I keep trying to simplify my life. This month in fact I’m disposing of books, DVDs, stuff and clutter, cleaning up my blogs, ditching old projects, saying No to new projects unless I really, really want or need to do them. I’m cleaning out cupboards at home sorting out the garden, and generally streamlining and achieving focus.
Helping me in all these endeavours is OmniFocus, now out of beta and available as version 1. I started using it months ago as a beta tester and have watched as it’s grown and matured into a fine product.
A couple of years ago I worked with Maria Langer to write WordPress 2 Visual Quickstart Guide. Maria and I share enthusiasm and respect for a number of fine products: WordPress, obviously, and Macintosh computers are high on the list. Maria loves flying helicopters and I enjoy riding in them.
But sometimes our opinions are poles apart — OmniFocus is a good example:
OmniFocus simply isn’t the solution I’m looking for. It isn’t intuitive enough to be a good productivity tool for me.
I only wish I could get back the two to three days I spent trying to make it help me get things done.
[Via : An Eclectic Mind. Read Maria’s post and the subsequent comments to get some interesting views on OmniFocus. My differing views follow here.]
The features I find most useful in OmniFocus (OF) are the Quick Entry, the alerts and the various views I can choose.
The first step of the Getting Things Done approach is a bit tedious and time-consuming: brain dump, but OF makes it as easy as possible. Step 1: switch to Planning mode, click on the InBox, add a new action and type the first thing that comes to mind that you need to remember to do. Press Return to create a new Action. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’ve emptied all tasks from your brain into OF.
Whew! you’ve now captured a list of everything you need to do. As time passes and you suddenly recall more tasks — perhaps while reading an email or surfing the web — type Control Option Space (user configurable) to call up the Quick Entry panel. Jot down the task and click Save to store it in the OF InBox.
Group tasks into Projects
I guess you could stop there and just mark things off once you’ve done them, but you could as easily keep that kind of list with a plain text document, so OF gives you tools now to help you work efficiently.
One thing I like to do is group Tasks into Projects: buy cat food and bathe the dogs both come under a Pet Care project, while deposit royalty cheque and write Article 3 in a series fit under Business, for example.
Projects may need tasks done in sequence, eg write Article 3 before Article 4, or they may be in any order, such as my Pet Care tasks above.
I have about 4 or 5 major work projects on the go right now so I can easily find all the Tasks that belong to Project A, and see what I’ve done, what I need to do next, and what’s waiting for someone else’s input. When I ‘tick off’ a Task I can also optionally make it invisible, making it easier to focus on what still needs to be done.
The more information you add to a task the more useful it can be, but you can add as much or as little as you like.
Group tasks other ways
If you add lots of information to tasks you can optionally group tasks and view them in all kinds of ways. Have 30 minutes free? View tasks that take 30 minutes or less to complete. Going out to the shops? Find tasks you can do while you’re out and about.
Gorgeous date features
One of the really, really cool things about applications from the OmniGroup is that they use relative dates. Enter ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next Friday’ into a date field and OF converts it to an actual date. This is unbelievably useful and friendly.
Plus, enter a Task and tab to the next field. Start typing. OF guesses what you may be about to type and offers sensible suggestions that are then easy to choose. Or use the easy keystroke to enter a new choice. Talk about quick and efficient!
Switch to the Context mode, ensure the View Bar is visible and group items by Due Date, using a button a lot like the Filters doohickey in MS Excel. You now have a (potentially guilt inducing) list of tasks sorted and grouped into ‘Due last Week’, ‘Due Today’, ‘Due Next Week’ and so on.
That ‘Due last Week’ item certainly made me fix the problem my partner was having on her Mac where a website wouldn’t display properly (emptying the cache fixed it).
A million views
If you like, and if you’ve added the detail, there are seemingly endless ways to view what you need to do. The trick of course, is to add just the right amount of information. Add too much information, exploit too many views and you’ll play with the system all day and never achieve any tasks. Add too little, and you might as well just keep a plain text list of tasks.
One last feature
OF has loads of features. After that initial brain dump you can watch the tutorial videos, read the manual, check the forums and so on for ways to use the software better, but there’s one more feature I want to mention here. The only thing is I’m not sure if it’s built-in or not.
I use Growl, a system wide notification system. When I open the lid on my MacBook Pro each morning a bunch of alerts show up telling me what Tasks are due today, darn it!
Ease of use, simplicity, available sophistication, effectiveness, efficiency — they are all winners for me with OmniFocus.