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Sven Fechner’s sweet setup

Every week we post a new interview with someone about what software they use on their Mac, iPhone, or iPad. We do these interviews because not only are they fun, but a glimpse into what tools someone uses and how they use those tools can spark our imagination and give us an idea or insight into how we can do things better.

New setup interviews are posted every Monday; follow us on RSS or Twitter to stay up to date.


Who are you and what do you do?

I am Sven Fechner, the writer, curator and internet harlequin behind SimplicityBliss and one of three pilots on the popular German tech podcast Der Übercast. The blog and I have been around for a while and both try to be helpful when it comes to personal productivity, creativity and, well, “technology things.” My writing keeps taking twist and turns, but the amount of people (still) stopping by my little corner on the interwebs reading about my “workflow” improvement efforts is humbling.

My main gig is being a Senior Sales Manager for a large, international IT company with responsibility for a team covering Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia. This makes my setup a little, but not too, different to others since my job requires me to travel quite a bit. My setup design principle is travel light. I need to blend in with corporate process and IT policies (setup design principle: not too extreme experiments) while still maintaining a “think (and work) different” approach (setup design principle: best tools to work creatively).

What is your current setup?

Sven Fechner's setup

I am currently working exclusively on a mid-2012 Macbook Air with 8GB memory and 256 GB SSD hard disk. The days I get to work from home I connect it to a Thunderbolt Display, an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, and Magic Trackpad. A very straight-forward setup which is enhanced with a handful of little gadgets used to get work done:

However, more often than not I am on the road with my gear. I wrote about my travel setup a while ago on my blog, but here is the summary of the key items I take on business travel together with my MBA.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

My main job is a mix of classical managerial tasks and projects that need a little more creativity. As you can expect, Microsoft Exchange and Office are still very much the status quo in the corporate world. About half of my colleagues have a Mac, but with the other half preferring Windows, the most reliable way of collaborating on documents is still using Microsoft Office 2011.

While I love and prefer the simplicity of iWork, I tend to use Keynote, Numbers, and Pages only for documents which either just myself will ever work on or for stuff outside my main job.

My writing gets done in Byword for articles and blog posts as well as in Scrivener for longer and more structured pieces like that book I’ve been working on for a long time now.

But before I write or craft presentations, I love structuring my thoughts, data, and any support material I have. MindNode Pro and OmniOutliner Pro are the two trusted helpers in this creative process for some years now. As both applications support OPML, I can take a piece of work from one to the other and for further processing with ease. Sometimes I also use OmniGraffle Pro for more “complex” illustrations.

Everything I consider reference material finds it way into Evernote — one way or another. Adhering to my employer’s InfoSec policies, I keep local notebooks for sensitive information, but my personal notes sync across the cloud. Another application that gets a lot of things dumped into is DayOne: Many thoughts, feelings, moments, successes and failures live in my DayOne journal.

I struggled for many years to accept it, but email is a significant part of my job. Mail.app may have its flaws, but its rich rules features, smart mailboxes together with MailTags 4 and Mail-Act-On 3 turn it into my preferred sledgehammer getting to Inbox Zero at least every other day. Since I do not want my emails to look funny on Windows Outlook due to a very old Mail.app font bug, the third plugin I have installed is UniversalMailer.

If you have read my blog at least once, there should be no surprise that OmniFocus 2 Pro is my external brain and trusted task management system. While my company has its own collaboration tools, I love using Slack and Trello for my side projects.

Finally some of the “Golden Standard” helper apps of which most live in my menu bar:

  • Fantastical for the quick look on my calendar and fast entry of some appointments; I also use Outlook and iCal (a bit of a weird setup, I need to admit).
  • 1Password is keeping it all safe; Not only passwords, but also a few very sensitive documents that I still like to sync to my iPhone and iPad.
  • Dropbox because Dropbox.
  • Box because that’s what my company uses for file syncing and sharing.
  • Bartender keeps my menubar clutter out of sight.
  • When I work late I do not like staring into a bright, blue-ish screen — f.lux helps with that.
  • TextExpander because I am lazy.
  • Hazel because I am lazy and love automation.
  • I mentioned my extensive backup strategy before, CrashPlan is my current cloud backup component, although with my new Synology NAS I may change to Amazon Glacier at some stage.
  • With many windows floating around my screens sometimes, I use Moom to organise them when needed.
  • One of the worst things during presentations? Your screen going to sleep! Caffeine prevents this from happening.
  • Keyboard is typically my weapon of choice and Alfred 2 is the ammunition.

Of course, there are some applications for web development and design tasks that I get out every now and then, but they play less of a role in my day-to-day activities. The only app in the “not-used-too-often” category worth mentioning is perhaps Unbound since my photo management is Dropbox based ever since I left iPhoto years ago.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

It appears that the typical answer here is being happy with what you have. While I am definitely not unhappy, I always believe there is room for improvement. On the mundane side of things I could do with a bit of a performance bump and would love picking up a MacBook Pro 13″ as my next machine if my company’s IT catalogue includes it by then. I also figured out that I am not making as much use of the iPad Air screen size as I thought. So with the next round of iPad updates from Apple, I will move to a Mini.

When it comes to software, I believe we are just starting to see what is possible. More integration, more standards, and more versatile user interfaces and experiences are in our future. Remember where we were 10 years ago and now try to imagine where we will be 10 years from now. Hardware plays a role, certainly, but software is where it will happen.

While in some areas we have seen great innovation in the past years (remember when there were only two email clients for Mac OS X?), others have stagnated (task management, seriously) or did not even do that (one word: Contacts.app). In addition, there will always be space for well-designed, special purpose applications.

I am definitely looking forward to and will eagerly try the new stuff put out by the creative and innovative minds of our industry.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.