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Ten small life improvements

16 Post author: paulfchristiano 20 August 2017 07:09PM

I've accumulated a lot of small applications and items that make my life incrementally better. Most of these ultimately came from someone else's recommendation, so I thought I'd pay it forward by posting ten of my favorite small improvements.

(I've given credit where I remember who introduced the item into my life. Obviously the biggest part of the credit goes to the creator.)

Video speed

Video Speed Controller lets you speed up HTML 5 video; it gives a nicer interface than the YouTube speed adjustment and works for most videos displayed in a browser (including e.g. netflix/amazon).

(Credit: Stephanie Zolayvar?)


Spectacle on OSX provides keyboard shortcuts to snap windows to any half or third of the screen (or full screen).

Pinned tabs + tab wrangler

I use tab wrangler to automatically close tabs (and save a bookmark) after 10m. I keep gmail and vimflowy pinned so that they don't close. For me, closing tabs after 10m is usually the right behavior.

Aggressive AdBlock

I use AdBlock for anything that grabs attention even if isn't an ad. I usually block "related content," "next stories," the whole youtube sidebar, everything on Medium other than the article, the gmail sidebar, most comment sections, etc. Similarly, I use kill news feed to block my Facebook feed.

Avoiding email inbox

I often need to write or look up emails during the day, which would sometimes lead me to read/respond to new emails and switch contexts. I've mostly fixed the problem by leaving gmail open to my list of starred emails rather than my inbox, ad-blocked the "Inbox (X)" notification, and pin gmail so that I can't see the "Inbox (X)" title.

Christmas lights

I prefer the soft light from christmas lights to white overhead lights or even softer lamps. My favorite are multicolored lights, though soft white lights also seem OK.

(Credit: Ben Hoffman)


Karabiner remaps keys in a very flexible way. (Unfortunately, it only works on OSX pre-Sierra. Would be very interested if there is any similarly flexible software that )

Some changes have helped me a lot:

  • While holding s: hjkl move the cursor. (Turn on "Simple Vi Mode v2") I find this way more convenient than the arrow keys.
  • While holding d: hjkl move the mouse. (Turn on "Mouse Keys Mode v2") I find this slightly more convenient than a mouse most of the time, but the big win is that I can use my computer when a bluetooth mouse disconnects.
  • Other stuff while holding s: (add this gist to your private.xml):
    • While holding s: u/o move to the previous and next word, n is backspace. 
    • While holding s+f: key repeat is 10x faster.
    • While holding s+a: hold shift (so cursor selects whatever it moves over, e.g. I can quickly select last ten words by holding a+s+f and then holding u for 1 second).

I'd definitely pay > a minute a day for these changes.


I find split+tented keyboards much nicer than usual keyboards. I use a Kinesis Freestyle 2 with this to prop it up. I put my touchpad on a raised platform between the keyboard halves. Alternatively, you might prefer the wire cutter's recommendations.

(Credit: Emerald Yang)


Vimflowy is similar to Workflowy, with a few changes: it lets you "clone" bullets so they appear in multiple places in your document, has marks that you can jump to easily, and has much more flexible motions / macros / etc. I find all of these very helpful. The biggest downside for most people is probably modal editing (keystrokes issue commands rather than inserting text).

The biggest value add for me is the time tracking plugin. I use vimflowy essentially constantly, so this gives me extremely fine-grained time tracking for free.

Running locally (download from github) lets you use vimflowy offline, and using the SQLite backend scales to very large documents (larger than workflowy can handle).

(Credit: Jeff Wu and Zachary Vance.)

ClipMenu [hard to get?]

Keeps a buffer of the last 20 things you've copied, so that you can paste any one of them. Source for OSX is on github here, I'm not sure if it can be easily compiled/installed (binaries used to be available). Would be curious if anyone knows a good alternative or tries to compile it.

(Credit: Jeff Wu.)

Comments (18)

Comment author: RomeoStevens 27 August 2017 08:52:04PM *  2 points [-]

news feed eradicator

delayed gratification

rescue time

Increase the delay on reward loops with your phone by activating developer settings and setting colorspaces to black and white and setting animation speeds to 2x or 5x. I tried going back to 2x after months with 5x and it felt palpably neurosis inducing.

Comment author: HungryHippo 21 August 2017 09:02:01AM 2 points [-]

keyboard shortcuts to snap windows to any half or third of the screen (or full screen).

In Windows 10 you can,

  • Maximize a window using Windows Key + Up Arrow.
  • Un-maximize with Win + Down Arrow.
  • Minimize window with Win + Down Arrow again.
  • Cover left half, with Win + Left Arrow.
  • Upper right quarter with Win + Right Arrow, followed by Win + Up Arrow.
  • Lower left with Win + Left Arrow, followed by Win + Down Arrow.
  • When using left/right split windows, dragging the center resize bar will resize both windows.

Very convenient.

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 03 September 2017 06:10:03AM *  1 point [-]

You can also move windows between monitors with Win + Shift + Left/Right.

Comment author: lukeprog 24 August 2017 03:55:33PM 1 point [-]

One of my most-used tools is very simple: an Alfred snippet that let's me paste-as-plain-text using Cmd+Opt+V.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 21 August 2017 08:46:20PM 1 point [-]

Org-mode is an emacs outliner plugin that has clocking also

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 30 August 2017 05:46:40AM 0 points [-]

And for people on the Vim side, there's VimOutliner for doing workflowy-like outlines, also with a time-tracking component.

Comment author: wuthefwasthat 12 September 2017 04:25:46PM *  0 points [-]

clipmenu lets you configure the history amount - I set it to 1000. also you can save snippets to paste (accessed via a different hotkey) - e.g. your email address, email templates, common code snippets in developer console

also, a possible alternative to karabiner for vim users is wasavi, which lets you use vim in browser textareas

Comment author: JohnGreer 04 September 2017 03:48:13PM *  0 points [-]

You might be interested in Inbox When Ready which can hide your inbox and do a number of other things.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 30 August 2017 01:43:26PM *  0 points [-]

Video Speed Controller

That sounds nice!

Hope it works in mobile chrome. I prefer all talking videos at 2x, and have to go back to youtube desktop to get it. It will help me get off Youtube, and move to alternate video sites now that Google's has changed it's motto to Do Evil.

EDIT: yay! Works at Bitchute

Comment author: gilch 30 August 2017 01:18:58AM 0 points [-]

AutoHotKey can remap keys in Windows, among other things. I used it to get basic Vim commands in any text field. It also has a Python module. I haven't found a good alternative for Linux or Mac.

Comment author: peter_hurford 25 August 2017 08:14:18PM 0 points [-]

Have you thought about Vimium instead of Karabiner?

Comment author: paulfchristiano 30 August 2017 08:40:13PM 0 points [-]

I also use vimium, but there are lots of things it doesn't cover.

Comment author: westward 22 August 2017 07:50:09PM 0 points [-]

JumpCut for OS X

My paste hotkey for it is Shift-Cmd-V and you can hold one key after to arrow through old items.

Comment author: MaryCh 21 August 2017 03:44:11PM 0 points [-]

BTW, try taking portraits with a camera mounted on a tripod or just somehow fixed in place, eith Christmas lights for illumination. The results are quite magical, although a large portion of the photos are too dark.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 20 August 2017 09:35:26PM 0 points [-]

Clipdiary is free for personal use and keeps a database of previous clips up to the previous 100,000, set to whatever you want in the options.

Comment author: Dustin 20 August 2017 07:34:25PM 0 points [-]

I'd be really interested in how someone uses (work|vim)flowy day to day.

I've started to use workflowy several times over the years but then just kind of drift away after a week or so...

Also, Ditto is a great clipboard manager for Windows.

Comment author: paulfchristiano 20 August 2017 09:27:17PM 1 point [-]

See here.

Comment author: Dustin 20 August 2017 11:04:16PM 0 points [-]

I'm very impressed you're still using this sort of system 5 years later!