| |

Switching to Make

Formerly Integromat

One thing I like to do in December is review my expenses, switch things from yearly to monthly, and see what I can change.

This year I decided to switch Zapier from yearly to monthly and learned they charge an obnoxious 33% more because of it.

Combine that with a recent episode of the Automators podcast that covers Make, and I’ve decided to try switching completely to Make from Zapier.

Evaluation and Plan

I did a quick evaluation last week and saw it supports most of the apps I use in Zapier, and there are other alternatives for the ones I don’t use.

I tested the waters over the weekend by converting one of my most crucial Zaps to a Make Scenario, and it worked.

So throughout January, I’m going to see just how much of my operation I can move to Make. If all goes well, my last day with Zapier (at least as my primary automation platform) will be January 31st.

Want a Deeper Look at the Transition?

Members of How I Built It Pro will get behind the scenes looks at how the transition is going, as well as my thoughts on Make as a platform, and some basic tutorials. You can join here for $5/mo.


My Analog Productivity Toolkit (2022)

I like to tell people that my 3 brothers and I all got one thing each from my parents. From our dad, we get an affinity for pocket knives. From our mom, we got a love of stationary. We all love a good notebook and pen, but of the 4 of us I’ve taken it to the most extreme.

While I’m squarely in tech, I still love doing most of my productivity stuff (planning, writing, etc.) with analog1 tools. I feel like I really got the system dialed in through 2021 — so much so that I’m not making any major changes to it in 2022. That makes now the perfect time to tell you all about my analog toolkit. All the links are at the end of the article.

The Paper

  • Theme System Journal: My journal and “habit” tracker. I try to write in it every week day at least, and track several actions throughout the day, giving a score at the end, and noting overall accomplishments and feelings.
  • William Hannah Notebook: This is my planner and everything notebook. It’s got 2 pages per week, and I’ll write down tasks, appointments, and my plan for the month. It’s central to my analog tools, and most of what I write in here gets digitized and put in Craft.
  • Analog by Ugmonk: There’s nothing like writing out a to do list and then checking items off. The Analog system from Ugmonk captures this perfectly. Beautiful card holder, cards for Today, Next (which I use for monthly planning), and Someday (which I use for Quarterly planning), and easy storage. At the end of each period, I take a picture of the card and store it in Craft.
  • Field Notes: I always have a Field Notes Brand notebook in my pocket. One usually lasts me a month, though sometimes it will be more. As long as it’s not totally wasteful, I’ll start a new one at the beginning of each month.

The Pens/Pencils

I have an entire Pens guide, so I won’t belabor this point, but I keep a few on me, in the fantastic Nock Co. Sinclair pen case2:

  • 2 fountain pens, which change each day
  • 1-2 ballpoint pens, where at least one is the Mark One by Studio Neat
  • 1 Blackwing Pencil and 1 Color Pencil (which is used for my habit tracking)

Miscellaneous Items

There are also a few miscellaneous items in the analog kit:

  • Panopad by Studio Neat: This is a landscape notebook that sits below my keyboard. Perfect for meeting notes or doodling
  • Subtle Notebook by Cortext Brand: This is a dot grid notebook by the makers of the theme system. I will use these for bigger projects, like a book I’m working on, or my next courses.

What do you use?

I know I probably use more than most, but it’s a system that works super well for me — especially since everything eventually makes it to a digital form anyway.

What do you use? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Toolkit Links

  1. At least partially — I still have digital tools I use a well. ?
  2. Unfortunately they are closing up shop, so I’m sorry for the tease. ?
| |

How to Manage Your Email for a Sane Holiday Season

Do you feel like you got way too many emails over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend? I know lots of people who do. I also know lots of business owners who held back sending their own sequence of emails because they hate getting emails. And while that’s a different conversation1, you can draw a similar conclusion: when people get a lot of email, they feel it’s overwhelming.

It doesn’t have to be. Way back in 2010, I wrote about how you can easily manage subscriptions with GMail. Well, it’s been 10 years, and there are a lot more ways to control your inbox. Let’s take a look at some.

Understand the + Operator in GMail (and other email services)

I suspect most people are using GMail, and I outline the + operator (called “plus addressing”) in the above post. You add a plus sign after your gmail user name, then some key word (for example, jcasabona+deals@gmail.com). Then you can use filters to do what you want with those emails. This works for any email address using Google’s email service, whether it’s an @gmail.com address, or your own domain.

And while lots people, businesses, and institutions use GMail or Google Workspace2, Google isn’t the only the only email service that supports this. Microsoft’s Outlook is another major player that allows plus addressing.

I suggest even if you’re not using Google or Microsoft, you see if your email service allows plus addressing.

Use Filters Generously

With or without plus addressing, you can still use filters generously. I use them to remove any emails from specific senders, or even key words. For example, if you get lots of emails from a noreply@ email address, you can set up a filter like this:


…and they move it into a “NoReply” folder or even the trash.

For a long time I used filters to manage large aspects of my inbox:

A good number of the filters I use in my personal GMail account.

But now, I use a MUCH better too: SaneBox

SaneBox is the solution we all need

Full Disclose: SaneBox is a previous sponsor of both my podcast and my newsletter. But it’s honestly a service I can’t live without.

I’ve written several times about Sanebox, but I think this post is a good introduction. The great thing about SaneBox is that it’s automatic and uses a form of machine learning to sort your email, no matter what service or email client you use.

That means you don’t need to mess with filters, and you can teach it to automatically sort any plus addresses you happen to use. It can also sort based on sender, key words, and other more technical aspects of email.

My favorite feature is the Sane Black Hole, which you can read about above. But they also have a fantastic feature called Do Not Disturb. When you enable it, you can have any email that would go to your inbox sent to a folder for a selected period of time. At the end of that period, the emails are restored to your inbox.

I think SaneBox is the best solution for most people.

Don’t Check Your Email When You’re Not at Your Desk

If I’m being honest, the catalyst for this post was a reply to a tweet I got about not wanting to be bothered on the holidays. And I totally get that.

A couple of books have come out in recent years that have rallied against email, either outside of work, or all together. One is Make Time and the other is Cal Newport’s A World Without Email. Both of these books offer insight into how you can cut the email cord.

And while it’s easy to say, “just don’t check email,” that trigger is a pretty strong one, especially if you find yourself on your phone with some downtime. With that in mind, there are a couple of more extreme options if you’re not a fan of folders and filters.

  1. Have a separate email address for all marketing emails. This could be an old address you don’t use any more, or one you’ve set up specifically for this purpose. Then you can get whatever you opted in for, and only check that inbox when you want to.
  2. Delete the app from your phone. Even if you can’t escape email when you’re at your desk, you can when you’re away from it. Delete the app from your phone if you really don’t want to be bothered.


Oh yeah…and you can always unsubscribe from those newsletters. If the businesses are anything like me, I’m happy to see unsubscribes. If people don’t want to hear from me, they shouldn’t have to.

Most email clients make it pretty easy to unsubscribe these days, even if the sender doesn’t.

Getting Emails may be the Problem, but There are Lots of Solutions

The fact of the matter is businesses will always send emails because they work. My 10 email sequence over the course of Cyber Week worked very well; I had more sales than unsubscribes. So I’ll be doing the same thing next year.

But I also have systems in place so that I only see those emails when I want to. Most marketing emails never make it to my inbox.

It can be the same way for you.

  1. One that’s coming soon ?
  2. …or whatever it’s called by the time you read this. ?

Should You Really Write in the WordPress Editor?

Earlier this week, my friend Justin Ferriman wrote a great post called Matt’s Page Builder, where he talks about the block editor trying to be two things: a place to write, and a page builder…and it’s more like the latter.

I’m in agreement. WordPress has considerably shifted from a simple blogging platform. Matt himself has said he wants it to be the, “operating system of the web,” which means a richer feature set, especially around creating and laying out content…but not necessarily writing.

But I’d argue that the WordPress editor has never really been the best place to write.

Never the Ideal Place to Write

The WordPress editor perhaps had a small window where it was a good place for people to write, after 3.6 was released. That was a time where the classic editor had auto saving and shortly after, browser backups with local storage.

It was at this point that you could reasonably write long-form pieces without fear of losing your work due to some browser or internet error.

But even working in the classic editor could be cumbersome. Adding images wasn’t the easiest, and doing anything more than simple text was tough1.

There were plugins, like Barley, that attempted to make this better (and did a pretty good job at it).

But really, if you want to write, you should use a writing app.

But I Use the Editor and It’s Fine

I know that will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way. People who’ve formed habits writing in the editor because it’s good enough.

And maybe for quick posts, that’s fine for you. But there are lots of reasons you should write somewhere and then send it to WordPress.

Why You Should Use a Separate Writing App

The first reason is the same reason Matt decided that full screen mode should be the default in the block editor: writing apps are fully focused on writing.

Actual Distraction Free Writing

There are no distractions, lots of keyboard shortcuts so you never have to take your hands off the keyboard, and most support some shorthand formatting like markdown2.

You’re also not distracted by other tabs and browser chrome. Writing apps are a blank canvas for you to compose your words. You can easily customize the fonts and colors to use work what’s best for you, and there aren’t a bevy of panels and options to work with.

It’s just you and your cursor.

Local Backups

Perhaps the biggest benefit of using a writing app over WordPress is local backups. Using a writing app means you can write without an internet connection. And if you lose your internet connection, the fear that you may have lost work won’t wash over you in a cold sweat3.

On top of all of your posts living in the WordPress database, they’ll also live on your local machine…and in the case of iOS writing apps, iCloud too.

Organize Your Way

Everyone’s brains work differently, and sometimes just having categories and tags won’t cut it.

In Ulysses (my writing app of choice), I have folders, tags (or keywords), and filters.

I’ve written blog posts, video scripts, full courses, and even books using Ulysses, because I can organize in a way that works with my brain.

As an added bonus, most writing apps will have much better search functionality, making it easier to find what you’re looking for without a premium plugin.

Write Once, Publish Everywhere

Finally, when you’re writing in WordPress, you’re basically just writing for WordPress. Yes, you can get plugins and connect RSS feeds and yada yada.

But when you’re working with plain text, or markdown, you can write in a neutral format and then ship it off to whatever platform or file you’d like.

Publish to WordPress, Ghost, Medium, or export as a Word Doc, PDF, or plain text file.

Good Writing Apps for WordPress

The best part about using separate writing app is there are a wealth of them to choose from, depending on your operating system and preferences.

My personal favorite is Ulysses. It’s easy to use when you’re just getting started, and powerful enough to do basically anything I want it to do. It also has native WordPress integration. And now, you can even update published posts right from Ulysses! So good.

Drafts is another good app, though you’ll need an extension to publish to WordPress. Drafts is fully focused on quick capture – so if you have ideas you want to jot down quickly and flesh out later, it’s a good app to check out.

The most integrated solution I’ve see (also for Mac) is MarsEdit. This will connect to your WordPress site and pull all of the posts in. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a native writing app for WordPress. It works well…but I’ve run into some issues with security that have prevented me from publishing.

If you’re looking for something cross platform, check out IA Writer. This is available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android, and has native WordPress export as well.

Where do you write? Let me know in the comments!

  1. Which you know, was the whole point of the Gutenberg project. ?
  2. To be fair, the block editor supports markdown and some great keyboard shortcuts. But I find myself reaching for the mouse a lot more there than I do in my writing app. ?
  3. Come on. You know you’ve felt it. ?

How I’m Using the iPad Mini

I have a confession: I love new devices. I probably upgrade too often. And I’m constantly looking for the perfect research companion. I thought it could be the Kindle Oasis, but I don’t reach for that as much as I expect1. Turns out the 11″ iPad Pro has been that for me for a long time. It’s nearly the perfect size.

But when I first heard rumors about a redesigned iPad Mini, I was giddy. I thought a bigger screen, with Apple Pencil 2 support…it would be perfect!

I instantly ordered it when it went on sale last month. After spending some time with it, I’m super happy with the purchase. It’s the perfect size for a lot of things. Here’s how I’m using it.

Reading and Content Consumption

Every morning I wake up around 5:30am so I can shower and get some coffee before my kids wake up2. I also like to catch up on RSS feeds, saved articles, and the news. The iPad Mini is absolutely perfect for this.

When I was reading on my 11” Pro, I would usually need two hands just to hold it, or at least rest it on my leg while I held it.

The iPad Mini is a great size, very light, and great for one-hand use.

Watching Videos

This is also what I’m using for watching YouTube and other videos, mostly due to its portability. Naturally the 11” screen is more desirable for watching, but I find myself with the Mini more often than the Pro now. And the watching experience is fine — especially if I’m not going to be sitting in front of the TV.

Note Taking, Idea Capture, and Research

The other aspect of the Mini I was excited for was note taking. Again, the 11” is great for planning and drawing, but the Mini is the approximate size of most notebooks I use.

My halfway decent attempt at drawing Elsa in the Concepts app

I am NOT disappointed at all. I’m using GoodNotes, Concepts, and even Craft with handwriting more.

But the most surprising feature I’ve been using is Quick Note, something enables in iPadOS 15. You swipe up from the right corner and there’s a brand new note in Apple Notes. It can even grab certain app contexts, like the link to a webpage.

I often find that when I’m reading and get an idea for my own content, Quick Note to Craft is the best workflow for me.

And since I can hold the Mini in one hand and write with the other, it’s something I think I’m doing much more often than I would on the 11” Pro.

Writing and Content Creation

I didn’t expect I’d do any “real work” outside of research on this. Aside from Craft, most apps I use for content creation and planning are…not great…on iOS3.

That said, I have been using the Mini to write articles and scripts — including this post!

I have a foldable keyboard and small stand I can rest the iPad Mini on. I’ve been writing vertically (something Jason Snell suggests on Upgrade) and I’ve like it! It’s a very focused way to write, and if I get stuck I get easily distracted.

On the Split Keyboard

I got this keyboard because it folds and I thought it might be good with my iPhone in a pinch. But If I’m going to use this workflow viably, I’ll need a better one. I’ll still look for some foldable keyboard I can keep in my bag, but I suspect I’ll be moving to a non-foldable, 65% sized keyboard instead.

High Marks

All in all, I’m really happy with the iPad Mini. It’s fulfilled all the rolls I expected it to, and more.

I’ll still use my iPad Pro for writing, as a second monitor for live streams, and for when I need to use more than one app on the iPad4, but to be honest, if I were making the decision today, I’d probably skip the iPad Pro, and go with the M1 MacBook Air and the iPad Mini.

  1. Though I am reading more Kindle books because of it. ?
  2. They are both angels that sleep until after 7am most mornings. ?
  3. I’m looking at you, Airtable. ?
  4. I can see myself bringing both iPads with me instead of my laptop in certain contexts. ?

Using Back Tap on iPhone

I had the pleasure of participating in the GoWP Niche Agency Owners Happiness Hour recently and we talked all about tools (I didn’t know that going in, but as you can imagine I was pleased). Something I got to demo was how to turn on iPhone Back Tap (a feature in iOS 14 and up). Since many didn’t know about it, I thought it would be a good thing to demo here.

Read More “Using Back Tap on iPhone”

5 Recent Purchases I’ve Been Really Happy With (May 2021)

I thought I’d start a new type of post on this blog for stuff I’ve been digging. I’m not the first to think of this concept, surely. But I feel like lately all of stuff I’ve been purchasing, I’ve been really pleased with. So every so often I’ll run a list like this. Here’s 5 purchases I’ve been really happy with for May 2021.

Read More “5 Recent Purchases I’ve Been Really Happy With (May 2021)”

5 Years with an iPhone

Recently on my podcast, How I Built It, I got to speak to Stephen Hackett. During our chat I was reminded of, and subsequently mentioned, the time Phil Schiller (now an Apple Fellow – congrats Phil!) tweeted a link to my blog with the text, “Joe switched!” It was my most popular blog post up until that point, and remains one of the most popular. In honor of that, I wanted to do a new write up: 5 years with an iPhone.

Read More “5 Years with an iPhone”

Automating Your Life with James Rose

Have you every wondered how some people seem to do so much? Well this week I sit down with James Rose to unlock some of the secrets of one of my favorite topics: automation. We talk about what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to take some tasks off of your plate, and off of your mind.

The post Automating Your Life with James Rose appeared first on How I Built It .

Original Source: https://howibuilt.it/automating-your-life-with-james-rose/

| |

5 Tips For Working From Home

The work from home movement is growing considerably, and for good reason. But with this monumental shift in how you work comes a likely lull in productivity – or at least some growing pains.

As someone who’s be working from home for over half of my live (and pretty much all of my adult life), I know the struggle. But I also know what works. To combat this, there are a few things you can do to help draw boundaries.

Read More “5 Tips For Working From Home”