Workflow Changes with OmniFocus 3

by default 2018-09-11 at 10.38.46 AMMultiple tags first came to OmniFocus 3 for iOS in May of this year. I hoped that multiple tags would mean drastic improvements to my workflow, but with most of my Omnifocus work done on a Mac, I was stuck waiting until tags also came to OmniFocus for the Mac.

As of last Friday, I was invited to test the beta version of OmniFocus 3, so my wait is officially over! For the rest of you, it should be out later this month.

Looking back to my initial tag list for OmniFocus for iOS, much of my tag system is still intact.

Part of this because I restrained myself from going crazy with tags and opted to stick with tag groups that mapped to David Allen’s four criteria for determining priority: context/location, energy available, priority, and time available. (Note: For Time Available, I use Omnifocus’s estimated duration field, not a tag.) I also have two “On Hold” tags for tasks I’m “Waiting for” or any “Someday/Maybe” tasks I’m considering.

In addition to traditional GTD tags, I’ve also added a few additional tag groups related to people (e.g. boyfriend, boss) and actions (e.g. call, email, read), as well as, one called “Today,” which I’ll discuss in more detail later in this post.

To be honest, my hopes of tags significantly altering my Omnifocus workflows and therefore supercharging my productivity didn’t really pan out.

Despite all the improvements to custom perspectives, there still isn’t a way to create the perspectives I was hoping for. I had hoped to create perspectives that show any tasks I can accomplish at a specific location (e.g. Home, Work, Errands) but also have them grouped by another tag group (e.g. by Energy Level or Priority).

Unfortunately, there is no way to filter by some tags and also group by another. A perspective that shows tasks tagged with Location:Home or Location:Anywhere and also tagged with Priority:High or Priority:Low doesn’t give you a list of tasks sorted by priority. Instead, it gives you a list of all tasks grouped by ALL tags given to those tasks meaning you actually end up with groups like “Anywhere, Today, Read” and “Home, Today”) which actually isn’t that helpful.

Because of this limitation, most of how I use OmniFocus has remained relatively the same. Multiple tags simply provide additional ways to filter my tasks within my existing custom perspectives on an as needed basis.

There is one aspect of my OmniFocus workflow that tags did change for me though.

I’ve mentioned in past posts that I work from 4 main perspectives (Today, Work, Home, and Errands). These perspectives show me any tasks I need to work on based on where I’m working from. With Omnifocus 2, this meant a perspective that showed any due or flagged task within a certain set of contexts grouped by project.

With Omnifocus 3, my 4 main perspectives now show any available tasks that are due, flagged, or tagged “Today”, grouped by project and sorted by flagged. Essentially, the Today tag has replaced how I was previously using flags, leaving flags open to be used for what they’re truly made for, denoting importance. Sorting by flag means my most important tasks are at the top of every project. Using flags to denote importance also means I can look over my perspectives, and quickly see what’s most important (e.g. flagged and or due soon).

So the jury’s still out on Omnifocus 3. I don’t plan on switching applications any time soon, but until perspectives can be customized at the level I’m looking for, I probably won’t be seeing any of the drastic improvements I had been hoping for.

Advertisements

Keeping Track of Meeting Notes with Agenda

thomas-martinsen-2443-unsplash.jpg

I love finding apps that make my life easier, but somewhere along the way I also developed a habit of trying to consolidate apps. Purpose-built apps were abandoned in favor of apps that could be used for multiple things. In doing that, I ended up with fewer apps that did most things but not all of them did everything all that well.

My desire to eliminate purpose-built apps went away after reading Take Control of Your Productivity by Jeff Porten. In his book, Porten mentions that it’s perfectly acceptable to use multiple purpose-built apps as long as you feel they’re the best tools for the job. After thinking about that point for a bit, I realized I still use plenty of purpose-built apps (OmniFocus for tasks, 1Password for logins, Paprika for recipes, and Pocket for long-form reading, etc), and they’re essential because they serve their purposes incredibly well. The key is not finding that one app that does everything but tying all of your best apps into one cohesive system.

I originally heard about Agenda and its new take on notes on Macstories around the time I was experiencing Note-Fail, so I decided to try it. I tried it a few times actually, but I had a hard time figuring out why I should use it instead of one of my other apps. Then I realized I was thinking about Agenda all wrong.

Agenda isn’t there to replace your everything bucket apps like Evernote or DEVONthink. It’s not there to replace your notes app, your calendar, your task manager, or your email either. Instead, Agenda is there to live on top of all of them as the glue holding your projects together. It compiles the narrative of a project from beginning to end, making sense of all the notes you’ve taken, meetings you’ve endured, tasks you’ve completed, and emails you’ve sent and received. With this shift in thinking, Agenda not only made sense, it became essential to my organizational system.

Browsing Agenda’s forums, it seems I wasn’t alone in my struggle of using the app, so with so many people trying to figure out how to use Agenda, I figured I’d share how I’m using it.

First off, Agenda’s primary function is to store what else other than my agenda notes. There are short dated bulleted lists and action items I take while in meetings. I’d already been keeping them separately within my organizational system for a while so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to move them to a separate app.

Within Agenda, I created 3 categories: Personal, Work: Current Projects for current one-off projects I’m collaborating on, and Work: Ongoing for regularly scheduled meetings pertaining to my roles at work.

Each category holds projects containing a collection of notes. In my old system, I’d either append my meeting notes to a single running document for recurring meetings or create individual notes for project-based meetings. With Agenda, every meeting gets recorded as its own note.

Within each project, I also have a pinned note at the top (a premium feature) titled Resources that holds links to related files and other items such as shared running agendas in Google Drive, corresponding projects within Omnifocus, or groups of resources in DEVONthink. Having the pinned Resources folder really helped me see Agenda as the central hub of my organization system that ties projects together rather than just being another spoke on the wheel of tools.

It’s also worth noting I use linking throughout the meeting notes I take, linking to Google Docs, resources archived in DevonThink, emails within Airmail, and data in any other app that supports linking in that way.

Now know having a project with linked notes isn’t particularly game-changing. I could easily have used Omnifocus’s notes field or a note in DevonThink to link everything together, and to be honest, I do just to make my life easier. but what sets Agenda apart is the ability to tie notes to a calendar event. Not only are my notes chronologically ordered within each project, I can also see my notes chronologically ordered across projects (e.g. view all my meetings on August 3rd). Agenda also supports tags, meaning I can type @NameofPerson to tag someone in a note, and then later find all notes with that person. When you’re working with people across projects, this is incredibly helpful.

Another feature of Agenda is a section called “On the Agenda”. You can set Agenda to add any new note to this section automatically. I use this more like a flag to keep notes on my radar until I’ve had a chance to copy any action items into OmniFocus.

In moving my agendas outside of DEVONthink, the only thing I needed to figure out was what to do with one-off projects once they’re completed. Typically I archived them into a Reference folder within my note-taking app, but Agenda does not have any archiving feature at the moment (although they say they’re working on it). I didn’t want to just delete everything either. Thankfully, Agenda makes it easy to export content. When a project is completed, I simply export the entire project as a single Markdown file (another premium feature) and import it into DEVONthink. Quite nicely, the exported Markdown file preserves all the links and even tags allowing me to open the file in an app like FoldingText maintaining all its functionality.

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

An Experiment: Migrating from Evernote to Apple Notes

IMG_B3A6CE032CBD-1

The other day I got a crazy idea to migrate everything in Evernote over to Apple Notes.

Why you might ask?

Having my shared notes in Apple Notes while everything else lived in Evernote really bugged me – probably more than it reasonably should have, but such is my life.

The other issue nagging at me was having to pay for Evernote Premium. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind paying for the service if it weren’t for their 2 device sync limit seeming like a total cash grab. Also, I’m already paying for the iCloud storage so why not use it.

Making the switch was a bit time-consuming, but I really didn’t have to give up as much as I thought I would. In fact, in some cases, Apple Notes has actually turned out to be better.

What I’m Liking:

  • Sharing Things to Notes – It’s no surprise that Apple has baked ways to add things to Notes into just about every part of MacOS and iOS, with one notable exception which I’ll discuss a bit later.
  • Sharing Notes with Others – Sure Evernote allows you to share notes, but none of my friends or family use Evernote, so the feature was lost on me, and a big reason I was stuck using Apple Notes.
  • Simplicity of Design – I really started to notice the feature bloat of Evernote. (Evernote, if you’re listening, please let users with only one account hide the account switcher in the sidebar.) Apple Notes brings me back to a much more minimal design.06_20_18 at 12.11.23PM
  • Folder Hierarchy – I don’t need crazy folder structures for my notes, but Evernote’s insistence on a two-level hierarchy forced me to adopt some weird workarounds including prefixing my notebooks and using tags as a way to add additional levels. As long as you’re adding folders from a Mac, Apple doesn’t seem to care how many levels you want to have.
  • Apple Pencil Support – Evernote claims to have Apple Pencil support but it’s horribly laggy and a real pain to use. As a result, I was already using other apps, including Apple Notes to do any sort of Apple Pencil work.

What I’m Missing:

  • Searching Notes – You’d think searching notes stored in the stock notes app would be easy for a Mac, and if you use Spotlight, it is. Unfortunately, I use Alfred, and for whatever reason, Apple has chosen to store notes in a database that seems to be ever changing preventing any Alfred workflows from keeping up. For now, I’m searching my notes using Spotlight, which means remembering a separate keyboard shortcut. (The fact that Apple’s storing these notes in a database could also be a real pain if I ever need to get my notes out of Apple Notes, but I’m going to choose not to think about that right now because Evernote’s no better.)
  • Evernote’s Web Clipper – It’s really hard to come anywhere close to Evernote’s Web Clipper. Apple Notes can only save links to websites not a full page unless you do a web archive or save it as a PDF which requires a few additional steps. That being said, I was noticing Evernote’s Web Clipper had been doing some odd things to some of my clipped websites, so maybe not all is lost.
  • Note Links – I like to include links to other notes in my notes, as well as within Omnifocus tasks and projects. With Apple Notes, you can’t actually get a link to a note unless you pretend to share the note with someone.
  • Saving Email Content – My mail client of choice, Airmail, has native support for sharing content to Evernote, but surprisingly not Apple Notes. I frequently save important emails for reference, so this is one of my most frustrating features to lose. Surprisingly, Apple’s own Mail apps also lack any ability to share to Notes.
  • Tags – I didn’t use tags extensively in Evernote, but they were helpful in grouping things by topic without having to create a full-blown notebook. For now, I’m dealing with this by sub-folders, but I hope Apple considers adding tags in the future.

There are a few scripts and tools to help you migrate from Evernote to Apple Notes, but I opted to migrate most of my notes manually unless they were purely text-based, which meant this was a pretty time-consuming experiment. (Thankfully, it seems to be a successful experiment.) I’m nearly done migrating the last of my Grad School notes, but already I’m feeling a lot better having one single place for all of my notes.

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Omnifocus 3 and Multiple Tags

IMG_3E109ED9355A-1Omnifocus plays such a major role in my life, so with Omnifocus 3 for iOS being released today, it only seemed fitting to write about it. I’ve only had a short amount of time to play with it, but I’m already envisioning new ways to improve my workflow.

Arguably one of the most sought-after features of version 3 is multiple tags. One of the first new tags I added was a “Today” tag. I foresee this Today tag replacing flags in my workflows, but until multiple tags are ready in the Mac version, I’m stuck using them to maintain my custom perspectives on the Mac.

I knew the lack of feature parity between version 2 on the Mac and version 3 on iOS would limit how much I got out of this release, so, for now, a lot of the benefits I’ll get out of the new features will have to wait.

So far, I’ve just started playing around with reorganizing contexts to fit within the new tag scheme. So far my list is broken up into the following:

  • Location (note this section is my existing context breakdown)
    • Campus
    • Home
    • Anywhere
    • Errands
  • Status
    • Today
    • Routine
    • Waiting for
    • Someday/Maybe
  • People
    • Coworkers, family members, etc. will be listed here as needed
  • Energy
    • High Energy
    • Low Energy
  • Activity
    • Read
    • Email
    • Call

This list will likely change and evolve as I get my hands on it more, but I can already tell how powerful tagging will be over contexts.

Omnifocus 3 brings with it many other major changes but tagging is on my mind most right now.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the Mac version so I can really take advantage of them fully.

My Grad School Notetaking Workflow

Now that I’ve had my iPad Pro for a while, I’ve finally settled into a routine for managing my course notes. I rely on two main apps (Goodnotes and Evernote) and both my Macbook Pro and iPad Pro.

Setting Up for the Week

Each week before class, I duplicate an existing copy of my weekly course notes to save time typing out my preferred format. It’s broken down into Administrative (typically action items or important information about the course), a list of assigned readings, an area for taking notes during that week’s lecture, and a place for the lecture slides.

03_02_18 at 09.32.22AM.png

(Note in the screenshot above I have two reminders listed in the sidebar. They serve as a workaround to pin notes to the top like Apple Notes. Until Evernote decides to add the feature, this is the next best thing. I just turn off notifications so I’m not pestered by dates.)

Next, I download the assigned readings for the next week as well as the lecture slides from the previous class from the course site on Blackboard. Newly assigned readings get put into Goodnotes on the Mac. While I’m in Goodnotes, I also export any readings from the previous week to PDF and delete the previous week’s category.

03_02_18 at 09.38.28AM.png

Back in Evernote, I create notes for each of the new readings and link to them in the weekly note using the Copy Note Link feature. I used to include my reading notes directly in the Weekly notes, but after noticing a few of the assigned readings were papers I’d already read for another class, I switched to keeping my notes directly with the papers themselves, linking each class to the single note for the paper. It makes noticing connections a lot easier.

The last step in preparing for the week is to create tasks in Omnifocus. I typically prefer to have all the assignments plugged in at the start of the semester, but for this class, it’s easier to enter them on a weekly basis.

03_02_18 at 09.48.08AM.png

Reading

With set up done, I switch to my iPad Pro for reading and annotation within Goodnotes. If something seems particularly noteworthy I make note of that in the stub note in Evernote, but for the most part, the annotation is sufficient.

In Class

During class, I use my iPad Pro to switch between typing notes into Evernote and making additional annotations in Goodnotes.

Tidying Up

The day after class, I make sure my weekly note for the previous class is complete by adding the final annotated copy of the readings into the stub notes I created for them (they’re already linked to the main weekly note), adding the lecture slides. I end up with something that looks a bit like this.

03_02_18 at 09.31.40AM.png

And then it’s time to start this whole process over for the next week!

 

A Simple Solution for Integrating Goals into Omnifocus

cathryn-lavery-67852

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

As each year wraps up, I, like many, start thinking about my goals. What did I set out to accomplish for the year? How did I do? Admittedly, I did pretty well, successfully completing 12 of my goals for 2017.

But there were equally as many that I didn’t get to. A handful of them are simply still in progress or wrapping up, but it was clear the others failed because I just wasn’t tracking them.

This makes me laugh because anyone who knows me knows I track just about everything: tv shows, tasks, activity, sleep, habits, how I spend time on my computer, water consumption… the list goes on…

For 2018, I set out with a plan, ensuring each goal had a way to be tracked. How to track progress on some things were a no-brainer. Tracking my weight is done automatically with Fitbit scale provided I remember to stand on it. Meditating regularly is something that Streaks can track automatically as long as the app sends the data to Apple Health.

It was the larger objectives I was having trouble with – my reading goal, financial goals, interpersonal things. They were things I really wanted to work on, but without some sort of accountability, ensuring steady progress on them was easily forgotten during the day to day activities.

Seeing as I run my life out of Omnifocus, I figured that was the best place to start, but I had a few problems:

  • I didn’t want my goals to get buried amongst my ongoing responsibilities.
  • I didn’t like the added visual clutter of prefixing each project with something like [GOAL]
  • Some of my goals like posting to this blog regularly were just tasks, not full blown projects.
  • I wanted them to live within my existing folder/project/context structure of Omnifocus.

My solution was quite simple. I simply added #goal to the Notes field of each project or task relating to a goal. With that, I created a custom perspective (project-based, grouped by folder, showing any remaining tasks that included the text #goal). The perspective gives me a list of all tasks related to my goals (at least the ones being tracked in Omnifocus) in one list.

I’ve added the perspective to my toolbar, so that whenever I’m in Omnifocus, I can see all my goals in one list. It’s become a valuable part of my daily planning and keeps me focused on ensuring I’m always making progress on my goals.

Trouble with Task Managers

I’ve been using Omnifocus for over 3 years now. It’s effectively become my second brain at this point. But lately, I’ve been running into a few hiccups.

Design

For anyone interested in GTD or task management, I doubt I need to mention how gorgeous Things 3 is. Looking at Omnifocus feels like I’m looking at a complicated spreadsheet now. I’d switch to Things in a heartbeat, but it’s lack of sequential tasks or perspectives are deal breakers. I also find that the sidebar gets quite overwhelming fairly quickly if you use a task manager to the extent that I do. If they’d add the ability to have headers in Areas, I’d be thrilled.

Sharing Lists

Now that I’m sharing tasks with another person, mainly my grocery list, I’ve had to look elsewhere and abandon my wonderfully organized list in Omnifocus. I’m back to using Reminders for now. For a brief time, I explored GoodTask and 2Do which both sync with Reminders, but found GoodTask lacking in features and 2Do just too complicated.

Tags

Testing out Things 3, GoodTask, and 2Do really opened my eyes to how valuable a tagging system could be. While not critical to my workflow, I do think there is value in being able to assign things like energy levels, priorities, or people to certain tasks in addition to just their context. Multiple tags is on the roadmap for Omnifocus 3, but it is yet another thing to be desired in my current set up.

For now, I’ve resigned myself to keep using Omnifocus. Tags are at least on the roadmap, and sharing of lists has at least been hinted at so it seems like my best bet is to keep waiting. Hopefully, the next version will feature a simplified design as well and the wait will be worthwhile. Until then, it seems like I’ll be dealing with a little more friction when it comes to my task management system then I’d like.

What’s on my home screen? (2017 Edition)

I try to post an update on my home screen at least once a year, but admittedly it has remained fairly stable… at least up until now. This year, I actually have a few new apps to show you! So without further adieu, here’s my home screen for 2017.

The top row still serves as a gauge for my day, but this time around all of the apps are new. I’ve switched back to the stock calendar app (read more about why here). Carrot Weather has replaced Dark Sky, due to it’s superb Apple Watch complication. My Ulla obnoxiously blinking at me is still my biggest motivator to stay hydrated throughout the day, but because it lacks any sort of tracking capability, I use Waterminder to track what I’m drinking throughout the day. I like it because it includes other types of fluids (even soup). Streaks is in the last spot, and I use it to keep track of well… streaks… It’s nice to keep tabs on various habits I’m working on (mindfulness, daily exercise, steps taken, hydration, etc) over time. Streaks and Waterminder are both rare apps that are deemed important enough to break my no notification badges rule.

The next row is my row of folders which serves as a nice visual barrier on the screen. Following a tip from CGP Grey to relocate any lesser used apps to the second page of a folder, I keep only the essentials here and rely on search for getting to the others.

The third row, my Media row, has remained relatively unchanged over the years. These apps seem to be here to stay.

The last two rows are a collection of miscellaneous utilities and things I like to incorporate into my life. 1Password and Waze always get a spot on the home screen. Notes is primarily used for quick access to carry out menus. Given that I still haven’t officially started classes yet, I’m still working my way through some TV shows so Television Time is being used fairly heavily at the moment. To balance it out and serve as a reminder to meditate, I also have Meditation Studio on my homescreen.

My home row, like my media row, hasn’t changed at all. Messages, Airmail, Safari, and Omnifocus are definitely her to stay as well.

Stay tuned for an iPad Pro version coming soon.

 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

My Personal Reading Workflow

Having recently joined a book club, my personal reading habit has started returning back to normal levels.  Having recently wrote about how I read for grad school, I thought it might be interesting to detail how I go about reading for fun too.

First things first, I almost always pick the Kindle version when possible. They’re delivered instantly, don’t take up any space, and I honestly prefer the reading experience more than I do with physical books. I get most through my local library’s website, but occasionally I will buy them through Amazon or check them out through the Kindle Lending Library. Since Kindle Lending Library books have to be read on a Kindle (not just the app) this is usually last resort, but it’s nice for books that aren’t available from my library that I don’t want to buy.

Once I’ve picked a book to read (and I’m usually reading a few at a time), I set up a project in Omnifocus. I have a template saved in Keyboard Maestro. Triggering it prompts me for the book’s title and author, and then generates a project with corresponding tasks for progressing in the book in 10% increments, along with one final task which I’ll get to in a second. I also add the book to my currently reading list on GoodReads just for good measure.

For the actually reading, I use either the Kindle app for Mac or my Kindle Paperwhite. Even several years old, the Paperwhite is still one of my favorite devices and my preferred way to read. As I’m reading, I take notes on or highlight anything that seems worth remembering using the Kindle app or Paperwhite.

Once I’ve finished a book, my final task before marking my book project complete is to export my highlights and notes. To do this I use a bookmarklet called Bookcision, which exports your notes and highlights in plain text. From there, I copy them into a repository. Any sort of destination will do. I’m currently using Evernote, but have used Day One in the past. I do this so that I can search across all my highlights and notes, which not only helps with recalling what I’ve read but helps to establish connections between books I might not have otherwise seen.

I hope this has been helpful. Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of and remembering what you read? If so, I’d love to hear them!

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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.

2016-09-21-screenshot

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.