Productivity porn

Sometimes I am such a man. Wait, not like that: I mean productivity porn in the way one means property porn, a shall-we-say overt interest in a video for things other than its artistic value. But I will watch videos of how to use software. I will watch YouTube videos reviewing hardware or software that I’m considering – even though every single video by every single body begins “Wassup, guys?” and I want to slit someone’s wrists.

But this is such a new low that I had to share it with you. I was looking up a thing on YouTube, it was for work, honest, and I found a video called Inbox Processing with David Allen.

Now, David Allen is a clever bloke. He wrote Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition), the book that has become a cult called GTD and which I promise you is so smart that it has helped me and I credit him a lot on my own book, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition). My problem with Allen is that I feel he’s more a corporate guy than a writer, a creator. His book could flow a bit better, if you see what I mean.

He is, though, definitely clever and I thought this was a video about how he handles the eleventy-billion emails he must get every day. That was worth a look. I’ve just been away and come back to a full inbox which took me some hours to get back down to nothing and right now I’ll take any advice to get that done faster or avoid needing to do it at all.

This is not that story.

This is the story of how David Allen, GTD guru organises his actual, physical inbox. The metal inbox on his desk. He puts things in and he takes things out.

Now watch how that is padded out to 5’44”.

Getting Things Done – book (half) recommendation

It’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read yet I can see, I can clearly see, how so many of the things I do to stay productive either came from this book or were confirmed for me, were oddly validated.

Getting Things Done (UK edition, US edition) is a self-help book by David Allen. The strange things first: it was written in 2001 and you will be amazed how long ago that seems. (Example: Allen talks a lot about how, for instance, you obviously can’t access the internet unless you’re in your office. It’s practically Victorian.) Also, it feels as if Allen is focusing on office workers and people who may do fantastic things but aren’t the kind of messy-minded creatives that writers are.

So I remember reading this and rather translating it on the fly. The very last thing he says is that you should wait three months and then re-read the book. He promises it will seem like a completely different thing. I did that. It did. The second time through, it was rubbish.

But the ideas. Next Action comes from David Allen: the idea that you can break down a mountain of a job by listing just what the one very next thing you can or you have to do is.

OmniFocus works with this Getting Things Done system – the cool kids call it GTD and it actually is a cult – though you don’t have to use Allen’s techniques to get a lot out of that software. David Allen doesn’t: I believe he prefers a paper-based system. Strange how I’m not surprised.

But if I can’t recommending it entirely, I do recommend it fairly wholeheartedly. How about this? Go to Amazon UK or Amazon US and use the Look Inside feature to read a few pages and see what you think.

There is also an official site for David Allen that you might like.

Lighten up and take more time off

I want you to get more work done. (Because I want to get more work done too.) But The Guardian newspaper says you're better off doing less:

Most time management advice rests on the unspoken assumption that it's possible to win the game: to find a slot for everything that matters. But if the game's designed to be unwinnable, [book author Brigid] Schulte suggests, you can permit yourself to stop trying. There's only one viable time management approach left (and even that's only really an option for the better-off). Step one: identify what seem to be, right now, the most meaningful ways to spend your life. Step two: schedule time for those things. There is no step three. Everything else just has to fit around them – or not. Approach life like this and a lot of unimportant things won't get done, but, crucially, a lot of important things won't get done either. Certain friendships will be neglected; certain amazing experiences won't be had; you won't eat or exercise as well as you theoretically could. In an era of extreme busyness, the only conceivable way to live a meaningful life is to not do thousands of meaningful things.

This Column Will Change Your Life: Stop Being Busy – The Guardian 19 April 2014

The piece is an interesting and persuasive read. It's really also a part-review of Schulte's book, Overwhelmed (UK edition, US edition)

I'm thinking a lot about this idea of winning the game. That's not really me. I just know that I am happiest when I've thought of a new thing I want to create and then I've created it. When it's a real thing instead of a pipedream. You think of it and then you do it. That's what I want: would you call that a game?

The one good thing I can see about a game is that you can change the rules. I'm definitely up for that.


What’s so great about OmniFocus part 1: get it in

No enthusing, no evangelising, just straight showing you. I talk about the OmniFocus task software a lot because it means a lot to me and now that a new Mac version is an inch away, one of the barriers to universally recommending it is gone. (There is still the fact that it solely runs on Macs, iPhones and iPads. So Windows, Unix and Android users are out of luck. But I honestly think this means you’re out of luck. OmniFocus is that good.)

Ahead of a video covering this that will be out in time for the official launch of OmniFocus 2 for Mac, here’s the first of a short series.

Before you can do any task, you have to think of it. If you think of it and you can do it right there and then, do it right there and then. But if you can’t, then you need to keep that task. You have to be sure you won’t forget it.

Here’s how you do that in OmniFocus.

Actually, here are the many, many ways you do this in OmniFocus.

1) Type it

In OmniFocus for Mac, iPad or iPhone, just type in your task and hit Save. The iPhone version has a nice button called Save+ which saves the task you’ve just typed and gives you a new blank one to start typing the next one in.

That’s the tiniest of things yet it makes a big difference. You know you’ll whack through entering tasks because of it so you do, you whack through tasks. You don’t think of it as a chore, so you don’t put it off.

There’s a lot of speedy little aspects like this. Most come later when you’re sorting through tasks and thinking about them, but for just straight getting that task out of your head and into a system you know will keep it for you, OmniFocus is very strong.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 08.26.29

On the Mac version, you can enter a task whatever you’re doing, in whatever application you’re using. Tap a couple of keys and you are entering a task into OmniFocus. Hit return and that task flies off to OmniFocus while you carry on back with your other application.

2) Say itiphone reminder

I probably come up with most of my tasks while I’m driving. So I tell OmniFocus. I say it aloud.

OmniFocus works with Siri so I can say aloud “Remind me to phone Angela when I get home” and it will go into OmniFocus. (And when I get home, ping. Location Reminders are a stunning thing. Apple introduced them in its Reminders app, every decent To Do software has followed along.)

Slight problem. You do this via Siri and so after you’ve said “Remind me to take a screenshot for the OmniFocus blog post”, Siri will say aloud “Here’s your reminder. Shall I create it?” But because I’m driving, I can’t look at the screen to see what it thinks I’ve said. So invariably I say yes.

Usually it’s got it right. Sometimes it is astonishing what it has got right – or strange what it’s got wrong. But once or twice now, I have got home, looked at my OmniFocus reminders list and had not one single chance of figuring out what was so important.

3) Email it

An email comes in with something I need to do. I forward it. Straight into my OmniFocus list. The end.

I’ve just looked into this and it turns out that I have used this feature three times a day since it was introduced in December 2012. That’s 1,411 and I have to tell you that I am astonished it is so few.

Email after email, wallop. Straight in to OmniFocus.

If an email includes several things I have to do, which is common, then I could forward the same email several times. Or I could select a portion of the email, then hit forward – and it only forwards that section. This is a feature of OS X Mail and probably most email services but is especially handy here. Select one task in the middle of the email, press Forward, enter my OmniFocus email address and maybe change the subject heading to something about the task. Send. Gone.

The time it took to say that to you far exceeds how long it takes me to do it. Especially the bit about entering my OmniFocus email address. You get given a secret address, you add it to your Contacts or Address Book, and ever since then I just have to start typing the letters “Om” and Mail fills out the rest for me.


I use all three versions of OmniFocus: Mac, iPhone and iPad. And I use them because they work even better together than apart – and because having the three means I can record or capture any task that enters my butterfly mind. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing.

Next, I have to actually do some To Dos.