Todoist Premium on special offer (briefly)

As featured in this week’s email newsletter, you can currently get a free six months subscription to the premium version of Todoist.

The deal is via Appsumo, it’s here and it’s worth looking at – but before you buy, check out the free version. It may well be all you need in which case Premium is a waste of your money. It’s a nice waste, mind: you’d be supporting the firm that makes this To Do app you so like, but still.

When you follow that Appsumo link, scroll down. The front page looks like a big ad for Appsumo but it’s just the top: scroll down for a lot of detail about Todoist.

Someone else’s OmniFocus 2 for Mac review

There is definitely an irony to how I keep not getting around to writing a review of OmniFocus, the software that keeps me on track with everything I have or want to do. I think it’s because the software is so important to me that I want to do it justice. Anyway, here’s a review from someone who wasn’t an existing user of the earlier version, isn’t that fussed about any To Do managers, and says up front that they came to OmniFocus as a skeptic.

Spoiler alert: they like it now.

I don’t agree with how it argues the iPhone version is too expensive, though, and they are mistaken about the iPad one:

This brings us to our one main criticism, though: Omni Group have chosen to make the iPhone (and forthcoming iPad) version of Omnifocus equal to the Mac version in virtually all respects, thus allowing mobile-centric users to buy and use just the mobile version alone if they choose. While we applaud this, it also means that Mac users who have paid $40 for the regular desktop version ($80 for the Pro version) will have to pay an additional $20 for the iPhone version, essentially just for syncing and quick-entry or editing in the case of some users. The company may want to consider also creating a more lightweight free or low-cost “companion version” for those who primarily use the Mac version and just want some basic on-the-go functions.

Hands on: Omnifocus 2 for Mac – MacNN (22 June 2014)

The iPad mistake first: there already is one and has been for some time. Their confusion is that it is on its first version and a second is currently being developed. Last September we got OmniFocus 2 for iPhone, now we have OmniFocus 2 for Mac, at some point soon we’ll have OmniFocus 2 for iPad.

It’s an interesting little dilemma for me as someone who recommends this software a lot. Rewind a beat to before the 2 versions began coming out: it was very easy to say you should buy the iPad edition. That was easily the best with a mix of OmniFocus’s powerful features and a particularly easy design. OmniFocus for iPhone was fine but you would struggle to use it without one of the other versions in your life. And OmniFocus 1 for Mac was this bionic behemoth that had more power than you’d need to crack a concrete slab but was extremely hard to use.

Now OmniFocus 2 for Mac is the easiest to use and, I think, the best version. I like the iPad one but it’s weird how old it seems compared to the new design. And where I used to always turn to my iPad when I was doing a lot of OmniFocus work like the recommended regular reviews, now I tend to save that up until I’m at my Mac.

Nonetheless, you can do everything most users would use most often usefully on the iPad version. If it weren’t that we know for certain that – and don’t know at all when – there will be an OmniFocus 2 for iPad, I would say the iPad is still the one to get when you can only get one. It’s portable, powerful and easy to use. OmniFocus 2 for iPhone is much improved on its previous version – I liked the previous version a lot, I just like this one more – but I still believe the iPhone version needs one of the others.

MacNN thinks this more strongly than I do. Its argument is that you shouldn’t have to pay so much for an iPhone OmniFocus app if you’re only going to use it to add the odd task in during the day. I’d say that’s fair enough, but there are other ways to add tasks. If you don’t have OmniFocus for iPhone, just email a task into OmniFocus. I do this a lot wherever I am because so much of my work comes through email. It’s just tap, forward, send, gone into my To Do list.

So I don’t agree that one has to use OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. But I suspect you will. I’m not certain now how I got into this but I’m pretty sure I bought the iPhone one first and tried to last with that for a while, tried to get used to it and to test it out. But caved within a day or two and bought the iPad one. Then, inexorably, I bought the Mac one.

That was all version 1 of the software and if you’re wondering, yes, I did. I bought version 2. Both OmniFocus 2 for iPhone, on the day it was released, and OmniFocus 2 for Mac, on the day it was released. Individually they are more expensive than many To Do applications and jointly they are a punch to the bank account – but only if they aren’t right for you. If they are, they are worth the cost and then some.

Wait, this is turning into my own review. I should really get on that.

Breaking – OmniFocus 2 for Mac releasing today

More details as soon as it’s out – give me five seconds to go buy it myself then I’ll get right back to you – but the new OmniFocus 2 for Mac is being released today. It’ll be on the Mac App Store but get it from the maker instead, the Omni Group at

It’s coming out at 9am PDT which I reckon is about 5pm BST but I wouldn’t count on my maths even when I’m not excited.

That sounds strange, even to my ears: the idea of being excited about software. Yet the only real surprise to me is that I am this thrilled when I’ve already been using the beta version for months.

But I’ve used that beta on the Mac for those months, I used the previous version 1 on the Mac for a year or more, and there hasn’t been a day – sometimes not even an hour – that I haven’t used OmniFocus for iPhone or iPad in about two years.

I’m particularly glad about today’s launch because I’m running a full-day workshop of The Blank Screen today for the Federation of Entertainment Unions – the Writers’ Guild, NUJ, Equity and Musicians’ Guild – and this will come up. OmniFocus always comes up, the company couldn’t get more adverts from me if they paid, but I have been hesitating in every single The Blank Screen workshop. That’s partly because OmniFocus only runs on Apple gear; if it were on PCs and Android too, I’d be trying to distribute copies.

But the other reason has been that the Mac version was hugely powerful yet very hard to use. You don’t often hear that said about Mac software, but it was. So I used to be torn over recommending it, especially as it’s expensive.

Now I can tell you from experience that the new OmniFocus 2 for Mac is much easier. There’s still a lot to it but it makes sense and it works how you will expect.

There’s just one more thing. It used to be that the iPad version of OmniFocus was the best of three but now the Mac one is coming out and we’ve had a revamped iPhone one for a few months. Today I’d say the Mac version is the best.

But the company confirms a revamped iPad one is coming so the dance begins again.

Free today – Lists To Do for iPhone

I've not used it, not even heard of it before two minutes ago – but on being told of it, I wanted to make sure you knew too. This fairly basic-looking tasks app, Lists To Do, is free for today only.

It's usually 69p so it's not like that will destroy your bank balance, but To Do apps are so important that it's worth checking out a lot of them. And a lot of 69p can add up.

So do take a moment to check this one out here.

New: Clear To Do app adds Reminders

This just in from Realmac:

…we’ve just launched a big (and much-requested) feature in Clear for Mac and iOS: reminders. With this great new feature, you’ll never forget a to-do – and as Clear syncs your tasks and reminders via iCloud you’ll be notified on all your Apple devices.

We’ve also got some new sound packs in Clear so you can customise the sounds as you complete tasks.

Clear with Reminders is of course a free update, and available on the App Store and Mac App Store.

Clear has always looked great yet not been powerful enough for me and in part that’s been because of the lack of reminders. Take a look at Realmac’s Clear website for a video of how this latest version works.

I nearly missed an event today

And I have fallen behind on a project I am very keen to do.

I am compelled to make an excuse about the event, at least. It’s one that was rearranged to this afternoon, okay? And I caught it when I checked my calendar at 5am this morning. So when I say I nearly missed it, it’s not like I spilt my tea and had to run for the car. But somehow even though I want to go to this, and I will go to it, for some reason it wasn’t on my mental map of the week.

This is happening to me more often now and part of it is how I think my business is in a bit of a transition. Previously I was almost completely task-focused: I had this enormous list of things to do. It wasn’t event-based: I didn’t have a lot of meetings, for instance. Now I tend to run more talks and workshops – I did ten sessions in March – so my calendar is more important than it was.

I vehemently refuse to join up my tasks and my calendar: To Dos do not belong on certain dates. Or at least, they rarely really do. If something has to be delivered on Tuesday, you could put that on the calendar, fine. But do you then put a date on there that you’ll start the job too? Odds are, you won’t start it then. Instant failure. Instant unnecessary failure. Put the flexible start date in your To Do list, if you must, put the deadline in there too and then everything to do with that task is in one place.

I have zero question about this, absolute zero doubt. If you’re looking at me now thinking you’re not so sure, the strongest chance is that I have failed to convey to you why I think this. That’s how sure I am that I’m right. This is a rare feeling: let me have it. (Unless you really do think I’m wrong and you can tell me. I would prefer to know.)

But right or wrong, it is how I am working and today that isn’t working. So I’m taking steps.

And this has become a kind of live blog as I try to get a handle on it all. The aim is to get back on top of everything and to be creating new work, producing material, instead of losing most of my time to managing it all. And I know that the way this will work for me is in software. That’s just easily obvious because of prior experience. So taking a step back from that overall aim, I think that I can have two contributory aims:

1) Restore my previous excellent grip on all my tasks
2) Find a way to cope with my newfound extra need for handling events

The shorthand for number 1 there is OmniFocus. Much as I love that software, much as it as truly transformed my working life, my copy of it is a mess at the moment.

I think the shorthand for number 2 would be Calendar plus a regime of checking it. I do currently have a task in OmniFocus called “Check calendar for today and week ahead”. That repeats every week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m not sure why that isn’t working, then. I don’t want to make it a daily task but we’ll see what happens. Okay, it’s 07:47 and I’ve decided to temporarily make checking my calendar a daily task for Monday to Friday.

And I’ve just downloaded the new Fantastical 2 for iPad. I’ve been reading about this since its launch yesterday and I’ve been reading about its iPhone version since, oh, just about the day I bought Fantastical 1 for iPhone and had it superseded. I agree with the consensus that Fantastical is a good, strong app but for me it wouldn’t stay, I didn’t keep using it on my iPhone because I just found the standard Apple calendar better. Not in features, not in ease of use, but both of those are fine and the Apple one has the killer feature that it can include the current date in its icon. I struggle to believe how often I have to check today’s date but with that right there, job done. With Fantastical, I had to go into the app. Job not done.

But Fantastical 2 can show the current date as a red badge notification on its icon. I’m hoping that will be enough for me because I like what I see about the rest of Fantastical. I like how it feels holding your month and week in your hand, seeing the shape of it all. I’ll play with this and try to get it into my habitual working pattern. If it doesn’t work, I’m out £6.99. If it does, I’m out a lot more because I can see me buying the iPhone update and the Mac version too.

For now, though, at 07:52, let’s say that my second aim is at least addressed if not necessarily solved.

So it’s time for aim 1: OmniFocus.

This is going to take some time. It’s going to be a huge change for me. I’ve let OmniFocus sprawl a bit too much, I’ve let it become a repository for everything in my life. Things I want to read, for instance. I save those to Pocket but I often send them straight into OmniFocus: maybe they relate to a project, maybe I just want to remember them and OmniFocus’s mail drop service is too handy. Whatever the reason, I need to use Pocket and Evernote more, and to keep this stuff out of OmniFocus. That’ll take some re-training. But I’ll create an Evernote notebook for it all and get into the habit of using the Evernote equivalent of mail drop.

But things have also changed in my business and life. I am very pleased to say that I am still on Room 204, a Writing West Midlands development programme, but I’ve finished the formal, official year there. So about a year ago, I created OmniFocus projects to do with Room 204 and the eight separate things I was doing with them. I’m still doing them, I’m still doing them with Writing West Midlands, but the Room 204 projects need to go.

I’ve also got very lazy. If a great benefit of OmniFocus is that you know what you need to do now, that works because it hides from you everything you don’t need to do now. Only, for that to work day to day, you have to often review absolutely everything: go through all your tasks and see what’s done, what isn’t but can be, what will never be done and should be deleted. The idea is that you work through every task and you spend time on every task. This is more than an idea, it’s a principle and I have found that it works brilliantly for me.

Except lately.

Lately, I’ll do the review process and see – wait, let me try it right now – okay, I only have 12 projects review. Last time it was 67. (You set this project by project. You have to review everything but one project is my shopping list: I’ve set that to be reviewed once a year. Other stuff has to be reviewed every day.)

Especially when I’ve got 67 projects ahead of me, I’ll look at the list and I won’t patiently dwell on each separate task. Rather than do them right there and then or consciously test the task – why isn’t it done? what do I need to do it? – I just think yeah, yeah, haven’t got to that yet. And then I move on.

I can’t let that continue because I’m missing things and I’m not getting stuff done as much as usual.

So. It’s 08:03 and I am going to pull out the list of projects. I’m going to do a MindNode mind map of everything I actually have to do and compare that with what I’ve got. It’s slate-clean time.


Four days later. That is a hell of a slate-cleaning. I would like to point out that I did have that meeting to go and then there was something else on Friday, plus I worked the weekend… and all the way through, I was thinking of this. Right now, Monday at 12:12, I’m happier and I think I have proof that I am.

Let me tell you the proof first: I have no overdue tasks in OmniFocus.

And only 16 more things to do today.

It’s funny but having overdue tasks was proving to be a huge weight. It’s not really funny because it isn’t funny but it also isn’t funny because that’s how things used to be. That’s how they were before I moved to OmniFocus. Maybe it was worth letting things slide because I am reminded with extreme gusto that I do not ever want to feel this weight again. It’s paralysing: you feel you can’t clear that backlog, that there’s no point doing anything more.

So you now you’ve got to know how I did it. And it turns out I was right: it was a two-step thing.

The first was the Calendar and it was Fantastical 2 for iPad. I found that I still had Fantastical 1 for iPhone and I’ve been using that too – I’m honestly not sure what the difference is beyond some obvious aesthetic ones – and the combination has been useful. I’ve had to train myself to turn to my iPad whenever something comes up that needs me to look at my Calendar: even if I’m at my Mac, I turn now to the iPad for this. It’s not a habit yet but it’s becoming so and each time Fantastical does something clever, I am that much more sold on it. The most specific clever thing it does is accept natural language statements: typing “Lunch tomorrow with Steph at Birmingham” pops all the details into my calendar in the right spot. It reckons lunch is 1pm and actually I needed to change that but it was easy enough. But it new Birmingham, actually it knew the more detailed place name I put, and it knew what day tomorrow was. It’s very satisfying entering an event like this because it parses what you type as you type it: you see the place name flying off to that section of the appointment, you see the time going there too and you can see the calendar zipping along to the right day.

Also, it turns out that having today’s date as a red badge notification means that my muscle memory automatically makes me open the calendar. See the badge, intellectually know that it’s the date, but still open it as if there is something I need to be notified about. It’s made me open the Calendar about thirty times since last Thursday and as irritating as I suppose that is, it’s helping me to reinforce this new habit of using both Calendars and OmniFocus.

The second thing began with the way that a friend pointed out how casually I had planned her working year for her in a chat one day and she was back now with a pen to do mine.


And we didn’t finish. But we’re still in play and I’ve been taking her advice to heart. That coupled with the most massively tedious reorganisation of OmniFocus has all proved part of it.

I’ve been using the new OmniFocus 2 for Mac beta because it’s the quickest version and also, I now think, the most pleasant to use. But this reorganisation meant replacing every old project with an entirely new system, then seeing what fitted the new plan and what did not. I have very ruthlessly and with only a little blood deleted gigantic chunks of tasks because I haven’t done them and, William, I ain’t going to. So they’re gone. Kiss ’em goodbye.

I did a MindNode map as I told you and this is how that looks. You know I can’t let you see the details, there’s plenty of confidential stuff in there but this is the shape of what I was dealing with.



Look at that mass of colour in the bottom left corner. The centre word there is ‘Kill’ – these are all the entire projects I deleted as part of this reorganisation. The smaller blog of colour is a set of seven other projects that I have taken out of OmniFocus and put into Evernote: they’re all research jobs, all reading ones where I was amassing things to read but no actual tasks yet.

Then the rest is everything I am in fact going to do. The central word, the white blob around which all the rest of the colours flow, is “OmniFocus”. And that’s apt: this app is that central to everything I do.

I still need to work out a system for tying those Evernote documents in to the tasks as they come up. It’s easy enough technically, you copy one thing from Evernote and paste it into OmniFocus – or vice versa – and are thereafter just a clicked-link away from either. But it’s the mental system that’s hard, the decisions I need to make about putting stuff in OmniFocus or in Evernote.

Similarly, if I get an email from you with a task in, you can bet I forward it on to OmniFocus but when do I then archive that email, when do I put it into my Follow-up inbox to make sure I see it? For that matter, when do I only put it into Follow-up, when do I not bother making it an OmniFocus task?

I’ve still got to work all that out but it will come and right now, I’m exhausted yet much happier. I mean, much. If you’ve read this far, you’re a mensch and I want you to take away this single point: getting on top of everything you have to do – just getting on top of it, not necessary even doing it all – makes you feel infinitely better.

Zippy To Do app watches what you do

You would need Primacord explosive wrapped around my waist to get me away from using OmniFocus as my To Do manager but that doesn’t mean it has an exclusive on all good ideas. And it doesn’t mean that sometimes I can be rather tempted. Today that temptation is an iOS app called Zippy and it’s because of what it does besides remind you of tasks.

Zippy is the simplest and quickest way to manage tasks and reminders. It provides you with Insights on your habits to help you get better at managing and completing tasks. Here’s what the infographic shows you:

• How many tasks you’ve completed and how many on time
• Completion breakdown by completed early, on time and late
• How far ahead you plan out your tasks and how close to completion time you finish them
• What time of day you’re best at planning and finishing tasks
• Weekday breakdown of when you create and complete your tasks
• How many times you snooze tasks

Zippy on the App Store

I’m not saying I’d like to be told how long it takes me to do a task – Zippy reports the average time from entering a task to ticking it as done – but I’m terribly curious. Not enough to swap from OmniFocus but enough to be very tempted.

If you fancy it too, get it now. Zippy is on sale for 69p UK or 99c US until 4 March. Get it on the iTunes App Store.

Pattern weeks part 6 – not so much

Previously… in an attempt to get more done in huge week, I've scheduled some important slots. I'll do certain things for certain projects at certain times so that they are done and I know they are done and they are always progressing instead of ever coming to a pause. I call this schedule the pattern for the week and it's named after the term 'pattern budget'. That's the money you've got to spend on each one of many things, like episodes in a TV series. In practice, you shovel that cash around so your first episode can be really big. You just save the money later and it works out. Similarly, my pattern weeks get disrupted by other events: if I'm booked somewhere for a day, the people who booked me get me for the day. I don't go off taking meetings or phoning other people.

Sudden memory: Hays Galleria, London, by the Thames. I'm working on a magazine and every lunch time would go out to a nearby phone box with a pile of pound coins to make as many calls as I could. That would've been early 1990s and I wonder now if that's the last time I used a public phone box. The magazine was a technology one, long gone now, and I was one of the people reviewing the earliest of mobile phones. A brick with a handset. I can picture me standing by the Thames late one gorgeous evening, phoning people because I could.


I've been working away from my office a lot lately and that's disrupted the pattern twice over: I obviously lose the time I'm somewhere else but it also means getting ahead with some things before it, catching up with other things afterwards.

So the pattern has failed a bit since Part 5 when I said it was working. It still is, I think, and my only real grumble is that the chart I made of the pattern is so amateur that it hurts me. And it hurts me often. I replaced my beautiful iMac wallpaper with this horrible thing and it is also on my MacBook. Hate it. But for now and especially while I'm finding it hard to keep up because of disruptions, I'm going to keep it there.

More urgently for me, I think, is sorting out email. I have a follow-up mailbox that I bung in things I need to respond to and sometimes I also forward the mail right into OmniFocus, my To Do manager. Yet still, especially when weeks break apart, I let things go through cracks.

This week I'm using Polyfilla.

Review everything so you don’t have to see it all

Yesterday's post about reviewing one's Evernote notes each day got me a message about how OmniFocus rocks reviews. It does. I even said so. In fact, I said it was because I'd felt the huge benefit of reviews in OmniFocus that I was going to give this similar Evernote one a go. But I didn't say what OmniFocus's review is.

I'm not sure I've even said what OmniFocus is. That's rare. Usually you can't shut me up about this software. It even comes up in my otherwise application- and platform-agnostic book about productivity for creative writers, The Blank Screen (UK edition, US edition)

Songs will be sung of the day I finally shut up about it. OmniFocus is a To Do manager but as I'm sure I've said before, that's like saying War and Peace is a stack of paper with some ink on it.

So, you may guess, I'm a fan. Rather than fan on at you about it now, though, I want to make sure we're clear on what a review is in this context. If you have OmniFocus, great. If you can get it – it only runs on Macs and iOS so Windows and Android users are out of luck – well, that's great too. But if you don't have it, you can still do this part.

Maybe not so well.

Actually, no, there's not a maybe about it. OmniFocus does reviews really well, most especially in the iPad version.

But you can and even more than I would go on at you about OmniFocus, I would go on at you about reviews.

Here's the thing.

Right now I have several hundred tasks in my To Do manager, arranged in probably a couple of dozen different projects. Everything I ever have to do, everything I ever think of gets chucked into OmniFocus. Now, many of them never get done. If it occurs to me, I'll add it to OmniFocus and think about it later. When that time comes, often I've done the thing already. Very often I'll find it occurred to twice so it's in there twice. And fairly often I'll look at it and decide no, I'm not going to do that.

But otherwise, it's all in here and it's all live.


I have a busy day today and OmniFocus is showing me 24 things. Just 24. Actually, hang on… I see I've done four of them this morning. Okay, that's 20 left. But as much as 20 is, it's nowhere near as much as several hundred. I can completely forget all the rest of them, I can pretend they don't even exist and because I do that, I am doing these twenty – wait, just remembered another one I've done, it's now 19 left – I am doing these 19 at a clip.

That's nice for me.

But the reason I can do it all is that OmniFocus is hiding the rest until I need them. And the reason OmniFocus can do that is because I review regularly.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I open up OmniFocus and check every task in every project. If you think ticking one thing off as done is good, imagine how great it was just now ticking off five or doing a review and seeing you've already done thirty tasks. I look at every task and if it isn't done yet, I have a ponder about why. Do I need to do something else before I can get that done? Fine, add another task. I rattle through these remarkably quickly and at the end I still have the hundreds of tasks but I know what they all are.

And most importantly, I know they're being dealt with. Those things I have to wait for Bert to call me back, they'll wait there until he rings me or I chase him. Those things I know I have to do on Tuesday, I'll see the list on Tuesday and not before.

You end up trusting your system, whether it's OmniFocus or anything that works to David Allen's Getting Things Done ideas (UK edition, US edition). And that trust is amazingly liberating. Knowing that you list is only showing you what you need to know now, it means that the list is doable.

And that means you do it.

This is one of the key things that makes a To Do list something I use rather than hide away from. And it's just this simple idea of a review.

Seriously, you don't need OmniFocus to do this. But, seriously, OmniFocus could just be the finest piece of software I've ever used and it is certainly the one thing that has made me productive. You'd think they were paying me.

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