Wednesday, December 25, 2013

GigaOM: Windows Phone 8 and the Mac: Surprisingly compatible

In this article for GigaOM/TheAppleBlog, I look at how to make a Windows Phone 8 sync with a Mac

Software Review: Vitamin R-2

Trouble focusing on your work?  This is the program for you!

Vitamin R-2 is a unique program that allows you to get things done on your computer using something similar to the pomodoro method in which you do work in short intervals and then take breaks. Pomodoro timers are a plenty on the Mac but Vitamin R-2 has the flexibility and options to adapt it to your needs.

On the base level, it’s a timer.  You mark how long of a time slice you want to take and the project you are working on.  The program then counts down and offers you a time and open ended break.  That’s just the beginning though.

Within the program are lots of features to optimize your productivity and reduce distractions.  When creating a “time slice” you can force select (or all programs) to minimize in order to reduce distractions.  While working if you think of something and must write it down, you can quickly open up the app’s “Now and Later” board to write down your thoughts for now, later, objectives, or simply a scratch pad.  This quickly gets you back to work. During your work you can also have a variety of sounds playing in the background such as white noise or a variety of ticking time clocks.  Occasionally the program will tell you how much time you have left.

When a time slice is complete, you can leave yourself notes on where to pick up from.   The program logs time spent on tasks and tasks can be tagged and categorized.

On first glance the program is intimidating and the manual focuses, pardon the pun, on the science of focus more than how to use the program.  After continued usage I was able to incorporate more of the features to improve my workflow.  By using the tools to plan the work and then to pick up when I shifted task, I really did get more done in the given day and be able to ask answer the question “Where did the time go?”

Pros:  Great productivity encouragement with the flexibility to adapt to individual workflows
Cons:  Can be a bit intimidating with the options and features

Four out of Five Dogcows

Software Review: MacBreakZ

Like many computer users, I tend to sit hours at a time working on projects without taking healthy breaks.  If an interruption occurs that’s about the only time I remember to stop typing, look away or simply take a break.  MacBreakZ is a welcome product to make sure I don’t suffer injury.

First, MacBreakZ watches your computer usage via keyboard and mouse/trackpad usage and suggests microbreaks after a certain amount of activity (this can be adjusted).  It also gives you a timer and a color code in the menu bar to know when your next break is needed and how excessive your usage is.  Typing really fast for a long period of time?  Take a microbreak.  If you are staring and watching a video, it’s more likely to leave you alone (it will bother you though so best to turn it off during a presentation or a video)

Let me say this:  the product is terribly annoying but that’s a good thing.  I’ll be working right along at a project and “in the zone” and that stupid window pops up asking me to take a deep breath and look away.  I’m way to busy for that- but in reality that’s the point.  I don’t want to feel exhausted, I need to take breaks so that way my hands don’t cramp up or my eyes start bothering me.  Once I accept the importance of taking breaks I really do feel more productive.  The Microbreak shows up as a transparent windows so it can be ignored if you want to, but I warn you it will start annoying you more the more you ignore it.  It’s bothersome without being intrusive.  It nags but doesn’t pester.

Besides the Microbreaks, MacBreakZ also offers tips for stretches throughout the day for various body parts that tend to get fatigued after extended computer usage.

Initially I balked at the price of $25 for a program that simply told me to take a break, but this is really so much more as it adapts to your usage and offers direct suggestions of how to take a break to prevent repetitive stress injury.

If you use your computer for an extended period of time and don’t have the discipline to take a break and stretch, this program is a lifesaver

Pros:  tells you how and when to take a break
Confs: pricing may seem a bit high

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right

Wednesday, December 11, 2013