Resource Page Updated

The Resources page is updated with the following latest additions:

Asian Efficiency’s Premium Posts marks a major addition to the resources available for OmniFocus users. Thanh and Aaron present a clear and structured method of using OmniFocus.

Chris Suave of Pixeldot has created an impressive template applescript along with a tutorial video for its use.

Michael Schechter presents an overview of his own use of OmniFocus.

Robert Agcaoli continues his OmniFocus series with a focus on Projects.


Check out the OmniFocus Resources Page for an overview of all posts gathered over the years.


A “Recent Additions” Perspective

There are any number of ancillary perspectives that may be created in OmniFocus. One example may be a perspective attempting to answer:

“What’s been on my mind recently (about this)?”

Whether for a particular project, such as writing, or with one’s overall database of tasks, whether concerning the last few minutes or the last several days, it can be nice to have a means of considering the recent past.

To this end, I use a perspective called “Recent Additions”. Basically, it answers the question above be it for a particular project, a folder of projects, or my entire library. The perspective answers more specifically:

  • What tasks have I added to the system today?
  • What tasks have been added to a specific project recently?, and
  • Oh, wait! I wasn’t done with that task before I hit clean up! (Not a question, I know, but a problem with which to deal nonetheless.)

 

The following is the perspective’s creation and a few practical uses. It does require some knowledge of creating perspectives and a general familiarity with the context/project based means of viewing tasks.

 

Setting up a Recent Additions Perspective

In short, the perspective is context based (Command-2) with the following settings:

 

Recent Additions filter settings

 

  • Group actions by: Added
  • Sort Actions by: Added
  • Availability: Available or Remaining (see below for utility of either)
  • Status: Any Status
  • Duration: Any Duration

 

Here it is from the perspectives window (Control-Command-P):

 

Recent Additions filter settings window

 

I’ve added the key command Control-Option-Command-S (which obviously stands for “Recent”).

Notice that the restoration of Focus is unchecked:

 

Recent Additions Perspective - Focus highlighted

 

In addition, I’ve set the columns to only include the Project name. To add or remove columns, with filter options open (Shift-Command-V), control click on the gray name bar:

 

open columns

 

Finally, the “Added today” grouping is expanded while the others are collapsed. The perspective appears as follows:

 

Recent additions in action

 

As always, salt to taste.

 

In Practice

1. Tracking a Recently Added Task Moved from the Inbox

Now, any time I have cleaned up a task that I suddenly realize is not written to my satisfaction (e.g., I have forgotten to flag it or it could have been better written), I can type the perspective key command to gain access to these most recently added erroneous tasks.

One could argue for making the availability filter set to Remaining for tasks added instead of Available as noted above. For example, a task written that starts in the future would not appear. However, when I transfer the perspective onto the iPad, the client slows down tremendously as I have far too many On Hold tasks for it to calculate speedily. The same is not true for the iPhone’s version of OmniFocus which a different mechanism for graphical presentation of tasks. Your mileage may vary.

Speaking of the mobile clients, the Recently Added perspective can be very useful there. Adding the perspective to the front menu of either client makes it easy to go back and look up anything recently entered rather than having to hunt for the task:

 

recent additions iphone

 

Note: Though the Focus field was left unchecked during the perspective’s setup, I have found that the mobile clients ignore this setting and always use the entire database of tasks.

 

2. Looking Forward and Backward in Time

At the end of the workday, if I have the time, I will examine not only the Forecast view to see lays ahead tomorrow, but also the Recent Additions perspective, to review any of the day’s loose-ends. Tasks that I entered into the Inbox while I was too busy to follow them during the day wait here. I often discover a loose-end or simple task that I could easily just wrap up or complete there and then at the end of the day.

 

3. Utility in Writing

A Recent Additions perspective has also been useful in the midst of a particular project, where I have the need to recall what I had just considered a few moments ago. Having that option open allows me to follow a whim of thought, having placed a marker in the trails of work in the form of a task.

To do so, I simply focus upon the project and call the Recent Additions perspective. Again, having left the “Focus” field of restoration unchecked allows for the perspective’s utility to work with the entire database, individual projects, or even groupings of projects and folders.

For example, while writing, I can have many thoughts come to mind seemingly at once–or at least faster than I can reasonably develop them. Tossing the ideas as tasks into a project helps alleviate the strain associated with the feeling that the ideas need to be developed in their moments of inspiration.

I write down the several options of thoughts to develop, choose one, and move forward. Upon its completion, I may return to the perspective. If I had additional thoughts come to mind while writing, I enter them as tasks into the project, too. The tasks closer to the top tend to be more related to the topic I had chosen, having been more recently on my mind. As I tend to move from the top of a list down, the process creates a form of automatic closed loop, promoting completion of a thought and therefore thoroughness in developing the various possible paths.

 

Recent Additions 2

 

The Fear of Losing Control to our Tools

Caution & Definition

Any tool, whether physical, digital, or mental, requires some form of caution.

We must recognize our intentions as separate from the tools we use to develop them. It is we ourselves who form the intentions and are ultimately responsible for them. This may seem obvious, but in practice, it is not.

Michael Schechter of a Better Mess wrote two fine posts called Clarifying Productivity and The Error of the App Mentality, spawned from a OneThirtySeven post and a twitter discussion between himself and Matt Alexander in which Matt proclaimed,

“… purported elements of productivity often become deep pits of wasted time and effort.”

In attempting to define productivity, Schechter noted,

“It’s about understanding the structure your work needs to take in order for it to actually get done.”

Both comments are potentially true in their own right. The important underlying concept to their discussions, I believe, is found in the definition and use of the “tool”. The definition given by my handy computer states that a tool is:

“a device or implement, esp. one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function”

However, I would like to begin our examination of the tool with the following proposed definition:

A tool is an object used to shorten the distance between a vision and its realization.

With this definition, let us consider:

  • Examples of how tools may be useful
  • Examples of how tools require caution

 

An Example of a Hammer

As a simple example, we might examine a hammer. A hammer is a tool that allows the development of an intention such as “hang a picture on the wall.” The distance referred to is between our present experience of not having a picture on the wall and having a picture on the wall. The distance without the hammer is very far. With the hammer, the distance shortens.

The caution here is obvious. The shape and weight of the hammer translates the force of one’s arm movement into a tremendous amount of pressure upon a small area. If that force is misdirected, say to one’s thumb, we create unintended and undesired consequences of the black and blue variety.

The use of the hammer, in other words, the translation of our agency instructing the intention to place a nail in the wall, carries caution.

 

An Example in Mnemonics

However, tools, at least by the definition I proposed above, are not just simple objects such as hammers or even the shiny new applications resting in our computers. They may even be in our own minds. For instance, the familiar use of a mnemonic qualifies as a tool.

A mnemonic is a device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something.1

Even here, we must be cautious as we recognize that the mnemonic itself is not the primary intention. We remember something for a reason. We form our intentions with some sense of meaning. Without a recognition of that meaning, mnemonics risk being hollow.

Probably the best example of this may be found where a particular student only wishes for a good grade without a care for the knowledge the grade represents. Massive lists worth of information may be memorized using the tool of mnemonics, but the meaning behind the lists themselves are lost.

The intention to learn at a meaningful depth was missing, just as the intention to hammer the nail was not well focused. In either case, intentions were not fulfilled as their associated tools were misused.

 

Agency & An Example in Task Management

Even a task management system requires caution. A well-tended task management system provides a means of not needing to remember every responsibility, task, and project. By creating a trusted system, we become better able to rely upon it so that we may more clearly consider the moment.

However, even in developing our habits and systems of work, we must be vigilant to retain agency, as these systems, too, have a potential trap in our reliance upon them. I define agency as follows:

Agency is the degree to which we may decide non-reactively.

When a task management system is used without thought, agency is lost. We forget that there is an importance of thinking things through. The spirit of a concept dissolves and the details become a meaningless husk. The work becomes a drudge.

Having forgotten that the trust required for a working system is a felt belief, continually reflected upon and developed, we risk following tasks on some form of auto-pilot, or we become so frustrated that we jettison the entire system–baby, bathwater, and all.

With the ability to pause and reflect, we understand how a task management system qualifies as a tool:

A task management system is best consulted, not followed without thought.

When disagreeing with a system, even though we may have carefully designed it ourselves, the task is then to

  • Recognize and acknowledge that which seems incorrect in its reflection of present experience and
  • Recognize and acknowledge its inaccuracy in representing the visions we would like to develop, at least as well as they can be seen and understood in the moment.

 

Conclusion

By pausing to reflect, we can decide when and how our purported tools either aid or impede the development of any particular intention, in the moments of their use. We cannot simply react to the systems we create. It is in the habit of reflection where we retain agency, take an active role in honing our habits, use the tools we desire with the caution they demand, and ultimately develop meaningful intentions.

And therein lies a fundamental caution inherent to our tools:

Tools are objects external to agency.

Redefining tool then:

A tool is an object, external to agency, used to shorten the distance between a vision and its realization.

If there is a moral to this, at least for myself, it is that I often benefit from pausing. The place where I may retain agency, i.e. where I can decide non-reactively, where I can decide whether or not something is helping or hindering, is in those moments where I am not simply typing away or examining the next thing. It is where I have given myself permission to let go of the work, the tools, the play, or whatever it is in which I am involved.

 


  1. Also defined by my handy dictionary application easily accessed by a three-finger tap of the trackpad. ↩

Reflections on OmniFocus 2, The Setup, and The Future

Presenting at The Setup

Attending the Set Up was a blast. Everyone was such a pleasure to meet. I continually wonder at the fact that there is this group of people who are all so excited about task management of all things, and I get to be one of them.

Ken Case, Omni’s CEO, and the entire staff of the Omni Group were very nice. They made an excellent experience for both audience and participants alike. In addition, it is always enjoyable to speak with people who create. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to attend, and I thank the Omni Group for inviting me to take part in their event.

Merlin Mann really is just as much himself as he is on the microphone. The skill with which he can both fiercely and delightfully deviate from a conversation, yet remember exactly where he left the trail so he may return, is strong. Conversationalists, be warned.

David Sparks made neat use of example in his presentations. During the Q & A, I was particularly entertained by his description of how shocking it can be to others when you’re really on top of your game.

Mike Schechter and Mike Vardy approach the workflow from such different but equally engaging mindsets. They both enjoy thinking about how we bring our minds to focus upon the work we desire to do, which is really the fundamental question to all of this.

In fact, I think I waxed on philosophically about workflow in general with everyone there. Tim Stringer even eloquently described productivity as evolving into a term more “holistic” in nature.

Sven Fechner has really honed his thoughts on A Fresh Take on Contexts. Even behind the content of the work, he displayed how developing one’s contexts in a way that works for one’s self takes active thought and reflection but pays off very well in the end. Each of the contexts he used clearly had a use for himself honed in habit.

Dinah Sanders presented her thoughts on the importance of regularly reflecting on and discarding projects that lose relevance. Making the act of deleting old projects into a habitual process leaves more room for the present.

In the morning session, Thanh Pham presented alongside Mike Schechter. Watching their animated arguments about how each were “right and wrong” about the same topics both entertained and highlighted the very individual nature of our workflows.

OmniFocus & OmniFocus Pro 2

Looking quite dashing in its new threads, of course, OmniFocus 2 itself was revealed. It’s still in its early stages, but it is obvious how strongly the iPad version’s interface is influencing the new direction.

OF2-2

Having said that, my own selfish fear that the strength inherent to the OSX version might be lost in that translation does not appear to be the case at all. If anything, some very neat enhancements relating to the Forecast view have been newly added such as an ability to see the scheduling of tasks across the entire month and even see where tasks rest during the day amongst one’s present calendar schedule items.

OF2-1

As the program is still in its early stages, it remains to be seen how its individual components will contribute to supporting one’s singular workflow. Among the functionality I am eager to see is that of perspectives. Perspectives create a part of OmniFocus that I rely upon heavily. One of my responses during the Q & A session, in fact, involved describing the regular part of my weekly review in which I examine my perspectives to see which may be deleted. The regular growth and pruning of perspectives has been a significant aspect in the evolutions adapting OmniFocus to my own workflow.

Perspectives, along with the use of Applescripts, will be a part of the “Pro” version of OmniFocus.

Several other posts have already described, in good detail, the information released about OmniFocus 2 including:

In the meantime, also check out Ken’s Interview about OmniFocus 2 and OmniOutliner 4 over at MacStories.

The Future of Creating Flow

While I wait for the beta of OmniFocus 2 to become available, I hope to wrap up my present book of focus, Workflow. Having discussed some of its content with my productivity colleagues, I feel increasingly confident that readers will find it to be a useful companion piece to Creating Flow 1 and 2. Once Workflow is done, I plan to bring Creating Flow 2 to a major spot in my Running Projects[1] perspective.

As Creating Flow with OmniFocus 2 is still in the vague and nebulous stages of thought, I can only say that I have no idea as to when it will be ready, what it will look like, or anything along those lines. The original Creating Flow had the benefit of being written in near secrecy. While I had discussed it in the forums[2], I only first otherwise publicly announced it about a week before launch. As such, it had time to develop.

I firmly believe that time is invaluable to the development of any creative endeavor. In the course of creativity, one needs to be able to play, and play needs to be able to head off in odd or unknown directions, explore, discover, question, and gleefully make many mistakes. All of this needs time to be guided and developed to become anything resembling meaningful work.

All of this is to say, I will try to get the work done in a timely manner but will also allow the work the time it needs to develop well.

Disclaimer: Please note, as a participant of the OmniFocus Setup event, I was indeed compensated. But, also know, I’ve been an OmniFocus enthusiast long before such an arrangement.


  1. Nowadays, titled “Land & Sea” because I’m romantic that way. ↩

  2. The OmniFocus forum is an excellent resource with some very helpful regulars. ↩