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


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. 

Journaling is Boss Mode Thinking

Those of you who are familiar with the work we do at Think Productive will be familiar with the concept of Boss Mode thinking. This is the time when you sit back, you review your current projects and commitments as well as make decisions on where your priorities should be. This frees up the time for your Worker Mode self to crack on with the work at hand, safe in the knowledge that you are doing what you should be doing, when you should be doing it. 

On a personal note, I’ve expanded this concept a little and viewers of my Learn OmniFocus live session with Tim Stringer will already be familiar with this. I allocate time-blocks during the day where I solely concentrate on Boss Mode thinking.

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If It's Not a Hell Yes, It's a Hell No

If It’s Not a Hell Yes, It’s a Hell No

With Christmas now a passing memory, I’m hoping that my wallet can recover from the open heart surgery it experienced towards the end of last year. It’s certainly an expensive time when you have a young family - although the rewards trump the cost by a significant factor. 

I’ve found that when I spend money on others, a net result of this is a change in attitude regarding how I spend money on myself. There’s only a finite pool of cash that I can spend, so at times when my loved ones are the focus of my expenditure, I have to be ruthless when it comes to spending on myself. In fact, I’ve learned to adopt a strict strategy when it comes to buying something I like. I ask myself a simple question. 

“Do I 100% want/need this? Is it a Hell Yes?”

If it’s a Yes, then I’ll make the purchase. I trust my thought process enough to answer honestly. More often than not, however, the answer is No (In fact I’d say that 95% of the time, it’s a No!). 

I love this way of managing my purchases. It means I have to be ruthless with the money resources I have available and it allows me to make the best use of them that I can. 

So - why is a productivity guy talking about money management? Well, I quickly realised that this approach doesn’t have to be used solely for my finances. There is another resource that needs closely monitoring to make sure it’s utilized effectively and that’s my calendar

If I spend a little too much money in a month, then by hook or by crook, I can find ways of replenishing the pot - whether it’s by working extra hours, selling household items that are no longer needed - the bottom line is, there is a way of redressing the balance. Can I do this with my calendar? No chance! When the time is gone, it’s not coming back. This means that I need to be every bit as protective of my calendar as I would my bank account. 

This allows me to adopt the Productivity NInja characteristic of Ruthlessness when looking at Projects I have available and requests for my time. I ask myself a simple question. 

“Do I 100% want/need to do this? Is it a Hell Yes?”

If the answer is yes, it goes into Omnifocus as an Active Project and I schedule the necessary time in my calendar to work on the next actions for it. The same approach goes for meeting requests - If I’m 100% required to be at the meeting, then I attend happily. Otherwise, I make a point of requesting the meeting minutes as soon as it’s complete and picking up any relevant actions (which as I’m not at the meeting, is an infrequent occurrence - double win!). 

There are so many demands being placed on us within this Information Age that we live in. We’re all connected, our brains are being overwhelmed with the stuff of life and we need to adopt a ruthless approach if we are going to protect the resources that are dear to us. We don’t give people open access to our wallets - we shouldn’t do the same with our attention.

Protect your attention. Be Ruthless. 

When you create your magic and perform superbly at the office and home, everyone will thank you for it.

The Importance of Thinking Time

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful business magnates and philanthropists in history. He has accumulated a net worth in excess of $75 billion, yet unlike his peers, the majority of that time wasn’t spent working in the conventional sense. 

No - Mr Buffett estimates that he has spent 80% of his time thinking

Crazy, right? Almost counter-intuitive you would think. You don’t see other pioneers such as Elon Musk or Tim Cook following the same pattern. But no, there is a lot of method behind this apparent madness. 

When do you find yourself having your best ideas? Is it when you are focusing on a task? Having a conversation? Running to a tight deadline that you aren’t going to meet? What about in your downtime, do you find inspiration for how to progress the project you are currently struggling with by watching Netflix or your favourite sports team?

I’m guessing that for the majority of you, the answer is No to all of the above. 

That’s not to say that the above actions aren’t important. Far from it, if we are going to be successful and happy, there are times when we need to focus on deep work or chill by watching something we truly enjoy. That’s fine - however, there needs to be time set aside in our week for true thinking. This is the brains opportunity to process. It has room to breathe because it doesn’t need to concentrate on anything else. 

How often do you find yourself having a great idea whilst taking a shower? I know I have and it’s because my brain isn’t concentrating on anything other than getting clean! Well, I can do that pretty much without thinking, so my brain then decides to wake up and remind me of things I have upcoming that I may have otherwise forgotten. If I have a worry, then I can process it, massage it, query it further until I’m in a position to take action, or at least write these thoughts down when I emerge, sopping wet!

When I go for my daily walks, the practice used to be that for every walk I took, I would listen to some form of motivational podcast each time. That’s now changed. I alternate between listening to podcasts and just - being. Walking around the neighbourhood, looking at the sights and just taking in what is around me is a great way to decompress. Invariably, when I take this walk now I have ideas coming into my head that I can capture quickly through Siri on my iPhone. I use this time to process problems I’m having. 

A brain is a tool of creative brilliance. It’s not designed to hold lots of facts and figures, it’s certainly not wired for multitasking in any way, yet when it’s free of distraction and isn’t processing tasks, it’s capable of some amazing things. 

I could give you loads of tips and tricks on how to ensure you have the best thinking time possible but that’s not the point of this post. I like things clean and simple and to give you the chance to develop your own ideas. There’s the opportunity for me to over-complicate this premise so I’m just going to give one tip - the master tip for ensuring you have time to think. 

Schedule Your Thinking Time

That’s it, nothing else. Make sure you know when you’re going to take the opportunity to down tools, take a break and just - think. Just - be

It doesn’t have to be long at first. After all, a good idea can be had in seconds. Imagine what you could do with just ten minutes of peaceful, distraction-free time to yourself. You could solve a problem, work out the next action or have a moment of inspiration that takes your whole life forward. The important thing is to have trust in the fact that this thinking time is going to take place. Then, when you are focusing on a complex task, or just relaxing and switching off completely, you can rest in the knowledge that you will have time to sit back and think. 

Maybe, after reading this, use your first block of scheduled thinking time to look at how you may be able to manipulate your environment, or your calendar to sustain this new habit. Where will you go? Do you need quiet music in the background? Will your best ideas come from walking or exercising as the blood flows freely to and from the brain? 

Be intentional with your thinking and you could go on to great things. 

I’ll finish with one of my favourite ever quotes from Abraham Lincoln:

Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend four hours sharpening the axe

Think about it.

Do One Thing Everyday That Terrifies You

"Do one thing every day that scares you". That is a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt and it's as relevant today as ever. 

Comfort zones can be dangerous. Naturally, we can argue that a lower level of stress and risk in our lives is a good thing. However, it's important for us to step out of these zones occasionally and push ourselves in areas and directions that we may have previously deemed impossible. 

We're all scared of different things and fear can come in various forms. Myself, I can say that I am not a fan of confrontation. Social situations can bring on a sweat from time to time and I don't even want to talk about my feelings towards snakes. Some people shy away from public speaking, being alone, spiders, Donald Trump, the Internet, mortality - it's a never ending list. Yet these fears control us and if we don't have control over our feelings and emotions, we restrict our ability to take charge of that particular situation. I don't know about you, but I hate giving up control!

Fear can also prevent us from reaching our full potential. Human beings have an amazing 'fight or flight' mentality which comes into play when we perceive any threat to ourselves and it's this physiological reaction that stops us from stepping out of that comfort zone and taking any risks. If we don't take the risks, we will continue to tread the same path that we have been walking all our lives. For some of us, that's fine, yet for those who wish to grow into something more, this is where the comfort zone is dangerous. 

There are a whole host of things you can look at doing, every day, to help you grow and assume control. 

Talk to a Stranger

This is one I try to do daily now, so much so that it no longer holds any fear for me. It could be the person I sit next to on the commute, maybe the barista serving me at Starbucks. It doesn't matter who, but think of the maxim "A stranger is a friend you haven't made yet" and you'll realise that 99% of us out there are decent, warm human beings who love it when strangers say "Hello" in passing. 

This action can also help boost your confidence and self-esteem.

Disconnect From Your Phone

Guess what? You know how important and crucial to everything you think you are? Well, you're NOT. Next time you're away from the office, spending time with your family, just switch your phone off. Maybe even for an hour at first. You'll realise that no matter how scary this is, the world will still be turning when you switch it back on and you will have spent some quality time with the people that matter most to you, rather than just waiting for the 'ding' notification. 

Ask For Help

This has always been a tricky one for me but I'm getting there. I hate asking for help, having always seen it as a sign of weakness. Far from it - I now know it's a mark of true strength to know that in order to get to where I where I want to be, I'm going to need some help. I ask for help on certain projects daily and I know I'm in a far better position for it. 

Eat Something New

I find myself saying this to my kids so often. "Go on, you'll never know you like it until you try it". It's true though. Yes, they don't always take to the new food they are trying and may even go to spit it out at times, but each time they try, they step outside of their comfort zone and try a little. 

I'm not trying broccoli though. Ewwww. 

Say Sorry

Tough one for so many people, but being the bigger person and apologising when the situation merits it helps you grow. The scariest bit has been completed before we open our mouths - that's acknowledging the fact we are in the wrong. The rest should then be plain sailing. In fact, people's perception of us will largely increase because of our perceived humility. 

Change Your Hairstyle

I can put this one down safely because, given the rate my hair is going, I could do with a change! Do something radical, make a change, maybe even ask your hairdresser to recommend a style and just go with that. The results will surprise you and may even yield a lesson in having faith and letting go. 

Tell Someone How You Feel About Them

So what's the worse that can happen? You are positive, you tell that girl you've been mooning over for years that she makes your kettle boil and she runs away as fast as her legs can carry her. Well now you know, it won't be in your head anymore, interrupting your thought processes. You never know, she may feel the same way and boom! Life is good. Don't ask, don't know. 

Conversely, it can be a conversation of a negative nature. The confrontation you have been dreading. Well, until it's out there, it's in your head and you are picking away at it like a loose thread on a cushion. This is a horrible situation to be in and does nobody any good. The sooner the conversation is done, the sooner you can work on remedying the situation. 

Jump Out Of A Plane

Yeah, I hear you, this isn't exactly something you can do every day. What a marker to lay down though, at some point in the future, wouldn't you agree? The idea of jumping out of a plane terrifies me. All I have to do is look over the side from the top of a tall building and my legs start to feel numb as that cold shiver travels down my spine. In truth, I'd rather sit in the corner of a dark room bouncing bricks off of my head whilst waiting for Windows to update on a laptop I'm relying on for work. 

I'm going to do it though. Mainly because I'm an obstinate so and so who refuses to let this fear get the better of me. 

I know that if I can do this, I can do almost anything - and when I'm planning on cutting the cord on contract life and moving solely into freelance coaching and writing, that's an important thing to be sure of.