I am Jenxi http://iamjenxi.com The world through my eyes Sun, 18 Feb 2018 17:14:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9978634 Getting Things Done http://iamjenxi.com/getting-things-done/ http://iamjenxi.com/getting-things-done/#respond Thu, 01 Feb 2018 11:00:11 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12658 Everyone has their own ways of getting things done. You most probably have come across the term Getting Thing Done (GTD) before. Many people use this time management method to increase their productivity.

GTD setup

There is no perfect GTD setup, only one that suits you the most, and even then you will keep finding new ways to improve your setup. I often share my GTD methods with my friends but this is the first time I’m putting it down in writing.

It is very useful reading GTD setup and workflows used by others and their rationale behind doing so. It is how you get ideas and inspirations to constantly improve your own implementations.

Pocket notebooks

I carry a leather-bound stack of notebooks. These notebooks were made in a limited run by me and Matt to address the lack of a suitable notebook with paper that writes well with our Lamy fountain pens.

Xiaobenzi 2 jpg

Xiaobenzi 1 jpg

Instead of a single notebook, I have several notebooks with a leather cover that I bought off Taobao. It is a smaller version of the popular Midori notebook. I have different notebooks for different goals and projects, and a main notebook that I use to list my daily task list. These notebooks are then held together by rubber bands to form a thick stack of notebooks that fits perfectly within the leather cover.

The modular setup allows me to easily swap out notebooks that are full, or when certain projects are cancelled or have moved down the priority ladder and don’t justify being carried around daily.

Things

My previous preferred GTD app was Clear on both iOS and macOS. I have since switched to Things as my GTD app. The main push factor was how I can add notes and checklist to individual tasks. This allows me to add increased granularity to every task.

Things today

Things today checklist png

Clear is still on my iPhone and Mac, but it functions more as a general list app to track lists of items and tasks without the schedule and time sensitivity elements.

Clear tasklist

Clear reading list png

I use Things on macOS only. While there is an iOS version, I’m not considering purchasing it as as part of my minimalist app approach. I have stopped spending on apps unless they are critical to my workflow. Now that I spend the bulk of my time on my Mac due to the nature of my work, the importance of an iOS app has diminished.

GTD workflow

My mind is still more active when I write with pen and paper. I list down daily tasks in my notebook. This helps me to map out the tasks I need to cover. It’s fascinating how often I think of a second task while I’m still writing the first.

Next, I key in the tasks into Things. All tasks go into the system via inbox. I would then sort each task based on their schedules. There’s the choice of Today, This Evening, schedule a date, or simply file them to be completed Someday. However, I stay away from the last category. It is better to schedule a task to be completed, if there is no intention to do so, simply delegate it for someone else to finish it. Don’t let them linger and hold back your momentum.

The Most Important Tasks (MITs) for each day goes under the Today section. The recommendation is up to three MITs to ensure maximum productivity. I try to keep it to one or two tasks if possible. These are the key tasks I need to accomplish for the day. All other minor tasks must give priority to the MITs.

Depending on the nature of the tasks, I assign deadlines, tags and break down the task into smaller action plans. The checklist for each action allows me to track the steps needed to complete the task. This gives me a plain view of where I am and the roadmap ahead.

What’s your GTD implementation like?

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Habits in 2016 http://iamjenxi.com/habits-in-2016/ http://iamjenxi.com/habits-in-2016/#respond Fri, 27 Jan 2017 07:53:00 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12633 About this time two years ago, I posted about setting new habits in 2016. It is a good time to review the past year in terms of gaining these habits.

In hindsight, I should have written a report card last year, but I’ve had a hectic 2016 so I’ll give myself a pass on that. I’ll touch briefly on 2015 and focus more on 2016, before I look forward to the habits to gain in 2017.

Exercise

I was well into getting fit in 2015. I gained weight. I lost fats and built up muscle mass. I continued my exercise habit into the first two months of 2016. However, work pushed most things off my plates, including blogging, writing, and photography. Regular exercise was the first habit to be dropped.

It was only when work eased up at the end of 2016 that I was able to start devoting more time to getting fit. I have been taking long walks to clear my mind and take more photos. This is a conscious effort to start increasing my steps count per day.

The next step to work towards in 2017 is to regain my routine of doing pushups and pull ups.

Daily journals

Another casualty of me being swamped with work was writing. I managed to continue my daily handwritten journal till March 2016, after which only wrote entries sparsely until October when I started to have time for daily entries again.

Aside from writing, I have also started drawing as a form of journal. Inspired by Boey Cheeming, I draw an entry a day. The doodles are short snippets of the highlights or interesting things I encountered that day. Some days, I draw about my past experiences as a pharmacist.

It will be an ask to maintain writing the handwritten and hand-drawn journals, while posting regularly on the blog, but these are habits I will work hard to gain because they hold great meaning to me.

Reading

One surprising habit that stuck with me was reading. While I was exhausted from work to produce creative output, reading was a salve. On the days I could still stay awake once I was in bed, I consumed a chapter. I completed several good books in 2016.

With more time on hand now, I read a chapter a day.

Forming habits

The best way to push yourself to gain a habit is through making yourself accountable.

I promised myself to finish the notebook I’m using for my 2017 journal entries, the Rhodia softcover notebook. Part of 2015 and 2016 were written in the Moleskine. The Rhodia is so much better than the Moleskine and I want to get a new one for 2018. So, I better be consistent and finish the current one in 2017.

My daily doodles are posted publicly on my blog so I have to be accountable to my friends who read the entries diligently.

I have several books I’m looking forward to on my reading list, and I also plan to post about my reading at the end of the year. These reasons motivate me to maintain my reading habit.

As for exercising, I have no one else to be accountable to except for myself. My health is the most important asset. I need to stay fit to be able to reach my goals. And of course, I need to continue to avoid looking my age.

Looking forward

Another habit I have formed is writing while I read. There are certain articles that resonate with me or that I disagree strongly with. As a result, I’m spurred to share my views and comments as I read.

This has been very useful in helping me finish blog entries, since what I write are often pieces that I want to share. This has made me more optimistic in posting blog entries more regularly.

I look forward to reviewing my progress at the start of the next year. What habits would you like to pick up in the year ahead? Write them down and share them. Make yourself commit to gaining the habit. Let’s push each other to meet our goals.

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Journal http://iamjenxi.com/blog-journal/ http://iamjenxi.com/blog-journal/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:41:19 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12621 I have started writing an online journal on this blog. Journal entries are shorter than my blog articles, and are more about the bits and pieces of my life. And instead of pure writing, I decided to add doodles to the entries.

There is the option of writing, but visual storytelling is something compelling, especially for someone like me who is passionate about photography. As the cliche goes, a pictures says a thousand words. The project is part of my learning to say more with less, and to express even more with no words.

I have always wanted to express myself through drawing. It has been years since I’ve come across the works of Boey Cheeming. I still remember wanting to do something similar to record my life when I was first introduced to his work by Matt.

Boey is a big inspiration for me. He taught me the importance of following my heart in what I want to do. And do it fast because time waits for now one. In fact, do it right now. Recently, Boey marked his tenth anniversary of his blog. To think he has been drawing an entry a day for the past ten years.

It is important to keep working and taking small steps. The body of work we produce will slowly accumulate as long as we put in the hard work to create it. And before we know it, we’ll have a decade of work to show for like Boey.

Smaller D

I documented some of my encounters with customers during my time as a pharmacist. I have always wanted to depict those scenarios in a comic and the journal is the perfect place for them. This led to the When I was a Pharmacist series.

Doodling brought back memories of when I drew during classes. I even drew some stick figure comics inspired by Yaiba back then. Perhaps I should revisit some of those ideas.

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Being bold http://iamjenxi.com/being-bold/ Sun, 15 Jan 2017 11:30:35 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12623 Very often I hear people telling me that they have a dream but it is impossible to achieve. They have a dream job, a dream trip, a dream lifestyle. But these are labelled dreams because they are just that, dream that can never become realities.

Why such thoughts? They buy into mediocrity. They think that achieving their dreams is something impossible. Their lofty dreams remain dreams only because they fail to be bold and take action.

Having courage is the first step towards making your dreams come true.

Find meaning

What are your goals in life? Do you have a big vision that you wish to achieve?

If you find yourself dissatisfied with life, what is it that can truly satisfy you? Ask yourself this question and ponder deeply about it. Be honest with yourself. Your heart most likely already know what you truly wish for, hence the nagging feeling of dissatisfaction.

By chasing your goals, you live the meaning of your life. You push yourself to pour your heart and soul into each waking moment.

When you pursue your goals, you hunger for success. Success in this case doesn’t refer to being successful financially or career-wise. It means succeeding in achieving your goals in life. Stay hungry and make yourself push hard to reach each milestone towards your goals.

Embrace failures

It is good to fail early. Fail early. Fail often. This helps you to refine your goals. You might have a grand vision but it is usually only a rough concept, even if you can be very detailed with how you frame your goal.

Through multiple failures, you start to have a better understanding of what you truly want to achieve. Your vision become more defined and your goal takes steps towards being closer to reality. You learn what doesn’t work, but you also learn what could possibly work.

Learn from each mistakes and setbacks. Use each failure as a lesson to progress. We are taught that failure is a step backwards. Why not look at it as a step forward? Failure is still progress, just not in the way we expected or intended.

By being comfortable with failure, we also learn to avoid being paralysed by perfectionism. We are experienced with handling failures. We don’t need to make each iteration perfect. When we have something that is good enough, we put it out and see whether it survives. Even if it succeeds, there are ways that it failed. It is through those failures that we learn to refine our output and improve upon our next iteration.

Stay motivated

There will come a point where you find only opposition. Nobody around you believes in you or your dream. You need to stay motivated in order to survive the fear, self-doubt and criticism.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”—Steve Jobs

No one can see your vision as clearly as yourself. You might not be able to convince anyone else, but you need to retain the motivation to achieve your goals. Take the criticism as feedback on how to improve. Fuel your courage with fear. Quash your self-doubt with the knowledge that you survived previous failures.

Motivate yourself by aiming for the star. Even if you fail, you’ll still land on the moon.

Recognise flow

When you are in the state of flow, you are immersed in your work churning out the maximum creative output. You are at your optimal state to produce creative work.

To be in a state of flow, you need to surround yourself with the ideal environment to stimulate you. Identify what physical and mental state you need to be in to be able to produce work with seeming effortless ease.

For me, a clear mind, good music and a cup of coffee is a start. With no worries or stray thoughts to distract me, I put on my headphones to spur my mind with my music that inspire me. The headphones are usually enough to shut myself off from the outside world, though there are times I need to work behind closed doors to completely immerse myself in my work.

The fragrance of a cup of hot coffee is just my Pavlov’s bell. The aroma of good coffee tells my body that I’m ready to hunker down and be creative.

How do you now you are in a state of flow? It is hard to describe but you’ll know the feeling once you get there.

There are times when I find it hard to take photos. I press the shutter but I don’t feel a connection to my photos. But once I get into the flow, I keep moving around to take shots. I can even instinctively know a shot is poor without even reviewing the photo. I just know, and I compensate but moving an inch lower or higher, or make a slight change in angle.

When I write, I know I’m in the flow when ideas keep coming and words keep flowing, pun not intended, out of my pen. One thought leads to the next. Ideas link themselves to each other, and I can effortlessly string them together to write a long piece such as this.

Be bold

You need to have the courage to stick to your grand vision and lofty goals. Be bold and go forth to create what you want.

Hope is wishing something would happen. Faith is believing something will happen. Courage is making something happen.

Don’t be afraid of losing that stable job just because you are afraid of being unable to afford the luxuries that you’re so used to. Be bold and recognise that what you fear are mere illusions. You have nothing to lose. There will be ways to somehow make things work even if you fail.

When you are bold, you take control of your destiny. Dare to chase your dream. Take the leap of faith.

Only you know what you truly want for yourself. You can’t expect others help you accomplish your life goals. They don’t know what you want to achieve and they have their own dreams to chase.

If you sit around and wait, nothing well happen. That doesn’t mean you are helpless to make it happen. You are most probably just waiting for the right time to do it. The truth is, there isn’t a perfect time. You must dare to jump into the unknown. Things will slowly fall in place only after you have taken the leap of faith.

It is only when you have already set forth to achieve your goals that people might start to join your cause. Or they might not and you need to grind your way on a lonely journey. Whatever happens, think back on the points mentioned in this article and keep working hard.

Find meaning. Embrace failures. Stay motivated. Recognise flow. Be bold.

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Declutter http://iamjenxi.com/declutter/ http://iamjenxi.com/declutter/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 06:27:26 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12615 It is very easy to keep clutter out of your life. You just need to have greater awareness and put in a little effort. My training as a pharmacist taught me the trick to decluttering.

Lab experiments

Our pharmacy laboratory work requires us to complete an experiment within a set amount of time. This included the time it takes to clean up the workbench as well. Many experiments are time-limited, meaning they need to run their courses through a fixed period of time. This means that no matter how fast you finish the experiment, the time left for cleaning up is limited.

So how do we minimise the time needed to clean up at the end of the experiment? We clean through the course of the experiment. When we finish one step, we clean up. Some steps required us to wait. Use that time to clean up.

This training has left a lasting impression on me. When I cook, I work with the same mentality. I clean up during and in between each cooking step. By the time I’m done cooking, I only have a few items to clean up.

Clean as you go

How does this apply to decluttering?

  1. When you are cooking, keep the kitchen top and sink relatively clean. Wash and put away things that you don’t need, so that you have less things to worry about when you clean up at the end.
  2. When you are done cooking, clean up instead of waiting until you finish eating. If you have been diligently putting things away while cooking, you don’t have much to clear up.
  3. When you have finished eating, wash the dishes. Don’t procrastinate and let the dishes pile up.
  4. When you take a break from working at your desk, put away things that you don’t need. By doing so, you leave yourself with less things to clear when you finish working. Less clutter on your work desk also helps you to focus better.

The trick is to put away unnecessary items as soon as you don’t need them. If you wait, they will pile up. Why not spend the free moments you have putting them away?

I do my accounts daily. I need to track my work and personal accounts, and I used to do it at the end of the month. That made me dread the end of each month because of the amount of work I had to wade through. I have since switched to tracking my accounts on a daily basis. It is now a habit and I don’t have to wreck my brains at the end of the month.

Declutter is not hard once you repeat it until it becomes a habit. You’ll put away things almost with barely a thought.

Not sure if your life needs decluttering? Take a look at your desk, kitchen top or sink and you’ll know the answer.

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Illusion of having something to lose http://iamjenxi.com/illusion-something-lose/ http://iamjenxi.com/illusion-something-lose/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 15:13:56 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12599 When we die, we leave everything behind. We won’t have anything that we can take with us, only regrets. We regret not doing more than we attempted. We don’t lose anything because whatever we have are mere transient possessions that we don’t truly own. You can’t lose what you never truly have.

Legacy

What we leave behind is more important than what we possess in our lives. Make full use of every waking moment to leave a legacy. Do things that have a lasting positive effect on the people around us. Create things that can help others in one way or another. A platform to provide service. A work of art to inspire others.

It doesn’t even have to be something grand. It could be something ordinary but meaningful to your loved ones. Smile more or show kindness where ever you can. Be the source of happiness to the friends around you. Or you could be the grouch but staunchly loyal friend. Be who you truly are, because that’s why your loved ones stick around.

What truly matters depends on what you define as the meaning of life. It is something that validates our being. It is why we are alive and hence we need to pursue it while we live.

Illusion

Often, we get so caught up with the misconception that we will lose what we have, especially if we hang on too loosely or take a risk. We are afraid of hurting our reputation and image. We take pains to keep it the way we want others to perceive us and in doing so paralyse ourselves from taking action.

“Remembering that you are going to die, is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”—Steve Jobs

Big things require bold moves.

If we are so caught up with what we have, we can’t reach for what we don’t have. Grasping a ball in both hands to ensure we don’t drop it makes it hard for us to catch another ball. Holding it in one hand and risk dropping it means we might have a chance of catching another ball.

Sure, we might drop one and miss the other, and end up with nothing. Or we might drop one and catch the other. Or in the ideal world, end up with both balls in our hands.

Courage

Dare to risk. Of course, don’t risk rashly. Make informed decisions and take calculated risks. Push myself out of my comfort zone and reach for the stars. Don’t remain in comfort just so you won’t lose what you have.

Fortune favours the bold. The braver we are, the less regrets we’ll have.

Even if you give your best, you might need to fail 100 times to succeed once. Look at it on the flip side. Keep doing your best and accept that you will fail 100 times before you get what you want. If success comes earlier, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s just like taking photos. You won’t get good photos each time you take a shot. But you need to keep making the shots to end up with a decent photo. Of course, this doesn’t mean you spray and pray. Give your best in each attempt you make.

“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”—Theodore Roosevelt

Ask yourself, would you rather experience failure than regret not trying? Think of what is the worst that can happen? Are you able to stomach that outcome?

You want to quit your day job to chase your dream but you are afraid of leaving the comfort of a stable income. But what is the worst that can happen? Fail and end up using up your savings? Money comes and goes. You can always make that money back.

Time

I believe the only thing we have to lose is time. Focus on what is important. Your attention and presence are manifestations of your time. What you choose to spend your time to pay attention to. With whom and where you choose to be present to pass time.

Time that only goes forward. You can’t turn back time.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”—Steve Jobs

Each second you spend afraid to make the next move is one second that will never come back.

The hours available to us each day is finite. The time we have every day is limited. Invest your most valuable asset in what truly matters to you.

Awaken

It doesn’t matter if you find yourself trapped in the misconception that you have something to lose. Realisation is the first step out of the illusion. Acknowledge that you have nothing to lose. Chase your dreams. Pursue your goals.

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Reading recap 2016 http://iamjenxi.com/reading-recap-2016/ http://iamjenxi.com/reading-recap-2016/#respond Fri, 16 Dec 2016 04:34:41 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12573 Having weaned myself off social media, chiefly Facebook, I have found myself spending more time reading. Here are some of the books that I have really enjoyed and would recommend.

On Writing by Stephen King

If you are an aspiring writer, this is one of the books you definitely should pick up.

The main takeaway for me is a new habit of writing behind closed doors, pouring my thoughts and ideas into my first draft with no worry about presentation. I was always too concerned about how imperfect the first draft is but Stephen King has opened my eyes through this book.

I’m admittedly not into Stephen King’s works, mainly because he doesn’t write in a genre I read. Having read this book, I’m curious to explore some of his famous books. If you have a favourite in mind to recommend, please let me know.

How to Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh

I picked up this book after [Erick Kim] recommended it on his blog. We are so caught up with moving from one place to another, especially when we live in a fast-paced city. The book is a good reminder to slow down and feel, nay, live each step we take.

How has it benefitted me? I slow down when I take my photography walks, even the long walks without a camera. I’m more aware of the present, of my being. And through that awareness, I am more in touch with my surroundings and become more observant. This has certainly helped in my street photography.

How to Sit is another book by Thich Nhat Hanh that is on my reading list. Like How to Walk, it is also a very short book and I look forward to diving into it.

Dune by Frank Herbert

I was introduced to the world of science fiction by my classmate when I was fourteen, well, science fiction beyond the world of Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars and refused to read any other science fiction back then. My classmate insisted that I gave Dune a try and I’m glad I did.

I played Dune, Dune II and Dune 2000 prior to reading the book. It was only when I started coming across familiar names that I realised the book was what inspired the games.

My interested in writing started after reading the Belgariad series by David Eddings. So I read the Dune series before I started looking at books from a writer’s perspective. Reading Dune again this time around, I was more aware of the nuances of Frank Herbert’s literary flair.

Brandon Sanderson mentioned in one of his lectures about Frank Herbert’s use of the omniscience narrator, something that I was studying in particular when reading the novel this time.

1Q84 by Murakami Haruki

I really enjoyed the ride through the book. I found myself so quickly rooting for Aomame despite the slow pace at the start of the novel. Once the story started to pick up speed, I couldn’t put the book down.

My only disappointment is that I could only read the translated English version. I won’t be able to read Japanese any time soon, so I hope that the translators were able to retain the nuances of the original text. I engage in [translation work] and it is very hard to convey the same meaning, especially when [translating for different cultures] as well.

Current read: The Courage to Create by Rollo May

I’ve just started this book, but it seems to be one that all creatives would resonate with. If you are a creative with the constant fear of not being good enough or worry that your works are not perfect, join me in reading this book.

Follow up

Depending on the speed I continue crunching through books, I might be posting such brief reviews more regularly. I’ve come to realise that when I reflect upon my readings, I actually discover more about what I subconsciously learnt while reading the book.

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Mail app http://iamjenxi.com/mail-app/ http://iamjenxi.com/mail-app/#respond Wed, 06 Jan 2016 05:35:06 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12527 I posted my review of the Mailbox app back in March 2013 and highly recommended it. With the recent announcement of Dropbox shutting it down, I have been getting quite a number of people asking me what app they should switch to.

A day after I posted the review, Dropbox acquired Mailbox. I was wary of such acquisitions because history has shown us that big companies often end up killing apps and services they buy. We only need to look as far as the Sparrow app, the highly popular email client that was acquired by Google, and subsequently ceased development.

So, I was not surprised when Dropbox announced that Mailbox would be closed next February. I was glad I had switched from Mailbox a while back, so I would not have to scramble to find a replacement. Several people asked me what mail app to use, since I so highly recommended Mailbox and they enjoyed it as much as I did.

It was only then that I realised I have not updated about my change to Apple’s Mail app.

Alternative apps

Sparrow had been my primary mail app, and when Google killed the app, I had to hunt for alternatives on my phone and Mac. I ended up with Mailbox for iOS and Airmail for OS X. The use of gestures in Mailbox greatly boosted my productivity and helped me achieve Inbox Zero daily. I was checking my inbox on the go and Airmail was a mere auxiliary for when I needed to work with emails on my Mac.

Although I enjoyed Airmail and was a beta-tester for a long time, I still found the app lacking. I just couldn’t get into a workflow that fit my style. When OS X Yosemite was released, I decided to give the OS X Mail app a try. Surprisingly, the app ticked all the boxes and made itself my default email client.

Pleased with my experience on OS X, I started using the iOS 7 Mail app to see if it was as good. The app exceeded my expectations. It helped that Apple added support for gestures, something that I really loved when I used Mailbox.

I was in a period of purging unnecessary apps from my phone. The switch to a minimalist approach stemmed from the desire to purge distractions and reduce the need for me to over think. If I had more than one apps that had the same function, I chose one and deleted the rest.

You might wonder who would want multiple apps that did the same thing? Well, I had over 200 photography apps that took a photo, edited a photo or did both. If you’re curious, I now use the iOS Camera app to shoot and VSCO to process.

That’s minimalism. And a topic for another day.

Anyway, the point is that I chose to use only the Mail app and decided to stop using Mailbox. Why use a third-party app when the default one works just as well? It followed the same simple theory as how I decided to shoot with the iOS Camera app instead of a third party app.

Mail app

The Mail app has improved tremendously on both iOS and OS X. Since the queries I get are from iOS users, I’ll not address the features of OS X Mail app.

Gestures and 3D Touch

The main noticeable change is the use of gestures. Swipe to flag, archive or trash, and to mark as read or unread. These are all customisable under the Mail settings. On the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, you can do even more with 3D Touch. You can Peek to get a preview of the email, and drag up for a list of actions such as reply, forward, flag or mark as junk. You can even turn on notifications for individual email threads.

I really like being able to Peek, which is to press lightly, to get a preview. If I want to view the full email, I press further in Pop and I go into the full email view. It is not an exaggeration to say that 3D Touch will revolutionise how we interact with the touchscreen. You have to use it to appreciate it.

And, yes, I have switched to the 6S.

Spotlight and Siri

When you swipe right from the iOS Home Screen, you go into the Spotlight Search page. It has been enhanced in iOS 9, allowing you to search your email, files and contacts. It even shows Siri Suggestions with your most recently used contacts and apps.

Being able to search through my email with a swipe from the Home Screen is simply awesome. To top it off, you can even search with voice dictation. You don’t even need to use Spotlight if you prefer to dictate. Just tell Siri to “Search my emails for…”

If you have “Hey Siri” turned on, you don’t even need to hold the home button. Just say, “Hey Siri, search my emails for…” and the results get pulled up. As a security measure, this doesn’t work if your phone is locked.

You can even stop halfway through drafting your email and tell Siri to remind you to finish it at a later time. Siri will create a reminder, and an alert if you specified a date and time.

Markup

Markup was introduced in Mail app on OS X Yosemite. It allows you to annotate and edit email attachments. The feature made its way to the iOS Mail app in iOS 9. Tap and hold the attachment, then select Markup to enter the editor.

You can sketch, zoom, add text or sign the document. When you draw in sketch mode, if you draw a standard shape, you can choose to replace it with a shape instead of using your sketch.

Multitasking

While you are writing an email, you might need to check another email message for some information. Most people save the draft and then poke through their inbox. But you can skip that an just minimise your draft.

When in the draft mode creating or replying an email, you are actually in a layer above the inbox view. Drag to pull down the draft layer and it becomes minimised. You can browse your inbox as normal. When you’re done, tap on the minimised draft and it will pop back up.

Those of you who need to sign digital documents often would appreciate the usefulness of being able to add your signature to a document without having to leave the Mail app.

Calendar integration

If you use the iOS Calendar app, you can pump events into it from the Mail app. Mail automatically detects time and date information in your emails and underlines them. Tap on the underlined text and to add the event to your Calendar.

Handoff

I work with my phone and Mac interchangeably. Handoff allows me to draft an email on either my phone or Mac, and continue on my other device. Of course, you can save your current draft, wait for it to sync to the other device, and then continue. But why go through that hassle when you can just Handoff?

That’s right. I often switch between my phone and Mac while working on a task, so Handoff has a big impact on my productivity and workflow.

Other options

I couldn’t recommend the Mail app more, for both iOS and OS X. It probably stems from the simplicity of using default apps instead of having to search for third party ones. It is delightful to work with tight ecosystem that allows me to transit seamlessly between my mobile and desktop.

That said, there are a couple of other options if you prefer not to use the Mail app, or if you want to try out several choices before deciding which to stick with.

Gmail: Great for those of you who are still using Gmail. Google has brought some of Sparrow’s features over to their own email client. I have read positive reviews and heard good things about the Gmail app, though I’m not sure how well it handles third party mail services.

Outlook: I have heard rave reviews for Microsoft’s attempt to embrace rival platforms and push its services to them. My partner Matt loves the Outlook app. It handles Gmail, iCloud and Fastmail well. And surprisingly, Gmail on Outlook works fine in China. That’s a big plus if you need to work from behind the Great Firewall.

I hope this brief review helps those who are looking for a new email app. Get in touch or tweet me @jenxi to share your experience with email clients.

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Overprotective http://iamjenxi.com/overprotective/ http://iamjenxi.com/overprotective/#respond Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:11:51 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12474 I am a firm believer of using products as they are designed. After seeing someone wearing an Apple Watch with a screen protector and a bulky protective casing, I realised it’s time I wrote about how overprotective we are with our devices.

I used to pamper my devices. I started with carrying cases for mobile phones and laptops. My iPhones and iPads wore screen protectors and cases. When I got my first MacBook Air, I stuck protective films the palm rests and the trackpad, and used a keyboard protector.

Pointless protection

Such overprotective mentality stems from the belief that protecting our devices from accidents would lengthen their lifespans. With an extra layer of protection, we would less likely damage our devices. However, I think having this sense of security can make us more careless. I found myself being a bit more rough with my devices since they had cases and screen protectors. If the case broke or if the screen protector was scratched, swap in a new one.

My mindset started to change when I had responsiveness issues with my MacBook Air’s trackpad. I removed the protective film and the trackpad worked fine. In fact, I was delighted by how smooth the trackpad felt. I knew I was sacrificing some responsiveness with a layer of film between my fingertips and the trackpad surface, but I didn’t expect such a noticeable difference. I was instantly converted, though not fully converted.

I removed the palm guards as well. Aluminium feels vastly more comfortable to rest my hands on compared to the matte protective films. The palm guards actually accumulated more sweat than the naked aluminium. I was worried that the palm rests would weather over time, since aluminium oxidises. However, the aluminium MacBook casings use an aluminium alloy that seems pretty resistant to oxidation based on my experience so far.

I was making sacrifices based on my fear of something that did not end up happening. I felt silly.

Next, I ditched the keyboard protector. Touch-typing felt better and faster without being impeded by the rubbery layer of silicone over the keys. The keyboard protector collected oil and dirt that get imprinted on the screen when you closed the laptop. This is because the keyboard protector is thicker than the gap between the keys and the screen. Sure, you can clean the keyboard protector and the screen, but why create a problem out of nothing? Even after several years of daily usage, the naked keyboard has yet to become dirty.

The keyboard protector is only useful to have in case of liquid spillage, and even then it depends on the volume of liquid in question. That can be easily avoided by keeping liquids far away from the MacBook. If you really have to, make sure the laptop is elevated so that it is higher than your tumblers, glasses or mugs, and you should be able to survive most spillages, unless you somehow pour liquid onto the keyboard while holding your cup. Or perhaps, when you choke on your cola while surfing YouTube.

Functional form factor

Cases add bulk to smartphones or tablets. Mobile devices are designed in a specific way to give you the best balance and fit when you hold them. Product designers are trying their best to make the devices thinner, and you go after the thinner device, only to thwart that by slapping on a bulky case.

I have tried protective films on the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. While these don’t add bulk, they alter the texture of the phone’s surface. Some even make the device more slippery and thus more prone to accidentally being dropped. Those that are textured to provide better grip would reduce the sleek feel of the device.

Is there a need to protect the device? I believe manufacturers would ensure that their devices withstand everyday knocks and the occasional drops. We should have faith in the product quality and use the devices as they are designed to be used. The products are designed to look and feel good when you hold them.

Screen sturdiness

But I persisted with screen protectors on my iPhone 4 and iPad 3. Surely, I needed to make sure my screens don’t get scratched. That was what I thought, until I dropped my iPhone 4… for the last time. By then, I was using the phone without a case. I have dropped my iPhone 4 countless times before, often while I was standing, and it survived each time with minor scuffs on the casing.

However, that drop struck the corner of the phone, cracking the screen. I was unlucky. Or lucky, depending on how you look at it. The touch sensor was undamaged, so I only had to replace the screen.

When I got my phone back, I was surprised at how clear the screen was. Then, I realised that was because it didn’t have a screen protector on. All these while, I was lowering my user experience by sticking a film of plastic on the screen. The screen protector did not stop the screen from cracking, but it should be useful for preventing scratches. I decided to not to reapply a screen protector and observe how many scratches it would get. Aside from a few minor hairline scratches that are not visible unless you look for them, the screen has held up well.

That started me down the path of taking a wabi-sabi approach in my usage of devices. When I got the Retina MacBook Pro, I used it straight out of the box without any protective accessories. I have been using my iPhone 5S case-less and without a screen protector since day one. It suffered a few drops, with scuffs on the edges of its body to show as battle scars. Its screen only has a few tiny scratches that can’t be seen while using the phone. Surprising? Not after having used the naked iPhone 4.

When I got the Apple Watch, I knew I would only use it without any accessories. There are bulky straps and cases that provide additional battery life, which is not needed unless you are poking at the watch all day along, and that’s really now how you use a watch. I have seen people wearing the watch with ugly cases that defeats the purpose of buying such an exquisitely designed watch. I have said enough about screen protectors so I won’t repeat myself again for the watch.

Habits help

“What if I’m extremely careless?”

That’s the most common retort I encounter in response to the case for going case-less. We are human, and inevitably would fumble occasionally. However, is it worth sacrificing so much user experience just to ward against that one time of carelessness? Some people are more careless than others. Or are they?

Carelessness is defined as a lapse in attention or judgment, leading to a mistake. I believe such lapses can be avoided if you pay more attention and take a mindful approach to the way you do things. The topic of mindfulness deserves an entry of its own, at least. In brief, a part of being mindful is to be aware of your actions.

Through awareness of your actions, repeat it until it is a routine that eventually forms a habit. Make a conscious effort to put the device down instead of dropping it onto the table. Always make sure you hold your device in a firm grip. Avoid trying to balance it and risk dropping it. If you need to do something else, put the device down and finish the task.

The first habit I picked up when I started using my iPhone case-less was how I compartmentalise my pockets. The phone goes into one pocket, keys and coins into the other. You avoid scratching the phone this way. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who put their keys and phone in the same pocket, and complain about their phones being scratched.

I’m not an expert in how to avoid damaging your devices. I might even have dropped my phone more often than you. It is a constant learning process and being aware of what you are doing or not doing is a big step towards adopting a better habit. Of course, it is easier to just stick on a screen protector or slip on a protective casing.

But before you do so, pause and think about what you are sacrificing.

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Apple Watch http://iamjenxi.com/apple-watch/ http://iamjenxi.com/apple-watch/#respond Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:59:21 +0000 http://iamjenxi.com/?p=12457 My girlfriend bought me an Apple Watch for my birthday. I keep getting asked about what I think of it, so I figured I should share my thoughts here.

This is not a review. There are several expert reviews that are extremely thorough and very informative. I suggest you check them out if you are looking for an actual review of the Apple Watch. My picks: Nilay Patel on The Verge and Darrell Etherington on TechCrunch.

I got a 42 mm space grey Apple Watch Sport with black sport band. My initial worry that the 42 mm would be too big was unfounded. It is just right for my small wrist. I went for the space grey watch to avoid the silver cases.

First impressions

The unboxing experience was exquisite, as you would expect from an Apple product. Despite my initial high expectations, Apple still managed to delight me with several small but well thought details.

There was an envelope that had the same shape as the watch case. The envelope contained the instruction manual, also shaped like the watch case, and a small strap. Yes, each watch comes with a pair of straps, large and small, for different wrist sizes.

Apple Watch

The large strap was adequate, but the end of the strap would protrude more on my small wrist, even though the clasp is designed to snugly hide the end of the strap. It wouldn’t be particularly bothersome, but I swapped in the small strap and decided to reconsider after testing it for a while. More than two weeks later, I haven’t seen the need to change back to the large strap.

When you pick up the Apple Watch, the first thing that you’ll notice is the quality of the design. I have to admit that I’m not a watch person and know next to nothing about timepieces. But from a consumer and designer perspective, the watch certainly impressed me when I first held it in my hands. I have looked at other smartwatches in the market and nothing comes close in terms of the finish.

I went through all the watch faces and decided to settle for the modular face. Why buy a smartwatch and use a traditional watch face?

Two weeks in

Here are some observations after two weeks of using the watch.

Watch face: I’m still using the modular watch face. I really don’t see a need for a more traditional watch face. I prefer the information spread that the modular face provides.

Battery life: Battery life information can be relegated to a glance instead of occupying a space on the watch face. It’s not turned on for any watch face by default. I put it in to help me gauge the average battery life. When I remove the watch to charge it just before I sleep, the battery is usually around 40-45%. On days of heavier usage, I ended up with 35-40% battery. I believe that concerns about the watch’s battery life are unfounded. You’ll only run out of battery if you forget to charge it, or if you are fiddling with the watch all day.

The watch charges very quickly. It took less than an hour to go from 35% to 100%. So even if you really forgot to charge the watch before you sleep, you can still get it fully charged in the morning.

Water resistance: I leave it on when I wash the dishes, and even when I washed my shoes. I would have removed my old watch before doing such tasks.

Performance There were reports of the watch being sluggish. However, it has been very responsive so far. Perhaps those issues have been rectified.

Fitness rings: From what I’ve read so far, most people who has the Apple Watch are being pushed to be active just to complete the rings. It has become so natural for me to stand up and stretch every hour. If I become too engrossed with my work, the watch would tap my wrist to remind me to stand.

Notifications: Decoupling notifications from the phone has greatly reduced distractions. I simply raise my wrist when a notification comes in. If it’s nothing urgent, I go back to what I was doing. Had I pulled out my phone to check the notification, I would have fiddled around checking other apps.

Notifications are kind of redundant when I’m working on my MacBook Pro. I considered disabling notifications on the Mac, but those come in and disappear so they are pretty unobtrusive. It would be an improvement if notifications that come in on the Mac while I’m working on it would not be pushed to the watch.

Siri: The watch is making me use Siri more. Nothing feels better than knowing that I can set reminders just by raising my hand and saying, “Hey Siri.” Now, if I can rename Siri to Zordon…

Taking calls: My initial reaction to being able to take calls on the Apple Watch was, what’s the point? Then, I found myself changing clothes when a call came in. Instead of stopping what I was doing to look for the phone to take the call, I was able to tap on the watch and continue getting dressed. It might not seem much but it’s this kind of small details that remove friction in our lives.

Football: The Forza app is vital for a football fanatic like me. Okay, maybe not vital, since you can easily ask Siri to tell you the football scores. Forza’s Apple Watch app shows live score updates. On my wrist. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that.

Remote: Controlling iTunes from the watch. Enough said.

Daily essentials

Conclusions

The Apple Watch is definitely not essential, but it certainly enhances the whole experience of using the iPhone. Not everyone will appreciate it. I’m a tech geek who lives off my iPhone and MacBook Pro, and to a lesser extent, my iPad. Thus, the addition of the Apple Watch to this ecosystem brought welcomed benefits.

Of course, I expected there to be shortcomings since this is the first generation. Still, I was impressed by how it exceeded my expectations. Some improvements I would like to see are greater integration with the Mac.

Right now, I can only control iTunes on the Mac. There are a few apps that extend their Mac services, but there is a lot more progress to be made. WatchOS 2 and Mac OS X El Capitan should push things along in the right direction.

I will report back with more observations on the utility and impact of the Apple Watch.

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