pieces together with original footage how this incredible team came together, worked their socks off, and ultimately failed to deliver what they set out to achieve. It’s a story that makes you question the definition of failure – a ridiculous number of people from General Magic went on to practically define the world we live in now, and the ideas behind the device were spot on – they just took longer to get here than orignally thought.
Just a few of the people who were involved with General Magic:
Tony Fadell – joined General Magic as an intern, co-inventor of iPod and iPhone, founder of Nest.
Marc Porat – the CEO of General Magic, and visionary of the original device.
Megan Smith – became CTO of US, and VP at Google.
Andy Hertzfeld – member of original Macintosh team, also co-created Google Circles.
Joanna Hoffman – another member of original Macintosh team.
John Sculley – former Apple CEO, also launched the Newton to compete with Genral Magic.
Kevin Lynch – former CTO of Adobe, creator of Dreamweaver, VP of technology at Apple.
Huge thanks to Emma Sinclair for arranging a screening of this movie, and to Sarah Kerruish and Steve Jarrett for the fascinating Q&A after the movie.
If you're interested in the history of computing, you want to see a wealth of on-the-ground footage from one of the most influencial teams of people in technology, or you just want to be inspired by the willpower and hard work of an incredibly smart group of people, you have to watch this movie.
At the start of this month I tried writing every day, but I can’t do it.
More importantly, I feel I shouldn’t do it.
I believed by forcing myself to write every day I’d naturally improve, but after two weeks, the pressure to write every day, without fail, was forcing me to churn words out that I felt were a compromise on quality.
I was inspired by Seth Godin’s recent piece on “streaks” – where he’s written over 3,000 posts over the course of his blog. Very few people can claim to have that level of stamina for writing.
But I am not trying to be Seth Godin. I am trying to write to articulate my thoughts more clearly, to help me form my own thoughts, and hopefully to share any lessons I learn with others.
So far, by trying to write every day, I’ve learnt something valuable – that it doesn’t encourage me to do my best work.
Instead, I’m going to change my goal – try to write more, but try to write better, longer, more thoughtful pieces.
My new goals for writing:
Don’t try to write every day.
Spend more time thinking, before the writing.
Once a week > once a day.
Read what I write. Edit. Read again. Publish.
I also took some time to update the look and feel of the site. I love the Ghost platform for blogging, but I was frustrated to still be using essentially a default theme.
Great design is near and dear to my heart – it runs through everything in my life – so I don’t wish for any part of public presence to look substandard.
I can still do a whole lot better with the design of my site, but for now I’ve taken a few cues from the latest updates to the GoSquared brand, including using the wonderful Inter typeface, and working on a stylised version of my initials for the first time.
I treat this site as a test bed for my design, writing, and for sharing my thoughts. I hope you’ll like what’s to come.
It’s so easy to think you know what your customer experience is like.
Whether you sell a piece of software, you run a government department, or you’re putting on an event, it’s all too easy to think you’ve catered to your customer’s needs.
But we are all customers. And we know how many businesses don’t cater to our needs.
Today I had to go to the passport office in London.
I had an email to the head to the apartment office – it told me I had an appointment to collect my passport at a specific time, and to get there no earlier than 10 minutes before my appointment, and obviously no later.
But upon arrival, I found there were two entrances – one for “appointments” and one for “collections”. Where does one go for an appointment to collect their passport? For those waiting in suspense, the answer, apparently, is collections.
The whole situation made me realise – it’s so obvious in my shoes how this could be improved. But within the organisation – especially one as complex as the UK passport office – I assume nothing is obvious or easy.
I would imagine very few people speak to each other between departments, and I would imagine it’s a rarity that anyone who can impact the situation ever experiences the flow from a customer’s perspective.
The same concept applies to almost every business – at your event, is the agenda clear upon arrival? In your cafe, is it clear where the restroom is? In your restaurant, do you sit at a table or wait to be seated? When you sign up for your software product, is it clear what you should do first to get value?
It’s not hard to know what your customer experience is like, but it’s very easy to think you know it.
Try being your own customer today and see what you find – you’ll be glad you did!
If there was an event where Apple expressed the importance of telling stories, it was their services event earlier this year where they launched Apple TV+. Every other word at their March event was either “Services” or “Storytelling”.
But everyevent features storytelling from Apple. They’re incredible at storytelling. And I always enjoy seeing the stories they want to tell with each product announcement they make.
Yesterday’s event was no different.
From a product perspective, it’s hard to get excited about year-over-year device upgrades these days – when phones are objectively “more than good enough” for the overwhelming majority of customers.
How do you make people want something new when what they have is good enough? You tell a great story and make sure millions of people hear that story.
Here are the stories I took from Apple’s September event:
iPhone 11 Pro: this is a professional video and stills camera in your phone. Stop thinking you need a camera and a phone and get this.
iPhone 11: the new iPhone is tough as nails and the battery lasts longer. It’s also a bit cheaper. What more do you want from us?
Apple Watch: this watch will change or save your life, or both. And we’ve got the watch for you – pick from a thousand variations.
Apple Retail: everything is fine despite Angela Ahrendts leaving. To prove it, here’s two new initiatives and a beautiful redesign of our most famous store.
AppleTV+: We are taking this content thing seriously. We’re not messing about and one way or another you’re going to end up watching these shows.
iPad: This is a platform of its own now. It’s not a bigger sibling of the iPhone. We’re going to keep pushing the price down at the low end and keep pushing the tablet paradigm to its limits at the high end.
Apple Arcade: Families, we get you. Don’t worry about the slimy games out there trying to nickel and dime you. We’ve got fantastic, exclusive games for you, and for just $4.99 / month you don’t need to worry about your children racking up a huge credit card bill for fake coins ever again.
The stories Apple didn’t tell
The Tile competitor: a new way to find the stuff you own. Never lose another gadget or item around your house. Seamlessly integrated with your existing Apple devices. Tiny price compared to the iPhone you’ll be buying soon – why not buy a pack of 10 Apple Tiles? They’ll make a great stocking filler.
The pro story for anything other than iPhone. Mac Pro, iPad Pro, MacBook Pro all are waiting for their time to shine.
Every September, Apple announces new iPhones without fail. Here’s a QuickTake of the 2019 iPhone event.
Apple kicked the event off with a beautiful introductory animation that many would describe as an artistic homage to the soon-to-depart Jony Ive. Regardless of the meaning behind this animation, it's utterly delightful.
Apple's first focus was to talk about Apple Arcade – the gaming subscription service announced earlier in the year. Some great games, nothing too much new other than official release date and official price of $4.99 / month.
Because Apple controls everything here, it’s going to be available in 150 countries on launch. Relatively easy for Apple to do, very hard for anyone else.
Apple’s Netflix competitor was also announced earlier in the year, and Apple has been teasing more and more trailers in the last few months.
Nothing new to report from the event except: Apple is aggressively pricing this. Not only is the service $4.99 / month – half of Netflix – but they’re also giving everyone a free year on any new purchase of an Apple device.
Aggressive pricing is perhaps required here – Apple is playing catchup, and their catalogue is tiny right now. They’re building from zero.
But with original content there’s a lot to be said for having 10 incredibly well produced and popular shows over 100 mediocre ones. Only time will tell whether Apple’s high quality production will equate to popularity.
The lowest end iPad gets an update. Apple also took the time to remind us that the iPad has its own OS now. I’d expect the really exciting iPad news to be about the iPad Pro which were massively overhauled in the last year – maybe there's time for an October event before Christmas.
The headline for the Apple Watch is health. Health health health.
The heartfelt stories Apple shared about customers whose lives had been impacted and / or saved as a result of wearing Apple Watch were nothing but heart warming and made you want to well up. The story is clear: Apple Watch is not a product, it’s a living, breathing example of technology serving the human race for good, not evil.
It's very easy to get caught up in the emotion but then you do need to remind yourself it's a consumer device that costs $399 or more and will last for approximately three years before it needs replacing.
The Series 5 features an "always on" display while maintaining all day battery – I didn’t realise this was possible today with current tech. Very cool to see it shipping in a device that I thought was still at least another generation out.
It never fails to amaze me how Apple comes up with new visuals to promote