Day 3 of Decluttering Omnifocus – and a snag

So, previously I’ve faced up to how by the end of 2014 my OmniFocus To Do database was in a right state. And I’ve been doing something about it. By now I should have my shiny 2015 database up and running – but I don’t.

I also don’t have my messy old 2014 one. I have something from in between 2014 and 2015.

It’s because a) I went through the old one ticking off what I’d done and what I was going to delete and 2) I ran out of time because of deadlines. For the last couple of days I’ve been working from the old database but with its shiny new polish. And it’s been working really well.

Even just doing this much, I am feeling on top of things again. Which, as I’ve said before, is the real benefit of OmniFocus. Above feature set and specifications, if it can make you feel this good about what you’re doing and what plates you’re spinning, I’m happy.

But I must just move it on to a new set of 2015 folders. I must. I will.

Starting over with OmniFocus and Evernote

I think this is digital decluttering. And like all decluttering, I already know which of it I’m going to put off. My Evernote is a steaming mess of about 4,000 notes with 800 of them in the inbox and if it weren’t for the software’s very good search feature, I’d be regularly sunk. But it does have good search, I am not sunk, it can wait another day.

Whereas I’m starting over with OmniFocus.

This is my rather beloved to do app and I put my ability to cope with lots of projects entirely down to this software. But one big new project came in December and is hopefully continuing for a long time. I have two meetings this month that should lead to one enormous project and one gigantically enormous series of projects. Can’t wait.

Plus one big change at the end of 2014 meant a thing I do that has been albatross-shaped is pretty much entirely gone. I’ve walked away from a thing and am feeling so good about it that I think might even start to enjoy saying no.


One bad project gone, one new one in, two new ones looming and most things churning over, it is time to apply that ability to say no. Time to review everything and chuck out what I don’t want to do, what I am not going to get to.

And the reason to do it is not that I’m some kind of OCD-based guy who needs everything in its place. I refer you to the steaming mess of Evernote above. The reason is that lately there has been so much in OmniFocus – I have added so much – that I’ve stopped checking it. You shouldn’t have your head in OmniFocus all day but you really should look at it from time to time. A very sensible thing to do is look at it first thing in the morning, for instance, and that’s where I go wrong.

When you have a lot on and some of it is pressing at you terribly, you go straight to the keys and you start working on that. If checking OmniFocus were a quick thing, as it is built to be, as it is intended to be, then two minutes checking that while I boil the kettle will help my day astonishingly.

I’ve been looking through my OmniFocus now and can tell you that I have 2,513 things to do and they’re arranged in 88 projects. It could be worse: while I was looking, I ticked off something like 30 tasks that I’ve actually done and just not got around to noting.

Take a look at these 88 projects, though:

That is a mind map I did over Christmas: it’s a visual representation of everything I was working on at the end of 2014 and my only hope is that the image is too small for you to see the details. What I want you to see is how steamingly messy it all is. And I want you to see it so that you are hopefully nodding when you see this next shot, which is how I’m doing the projects for 2015:

Is that better? It’s certainly duller with all those colours reduced to just a couple. But I did this in an app called MindNode, which I do recommend a lot, and it chooses the colours. Add a new thing, it gives you a new colour. So that overall purpleness is not a choice, it is a consequence of my collapsing things into fewer categories, fewer projects.

Next job: translate that mindmap into OmniFocus folders and projects. Back in a bit.

That was 2014… all of it

And it’s already weird typing ‘2014’, it feels so long ago. Not that it feels like 2015 to me yet. Not sure when it is, then. Not sure when I am. But as part of an annual tradition that I’ve just revived, this week’s Self Distract personal blog is an expanded version of my That Was… entries that I do here.

Each month I write out for you what I’ve done. As I keep saying, you don’t need to read it but I clearly and visibly need to write it because it is one huge element of making me do things. If I don’t do anything, I’ve got nothing to tell you and how dare I tell you to be more productive.

The full year’s review is over on Self Distract in quite arse-tinglingly long detail but because I do the monthly version here, let me summarise my 2014 for you:

Writing: approximately 620,000 words
Books: 2 written, 1 editing
Speaking engagements: 88
Produced Events: 9
Scripts: 1 Doctor Who radio drama, 1 stage short, 1 education script
Fiction: 7 short stories, 2 poems, 2 revised novels and 10,000 words of 1 new novel
Blogs: 1, 294
Attended: 79 shows, launches, workshops or other events
Journalism: 45 written pieces and 3 magazine issues edited


That was December 2014

It still is, as I write this. But I’ve been doing this accountability/atonement thing monthly for the year – after having accidentally done it for someone else the year before, as you do – and there’s that word year. I’ve used it three times now. It’s on my mind. Every month I wince and tell you what I’ve managed to do (though you’ll notice I never tell you in advance what I’m planning)(I’m not that stupid). So it feels beholden to do the year’s one.

Fortunately, I can’t do that until I’ve worked out December’s doings.

Unfortunately, December’s doings were a bit light. But here goes:

Writing: approximately 31,100 words
21 articles for (circa 11,000 words)
4x Radio Times reviews (400 words)
1x editorial for Write On! magazine (500 words)
Soundscapes script (2,000 words)
1x poem ‘Heart’ (100 words)
3x Self Distract blogs (1,200 words)
55x The Blank Screen news articles (15,600 words)

Ran Burton Young Writers’ Session
Ran Birmingham Young Writers’ Session
Ran Reaside Clinic writing session
Edited Write On! magazine issue 5
Wrote Writers’ Guild press release re Library of Birmingham cuts
Interviewed on Russia Today
Guest at British Film Institute’s Blake’s 7 evening

There’s a colour of the year

I didn’t know this and I don’t know what the colour for 2014 was – I’m sure there’s a joke here but I can’t find it – but the colour for 2015 is…


Introducing Marsala – Pantone website (16 December 2014)

Of course, you’ll know it better as Pantone 18-1438.

Here it is adorning the Pantone website:

And because I know you’re looking at me like that, the answer is that 2014’s colour was Radiant Orchid.

Nod of the hat to The Loop for knowing these things.

That was November 2014

It’s taking me longer and longer to do these, even though the fact that I tell you I’ll do them is a big driver to making me, well, do things. So thank you for that. Your work here is done and you needn’t read on nor nip back to That Was October 2014.

But committing to telling you this really helps me. Give it a go yourself, okay?

Writing approximately 60,310 words:
The Blank Screen Guide: Blogging book (approximately 15,000 words)
Writers’ Guild West Midlands email newsletter 821 words
4 x The Blank Screen email newsletter (6,776 words)
2x Ava and Soundscapes draft script (approx 6,000 words total)
97x The Blank Screen news articles (25,265 words)
4x Self Distract blog posts (6,415 words)
3x Radio Times reviews (approximately 300 words)

Seven Minute Stories – performed The Book Groups to 80 people
Lead Burton Young Writers’ group
Lead Rugby Young Writers’ group
Guest at Polesworth Young Writers’ group
The Blank Screen workshop for Room 204
The Writers’ Toolkit: produced one panel, spoke on a second, chaired a third
3x coaching and mentoring sessions
4x Ormiston Academy scriptwriting workshops
Speaking engagement at Fircroft College

Pitches and bookings:
Got Arts Council England funding for project
Workshop one-off proposal (pending)
Workshop series proposal (successful)
College workshop proposal (abandoned)
University talk commission
Scripts: The Lift and Mags pitched to director
Theatre series proposal (to meeting stage)
The Writers’ Bursary application

(First time I’ve hired people)
2x workshop leaders
1x actor

Royal Television Society committee meeting
Dangerous Corner at the Birmingham Rep
Soundscapes meeting
Next Generation Poets
Writers’ Guild Executive Council meeting
Roz Goddard coffee

Coached by Rivka Fine
Arranged Beiderbecke meeting work

My favourite iPhone and iPad app…

…is really two separate apps in that you have to buy them separately. And in that one came out in this latest, great version late last year while the other was only a few weeks ago. But it’s already become so indispensable that I had to check the release date twice before I’d believe it was that recent.

The 2014 release was for the iPad. The 2013 one was for iPhone. There was also a 2014 one for the Mac. Are you getting it yet?

That’s OmniFocus 2 for iPad there. If I could pick only one app for the year, this would be it. If you can only afford to buy one version of OmniFocus, it’s the iPad one you should get. Both decisions are easy: it’s that good.

But for the overall best-app-ever experience, I do of course recommend you get all three editions. I used to say that this To Do manager was so good, was so important to my business and frankly my life now that I would cheerily, readily pay the cost price of all three over again. I don’t say that so much now – because I did do. The Omni Group brought out new editions of the Mac, iPhone and iPad OmniFocus and I bought the lot on the day they were released.

And I will again whenever they do OmniFocus 3.

Go take a look on the official site where you can also get the Mac version. Then head to the iOS App Store for the separate iPhone and iPad ones. Also to the Mac App

The 2nd best iPhone and iPad app of the year – as chosen by me

I’ve been thinking about this all evening and especially since Apple announced its pick for the best apps of the year for iPad and iPhone. Apple went for Pixelmator on the iPad, which I like very much and regularly use in the production of this very site, and Elevate or Replay Video Editor (depending on whether you’re in the USA or UK) for the iPhone. And I’d not heard of that.

I think my pick beats all of them. And so does my second-place pick. Okay, I couldn’t get it down to just naming one app, I have to tell you about two, but they are both gorgeous things of beauty that are transformative in my work. The first-place winner, for me, in a mo, but now, an extremely close second place spot goes to… Drafts 4 for iPhone and iPad. Easy. It’s an apparently simple note app where you just fire it up with a tap, write anything you fancy and forget it – or send it off as email. Or a text. Or an OmniFocus task. Or an Evernote note. Or all of the above. And more.

The speed of opening and getting going with your writing is a big deal. It makes Drafts 4 far faster at entering Evernote notes than Evernote itself is. Far. I’ve reached for Drafts 4 in the middle of the night when I’ve had a dreamy idea and I’ve come back to it the next day to send on to email, Evernote – or the trash. Depending.

Drafts 4 also transformed how The Blank Screen site is written. When I’m just pointing you at an interesting article someone else has written, I can go to that, highlight a choice quote and tap a button. Drafts 4 takes in that quote, turns it into an inset block quote, appends the citation including correct link back to the main article and writes me a basic paragraph referring people to that original. One tap instead of back-and-forth to the site several times. I love it for that alone.

But please imagine you’ve just written a bit of an old note. Written it and then tapped one button. This is what you see on iPhone:


There are ten options right there for what to do with your text and I only created two of them. But I could create two, it is possible to create your own. So the top one appends a note to a journal I keep in Evernote and the second one posts the Drafts text straight to this website. Write, tap, publish, gone.

It’s so good I could’ve made this my favourite app of the year and probably should have done because it came out in this version in 2014 whereas my real best-app-ever pick is one whose iPhone version was last released late 2013. Still, it’s best-app-ever and its iPad one was September this year. Come on. That’s up next.


The iPhone App(s) of the Year – as chosen by Apple

Spot the difference:


On the left, Apple’s iPhone App of the Year – Elevate. On the right, Apple’s iPhone App of the Year – Replay Video Editor. The difference is that I took the screen grab on the left on my iPhone while logged in to my USA iTunes account and the other while back on my UK one.

Interestingly, both Elevate and Refresh are available in the two stores. I just don’t know anything about them because I’d not even heard of either until twenty minutes ago. This is another thing that makes me wonder if they are really the best app(s) but then that is being a bit parochial of me. Maybe I’m just looking for my favourite apps of the year and these aren’t them.

If you fancy the brain training utility Elevate – seriously, I don’t know anything about how it elevates your brain, you’re on your own there – or Replay then you’ve just read over the links.

The iPad App of the year – as chosen by Apple


Pixelmater, an image editor, and Monument Valley. That’s actually the app of the year and the game of the year. But notice what they have in common? Both have buttons mark Open. That means I already have both of them on my iPad.

Appropriately, it was Pixelmater I used to crop that screenshot. So I do definitely agree that it’s a good choice – and I adored Monument Valley despite being far less of a gamer than you.

I’m just not sure it’s the best. I’ll have a ponder about that – and a check through my purchased items list – but in the meantime, go take a look at Pixelmater or Monument Valley plus the rest of the top recommended apps for iPad.