Grad School Distillation with OmniOutliner Essentials

I’ve struggled with procrastination for as long as I can remember. I was always that student writing the paper hours before it was due. Exams? You could forget about studying for them. I’d put off studying for so long that I’d convince myself cramming was a lost cause. Despite my disdain for school work, I’ve managed to make it all the way to graduate school (for a second time).

But… it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I found a process that has me completing my assignment on time if not early. (Plus it’s entirely paperless.)

Each week, my graduate coursework consists of reading 3-4 research papers and summarizing them each in a short 3-5 paragraph essay. During class, we discuss the papers as small groups before rejoining for a discussion as a class.

I read each paper in Preview, highlighting important passages as I go in yellow. I also copy these highlights into an outline in OmniOutliner Essentials. OmniOutliner Essentials is the perfect, distraction-free outlining app. I wait a day before reviewing my outline, as I feel the concepts sink in better.

While reviewing, I bold any keywords or quotes I find important. Using those boldened keywords and quotes as a sort of “skimmed down” outline, I am able to write the 3-5 paragraph summary in Byword (my favorite writing app) knowing I’ve captured all the points I wanted to include.

Once in class, these keywords and quotes also serve as the basis for talking points in discussion rather than fumbling around through a 20-30 page PDF. If a quote within the paper is mentioned during class, I highlight that in blue using Preview.

At the end of it all, I have a highlighted PDF that distinguishes between my own highlights and those mentioned in class, an outline with emphasized keywords, and a 3-5 paragraph summary, giving me a number of options to go back and review what I’ve learned.

For this whole process, I like to snap them the apps to half the screen using Moom and make sure to turn on Do Not Disturb for the ultimate, distraction-free environment. If I’m feeling particularly distracted, I’ll also turn on my Focus playlist on Spotify.


Traveling with Tech

I’ve been traveling a lot more recently, especially by plane, and with that, I finally feel like I’m getting smart with packing. The days of bringing 3-4 bags for a trip are gone. Instead, I’m finding my carry-on bag is more than enough.

Side note: I love my Vera Bradley carry-on bag. I got it on sale when they discontinued the color. I love that it has a TSA-approved laptop sleeve so that  I can just open up without removing my laptop. Jen from Pretty Neat Living did an excellent video of it a few years back. Sadly, it looks like their current bags don’t have near the amount of organization this one has. I’m not sure if they’re still available on Ebay or somewhere else, but I highly recommend it, if you can find one. They’re also easy to spot at baggage claim if you ever check your bags.

My number one travel essential for flying is easily my Airpods. I’m still amazed at how delightful I find them, even months later. They’re always within reach, and since I like to listen to podcasts on a plane (or just to tune out my boyfriend for a bit), they are essential. I also bring my Kindle in the event I want to read, but usually, I have a backlog of podcasts to catch up on.

While I’d prefer to not bring my laptop with me on trips, sometimes I just can’t avoid it. In the most recent case, I had several work deadlines and a paper for graduate school to complete during our recent trip to Austin.  I was lucky enough to get my new 13″ MacBook Pro just before our trip, and that opened the doors to something I’d never been able to do before. I brought ONE charging cable! ONE!

Ignore the terrible nails

I brought my main Macbook Pro USB-C charger along with a USB-C to Micro-USB adapter and Micro-USB to Lightning adapter. With these adapters, I was able to charge my Macbook Pro, iPhone, Kindle, Airpods, and battery pack with a single charger, and believe me, it was wonderful. I added a LightningCozy to keep the Lightning adapter attached to my USB-C to Micro-USB adapter even when I’m not using it.

Another thing that I love traveling with that doesn’t seem to get mentioned online much is my Belkin Portable Valet Charger. It has a built-in Apple Watch charger on it. I had planned to buy a separate watch charger for travel but decided to spend a little more for this since I can use it to charge my phone and Kindle as well. Since I’m only traveling with a USB-C cable and this still uses USB-A,  I toss a handy USB to Micro-USB and Lightning keychain in my bag with it, and I’m always prepared for a low battery.

If you have any ways to simplify traveling with gadgets any further, I’d love to read them in the comments below.

Omnifocus Project Templates with Keyboard Maestro

Two years ago, I wrote a post about using checklist templates in Omnifocus. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve written on the site, but, honestly, I never really felt like having a folder of stalled projects that I could duplicate was all that great of a solution. Not only did they add visual clutter to an already complex system, but some of my more complex ones required fiddly applescripts.

Thankfully that’s all changed. With version 2.7, Omnifocus is finally bringing the TaskPaper support it first introduced on iOS to the Mac, and it’s allowed me to drastically improve my templates.

The folder of stalled projects has been replaced in favor of a new set up that uses Keyboard Maestro. Seriously, I can’t say it enough. Every day I find a new use for this app. If you haven’t bought it yet, go do it!

I’ve set up a hotkey to display a macro palette that displays a list of my templates while in Omnifocus. You could just as easily trigger this with a snippet. I just think the palette looks nice, and makes it look like I spent a lot more time making my templates than I actually did.


The beauty of TaskPaper support is that you can just copy and paste tasks in Omnifocus preserving all of the meta data like contexts and due dates, so the simplest of my templates (e.g. my packing list) do just that. They paste the TaskPaper template using an “Insert Text by Pasting” action. All I had to do was select the template project I had in Omnifocus, copy it, and paste it into the Keyboard Maestro action. Essentially these are just text snippets, so you could just as easily do this with a TextExpander snippet.

For the templates with fill-in variables, I just added an additional action to prompt for input and updated the template to include the variable tokens. Again, this is something you could also easily do with an app like TextExpander, which also supports fill-ins.

Of course, Keyboard Maestro’s incredible power actually inspired me to take a few of my templates a step further than just variables, and this is where I think it’d get a bit more complicated if you were trying to use TextExpander. Some of my project templates have action groups that are conditional (e.g. if x, also do y). My previous templates just included all the groups and I deleted them if I didn’t need them. With Keyboard Maestro, If, Then rules automatically add or remove the groups based on other variables of the template.

Why iOS 10 Convinced Me to Ditch Fantastical for Apple Calendar

Apple didn’t mention much about Calendar during WWDC. In fact, it wasn’t until I read Federico Viticci’s iOS 10 review that I even noticed there were any changes at all. I’m glad I read his entire 30+ page review though because there were changes to Calendar, and one of them has been a game changer for me.

For several years now, Fantastical has been my calendar app of choice on both iOS and macOS. When I’m out and need to quickly add something to my calendar, Fantastical’s natural language support simply made it easier to add appointments. The last thing I want to do is spend 5 minutes fiddling with my phone to set up future dinner plans with someone instead of actually paying attention to the friend standing next to me. With Fantastical, I could just type “Dinner with Sam at Restaurant XYZ on Sunday at 2PM” and be done.

But with iOS, Apple has added event suggestions to Calendar. Now, if I’m at the dentist and need to set up my next appointment, even typing just “den” brings up a suggestion to create a “Dentist Appointment” event complete with location. I just need to pick the date and time. Easy. It’ll even add invitees, not that I normally invite people to go to the dentist with me…that’d be weird. The amount of time this feature allows me to save convinced me to switch back to Apple’s stock Calendar app and delete Fantastical from my phone almost instantly.

Using Apple’s own apps comes with a handful of additional benefits. For instance, I get notifications to remind me when it’s time to leave. And of course, I get a calendar icon that actually includes the date on my homescreen again.


Sometimes the Best Tool is the One You Already Have

Yesterday, on a whim, I ordered a Roku Stick. I didn’t really need another streaming device. I already had a Chromecast plugged into my Xbox One which was plugged into my Smart TV (three devices all capable of streaming all plugged into each other) AND an Amazon Fire TV Stick sitting in a drawer. But let’s be real, who can turn down same day shipping when it’s free? Not this girl.

Impulsive consumption aside, the Roku Stick really was the missing link in my entertainment set up. It’s speedy. It lets me search across all my streaming services (seriously life-changing), and Roku’s feed feature to track your favorite shows, movies, and actors is the closest I’ve gotten to being able to turn the TV on and just watch things I want to see since having a DVR.

The Roku Stick certainly gets my vote for best tool when it comes to streaming. In fact, it’s so good, I found that most of the movies I had in my Netflix DVD queue were available to stream elsewhere – enough so that I won’t be renewing it next month.

But… here’s where things took a dangerous turn.

Netflix has long served as my movie watch list. If a movie I wanted to see wasn’t available to stream, it went in the DVD queue where it eventually made its way onto my TV. I started thinking, “If I don’t have a DVD queue, how on earth will I keep track of which movies I want to watch?”

As a GTDer, I can’t keep that list in my head, so as the tech person I am, I would need a fancy app to keep track of my movies. For the next 4 hours, I went down a rabbit hole of movie watch list apps. My phone’s purchased section shows that I downloaded 11 different apps (most were free; and this number doesn’t include the ones I’d already tried previously and redownloaded). ELEVEN!

Which app did I go with?

None of them.

After wasting hours trying out different apps, I decided that the best way to keep track of which movies I wanted to see was the same way I’ve been keeping track of books I want to read – a “Movies to Watch” list, set to “On Hold” in my Someday/Maybe folder of Omnifocus.

Sometimes the best tool is the one you already have.

Overlooked Apps: My Favorite macOS Utilities

If you look at this blog’s tag cloud, you can get a quick overview of some of the apps that are essential to my workflows. These are the apps and services like Omnifocus, Keyboard Maestro, and Pocket, but there’s another set of apps that don’t get as much love that are just as essential. In fact, I have used them for so long I often forget they’re not actually part of macOS in the first place. Today I wanted to share some of my favorites that don’t get as much love on the blog.

Bartender ($15)

I cringe a little bit whenever I catch a glimpse of a menu bar that stretches across an entire 27” display. Don’t get me wrong, I love my menu bar apps, but Bartender allows me to be much more intentional with how I use my menubar. My default menubar now only contains Fantastical and the time. Everything else lives tucked away in the Bartender bar or is hidden entirely unless I need it.

Minimal MenuBar

A view of my menubar while I’m working

One of my favorite features of Bartender is it’s ability to only show a menubar app when it has an update. This lets me see when Crashplan or Time Machine are backing up or my MacBook Pro’s battery is dying without having them in my menubar. Not only does it keep my menubar streamlined, but I now notice when something pops into it much more helping me to know what’s going on on the computer.

Taking things a step further, many of my menubar apps only launch under certain conditions thanks to Keyboard Maestro.

Healthier ($3.99)

Healthier is one of those menubar apps that Keyboard Maestro launches only when I’m at work. It’s function is simple – every 60 minutes, it overlays the screen with a quote and a quick timer to remind me to get up and take a break from my computer. Unlike other apps that remind you to take breaks, this one lets you continue to work if you happen to be working on something important which I like.

Moom ($9.99)

Apple tried to improve window management in El Capitan, but it just didn’t work in the way I had hoped. As much as I hate to admit it, Microsoft was on to something when they added the Aero Snap feature to Windows. Moom brings that experience and more to the Mac. Snapping windows side by side is something I do regularly and immediately notice when it’s not there.

PopClip ($6.99)

The first time I tried this app, I hated it. It was always getting in the way and seemed like a total nuisance at first. It wasn’t until I took some time to explore the various extensions for it that I learned to love it. Now sending highlighted text to Day One, Deliveries, Notes or Omnifocus are just a click away. It also automatically calculates word counts and allows me to highlight PDFs in Preview with ease.

QuickCast (Free)

Working in tech support, I’m often needing to show people how things are done. QuickCast is the best lightweight screencasting app I’ve found.

ClamXAV ($29.95)

While viruses are still fairly rare on Macs, I still like to keep some sort of virus protection on my computer. I never know what kind of attachment someone might attach to their support request or email. I also don’t want to be that person who unintentionally sends something malicious along to some poor unassuming Windows user. ClamXAV has been there for me as long as I’ve used a Mac. It’s not free anymore, but for $30, it’s well worth it.

GhostTile ($9.99)

This is one of those apps I never see mentioned anywhere. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m very intentional about what is visible on my devices, and many of the apps I like to keep running in the background don’t have settings to hide their dock icon. Apple’s also made it increasingly difficult to modify the app’s settings to hide the icon without also breaking the app. Ghosttile is the only app I’ve found that successfully hides the icons of apps I truly never need to have in my dock.

I’m always on the lookout for new apps, so what are some of your favorite “hidden gems” for your Mac?

August 2016 Favorites

I have a bit more time on my hands these days so I figured I’d take a break from the usual tech tips and try going back to sharing some of my favorite things each month. Let me know if you like it would like to see more.

App: Forest ($1.99)

IMG_6720 IMG_6719I’m not sure where I found Forest, but I’m glad I did. It’s a timer app, designed to help you focused by planting trees in a forest. You pick a time, and as the time runs out, a tree grows. Leave the app while the timer’s still going, and the tree dies. (No one wants to kill trees.) There’s a lot more to Forest than that though. It has tags so that you can track different types of focus, a social component with achievements so that you can have friendly competition with your friends, and even a store where you can buy new trees like an adorable Kitty tree (each tree you earn for focusing also gets you coins for the shop). You don’t realize how often you’re on your phone until you actually stop yourself from using it, and this app has been great at keeping me from using my phone.

Podcast: Science Vs

8.-FACEBOOK-Profile-Picture-160-x-160-pxI feel like I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts. I subscribe to a ton, but still find myself running out of things to listen to on a regular basis, so I was happy to find Science Vs, a new podcast from Gimlet. Wendy Zukerman’s accent and quirky personality are a joy to listen to as she explores the facts behind controversial topics like fracking, parenting, and guns. If you like learning and podcasts, this is a good one.

TV Show: Orphan Black (Seasons 1-3 Free with Amazon Prime)


I’ve been catching up on a backlog of shows, and my latest binge has been Season 4 of Orphan Black. For those who don’t know, Orphan Black is a series about clones that airs on BBC America here in the US. The story line is fascinating on its own, but seeing Tatiana Maslany play nearly every character in the show is mindblowing. The way she manages to make every character seem so totally different is unbelievable.

Movie: Minimalism ($20)

maxresdefaultAfter my local screening for this movie fell through, I finally decided to splurge a bit and buy the Minimalism documentary. I’m no where near being able to live in a tiny house, but since moving out on my own, I’ve been adopting more and more minimalist practices (0pting for quality over quantity, experiences over things, etc). The documentary was well received and I can see why. After watching it, I had a renewed sense of purpose in my life, and it was incredibly cool to see people I’ve actually met in person like Patrick Rhone on my TV. I was also relieved to see that the pre-order promo of 6 hours of additional footage was also still being included in the $20 price.

Purchase: XL Cat Litter Trapper ($39.95)

91+1QOfnfTL._SL1500_I have three cats, who for many years were toilet trained (yes, Meet the Parents style toilet trained). It was great. Over the past few months however, my oldest cat decided that he had enough with hopping up on the toilet, so much to my dismay, the litter box has returned, bringing litter everywhere with it as well. I keep the litter box right next to my shower so I needed to find a litter mat that wouldn’t be affected by water. It may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works. It’s HUGE. It doesn’t hurt to walk on. It’s easy to empty, and it’s waterproof.

There’s an App for That… but Do You Really Need It?

Working in IT, it’s easy to get caught up in the deluge of apps you’re bombarded with every day. I started wondering how many apps I’ve downloaded over the past 6 years since I got my first iPhone. Apple doesnt’ make this number easy to find, so I started counting them manually. I figured it was time to stop when I had reached 300 and still hadn’t made it 1/6 of the way through the list. That’s A LOT of apps!

Over the past few months, I’ve drastically reduced the number of apps on my phone (49 at the present moment). In doing so, I’ve come to really question whether I need “an app for that” in the first place. Some things I consider are:

Does this app offer a function I actually do on my phone?

Sure, I can download an app for every credit card or bank card on my phone, but if I manage my finances from my computer, why does it need to be on my phone? Browsing Reddit is fun on my phone too, but wouldn’t that time be better spent elsewhere? Unless it’s something I trulls need to do on my phone, the app can go.

Does this app offer an improved interface or additional features over the web version?

Here’s a case where maybe I don’t use an app frequently, but having it installed on my phone adds additional features. A great example of this would be Pinterest. While I don’t use Pinterest all that frequently, browsing through the app is a much more pleasant than browsing through Safari, and the app also includes a Share extension. Tweetbot is a similar example.

Do I already have an app for this?

If you’re not careful, you can end up with information silos. For me, a great example was lists. At one point I had an app for my reading list, another for my grocery list, an app for my wishlist, and of course Omnifocus for my to do list. Not everyone loves to throw anything and everything at Omnifocus, but for me, having multiple apps for tracking lists of things I need to do added overhead to my systems. With everything in Omnifocus, it’s comforting to know that lists of tasks or things that need to be tracked all live in one place.

Does this app add additional fiddliness to my life?

A recent revelation was that many of my apps were causing undue stress and added fiddliness that just wasn’t worth worrying about. My habit tracker app was the most recent app to get chopped. I was tracking things like “Walk 6000 steps a day” (which my FitBit does automatically) just to pat myself on the back with a checkmark when I remembered to check it off at the end of the day. The problem is, even when I did hit 6000 steps, I didn’t remember to check it off. Every time I opened my phone, I had a glaring reminder of something I failed to do instead. At the end of the day, most of the things I was tracking were trivial and knowing whether or not I did them didn’t add value to my life.

With fewer apps on my phone, I’m now more intentional about how I use my phone. I not only have a tidier homescreen, but I know that when I open my phone, I will only be presented with information and tools that are useful to access from the palm of my hand. Apps to let me know where I need to be, what I need to do, and how my day is going. Apps to help me do the things I need to do in life, and a few to take advantage of any spare moments during the day.

Smarter Hydration Reminders with Ulla

This week I’m taking a break from my normal app posts and posting about something a bit more simple. Last week, I wrote about how I’m using Keyboard Maestro to remind me to drink water when I’m at my desk, but I recently received a small device that works wherever I’m at and I just had to share it.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve explored countless options: expensive water bottles that track your drinking, less expensive apps for your phone that nag you to drink, even drawing timelines on existing water bottles. None of them worked for me.

I’m not sure where I first read about Ulla, but boy am I glad that I did, because it just works! It’s a simple $25 device that you can strap onto ANY water bottle or cup you already have using an included silicone band. Once on your water bottle, it will blink obnoxiously every 30 or 40 minutes to remind you it’s time to drink. That’s all. It doesn’t beep or buzz your phone. There’s no app involved. Just a tiny little clip on device with a battery that should last for 6 months.

I’ve had it for a little over a week now, and I can say, it works. I almost always have my water bottle within sight, and the blinking light is nearly impossible to miss. The few times I have missed it have been met with my friends asking “Why is your water bottle blinking?”

I was skeptical at trying it, but for $25, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Check out the video.

The even better part, Ulla has a Refer-a-Friend promotion. You’ll get $5 off and I will as well. Check it out, and if you’re interested use code R3C588 at

App Mention: Hiya

2016-08-12 screenshot

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen an increasing number of spam calls to your phone. If I don’t recognize a number, my usual routine was to (1) let the call go to voicemail, and then (2) look it up with a reverse phone search. More often than not, it came back as spam.

Then one day, I found an app, and I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t get more mentions. Recently rebranded as Hiya from Whitepages ID, the app is a lot like a blacklist for your phone. You can use it to perform reverse phone searches, but it also features an automatically updated list of numbers flagged as spam by adding a contact called Spam. This means when someone calls you, the caller will actually show up as Spam not an unknown number. You can also manually add users to a blacklist.



It’s saved me a ton of time, and I no longer worry about who’s calling me. Did I mention it’s free?