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

review1.png

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. 


review5.png


review2.png
Screenshot 2018-10-08 at 10.04.32.png

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. 

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 

kanban1.png

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. 

kanban2_.png

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. 

kanban3.png

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.

kanban4_.png

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:

script1.png

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. 

script2.png

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

script3.png

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

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.

backp1.png

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: Show/Hide Calendars in Forecast with OmniFocus

The Forecast perspective in OmniFocus is a great way to look at upcoming calendar events at the same time is assessing how far you are progressing with your projects. As well as offering a view of your current and upcoming workload, it’s interactive in that you can drag/drop actions from one due date to another with ease. I will quite often review the Forecast perspective and see that in a few days time, there are several tasks due. A quick mental assessment of my priorities allows me to assign a new date efficiently. 

To allow this to happen, OmniFocus needs access to your Calendars. 

When you first load the application on either macOS or iOSOmniFocus will request permission to access your calendar. If you are like me, you may well have rejected this request until you knew exactly why access was required. If that’s the case, then follow the instructions below:

macOS

Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Calendars. Click the lock to make changes and check the box next to OmniFocus

iOS

Go to Settings > Privacy > Calendars

By default, any calendars that are configured on your iOS device are included in the Forecast View. In the main, this could be OK, however, if you have stuff like Facebook Calendars showing ‘friends’ birthdays and the like, you may not want these on show! Hiding calendars is an easy process.

Mac

  • Go to Forecast View
  • Click on the Eyeball (View Options)
  • You’ll see all of the Calendars that are currently selected. Deselect the ones you wish to hide. 

iPhone

  • Go to Forecast View
  • Swipe down and select View
  • Tap on Calendars
  • Untick the Calendars that you don’t want displayed in your Forecast View

iPad

  • Go to Forecast View
  • Click on the Eyeball (View Options)
  • Tap on Calendars
  • Untick the Calendars that you don’t want displayed in your Forecast View

It’s quick and simple, however I’ve spoken with people who think all calendars have to be on by default, and it isn’t the case.