BreakTime 2.1 offers UI improvements, bug fixes

I love BreakTime for Mac ($4.99) from Excited Pixel. This handy utility sits in your menu bar or Dock and offers a customizable timer for managing periods of work and rest. To use it, simply set one timer for your work period and one for your break. BreakTime begins unobtrusively counting down.

When your work period expires, a window appears and remains until the break has expired. You can even “force” yourself to stop working by selecting the “Enforce Break” setting, which prevents you from exiting BreakTime for any other app during the break period. Once a break period ends the next work period begins automatically.

I use it every day and love it. Version 2.1 offers some nice UI changes. For instance, the app’s icon now shows the timer’s progress and it’s easier than ever to postpone a break while you’re working.

It’s a simple utility that I fully recommend, especially to you Pomodoro practitioners. But don’t take my word for it, the American Cancer Society also says you need to get up and walk around. You’ll find a few images of BreakTime in action after the break.

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Mac apps I love that started on iOS

Some of the Mac apps that I love and rely on were born on iOS. In fact, several applications have made that transition successfully, like Echofon and that damn Angry Birds. Others have become an important part of my work day. Here are two of my favorites.

Reeder

To say that I spend a lot of time reading RSS feeds is like saying Boeing dabbles in aeronautics. I’ve tried several apps and none have satisfied my need for speed, reliability and extensive keyboard shortcuts like Reeder. It doesn’t balk at the huge number of queries I throw at it and, best of all, the keyboard shortcuts are abundant and easy to remember. For example:

  1. Open in a browser: B
  2. Mark as read: A
  3. Previous: K
  4. Next: J

There’s no modifyer key or awkward combinations that require the fingers of a contortionist. It’s a super reader.

Twitter for Mac (formerly Tweetie)

Before it became the official Twitter app for Mac, Tweetie was born on the iOS. Today, I rely on it heavily while working, and that’s because of the tiny blue dots.

Twitter for Mac supports multiple accounts, displaying each one’s avatar on the main window’s left-hand side. A small blue dot appears next to each as new tweets arrive. The dot’s position identifies the incoming tweet as a mention, direct message or general timeline tweet. As a result, I can monitor which of my many accounts has a mention or DM awaiting my attention. It’s extremely useful.

But that’s not all, sports fans

The opposite is true, too: several Mac apps have spawned stellar iOS companions. My favorites either compliment or duplicate the original’s feel and function so well, that they’re a joy to use. Here are a few standouts.

Billings Touch

I dare say the iPhone version of Marketcircle’s time-tracking app is even more pleasant than its Mac counterpart. Create projects, clients, invoices and more on the fly and in the field. Plus it syncs wirelessly with the desktop version (though you must be on the same Wi-Fi network).

Omnifocus

I’ve been using The Omni Group’s project manager on the Mac for quite a while and again, I prefer the iPad version. It’s slick, beautiful and so thoughfully designed you’d almost think it was an iOS app first.

GarageBand

This app is beautiful, functional and fun. I’ve recorded audio with it via the iPad Camera Connection Kit. Typically I recored two or three podcasts per week. Being able to do so at nearly any locaiton with such a minimal setup is fantastic. My kids and I love making music with it, and it even keeps them entertained on long road trips.

Not every app could or should make this transition. However, it can turn out very well, as these five apps demonstrate. Good work, all!

 

Hacking Tea Timer for the Pomodoro Technique

I love the Pomodoro Technique for productivity, which alternates timed work/break sessions. There are all sorts of Pomodoro-themed timers, apps, etc. you can use, but I’m quite happy with Tea Timer, a 99-cent app for the Mac that I’m already using for brewing tea. Here’s how I use it.

Tea Timer lets you create presets for your preferred types of tea. I’ve created two, one called “Work” and another called “Break.” The Work preset runs for 15 minutes 1 and Break runs for 10 minutes. Now I simply click the appropriate button and the session begins. A “ding” and Growl notification let me know when time’s up.

Multi-functioning software, I love it!

  1. Strict Pomodoro practice says work sessions must be 25 minutes. I’ve found 15-minute bursts to be better for me.

Wren for Twitter is nearly perfect

Wren for Mac was released today. It’s a low-distraction, tweet-only Twitter client that eliminates the timeline entirely. Wren allows you to tweet and save drafts and that’s it. You’ll not see your tweets once posted, nor will you see any mentions, direct messages or anything else from your timeline.

It’s a niche app for sure, and I’m liking it. Twitter excels at sucking users into its time-wasting vortex, and Wren lets you share without being bombarded with incoming tweets. Plus it looks great. The main window features a “pad” of paper and a small storage area for drafts. There are two things, however, I’d like to change.

First is the number of drafts it holds. Right now, Wren will store three draft tweets. I understand that Wren isn’t Birdhouse for the Mac, but if you’re going to let me store drafts, let me store as many as I like.

Also, the app quits when its window is closed. You can configure a hot key to bring it to the front, but I’d like to hide the window entirely until I need it.

I give Wren an 8 out of 10 as it stands now. My requests would kick it up to a 10. Wren is available now from the Mac App Store for an introductory price of $4.99.

Workday essentials

Here are the apps I typically run during the work day.

  • Mail for email (duh).
  • Safari for access to news and the CMS.
  • TextExit for holding snippets of text and stripping styling when needed.
  • Preview for re-sizing and cropping images 1.
  • Colloquy for access to the TUAW “office.”
  • Twitter for Mac for at-a-glance monitoring of multiple accounts. That little blue dot is a life saver.
  • NetNewsWire Lite for RSS.

That’s pretty much all I need.

  1. Occasionally I need to bust out Pixelmator, but 9 times out of 10 Preview is sufficient.

Use Apple’s Backup without MobileMe

Yesterday I wrote about using Apple’s Backup software for scheduling local and off-site backups. It’s a super tool that’s available to MobileMe customers. I neglected to point out that those without a MobileMe subscription can use Backup to copy up to 100 MB of data. Useless, you say? Come with me, Doubting Thomas, and I show you how to get the most out of those 100 MB.

First, let’s grab some important files to get an idea of how much data we’re talking about.

Address Book

For most of us, a full export of our Address Book data is well under 100 MB (I produced a 3.3 MB file across 418 contacts). Export your Address Book data by selecting File > Export > Address Book Archive to get a look.

3.3 MB gone, 96.7 MB to go.

iCal

Producing a proper iCal backup depends on how you’re using it. Those with the current MobileMe Calendar should launch iCal, select the calendar you’d like backed up and then select File > Export > Export.

It’s a bit tricker to get a backup from me.com, but it can be done. First, publicly share the calendar you’d like to back up (don’t worry, this is temporary). Paste the URL of the shared calendar into a browser.

DO NOT HIT RETURN.

That last step is important. Instead, change the “webcal” to “http”. For example, “webcal://www.me.com/ca/sharesubscribe/blahblah…” becomes “http://www.me.com/ca/sharesubscribe/blahblah…”

Now you may hit Return.

Your browser will download an .ICS file. Finally, turn off sharing for that calendar. My iCal file was 66 KB. 96 MB to go.

Mail

The simplest solution is to drag messages out of Mail and onto your Desktop/backup destination. Another option is to create an offline mailbox on your Mac. Here’s how.

First, launch Mail and select Mailbox > New Mailbox. A sheet appears. Choose On My Mac from the Location drop-down and give it a name (like “Local”). Then click OK.

To populate that new mailbox, open Mail, highlight the messages you’d like backed up and then select Message > Copy To and then your local mailbox (“Local” in our case). Make sure you copy these messages. Don’t move them. Now those messages will be available offline.

Finally, you’ll find the messages themselves by opening the Mail folder in your home directory’s Library folder and then navigating to Mailboxes > NameOfYourLocalMailbox. I grabbed 2 MB worth of messages to backup. 94 MB to go.

Safari Bookmarks

Here’s an easy one. With Safari running, select File > Export Bookmarks. I got a file 291 KB in size using this method.

As you can see, we’ve grabbed a lot of important information — contacts, calendar, critical email messages and Safari bookmarks — in well under the allotted 100 MB. Now let’s back it up.

Put it together with Backup

Launch Backup and create a custom Backup Plan by selecting Plan > New Plan. A new sheet appears. Click Custom. Next, click the “+” under Backup Items and then click the QuickPicks tab. Then select Address Book, iCal and Safari Settings. 1 Finally, identify a destination and schedule.

You’ll notice that Mail is missing from the above plan. That’s because the Mail QuickPick that ships with Backup will grab all of your messages, including sent, trashed, read and unread across all accounts. That would put most people over the 100 MB limit. Fortunately, we created that local mailbox. Here’s what to do with it.

Create another custom Backup Plan. This time, instead of selecting a QuickPick, click the Files & Folders tab, and navigate to the local mailbox we created in your home folder > Library > Mail > Mailboxes > NameOfYourLocalMailbox. From there, choose a destination 2 and schedule as described above. That way, you’ll only backup the messages you deliberately dragged into that mailbox.

Cool, no? Now you see how to get the most out of Backup even if you’re not a MobileMe customer. Is this the most comprehensive backup plan ever? Heck, no. Photos and music are excluded for starters. But that’s not the point. I wanted to illustrate that 100 MB will let you save some pretty important stuff. The fact that you get to do it with a nice piece of software from Apple makes it even better. Have fun.

  1. For the record, this setup cost me only 29.9 MB. Yours may be different, but I bet it’s still under 100 MB.
  2. Use Dropbox to store your new backup off-site!