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. 

My PopClip Setup

There are some applications out there that can seem daunting when they are first opened. OmniFocus 2 is a great example. DEVONthink Pro Office is another - large applications with an amazing feature set (and a price to match). 

I may use those two applications every day, however, when I recently reinstalled macOS on my laptop and started working, there was one application I was missing that affected my workflow. It’s nowhere near the size of other applications and often you barely realize it’s there. Until it’s not. 

That application is PopClip

PopClip is a wonderful little application that takes any text you highlight and performs an action of your choosing, either with the formatting of the characters or sending it to a third party application for processing. 

Installation

Installation is simple. Find the application in the Mac App Store (or click this link) and install. 

Configuration 

When you run the application for the first time, you are prompted to Open System Preferences and allow PopClip to control the computer using accessibility features. This must happen in order for PopClip to work it’s magic. Run through the process.

When complete, you’ll see there is just PopClip icon sitting in the menu bar. If you click on the menu bar icon, you’ll see the PopClip configuration window open and some options to choose from.

 
 

Home - here, you can set PopClip to Start at Login (my personal preference) and to Show in menu bar. 

Appearance - this allows you to change the size of the pop up windows that appear when you highlight text

Excluded Apps - you may not want PopClip to run in every application that you use. I don’t personally have any applications set to ignore PopClip, however if this is your preference, you can set them here

PopClip Functions - this is where you get to the meat of the application. By default, you can see from the screenshot below that there are several functions enabled. What’s important to note is that the actions will only appear if they are relevant to the Context of the text you are highlighting.

 
 

As an example, if I highlight a web address, then the option to Open Link will appear, as well as Cut, Copy and Paste.

If I highlight an email address, then the Use Address action will appear instead of Open Link. I will also have the option to run a Search for this address in my default Search Engine.

It may not seem like there are many actions here that you can utilise, but if you click the + button in the bottom left hand corner, a whole word of available actions will open up to you.

There are downloadable extensions for many categories, including:

  • Text Editing
  • Text Transformation
  • Markdown
  • Text Statistics
  • Text Display
  • Text-to-speech
  • Translation
  • Notes Apps
  • Writing Apps
  • To-Do Apps
  • Calendar Apps
  • Other Apps
  • Web Search
  • Other Searches
  • Social Networking
  • Music
  • Link Shortening
  • Work with URLs
  • Phone Numbers
  • Dictionaries
  • For Developers
  • Useful Tools

It would be so easy and go to town, downloading as many extensions as you can! I’d advise you to exercise some caution though as you may find yourself not being able to see the wood for the trees and when you highlight your text, it could take a while to find the action you wish to perform. PopClip has a limit of 25 extensions. To that end, I’m just going to highlight for you the actions that I use most often within PopClip. 

Clip To DEVONthink/Search In DEVONthink - this extension will take the highlighted text and offer you the chance to Clip to DEVONthink in a new note, or search for the text within DEVONthink itself. The Search function will open an Advanced Search window. 

Open in Chrome/Safari - two different actions here. I find myself using both browsers in macOS for different purposes. 

Shorten URL with Bitly - I often find myself needing to shorten certain URLs, whether they are mine or third-parties. When you activate this extension for the first time, you will sign in to your Bitly account. 

Search in Spotify - I moved to Apple Music but came back pretty quickly. I love Spotify and highlighting an artists name or album on a website will automatically perform a Spotify search. Great stuff. 

Search in LinkedIn - I’m a businessman that needs clients, so often use this feature when I come across a name of note. 

Add to Buffer - Great for those articles I find that I wish to share with others. 

Add To Reading List - One of the reasons I switch between Chrome and Safari is because I use Safari’s Reading List as my read it later service. I find there is a lot less friction when sending articles from my Reading List to DEVONthink for archiving. 

Add to Tweetbot - Great for those quotes you find online, or site URLs that you just want to share now. 

Search with IMDB - This will perform a search in IMDB for the highlight text, be it a film, actor etc. 

Search with Rotten Tomatoes - I use this to gauge whether or not I should add a film to my wishlist

Add to TextExpander - The highlighted text will form a new snippet within TextExpander, leaving you to configure the abbreviations and label as normal. 

Translate with Google Translate - Pretty self-explanatory. The results are generally good. 

Add to OmniFocus - Will add the highlighted text as a new task in OmniFocus

Messages - This will copy the highlighted text into an iMessage window, leaving you to add the recipient. 

Those are the key ones that I use however when you look at the actions available, yet there are more I could use. It’s extraordinary and new extensions are actively developed. 

Check it out here.

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