Omni Group reveals plans for OmniFocus 2, more

The Omni Group has teased its plans for OmniFocus 2 for Mac, OmniOutliner 4 and the all-new OmniPresence. As for OmniFocus 2, Ken Case writes:

“For OmniFocus 2, we’re bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes, clearer navigation, and a fresh look and feel.”

The software will be presented in public for the first time by Merlin Mann and David Sparks in San Francisco on January 31.

OmniPresence will offer automatic document syncing:

“Because it’s open and you can host your own cloud, OmniPresence is designed to sync any documents you want: it’s not limited to syncing documents created by our apps. In fact, on the desktop OmniPresence is completely independent of our other apps: if you wish, you can use it to sync TextEdit documents!”

Nice. Good luck to team at Omni. I’m looking forward to these updates.

Choosing a to-do manager

David Sparks wrote a great article for Macworld about finding the right to-do manager:

“My final advice about choosing and implementing a task management system is to be careful. No other productivity tool enables needless tinkering as effectively as a to-do app. I recommend you pick a task system as sophisticated as you need it to be, but not one bit more complex than that.”

That’s great advice, as someone who’s willing to spend money on task-management software is also likely the same person who’ll succumb to a desire to fiddle. I love OmniFocus, but I also love a simple list on paper.

Mac apps I love that started on iOS

Some of the Mac apps that I love and rely on were born on iOS. In fact, several applications have made that transition successfully, like Echofon and that damn Angry Birds. Others have become an important part of my work day. Here are two of my favorites.

Reeder

To say that I spend a lot of time reading RSS feeds is like saying Boeing dabbles in aeronautics. I’ve tried several apps and none have satisfied my need for speed, reliability and extensive keyboard shortcuts like Reeder. It doesn’t balk at the huge number of queries I throw at it and, best of all, the keyboard shortcuts are abundant and easy to remember. For example:

  1. Open in a browser: B
  2. Mark as read: A
  3. Previous: K
  4. Next: J

There’s no modifyer key or awkward combinations that require the fingers of a contortionist. It’s a super reader.

Twitter for Mac (formerly Tweetie)

Before it became the official Twitter app for Mac, Tweetie was born on the iOS. Today, I rely on it heavily while working, and that’s because of the tiny blue dots.

Twitter for Mac supports multiple accounts, displaying each one’s avatar on the main window’s left-hand side. A small blue dot appears next to each as new tweets arrive. The dot’s position identifies the incoming tweet as a mention, direct message or general timeline tweet. As a result, I can monitor which of my many accounts has a mention or DM awaiting my attention. It’s extremely useful.

But that’s not all, sports fans

The opposite is true, too: several Mac apps have spawned stellar iOS companions. My favorites either compliment or duplicate the original’s feel and function so well, that they’re a joy to use. Here are a few standouts.

Billings Touch

I dare say the iPhone version of Marketcircle’s time-tracking app is even more pleasant than its Mac counterpart. Create projects, clients, invoices and more on the fly and in the field. Plus it syncs wirelessly with the desktop version (though you must be on the same Wi-Fi network).

Omnifocus

I’ve been using The Omni Group’s project manager on the Mac for quite a while and again, I prefer the iPad version. It’s slick, beautiful and so thoughfully designed you’d almost think it was an iOS app first.

GarageBand

This app is beautiful, functional and fun. I’ve recorded audio with it via the iPad Camera Connection Kit. Typically I recored two or three podcasts per week. Being able to do so at nearly any locaiton with such a minimal setup is fantastic. My kids and I love making music with it, and it even keeps them entertained on long road trips.

Not every app could or should make this transition. However, it can turn out very well, as these five apps demonstrate. Good work, all!

 

Pomodoro and Omnifocus

Anyone who knows me realizes that I have a significant problem with concentrating on anything. As in medically significant. Yet, I must do things. Every day.

It’s a real hassle.

I’ve found that the Pomodoro Technique, as gimmicky as it is, works for me. In a nutshell, it prompts you to work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. After four work/break sessions, that final break is upped to 15 minutes. Then you start over.

It works because I can concentrate for 25 minutes easily, and enjoy the regular permission to goof off. It’s effective for me and that’s what counts.

There are many Pomodoro apps out there 1, including the beautiful Pomodoro for iPad. Here’s what’s even better. MACOSX Tumbelog has posted an Applescript that will, with a little help from Dropbox, move actions from OmniFocus into the iPad app. In fact, it will pull tasks from OmniFocus, Things, TaskPaper or really any text file.

I love it: schedule next actions in your favorite repository, move them to Pomodoro for iPad and then get to work. The fact that the app is beautiful is icing on the highly productive cake.

  1. Honestly, all you need is a kitchen timer

OmniFocus and the Printable CEO

After Shawn Blanc shared my rig, I received several questions about how I use OmniFocus and David Seah’s Printable CEO forms together. To answer those questions, I’ve written this post.

Before I begin

Please note: I present this as a description of how I work. I’m not suggesting that you should adopt my methods, or that my system is superior to any other. I’ve been using the routine I’ll describe here for a long time. It works beautifully and has allowed me to stop “fiddling” with productivity. With that said, here’s how I work.

GTD modified

My daily routine is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I say “based on” because I don’t follow his instructions strictly. I do break projects into observable tasks, which I sort by context. I also conduct a weekly review, which I believe is crucial.

However, I stray when determining what to do. David suggests that you notice your available resources, time and context when picking a task to complete. I identify the 3 tasks that I must complete within 24 hours. These are the day’s most important tasks (MITs), and are pulled from OmniFocus.

I also identify 3 or 4 “batch tasks.” These could be completed before the end of the day, but the world won’t end if they aren’t. I took the MIT/batch task idea from Leo Babauta’s book “The Power Of Less.” Check it out if you haven’t.

Once I’ve identified my MITs and batch tasks, I grab an Emergent Task Planner (ETP) and get to work.

Setting up an ETP

The goal of the ETP (as I use it) is threefold: To monitor how much time I spend on certain tasks, to act as an inbox and to provide scratch/support information.

The ETP provides room for nine major tasks. I put my MITs in the first three and batch tasks underneath. Next to each is a series of “bubbles.” Each one represents 15 minutes. The idea is to fill them in and see how long it took to complete each task. Before I begin, I draw a little hash mark to represent my best guess (for example, if I think a task will take one hour, I’ll put a hash above the fourth bubble).

On the far right are more bubbles, text fields and boxes. There’s a box next to every fourth bubble, marking the hours. There are 14 boxes in total. I write “7:00 AM” in the first one and continue down to 8:00 PM. The fields next to the bubbles are labeled with the active task and the bubbles are filled in as time passes.

This way I can measure a task’s duration and watch as a scheduled appointment (“Take daughter to cheerleading practice” or “Call Janie re: class”) approaches. The bottom half of the form is meant for additional, minor tasks, but that’s not how I use it. At the top of that area I write “Inbox.” Halfway down, I write “Support.” The inbox should be self-explanatory. As new “stuff” arrives (by my definition, “stuff” is anything that isn’t where it should be), it’s written down for later processing.

Support is where I store information related to tasks-in-progress. For example:

  • Research
  • Image dimensions
  • An app’s system requirements

I like having a work area like this for jotting down bits of data for quick reference, working out problems, etc. At the end of the day, several things happen.

  • I can see how many tasks I completed
  • I can see how long each task took to complete, compared to my estimate
  • A total number of hours worked is tallied
  • Anything in the inbox is processed and added to OmniFocus as is appropriate

I know what you’re thinking

Why use a piece of paper when you’ve purchased powerful, expensive software?

I need both. Some information, like images, can’t be stored on paper. Also, OmniFocus is where I keep all aspects of a given project together, like files, research, email correspondence and so on. There’s no denying that OmniFocus is tremendously powerful. The over-the-air sync alone is a huge selling point. Check it out if you haven’t.

Then there’s this: I just like writing on paper. It’s efficient and fun. I love David’s beautiful, useful forms. Using both lets me work with a sense of relaxed control that is unattainable otherwise.

iOS vs. paper

I’ve long contended that I can capture information more successfully with pen and paper than with any iOS app. After reading this great post by Joshua Schnell, I felt justified. Of course paper is better!

I also know that perception isn’t always reality, so that might not be true. It’s time for an experiment.

I’m going to spend the next month with four apps apps (using one per week) plus a notebook and a pencil. I’ll monitor my habits, take data and report back in five weeks. Here are the specifics.

The focus will be on capturing incoming information only. I’m looking for the best mobile inbox. For example, if someone asks me to perform a task at a certain time, I must be able to enter that request into my trusted system as easily as possible, with a 100% guarantee that I’ll see it again during processing. In this experiment, I will not be setting up calendar appointments, creating or adding to project lists, etc. Instead, I’ll simply push incoming stuff to “In.”

Some definitions

Stuff – I’ll go with David Allen’s definition: Anything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Like an appointment confirmation on voice mail, or a task in an email message.

Trusted System – The procedures by which I put a figurative stake in the ground that says, “This must be attended to. Here’s how and why.” In order for a system to gain my trust, I must feel absolutely confident that any information forwarded to it will not be lost or forgotten.

Ubiquitous Capture Tool (UCT) – The physical object(s) that allows me to capture stuff in any situation or environment.

The apps

Due – This app touts super-speedy task input.

TaskPaper – Super simple interface.

SimpleNote – It’s got companions on the desktop and iPad, plus over-the-air sync.

OmniFocus – Ph.D.-level task management.

That’s a nice range of apps. Before you balk about pitting Due against OmniFocus, remember: the goal is to jot down ideas. Every item on the list is just as capable as the others. Also, you might wonder why I’ve omitted obvious choices like Teux Deux and Calvetica. They’re both tremendous, but are best at handling time-sensitive tasks. I’m looking to capture any and everything.

Finally, I will use the iPhone only. No iPad.

The notebook

I’ll be using one of my trusty Field Notes Brand notebooks.

The data

As I work through the month, I’ll note:

  • How long it takes to enter a task
  • Convenience
  • Reliability
  • Usefulness
  • Which one I find myself wanting to go to (towards the end of the month)

Hardly scientific, I know, but still telling. For now, I’m off. Look for part 2 in five weeks.

Mail rules [updated]

Google’s announcement of the new Priority Inbox feature has got people talking about the procedures they use to filter, sort and otherwise act upon their incoming email. I get several hundred email messages per day across several accounts, gigs and points of reference.

I don’t use a single rule. I have one inbox. I treat them all the same way.

When an email message arrives, I ask myself the following:

  1. What is it? Meaning, is it actionable, reference material or junk?
  2. If it’s actionable, I then consider: Can it be completed in 2 minutes or less? If so, I do it RIGHT THEN. If no, it’s either A.) assigned to an open project, a new project or a single-action task as is appropriate; B.) assigned to a context like “@computer”;  C.) delegated to the appropriate person. If delegated, I make a note of the task, person and date of delegation on a @waiting list for later follow-up. In all cases, it’s processed appropriately to Omnifocus and then deleted. 1
  3. If it’s not actionable, it’s either reference material (stored in Simplenote and then deleted), junk (deleted) or a date-specific item that either will happen in the future (added to calendar and then deleted) or could happen in the future (added to Someday/Maybe list and then deleted).

This process is basically David Allen’s GTD methodology applied to email, and takes about an hour per day. Plus, it’s super simple. No rules. No color coding. No custom inboxes. No scripting. Just observe, decide and act. That’s it.

_______

Update: Brief follow-up and clarification.

  1. Every email message is deleted after it’s been processed. Your email client is not a filing cabinet. I’ve stood patiently by people’s desks while they scroll through hundreds of messages to find a single bit of information far too often. If it was appropriately stored and tagged in a reference system, life would be much easier.