Killing the Email Action Folder

For years now I’ve kept an “action” folder with all of my email accounts. This was particularly useful before I started deferring email with services like SaneBox. However, as of late, the “action” folder has turned into some sort of email purgatory for me. I haven’t been cleaning it out regularly and instead find myself letting things linger in there much too long.

A few weeks ago I was reminding myself to do a better job of clearing out the action folder when I got thinking about whether I even needed it any longer. My email is already filtered to put MacSparky “feedback” email into a particular folder and stuff that’s not quite as important into a “later” folder. Why do I need another place to put email?

Add to this the fact that I have pretty granular deferred email folders and it occurred to me that my new “action” folder is deferring email three hours or until tomorrow. In hindsight, that’s probably why I’ve been doing such a lousy job of cleaning out the action folder.

Anyway, as of a few weeks ago I removed all of the action folders from all of my email accounts. For the MacSparky email account, I’ve now got the following:


This is the place were the most important stuff arrives every day. This is the one I check several times a day.


This is a SaneBox automated folder. SaneBox puts email in there that it doesn’t think is as important as other email that is inbox worthy.


This is another SaneBox automated folder that takes feedback from the podcast, books, and this blog. It’s spooky how good the service is at figuring this out.


This is another filtered SaneBox folder that yanks catalog sales and other marketing email out of my inbox.

Deferred Folders

I’ve got deferred folders for three hours, tomorrow, two days, and seven days.

Spam and Blackhole

I’ve got folders that capture spam and the SaneBox blackhole for spam that gets through.


The place or email goes to sleep, a long time.

The interesting thing about all of this is that except for the archive, none of my email folders are manually sorted. Email arrives and gets automatically sorted. While I may occasionally reclassify an email to a different folder or defer it, there is no longer a process where I must open the inbox and manually file email to different places.

It’s probably too early to tell if I have deleted my action folder for good but after two weeks I can tell you that I’m not missing it. It feels as if I’m doing better at keeping up and it’s nice having one less place to routinely clean. I’ll check back in on this in a month or two.

(I've made references to SaneBox, an occasional sponsor of this blog, in this post because that's the service I use. There are others and even some apps that can also defer email.)

TextExpander Pricing Adjustments

Last week TextExpander announced its conversion to a subscription model and storage of snippets at I was actually okay with the new pricing. That isn't because they paid me to produce their videos (they did) or that they sponsor the Mac Power Users (they do) or even that the developers are dear friends (they are). To me it was worth it because the application saves me so damn much time. When it comes to automation, however, I'll be the first to admit I'm pretty far out there. A lot of users complained the pricing was too high and now Smile has lowered it.

You can read all the details at Smile's blog but the short version is: $20/year for existing users and they'll be keeping a separate build that does not sync through for those who prefer to put their snippets in iCloud or Dropbox. 

Sponsor: OmniFocus

This week I’m pleased to welcome back OmniFocus as the sponsor. I always giggle a little bit when people talk to me about their “to do” apps. OmniFocus is just so much more than a “to do” manager. The application lets you track projects with powerful tools like review and context tracking. OmniFocus makes it wicked simple to capture tasks as you think of them so nothing falls to the cracks. Because it’s on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, I’m never without it. Looking back, the only times I managed to drop things are when I didn’t track them in OmniFocus.

Moreover, the gang at the Omni Group doesn’t seem to sleep. They are always coming out with new features. Very recently, OmniFocus for Mac got styles. It ships with a dark and light style but you can create your own as well. Just yesterday, they announced a mechanism to create project templates on the iPad for your OmniFocus database. It’s still in beta but will be released soon and you can trust me that I will be covering it when it does.

OmniFocus makes a difference in what I actually ship and for that I will always be grateful. Give it a try and let it make a difference for you as well.

The Congressional End Run

Yesterday the text surfaced of proposed legislation that would allow the FBI in the future to demand companies like Apple break their own encryption. This feels like too much. I can't help but wonder what the founders would have thought of a government that reads your mail and orders lock smiths to give them master keys. 

Even though Congress appears broken, I could actually see them passing some form of this law if they throw the "terrorism" word around enough. As I've written before, this issue will never be resolved until the Supreme Court weighs in. 

Me Okay. Me Trooper.

Apparently someone at Apple left the camera rolling too long when Cookie Monster was on set for the latest Siri commercial. I love when Apple lets a little whimsey show.

Nesting Folders in Apple Notes

A few weeks ago, we published a Mac Power Users episode comparing the current status of notetaking applications. During the show, I went on at some length about the good and bad points with Apple’s notes application. One of my issues was the inability to nest folders. I was wrong about that. You can nest folders in Apple Notes on the Mac and then it will propagate down to iOS. It’s kind of weird that you have to do it on the Mac first but that’s where things stand at this point. (Thanks Ken Haynes for pointing this out.)

Once you know of the existence of this feature, it’s not difficult to implement. Open Apple Notes on your Mac and simply drag an existing folder on top of another. That adds a disclosure triangle to the folder and placed the moved folder inside the destination folder. Then open up the Apple Notes application on your iPhone or iPad and give it a second to synchronize and you’re good to go.

This does expose a further issue with Apple Notes. Despite the fact that the app was rebuilt just last year, the are still a lot of subtle differences between the Mac and iOS versions. I hope with the next iteration of the Mac OS and iOS 10, the applications get closer and add a few of the features I mentioned in the show, like the ability to sort alphabetically and, for the love of all that is holy, a better way to set the font size on the Mac.

Email Write Order

Recently I made an offhand comment on the podcast about how I write email backwards. This triggered a bunch of email questions so I thought I'd explain further with an excerpt from my Email Field Guide. Here you go.

Email Write Order

I’ve always had a gripe with email application developers concerning the way they want us to write emails. When you go to write an email, the tab order is all out of whack.

The default write order starts out with you selecting the recipient for your message, which makes enough sense, but then everything goes off the rails. Next, it wants you to type in the subject line for a message you haven’t written yet. Because you haven’t written the message, there is a bit of mental friction between us getting our thoughts together and making a cogent subject line at that time, so we skip it or just leave it with whatever the mail client added (e.g., “re: re: re: re: re: That Thing”).

Next, the application wants you to write the body of your message. Rarely does the application even prompt you to add an attachment, which means about half the time you’ll forget to add an attachment. Because the default write order is all out of whack, so are the messages we often send using it. It makes a lot more sense to add attachments next and then write the body of the message before filling out the subject line and sending. I’ve got an alternative write order that makes a lot more sense.

1. Add Attachments

Don’t you hate getting an email making reference to a nonexistent attachment? Don’t you hate even worse when you send an email making reference to an attachment you forgot to attach?

2. Compose the Message Body

The next thing you do is write the message. That’s the reason you started this whole process. I have some very specific ideas about how to write the message body with inline replies—and explain that later in this chapter—but for now get into the habit of writing the message body next. Also on the subject of the message body, try and keep it brief. Email is a problem for everyone and sending a 3,000-word screed when all you really want is to borrow the industrial plunger isn’t very nice.

3. Add a Sane Signature

Email signatures should be simple and smaller than the body of the message. There is more on this later in this chapter.

4. Write the Subject Line

Finally, after you’ve attached any necessary files and written everything else, make an intelligent subject line.

5. Enter the Message Recipient and Copies

Waiting until last to add the recipient assures you’ll never suffer from premature email sendation.

6. Proof and Send

Read the whole thing one last time and send it off into the world.

Want to learn more about email? Check out my Email Field Guide.

Announcing App Camp for Girls Orange County

For the last several months we've had a secret project here in the Sparks household. My wife, Daisy, has been working to bring App Camp for Girls to Orange County, California. Like most ventures of this nature, it already feels like we could make an epic movie about all the highs and lows we've experienced getting this far but I'm pleased to share the fact that App Camp for Girls Orange County is going to happen August 8-12, 2016. We now have a location and several volunteers ready to teach some lucky girls how to make their own apps. There are, however a few things we are looking for:

1. We Need Campers

Registration is now open and we need campers. Specifically, we're looking for girls entering 8th or 9th grade in the fall.

2. We Need a Female User Interface Designer

I know there are some superbright female user interface designers out there in Southern California. We need one of you to volunteer to come in for an afternoon and teach the girls about user interface design. If that's you, please reach out to the below contact information.

3. We Need Volunteers

We already have several people volunteering their time to help run the camp. We still need a few more. If you're interested, the camp is going to be the week of August 8-12. Again, if that's you, reach out to us below.

4. Funding

App Camp for Girls can always use an additional bit of funding. It is a registered nonprofit and donations are a great way to help out a good cause. You can learn more at the App Camp for Girls website right here.

If you would like to help out with any of the above items, you can email me or go straight to the boss.

Encryption Divergence

While Apple has held the unenviable lime-light over digital privacy lately, they are not alone. Today WhatsApp announced that, like Apple's iMessage service, WhatsApp service will feature end-to-end encryption. As a result, they'll be unable to monitor your messages and unable to respond to any Government subpoena. Even more importantly to most of us, hackers also will have no vector to read our private WhatsApp communications.

I can't help but think that the FBI/Apple dispute of the last few months had the effect of raising this issue generally in the public conscious and companies like Apple and WhatsApp are going to continue to push forward on writing code that excludes them from reading their own user's data.

The interesting part will be the companies that are not taking these steps and not trumpeting their efforts to secure their networks. There will providers that don't bother for reasons like the fact that this is pretty hard or they may need to read your data to monetize or they don't want to get tarred and feathered the way Apple did a few months ago. Either way, I think there is a divergence approaching and as users, we'd be wise to know which of our service providers are taking data security seriously and which are not.

New TextExpander and Video Series

Smile Software has released a new version of TextExpander. This upgrade has been a long time in the making and is the culmination of a lot of work. TextExpander got a new design and now you’ll store your snippets at There are a lot of advantages to keeping your snippets at To start out, you can now share snippets and snippet groups. The application can do this on an individual basis and also among work teams. This lets management create snippets that are used, for instance, in a customer service department across the company.

This new model also lets TextExpander share your snippets among multiple platforms. You can share your snippets on the Mac, iPad, iPhone, and now on Windows. The Windows app is currently in beta but I’ve been testing it and it's pretty great seeing TextExpander work on Windows. This will be especially nice for those of you stuck using a PC at the office.

I’ve made a series of videos about the new version that you can find here. There are a total of 10 videos and watching these make you a TextExpander pro. They are, essentially, a free MacSparky Field Guide on TextExpander so make sure to check them out.

With all of these changes, Smile has switched TextExpander to a subscription model. I know that makes some users nervous but, frankly, I think it is a good idea. As a fan of productivity software, I’d really like the companies that make my favorite tools stay in business. In order for TextExpander to continue to get the love and attention it needs to make my life so much easier, it needs ongoing support. TextExpander is so worth it.

MPU 313: Education and iPad

This week on the Mac Power Users, Fraser Speirs joined us to talk about his school's one to one iPad program after five years, how he ditched his Mac for his iPad Pro, and comparing the various iPadsand iPad Pros on sale today.

This episode of Mac Power Users is sponsored by:

  • PDFpen from Smile With powerful PDF editing tools, available for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, PDFpen from Smile makes you a Mac Power User.
  • The Omni Group They're passionate about productivity for Mac, iPhone and iPad.
  • Marketcircle They help small business grow with great Mac, iPhone and iPad apps including Daylite and Billings Pro.
  • Squarespace: Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Sponsor: Daylite

This week is sponsored by Marketcircle, the developers of Daylite. Daylite is a business productivity app for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Daylite is a native app, so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it. All your information is right on your device whenever you need it. When you get an Internet connection it syncs across all your devices and your team’s devices.

A lot of people and teams use Daylite as their project management app because it organizes your contacts, calendars, tasks, projects, notes, emails, and sales in one app. It helps you plan meetings because you can see everyone’s schedule and availability. It helps you stay on top of deadlines because it highlights upcoming tasks, projects, and appointments right on your Home Screen. You never get caught off guard because you can see what’s due and coming up for the next seven days as soon as you open Daylite. 

Daylite lets you share, prioritize, and delegate tasks. You can set reminders for when things are due and get a notification when someone finished a task that you’ve assigned to them. Daylite also gives you flexible ways of sorting and organizing tasks so you can work how you want.

With Daylite you’re not stuck using it a certain way. You create your own pipelines to track many different kinds of projects at a time. You can build multiple different checklists for all the different things you work on.

Daylite makes processing your emails really quick because it integrates with Apple Mail on the Mac. From an email you can link it to a project, assign a task to a team member, or schedule a meeting – all without leaving Apple Mail.

Daylite on iPhone and iPad makes it easy for people and teams to stay on top of their tasks, calls, and meetings. It lets you see upcoming tasks and meetings, track projects, schedule follow ups, and even delegate tasks to team members back at the office. 

Daylite is used by a lot of consultants, designers, lawyers, photographers, and real estate agents. You can read their stories here. Daylite is great for an individual or team that need a solution to keep everything together in one organized place. Thanks again Daylite for your support.















Supercharge your Jumbo iPad

Jeff Richardson over at iPhone JD bought one of those fancy 29W USB-C Chargers and Apple's USB-C to Lightning cable to speed up charging his 12.9" iPad Pro and he likes it. There have been several posts on this and the short version of the story is that where it normally takes overnight to fully charge a 12.9" iPad Pro, with the 12W adapter, you get the job done in a few hours. This only works with the big iPad Pro (not the new 9.7" variation) and comes with a price tag of $73 for the charger and cable. While all of this is great to hear, it also makes me think the charger that came in the box with my >$1,000 iPad should probably have a bit more horsepower.

Fantastical Version 2.2 Ships

Today Flexibits released version 2.2 of Fantastical for the Mac. They could've easily named this update version 3.0. There are a lot of new features in this update including:

  • Microsoft Exchange support
  • Attendee availability support
  • Dual timezones – Your timezone on the left and your co-worker’s timezone on the right. It’s super-useful.
  • Background visual refresh
  • Multiple selections
  • Better location search

There is a bunch more. Below is a short video I made for the gang at Flexibits showing off the new features of Fantastical version 2.2.

Which 9.7 Inch iPad?

Since my post last week about the big iPad, I've received quite a few emails from people asking which 9.7 inch iPad they should buy. Apple has now taken the iPad more in the direction of the Macs where there is a standard model and a pro model. I think it's a good move for the iPad and gives Apple the freedom to stretch out a bit with the pro models.

Now there are two 9.7 inch iPads: the iPad Air 2, which is a little long in the tooth but still a very good iPad, and the iPad Pro. So if you want a 9.7 inch iPad, which way do you jump?

Going in, I'd say that neither one is a bad choice. (Buying the iPad mini 2, which is remarkably still for sale, *is* a bad choice.) The starting point is the cost difference. Comparing pricing isn't as easy as you'd think as a result of the way Apple configures the storage. The 9.7" iPad Pro starts at $599 for 32GB and jumps $150 to $749 for 128GB. The iPad Air 2 with 64GB is $499. So for an additional $100 you jump to an iPad Pro but only get half the storage. Let's pretend 32 GB is enough for you. In that case, what exactly are you getting?

Better Processor

The iPad Air 2 features an A8 processor and the iPad Air Pro features an A9. That's one extra "A". While the iPad Air was ahead of its time when first released, it's now approaching a few years old and if you're looking to hold onto your iPad for awhile, that A9 processor will make your iPad more viable a few years down the road.

"Pro" Features

Having used an iPad with Pencil support and a Smart Connector for a few months, I can't imagine going back. Smart Connector keyboards always "just work" and I can't help but think Apple has more in mind for that connector than just keyboards.

Also, the Pencil is great. Event though I'm not much of an artist, I use the pencil every day for work. Also, the pencil is relatively new. I can only imagine what sorts of uses there will be for it in the future.

The Camera

There's a 12MP sensor (and 5MP FaceTime camera) in the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. If you're shooting movies and pictures with your iPad, the improved camera is a big deal.

Better Color and Sound

I'm definitely curious about the new True Tone display. This feature will be a big deal for some and not so much for others. The speakers are also noticeably better. I was playing a movie in my bedroom with the 12.9 inch iPad Pro and my family complained it was too loud ... from another room. That never happened with any prior iPad.

Not Everything is Better

As mentioned above, unless you're willing to go up to the 128GB model, going with the iPad Air 2 gets you more storage. Also, both 9.7 inch iPads have the same amount of Ram, 2GB.S

Decisions, Decisions

I think the Pencil and faster processor make the iPad Pro compelling. Budget would be an excellent reason to move down to the iPad Air 2 but if you can swing it, I think the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil are going to be pretty great for several years to come.