Reviewing with OmniFocus

There are so many reasons behind my decision to stay with OmniFocus as my second brain tool, it would take far too long for you to read them all here. I would, however like to write about one of the main features that is all too easy to ignore when you are looking at developing your productivity workflow - and that is the Review

Reviewing is, for me, the cornerstone of my workflow. My Weekly Review is the one meeting in the week that is never cancelled. Without it, I lose trust in my system and as soon as that starts to go, then everything starts to unravel. I start wondering whether the action I’m working on now is actually what I should be doing, I start thinking about other unfinished projects and actions that need to be taken on them - my focus disappears and my results drop. My review is that important to me and thankfully, OmniFocus makes it easy to carry it out. 

What Is A Review

A Review can happen at a given frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually) and consists of a list of checks you carry out to make sure your ship is still heading in the right direction, allowing you to course correct if needed. At the bare minimum, a weekly review is recommended and that’s what I’m going to discuss here, however as you read, you’ll think of ideas that you can implement for other reviews as well - especially a daily one as you close down for the day. 

Ideally, you should be using your Weekly Review to gather all of your inputs. These can be emails, phone messages, physical notes, calendar entries - anything that hasn’t been formally processed needs to be either added into OmniFocus, or deleted as appropriate. This is one time when I actually ignore the 2 minute rule (for those of you who don’t know this - if a task will take two minutes or less, then do it there and then). The reason I ignore it is that I have 90 minutes maximum to complete my Review. If I spend 30 of those minutes completing 15 tasks, I will not complete my Review and that is not an option. Instead, if it looks like I have lots of quick wins available, I schedule a thirty minute window to complete them in my calendar. 

Once the inputs are processed, review your outlook. Check your calendar for the next four-six weeks to make sure that any arrangements you need to make are added to OmniFocus. Review your projects and be sure they all have a Next Action assigned to them. 

I also use this opportunity to block out periods of time in the coming week(s) for core tasks. My writing time is scheduled, my development time is scheduled, with enough white space to move things around if needed. 

Below is a sample of my OmniFocus Checklist for the Weekly Review

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Reviewing Projects

The ability to review a project is where OmniFocus shines for me. On the sidebar, there is a Review button which offers a visual indicator as to whether any projects needs reviewing. If there is a purple line to the left of the button, then you need to take some action. Clicking this button opens up a perspective called Review and lists all of the projects that are awaiting a review. 

The presence of these projects is dictated by the metadata of the project. If you click the Inspector, you’ll see a Review section that allows you to configure the due date of the next review as well as the frequency. If it’s a project that isn’t key at the moment and doesn’t need to be reviewed that often, change it to two/three weeks, perhaps a month. I’ve some long-standing projects that aren’t going to be reviewed for another three months, because they just aren’t a priority for me at the moment. 


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The list of projects will appear on the left hand pane and as you click on each project, you’ll see a Mark Reviewed button appear in the perspective header. Click this and the due date for the next review will change dependant on the metadata settings described earlier. 

You can also mark a project reviewed from other perspectives too. Customise the Toolbar to add the Review icon (it’s a coffee cup with a tick above) and every time you open a Project in OmniFocus, you can Review it as you go. 

I cannot impress on you enough the importance of reviewing your systems and projects. This gives you confidence that you are doing the right thing at the right time and frees up your brain to create magic. 

Overcast 5 and Siri Shortcuts

Over the last few months, I’ve actually been trying hard to make use of some of the stock apps on iOS. There are several reasons for this, however one of the main reasons has been to have a quicker interface with the core OS between devices. An example of this comes with the Calendar application. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fantastical on both iPad and iPhone, however there would be times when I’d add an event on one device and it wouldn’t show up on another for a period of time. Not always - just sometimes, whereas this isn’t something I’ve ever experienced with the native application. My calendar needs to be spot on, so I moved. 

To that end, I thought I’d give the native Podcasts application a spin so that I can sync between my iMac and iPhone, alternating which device I use to listen dependant on my circumstance. Also, using Siri to launch a podcast, or playlist, is really handy. The Apple Podcasts application is certainly better than it was, however there are features with Overcast that I definitely miss. Smart Speed helps cut out those annoying pauses that you get within the dialog and Voice Boost is great when you are listening on the iPhones built-in speaker rather than headphones. The layout of the application is beautiful, with great attention to detail that the developer, Marco Arment, is renowned for. 

Now, we have Siri Shortcuts added to the mix and I’m totally back on the Overcast bandwagon. I’ve only just started playing with it and I’m certainly not leveraging it to it’s full potential, however I’m definitely saving time when it comes to how I access my favourite podcasts. 

I’ve got three core playlists in my Overcast app - Football, General and Timed. Football holds all of my football and Tottenham Hotspur related podcasts, Timed  is for tech/news podcasts that discuss current issues and General is a bucket for everything else. I’ve recorded a Siri Shortcut for each of these:

Overcast Football, Overcast Timed and Overcast General will play the current podcast in the respective playlist. It’s a small difference, however when driving, it’s massive. When laying on the sofa with AirPods in and my iPhone on charge at the other end of the room, it’s massive. I’ve elected to go with the name of the application first, as I know I’m going to be embracing the Siri Shortcuts functionality in every application I own that supports it, so I don’t want to ever have any confusion in what the shortcut phrase actually is! 

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I’ve named a couple of specific podcasts as well - Overcast Mac Power Users is used quite often, along with Overcast The Mac Show (love those British Tech Network chaps!). Setting the speed is available as a shortcut too. I listen to most of mine at 1.6x however when Merlin Mann is going off on one, I need to reduce the speed a lot as it can sound four times faster than normal! Overcast Speed 1x is my go-to in that scenario. 

You can seek forward/back by a chosen number of seconds, skip chapters and even start your sleep timer, all from Siri. 

It’s a great update to a wonderful application and well recommended. 

Voice Messaging with iOS

Voice messaging on iOS - it’s great!

Now that Siri shortcuts are here, I don’t seem to be as embarrassed by my own voice anymore! (For a public speaker, that’s a bizarre statement, I know). To that end, I’ve started using Voice Messaging on iOS a lot more. 

It’s not a new feature, it’s been around for a long time, however it’s one that I’ve never been keen on using. Thankfully, the popularity of voice assistants such as Alexa and the HomePod means people aren’t as conscious of using their voices to carry out certain tasks as they once were. 

Voice messaging in iOS is easy. 

1) Launch the Messages app

2) Either create a new conversation, or select an existing one if there is a thread open. 

3) Tap and hold on the microphone icon that is to the right of the text input field. 

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4) If you are happy with the recording, then swipe up in the Send bubble (I don’t know if that’s the official term, but it will do for me). 

5) Not happy? Don’t swipe up in the Send bubble, simply swipe back across to the left and tap the screen. This exits the recording mode. Tap and hold the microphone button and re-record. 

CleanMyMac X

It’s been around for ten years - TEN years! Wow, it’s been such a staple of my productivity tool kit for macOS that I didn’t realise it had been around for so long. To celebrate this anniversary, MacPaw have released CleanMyMac X

So for those who don’t know what CleanMyMac is all about, it’s an application that keeps a close eye on your system and offers recommendations about items to delete. That’s what it does at it’s lowest level as there is a lot more functionality. You can complete Maintenance Tasks which purge DNS records, free up RAM, Speed up Apple Mail as well as others. I actually have an OmniFocus task that repeats weekly prompting me to carry this out. I know you can do a lot of these tasks from within macOS itself, however I love the speed and efficiency of executing from the touch of a button. 

CleanMyMacX has added some new features which makes it a more complete tool in my opinion:

Malware Scanner - it’s a myth that Macs don’t get viruses or unwanted software running on them. Anyone that has looked at MacKeeper will attest to that! CleanMyMac X will check for malicious files and viruses and whilst I can thankfully say I haven’t had it report anything bad, I have faith that should the time come, I’ll be in good hands. 

Personal Assistant - I was pleasantly surprised when I first ran a scan in CleanMyMacX. A small chat bubble appeared which offered suggestions for clearing my system down. You can access this assistant from the top right corner of the window whenever you wish. Nice touch. 

Faster Scan - it’s actually up to three times faster (and to be fair it was pretty swift before!). 

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Improved scanning algorithms - now there is more chance of something being found on your Mac that you don’t need anymore. 

The app also looks and feels better as it’s had a complete redesign from top to bottom. Lovely backgrounds, bright icons and looks at home on a Retina display for sure. 

t’s not the cheapest software around, that’s for sure. You can make a one-time purchase for $90 or have a yearly subscription for $40 (there is a 50% reduction if you are upgrading from CleanMyMac 3) however I think it’s a great update to an already fine application and I recommend it fully to users of new and older systems alike. 

See it here.

Syncing Macros with Keyboard Maestro

Syncing Macros with Keyboard Maestro

Those of you who regularly visit my blog can’t fail to have noticed that I’ve been reasonably quiet over the last few months! It’s been a busy time, that’s for sure, with lots of work, involving both coaching and consultancy. This has led to a change in my setup and workflows and I can’t wait to share some of this with you - which I will, in good time. 

One of the main changes has been moving into a new office space. No more camping out on the kitchen table when working from home - I need room and, most importantly, separation from my young children so as to maximise my work time. 

I picked up a refurbished iMac for the office, so as to keep my MacBook Pro for travelling and delivering workshops and I think there may be at least fifty different posts I could write about working from two different machines! 

One of the first things I’d noticed was the sheer number of Keyboard Maestro macros that I had developed over the last few years on my MacBook Pro. So many! Some are as simple as keyboard shortcuts for applications, others are more complex that will run a script automatically at a given time. It’s fair to say that I didn’t fancy re-creating these, so I started looking at the easiest way to export them in bulk and transfer them to my new machine. 

This process is easy enough, however I quickly realised that as soon as I created a new macro on one machine, I’d need to export/import it onto the other. 

I know what you’re thinking as you read this - it’s true, I can be amazingly thick at times. Of course an application as advanced as Keyboard Maestro is going to have some form of real-time synchronisation available. 

This is how you set it up:

1 - Open Preferences within Keyboard Maestro on the source machine (this will be the machine that has the most up-to-date version of all of your macros)

2 - On the General tab, select the option for syncing Macros

3 - You will be asked whether you wish to create a new file, or open an existing one. As this is the first machine of the pair, select Create New and choose a location to store the sync file. This needs to be a cloud storage provider in order to allow the file to be read from the different locations. As I use iCloud Drive, I created a folder called Keyboard Maestro Macros and stored the file in there. 

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4 - On the secondary machine, check the box for Sync Macros and this time select Open Existing. Navigate to the sync file and click OK. You will be warned that all of your macros will be overwritten. No bother, just accept. 

Now, whenever you make any amendments to your Keyboard Maestro macros on one machine, they will be replicated to the other.