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.

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.

The best To Do apps for your phone

I’ve said this from the start of The Blank Screen:

If you have a phone that can run a To Do app, get a To Do app


If you haven’t got a phone that can run a To Do app, get a phone that can

The reason is that you need your list with you everywhere and Post-It notes can’t cut it. It’s possible to lose them, it’s impossible not to end up with dozens of the wretched things.

Whereas a phone is part of you and moreover, any task you enter on that phone should then be everywhere. It depends on the app and the phone but, for instance, I’ll dictate a To Do task into my iPhone while I drive and know – know – that it is immediately on my office Mac and immediately on my iPad.

What I’ve been adding in lately is a list of specific recommendations. I can’t recommend phones, I know nothing about Android and if I said an iPhone 5something then you know the iPhone 6 would come out immediately.

But software, I can recommend.

Google any one of the following to find every possible detail plus oodles of reviews – plus in most cases, YouTube videos showing them in action.

For iPhone users

Reminders (Apple’s own, you’ve already got this)
Appigo Todo

For Android users

Windows Phone

Sorry, I truly have no clue here and it is not for want of trying. You’ll be astonished how many Windows Phone articles there are about productivity apps which explicitly say they feature To Do software but then don’t. If you know a great Windows Phone To Do task manager, would you tip me off, please? I’m on

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.

Use your email as a To Do manager (no, no, no)

There is no right or wrong way to get productive, but sometimes it feels like there is. Here’s an article for you if you fancy using your email inbox as your To Do list. I bring this to you and what you do with it is of course entirely up to you, but I’ll be off way over here with tea, a mint chocolate Aero and saying la la la. For:

They say your email inbox is a terrible place to manage tasks. I’d disagree. I think it’s the perfect place. After all, most of my tasks come in via email, and any app that can share information can share it via email. Why bother dickering with an extra app, keeping all that important stuff in two places, when it can all be easily managed in one spot?

I’ve been doing exactly this ever since I ditched OmniFocus, which is so long ago I can’t remember how long ago it was.

Wait, what, whoa, excuse me? Ditching OmniFocus – OMNIFOCUS – for your email inbox. Can I get some whisky for this tea?

Also, incidentally, I say your email inbox is a terrible place to manage tasks. That means I am they. I’ve never been they before. I can live with this.

Anyway, here’s the crux and the thrust of the article:

With a little bit of setup in your everyday news and browsing apps, you can turn your inbox into a proper universal task list. Here’s how.

This tutorial will use your email account, Mr. Reader (for RSS news items), Twitterrific and Drafts, plus one simple mail rule to organize things behind the scenes. You can gussy things up with all kinds of extras, but the core system is both solid and flexible. Like I say, I’ve been using it for months and it’s way better than anything else I’ve tried.
Email is ubiquitous, so it’s the perfect place to keep your task list.

If you make use of lots of separate projects, or have specific needs for metadata and GTD contexts, then maybe you should stick with something like OmniFocus or Things. But you’d be surprised just how far my mail-based system can stretch.

Okay, writer Charlie Sorrell gets points for that small reversal and allowing that proper To Do managers have their place. But points are removed for saying you can use one spot rather than muck around with two apps and then casually mentioning you actually need four. (Twitterrific, Drafts, Mr Reader and your email.)

But go on, if you must, read more at Cult of Mac.

By the way, did I mention that doing this could create aparadox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe? Granted, that’s a worse case scenario.

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.

Should you write your To Do tasks as question?


So there.

Write your To Dos as if someone else is going to do them. Take the time to put that extra explanatory detail in there – so instead of writing “Phone meeting Anne” on your list, write “Phone Anne to ask her for purchase order number”. The second takes longer to write but you come to the phone tomorrow and you are dialling immediately. The former is shorter but tomorrow you’re going to look at “Phone meeting Anne” and think, what’s that about? Is she phoning me or am I supposed to phone her? And you may well have to stop to think: hang on, which Anne?

I believe this, I do this, it works. Not everyone agrees.

1# Change a relatively boring list to something that can excite you
Since lists in their current state are declarative in nature, I first tackled changing the way I write them.

I found out that we’re more likely to read something if it has a question mark attached to it which led me to change the way I write tasks.

Let’s start with one of the most boring tasks that I know off, doing your laundry.

Instead of writing it like the mundane task it is i.e. as a declaration “- Do the laundry at 8 PM”, write it as a question or even a challenge! This will rub some extra flavor into it “Can you finish the laundry before 8:30 PM?” and will make sure you’ll tackle it.

Asking question stimulates our curiosity; curiosity is an engine that motivates us to explore and discover.

Are We Managing Our To-Do Lists All Wrong? – IQ Tell

Haim Pekel wrote that on the IQ Tell productivity blog which I didn’t see and hadn’t heard of until Lifehacker spotted it yesterday. Lifehacker’s more pro this idea than I am, so do read the full piece on IQ Tell to see what you think.

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.

Force your To Do app to have start dates

Most To Do apps don’t have this but you need it and there’s a way to fake it on any software:

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 16.52.19

This is the ideal: you write one task and you give it both a start date – called “deferred until” in that screenshot – and a date that really have to do it by. All in one. (Actually, no, the ideal is to not use either start or end dates, especially not end dates. But that’s another story.)

There’s a good, solid, practical reason why this is the ideal when you have a deadline and there is a more nebulous yet enormously more important reason too. First, the practical one:

Having one task with start and end means you’ve one place to go change its details if you need

The nebulous one is:

Software that has start dates will keep your task hidden away from you until then.

It’s in your system, you won’t forget it, you just won’t have to consider it at all until the time you’ve said you should start.

Set it, forget it, get on with the stuff you have to do now.

I mean it when I say this is enormous. It’s the difference between a To Do list that you will use and one that just becomes this enormous long stupid hateful damn bloody list of a million things you still haven’t done yet, you total failure.

So it’s a shame that not every To Do app does start dates. My beloved OmniFocus does. (The screenshot above comes from OmniFocus for Mac where start dates are now called Defer Until dates. Apparently people got confused. But start dates are so crucial that the term is now burnt into me.) Other apps have it too: the online one Asana, the iPhone one Appigo To Do. It’s hard to give you a definitive list of what does and doesn’t have it because it changes a lot – and because some software firms look like they’ve only added start dates because customers wouldn’t stop shut up about them. The feature is there but, my lights, it’s hard to find.

You’d think you could just google like “omnifocus start date app review” or somesuch and get the answer for any app, but you simply can’t. Do try it. If you’re considering a particular To Do app, definitely google whether it has start dates. Be prepared to dig through articles. If the app is free, just get the bleedin’ app and try looking in that. But look for it, hope to find it, be prepared that you may not.

And if you don’t, fake it.

Do this:

  1. Give your task a deadline, a due date, that is really the day you should start it
  2. Call that task something like “Do that thing which is due on 1st May”
  3. Create another task called “Do that thing” and give it a due date of 1st May or whatever the the real deadline is

It’s two tasks instead of one. And you may see both on your list every day, but typically your app will at least put them at the bottom of the list until the first deadline appears.

It works. It’s not elegant. There’s a strong chance that it’ll go wrong: if you tick the first one, the starting task, when you begin it but you don’t finish on that day, you have to remember to continue it tomorrow.

Have you noticed that I’ve avoided saying oh, to hell with it, just buy OmniFocus?


Is it a task? Is it an event? No, it’s… er… um…

I was in a meeting last night and was told I had to do something – but only if certain other things happened. Broadly, if any of these things go wrong then I have to do this or that or the other depending on what and where and when.

It all makes absolute sense but it makes sense to me now. I don’t know that it makes so much sense that I will remember it in a year’s time when one of these things goes wrong.

Plus, I got into a state recently because my OmniFocus To Do list was so full of stray ideas and stuff that I will never get around to that I wasn’t getting around to the stuff I needed to do. I was seeing trees instead of wood. I was feeling like I’d lost all control of everything. And while I’m back now, while it feels great to be on top of it all once more, the road to that misery is to bung in things that you shouldn’t.

And I don’t know. I can’t put this particular instruction in my calendar, that’s obvious. But I can put it in my task list. Yet if I do, when exactly do I tick it off? Possibly never, certainly not for a month, probably not for many months. It would sit there forever, really.

This is starting to happen more and more. I don’t know how I’ve coped with it before, I’m not sure that I have coped with it before, but it’s happening now and I need to deal with it now. So what I’m trying is this: I’m creating Evernote notebooks devoted to the organisation or the project. Those instructions are now one note that will stay in Evernote forever. Because that’s what you use Evernote for: it’s for remembering forever. And if I never look up the notebook again, it’ll be because I don’t need to. Fine.

But will this work? It sounds sensible to me. Except in a month or a few months or a year or if ever this thing goes wrong, then will I remember that I have these Evernote notebooks?

I should add a task to OmniFocus that says “Check the Evernote notebooks you created in order to not have tasks in OmniFocus that you need to check”