Writers aren't the only people who need a sane and quiet workplace in order to get stuff done. Every Apple customer has things to accomplish, and unnecessary distractions just get in the way. Here are six tools and techniques that I use to keep my working lifestyle sane and quiet so I can write.
1. SpamSieve. I wouldn't even think about using Macintosh email app unless it's supported by C-Command's SpamSieve by Michael Tsai. This app has changed my computing life greatly for the better, and I love it. SpamSieve uses Bayesian filtering to build a corpus, and it learns as it goes. The longer you use it, the better it gets at filtering out spam. These days, SpamSieve is filtering out about 50 spam messages a day with just about perfect accuracy.
Of course, I also use the Mail app's rules. After SpamSieve does its job, the Mail app's filters kick in, and one important one is a rule that filters out email that isn't sent to my named email address. If the email isn't important enough to be sent directly me, it's filtered and dropped into the junk mailbox.
When SpamSieve and filters are done, I have what I need to focus on business at The Mac Observer.
2. OS X's Notifications. These can be a constant disruption. OS X and lots of other apps would like to send me notifications, but one can't really focus with those constant popups. So I use the Do Not Disturb function and set a time window. That's in System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb.
I also carefully manage which apps are allowed in the Notification Center and which are "Not in Notification Center."
3. Partitioning of OS X and iOS devices. Unlike, I surmise, most writers, I don't direct my work email to my iPhone and iPad in addition to my work iMac. The reason is that the Mac is well equipped to handle the enormous amount of TMO email that I get, but my iPhone is not. (Nor do I want to make it so.) To that end, the iPhone has its own, dedicated, non-public email address. I dedicate email on the iPhone (and iPads) to sharing photos and screen shots that are outbound.
One of the major uses for my iPad (Air) is to get a way from it all, fall into a recliner or sit on the patio, and catch up on my tech reading. The last thing I want is business email interfering with that. Work is restricted to being in front of the work Mac.
4. iTunes. I run a special playlist in iTunes called "My Workday." There resides all my favorite writing music — music that I know will both calm me down and inspire me. I use albums from Eric Tingstad, Nancy Rumbel, Michael Jones, Brulé, David Lanz, Jim Brickman, Suzanne Ciani and others to relax and inspire me.
One of my favorite parts of iTunes is Radio channels. iTunes Radio is pretty good at finding music that's similar to the main artist of my channel, and I've discovered some great music that way, like that from Angels of Venice.
I run iTunes on a different Mac so that it doesn't take up room on my main screen and so that I can have the volume for music independent of the sound level on my work Mac. It sounds quirky, but it works for me.
5. Specialization and Text Diary. The Internet, digital technology and smartphones and tablets have enabled a myriad of projects, apps, and services that aim to seduce us and try to consume our time (and cash). As a result, I consciously ignore a lot of technology. That sounds crazy for someone in my job, but there's a method to my madness. First, I specialize. I'm interested in a lot of things, but not everything. That allows me to develop some expertise.
Next, within my specialties, I decide if something adds real value to my life. If in doubt, I wait. When some flash-in-the-pan service comes along, I'll give it a year to prove that it has value and staying power. By specializing and then being critical of new technologies, I have the time to develop expertise and then provide genuine value in my articles.
I use BBEdit to not only write my articles (with its HTML tools), but I also keep a work log and notes on people I've contacted, front, middle and back burner projects, and things to focus on. Sanity as a writer means keeping track of all my own activities in a diary, simply and without complex apps that need maintenance or could mangle or lose my historical records. I've been burned by that before, so I use a simple, reliable, hassle-free text editor, but a powerful one like BBEdit.
6. OS X Spaces. I have one primary OS X Space (on two displays) that has everything I need to get my TMO work done. Other secondary spaces are used for side projects not directly related to TMO. That way, when I'm doing my TMO work, these additional activities are out of sight and out of mind.
Suppressing sound levels and notifications during work hours keeps these secondary Spaces from pestering me. That way, I can focus on writing and then check these other OS X Spaces at my leisure.
So there you have it. I use SpamSieve, Apple's Mail app filter rules, Notification's "Do No Disturb," iTunes on a second Mac, restrictions on work email, BBEdit, technology specialization, sound management, and OS X Spaces to create a sane and peaceful writing environment. If it weren't for these tools, I'd never be able read, research and write.
If you've developed your own tools and techniques to help with your work, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below.