OmniFocus: save everything to it

ofWhat do I mean by everything? EVERYTHING.

If it’s something you have to do, if it’s something you want to do, if it’s something that might turn into something that has to be done by somebody, save it in OmniFocus and worry about it later. Get it into OmniFocus’s inbox and get it out of your head.

When you get time, go through that inbox and have a think. You’ll find that you delete a lot, you mark many others as done, and the rest you have a proper ponder about. Slot this task into that project, add a date or don’t – preferably don’t – and do what’s called processing everything. When it’s all slotted away and your inbox is clear, everything is off your mind and it’s all in your one OmniFocus system.

This came up in a mentoring session I did earlier this week that, unusually, was dedicated solely to the use of OmniFocus. It was for a fella whose workload made me go pale and who has been handling it all on paper. Now he’s taken to OmniFocus like an evangelist in the making, but I think he has one issue left.

What I’ve said to him is that if he gets into the habit of saving everything to OmniFocus, he will come to know that everything is in there. No more wondering if there’s another list in another notebook. I’m lighter for knowing where I am with everything, even if right now I’m under the cosh with too much to do.

The thing for this fella is that he will have to work to make the habit of saving everything to OmniFocus and especially so because he uses a PC. There’s no OmniFocus for PC. Here on a Mac, even as I write to you, I can tap a couple of keys and add a task in to OmniFocus 2 for OS X while it crosses my mind, but he will in theory have to stop working and get out his iPad.

I’m advising him to instead use email a lot. I’ve already shown him how when somebody emails you with something you’ve got to do, you can forward it on to OmniFocus and it will land in your inbox. The subject of the message will be the name of the task and the content of the email will be in the task’s notes.

But you can also just email OmniFocus yourself. Got a stray thought? Email it in to OmniFocus.

It’s not the same as having the To Do app in front of you all day, every day, but that’s not a bad thing. Get used to checking it regularly and get very used to saving everything to OmniFocus and you can then spend the rest of your time actually working on all these things you’ve got to do.

Trello – visual To Dos for teams

 There’s little getting away from the fact that a To Do list is a list. It’s a lot of words, ranged in a column, and if there is anything visual about it, it’s that together they look daunting. But there are things you can do and Trello is a free service that has a good stab at one of them.

Specifically this. You do end up with lists in Trello but each list is like a stack of little cards and you can drag them around. In an ideal, recommended, go-on-try-it Trello way, you might have one stack for all your tasks, then one very short stack for the thing you are doing now. You might also have a stack for the one thing you will do next. Also a stack for everything you’ve done.

When the time comes to railroad, you can look at your Next Thing To Do stack and slide the card over to the Look I’m Doing It Now stack. And then have a quick look through Everything On My Plate and drag out one card to be the Next Thing To Do.

The visual part is the dragging. It looks and feels like you’re doing this on paper on your desk and that may suit you amazingly well. I learnt of Trello from a friend for whom it works amazingly well: she can see what she’s got to do at all times.

Plus she works in a team and while they haven’t all adopted it yet – she’s the first one to try it out – they now have the option for the entire team to use the same free system and work together. 

It sounds ideal and it could be for them, it might be for you, right now it seems it definitely is for the friend who told me about it. 

It isn’t for me, though.

That’s for a lot of reasons and I think the first is down to how you spend that time picking the next thing to do. Time spent working on your list is time you could be spending on doing the tasks.

Next, the space you put these stacks of cards is called a board and not only can you have many boards, you are encouraged and expected to. Have one board for all the things that your colleagues are working on together but keep a separate, private board for all the secret trysts you get up. (I’m not judging.) 

That’s fine and my friend has many boards already, but for me it’s back down to the business of having one system for everything: how do you know you’re done when there are always other boards to check?

There is also the fact that Trello doesn’t have the oomph of something like OmniFocus. Plus it’s an online service. You use it via iOS apps on your iPhone or iPad, but it’s really an online service and you can’t use the apps when you don’t have an internet connection.

That’s bad. That’s the only thing I’d say is definitely bad: everything else I don’t like is personal preference, but the inability to use this when you’re away from a wifi hotspot is bad.

My friend tethers her wifi-only iPad to her iPhone to get it to work or sometimes she just uses it on her iPhone. So it’s not a dealbreaker for everyone and it does have this unusual visual aspect that is going to be worth a lot to many people.

So especially as it’s free, do go give Trello a spin, would you?

Action Steps

Sounds like a Stairmaster. The blog Journl maintains everything in life comes down to three steps – of which the first is:

Action steps are the small, concrete tasks that characterise your everyday existence (the grocery shopping trips you go on every week, the bills you pay each month) and build towards a higher objective (keeping yourself fed, keeping your house warm). Though they may not be the most glamorous of tasks, their presence within a routine keeps things ticking over, allowing more time for projects of greater ambition.

Increasing Your Productivity Using the Action Method – (no author listed), Journl (7 November 2015)

Read the full piece for a touch more on this one and then the mysterious second and third steps.

It’s bigger than that, it’s huge

So this is what a critical path is:

Establish a critical path

A big task can be overwhelming and you might not have any idea where to start on it. In cases like these, establish a critical path where the key aspects of the job are ascertained, along with the time that should be taken to complete them, any dependencies between them and their logical end points. Creating a Gantt chart is particularly effective here. One of the underrated aspects of this step is the fact that establishing a critical path will enable the job to be completed more quickly, so it is a skill well worth learning.

6 Advanced Project Management Tips for Team Productivity – Theresa Buckeridge, Todoist (7 November 2014)

Read the full piece for more on critical path analysis and five other tips for the very biggest projects.

Droptask comes to Android

It’s a To Do manager especially for visual thinkers – and as of today it is on Android as well as iOS and the web. Droptask does this:

DropTask is a powerful productivity tool enabling you to visualize your workload in a unique and engaging way. Simply drag and drop tasks for all your essential to-dos, and organize them within larger colorful circles to truly see the bigger picture. With powerful functionality delivered intuitively to the user, DropTask adds simplicity to even the most complex projects and provides effortless task management for teams and individuals alike.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 17.18.39

Take a look at the official site or go straight to the Google store for the new Android version.

Alternatively, wait for me to get my finger out and review the iOS version like I’ve been trying to do for two months. There is an irony in how I fail to do a review of a To Do app, but it’s not an irony that helps you much. But if you like Droptask on Android or the web, do take a lookout it on iPhone and iPad too.

Google revamping Gmail

I know this is just me, but Gmail is confusing. And sometimes even announcements about Gmail confuse me. Such as this one. I read Google’s news about a new email solution called Inbox and it felt like I was swimming in a little ocean of very gorgeously photographed images but not an awful lot of information. I did get that Inbox by Google wants you to include your To Do list in your email and that’s just a bag of spanners waiting to fall on you.

But a lot of smarter people who do like Gmail have been reading that same information and understanding it. Here’s one:

Today, Google unveiled a new email solution called Inbox, which looks like a marriage between Gmail and Google Now. Currently available by invitation only, this new app takes bits from your email like purchase invoices and bank statements and groups them together for fast access. Like Google Now, Inbox adapts to the way you operate, highlighting key pieces of emails like flight plans, photos, documents and upcoming event information.

Google’s new Inbox app is a marriage between Gmail and Google Now (update) | 9to5Mac (22 October 2014)

Read the full piece and let me know what it means.

Stop me. This is a bad new habit

I’m a bit swamped. And today I set an alarm to prod me into a particular task at a particular time.

That’s not a time in my To Do list: I don’t find the timed reminders in OmniFocus all that useful because I just don’t find them. I’ll pick up my phone and discover a reminder notification is there. If it made a sound, I didn’t catch it.

This could be a problem with my iPhone: I have difficulties with the alarm sometimes going off and sometimes not. It will always display the alarm notification, the one with stop or snooze buttons, but it might not make any noise. I would be considering my hearing if it weren’t that sometimes it does work.

For a year or more now, I’ve been setting two alarms: one for 04:59 and one for 05:01 because one or either or both will sound and I’ll take that.

I suppose I’m just using the same workaround to solve my tasks problem but I really don’t like it. I set three alarms today for three certain things that had to certainly be done. When it came down to it, I postponed one of them. And I snoozed all three several times.

This is just a senseless waste of my concentration and I’ve got to stop it.

If something works, fine. If it doesn’t, why keep doing it? I need to take a step out, I think, and re-examine my OmniFocus To Do lists.

Hang on, I’ll just set an alarm for that.

The other benefit of writing To Dos as if someone else will write them

First, the original benefit. The benefit I thought of and that I explain during The Blank Screen book and workshop.

Instead of writing “Email Tom”, write “Reply to Tom re secret tryst”.

Frankly, if that’s your task then I don’t know that I’d write it down my list. I’d just do it. I might call him on an untraceable burner phone, but that’s just me.

The thing is that tomorrow when I come to my To Do list, it’s right there. What I need to do, what it’s about. See that, do it, done.

But a woman on today’s workshop pointed out an extra benefit that I like so much I’m going to use it in all future workshops and claim it’s my own. When you write out a To Do as if someone else will do it, you soon see what’s important and what isn’t. What is important enough that it would really be worth giving someone.

I loved that. I’m having that.

Don’t do things too early

The website Fast Company calls someone who does things too soon to be a ‘precrastinator’ –

A precrastinator – one who completes tasks in advance – may think they’re beating procrastinators at their own game but that’s not true

‘Precrastinating’ and Why It’s Just as Bad as Procrastinating – Lisa Evans, Fast Company (14 July 2014)

Go on.

Professor David Rosenbaum and graduate student Cory Adam Potts conducted an experiment in which participants were given the choice of carrying one of two heavy buckets full of pennies down an alleyway. One bucket was placed near participants at the start line, while the other bucket was placed closer to the finish line.

Surprising the researchers, the majority of participants picked up the bucket that was closest to them, even though it meant they had to carry it farther and expend more physical effort. When the participants were asked why they’d chosen that bucket, the majority replied they wanted to get the task done as quickly as possible. The desire to lighten their mental load was stronger than their determination to reduce their physical effort.

I’m not convinced that’s precrastination, I think there’s got to be an element of spatial awareness there, but there is one persuasive point in the full article. There’s the suggestion that procrastinators can do better because they simply have longer to think about things.

Quickly get tasks out of your emails

This happens. Someone sends you a giant email full of personal detail, personal conversation between the pair of you, and oh, in the middle, there’s a job they need doing. Actually, it’s a job where you need to ask someone something for them.

Highlight that bit. Just that bit. Only that sentence. Now hit Forward.

Practically whatever email system you use, you will now have in front of you a brand new email message with that highlighted text and nothing else.

You didn’t have to copy and paste, your email just did it for you. Address the email, send it off, done.

If that one email has several tasks for many people, do this to each one. Highlight, forward, send. Highlight, forward, send.

If it’s a task for you and your To Do app can handle this, you could do exactly the same thing but email the task into your app. OmniFocus users get a secret email address for precisely this job. And I use the bejaysis out of it. Highlight, forward a task to OmniFocus, done.