Becoming Superhuman (with email, at least)

In the original Matrix movie, one of the most striking scenes to my younger self was the scene where a simple upload of combat training turned Neo from a n00b to a bad-ass warrior, going toe to toe with Lawrence Fishburne in a kung fu dojo.  As an optimist, I dream of the instant step-change in personal capability.

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While technology can’t turn anyone into a kung fu master via uploading a program directly to your brain, that was the feeling I got when I got on-boarded to Superhuman a few months ago.  It was a step-change in my ability to process my email.

You can find endless tweets about Superhuman – they fall neatly into two categories:

  1. New users tweeting about how Superhuman has blown their mind and/or transformed their productivity
  2. People who want to be users begging for access. 🙂

I couldn’t find any blog posts about what it’s like to use Superhuman, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts.  Consider this a love letter to a product that’s already made me much more productive.

Speed

Holy s**tballs, Superhuman is FAST.  Like crazy-fast.  Instant responsiveness fast.  The website talks about the 100ms threshold “where interactions feel instantaneous”… and yeah.

I even went through old email, pressing the “E” key (to archive) as fast as I could to see if Superhuman could keep up with it, and yeah… Superhuman can respond faster than I could repeatedly press the same key.  There is nothing – anywhere in the Superhuman interface – where a user has to wait.  And as everyone knows,

⏱ == 💰💰💰

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Command-K (aka Quicksilver for email)

About ten years ago I was a rabid user of Quicksilver on the Mac – where in a simple interface you could do anything – launch apps, manipulate files, trigger emails… anything.  It was super-powerful.

In Superhuman, hitting “Command-K” triggers the “Superhuman Command” menu – which gives you ultimate power over your email.  No matter what you want to do – you can do it by triggering the Superhuman Command.

This leads me to another reason why Superhuman is so fast, and why Command-K helps make it so powerful…

Keyboard shortcuts

You might think – “hey, Gmail already has keyboard shortcuts” or “it’s hard to remember all those shortcuts” or maybe even “huh?”.

If you want to process email quickly, one of the fastest ways you can do that is with keyboard shortcuts.  Your fingers are already over the keys.  Moving them to click/drag/double-click on your trackpad or mouse means moving your hand, making that movement, and then moving your hand back.  It might not seem that slow, but if you have to do it constantly that time adds up… especially when you compare it to the fractions of a second it takes to do the same thing on a keyboard.

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Whatever you do in Superhuman, the interface gently reminds you of the keyboard shortcut needed to do that same thing.  If you move your mouse over the compose email button, it reminds you that you just have to type “C” to do the same thing.

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Do you want to delete your draft?  It’s “Command-Shift-period”

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Want to cc or bcc someone?  There’s a shortcut for that:

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The amazing thing about how Superhuman helps here is that these pointers are only shown to users who aren’t using those shortcuts already.  If you’re a power user, Superhuman just stays out of your way.

Until you’ve used keyboard shortcuts as the core of your email experience, you have no idea how much faster you can get through email.

Best-of extensions

There is frankly a pretty big universe of Gmail extensions to give Gmail users powers that Gmail has never built.  Specifically, features like:

  • Send later (at a time you want)
  • Remind me (at a specific time if someone hasn’t responded to your email… or no matter what)
  • Read receipts – who’s opened your message
  • Undo send
  • Rapportive-style sidebar (Superhuman’s founders also created Rapportive)

ALL of these are BUILT-IN to Superhuman!

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Clean and beautiful

Gmail was revolutionary back in 2004, but even with the recent changes to the interface, it’s still cluttered.

Superhuman is simple, clean, and beautiful.  Just… beautiful.

And if/when you get to Inbox Zero, you also get a beautiful reward — a screen like this: (details of my particular inbox setup are blocked out)

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Hold on… it can’t be THAT amazing…

Ah, but it is.  Seriously.  If you spend a substantial amount of time in email the time and effort Superhuman saves you will be worth every penny you spend on it.

That said, Superhuman is still early.  There’s an iPhone app, but no Android app.  There are some promising calendar features… but they’re not (yet) as powerful as they eventually will be.  I know many heavy email users who depend a lot on separating communication (email) from tasks, so I think there’s opportunity in Superhuman helping those users move easily between email and a tasklist.  For new users to Superhuman I’d love to have a Superhuman Command for “email bankruptcy” where it archives literally everything in your inbox so a person can start from scratch.  And there are still some fairly rare cases where Superhuman sends you to Gmail to do particular things, like adjust filter settings.

Despite all that, you can think of my problems as those of absence.  What’s been built in Superhuman is amazing… just not everything has been built yet. 🙂

Final thoughts

I wrote this because I’ve become a massive fan of Superhuman, and I wanted to share why.  You may have seen the tweets of new users who are blown away by it, but I wanted to share at least my experience as to why it’s been so meaningful to my productivity.

The wait list for Superhuman is… long.  Tens of thousands of people long.  That said, the onboarding process is white-glove: Superhuman has a team who works with each new user, helping set up Superhuman to match how each person works.

If you live in email, I strongly recommend that you sign up to (eventually) get access.

 

TweetOrder – I built a thing

If you’re a frequent Twitter consumer (as I am), you might be familiar with the frustrations of millions of users that want to see their Twitter stream in chronological order, not the “algorithmically-best-based-on-what-Twitter-thinks-you’ll-engage-with-order”.  When news is breaking (or during live sports) it’s… jarring to see Tweets from early in the day mixed in with very recent tweets.

But…

A few months ago I saw a tweet from Andy Baio (@waxpancake on Twitter) that showed how to use Twitter’s native search functions to get to a Tweetstream that showed Tweets in chronological order.  And not only did it do that, but it also removed replies, ads, etc.  You only saw tweets from people you followed, and in chronological order.

Because Twitter is Twitter, there’s a different URL scheme to access what Andy shared, depending on if you’re on a desktop or mobile browser.  Because… Twitter.  <sigh>  Which sucked because there’s no way I was going to bookmark two obscure URLs (and absolutely no way I was going to remember them offhand).

So I built TweetOrder…

🔥💥🌟 Check out https://tweetorder.com to get your Twitter feed in chronological order! 🌟💥🔥

As a fun bonus, if you go to https://tweetorder.com when you’re logged out (or in an incognito window) you see what appears to be the most recent tweets across *all* Twitter users.  This is a really interesting window into the diversity of Twitter worldwide.  Finally, if you’ve read this far, also check out the TweetOrder about page, and follow TweetOrder on Twitter.  Thanks again to Andy Baio for the inspiration!

Make a difference in government: a 3-step guide for blue state tech workers

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As a blue state tech worker (CA, in my case) it seems that I don’t have a lot of ways to affect politics. My Senators, representative, and local politicians already hold the same values and believe in the same policies I do. But I want to make a difference for Americans across the country, especially those that are in danger of a Trump administration. For others in my situation, here is a simple, 3-step guide to make a difference in our country:

Step 1 — Ask if your employer offers a gift match on charitable donations! It’s not unusual for top technology employers to match thousands of dollars a year.

Step 2 — Create an account on CharityNavigator. It’s a leading site to help make good decisions on how to spend charitable donations. It rates charities on a 0 to 4-star scale, where 4-star charities are “Exceptional”, exceeding industry standards and outperforming most charities in its cause, and 3-star charities are “Good”, exceeding/meeting industry standards and performing as good or better than charities in its cause. (Donating through CharityNavigator then makes it very easy to do your tax paperwork!)

Step 3 — Give to top-rated non-profits that correspond to the causes you care about, and take advantage of your employer’s gift match! Make an impact with dollars. A $1000 donation with an employer gift match gives $2000 to the charity, but could only cost you ~$700 with your tax deduction. Check these causes and charities out… and donate:

Environment

Civil Rights

Women’s Health

Other


Originally published at per aspera ad astra.

President Trump

It’s official: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

I’m deeply saddened, and am finding it hard to deal with this news. It shows just how insulated we’ve become as a country. We’ve always been divided (Hamilton reminded me of this), but the effects of social media has made this feel worse. Because you only tend to hear the news you want from the people that believe the same way you do, it hits harder when you realize how many people are on the other side.

I deeply worry about the country under President Trump. Less because of what he believes in policy-wise, far more because of how his election could embolden those who try to drive us apart. If you’re not a white, straight, Christian male, the next four years just became a lot scarier. People I know are literally scared for their personal safety. The kind of visceral hate, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism that we saw in the primary and general elections could become far more powerful and dangerous to individual American’s lives when Trump leads the government and the party that controls all branches of government. Incidents of violence toward Muslims, Jews, LGBTs, and more have had an uptick during Trump’s run because his campaign implicitly (explicitly?) encouraged that type of behavior. I pray that this trend will stop and reverse, but I worry it will only get worse.

This was lost in the coverage last night, but for the second time in five presidential elections, the Presidential candidate who won more votes lost the Electoral College. I don’t think the Electoral College will ever go away, but I’m frustrated by this frequency.

Practically, there will be two years of a unified Republican government (Presidency, Senate, House, Supreme Court) before voters have their say again to re-elect Congress. Maybe things will change then, maybe not. I certainly hope so, but given built-in advantages the Republicans have with congressional districting, I’m skeptical. I worry that America’s debt will skyrocket from poorly-planned tax cuts. I worry that rights (like the right to marry who you want, whether you’re straight or gay) will be rolled back and cause chaos across the country. I worry about violence toward anyone that’s not a straight, white, Christian male.

I worry about the message that this has sent to women, especially young women. When the most qualified Presidential candidate in history (Senator, SecState, etc) is beaten by the least qualified Presidential candidate in history (no elected history, no military service), and the most qualified candidate is a woman? That message from voters is a punch to the gut to millions of women who have had the same thing happen to them.

But I believe in America, and as a country I believe we can survive four years of President Trump. The cost of survival may be high, and it the burden of that cost will be unequal. But in 2020 he’ll have to face voters; this time with four years of actually being President. Will he be able to achieve what he’s promised, or will he have been outed as a carnival huckster? That will be an interesting election.

I keep coming back to the Zen Master story from Charlie Wilson’s War:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/B2L1-TgfKb4

“We’ll see”


Originally published at per aspera ad astra.