How to Create Email Templates in Automator

We are constantly sending emails (over 100 billion every day by some estimates). We regularly distribute information via email, and can send the same basic message monthly, weekly, or daily with little variation. As long as the email has to be sent, it’s a great candidate for automating.

I recently helped my wife send a weekly email more efficiently. Each week, she sends out the list of hymns we’ll be singing for the next few Sundays. She had a good process in place, but she was always worried that she was going to forget to add the BCC recipients (and it’s not easy to check afterwards). I helped her automate her process a little so she would have one less thing to worry about.

There are multiple ways you can automate creating an email draft and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Since she uses the built-in and wants something that would be easy for her to maintain, we created an Automator application.

Here’s how to create an Automator action that you can double-click to create a draft message in If you drop files on it, they will be attached to the message.

A little work up front can save lots of time down the road.

What Could You Do in Fifty Years?

For some things, you clear your schedule.

For the last couple years, I’ve sung with a choir that performs a couple of times a year—Christmas, Easter, and in the fall. None of us are professional musicians, we just love music, and we love to sing.

Last week, we learned that the woman who has directed the choir for the last twenty-five years was losing her battle with a lengthy illness and didn’t have much time left. An email quickly went out, asking if anyone would be available to gather at her home to perform a couple of John Rutter pieces for her.

Over forty of us showed up the next evening. We held a quick run-through in the driveway—half of us were sight-reading—before filing upstairs for a hallowed private performance to honor the woman who had brought us together.

As we lingered in the driveway afterwards, one of the guys looked back at the house and said something pretty profound:

“Now I know how I want to go, and I have fifty years to figure out how to make it happen.”

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/mrdoomits

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/mrdoomits

Tracking Roles in OmniFocus

OmniFocus uses two concepts from David Allen’s Getting Things Done to provide most of the organization for tasks: Projects and Contexts.

A Project is anything you want to do that’s going to take you more than one task to do it. It doesn’t have to be long and complicated, with supporting Gantt charts. It’s just a list of tasks that need to be done in order to achieve a desired outcome.

A Context is the person, place, or thing you need in order to complete a task.

These are both great ways to organize your tasks, but there’s one more that I wish OmniFocus properly supported: Roles. They’re a powerful tool for planning your time and making sure your life is heading in the direction you want it to.

Here’s how to set up OmniFocus to use Roles.

Projects in OmniFocus 2

One More Thing That Kills Your Productivity

One of the signature elements of a Steve Jobs keynote (or “Stevenote”) was his “one more thing…” endings. He would wrap up the presentation, and sometimes start to walk offstage, before turning back and announcing one more product or service. It was an applause line, because we knew something insanely great was coming. FaceTime, movies and TV shows on the iTunes Store, and the announcement he would be Apple’s full-time CEO were all “one more thing” announcements.

Hollywood does the same thing with false endings. Just when you think the conflict is over and everything’s wrapping up, something else happens, and the movie is suddenly half an hour longer. Remember when Pixar used to put outtakes in the credits? And Marvel fans know that the movie isn’t over until the credits have finished.

“One more thing” is an effective and dynamic technique for storytelling and presentations. But your life is not a Stevenote. Trying to fit in “one more thing” can destroy your productivity in the long run.



Reducing Distractions with Do Not Disturb

Smartphones are the best and worst thing to happen to productivity in the last ten years. On the plus side, you have 24/7 access to a world of information. The downside is that the world has 24/7 access to you.

Apps and websites can send you notifications whenever something “important” happens. That importance (and our willingness to be interrupted by it) can vary with what time it is, where we are, and what we’re doing. If I get an iMessage while I’m watching TV, I probably don’t mind being notified right away. But if it’s 2:00 am, or I’m in a meeting, or I’m trying to focus, it can probably wait.

Fortunately, your smartphone can help you out, sometimes automatically. Here’s how to configure iOS’s Do Not Disturb feature to help you get more done during the day and sleep better at night.