OmniFocus is very powerful, but can be difficult to use and might be overkill for your task management needs. Mike and Brooks explain the killer features of this app and how best to use it, so you can decide if it’s worthwhile for you to invest in it. If you’re already an OmniFocus user, you definitely don’t want to miss this episode as they’ll also tell you how to get the most out of it by showing you how to set up custom views or perspectives and walk you through the AE task management workflow. They also answer some of the most frequent questions we get from the community regarding OmniFocus, including how to use OmniFocus when you have to use a PC at work and the best way to implement OmniFocus when going iOS only.
Episode originally published 27 Mar 2017.
Mike: [00:00:06] Welcome to The Productivity Show, the Asian Efficiency podcast dedicated to helping you make the most of your time, attention, energy, and focus. Today we’ll be following up on our previous episode where Brooks and Thanh talked about Task managers in general to dive deep on one of our favorites which is OmniFocus. We get questions about OmniFocus almost every day so in this episode we’re going to answer some of the more common questions that we receive and explain some of OmniFocus’s killer features. So you can decide whether you want to invest in the app and if you have invested we’re going to show you how you can make the best use of it. We’ll even show you how you can use OmniFocus for task management, even if you use a PC at work. Don’t forget you can find links to everything that we discuss in the show notes by going to the productivity show dot com slash 136, and now on with the show.
Mike: [00:01:05] So last episode Brooks and Thanh did a great job talking about the different types of task managers and to do list apps that are out there and how to select the one that meets your needs specifically. But there’s a couple comprehensive test managers that we really didn’t get a chance to cover in any sort of detail, at least the amount of detail that they really deserve. It didn’t seem right to talk about OmniFocus or 2Do without diving deep into what makes these specific apps so powerful so you can decide if it’s really worth investing in. So today I’m joined again by Brooks and we’re going to dissect OmniFocus by talking about what kind of sets it apart from a task management perspective. So are you ready Brooks?
Brooks: [00:01:45] I’m ready.
Mike: [00:01:46] Excellent. So why don’t you start just by telling us a little bit about OmniFocus and maybe tell us a little bit about your experience with him like when you started using it and stuff like that.
Brooks: [00:01:56] Right. So OmniFocus is a personal task management tool that’s available on Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, the Apple ecosystem essentially. And it’s something that allows you to keep track of everything that you need to do. And so I’ve used it. Oh my gosh. I’m not sure when I first started using it. I’m going to say 2012 something like that. So I’ve been using it for a number of years and how I started using it was I used to use another I was using getting things done you know getting things done methodology. And so for a long time I used a tool called Remember the Milk for that if you remember that tool it’s still around. I logged on for the first time a while ago and it is still around still a still a great tool but it just happened at that stage of my life I just had a lot of things going on a lot of spinning plates. So I wanted something a bit more powerful and just a lot of people around me especially since I would go to the Macworld show in San Francisco every year. And a lot of people I knew at that time bloggers and podcasters and stuff like that were really into OmniFocus, so I hung out at the OmniFocus booth and I eventually took the plunge and I haven’t looked back since.
Mike: [00:03:11] Nice. Yeah. OmniFocus is actually how I found out about Asian Efficiency it was the first Asian Efficiency product that I bought I think was the original version of the OmniFocus premium posts and I started using that shortly after I got my first Mac which was a 17 inch unibody. It was the one that they released it along with Snow Leopard. So it was quite awhile ago I don’t remember the exact exact date that I started using it but my task management progression kind of went from something very simple I think it was Wunderlist at first then I got into Things. And then I got into OmniFocus and OmniFocus just has always scratched the itch for me and that probably is because I also kind of follow the Getting Things Done or the GTD methodology pretty strictly. I take a little bit of creative license with it but in order to make it work better for me specifically. But I think that that’s where a lot of people probably got into OmniFocus. If you really, if the Getting Things Done methodology really resonates with you then OmniFocus is going to work great because it’s kind of built on that, on the whole system and in fact when you first open OmniFocus it’s got some sample filler projects and things like that, one of the things that it has in there for you to do is to go read the Getting Things Done book by David Allen. But if you are all-in with that system then you definitely want to take a look at OmniFocus because if you are going to implement GTD in my opinion there is not a better tool available. Now that doesn’t mean that OmniFocus is going to be right for you necessarily because it is pretty expensive. It’s one of the more expensive applications out there. But if you learn how to leverage the application it can definitely be well worth the cost. So the Mac version, the standard version is $40 and then the pro version is $80 and the Pro version gets you some additional features. The big one is going to be the custom perspectives which we’ll talk about in a little bit. There’s also the iOS version that you mentioned Brooks there is now just one iOS version that works on both the iPhone and the iPad and also the Apple Watch goes along with that. So that is $40 and the pro version of that is $60.
Mike: [00:05:32] What separates OmniFocus from other task managers? There’s a couple of things here. Number one we kind of talked about already it’s a very powerful GTD-based task manager and the big thing here, the real reason that it works really well for people I believe, is that with OmniFocus version 2 they edited awesome review perspective which makes your weekly review a breeze and this is one of the big things. Whenever people say that Getting Things Done is not working for them, you can usually track it back to them not following through with the weekly review and then eventually their system gets out of hand and they can’t keep up with it. So OmniFocus has a great review perspective which makes that weekly review process as easy as possible. We talk a lot and we believe at Asian Efficiency that you want to eliminate as much friction as you can from your system. And so the review perspective makes that really easy. I’m not sure. Do you do you use the review perspective pretty heavily?
Brooks: [00:06:34] Yeah sure do. And in fact I remember if if I’m remembering this correctly the review perspective came to the iPad first and people liked it so much that people started using their iPad as their primary OmniFocus device because of that review perspective. Thankfully it’s since come to the Mac but that’s that’s how powerful it is. It’s great.
Mike: [00:06:57] Yeah and if you’ve not used the Review perspective you maybe are thinking what’s the big deal. I just need to remember to go in and check on my projects every week. But with OmniFocus what you can do is you can actually set custom review windows for each of your projects so if you wanted to review a project every six months you can do that. And then if you had a different project that you wanted to review every three weeks you could do that. And OmniFocus will basically just take everything that’s due for review based on the time intervals that you’ve set up and put them in the review perspective. It’ll indicate that you do have something that needs to be reviewed and then you can just go through your review it and then just click a button when you’re done reviewing it. And then OmniFocus will kick that out until the next next review interval. So really really powerful for your weekly review. OmniFocus is also an application which is developed by a trusted Apple developer with a proven track record. Brooks you and Thanh talked about this in the last episode, about why if you don’t want to select a tool that is up and coming and put your entire life into it because especially for applications that are free or they don’t have a very clear way for monetization there’s not a clear business strategy. You never know how long those tools are going to be around. And there’s a very real productivity cost associated with switching systems so if you invest heavily in a system then it disappears. The developer goes away because the project’s just not profitable anymore. You’ve got to reinvent and get your whole life moved into something else and that takes a lot of time. Now Omni- the OmniGroup has been around for a while and OmniFocus in particular has been around in some way shape or form since the Kinkless GTD app in 2006 so this application has been around for over 10 years. And I think that it is like I mentioned a very expensive application but along with that you know that it’s going to be supported and you know that it’s going to be there for you.
Brooks: [00:08:50] Right. I can’t remember if I told this story on the last episode but I was so shocked the first time I went to the Omni booth at Macworld my first time and it was this big booth with a whole bunch of people in green shirts that were doing demos and answering questions. And I just had no idea Omni was that big and established and you know a lot of these apps are developed just by a guy or a woman or maybe a few friends and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love apps that her you know tiny little indie apps that are developed like that but something that I’m running my life and my business out of I want it to be really supported. So the fact that Omni has this support infrastructure this established team that can answer questions and stuff like that is really important to me anyway.
Mike: [00:09:38] Yeah definitely. And I actually haven’t had a whole lot of reason to use the OmniFocus support. But it is definitely nice to know that there is a team of people there that are going to be responsive if something were to go wrong they’re going to help you fix it. OmniFocus is also as you mentioned available on all Apple platforms so if you are fully invested in the Apple ecosystem like pretty much everybody at Asian Efficiency, then you’re going to have something available for you no matter what sort of device you are using and along with that the OmniGroup in my opinion has been one of the few developers to get the Apple Watch app correct from the very beginning. So I was an early adopter of the Apple Watch. I actually stayed up till I guess midnight Pacific Time. The day that they were that they were available for preorder and got one. Basically as soon as I could I was three minutes late and so it had slipped to like six or eight weeks for delivery. But I still was definitely an early adopter and I saw a lot of developers create applications for the Apple watch especially at the beginning who had never really thought through very well what the interface was going to look like and how this is actually going to be used by the end user. The touch targets were really small the apps were generally very slow and unresponsive and some of that was the way that the apps had to be developed at the beginning. But from the very beginning the OmniFocus Apple Watch app has been very responsive and that’s probably because underneath the surface the database is ultimately plain text so there’s not a lot of data as think back and forth there but also is very well-designed. So for example I’ve got an OmniFocus Complication on my Apple Watch face right now where it actually pulls in my execution perspective which is all of the things that are either do or flagged for me to work on today and the touch targets are big I can actually look at that perspective and I can very easily from my watch even checkoff things as I’m completing them which most of the time that’s I don’t really need to use that but when I do need to use it it is nice. Most of the stuff that I need to do especially work related is going to happen on my Mac so I have that with me. But if you are the kind of person where your work is going to take you away from your devices then that Apple Watch app is going to be going to be really great. There’s lots of other little touches that make OmniFocus great. One of them that I put down was like AppleScript support which you don’t really appreciate until you get super nerdy into this stuff and we’ll talk a little bit about that as we go on with this episode. But these are things that just show that the OmniGroup has really sweat all the details they’ve thought about all these different things. And when you get to the point where you’re like I wonder if I can use some applescript or automation to make entering my tasks and checking things off even easier. The OmniGroup is one step ahead of you. So yeah lots of little touches which we’ll talk about actually now, let’s jump into some of these key features so Brooks maybe you want to talk about, I know you and Thanh kind of mentioned the start and the defer dates in the last episode.
Brooks: [00:12:50] Yeah I’m a big user of start dates or as OmniFocus calls it defer dates and basically what that means is a lot of task managers are built around the concept of due dates. So something a task is do you give it a date. But really a lot of times you don’t want to start working on something till a certain date or a certain time or you can’t start working on something until a certain date certain time. So what start and due dates, or start and defer dates allow you to do is define those times when you actually want to do the task. So it it has start dates and due dates because a lot of times we use in other systems or even in OmniFocus some people do this- use due dates kind of as their start dates. Like I want to do this task on this day so I’m going to give it a due date. The problem with that is when everything has a due date then nothing truly has you know nothing truly is important and has a due date. So for me it’s a lot cleaner if I give it a start date of the day I want to work on something and then if it has a due date and most things don’t. But if something does have a due date than give it a due date. So that’s one thing I find really powerful about OmniFocus .
Mike: [00:14:05] Yeah I had done some some webinars and presentations for Asian Efficiency on OmniFocus. And one of the concepts that I teach in there is the concept of the OmniFocus code red I call it where exactly like you just describe it. You go in and you just assign all these random due dates because that’s what you do. You pick a date when you think you want to have this thing done by and then you don’t touch your task manager for a while you go in and you see nothing but read overdue items and it is completely paralyzing because you’re– as soon as you look at it you’re like oh man I am so far behind. I’m never going to get caught up and do what I know I need to do today. But then also what’s really difficult about that is if you just put dates in for the due dates and you don’t actually those aren’t really hard firm due dates. You look at all that red and you have no idea where to even start because you don’t know which due dates are really overdue. Like for example you don’t know that paying taxes that absolutely has to be done by April 15th in the US versus you know something that you just attached an arbitrary due date to that happened to have passed there’s no distinction between those in OmniFocus so just looking at it. Number one it’s very overwhelming that number two it’s very hard to decipher what are the things that you should actually be working on from there. Now there is actually a super smart person in the dojo named Matt Ryans. So hopefully they’re listening to this episode. Matt is actually going to be on the next episode and he’s going to help us talk about 2Do. But Matt put together a comparison chart of all the different popular task managers and just threw it up in the dojo for free so people could just download it take a look at it. He did a really good job of breaking down all the individual features of all these different very powerful task managers. And this was one of the criteria was the defer dates or start dates versus the due dates. It really surprises me how few task managers support start or defer dates. But I think this is a really critical piece, for example Todoist, this is missing and this is one of the reasons that I will not use Todoist until they hopefully add this at some point because there’s a lot of other great things to like about Todoist. It’s got Amazon Echo integrations so you can even through your Echo add tasks to Todoist which is great, but all you have available to you are the due dates. Now the start dates or defer dates, the way these work is that they tell your task manager that this task. Once that start date has passed. This task is now available to be worked on. OK. And that is important because the ultimate goal the task manager is to show you just the things that you can be working on. Otherwise it’s no different than a huge list that you just wrote on a piece of paper. But if you use a digital to do list or a task manager what you can do is you can base it off the context you can base it off a location and you can have it show you just the things that you need that you are able to work on at this particular moment. So for example I might put something to my task manager saying “plan an anniversary trip with my wife” which our anniversary isn’t till the end of June so I don’t want to see that task right now when I open up my task manager I might put a defer date of I don’t know April middle of April or something like that. And that means that my task manager won’t show that to me until that start or defer date actually passes. And this is really the best way to use a task manager in my opinion.
Brooks: [00:17:35] 100 percent agree, 100 percent agree.
Mike: [00:17:38] All right so the next one here we talked about a little bit already the review perspective which makes the weekly review process easy. As I mentioned earlier this is the single biggest problem with implementing GTD if you are to trace it back when someone says they tried to do it and they gave up on it. It is most likely because they failed to do these reviews and OmniFocus makes it very very easy. I think that’s a very little little touch. But it’s very very important because if you think about the GTD implementation and you know that this is the single thing that can cause the system to fail the fact that the OmniGroup has identified that and crafted a creative solution I haven’t seen anything like this in any other task manager that I’ve seen. That just shows that they really have a handle not on just all the technical features but also on how people use the application.
Brooks: [00:18:38] If I think back to when I started using GTD any time that things have gotten out of hand any time that my to do list has blown up any time that I feel like the wheels are falling off. It’s always because I haven’t been doing my reviews and the review feature in GTD makes it– Or the view feature in OmniFocus just makes it- reduces that little bit of friction for doing the review.
Mike: [00:19:05] Yep absolutely. Next key feature here is the custom view and focus options to show you only the task that you want to see which we mentioned earlier why that’s so important. This is a pro feature so you will need the pro version in order to really control this at a granular level. But this is the ultimate goal of a task manager, as I mentioned you only want to see what you can currently work on and so from the GTD methodology what that means is that you want to be able to filter things not only by the start, defer date or due date when something is actually due, but also by the context so the context is the person, place, or thing that you need to do your task. So for example I might have a task in my OmniFocus of recording this podcast episode and I might put as a context for this task “studio” because I have an offsite studio where I know that its going to be quiet and I have my microphone set up and my internet is reliable and that means that I need to be in this physical location in order to get this thing done. We have a whole episode on contexts so we can link to that in the show notes where we talk– I think I talked to Joe Buhlig about that where you can really get creative with this. You can use energy contexts, you could have a context based on admin type tasks that you can do when you don’t have a whole lot of energy. But there are still things that you can do to keep your personal and professional goals moving forward. I use an email context so that when I go in and I check my email because I only do it at certain points throughout the day. I can boot up OmniFocus and I can see everything that’s in that e-mail context and I’ve got links to the original messages so all we get to do is click on the link and it takes me straight to the message I can reply right there I can check off the task. I can move on to the next thing. Very very easy to crank through the emails that I have to respond to rather than trying to pick and choose things which maybe I’ve left in my inbox for example.
Brooks: [00:21:02] Yeah I do something similar to you and I have different views for you know work versus personal. So I don’t get that all clustered together and this is one of those little things which I’m pretty sure we’re going to be talking about later that makes the pro really worth it is these little little features that really add up.
Mike: [00:21:21] Yep definitely. Next feature here is the location awareness which can be used for contexts, so I use the example of my office studio previously. But another example of a specific location based context might be something like a grocery store or a drugstore or a hardware store. So you could throw things into your task manager into OmniFocus and let’s say let’s just use grocery store as an example. You go to make a sandwich and you realize that you’re out of lunch meat and so you add lunch meat to and OmniFocus list, you assign a grocery store context then you don’t have to think about it any more until you actually get to the grocery store. And because there is a location associated with that what will happen is that when OmniFocus recognizes that you’re in this location now and you can do something about this. It’ll pop up with your grocery list and you’ll be able to just work off of that list and check off the things that you need to get. And there’s actually some videos, this is one of the first projects I did for Asian Efficiency, was location based context in the focus for iOS. It’s a little bit older but it works the exact same way. So we can link to that in the show notes as well.
Brooks: [00:22:31] Yeah I use this a little bit. I’m not like a heavy user of it but I use it for example when I have one set up for my parent’s house so to remind me to talk to them about this or to do that whenever I get to my parent’s house, then it pops up. And there was this one period in my life when I was just going to San Francisco a lot for whatever reason I was going to a number of conferences going to different things in San Francisco. So I actually made a location based San Francisco context to remind me to do certain things when I was down there especially being from Canada. There is a lot of things that aren’t available here that they are in the United States or maybe something is this way cheaper. So I would put things in my OmniFocus to remind me oh go buy this or do this, go to Target which we don’t have anymore. And and do that sort of thing. So there’s a lot of different uses for these location contexts. And I actually like the way that OmniFocus does it better than iOS’s Reminders because with iOS’s Reminder you can give a location to a task. But I like the way that OmniFocus allows you to have it for a whole context so you don’t have to give locations to each task.
Mike: [00:23:45] Yeah definitely. And then also OmniFocus allows you to trigger it when you’re arriving at the place or you’re leaving the place and you can even control how big the radius is. So you can make sure that it’s only when you’re at that specific place or you could set it you know a bigger radius and then it’s like when you’re driving by or like you said the city type context then they can pull up a whole list of things that you want to do when you’re in a specific city. So it’s a lot more flexible I believe than the reminders integration. But there is a Reminders integration that actually hooks up to OmniFocus as well and that allows you to capture tasks into OmniFocus using Siri. Have you used this much?
Brooks: [00:24:28] Yeah I do that too. I have on a list I call “Omni” in Reminders. And so if there’s something I want to add to Reminders I’ll say blah blah blah. Add to the Omni list or sorry if there’s something I want to add to OmniFocus yeah. And then the OmniFocus app just grabs it. So it’s really handy.
Mike: [00:24:47] Yeah and this is actually really easy to set up. You go into your iOS app and you can turn on the Siri integration and it’ll basically ask you what Reminders list you want to use to capture things in like you said you say “yo dingus capture whatever to my specific list.” The problem I have with this is– and probably why you set your list as Omni is that Siri doesn’t understand me very well. And so I can only get it to recognize the term OmniFocus about one out of every four times.
Brooks: [00:25:17] Yeah. That’s exactly why, and sometimes I sometimes sometimes I find you have to you have to ask in a different way like instead of saying add to OmniFocus list you have to say add reminder and then it will ask you. Or whatever the list is and or add to list and then ask you what the list is and then you say and then it tends to work better. But you’re right. I tried to keep it that much simpler for that exact reason.
Mike: [00:25:43] Yeah. And obviously with a little bit of tweaking you’ll figure these things out and there are ways around it like just shortening it from OmniFocus to Omni when you name your list. But yeah the limitation with this feature is on Siri not on OmniFocus.
Mike: [00:25:57] Next feature here is the custom perspectives which we kind of talked a little bit about. These are super super powerful and they’re only available in the Pro version. This is reason enough to buy the pro version in my opinion. Because this really allows you to do some really cool things like for example we teach the Asian Efficiency task manager workflow, which we’ll talk about a little bit but the way that that works is by pulling in the flagged items that you want to work on. I prefer to use what I call an execution perspective and we outline this in the OmniFocus Premium Posts course where you can set this up so that it does not use the project hierarchy but you group your actions by project. You can sort them by when they’re due, and then the filter by status you can select either “Due” or “Flagged.” And what that means is that it will pull all of the tasks that are either due, especially if you’re using due dates, in our opinion, the correct way where you only have due dates assigned to the things that are really due. And then you see the things that are flagged you get both the things that you’ve identified I want to work on and the things that you have to work on because they are due and they end up in this one perspective. And then you can take that perspective and you can sync that to the widgets on your iOS device or in your Mac notification center and then you can very easily see this list of things which is really everything that you might possibly absolutely have to do or the things that you really want to do on this specific day. That’s my preferred way of working off tasks inside of OmniFocus.
Brooks: [00:27:34] I do the same thing– my workflow, well we’re going to talk about this in a bit — but my workflow is really based around the Asian Efficiency system because I too was an early purchaser of the first version of the OmniFocus premium course and and that is how I started doing it. I also have a few other perspectives that I look at as part of my morning ritual. I have one called “Due” that just looks up the due tasks and I have one also called “Waiting For” which just shows me what are what are the things that I’m waiting for today. And I find that to be really handy too if I need to follow up with someone or if something was supposed to happen today that I was waiting for it then I’ll at least know to expect it. So I found that pretty handy too.
Mike: [00:28:20] Yeah that’s that’s a really good idea. And we have a whole bunch of custom perspectives inside the course. Another one that is kind of fun literally is the fun perspective which I like to use this because another mistake that people make when they set up their task manager is they they put only the things that they need to do in there and they don’t put any of the fun things that they want to do in there. And if you do that then whenever you go to look at your task list, if all you have are the the boring the mundane the admin type things that you don’t like doing you’re going to dread looking at your task list every time. But if you have some fun things that are in there, things that you know you want to do or you need to do. Like for example I might want to plan a family vacation or something. Then you want to put those in your task manager as well. And there’s a fun perspective where you can actually, we show you in the course, sort it by the text that would be included so you can almost use it as like a tag when you’re creating tasks and then you can use this fun perspective and you can just see all of the fun things. So if you’re having a bad day and you want a little bit of an uplifting break for example you can load up your fun perspective and you can see the tasks that you need to work on. But these are the things that are enjoyable to work on and that can help you gain a little bit more momentum and then get back into the flow of things. Another one that we teach in the course is the stalled perspective and these are ways. This is a way that you can see only the things that are stuck. So if you have a project in you you don’t have a next action identified then that is going to stall the project. And so you can actually filter projects by a certain state and you can say it’s stalled. So what this will allow you to do is see all of the projects basically that need your immediate attention because they’re not going anywhere until you identify those next actions and this is really just scratching the surface in terms of the custom perspectives. They are very very powerful and really if you’re going to invest in OmniFocus this is the reason to do it. So I would definitely recommend that you buy the pro version.
Brooks: [00:30:24] Yeah, I use the stalled one as well as part of my morning ritual I forgot to mention that one and that that has actually been a game changer for me just to see oh yeah I really need to keep this project moving.
Mike: [00:30:36] Another very popular custom perspective would be like a planning perspective which is going to rely on those start and defer dates because what it’s going to do is it’s going to only select the tasks that are available. And this is actually a big part of the Asian Efficiency workflow, you load up your planning perspective you see the things that are available to be worked on and then you select a couple of them and you flag them, and we’ll talk a bit more about that. But yeah the list goes on and on in terms of the types of custom perspectives that you can create custom perspectives based on areas of responsibility, I’ve done that before. Lots of different things. But let’s let’s move on to the next one here and this is actually another big reason that I’ve stuck with OmniFocus, OmniFocus has very very tight integration with email clients. They actually have a Web site: inside.omnifocus.com/email, and they list on the site all of the email applications for the Mac that they integrate directly with. Now why do you want an application that integrates directly with your email client? Because you want to have a link back to the original message. I mentioned this a little bit earlier but this is essential to my e-mail based workflow. I can go into my task manager and my task manager will tell me what I need to work on. But then from there I don’t want to have to go to my email client and search for that message. I could do that but that’s going to take a couple of minutes. The average search time I think according to the IBM study was something like 70 seconds. OK but if I’ve got the link to the original message right there because OmniFocus integrates with my e-mail client I can just click on that. The message is right there. I can reply to it and then I can check off my task and I can move on. So there’s a couple e-mail client specifically that OmniFocus integrates with. The first one is Mail.app. This is a little bit different in newer versions of the Mac OS operating system, doesn’t work is quite as well as it used to in the past but it does still provide the link back to the original message. Then there’s MailMate. MailMate is actually my preferred email client, MailMate is a markdown based keyboard centric email client so it doesn’t look the greatest but it’s really really powerful and the integrations in here are second to none. In fact there’s a couple different ways that you can integrate this with OmniFocus. Number one, you can just, when you when you select an e-mail message you can add this to OmniFocus and what that will do is it will just have the name of the task which will be the subject line and then it will have the link to the original message that’s it. You can also do add with summary where it pulls in all of the text from the e-mail message itself and puts it in the Notes field. But this is actually the only one that has different options like that. A couple other applications here. PostBox, AirMail, and Mailplane, they also all integrate with OmniFocus. I’m curious Brooks which email client do you use and does it integrate with OmniFocus?
Brooks: [00:33:36] Yeah I use Mailplane actually and yes it definitely does integrate with OmniFocus so there’s just a keyboard shortcut that sends the message right to OmniFocus with the link back, like you said. But I’m actually just a recent Mailplane user, for years and years I liked to– I liked to keep it real and just use the gmail web interface. And and that works really well too with OmniFocus actually, not natively of course but the OmniFocus Clipper works very well so what I would always do is just highlight the text from the Gmail message and then do the– that I wanted to capture –do the the keyboard shortcut for that for the Clipper and then it would create an OmniFocus task with a link back to the Gmail message so it kind of works the same. And I did that for years and years very happily. So if you if you have to use a web based email program you can’t use an email client for whatever reason. You can still use the OmniFocus Clipper it works really well.
Mike: [00:34:37] Yeah that’s a really good point. But Mailplane is interesting because essentially it’s a web wrapper for the Gmail web service so if you like the Gmail web interface then Mailplane is actually a really good option because it gives you access to all of the Gmail plug ins like Boomerang, and all the keyboard shortcuts. I mean that’s a big thing the Gmail keyboard shortcuts so Mailmate has Gmail keyboard shortcuts support it’s actually pretty good. PostBox and AirMail do too, but the email applications that say that they that they provide support for Gmail keyboard shortcuts usually do it to different degrees and there’s a ton of keyboard shortcuts available on the web so all of those are available inside a Mailplane. But it also provides direct integration to OmniFocus as a task manager. I believe it also directly integrates with Evernote as well correct?
Brooks: [00:35:27] Sure does.
Mike: [00:35:28] Yes so Mailplane is a pretty cool application but it also obviously only works for Gmail accounts. Not to turn this into an e-mail based episode but that’s a that’s a really important point, is that direct link to the original message and there’s actually even a couple iOS email clients that provide that as well. The two that we recommend are Airmail for iOS and Dispatch and we’ve talked about this as well but I prefer Dispatch because Dispatch allows you to use the default message URL scheme, and that means that you can create the OmniFocus task inside of Dispatch on your your iPhone for example and the URL will work when you get back to your Mac. You click on it and in my case it’ll open it up in MailMate it because it uses that default message URL scheme, whereas AirMail uses an AirMail specific URL scheme. If you’re all in with AirMail that’s not a big deal. But if you try to open that link in OmniFocus on your Mac and you don’t have AirMail installed because you prefer to use something else like MailMate, that’s not going to work you’re going to need AirMail in order for that to work. But again enough e-mail.
Mike: [00:36:35] Next one. But again it is a super nerdy feature, that is AppleScript support. So this is extremely nerdy but very powerful. And there’s actually a page for this as well: inside.omnifocus.com/applescript, which will give you some ideas on how you might want to use this. There’s the examples of getting data into OmniFocus, switching different views, exporting, copying, and e-mailing. They’ve got a whole bunch of other different links to other people who have created different AppleScript support things. And one of the ones that we’re going to talk about in a little bit is this auto parser by Joe Buhlig which is going to be the key actually to this working from a PC or if you were to work with a virtual assistant. So we’ll talk about that in just a second. Another great feature here especially on iOS is the URL schemes that– and task paper formatting that OmniFocus is built off of, this is something fairly new. But what this allows you to do is take text which is formatted a specific way on iOS– import that into OmniFocus– and based off of the different tags and how the text is formatted it can automatically create projects, tasks inside the projects, subtasks, it can automatically assign defer or start dates, due dates. It can assign projects it can assign— basically anything you can think of they can even flag the items if you wanted to do that based on how the text gets input. And this is something that by itself is not something that you would probably typically use all that often but when you combine it with something like Workflow, and I actually demoed this at the Macstock Conference last summer, and people were kind of blown away by this, where you can actually have boxes and prompts pull up where you can put in the tokens, so the example I used was where I had a Workflow action where you press the button and it asks you what’s the name of the project you put in the name of the project and then it creates that as a variable that will put that variable where it belongs and it’ll say when is this due. And you can put in the due date and then when the workflow action is done you open up OmniFocus and you’ve got this whole project created with these standard tasks which in the example I use it’s like a blog post where the tasks are generally repeatable. You know that you’re going have to follow the sequence of things in order to actually publish this thing. And so you create essentially a project template inside of Workflow very very easily. Have you done much with URL schemes?
Brooks: [00:39:17] I haven’t. It’s always something that sounds really awesome but I’ve just never– I tend to use OmniFocus most on the Mac so I haven’t really done too much with Workflow but I’m kind of keeping my eye on it because it does something really really really cool.
Mike: [00:39:36] Yeah. And this is the kind of thing where you have to invest a little bit of time to figure out how this works but once you do it can really save you a bunch of time if you use it a lot. Another thing that I’ve done is I’ve used Launch Center Pro which is kind of like speed dial for your your iOS device, so really common actions you can you can make shortcuts essentially to get to different things very quickly and because OmniFocus has this URL scheme. For example I have on my Launch Center Pro, a folder called perspectives which I can just touch on that that it opens up the folder and I just drag it and I can select the perspective I want to go to and it’ll take me straight to that perspective so I can go straight to my planning perspective, straight to my execution perspective, straight to my low energy perspective. Any of that stuff. And that’s because the URL scheme inside of OmniFocus allows you to say perspective colon slash slash and then you put in the OmniFocus URL basically, it’s like a web URL, it tells it exactly where to go as long as OmniFocus is installed. And then when you let go it takes that URL scheme and your iOS device fires up OmniFocus it says is this URL here and if it is it takes you straight to that perspective. So a lot of really cool stuff you can do with these URL schemes if you dive into them a little bit.
[00:40:55] I was just going to mention, there is one thing I wanted to mention about AppleScript support on the Mac, and AppleScript with OmniFocus is great for moving tasks around, I do that, it’s great for importing tasks. But there’s one AppleScript I run every single day which I find really really helpful, especially when I’m doing my review and doing my my daily ritual for my journal. I have this AppleScript that runs that looks up my OmniFocus, sees which tasks had been completed on that day or you know in my case yesterday, it looks at yesterday but you can do different times as well and it makes up nicely formatted Evernote note with all the tasks that I completed that day. So I just keep doing that every single day. And then I can look with one glance and see what it is that I did that day. It’s really really handy. So that’s just an example of something you can do with AppleScript that isn’t specifically to do with moving stuff around in OmniFocus.
Mike: [00:41:52] Nice. I’ve heard of other people who have done that as well. I have not figured out how to set that up myself but I definitely see the value in that. The last thing I wanted to call out here is something that was added to my favorite Mind Mapping application we talked about that a few episodes ago, and that is MindNode. MindNode has the ability to select different nodes and you– there’s a toggle switch where you can say this is a task or this is not a task. And if you toggle it on inside of MindNode there’s basically a checkbox that you can use to check off something as complete or not. And I wouldn’t recommend that you try to manage projects inside of MindNode. But you can use MindNode to plan your project and you can identify the things that you want as tasks and then as of last summer they added the ability to export that directly to OmniFocus. What that will do is it will take the let’s say you have a top level top level node which you’ve defined as a task and then you have a child node underneath that a couple different child nodes which are tasks and then under that you have additional child nodes which are tasks. What OmniFocus will do when you export this from MindNode is it will create the highest level that it can find that’s the the main task and then it will create subtasks underneath that and it will even have several different levels if you if you have that available, which I honestly don’t even know how you would do that necessarily if you didn’t use MindNode. I’m sure that you can just hit Command and then the bracket you know left or right to indent or out and your tasks. But yeah it’s really really simple really really easy and it’s perfectly formatted once it’s inside of OmniFocus. So this is a great thing I wanted to call out where you might use MindNode for planning and then OmniFocus obviously for the execution.
Brooks: [00:43:44] For sure.
Mike: [00:43:45] All right so let’s get into some frequently asked questions and this is probably the number one question that we get asked. People say “I have to use Windows at work can I still use OmniFocus?” And in the past the answer had been no. Sorry you’re out of luck. But there are a couple things that you can do in this specific situation which I do think make this make this feasible. So number one if you’re on a PC at work you can still add tasks to OmniFocus by using the mail drop feature, and this isn’t going to provide the link back to the original message which we talked about. But it is going to allow you to get tasks inside of OmniFocus, and it doesn’t have to necessarily be email based task either. You can basically just create an email and send it to a specific OmniFocus e-mail address that you get when you sign up for the sync account which is free, and then whatever you put in that task that is going to be added into your OmniFocus inbox whenever you send this– send an e-mail to that specific address. So you can use this strategy obviously from a PC at work if you wanted to. You think of something that you need to do and you can add it to OmniFocus that way. There are people who will do that and then they’ll use like an iPad at work as they work off of that might be their execution. So you could go iOS only essentially with OmniFocus as well. But this mail drop feature this is also something that you can use with a virtual assistant. And I remember actually one of the first Mac Power Users episodes that I listened to, David and Katie were arguing about whether Katie was actually going to be able to get David’s OmniFocus email address so that she could send him tasks that make sure that he would follow up on. But there is also the ability to take this to the next level and that is using the Joe Buhlig auto parser that I mentioned earlier. Now basically what Joe did is he created and we’ll put a link to this in the show notes, but he actually created an AppleScript which based off of what is in the subject line will interpret that and it will automatically assign the correct context, project, due or defer dates, and flagged status. Kind of like the Workflow task paper formatting does, but Joe actually did that long before the Workflow folks — or task paper formatting was even added to OmniFocus. So essentially what this does is it’s an AppleScript that needs to be running on your computer and then when something comes into your OmniFocus inbox it’ll look at this string of random characters. But if you understand the formatting you can then use that when you’re correct crafting the subject lines. And then OmniFocus, the auto parser will interpret all of that gobbledygook and it’ll straighten everything out and it’ll put just the name of the task real cleanly in the appropriate place. And Joe’s actually got in the link an explanation of how to do this using Hazel as well. And this is super super nerdy so I apologize if this is over some people’s heads. But essentially OmniFocus is a database of text. And so what you can do is you can set Hazel to watch this hidden folder this library container where all of this text just appears in. And once Hazel’s watching that folder even though you can’t necessarily see it on your Mac it can identify when there is a new entry in there. And then when there’s a new entry it can trigger this AppleScript so it doesn’t need to be running all the time, and it can interpret all of this stuff. So again a lot of this stuff if you’ve– if this is over your head don’t worry about it. But if you’ve been using OmniFocus for a while you’ve probably run into some of these pain points and you’re like oh man I wish this– I could do this specific thing well turns out with the AppleScript support and stuff like that that pretty much anything is possible.
Brooks: [00:47:40] I’ve never used anything like this. But when I first read this article that Joe did I laughed but not laughing at it but just laughing with like this stuff is exactly what I love about the Apple ecosystem and OmniFocus and stuff like that. If you think to yourself I wonder if OmniFocus can do dot dot dot? The answer is it probably can do it just might take a little a little coding or hacking like this but it’s really awesome.
Mike: [00:48:08] Yeah absolutely. And then actually I remember there was an OmniFocus Premium Posts support ticket that I helped with one time and there was a guy who was having trouble with OmniFocus. And so I actually went back and forth with this guy for quite a while. He was a priest, and we sorted out some of the basic OmniFocus stuff and then he ran into a point where he had an assistant that he wanted to be able to add tasks to his OmniFocus database, so if someone called for a counseling session or something they could add that without him having to manually do it. And I showed him this auto parser and I haven’t spoken to him in a while but this was working for him where he taught basically his secretary how to use this formatting. And then they would send these tasks via the mail drop and put all the stuff in the subject line when he got it on his OmniFocus because he had this AppleScript running. It would interpret it and put it in the correct place so this could also be something that’s really really powerful if you work with an assistant or even a virtual assistant.
Mike: [00:49:13] Next question here is what about Android. Now I don’t I don’t know if you’ve looked into this at all Brooks but I did a little bit of research. There are actually third party apps for OmniFocus on Android, and there’s actually a link here to a support article which is from the OmniGroup Web site which specifically addresses this. The one that I’ve heard of primarily is it called AndroidFocus. That was the old name for it. I don’t know. And maybe it has changed but essentially OmniFocus because it uses this open file formatting that allows third parties to tap into this and all of that information can be readable. But they say in the support article obviously that they don’t support it if something were to go wrong. So if AndroidFocus stops working you’ve got to talk to the AndroidFocus folks not the OmniGroup obviously so you kind of have to use it at your own risk. But that is a really powerful feature I would say is the fact that all this stuff is open and it can be. There’s a potential anyways to be readable by other programs and other applications.
Brooks: [00:50:21] Yeah it’s cool. I haven’t I haven’t looked into it but — I and I like the fact that it is that it is open like that and these things are possible. It does make me a little nervous especially when you add syncing into the hole into the whole mix of kind of feels like it can break at any time. But it’s cool that it’s possible.
Mike: [00:50:39] Yeah it definitely feels like it could break at any time but yeah it is possible so people ask about that all the time just wanted to make sure that the people knew that it is possible. Next question here: do I need the pro version? Brooks you want to tackle this one?
Brooks: [00:50:55] Do you need the pro version? I would say no. I was actually talking to a friend and he was asking me a question about OmniFocus, he’s been using it for a while and I told him what I do and he goes oh I guess that’s not possible for me because I don’t use the pro version. So you can certainly not use the pro version and you can probably be OK but to me if you buy OmniFocus and don’t buy the pro version you’re eliminating a lot of the benefit of OmniFocus. If you’re going to be spending this type of money. And again this is of course if if you can swing it, you know if you have to choose between you know depending on your financial situation, if you have to choose between upgrading to pro and buying groceries that month I would probably buy the groceries. But if you know if it is doable for you to me if you’re going to be spending the money I would go pro because that gives you a lot of the power of what makes OmniFocus such a great product so I generally recommend pro unless for whatever reason it’s just not possible in your circumstance.
Mike: [00:52:06] Yeah and that’s a good point is that you have to weigh all of the pros and cons of all of these different things. Even the type of application that you’re going to use. Like the fact that OmniFocus is only available on Apple platforms. That’s both a pro and con depending on your specific situation, if you need something cross-platform that might be a deal breaker. For OmniFocus specifically what you get with the pro version are the custom perspectives, you get a customizable side bar– the side bar basically is the a quick way to get to the different perspectives that you want displayed there, and so that’s really not even useful unless you have the ability to add custom perspectives. Then you get the ability to focus. So we mentioned that a little bit earlier where you can be in a perspective and you can filter even more granularly that type of tasks that appear. And then the last thing that you get with the pro is the AppleScript support. Obviously that’s for the the the Mac version. The iOS version if you get the pro you get the custom perspectives and you get the customizable sidebar so you kind of have to decide for yourself if those things are worth it for my specific situation and probably for a lot of Asian Efficiency readers and customers, the pro version is definitely going to be worth it.
Mike: [00:53:21] Next question: Is it possible and or suitable to use OmniFocus on just mobile? In the past the answer was no. And that’s because there were limitations on what the iOS versions could do. You mentioned actually that the review perspective actually first showed up on the iPad version which is true, but there were also limitations with the iPhone version not being able to show the custom perspectives that did not use the project hierarchy. The OmniGroup has worked very hard in the last couple of years though to bring full feature parity between all the different versions. And so I would say that that means that it is possible to use OmniFocus on just mobile. It’s still going to be easier to manage everything from your Mac and thats what we would recommend if you have the means, but it is possible to go iOS only. Especially if you have something like an iPad Pro. I actually really like managing my OmniFocus tasks and typically when I’m doing my weekly review and I’m adding projects and adding tasks and things like that I’m doing that on my iPad Pro, I just like the interface a little bit better. But for using the focus tools and things like that to really dive in and manage a bunch of different projects, a bunch of different tasks, Mac is probably going to be a little bit easier. Our ideal scenario which we talk about in the OmniFocus Premium Posts course is that the iPhone is what you use for capture because you always typically have that with you and it provides a very simple way to get things into your trusted system and off of your mind so you don’t have to worry about them. The iPad we mentioned earlier for review because it’s just more convenient you can sit down you can watch football on Sunday afternoon and you can review your OmniFocus. And then the Mac is what you would typically use for managing and planning everything.
Brooks: [00:55:17] Yep for sure that’s the ideal scenario. But if somebody is thinking about going iPad only and they’re thinking if OmniFocus is going to be a problem doing that. No, you can definitely get by, lots of people do I’m sure, just using it on the mobile, but I tend to use most of mine on the Mac.
Mike: [00:55:35] Yeah and I know quite a few people who also I mentioned this earlier but let’s say you have a PC that you use at work. They will bring an iPad to work rather than bringing a Mac to work. There are people who do that as well– and they’ll manage their tasks from OmniFocus on their iPad which they just set up on their on their desks almost as like a second screen if you want to think of it that way. So that would be a very very practical use case of the focus on iOS only.
Mike: [00:56:02] Another question we get asked all the time is what is the best way to use OmniFocus. And there is a specific Asian Efficiency workflow which we really dive into in detail in the course. We’ve got videos that show you how to do all this but I thought we’d give some value to our podcast listeners and just kind of talk about this from a high level, Brooks do you want to kind of talk through this?
Brooks: [00:56:21] Sure. So like I said I’ve been doing this ever since the PDF version of the OmniFocus Premium Posts. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to use OmniFocus and kind of struggled at the beginning, and I’d even bought some other guides and they and they were they were cool too but it was the AE one that really stuck with me, and this was way before I worked with the company. So basically what you do is you have a planning perspective that shows you what it is that you are able to do that day. And this uses start dates or defer dates like we talked about. So you see OK these are all the things that I could do if I wanted to today, but of course you’re not going to be able to do all of them probably. So what you do is you identify a few tasks that you want to work on. So you know three to five generally in a perfect, in a perfect world. So you’re thinking of these three to five things are my most important tasks to work on today. So you flag them. This is the only use for flags I personally use. So you flag those three tasks, and then you have another perspective– well you don’t have to use another perspective you could work on, just look at flags and stuff like that. But what I personally do is have a– what we call an execution perspective setup that only shows work tasks that are flagged and available and so that way I don’t stress out about all the other tasks I have to do I don’t need to get distracted by all the other tasks. I’m only focused on those three to five important things that I need to get done today, and then I go to work based on that. And not that this pretty much ever happens. But if I did happen to finish them all up then I can go back to my planning perspective and say OK I have some more time. What are a few other ones I can flag and then go back to my execution perspective and this workflow has worked wonders for me over the years.
Mike: [00:58:20] Yeah this workflow definitely worked for me as well. I personally just read the Personal M.B.A. by Josh Kaufman and he shares something in there it’s not something that he came up with but it’s the 3, 10, 20 method in terms of task management. And I think this might really help some people identify what is a good workload. So the 3 10 20 method basically the three stands for three major tasks. The ten stands for 10 minor tasks, so essentially that is a pretty good place in the order in order to start in terms of a workload for the the number of tasks you can get done. And then the 20 that’s the, that’s the criteria for whether something is a major or a minor task. So if something takes longer than 20 minutes it is a major task. And I think if you really wanted to drill down a little bit deeper instead of just picking three to five things and then going back and picking an additional three things that you wanted to work on you could use something like that. Now it’s important though when you’re adding tasks into your task manager whether you use OmniFocus or something else to break things down as much as you can. So that means that the majority of your tasks should be these minor tasks these things that are not going to take a lot of time to do. You want to write tasks for your future self you want them to start with a verb and what that means is that you want to assume that when you see this thing when your task manager tells you that OK now is the time to work on this, that you’re not going to remember exactly what you were talking about. You’re going to be starting from scratch so to speak and you want the name of the task in the information that’s there to make it very clear very easy to understand what you need to work on next. So general rule according to the Asian Efficiency workflow, just starting out, three to five tasks, do those and then pick out some more. But if you really wanted to drill down a little bit more you could implement something like the 3 10 20 rule from the Personal MBA.
Mike: [01:00:23] Last one here: How do you use Evernote and OmniFocus together? Now OmniFocus and Evernote are very different applications. Evernote is a great tool for reference material, OmniFocus is going to be a great tool for your tasks. OK the difference there, tasks are things that you can actually do something with, things that you can take action on, whereas reference material is information that you might need someday but you really can’t do anything with it right now. OK so for example if I get an e-mail from my aunt, she sends me her super secret peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipe I don’t want to make the cookies right now but I want to save that because not many people have this. And someday when I want to make cookies maybe around Christmas time I’m going to need this, I’m going to put that in Evernote. And then what you can do once you have this bank of reference material is you can link to that inside of your tasks. So in OmniFocus in the Notes field what I could do is I could put a link to that specific note inside of Evernote. Now you can right click on the note and you can get the note link. But there’s another way to do this which actually is what we recommend and that is to use the classic note link. What’s the difference? Well the note link is going to be a web URL, which is fine except that when you’re on iOS on your iPhone, or OmniFocus for your iPhone for example you click that link. It’s going to open it up in Safari and it’s not going to provide a great user interface. Maybe you’re not connected to the Internet. And then it’s not going to load the page, but the classic note link you can access when you right-click by holding down the Option key I believe it is. What that does is it uses the Evernote URL instead, going back to the URL schemes that we mentioned a little bit earlier. And what that means is that when I click on that link I don’t need to be online because as long as that is synced to my Evernote database inside the Evernote application, it’s going to open that Evernote link inside of Evernote, which is my preferred way to do it. I don’t know. Do you use this feature very much?
Brooks: [01:02:32] I wish I could be controversial and we could have a big argument or discussion about this but I do the exact same thing. And yes I. So an example of how I do this is in another podcast episode I’ve mentioned that I have a book review workflow set up where I where I take notes on a book and then I store them in Evernote and then every X amount of time I go back and review that information. And so what I do is I have that set up in OmniFocus so it’s saying reminding me hey review this book, and what I do is I have a classic note link in the note of my OmniFocus task that links right to that note in Evernote, so whether I’m here at my computer or I’m at the table or I’m on the subway or whatever, I can always just click that link and bring up that that those notes to review from anywhere. Really really handy.
Mike: [01:03:29] Yeah definitely. Is there anything else that you can think of Brooks that we didn’t cover? In terms of OmniFocus?
Brooks: [01:03:37] No I think that pretty much covers my use of it anyway. I’m sure, I’m sure the listener will have some other things that they can leave comments on but but from my perspective, no I think we got it.
Mike: [01:03:51] Yeah and obviously in a podcast format this is a little bit hard to understand, we’ve kind of just scratched the surface when it comes to task management. But hopefully this episode has given you some good ideas about how you can use OmniFocus more effectively, or explained why you might want to invest in it in the first place if you’re still on the fence. But I have to tell you that if you want to learn more about task management you definitely want to check out the dojo, because the whole idea for this series on task management actually came from that thread which was started by dojo member Matt Ryan where he had done a lot of independent research and he put together that very detailed comparison chart between the different task managers and he just threw it out there. He invited anyone and everyone in the dojo to ask him questions about 2Do which were going to jump into next week I believe. But if you have questions about OmniFocus, 2Do, Todoist, or pretty much any other task manager, the dojo has got you covered. We’ve got a bunch of really smart people in there and what I personally like best about the dojo is that everyone really lives out the Asian Efficiency core value of pulling others up. The Asian Efficiency team is in there, and were always available to answer questions as well. But if you decide to join the dojo you actually get access to a private Slack team as well as the forums and the video library which gets a new exclusive video course added every single month, and this month’s course is on implementing the 12 Week Year effectively. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about that one. So if you want to check out that course or join the task management discussion, we’d love to have you join us and we have a special offer just for podcast listeners. The dojo, as you may know, is currently closed to the public. But if you go to theproductivityshow.com/dojo you can get access to the private training library, the forums, and the Slack team for just a dollar for your first month. And after that its just $29 a month and you can cancel at any time if you feel it’s not worth it. But on top of the training materials and the direct access to the Asian Efficiency team, you also get exclusive software discounts on some of our favorite productivity apps like BusyCal, Hazel, TextExpander, 1Password. So if you want to join the dojo today you can go to the productivity show dot com slash dojo again that URL is the productivity show dot com slash dojo, and you can also find links to everything that we discussed today in the show notes by going to theproductivityshow.com/136. So thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next productive Monday.
Discover the 1 Lifehack of Highly Successful People
This one lifehack led to the biggest breakthrough of my career. People like Steve Jobs and Oprah have used it to catapult their success, and now you can too.