Heyo! I'm Matt Brett, a freelance web designer living in beautiful BC, Canada. I specialize in WordPress development and generally making things that are awesome. When I'm not working, I'm playing video games, and I've published 136 game reviews over the past few years.

Taming Mail and Bulletproof Backups

About a month ago, I went on a productivity binge. I knew there was room to improve my workflow, so I began evaluating the tools I use and how I was using them. At the same time, I stepped back from my 24″ screen and had a good look at my iMac. It’s been just over a year since I made the switch, and I honestly couldn’t be happier that I took the plunge. But again, I had got myself into a routine and felt I could likely tighten things up, and so the process of working towards a more efficient and sensible workflow began.

Email is a Massive Time Waster

When I was doing freelance design work, I used to shut down my mail client all together while I was working, so there was absolutely no distraction there. I loved it! But when I made the switch to Graphics.net, it was required that I kept it open while I was on the clock and also necessary. Instead of working for one client at a time, I had a couple managers and multiple clients all reaching in my direction at any given time. To add to the barrage of incoming mail from work, I have my personal inbox and my old freelance box in the same mail client. During the day, the only thing I needed to focus on was work, yet I was constantly distracted by new blog comment notifications, Twitter follow emails, Facebook friend requests, etc. For the longest time, I didn’t really need to worry about it as I saw a little preview of the incoming mail via Growl. That was, until I upgraded to Leopard. Growl has been updated a couple times with versions that are compatible with Leopard, but it seems every time Apple releases an update, it’s broken again. So I needed to find another way to have the mail still coming in, but without taking away my focus from the task at hand.

Mail Folders

Rules to the rescue! The only email that reaches my personal inbox and triggers the dock indicator is legit email. All web service notifications, newsletters, etc. are now directed to subfolders which display a “new” count in the sidebar, but aren’t reflected in the dock. The folders I setup are titled, Blog Comments, Notifications, and News & Press. I can’t tell you how much this has relieved the distraction by that little red icon in my dock, and it’s crazy easy to implement. For example…

To filter out the blog comment notifications – these are emails sent by WordPress every time a new comment is added or one is waiting in the moderation queue. Simply add a rule that says, “if sender is equal to wordpress@yourdomain.com, move message to Blog Comments folder.

Mail Rules - Blog Comments

General notifications can be a bit more tricky, but you can catch just about everything here if you get creative. Things like Twitter and Faceook emails are easy, since they’re always address from Twitter and Facebook. Some other things, like Flickr friend adds are a bit trickier, but still do-able. If part of a subject line is consistent with each messages, you can use that instead. So now the rule becomes, “if subject contains [Flickr] you are, move message to Notifications folder.

Mail Rules - Notifications

That’s all there is to it, and it makes a world of difference.

Bulletproof Backups

Backup Drives

Admittedly, I’ve been lazy with backing up my system since moving over to the Mac side. It’s easy to get comfortable knowing that you don’t have to worry about viruses and spyware destroying your system at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to run into problems somewhere down the road. Doing proper, frequent backups has been on my mind for months, and when Leopard was released I figured Time Machine had me covered and I left it at that. That was, until I read Shawn Blanc’s article on Bulletproof Backups using SuperDuper and Time Machine. That was a total eye opener and I acted immediately.

Less than a week after reading the article, a second MiniStack backup drive arrived in the mail, and by the following weekend I had myself a bulletproof backup solution. I can rest easy now, knowing that I’m covered if I need to recover a lost file quickly, or if my hardware were to fail.

23 Comments

  1. Talk about organisation Matt. All that and you haven't the greatest amount of time on your hands at the moment.

    Backups have been worrying me for a while as well, ended up getting an external hard drive and now back up every day. It's amazing when you start seeing the important files growing in various folders how much you start worrying that you don't lose them!

    Looking forward to your post on the Answers to the questions asked by the way! Should be a good one. ;)

    • No kidding. There was more than one occassion where I looked at everything I had on my HDD and instantly felt guilty for not backing up more regularly… but still put it off.

      I'll get to my QA replies very soon. A couple of them are going to be full posts on their own.

  2. When I had used Gmail, I had made hundreds of labels and filters and ended up becoming overwhelmed by other instead. That was one of my deciding thoughts in moving to Hotmail, but Hotmail doesn't include any filter or label features whatsoever. :(

    • You moved TO hotmail FROM Gmail? That totally breaks my brain .. Why? You gotta explain that to me – The Live mail UI is complete garbage!

      • I actually use a desktop mail client for that reason. I left Gmail because at the time I was on dial-up; it took in excess of 2 minutes for the page to load, but also due to some other factors.

  3. Mail has been really buggy with IMAP accounts since I first started using it a few months ago.

    I love the simplicity of the app as well, but have lost a lot of trust in it.

    I was still using Thunderbird on my PC when I first got my Mac, but now that I use this as my primary computer, I think I'll update all my accounts to pop3 instead of IMAP. Hopefully they'll be more reliable.

  4. I've used Rules to filter my messages for years. I had the same problem as you, trivial messages taking my focus away from the high priority ones. The rules in Mozilla Thunderbird do the trick nicely too. As good as, if not better than Outlook.

    On the backup side of things Hugely important files are FTP'd off site every month or whenever a major update takes place.

    • My backups happen automatically, I have a 8gig USB Stick, I slap it in and it auto Syncs my files.

      8 gig is more than enough for the important bits.

      This thing is an unbranded stick "using samsung memory" which I got for £11 from eBay, inc PnP from Hong Kong. If you unsure, grab 2 and have 2 backups. A backup is always handy to have "on hand" in any case.

      And in energy efficient terms, uses ZERO power in comparison to the mass of external backups your using. And if 8 gig isn't enough? I've seen 16gig sticks.

      And junk mail? Well I don't think there will ever be a way of stopping it, and I still cannot to this day figure out why companies still pay thousands of $'s / £'s to have spam emails sent, when 90% of the time it just hits junk mail filters or is instantly deleted.

      It is by far the worse type of advertising, and the most ineffective method!

      And Dan, hosting is "Backed up daily*" so you can revert at any time, usually :) Had to do the same for Jon!

      I will note no matter what backup solution you use, if you receive something like the "I love you Virus" your JPEG's will become infected on any device you have (if you backup without realising) and every time you open another image it will reinstate itself and edit all your JPG's again and again.

      I also think anything that constantly checks for updates for a "Quick Restore" even the products that motherboards come equipped with are useless. They drain system resources and they eat up your hard drive!

      And Outlook? Well only thing I know of which works with my N95 when sync'in contacts and meetings. Worth the pain of Microshaft for that.

      • Yeah, spam is ridiculous, but it's pretty much a non-issue now. Yes, I still get spam, but it hardly ever makes it to my inbox. Most it tossed in the junk folder as soon as it comes in, so it doesn't alert me of a new message.

        Your back up solution and my solution are two very different things. You're just grabbing your "important" files, while I have an exact mirror of my boot drive to fall back on should my system go down. So there's no reformatting the HDD, reinstalling the OS, reinstalling all your apps, setting up the system how you like it, moving over all your files, etc. – that shit takes at least a full day. I could literally boot from my external HDD and I'm instantly back up and running.

        Where as Time Machine has me covered if I accidently can something important. It actually saved my ass a few days ago when I messed up my fonts pretty bad. Simply reverted to the previous hour and I was good-to-go. It hardly uses any system resources and is smart enough to handle itself when your backup drive gets full.

        Since I'm on a Mac, I don't have to worry about viruses or any of that nonsense.

        It sounds like you need to spoil yourself and get a Mac, Adam. It's like you're on a permanent vacation if you've endured years of working on PCs.

        • Hi there Matt

          You can get Mac OSX Lep to run on a PC, infact the day before Release it was up and running on a PC.

          I would prefer to go on Linux rather than Mac, And with the mac I really do not like their mouse. On the other hand I love the UI.

          My Problem is this Matt, I game a lot (used to live on World of Warcraft, CounterStrike and Guildwars) but now I'm just a Call of Duty 4 man.

          FPS games IMO belong purely on the PC. The mouse is 100X More effective than anything else, and the plus is mine for example (and its 5years+ old) has 5 buttons and on the fly sensitivity changes, which is both great for gaming AND photoshop.

          I have looked into Dual Booting Windows and Linux, and I have done this from time to time, but its again, software.

          Also the "need for a re-install" is not a problem, I have an unattended install of windows XP Pro SP3. Which means in short, I'm up and running with drivers and screen resolution, theme and more within 15minutes, all software up in 1hour. My Web Favourites I use FireMarks, Where I go, they go!

          And if the PC blows up? Well that's what Laptops are for :) Then theirs the missus's PC and her laptop!

          I wouldn't mind an iMac, I have set them up and used them before when I was a PC/Network Support Consultant, back when NT4 was the "New thing", and even then it was "out of the box and working".

          My main gripe is this. Game support, Hardware Spec, Price.

          I Build PC's myself, so when I see how much they charge for a PC with only 1 gig of ram, I laugh!

          Mac OSX isn't actually virus free either, their are virus's for it.

          http://www.sophos.com/pressoffice/news/articles/2

          I know you can get windows on a mac, but still. I also am not sure if, mac OSX is 64bit or not, as my next upgrade will be 4 or 8 gig of ram, as my current graphics card is 640meg I would only manage to be able to use about 3.4gig of RAM in a 32bit OS.

          In a summary if I had the cash to afford the stupidly expensive "top of the range mac" and fork out again for ALL the software again, and be able to run windows on it for gaming, I would, in the blank of an eye. Oh and don't forget the support for Razer Mice!

          Thanks for the responses btw on email.

          • Certain Games, such as Grand Theft Auto (the 3D versions) Beat em up's (Such as Tekkon) and Driving Games, should ALL IMO be played on Games Consoles.

            FPS, MMORPG and a few others PC only. And yes I know you can put a mouse in your Sex Box or your PS2/3 but still… PC?!

            PC's are not the problem, its the operating system that drives the large percentage of them or not if your using Vista. If someone release a "GAME Only" OS.. like the OS on a X-Box PC's would absolutely own. The only problem with this is Drivers.

            This is why Mac OS is NOT "Officially" able to run on PC's as they deem the mass of drivers a "Stability Issue".

  5. I might not be a Mac OS fan, but wow, they do have some clean looking equipment and accessories. Everything at your work desk is clean, relatively wire free, and very nice. I should probably get a back-up device some day, when I head off to college my laptop so far is on its own. I dread the day when everything just crashes.

  6. I definitely advocate backups. Speaking from personal experience, having your hard drive fail with no warning at all tends to ruin your day. Newegg will be getting some of my money soon for a new external hard drive.

  7. Mail's simplicity is glorious, and I've been using filtered rules to keep me sane for a while not, but I'm still lacking in the backup world. I need to get on that action. Thanks for the resources. Imma hookup some super duper / time machine goodness a.s.a.p.

    On another note, what comment plugin are you using for the threaded replies?

  8. Been on Mac since they first arrived in 1984. Yes, I'm old. Mail used to not allow multiple accounts so Entourage has been my mail client of choice. I recently upgraded my entire Office suite to the latest Mac release. Entourage's rules work great (I've used them for years), but I have almost 100 rules (specific folders where incoming messages go instantly). Sometimes the rules don't work for some reason, even though the message fits the criteria. Microsoft, go figure.

    SuperDuper is just that. I've used it for a couple of years and my backup life has never been easier. There's not a better backup program out there (for the Mac).

    As always, Matt. I enjoy checking your site and reading what's up with you.

    FYI, I'm growing very tempted to buy a WII.

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