Give Your Pidgin More Bite With Snarl

I recently noticed a shared item from Google Reader in my FriendFeed that I hoped would solve a major issue I’ve had with keeping up with things. I have Remember The Milk for storing my To Do items and Google Calendar for keeping track of dated events. I even have a slick method for capturing events and items via my desktop launcher. I should be on top of things. But there is a piece missing.

Google Calendar allows alerts via Email, Pop-ups, and SMS. This should work out great, except that I don’t have SMS right now, I don’t keep GCal open, and I don’t have a method to notify me of new mail on my desktop. I have Remember The Milk set up to notify me via Google Talk of upcoming items, but there is still a chance I may ignore the new chat window (sometimes I get a little caught up in FriendFeed).

Snarl, in combination with Pidgin, actually provides me the best solution. I always have Pidgin running to handle various communications needs (Yahoo/AIM/GTalk/IRC/Jabber), so it makes perfect sense for my notifications system to center around it.

All I had to do was:

  • Install Snarl
  • Install the Snarl Extension for Pidgin, PidginSnarl
  • Make sure my GTalk Account in Pidgin was set for Email Notifications
  • And enjoy the Snarly goodness!

Here is a screenshot of the types of notifications I get from Pidgin now:

As you can see, I now receive notifications about new email messages, including reminders of how many new emails I have. As an added benefit, I can monitor and other messaging services without actually switching to the Pidgin window.

This means I spend more time on task and doing what I should be doing, and less time playin on I no longer miss those important podcasts I keep adding to my calendar because I’ll get a desktop notification. I will also recieve new IM’s from Remember The Milk directly to my desktop.

Don’t forget to check out the other extensions available at the Snarl homepage (FireSnarl, for instance).

Did I explain this poorly? Do you have any experience with Snarl or Pidgin that you would like to share? How do you handle notifications to make sure you don’t miss things?

Remember The Milk: Adding Tags While Sending Tasks

In my post, Remember The Milk: Posting Directly from Your Desktop, we covered how to add items to Remember The Milk using the popular desktop launcher Launchy. This provides us with a lightning-quick way to capture tasks and ideas without interrupting whatever we may currently be working on.

With a simple tweak, we can actually make this setup just a little more useful by allowing us to add tags to the items we are sending to RTM.

Here is the command-line we are currently using for “blat” to email RTM:

– -body ” ” -subject “$$” -to <unique key> -u <gmail username> -pw <gmail pass> -f <gmail username> -server

We are using “$$” here to tell the Launchy Runner plugin to pass our first argument as the subject of the email. What we need to be able to do is to specify a second argument that can be passed as the body of the email:

– -subject “$$” -body “$$” -to <unique key> -u <gmail username> -pw <gmail pass> -f <gmail username> -server

Notice that we have:

  • Swapped the positions of the “subject” and “body” options
  • We are now passing another “$$” to the “body” option

This tells Launchy to use the first argument we send as the subject and the second argument as the body. Now, we can set tags for our tasks as we add them via Launchy:

Pressing the TAB key within Launchy separates the “rtm” command from it’s two arguments. The first argument is the name of the task, and the second are the additional options describing that task.

Keep in mind that we have the choice to set other options for the task besides the tags. You can view the details in the Remember The Milk FAQ on Sending Tasks via Email.

The one caveat here is that you may only specify one option as Launchy doesn’t allow us to enter a line-break.

Was this article helpful? Do you have a better way to do this? I would love to hear from you.

Make FriendFeed Slightly More Productive

FriendFeed is becoming more and more central to my online activity. I feel I have only scratched the surface of what can be accomplished with it. Even at this early stage, I know that I have accelerated the development of relationships, and the growth of my personal knowledge just by being a regular FriendFeeder.

A recent discussion started by jeff(isageek), got me thinking. I really should have tabs for web apps I want to keep tabs on right there in FriendFeed. I mean…I’m always in it anyway, might as well try to get things done while I’m there. You may remember Duncan Riley creating a slew of scripts for adding various tabs to FriendFeed, but there were a few missing that I still needed.

You can’t be productive without access to your Calendar and your Task List, so I created a couple of quick and dirty Greasemonkey scripts based on Duncan’s.

And, just for good measure, let’s go ahead and add a tab for

Another script that I find I am using a lot is the FriendFeed Read Later script. I don’t see how anyone survives without it. It will allow you to mark an item as “Later” and creates a “Read Later” tab where you can view all of the items you marked. I primarily use it to follow discussions I find interesting without having to hope they resurface or searching for them. I also use this feature to mark items I may want to blog about later.

How do you keep up with your FriendFeed? How do you make sure you stay productive while using it? Enquiring minds want to know. Leave me a comment.

To Do Lists Are Not Just About Task-Management

You To Do list may be a lot more powerful than you think. Here are a few ideas that may get your imagination working as to how you can harness the full power of one of the most basic organizational tools. Feel free to share any ideas you have in the comments section.


Tracking things you have lent or borrowed is quite useful. You can apply the same ideas from my Super Charging Remember The Milk series. For example, if Bill borrowed your iPhone, then you could create a task named “My iPhone” and give it tags like “-waiting, @lent, bill, iphone.”

In this case, I have set the context of this item to “lent” by preceding it with the “@” symbol. This allows me to create a Smart List later, to organize all the things I have “lent.” You will also notice that I have tagged the item Bill’s name so that I know who to harass when I start missing my iPhone. You can do the same thing for items you have borrowed.

Content Ideas

I have set up my desktop so that I can add items to Remember The Milk in the blink of an eye. Not only does this make sure that I don’t miss anything I need to do, but it also allows me to quickly collect any random ideas I get for content. I might be reading a blog post over on SheGeeks and get an idea for a new song. Or I could just be poking around on FriendFeed and get an idea for an awesome blog post.

Either way it goes, I can stick these things into Remember The Milk and flesh them out later. For instance, I might tag a new song idea with “-next, @studio, metal.”

Reading List

One of the best things you can do to increase your value as a person is to read. This will help your success in life immensely. People will be more willing to see you as a leader if you have a little more knowledge than they do. I sometimes add books others recommend to my reading list in Remember The Milk so that I can remember to borrow or buy them at some point.


You To Do list can be of much more use to you than simply checking off tasks. There are things that are not really actionable tasks, but are not really projects either. Also, some things you may want to stick on the Someday/Maybe side of things, might do better to have their own category. Experiment and see what works for you.

Do you store things on your To Do list that some might say shouldn’t be there? Do you have ideas about extending your To Do list that I haven’t covered? Did you like this article? Leave a comment. I would love to hear about it.

Remember The Milk: Posting Directly from Your Desktop

In a recent post, we talked about 6 Ways to Add A Task to Remember The Milk. While the methods discussed were varied and useful, I was not satisfied with any of them. This post will show you another quick method to handle this.

I have very simple criteria for being able to add tasks to my ToDo list:

  • It must be quick
  • It must not disturb my current work flow
  • It must be reliable

I had almost satisfied all of these using the solution involving Launchy, Curl, and Twitter. Launchy is probably the fastest desktop launcher available for Windows. So the procedure went like this:

  • Launchy pops up instantly when I hit ALT+Space
  • I type in “rtm<TAB>Task Description<ENTER>” (rtm is just a batch file in my path)
  • The task is added to my Remember The Milk Inbox list via Twitter

If we review the last item on my list of criteria, we see that our posting method needs to be reliable. Well, Twitter shouldn’t even be in the same sentence. I have actually been burned before using this setup, as you can read about in my post How Twitter Keeps Me from Getting Things Done.

So, how do we make it better? I had to find a way to get Twitter out of the picture. If you recall, You can add tasks to Remember The Milk via email. All I needed was a way to shoot off an email to RTM from within Launchy. Problem solved, right? Well…not really. GMail apparently makes this slightly more complicated.

This is about to get pretty technical, but I will try to break it down as simple as I can. If I don’t do a good job, please leave a comment and I will be happy to help 🙂

Download, Install, and Configure “Stunnel”

We need Stunnel so that we can communicate with the Gmail server securely. From the website:

Stunnel is a program that allows you to encrypt arbitrary TCP connections inside SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) available on both Unix and Windows.

So, here is what we need to do:

  • Download Stunnel from the Binaries Page. The version I used is 4.25 (direct download link)
  • Run the installer and hit “Close” once complete
  • Now, edit C:\Program Files\stunnel\stunnel.conf
  • Replace the “Service Options” section with the following:

[SMTP Gmail]
accept =
connect =

[POP3 Gmail]
accept =
connect =

  • From the same directory, run the command “stunnel -install”
  • Then run the command “net start stunnel”

Download, Install, and Configure “Blat”

We need Blat so that we can send email right from the command line.

Blat is a Win32 command line utility that sends eMail using SMTP or post to usenet using NNTP.

  • Get Blat from here:
  • Open the archive and stick “blat.exe” into C:\Windows\System32\ or somewhere else in your path
  • Run the command: blat -install

Configure Launchy

You already have Launchy, right? If not, you are probably not working very efficiently, you are on a MAC, or both. Go ahead and fire it up now.

  • Open Launchy’s Options dialog (click the gear), go to Plugins and click Runner.
  • Hit the “+” button to add a new command
  • Enter something nifty for the Name (“rtm”, maybe?)
  • In the Program field, Enter the path to the Blat executable: C:\Windows\System32\blat.exe
  • In the Arguments field, Enter the following:

– -body ” ” -subject “$$” -to [Your unique RTM Email Address] -u [Gmail Username] -pw [Gmail Password] -f [Your Gmail Address] -server

  • Hit “Ok,” we’re done here

Make sure you include the preceding “-” and the space between the quotes for the body argument. To find your unique Remember The Milk email address, login to RTM and go to Settings->Info. You want the Inbox Email Address.


Now, you can hit ALT+Space (or whatever key you have it set to), type “rtm<TAB>task<ENTER>” and you have just added a task to Remember The Milk without even breaking stride.

Being able to quickly dump tasks/ideas out of your head and into your organization system of choice is pretty important. Without doing this, you will never get anything done because you won’t ever know what to do.

More often than not, you are going to be in the middle of something when an idea strikes you for something else that you need to capture. As we all know, if you get interrupted, it takes about 10 minutes or so to find your place and get back into the groove.

This is why I have been so anal about this specific facet of my system. I don’t believe there is a faster way, short of direct brain-to-computer communication, to capture your thoughts to your to-do list.

How do you make sure you can capture things at all times? Do you have a better method than me? I’d like to hear about it. Leave me a comment.

Super-Charge Remember The Milk Part Deux

In the first part of my Super-Charge Remember The Milk series, we discussed a method of organizing and processing tasks based on a simple system using Tags and Smart Lists. After reading the post, my mother pointed out two important facts:

  1. I spelled “Super-Charge” wrong
  2. She had no clue WTF I was talking about and she has a CS degree

Since I would like my blog to be understood and helpful to all, I would like to extend my apologies to anyone I managed to confuse (sorry mom). In this installment, I will start off first with a brief introduction to “Getting Things Done” (GTD) and “Remember The Milk” RTM.

This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:

What is Getting Things Done (GTD)?

Don’t worry, we’re not going to get too in-depth here as my good friends over at Black Belt Productivity have already provided an awesome primer with videos. Just to give you a very quick overview:

“It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things
to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive
sense of relaxed control.” — David Allen

  • GTD is a book written by David Allen
  • It allows you to get organized by following very basic steps
  • It keeps you from being forced to remember things
  • It makes sure you are moving toward your life goals
  • According to David Allen, a Context describes the tool, location or person that is required to be able to complete an action. We have been starting our tags with “@” to show that it’s a Context.

What is Remember The Milk (RTM)?

Remember The Milk is an awesome To-Do list application. You can access it from their site at Go ahead, sign up for an account. I’ll wait.

All set? Good. Not only is RTM an awesome To-Do list, but it’s flexibility allows you to take care of most of your GTD needs from one place. This makes staying organized even easier.

The two primary features that we’ve discussed so far are Tags and Smart Lists. Here are a couple of definitions from the RTM FAQ:

What Are Tags?

Tags are like keywords or labels that you can add to a task to make it easier to find and organize later. For example, you can tag a task with ‘phone’, and then later when you’re looking for tasks that require phone calls, you can just click on that tag and see all the tasks that have been tagged that way.

What Are Smart Lists?

Smart Lists are special lists that are created based on criteria that you define, and are automatically updated as your tasks change.

RTM and…Twitter?

Now we have RTM set up quite nicely. You have tagged your Tasks, your Smart Lists have automatically organized your Projects and Contexts. You can easily view your Context lists to see what you should be doing Right Now.

One of the basic ideas regarding GTD is that your system has to be portable. You have to be able to track what you’ve completed and also store those important tasks and ideas that pop into your head at any given moment.

You could print out your To-Do list. RTM provides a nifty feature for you to do so, but that is so booooooring! Who uses paper anymore. Even the Gen X guys would probably frown on that solution. So we have two options:

The second option works great for me because I don’t have the web on my phone (long story). There are other features of accessing Twitter this way that we’ll discuss later. In order to get this set up, just go here and follow the directions.

Now, you can communicate with RTM with Direct Messages on Twitter. This means that you will definitely Remember The Milk the next time you happen to be in the grocery store.

Here are a few more examples of talking to RTM via Twitter:

  • Add a Task – “d rtm Subscribe to SheenOnline.Biz”
  • Get Tasks due today – “d rtm !today” (shortcut: !tod)
  • Get Tasks related to your “Blog” project – “d rtm !gettag .blog” (shortcut: !gt)

What Does This Have To Do With Your Cell Phone?

Well, I’m glad you asked! You can add your mobile phone as a “device” on Twitter. This allows you to send and receive Twitter messages via SMS (text messaging). This means you can now text a Direct Message to RTM to access your Tasks.

You will probably want to add Twitter to your contacts. The number is “40404”.

For more details on how to talk to RTM via Twitter, go back here.

But Wait! There’s More!

Well, not really. At least, not right now. There are a few other slick tricks you can do with this setup that I will discuss later. I think we have covered enough for today and the longer I talk, the more incoherent I may become.

A few things to consider with this setup:

  • If Twitter is down, it obviously all goes to hell in gasoline draws
  • Adding a task via Twitter doesn’t allow you to properly tag it, so make sure you check your “Inbox” list or your “!” Smart List whenever you get back to a browser
  • Completing tasks via Twitter means you have to provide the entire name of the task, so don’t make your task names longer than they need to be.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Corrections? Let’s discuss in the comments. That’s what they’re for, after all.

Super-Charge Remember The Milk With Smart Lists and Tags

photo by Franie Frou Frou
photo by Franie Frou Frou

As far as Getting Things Done goes, Remember The Milk is the center of my solar system. At first glance, it’s just a simple TODO list, but it has some serious power under the hood. Using these features, I’m going to show you how to handle most of your GTD needs in one place.

This post is the first in a series on Super-Charging Remember The Milk including:

After reading Advanced GTD With Remember The Milk, I got inspired to upgrade my setup and handle my tasks more efficiently. I decided to do things a little different, though. Everything is handled by Smart Lists to make my life easier in the long run.

Create a List For All Your Tasks

To start, you want to create a list to hold all your tasks. I call mine “Daily.” I chose not to use “Inbox” so that I don’t get my current tasks confused with new tasks I have sent in via Twitter or email. You will never view your tasks directly using this list. It will be one big ugly list of every task that hasn’t been completed yet.

Tags Are Your Friend

Here is where my system is different. At this point, you only have 3 Lists: “Inbox”, “Daily”, and “Sent”. What you do at this point is create some Smart Lists that sort your tasks based on how you have tagged them. Here is how I tag each item:

Tag Format Examples
Projects start with a ‘. .PlanVacation, .Budget, .FriendFeedCommentsWidget
Contexts start with an ‘@ @online, @home, @phone, @work, @errands
Status tags start with a ‘ -next, -someday, -waiting

Project Lists

Here is where you start to see the power of this system. If I want to add a project, I simply do a search for “tag:.NewProject” and Save the search as “NewProject”, or whatever I choose. Now, I can add tasks to this Smart List and they automatically get tagged for this project. All I have to do at this point is make sure to add Status and Context tags where appropriate.

Saving a Smart List

New Task Tagged Automatically

Context Lists

Our Context lists will be the main focus of the system on a daily basis. These are the lists you keep an eye on to see what you should be Doing right now. The items in these lists will only be Next items. As an example, do a search for “tag:@online AND tag:-next”. Now you have a list of all the things you can do while online that don’t have any dependencies. Go ahead and save this list as “@Online” or “@Web”.

Someday and Waiting Lists

Last, but not least, we want to go ahead and create lists for our Someday and Waiting tasks. I have a separate Smart List for each. You can create your own by saving the two searches “tag:-someday” and “tag:-waiting” as “Someday” and “Waiting”.

Example Smart Lists

Here are the Smart Lists I currently use. Notice that they all include “tag:-next” to show me only my Next actions:

Smart List Name Search Query
@Errands tag:-next AND tag:@errands
@Online tag:-next AND tag:@online
@Phone tag:-next AND tag:@phone

Putting It All Together

The work flow for GTD is Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do.

  • Collect by doing a brain dump. Add anything you think may be of importance as a task in Remember The Milk. If you already know the Context, Project, and/or Status for this item, tag it now. The shortcut key for adding a task is “T”. Once you add a task, it will automatically be selected so that you can hit “S” to edit the tags.
  • Process any tasks you have not already tagged. If the task has no dependencies, tag it with “-next.” If it’s part of a larger project (even a project you may not have created yet) tag it as such and create a Smart List for it. Break the task down into smaller tasks, tagging each with Context and Status tags where applicable.
  • Organizing your tasks should be done by this point. Keep in mind that you can always modify multiple tasks at the same time by turning on multi-edit mode with shortcut key “M”. This is good if you have a bunch of tasks that need the same tag added.
  • Review each project to make sure you haven’t left any tasks out or forgotten to tag any of them with “-next.”
  • Do whatever you have to do to get rid of all those tasks in your Context lists. Only look at your project lists if you have run out of Next actions for that project.

Final Notes

  • Every Task may not fall into a specific project
  • Every Project does not have to be a list of Tasks towards any specific goal. I have projects of things I need to Review, Read, Write, Research, etc.
  • Don’t get ridiculous with Contexts. Keep it simple and don’t agonize over tasks that may or may not have to go in a specific context, or could possibly go in more than one context (ie. writing a blog post could be @laptop or @online or both, or neither). Just pick one and run with it. Nothing bad will happen.

Bonus Tip

What happens if you forget to tag things properly? Use this search as a sanity check:

NOT tagContains:@ or NOT tagContains:. OR isTagged:false

This will catch anything that’s not part of a Project, Context, or just isn’t tagged at all

Do you have any tips on Getting Things Done or Remember The Milk? What do you think of this system? Let me know in the comments.

How Twitter Keeps Me From Getting Things Done

You probably think this article is about how much time I waste on Twitter. You probably think I’m going to lament about the long hours I spend Tweeting my Tweeps from Twhirl about how we gonna have a Tweetup or whatever. You got me all wrong.

You see, I recently learned all about Getting Things Done. I am horrible at organization, so finding such a simple system for getting it together was enlightening. I started emptying my GMail Inbox mutiple times a day (the Y key is your friend). I started actually putting events on my Google Calendar. I started dumping everything I needed to do into my new TODO list app, Remember The Milk.

I was able to interact with GCal and RTM right from my cell using SMS (I don’t have the web on my phone). I was also able to use a nifty application loader called Launchy to quickly add things to GCal or RTM without missing a beat (the details of this setup are here). All was right with the world. I was Getting Things Done.

What the hell does all this have to do with Twitter? Well, in order to interact with RTM and GCal so easily, I was piggybacking off of the Twitter service (this is actually how I was introduced to Twitter). There are two bots (gcal and rtm) on twitter that allow you to control each service. I had scripts that would use curl to pass messages to these bots directly from my app launcher. When Twitter went away, I had no way of knowing my scripts were failing.

Instead of adding items to my calendar or todo list, I was just throwing them away into oblivion. This is definitely the opposite of Getting Things Done. Now, I am in the process of coding my own apps to make sure this never happens again. RTM has an open API. Just my sad story about Twitter. You probably don’t care, but the recovery is always in the telling.

Has some nifty web 2.0 app wronged you somehow? Tell us about it.