Keyword Kanban with OmniFocus

Recently I had the honour of appearing on LearnOmniFocus and I spoke about a system I have in play that allows me to use OmniFocus in a form of Kanban structure. It’s rudimentary in nature and certainly isn’t, in any way shape or form, a substitute for a dedicated Kansan-Style application, such as Trello - however if you are fully invested in OmniFocus and need some kind of Kanban functionality, then you may be able to look at my system and tweak it for your own ends. 

Background

The reason I started looking at this system stems from the fact that I am increasingly finding myself working in different modes at varying times of the day. When I am at home, with the kids at school, it’s the optimum time for me to be recording for an upcoming project. In the evenings, I like to use this time to prepare the environment for these videos and, when complete, move into writing mode where the scripts or bullet notes for content are created. 

I also need to schedule in editing and upload times for these video segments and, in order to maximise my time and effectiveness, it’s beneficial for me to batch this work. If I can spend a day recording multiple videos, when the environment is most conducive to this, that is going to be the best use of my time. 

The issue with OmniFocus is knowing where I am at any given time in the project. I can focus on the project easy enough, however, listing just the tasks that fit one of the modes above is a little more problematic. Sure, when multiple contexts come into play (early 2018 is the plan) then assigning the mode as a context will solve the problem easily, however until that time comes, I need an alternative. That’s where Keyword Kanban has come in. 

Setup

The setup for this process is surprisingly simple in execution. In this example, I’m going to create a project for a set of video screencasts for a mock application called Everything Is Awesome. 

This application is going to have a lot of videos and each video has 8 repeating actions. The steps for Video 1 will be exactly the same as for Video 30, so it would be great to get some automation in - that’s where Curt Clifton’s Populate Template Placeholders script comes in. I’ve recently created a post for that 

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My screenshot above shows the tasks for the first 5 of the videos to offer some context. Each one of the videos has a list of sequential tasks, so I cannot see the editing actions until the recording actions have been completed. 

I also needed to be sure I was naming my tasks/actions in the following manner:

(Verb/Mode): Action

So, If I was looking to Prepare the environment for the first in a series of videos, I’d write the action:

Prepare: Environment for Video 1 

As the video moves between the different stages of production, the verb changes. You can see that once I’ve prepared, the video, I need to write the scripts or notes. The sequential setup of these projects allows me to see only the actions I can complete, at a time I can complete them. 

Perspectives

Once the project has been setup, with actions in play, then it’s time to create the Custom Perspectives. Again, this is simple. The most important points are as follows:

1) Any projects that I do not wish to work on currently are deferred until a later date, so they can’t appear. I do this as a matter of course, I hate seeing an overloaded plate. Alternatively, you can just set the Focus field to the key project of your choosing. 

2) The Find Text field contains the Verb/Mode with supporting colon

You can see by my screenshot that I have Perspectives for the four main focus areas of the project - PrepareWriteRecordEdit. I don’t have ones for Encode and File as the former is one that I set overnight if needed and the second isn’t dependant on me being in any particular context or frame of mind to work. 

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So, by accessing the Prepare perspective, I can see a list of actions that I need to complete before the script, or notes, for that particular video can be written. 

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In order to give this more of a Kanban Card feel, I’ve placed the shortcuts for these perspectives into the Toolbar. This allows me to move from left to right and this feels a more fluid way of working to me - especially as I am working for myself. As soon I find the Prepare perspective empty, I know that I can release the next video in the guide from it’s current deferred state and let it into the system. This prevents overwhelm when I look at the amount of work that needs to be done and allows for, in my opinion, a tidy little system.

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I'd love to hear about ways that you take the existing functionality of OmniFocus and manipulate it for your own ends. Get in touch!

How I Use: Template Scripts in OmniFocus

As you become more invested in OmniFocus, you may well find yourself creating tasks, or projects that are similar in nature. In fact, they will could be exact duplicates at times. I know I find this. If you think about my writing workflow, each post required the same steps to be completed. I need to researchwriteedituploadfinal edit and more. 

I used to write these actions out manually - talk about ineffective! I then hit on the idea of taking a template project, with generic actions completed and then just duplicating this project. So for example I would have:

Research: Blog Post (SUBJECT)

Write: Blog Post (SUBJECT)

EDIT: Blog Post (SUBJECT)

written out in OmniFocus and then manually change the (SUBJECT) name to to the topic of the post. This was a little more efficient, however still not optimal. 

I then watched Joe Buhlig’s LearnOmniFocus live session and discovered a script, created by Curt Clifton that could perform this heavy work for me.

Before we download the script, let’s look at the setup of the template you need in OmniFocus. It turns out I was halfway there, so if we use my original example above:

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Template Preparation

As you can see from the screenshot above, the project name contains a keyword in placeholder brackets. These brackets can be typed (UK keyboard, unsure about the US equivalent) with *

This same placeholder must be located in the notes field of the project. This is crucial because this field is going to be referenced when the script runs. 

Any action that needs to contain this placeholder is created accordingly. I store this template in a Templates folder that is contained within my Boss Mode folder. 

Script Download

Now to the script. Simply click this link and download the file. Once it’s downloaded:

1) Whilst in OmniFocus, choose Help - Open Scripts Folder

2) Drag the Populate Template Placeholder file into the Scripts folder. 

3) Add the script icon to the toolbar by choosing View - Customise Toolbar. Drag the script icon into the desired location. 

Execution

Creating the project is as simple as highlighting the project in the Sidebar and clicking the icon in the toolbar. A popup window will appear, with the Placeholder text and an entry field for the text you wish to substitute. 

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Fill in the text and the project will be created at the root of your OmniFocus database.

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Massive kudos to Curt for this, it’s a real time saver and I know lots of people in the community are grateful. 

Why I Love: Copied

The Universal Clipboard on macOS/iOS has been around since Sierra graced our desktops in 2016 and had the potential to be a real boon for productivity whilst switching devices. I’ve found the experience of implementing less than stellar and I know I’m not alone in this. I looked for a third-party application that would allow me to use this feature seamlessly, as well as a host of other configuration options and I’m so pleased to say that I have settled on Copied from a developer named Kevin Chang

As you would expect for the features I require, there are two versions that need to be obtained. The Mac version can be purchased from the App Store for £7.99 and the iOS version is free (although there is a $2 in-app upgrade to unlock iCloud sync). Let me tell you how I use the Mac version first. 

The first thing I love about the Mac application is that it sits in the menu bar and detaches when I need it. Click the icon and drag the application window to a location that suits you. You can also set a Global HotKey to show the application at any time (I use Caps Lock and C, using these instructions for modifying the Caps Lock key). Having a minimised interface is important to me and this suits well. 

Using the application is easy. Firstly, be sure to set it to start on system launch (easily done from within the preferences) and then decide how many clips you wish to have stored. I have it set to the maximum (currently 1000). Every time you press ⌘+C, not only is the snippet stored on your macOS clipboard, it can be found retrospectively in Copied too. By default, it will be stored in the Copied list however here we can now talk about another great feature of Copied - lists and rules. You can create different lists to store batches of content. As an example, I have a list that contains copied images, another for website links, one for affiliate links. If you are of the mindset that craves organisation, rather than one big bucket for storing all of your stuff, then this is a great addition - especially when you pair it up with rules to automatically file them. There are application rules, hostname rules and Regular Expressions that can be configured to direct your clips to the appropriate list.

 
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There are a wide variety of keyboard shortcuts that can be configured to your choosing. As you can see from my screenshot, I don’t use them all - my brain is starting to fill up with the custom shortcuts that need remembering for all of my apps! The key ones DO get used though and as a bare minimum I’d recommend setting the Show/Hide Copied one as well as the shortcuts for Copy Queued Clipping and Paste Queued Clipping. I find myself gathering up a list of clippings I know will need copying and love the ability to add them to a queue and paste them one at a time - very handy. 

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The Mac version offers so many options for configuration, it’s a power user’s dream. Using Templates, you can even copy text and paste it into a variety of formats. Copying a web link and want to paste in Markdown? Easy, set a keyboard shortcut and you’re away. Then browse to the URL, hit ⌘+C and paste using the new shortcut you’ve created - the URL will be in Markdown format. There are other templates for Plain TextSource TitleSource URLLink in HTML and Quote.

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The iOS Version is a master-class. Like it’s Mac counter-part, there is a dark/light theme to suit your tastes and optional sounds to let you know Copied is doing it’s thing. Templates are available, as are Rules (although there are no Application rules, only Host Name and Regular Expressions). As I use my iOS devices primarily for research on the move, paying for the upgrade to allow for iCloud Sync was an absolute no-brainer for me and the core reason for buying both versions of the application. I may use multiple devices, however I’m one person so need one clipboard history. 

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Copying on iOS is reasonably straight forward and you have the following options. You can:

  • Use the Share Extension to save content directly
  • Use the Clipper Extension to modify/transform the rest beforehand
  • Activate the Custom Keyboard to copy text from any application sporting a text field (I tend to mainly use the keyboard for pasting text though)
  • Use the iOS Widget to save the clipboard
  • Use the ‘Save Universal Clipboard’ setting to save anything that is copied from within another app - this is only available with Split View though. 

I love Copied - it’s versatile, easy to use and feature-rich which is just what I look for in an application. Also - and most important for me - it solves an actual problem I had, rather than acting as a ‘nice-to-have’. This makes spending money a little easier!

How To: Restore From a Backup in OmniFocus

It’s not very often things go wrong when dealing with OmniFocus, however that’s not to say you shouldn’t be prepared for when they do. It can be all to easy to delete a project and then, weeks later, find yourself needing to re-activate it or review the action steps that were taken. In fact, I need to do an intentional deletion tomorrow evening. I’ll be the special guest on Tim Stringer’s Learn OmniFocus live session and I’ll be showing my live database. There is, however, one client that I have with whom I have signed an NDA, so I need to be sure that any data pertaining to that client isn’t displayed. To help meet this requirement, as well as share my other live data (which may seem mad, but this is important to me - I like sharing things ‘as-is’), I’m going to delete that client’s folder within OmniFocus and then restore the next day. 

This is how. 

Confirm Backups are Taking Place

OmniFocus is kind of obsessive when it comes to protecting your data, so there is no option for configuring backups - they happen automatically. Every two hours, backups are created in the following locations: 

• Omni store version: /Library/Containers/com.omnigroup.OmniFocus3/Data/Library/Application Support/OmniFocus/Backups/

• Mac App Store version: /Library/Containers/com.omnigroup.OmniFocus3.MacAppStore/Data/Library/Application Support/OmniFocus/Backups/

You can verify their presence by opening OmniFocus and going to File -> Show Backups. You will see approximately 2 weeks worth of backup files available. Choose the file you wish to restore from

Complete Restore

When you open the backup file, a second window will appear which displays your OmniFocus data at the date/time of the backup.

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You can click the button that says Revert To This Backup if you want to do a complete restore of everything. However in my case, I only want to restore a folder, or a number of projects. Initially I thought I would be able to drag/drop from one window to another, however that isn’t the case. Thankfully, we have the ability to use good old fashioned Copy/Paste to lift the folder from the backup window and paste into our active one. 

Great for those mistakes (or in my case, planned deletions) that can plague us!

How To: Use Instant Markup on iOS 11

In the course of my day-to-day writing, I find myself taking a lot of screenshots on my iOS devices. A LOT! It’s not just for writing though - when friends or family ask me how to perform a certain action on their iPhone, the ability to take screenshots and mark them up on the fly is extremely handy. 

This is a quick guide on how to use the Instant Markup feature on iOS 11. 

Overview

When you take a screenshot in iOS 11, you’ll see a PiP (Picture in Picture) window appear in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Tapping on this PiP takes you into the Instant Markup window, offering a variety of annotation tools for your screenshot. You CAN take multiple screenshots if you wish. These are stored in a PiP drawer however you can’t hang around. After five seconds, the Instant Markup PiP will disappear. 

The PiP appears by default and currently, there is no ability to disable this in iOS 11. Hopefully, this will change soon as this functionality certainly isn’t for everyone.

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Editing

When you are in the Instant Markup window, you’ll see some tools at the bottom. There is a marker, highlighter, pencil, eraser and magic rope. You can change the colour of each of these tools as well. Currently, there are six to choose from: red, yellow, green, blue, black and white.

There is a More button that offers some other annotations:

  • Text - adding a text field is a commonly used feature when annotating. Tap once to add the field, then again to bring up the keyboard and type your text. 
  • Signature - if you have a signature saved in Preview, then you can access this here. 
  • Magnifier - you may wish to enlarge a portion of the screen. Tap the Magnifier option to drop a magnifying glass onto the screenshot and then manoeuvre into position. You can adjust the size using the sizing bars on the circle. 
  • Shapes - there are several shapes you can add - square, circle, speech bubble and arrow. These can be filled, or outline only and like the magnifier, they are easily resized. 

You can also crop the screenshot as a whole. Touch and hold an edge, or a corner and you can cut out the unwanted portion.

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Saving

When you have finished your edits, press Done and you’ll have the option of either saving your screenshot to Photos, or deleting as appropriate.

Why I Love: Reeder on macOS

I may be part of a dying breed, but I’m proud to say that I still use RSS feeds. Social Media is becoming a more prevalent means for sharing blog content, however I still don’t think you can beat aggregating articles from key sites into one platform. For this, I think it’s hard to beat Reeder

As per my usual style, this isn’t a review of the application - there are other sites that have the time and resources to do a far better job than I ever could. This is more of a summary of the key reasons why it forms an important part of my daily workflow. 

Integration

Reeder has the ability to aggregate individual RSS feeds as needed, however the setup is far easier if you use a third-party RSS service and integrate with that. For this reason, I use Feedly. There are other options available, such as Feedwrangler and Feedbin, however I find that Feedly has all the functionality I need at a price I can afford (free!). 

In Feedly, I have three categories for my feeds - ProductivitySoftware and Sport. Productivity contains feeds for approximately 12 of my go-to self-improvement sites. Software is centred around developer sites and news sites that publish content centred around applications (such as MacStories). Sport only has a couple of feeds as this can get overwhelming, so I have two trusted sites here. 

Why?

So, given the fact I can view all of these articles from within the Feedly web interface, I’m sure some of you are asking why I use an application such as Reeder? It’s quite simple. Reeder has great support for keyboard shortcuts as well as linking to a whole host of Read It Later services, such as PocketInstapaper and the built in Reading List within Safari. This was the primary reason for me taking it on. However, on closer examination, I saw that it was able to do so much more.

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Social Media

Read It Later services are not the only sharing options you can configure for Reeder. You can send the article as a link to MessagesRemindersFacebookTwitter or my own standard port of call, Buffer. Naturally, you need to authenticate Reeder to access your timelines for any social media service that you use, however this is such a standard practice nowadays I’m becoming immune to the risk. Is that a concern? Maybe one day it will come back to both me however for now I’m more than comfortable with this approach. 

Reading Experience

There are times when I don’t send articles directly to the Reading List within Safari. Instead, I’ll settle down and read through them directly from within Reeder itself. It’s a great experience and the options for customising the interface are wide ranging. There is an incredible amount of attention to detail when it comes to the user experience in Reeder and that’s an outlook that always endears me to applications. One of the reasons I don’t use the stock Mail app in macOS is the appearance. It’s very bleak and monochrome and as soon as I open the app, I can’t wait to close it again (although some may say that with an email application, that’s a plus point!). Instead here, the developers really want you to enjoy the reading experience, which is why there is such a slew of configurable options, such as changing the fonts, background colours, line heights - it’s an important touch, often missed. 

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Shortcuts and Gestures

I mentioned earlier that I the use of Keyboard Shortcuts is an important reason for my continued use of Reeder and that is certainly true. Pressing ⌘B to send an article to Buffer, ⌘R to offload to my Reading List, A to Mark All Articles As Read are great - however you have the ability to configure gestures for swiping between articles and subscriptions too. It is incredibly easy to navigate your way through hundreds of articles like a boss and still have time to work on your major tasks for the day - something that is, of course, very important to me. 

I love applications that are designed to make it quicker and easier to achieve my goals. Keeping abreast of the latest news, as well as picking up productivity tips for my self-improvement are a key part of that and Reeder fulfils this function, which is why it is a crucial part of my workflow and will be with me as long as RSS reading remains a ‘thing’.

How I Use: Day One to Track My Goals

On my recent live session recording for LearnOmniFocus, I happened to mention that I track my goals within the journaling application Day One. The response was reasonably overwhelming - lots of questions as to how I do it!

The truth is, there isn’t anything really scientific, or technically mind-blowing to it. It’s just a case of having a journal where I log my goals and progress towards them. It’s worthwhile discussing how I do this though - as well as why. 

Let’s talk about the why.  Why do I use Day One rather than any other tool? I guess it comes down to association really. I see a journal being the ideal location for storing important information about my life as a whole and goals are a core part of that. That may not be the same for the vast majority of people reading this, however productivity and personal development is exactly that - personal - so this fits for me. 

The how is every bit as simple as the why. Firstly, I set aside a separate journal that is dedicated completed to my goals. That means that I now have three journals in play - Home and FamilyBusiness as well as Goals. There’s a little bit of cross-pollination there as I have both Home and Family, as well as Business goals stored in the Goals journal, however the simplicity of having all goals in one easy to reach location works for me. 

I don’t have any kind of hard and fast rules that govern how I set my goals. It’s more of a loose framework that develop and adapt as the need arises. There are some patterns in play though and the main ones are as follows:

- Goals are split into Areas Of Focus

I’ve separated my life out into some key focus areas and these are represented in both OmniFocus (my ToDo list application of choice) and Day One. Projects and Goals are assigned to each of these. Obviously my Areas Of Focus will be different to yours, however if you are interested, mine are:

  • Me, Myself and I (Personal)
    • Hubster (Spouse)
    • Dadster (Father)
    • Chèz Garrett (Household)
    • Soliam.Biz (My Business)
    • MyProductiveMac (My Website/Blog)
    • Think Productive (Coaching)
    • Brain Gain (Personal Development)

- Areas Of Focus Are Assigned Goals

I personally like to set quarterly goals, and set milestones for these on either a monthly or weekly basis as required. Is there a minimum/maximum number of goals that I will set? The answer is No and there is a very good reason for this. In his book, Living Forward, Michael Hyatt writes about our Areas of Focus having an Account Balance, much like our financial bank accounts. I may be in credit with my Brain Gain Area of Focus, having spent lots of time in the last quarter reading books, studying software and perfecting the use of apps, whereas my focus may have slipped from Chèz Garrett, leaving lots of tasks needing to be completed around the house and a negative balance in that account. So as part of my review process, I assess how much credit I have in each area of focus and schedule my goals accordingly. 

- Goals are broken down into milestones

This may well be the Project Manager side of me coming to the fore, however I find it very difficult to focus on a goal without setting milestones. In the project management world, a milestone is a key event or deliverable that is committed to as part of the project and can act as a measurement for the progress of the project. I will typically break my goals into manageable chunks of work. This is a great practice, as it allows me to make sensible decisions as to how long I should allow the project to run. 

I could set myself a quarterly goal called Write a new children’s book, yet when I break it down into the key milestones (research, drafting the chapters, finding a publisher, editing, final proofing, marketing etc - I’m no author by the way!), it may be that this would be better suited as an annual goal, with milestones set per quarter, or month

- Goal progress is updated weekly in Day One

As part of my weekly review, I update the progress (or lack of) for each of my goals in the journal. This allows me to course correct, if needed and schedule more focused blocks of time for a particular goal if I’m falling behind. If I’m well ahead on a certain target, I can allow less time in the coming week(s) and focus on a different goal that may have been neglected. It’s a system that works for me. 

Drafting Goals

Another reason for using Day One as a goal journal is the ease of putting in check marks for goals. Visually, Day One is stunning and I need to look at something that’s aesthetically pleasing and allows me to see, at a glance, how I’m doing. 

The format of the draft is simple. You’ll see below a Before and After shot of a sample goal. Each AOF has a master entry and the goal’s title will include the time period it has set aside for it - in the case below, it is a goal for the first quarter of 2018. I have this set in bold face. 

Below, you will see the milestones and you can create checkboxes by typing a hyphen and two square brackets, all with a space between each. If the task is complete, then there will be a X between the square brackets. Clicking Done in the top right-hand corner will show you how it looks when formatted. The check boxes are clickable here, which I think looks great. 

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Each week, I will update with notes commenting on progress and quite often, I’ll find that I have ideas on how to improve progress with the goal, just by writing in Day One. 

You'll also see that there is a weekly goal, or milestone that is still to be confirmed. That's fine because there will be times when you can't spell out every stage of a project, or goal, at the outset. As the project matures, you'll have a clearer indication as to what steps need to be taken to reach your goal - it can be very much an adaptive process. 

Well - that’s it! As I say, it’s simple, it’s rudimentary yet often the most effective systems are exactly that and this is certainly an effective system for me. It’s working well so far and I have no plans to change. Maybe some ideas here for you too.

How To: Use your iOS Keyboard Like A Boss - 10 Tips

For iOS owners out there, the keyboard is possibly the function that is used the most. It’s central to the vast majority of applications that we use. Whilst dictation is improving rapidly, we’re not at the stage yet, either functionally or socially, where it’s use outweighs the humble keyboard - so it’s a good idea to make sure we’re using it as efficiently as possible. 

Below are some quick tips that you can use to level up your keyboard skills:

1 - Long Press Keys for More Characters - by default, the currency icon on display in the UK is the £ symbol. If you tap and hold on this, you’ll see a list of others you can quickly access. There are other keys that this works with too. Typing a word that needs an acute accent on an e? Tap and hold on the e and you’ll see the é you need.

2 - Reveal the Cursor - if you have a 3D Touch enabled phone, this is a doozy. Force touch on the keyboard and you’ll see a cursor appear - use your finger as a trackpad to move the cursor and perform the edits you need quickly and efficiently.

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If you have an iPad, a similar effect can be had by swiping with two fingers when the keyboard is open to move the cursor. 

3 - Caps Lock - there is no Caps Lock button on iOS, however, a double tap of the Shift key will activate it. You do need to enable the function by toggling the Caps Lock setting in Settings -> General -> Keyboard

Another good tip here is that rather than tap Shift, press the key you want to capitalise and tap again, you can tap on the shift key and drag your finger across to the letter. When you release you can carry on typing and this saves some time. 

4 - Quick Numbers/Punctuation - in a similar vein to the above, you can save time when typing numbers and punctuation. If you just need a single number or punctuation symbol, tap on the 123 button and hold, dragging across to the desired key. When you release, the keyboard will be back to the default letters layout and you can continue unabated. I use this a lot. 

5 - Double Tap Space For Full Stop/Period - so simple it annoys me that this lay undiscovered for me for so long. A quick double tap of the space bar will show a full stop/period and save lots of time when carrying out longer form writing. 

6 - Fast Domain - when composing mail in the native Mail application (and Airmail I’ve recently found), if you are entering a recipient address and you long tap the full stop/period button, you will be presented with a list of common email suffixes.

7 - Text Replacement - whilst I am a keen user of TextExpander from Smile Software, you don’t HAVE to use it. There is a built-in Text Replacement service in iOS. Go to Settings -> General -> Text Replacement and enter some abbreviations for frequently typed expressions and you will improve our keyboard game.

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8 - Shake To Undo - spent a while typing strings of text, only to accidentally delete it? A light shake of your phone will give you the option of undoing the last action you applied to your text entries. 

9 - Look Up Definitions - rather than use a third party dictionary application, you can long press on a word and choose the Look Up option.

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10 - Enable Dictation - ok it's not perfect, however,  I find myself dictating far more often now with greater accuracy than ever before. It's especially good for quick-fire text messages.