Archive | General Tips

No Screen Sundays

This coming Sunday, ban yourself from any kind of backlit screen. Try it just for one day. As it turns out, this is pretty damn good at a few things…

Every so often on Startups For The Rest Of Us they drop in a little life or productivity hack. Just one of the many things that make this the best podcast aimed at SaaS. Recently they mentioned the idea of No Screen Sundays. It struck a chord with me mainly because my girlfriend has mentioned my obsession with tech and ‘having to work’ on more occasions then I’d like to admit.
No Screen Sundays
It’s a bit shit when you can’t even take a minute to hang out with your partner or a mate without business stuff kicking around in your brain. Giving No Screen Sundays a go sounded like a sweet was to break this habit.

Man, was it ever.

Like almost every day, the first thing I reached for when I woke up was my phone. May as well check emails from the comfort of bed right? Right then I remembered No Screen Sundays (let’s call it NSS from now on) and chucked it back on the bedside table. I went and hung out with the girlfriend instead, who was already up making breakfast.

Since video games were out as well, I had to find something else to do. The day was spent catching up with people who I hadn’t seen in ages, watching the gf play soccer, skateboarding and picking up the guitar again. There was also attempts at fixing both the car and laptop – stuff I’d been putting off for ages.

I kinda of forgot you could get so much squeezed into one day cause half of it would be spent on work.

I’ve done two of these in a row now. When you can’t just sit down and play games or whatever, it forces you to think about other stuff you can do, old hobbies you can take up again and people you can call who you haven’t seen in ages. All of the above sound like positives to me. The added bonus is that you’ll be itching to go on Monday. Instead of Monday’s sucking, you’ll get loads done.

Give it a go.

The Rules

No backlit screens from wake up to sleep. Kindles excluded
You can use your phone to make calls or reply to messages if they relate to meeting up with someone

Some Ideas

  • Actually hang out with your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/kids/dog
  • Long lost hobbies (that thing you’ve been saying “oh yeah I want to get back into X”)
  • New hobbies – if you’re me try skateboarding and golf
  • Call friends you haven’t seen in ages. Don’t facebook them
  • Go to the pub (preferably with friends, but we don’t judge)
  • Fix something that has been shitting you for ages
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Productivity hacks – Asana and speeding up podcasts

Here’s a quick couple of productivity hacks.

What to do if you’re nowhere near a PC and you have a rad idea or remember something that you are supposed to do? If you’re like me, you’d shoot off an email to yourself and deal with it later.

This is really awful practice for zero inbox.

Enter Asana. I’ve tried a lot of task management apps in the past and haven’t liked any as much as this. One of the best parts is being able to flick of an email to a special email address that just adds it straight into your “new tasks” so you can handle it when you actually want to, rather than have it stare at you from your inbox.

The second is all about podcasts. Podcasts rock when you’re on the move, driving, waiting for public transport or whatever. The problem is it can take a 45 minute episode to get a couple of good points.

After going through a few podcast apps on Android I discovered Pocket Casts. This is easily the best I’ve used, with the bonus (and important) feature of being able to speed up playback out of the box. Listening on 1.8x is surprisingly easy, and it means you tear through podcasts and still process all of the information.

And here’s a few great podcasts to check out:

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What’s your why?

Something that has come up a few times now is knowing WHY you are doing what you are doing. In other words, what is the reason you want to run your own business.

This always seemed a bit like fluffy boring mindset stuff. But when a business coach actually got us to write down a massive list of things we do and don’t want in life, it seemed to trigger something that I hadn’t felt in a while. To do this and refer back to it every so often seems like an effective way to reinforce what you’re doing, and give you a bit of purpose. It’s pretty similar to some of the exercises you’ll find in The On Purpose Person, a good book on the topic, and a pretty quick read.

The lists we wrote were massive. Not just like 3 or 4 things you want from life, you just keep going for 5 or so minutes until you have a big list. Among mine were being location independent, not caring if I blow $60 on a round of drinks for everyone, not having to answer to people, no alarms in the morning, and being able to take naps on the bean bag behind my desk in the middle of the day. The combination of what you want and what you don’t want is powerful.

Vision boards fit into this category as well. In my opinion, creating a board of stuff you’ve already achieved, or places you have already been is equally important. It makes you appreciate where you are right now instead of always wanting more.

So, take a few minutes to build a list of everything you do and don’t want. With a bit of purpose comes a lot of motivation.

The video below if my biggest “why”. It’s also why I went off the grid for a while.

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A cheap stand up desk so that I live longer

Stand up desks have been making waves pretty much everywhere. Even more so since infographics such as this and articles like this started doing the rounds.

There’s no doubt sitting for 8+ hours a day is bad for you, in a whole lot of ways. For me, the clincher was that after sitting hunched over a computer for years, my shoulders natural position was the wrong one (read: bad posture). This caused some muscles to over compensate for other muscles during heavy lifting. One day at the gym, one shoulder decided it had had enough. It’s bad enough that the physio has banned me from workouts until further notice. I mentioned to him that I was interested in stand up desks. His instant reaction evidence enough that this was something that should happen sooner rather than later.

The problem is, people have noticed that there is a market for these things now. With little competition, they can charge whatever the hell the like. Paying $2000 (Aussie) to stand up while you work seems a little insane. This is what held me back for a long time. You could go for a DIY job using bricks or wood from the hardware store, but who can be bothered right?

Turns out there are really cheap options now, at a store that services a whole lot of the developed world…. Ikea.

Stand Up Desk

The Desk James Built

The build-your-own-desk section at Ikea now has adjustable legs up to 107cm. Perfect for all but the longest of human beings.

It’s pretty simple. Buy four legs, buy a desk top and screw them together.

The legs you’re looking for are called “Gerton”. They’re the only ones that go that high, and they’re $25. Tops range from $20 to $100+. Mine was $40, and easily fits a 27″ and 22″ monitor side by side, plus a microphone, speakers etc.

My Stand Up Desk Cable Management

You can also get come cable management trays to screw in to the bottom. This example isn’t so tidy yet, but you get the point. Including this, my whole desk came to a massive $170. I also picked up a matching TV cabinet for $50. How awesome is Ikea?

There’s also a ton of desk top options. The picture below was about half of them.

Desk top options

What a stand up desk is like

You’ll probably have to check back once I’ve been doing this a bit longer. So far, it’s been a bit of a pain but definitely manageable. A sensible person probably would have bought a stool to sit on when they get tired. Unfortunately I don’t fall into that category.

Standing all day gets tiring pretty quickly. However if you mix it up by going to get a drink here and there, sit down for a minute if you’re taking a phone call etc, it’s easily manageable. There’s also those gel anti-fatigue mats people claim makes a difference, which may be an option if you just can’t stand it.

So far, I’ve already noticed my posture in general improving (not only while I’m at the desk). That in itself is awesome. Another win is that I’m completely stuffed when it comes to the end of the day, which means getting to sleep without trying to battle 7,000 thoughts per minute. Oh, and don’t forget that sitting is apparently killing you, so there’s another positive for standing.

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Site speed in the cloud

You’ve probably already seen the awesome news that AkturaTech is now 100% cloud. All our servers now exist in a magical fairy land which is as awesome as it sounds.

Seriously, setting up for the cloud is so much fun. All the different little components to play with and set up are like toys for grown ups. We didn’t even want to outsource it because starting up entire servers and setting them up in a few clicks was just too awesome to miss. Yeah, I get that I’m a nerd.

We ended up going with Rackspace. While Amazon has a much bigger feature set, Rackspace support is top notch and for some reason I just get a better feeling about them. I’ve learned to go with my gut feeling. Still, I researched the crap out of both of them and found that many people were getting better speeds, preferential CPU cycles and just all round better performance out of Rackspace. Things might have changed by the time you read this but this is what we went with.

Site Speed

For some silly reason, I thought that moving to the cloud would mean everything would just be faster. In hindsight this is really dumb. The old dedicated server had 8x the memory and 8x the CPU of our original cloud server which meant it served up pages super quick. The problem was that EVERYTHING went through the one server so it could get bogged down easily.

Checking Google Analytics, our site speed didn’t look very pretty. A quick test with the awesome tool at Pingdom verified that ChimpRewriter.com was slow as hell.

speedtest

Fast forward a few hours, and Pingdom is reporting a load time of under a second most of the time. Oh yeah!

Wanna know how a slow site can seriously impact your business? Check out this page from KissMetrics. It should serve as a wake up call.

This is what we did:

  1. Run the speed test at Pingdom and see what was taking the longest to load. They break it down into Javascript, CSS, HTML, Images etc. Everything was pretty bad
  2. Install W3-Total-Cache (already done in this case)
  3. Take the time to go through every single setting and work out whether it should be on or off, and what option to choose. There are tons of people who have already done this, so just search for “w3 total cache setup guide”, “optimal settings” and stuff like that. There are a ton of options so this was one of the most time consuming bits
    1. Make sure HTML compression is enabled
    2. Minify script and CSS automatically using disk enhanced cache. Don’t minify inline script and CSS if you have a responsive site!
    3. Preload page cache by pointing it at your sitemap.xml or sitemap-index.xml
    4. Browser cache is important, set long expirys on all your objects, greater than a week according to Pingdom
    5. As you go through settings, re-run the speed test to see if what you’re doing is working. Clear all caches each time and do the test TWICE. The first time will take a huge amount of time while the cache plugin does its thing. They also give you an analysis with recommendations on what to fix up i.e. browser cache, minify etc
  4. When you’re all done, run the speed test again. By this point you should see “images” and maybe “other” as the big killers in load time. Remember to run speed test twice.

So after this, load time was already less than halved from 6s to about 2.5s. Given we already had a Rackspace account, it made sense to set up a CDN as well to host all the static content. This includes the minified scripts and CSS which are two big killers.

Note: Highly recommended to do a database backup before this as the plugin modifies your posts!

  1. Set up a container at Rackspace (or bucket at S3)
  2. Make it public and get the link
  3. Get your API details from CDN
  4. In W3 Total Cache General Settings, choose your CDN
  5. On the CDN settings tab, punch in your API details
  6. Export the media library
    1. This is by far the biggest pain in the ass. If you have been uploading images via FTP rather than the built in WordPress Media Gallery you will probably have some issues here
    2. Try using the built in media exporter in W3 total cache. The button will show at the top of your wordpress panel as a notification. Give it some time, it can be a bit slow.
    3. You may have to manually clean up some links if it imports the same image multiple times like it did on ours. We just deleted the dups from the media library then modified the posts where the plugin modified the links
  7. Do NOT tick all the CDN options yet, else your site will break
  8. Add the CDN host URL without the http:// and click test. It may take some time for DNS propagation
  9. Go through the CDN tab and click all of the “export XXX” buttons i.e. attachments, theme files, wp-include. You don’t need to do custom files unless you add some
  10. NOW tick all the CDN options to host attachments, theme files etc
  11. Run the speed test on your site to generate required caches (or hit locally from a browser that is not logged in – if you are logged in to WordPress it will not generate cache depending on your settings)
  12. Run through your site on your logged in browser and check pages look ok. If things are broken, just uncheck the CDN options and empty all caches. You might have to modify some links to images, import stuff to the media library manually or whatever. This process is the most time consuming part of the CDN cutover.
  13. Open a browser that is not logged in (like Chrome in Incognito mode) and run through your site. This will be the CDN hosted version of your site. If all looks good, congrats!
  14. Run the speed test again. It gives a breakdown of all the content loaded. Check that the relevant content is all loaded from your CDN URL, not your original domain.
  15. It will also alert you to missing files in the content list with a little yellow triangle. If there are missing files, again you’re going to have to go through and see why they haven’t been uploaded to the CDN. Make sure they are in the media library or the theme directory and re-link

Now your speed should be like lightning!

We’ll monitor conversions and bounce rate over the next few weeks and see how it goes…

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Sending Google Alerts to a non-Gmail address

I’ve just done a bit of a search for this, but no one seems to have a real answer. So, I went with the most obvious option of using auto forwards. It would make sense for Google to allow you to just select a different confirmed address, but there’s a lot of things they do that don’t make sense.

If you don’t know about Google Alerts already, they are one of the best things you should be using if you are an internet marketer. There’s a few reasons:

  1. You can find what anyone on the internet is saying about you. For example, every time someone on the web posts about “SpinChimp”, I find out.
  2. You can get super easy backlinks. If you get forum or blog alerts, you can post in a relevant discussion about your product or website.
  3. You can follow your competition. Set up alerts for your competitors names or url and see where they are getting links from. It is also good just to see what people are saying about them.

If you don’t want these alerts going to your gmail, it’s pretty easy to sort out. Just use gmail auto-forward. To get started, click the little gear  gear in the top right hand corner of Gmail and select Mail Settings. Go to Filters and hit Create Filter.

filter1

Type “googlealerts-noreply@google.com” into the from address, then hit next step.

filter2

Select the address you want to forward to from the drop down. If you haven’t already got any set up, click ‘manage your forwarding addresses’ and go through that process. Tick the box next to forward, skip the inbox and mark as read. Unless you’d rather not store it in this account, tick Delete.

Too easy :)

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WordPress On Windows IIS Permissions – The Magic Bullet

Sometimes people will be unfortunate enough to find themselves with no choice other than hosting WordPress on a Windows server. This is all kinds of horrible, as anyone who has every tried to do this will know that Windows permissions are an absolute pain in the ass. Things like auto-upgrading WordPress become a nightmare. Most of the time it’s just easier to FTP or copy the files over the top of the old ones.

But those days are over! There is a magic bullet where with one simple change, WordPress will stop throwing errors on upgrades as well as plugin updates. Lovely.

Simply grant the IUSR full control of your WordPress directory.

So, locate the directory and right click it. Hit properties, then pick the security tab. Click Edit. If IUSR is already there, just select it and hit the Full Control tick box and accept. Do not get confused with the IUSRS group, and the IUSR is not in there! If you can’t see IUSR, hit ‘Add’ and enter “IUSR” without the quotes. Hit OK, make sure the new user is selected and click the Full Control tick box. Apply it and you’re done.

Update: Note that if you are using Plesk Panel to manage your web server, you will also need to grant the same permissions for ‘Plesk IUSR’ and ‘Plesk WP User’ for that domain. And when you get a chance, dump the horrible bit of software that is Plesk panel as well as any other software you are using which is developed by Parallels!

Enjoy.

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Windows on Mac: Don’t buy Parallels, VirtualBox Wins

We often get questions whether SpinChimp runs on Mac. Short answer is ‘no’, slightly longer answer is ‘yes, if you are computer literate enough to be able to install Windows on a Virtual Machine’. VM’s are unreal, and everyone who uses a Mac or PC on the regular really should be familiar with them. Taking a backup of your PC is as simple as creating a ‘snapshot’, which you can roll back to at any time. You can even have multiple branches of your PC where you might have different versions of a product installed etc. It looks like this:

Any of these snapshots can be fired up in about two clicks, and your PC will be restored to exactly the point it was at when you took the snapshot.

I love using VM’s for marketing for a couple of reasons. First, you can leave everything open and save the session of your VM. This closes it down so it’s not hogging your physical machines resources, and when you want to start it up again you are right where you left off. This gives you two distinct workspaces for work and non-work. Also, a massively high percentage of marketing apps will only run on Windows, so it makes sense. Secondly, if you are using any automated tools, you can fire up a bunch of them and leave them plug away and just minimise the VM. It will silently sit there doing all your work for you without having a thousand things in your workspace while you try to do other things.

Onto the main point of this post…

A lot of people seem to use Parallels desktop for virtualization on their Macs. To me, this is absolutely insane. They are spending $100 on an app that does what VirtualBox does for free. The day I discovered VBox was a happy one, and I’m sure it will be for you too. I am yet to see anything faster, simpler and more customisable than VBox. Today, I put a customer who was previously a Parallels user onto VBox, and this is what he said:

Wow.
Did it. I can’t believe how fast this VirtualBox is! It’s faster than my native PC box! And it does not slow down any of my native MAC stuff. I really lucked out running into your guys today. I see the VB is Oracle. I work in my day job with Oracle Enterprise 11G. Great stuff! I’m installing all my windows stuff then I’m going to dump Parallels! The machine is running so cool too. 42 degrees most of the time. (72 with Parallels)

Just another happy VBox user. Download it at virtualbox.org, and stop giving Parallels money for a crap product.

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