This a bit specific, but if you have OmniFocus and Keyboard Maestro…

…wait, let me tell you what those are. They are gorgeous. Now read on.

Okay. OmniFocus is my beloved To Do task manager and it comes up a lot on this site. If you’re not sure what it does, wait ten seconds and I’ll have a new mention of it. Keyboard Maestro is different: I have mentioned it but usually in passing or when it’s been on sale. It’s one of those tools that you set up and forget, so I rather set it up and forgot about it.

Keyboard Maestro lets you tap a couple of keys and set your Mac off doing all sorts of things. I have a key that opens OmniFocus. (Told you.) There’s a fault on my MacBook Pro where the Q and W keys don’t work and it looks like getting it fixed would be both expensive and time consuming. So I’ve told Keyboard Maestro to type a “w” when I press Command-1. And similar for capital W, q and Q.

I think there are more, but you come to believe that your Keyboard Maestro setup is just a normal part of your Mac. I’d need to go to another Mac and use it for a while before I could tell what Keyboard Maestro does by seeing what that Mac doesn’t.

But I have been the very smallest, slightest user of this software and that will change by about a pixel today as I’ve discovered a way to use it to solve an itch:

Using Keyboard Maestro, I was able to create a script that, when executed, creates and sends a custom-built email to my OmniFocus Mail Drop—and containing a direct link back to the original Mail message.

Specifically, here’s what the script does:

It executes a Keyboard Maestro script called “Get Message URL” which calculates the URL to the currently selected Mail message. (That script simply executes some AppleScript, which I’ve included below.)
Prompts me for a short text to be used as the todo title.
Sets a variety of Keyboard Maestro variables.
Creates an email message whose subject and body content are built from those variables—including the link to the original message—and then sends that email to my Mail Drop address.
Archives the original Mail message—since at that point, I’m done with it.

Using Keyboard Maestro to create todos in OmniFocus 2 that are linked to original messages in Mail – Matt Henderson, The Defacto Blog (23 May 2014)

Did you get that? The full feature has much more of an explanation plus diagrams – I should have more diagrams on this The Blank Screen, shouldn’t I? – and it’s also got the specific details you need to use this yourself.

Which is the specific detail I am this very minute taking in order to do this myself.

Nearly forgot: Keyboard Maestro for Mac costs £23.05 in the UK and is available here.

UPDATE: Done. Took me 17 minutes by the look of it. From a standing start, an “eh?” to running, working and using this.

Save your emails into Evernote for quicker searching

I’m not convinced by this because Mail in OS X is quick at finding things but I can see a lot of advantages to saving emails into Evernote because it’s a good pot for all things. It’s a good place to save everything and know that it’s all there, to know that everything you save is therefore everywhere you go.

But the official Evernote blog is persuasive about all this – and has a lot of tips for how to do it. Take a read, would you?

To Not Do list

We've had To Do lists. A lot. We've come up with Done Lists which are very satisfying: you write down what you did as you finish it and then looking back later is immensely cheering. That's pretty much the entire purpose of my month reviews (see That Was March 2014…). But maybe we could take a further step and write ourselves a To Not Do List.

It feels risky. Like it could end up as a kind of new year's resolution fad: I will not drink so much tea, I will not keep putting off the gym.

But it could also be a good guide. I keep reading headlines lately about the first app that people use in their mornings and I've been stopping at the headline because I don't want to find out the detail. Chiefly because I want to avoid thinking about mine.

Since you're here, I'll face up to it. My first app is email. If you don't count Awesome Clock, which I use to give me an old-fashioned analogue clock face on my iPhone all night. If you don't count my iPhone's own alarm. Then it's email. As I lurch to the loo and on to the kitchen and into my office, I am checking both my main or personal email account and my public one, the address that is your best route to talk to me about The Blank Screen.

I want to stop doing this. Funnily enough, I've been training myself to make sure I check my calendar every morning and that's going fine. (See I nearly missed an event today, though I suggest you bring a packed lunch with you because that is a long, long post.) So I want to keep that new habit going, I do want to reinforce my early OmniFocus use every day.

But I have to drop the email one.

Because too often now I've woken up at 5am to start writing and been derailed by a bad email. Usually a rejection. And at that time of the morning, most rejections matter. Later on, they wouldn't, but right there and then I am somehow more open to the slap.

I'm fine with being slapped. But it also saps. There are few things worse than getting up at 5am to write but one of them is getting up at 5am and not writing. I've seen this after big projects finish when the pressure is off and I have nothing that truly has to be done then. That's a horrible time. But yet worse is this paralysing that you can get from certain rejections, when they're strong enough, when they're important enough.

All this is on my mind now because I had a rejection that would've cut whenever I read it, but it did especially stop me one 5am start.

Or it should've done. It certainly did for a time. I certainly struggled to begin working. And I didn't do the thing I was intending to do that morning. Instead, though, I worked on fiction. You know how great it is when you are reading a book and you're completely into it. Writing fiction, at times, can be similar. For whatever reason, I hit that moment that day and by the end of 2,000 words on that project, I felt better.

And I had a solution to the rejection.

Without thinking about it, without brooding on it, my noggin' had found a way around the problem.

Now, that's good. And having been able to take my mind away for 90 minutes or whatever it was, that was also good. But the solution requires other people and it requires much planning, all stuff that I couldn't do anything about at 7am that morning.

So if I'd just put off reading the emails until, what, 9am, I'd have had four hours solid work done, I'd be far less prone to the rejection paralysis and when my head came up with a solution, I'd have been able to do something about it right there and then.

Top of my To Not Do List, then, is this: I will not check emails first thing in the morning.

Do we have a deal?

Get the Blank Screen newsletter free

From this coming Friday, April 18, The Blank Screen will also be available as a weekly email newsletter. Each Friday it will bring you the best posts from the last seven days of productivity news, features and reviews.

Plus it will also include Self Distract: not only an antidote to being productive but a money-where-my-mouth is demonstration of my writing. The Blank Screen is about getting you more time to write and I use this stuff every day so it's time I showed you. Self Distract is also about writing but the strapline for it is:

What we write and what we write with, when we get around to writing

You'll see what I mean. But I'm hoping you'll also see a lot of use for the email newsletter. During a typical week here on The Blank Screen, I publish very many pieces that are technical or particularly topical like news of 24-hour sales on particular apps. They're popular and they're useful, but sometimes they mean the longer, more distinctively Blank Screen productivity features get a bit lost.

The Blank Screen email newsletter will pull out the very best of those from the week plus a round up of the best technology pieces too.

The newsletter will be posted here on The Blank Screen site but you can get it early and you can get it delivered right to your email inbox by just signing up here. Click or tap on this link to send me an email saying you want to subscribe and you're in. You can also use that email to tell me anything you want to, but just hitting Send will do the job too.

I hope you sign up for a look and that you enjoy it.

France wants to stop emails after 6pm

You have to be in France. You have to be a manager there, too, because ordinary workers can lump it: if your boss needs you to answer your emails all day and night, you’ll answer them or else. But if a French plan to protect stressed bosses works, it will logically help everyone. Follow. When your boss is not allowed to go on email in the evenings then he or she can’t be emailing you anything. Everybody wins.

In many jobs, work email doesn’t stop when the employee leaves the office. And now France has decided to act. It has introduced rules to protect about a million people working in the digital and consultancy sectors from work email outside office hours. Those are taken to be before 9am and after 6pm. The deal signed between employers federations and unions says that employees will have to switch off work phones and avoid looking at work email, while firms cannot pressure staff to check messages.

Michel de La Force, chairman of the General Confederation of Managers, has said that “digital working time” would have to be measured. Some emailing outside of office hours would be allowed but only in “exceptional circumstances”.

Could work emails be banned after 6pm? BBC News

I’m more sympathetic to this idea that I might have been before. I used to live by the bleep of my incoming emails and now I’ve switched it all off. Almost all. Certain people’s emails make a bleep but the majority don’t. And I switched off push notifications too. Suddenly my battery life is longer and I am able to concentrate on more work because I just don’t get interrupted so often.

And I can tell you exactly where in Damascus I had this blinding revelation. Do read the BBC article because it is interesting but for useful ideas – specifically for useful ideas you can use right this moment – buy David Sparks’s book about Email from the iBooks Store.

Email hacks – create a temporary group in OS X Mail with TextExpander

File this under I Needed To Know But Couldn’t Find It On the Internet. So here I am putting it on the internet.

My problem was that I now have to regularly email the same group of about 25 people, a good dozen or more are not in my address book. OS X Mail remembers who you’ve emailed before, whether or not they’re in your address book and that is remarkably confusing. I’ve just been slogging through this and discovered the strangest people are not in my address book: people I email often, people I like enormously, they ain’t in there.

They are now.

Side tip: in Mail, choose the Window menu and the entry for Previous Recipients. You get a long list. A long list. But if somebody is in your book, you get a little contact-card-like icon next to their name. And if they aren’t, you don’t. Click on the first one who isn’t there then option-click on each other one you want. Thump the Add to Contacts button and you’re done.

But with my group, I don’t actually know that many of them. Certainly not enough that I could glance down that list and know who was in the group, who isn’t. So I thought I was faced with adding each one separately and then collecting them into a group.

I was. Except I had a Damascus moment: I’ve got TextExpander.

So this is what I did – and I apologise for how geeky it sounds, I promise that it took seconds.

1) Found the last email to the group

2) Hit Reply to All

3) Selected all the names in the To: field and dragged the lot into the body of the message. They turned from the familiar blue-button names into names plus email addresses. They looked like this: “William Gallagher <>” except with twenty-five more of them, all in one massive lump with commas between them.

4) Copy and paste into Word.

5) Search and replace “>, ” (the closing bracket, comma and space that is at the end of every address) and replace with “^p” (Word’s code for a paragraph)

6) Set a tab halfway across the page.

7) Search and replace ” <” (the space and opening bracket that is at the start of every address) and replace with “^t” (Word’s code for a tab)

8) That got me what looks like two columns: the first with people’s real names, i.e. “William Gallagher” and the second with their addresses, “”

9) Option drag to select the column of names and the white space over to the start of the addresses.

10) Delete.

11) I was left with one column of addresses.

12) Search for “^p” and replace with “, ” (comma, space)

13) That got me back to one massive block of text that was every email address separated by a comma. Select and copy the lot

14) Open TextExpander and create a new snippet, a piece of text I want to use often. Paste my massive block of addresses and commas in to that and set a short key combination for the lot

So now whenever I’m writing an email message, I can type “;swf” (with the semicolon but without the quote marks) and the To: field is filled out with all of these nice people.

Now, truly, if you read out the above at the standard speaking speed of three words per second, it would take you a minute and forty seconds. I’ve just worked through the instructions again to check and the whole shebang took me… oh… a minute and 35 seconds. Okay. That was rubbish.

But next time I want to email this group, it will take me a seventh of a second. No searching for the last one, no adding some from the address book, some not, just “;swf” and wallop.

There is the downside that the people who weren’t in my address book still aren’t in my address book. As I talk with any of them individually, I’ll have to remember to add them. And I could have continued to just find the last email and Reply to All. I definitely could’ve done that and I have done for a month or more now. But each time I do it, I have to check the list because some people have asked to be taken off the group. Now I can forget that and just email everyone in one go. If anyone new asks to come off the list, it’s a moment’s work to edit the TextExpander snippet.

No, face it, William, this was a five-pound hammer for a one-cent problem. But it’s done now, get off my back.


Definitely TextExpander. But then you need that for everything. Promise. Read more about TextExpander on its official site.

Microsoft Word. Any word processor would probably do this but I turned to Word – even though I don’t use it so much any more – because I knew the codes for paragraphs and tabs. See more about Microsoft Word on its site. I used the Mac version which takes a little more digging to find on Microsoft’s site. Can’t imagine why.

If you must use email as your To Do list…

…well, you're going to go spare with confusion and the effort you put into managing it all will be achievable but wasted. I'm all for To Do lists but I want to spend the least time on the list and the most time doing the things I have to do. Email just doesn't cut it – but many people disagree and one group of them has also done something about it. Mindsense has released a Mac version of its iOS app Mail Pilot.

You read your email through it as normal but then mark it as if it is a task. So a previously-accused Email To Do-Er would read a message, see that the sender needed them to do a thing, and then they'd mark it as unread. Now in Mail Pilot, you instead have the option to mark something as Incomplete. Later, when you've finally remembered to do the thing buried deep down in last Tuesday's email – and checked that it only needed you to do one thing, not a dozen – you can mark it as Complete.

I sound like I'm knocking Mindsense and their new software but if I worked this way, I would use Mail Pilot. It has quick keystrokes for marking things up, it can set various reminders for you to alleviate the Last Tuesday Syndrome, it's been working popularly on iOS for some time.

I just think it's Occam's Razor: do you use a stylish-looking, well-made app to try managing your email To Do list or do you stuff email and do this properly in a real To Do task manager?

Mail Pilot is on sale for an intro price of US$9.99

Apple improves Gmail support in OS X 10.9.1

Right now my Mac is nudging me. Oi, William, it’s saying, I’ve got something for you. That’s nice but what’s nicer is that I can say nudge me again in an hour or maybe try me tonight or perhaps tomorrow and the nudging will go away.

And it will come back so I don’t have to add to my To Do list that there is a new version of OS X Mavericks, I certainly don’t have to remember that lottery-number-length “10.9.1”. I can just agree to it being downloaded the next time I leave my desk.

The significant digit of the 10.9.1 is that last .1 because this is a small, minor, trivial update so I’m happy to just let it loose while I go off somewhere. But it’s also one of those teeny updates that bring important things – to some people. If you are a heavy Gmail user then you’ve apparently been narked by how OS X Mavericks broke Apple’s support for Gmail. It didn’t break it enough that you could see it had died, no, it just bent it a bit so that you’d be working away unaware that something wasn’t right.

I don’t believe anyone lost any data, this was a matter of convenience but an important matter of convenience. Apparently.

I’m not particularly a fan of Gmail – ask me why some day, it’s trivial but it sticks with me – so I don’t need the update for this. But there are also tweaks akimbo for software that I do use, such as the Safari web browser.

Plus, it’s such a quick download and such an automatic don’t-need-to-think-about-it kind of job that if you’d started it instead of reading this, you’d be updated now. Sorry about that.

Your Mac will be telling you the update is available but if it hasn’t yet, check up the Software Update option in the App Store.

Email your To Do tasks right into OmniFocus

I can’t tell you that I am obsessed with OmniFocus and then go away. Equally, I can’t ram a thousand enthusiasms down your throat. So let me compromise by giving you one reason, just one, that OmniFocus works for me.

Emailing tasks. 

There’s a feature called Maildrop and it is extremely simple yet transformative. Do I mean the word ‘yet’? Maybe it’s so useful, maybe it became so instantly part of my work specifically because it is simple.

Here’s the thing. I’m a writer so I spend a huge amount of time at the keyboard and easily the majority of things I have to deal with come via email. So I’ll read the email and if I can deal with it right then, I’ll deal with it right then. Otherwise, I forward it. 

To my secret OmniFocus email address.

I’ll tap or click the forward button, Mail will auto-complete the address as soon as I type the first couple of letters, and then wallop, sent.

And then the next time I look in my OmniFocus To Do list, there it is. The task is the subject heading of the email – so I might well change that to something more specific either when I’m forwarding it or now as I poke about in OmniFocus – and the body of the email is a note within the task.

Many, many times I will get one email that has several tasks in it. Highlight one of them, tap forward and Mail creates a new message that has only that text in it. Then whack it off to OmniFocus. Go back to the original email, highlight the next bit, whack and wallop.

You could also set rules to do this automatically: any email from your biggest client gets routed straight into OmniFocus for you. I have never once tried this. But you could.

What I have done very often is email in to OmniFocus from wherever I am. OmniFocus only runs on Apple gear but if you’re at a PC or you’re on someone’s Android phone and need to note down a task, email it to your secret address.

Last, if I’ve got an email where my reply is about the task, I’ll BCC it all to my secret OmniFocus address: in one go, my recipient gets his or her reply and I have that task in my ToDo list. 

Once I forgot to BCC it and the secret address showed up in the email I sent someone. Next time I went in to OmniFocus, there was a task waiting: “Pay Jason the £1 million you owe him”.


I can’t remember a time when Maildrop wasn’t a feature in OmniFocus or when I wasn’t using it. I don’t just mean that as a way of saying cor, it’s great, it’s indispensable. I do think that, although I wish it could do more, but I also mean it literally: I’ve not a clue when I started using it. Which is a huge shame because if you can be bothered to poke about a bit, OmniFocus will tell you how much you use the feature.

I just went to check for you and it says: “Used 982 times, most recently 2 hours ago”.

And the very big surprise for me is that it’s a whole two hours since I last used it.

Learn more about OmniFocus Maildrop here and have a look at the Mac, iPhone and iPad versions here