Worth Its Weight: Things

My husband is a productivity junkie.  Every week he likes to show off some new piece of software he’s found that will improve his daily work speed by nine seconds, and I usually just smile encouragingly and walk away.  Occasionally, however, I try out one of these tools, and this time, I have found one that I love: Things.

Things is a to-do list/task manager for Mac OSX by Cultured Code.  Now, there are a LOT of list-managing “solutions” out there, and I’ve tried many of them, but I always ended up going back to a disorganized paper list, because it was just too inconvenient and/or slow to use software.  With Things, however, I never use paper anymore.

One of the reasons Things is so convenient is that you can type in a to-do item without actually having to be in the Things application.  If I’m working in Photoshop, for example, and it reminds me of some product pictures I forgot to take, I can hit a particular keystroke and a little black box pops up.  I can then type, “Take product photos” in the box, hit the Enter/Return key and my item will end up in my Things inbox, where I can sort it later.  At no point do I have to switch out of Photoshop to do this, so there’s no delay in being able to get right back to work.  Since I type faster than I write, this process is actually faster than using pen and paper.

 

At a good stopping point in my day, I usually open up Things to sort my inbox.  Like in other programs, in Things you have the ability to create projects and due dates to house your to-do items, but the most wonderful and brilliant thing about Things is that you can use tags as well.  Whats so great about tags?  It means you can sort your items by any category that is meaningful to you.  In most other programs, you can sort items by priority, due date, person responsible, etc.  All the usual office categories.  But by creating your own tags, you can sort items by where they occur, how long they take, or how fun they are.  For example, maybe you run most errands in three different places: your local main street, the street near your work, and the big box strip mall two towns over.  You can tag the errands you need to run with “local errand,” “work errand” or “mall errand.”  Then, the next time you are headed to any of those three places, you can click on that tag and all of the errands you can do in that place pop up.  Print your list and you’ll never again kick yourself for forgetting something while you were out.

But maybe you don’t have time to “Buy a new dishwasher,” even though it’s on your “mall errand” list. If you’ve also tagged your items with the time they take, you’re good to go!  Just click on both the “mall errand” tag and (while holding down the Shift key) the “5 min” tag, and you’ll get only those items you can do at the mall in five minutes or less.  Sweet!  By using tags, you can create and sort a list based on how you already live and work, rather than having to adjust the way you think in order to fit into some software company’s idea of what is the best way to organize your life.

 

Things has many other great features, such as an automatically generated “Today” list, based on your due dates, reminders and recurring tasks.  Really, the only big drawback of Things is that it only works on Apple products, like Macs and iPhones.  If you use a PC or are planning to get a Google phone that uses Android, you are S.O.L. my friends.  The developers have said that they are not going to release a version of Things for these other platforms anytime soon.  For the rest of us Mac-only users, Things will remain free of charge until MacWorld, when it goes from beta to full release.  At that point it will cost $39 for early adopters, and $49 for everyone else, which is still much cheaper than your average Filofax.

Black Magic

I’m quickly moving forward with my web site re-design.  My husband’s somewhat valid opinion is that what I’ve come up with is not a full step up from the old site, but his suggestions thus far have been unworkable:

  1. Pay our friend $1,000 to do it, who is talented and fast (but who is also in rural France and often without Internet access).  I’d love to hire her but I don’t think it’s worth the money for a business I’m planning to shut down in a few months.
  2. Turn my online store into a WordPress site, and integrate it with this blog.  Not a terrible idea from an SEO standpoint, but I don’t really want every post about my nervous breakdowns appearing next to “Buy Now” buttons.  Also, the WordPress E-commerce plug-in can’t handle shipping physical goods in the United States.  I tried all kinds of work-arounds but until they actually install this totally basic and necessary module, the plug-in is utterly useless.

So I’m just going with the design I made months ago and using the Mal’s shopping cart.  It’s not perfect, especially in its integration with Paypal, but it works well enough that I can get all of my orders processed correctly.  I’ll have to log in to the cart whenever someone pays via Paypal to make sure their shipping address is correct, but I have to manually forward those Paypal notifications to my warehouse anyway, because they’re still functioning in the 1980s, technologically speaking.  Also useless.  It’s amazing how many things are more trouble than they’re worth.

I got my shopping cart up and running, and when my husband has a break in his paid work, he’ll help me program the site to look like my design.  In the meantime, I’m working on some black magic: Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known as SEO.

People call it “Black Hat SEO” because bumping up your Google ranking is really more of a dark art than a computer science.  There an aura of magic surrounding things like Google’s “PageRank” system, and search engines update their secret algorithms so frequently it’s nearly impossible to “beat” them.   It’s not all smoke and mirrors, however.  All search algorithms are based on keywords, and if you use them wisely, it can do wonders for your placement in search results. You might not reach number one, but you can move way up the page just by making a few common-sense changes:

  1. Forget the “keywords” meta tag.  Period.  No search engine uses them anymore.  Google stopped in 2002.  Everyone else was out by 2007.  If you hired someone to do your SEO and he/she’s billing you for hours spent on your meta tags, fire them.
  2. Make sure your keywords and key phrases appear where you want them.  If you have a page on your winter-wear website that is devoted to hats and scarves, make sure it says “winter hats and wool scarves” somewhere on that particular page.
  3. Put your most important keywords in your page title.  Who cares if it’s ridiculously long?  Nobody reads what’s in the grey part of the browser window anyway.
  4. Name all your files after what’s in them.  Don’t call your picture “product-00876.jpg,” name it “red-merino-scarf.jpg.”  Same with your pages.  Call it “scarvesandhats.html” rather than “wint-acces.html.”  Search engines read all that stuff, so unless someone actually types “wint” or “acces” in the search box, it’s doing you no good at all.
  5. Use headings for larger text.  Rather than say “font=4” in your page code, put your important text between <h1> or <h2> brackets.
  6. Buy another domain.  Or two.  You can get them from some places for as little as $1.99. If your domain name doesn’t say what you actually sell, like “pookiespalace.com,” buy one that does, like “pookiespalacedesignerdoghouses.com” and link it up to your web site.  No one will ever have to type it in directly, but domains are the text on your web site that search engines give #1 preference.
  7. Update often.  You don’t have to change everything every time, but keeping your catalog and news pages current will keep those search spiders crawling back more often.

As a general rule, the best way to perform SEO is not to try to “beat” the search engines — in fact, if they suspect that you are trying to do this, they will remove your site from their search results completely — the best way is just to create and maintain a current, informative site.  To see how you’re doing, sign up for something like Google Analytics, which will give you exact statistics on really useful stuff (and is free!), such as how many people who visit your site actually end up buying something.  More details on that later.