Utility counts every word you type – in Facebook as well as your writing

Some rogueishly handsome fella over on MacNN.com wrote a review of a OS X utility called WordTarget:

It’s a menubar utility for OS X which simply counts every word. Every time you hit the space bar, that’s another word counted, and that’s fine. No debate there. It does also count hyphens, though, so self-starter is treated as two words, which seems like cheating. To balance that out, however, it does not subtract words when you delete them. Actually, we found that if you highlight some words and delete them all, your word count goes up by one.

That’s probably a bug, and it’s not a significant error: the odd word here or there is not going to make much difference if you’re writing a 170,000-word book, for instance. However, it is significant that it won’t recognize that you’ve deleted whole passages. If you are really doing this to hit a Charlie Brown-like mandated word count, you’ll have to keep this in mind.

But WordTarget is meant for people who are aiming at an ideal number of words rather than a specific commissioned length. Novelists who decide they’re going to write 1,000 words per day no matter what, for instance, they’re the market here. You can presume that WordTarget sales go up every November during NaNoWrMo, where hopeful writers need to hit an average of 1,600 words per day.

Hands On: WordTarget menubar word counter (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 December 2014)

Read the full piece because it tells you more, it has screenshots and I worked very hard on it.

Recommendation: Keyboard Maestro for Mac

I mean it when I say TextExpander seems to be everywhere I turn and I also mean it when I say that Mac and iOS app is becoming a mandatory tool for me. But it’s not the only utility that watches for your keystrokes and does interesting things with them. There is also Keyboard Maestro.

Here’s what it does, nicked from the official website:

Whether you are a power user or a grandparent (or both!), your time is precious. So why waste it when Keyboard Maestro can help improve almost every aspect of using your Mac. Even the simplest things, like typing your email address, or going to Gmail or Facebook, launching Pages, or duplicating a line, all take time and add frustration. Let Keyboard Maestro help make your Mac life more pleasant and efficient.

Keyboard Maestro Official Site

No, I think we need a specific example. Also from that site:

Use function keys to launch or switch to your most used applications. For example, you probably often switch to the Finder, your Email client, your Web Browser, your Word Processor. Consider putting these and other frequently used applications on function keys.

Launch Scanner Application When Scanner is Connected. Set up a macro that automatically launches your scanner application when your scanner is connected, and quits it again when the scanner is disconnected. This works brilliantly with the ScanSnap scanners – open the lid and the scanner software launches, close it and the scanner software disappears.

I’ve used both of these. If I tap F14 on my office iMac, it takes me to OmniFocus. If that beloved application isn’t using, then while I check my pulse to see what’s wrong, Keyboard Maestro launches OmniFocus and then switches me to it.

It is very, very useful yet I don’t use it enough. I set up keys for OmniFocus, Evernote, Mail, Safari and since you can forget Keyboard Maestro when you’ve done that, I’ve forgotten it. But I did get it around the same time as I bought both TextExpander and Hazel – I expect I’ll be back talking about Hazel very soon – and my brain only took so much in.

Whereas this fella learnt it all and wants to show you. Let me have his say and then go to the Keyboard Maestro site to buy it.

TextExpander, again

You know when you hear of something, you seem to keep hearing of it? Everywhere? I don’t know why this would be the case with TextExpander this week, since I’ve been using it for months, but it is. Many, many times this week I’ve read of a new use for this software or I’ve learnt how it can help me.

I’ve mentioned TextExpander a lot too. It’s software for Apple gear – utterly fantastic on Mac, less so on iOS – which lets you type a short code and have that be automatically replaced by as much text as you like. I use it for signing off emails; I don’t like signatures but if I’m sending to this person, I’ll have TextExpander pop in that sig.

I use it in the writing of The Blank Screen email newsletter every week: to include video in that, you have to remember a set of codes and I don’t. I used to have close the latest newsletter, open up the last one, copy the codes out, then reopen the latest one and paste. Now I just type the letters “xembed” and, bing, it’s all typed out for me.

But those codes represent maybe half a line of typing. It’s not long, it’s just difficult to remember. My signatures range from one word (“William”) to a couple of lines with my contact details. Now Academic workflows on a Mac has shown how to use this to write entire letters:

The time it takes to write recommendation letters usually increases dramatically with the years spent teaching in a University. This is not a responsibility that should be ditched: many former students – especially those applying for academic positions – deserve glowing recommendations which should be hand-crafted and long. Even in this business Mac automation tools such as TextExpander can take care of the routine and let you focus on creative and important parts.

I almost always conclude my letter with a standard phrase which looks as follows:

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions about Anton‘s competencies or Lund University.
Thank you for your attention in this matter and I wish you to select the best recipients of your scholarship.
Aleh Cherp

TextExpander for Writing Recommendation Letters – Aleh Cherp, Academic Workflows on a Mac (17 July 2014)

Cherp has one TextExpander snippet, as they’re called, which spits out all of that but with options. You’d hope so, unless Cherp only teaches students named Anton. But take a look at the full piece for how it’s done – and if you’re already a TextExpander user, you’ll find the complete details for how to do exactly this yourself.

And if you’re not a TextExpander user, go get it and change that.

LaunchCentre Pro masterclass on MacStories

Imagine that you could have one button on your iPhone that, say, opens OmniFocus and goes straight to entering a new task. Or one button that dials your mother. Send a description of a meeting to Fantastical in one tap.


And then imagine that it’s faster to just go to OmniFocus yourself, or to tap on your mother’s name or to start typing directly in Fantastical.

That’s what happened to me. LaunchCentre Pro does all this one-button lark and it is very impressive but it takes two buttons. One to launch LaunchCentre Pro and then one to do the thing you want. As fast as it is, as clever as it is, that’s two taps and I was finding that it is quicker to things directly.

Consequently LaunchCentre Pro vanished off my home screen.

But it comes back each time there’s a new version and each time someone finds a vastly cleverer use for it than I ever came up with. Now, MacStories has come up with a more comprehensive guide to using this thing than even the makers do.

I know I sound down on LaunchCentre Pro but I like the idea and it is cycling round to my homescreen again. I do still keep Drafts on there, which is a text editor that has similar functions and that can work well with LaunchCentre Pro. So I may be down on it, but I’d like you to be up on it so you can see for yourself. Read this first and very comprehensive guide.

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.

Let’s turn to the phones

I swear to you that this is a thing. It really is. Just Google “iPhone home screen” and you will find literally half a dozen articles with people talking about what’s on their iPhone front page. I don’t think it’s such a big with Android users but then I wouldn’t be bothered looking. So. Maybe it’s Android too, maybe it’s everyone, maybe I’m not crazy. But I do have one thought about showing you my iPhone front screen.

Is there any better way of recommending software apps to you than showing what I actually use?

And since we’re talking about the front page, these must be the apps that I use the most. Yes. I use these to run my life. One caveat: I also have an iPad but that would be far too big a screengrab to show you. I also have a 27in iMac, but let’s be serious. You’d have to serialise a screengrab from that.

So here’s my iPhone and this is what it’s got on it that is practically worn out from the amount of use I put it all to:

iphone homescreen today


Some of this stuff you know, some of it just does what it says underneath. Phone, for instance. Music. Let’s just wallop through the biggies:

Top row, second from the left – Fantastical 2 for iPhone. I’ve already talked about that and also Mynd, way down there toward the bottom, one up from Music, in Three Calendars, No Waiting. I was testing out Fantastical 2 then and also Mynd, which I’d only just realised is also a calendar. (I thought it was about meetings. It is. It’s just more.) Time has moved on and you can see that Fantastical 2 has kept its space on my home screen so I must like it. Whereas Mynd – wait, Mynd is still there. Bugger. It’s very good when it’s very good and when I need it but, oddly, I haven’t needed it much. Despite having many meetings. I’m afraid Mynd may be on its way out. I’ll think about it and get back to you. But Fantastical 2, unreserved recommendation: get it here.

Second row from the top, first on the left – Pocket. Read something here on the phone in Safari or in my RSS reader, or on my iPad, or my Mac or someone else’s PC, anything and anywhere, and I can lob it off to Pocket. Pocket is not the first Read It Later service, but it is the first that I used consistently often to save things and also to later remember that I had them and finally read the things.  Pocket is free, by the way. Off you go.

Second row from the top, second on the left – OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. Need I say any more? Can I say any more? I can? Start reading here – and bring a mug of tea. Then go buy this version of OmniFocus for your iPhone. It’s been updated fairly recently and the iPad one hasn’t so I’m havering over whether to recommend that to you. Up to a couple of weeks ago I’d have said yes even though it’s not quite as whizzy as the iPhone one. The iPad version of OmniFocus has traditionally been the best of the three – but that third one, the Mac version, that’s zooming up. It used to be very hard to use, now a vastly easier yet still powerful one is in beta and I’m addicted to it. Right now, I think the Mac one is the best. Go to the Omni Group’s website and find out about all three.

Third row down, second from left – Drafts. I don’t use this remotely as much as I would expect and chiefly because that’s Evernote right next to it. I’ve now got muscle memory that if I want to write anything quickly, it goes in Evernote. Drafts is possibly a nicer writing experience and it is definitely more flexible. Anything you write in Evernote stays in Evernote and that’s great because it stays there in Evernote on your phone, your computer, your tablet and so on. Anything you write in Drafts stays in Drafts but with one tap can go almost anywhere else. Write something and send it from Drafts to OmniFocus or to a text message or to an email. Or, I’ve just this week found out, to Fantastical. I found it tricky to set up but now it works so smoothly that I wonder if it’s even working. All I definitely do with it at the moment is jot down ideas that it then automatically appends for me to a Story Ideas note in Evernote. Get Drafts here and Evernote there.

Fourth row down, first on the left – 1Password. Actually, see today’s The Blank Screen newsletter for more details of this and then go buy it while it’s on sale. If the sale is over by the time you catch this, go buy it anyway. I paid full price, I’m happy. And buy 1Password for iOS here.

Fourth row down, second from the left – Concise Oxford Dictionary. Not only the dictionary text but also an audio pronunciation guide for many words. Every word I’ve ever tried, actually, and I’ve had this app since about 2008. I use it a lot. I wish it were upgraded for iOS 7 or even just to the stretched out iPhone 5 that I use and I wish all sorts of things, but it’s a great dictionary. Unfortunately, it is sufficiently old that I don’t think you can get it anymore. You can get many similar versions but not quite the one I know, so I can’t recommend a particular one. But do have a look at them all, okay?

Fourth row down, third from the left – Awesome Clock. I use this as a bedside analogue clock. It’s very customisable but now I’ve found an arrangement of clock face and hands that I like, I like it a great deal. Unfortunately, it ain’t around. Not today, anyway. Vanished from the App Store.

Fourth row down, fourth from the left – XpenseTracker.  That fourth row sees some action, doesn’t it? I use this for recording all my expenses. Are you okay? Did you just faint with surprise? Someone, bring us hot towels and some whisky. And tell me how much that costs because I need to pop it into XpenseTracker

Fifth row down, first from the left – HulloMail. I used to be on O2 and got Visual Voicemail. (Whereby instead of dialling in for your messages and listening to eight spam calls before you finally get to one from your client and, wait, hang on, she said a number there, bugger, where’s my pencil, you just tap. Here’s a list of the calls you’ve missed and which left messages. Tap on the one you want to hear first, you hear it first. Missed a phone number or couldn’t quite catch a word? Scrub back and forth through the recording.) It is so good that I had no idea there were iPhones that didn’t have it. Until I left O2 for 3 and despite in all other ways being far better, it didn’t have Visual Voicemail. HulloMail brings it back. It brings it back with ads and I keep meaning to upgrade but it’s a subscription and I’m not certain I use it enough. Take a look at HulloMail here.

Fifth row down, second from left – Where To? I keep wanting to call this Exit. Actually, I keep calling it Exit. And I rotate between using this and Localscope: both are easy of finding out what’s near you. I love this kind of app and I pummel mine: the first App Store review I ever wrote was for one called Vicinity and I could not get over what a stunningly great and useful idea this is. Where’s the nearest bank? Where’s a pizza place? Tap, there it is. With business details. I can’t remember why I fell away from Vicinity but I regularly bounce between Where To? and Localscope. Where To? looks very old to me and I just don’t enjoy using it as much as I do Localscope, but it’s given me more accurate information somehow. And I also understand it: I find I have to keep thinking with Localscope about where a certain feature is. But here’s Where To? and here’s Localscope: do have a look at both, would you?

Last one. Fifth row down, third from the left, Reeder 2 for iOS. This is my RSS reader of choice and I have done an awful lot of choosing. Here’s what I wrote about it when a new version came out late last year. There’s now also a Mac version in beta, which I enthused about here. But just go buy the iPhone version.

I’m worn out from enthusing.

My iPhone home screen, like everybody else’s I presume, changes a lot. You can see I’m havering over a couple of these apps. But the rest, the ones that stay there, tend to stay for the very good reason that they are very good. If you want a recommended app, this is what I recommend.

I hope you find they are as good for you as they have been for me.

You don’t have to be creepy about it

But do your homework about people. I just had a terribly fun meeting with someone – er, I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did – and before I got to her, I'd read her blog. I'd seen her professional pages, I'd read what she did, I had an idea of some of the work she did.

I intended to stop there. The idea of coming to a meeting entirely cold makes me wince but equally I'm there to meet you, I'm not there to show off my deep research. I really want to meet you: easily the best part of journalism is that you get to bound off and say hello to people you might otherwise never come across. Utterly love that.

And I stopped intentionally looking into this woman's background. But I've been trying a free iPhone app called Mynd and it did some digging for me without my realising it.

Mynd is like a calendar assistant; I found it because I was exploring calendars and looking for why I nearly missed an appointment recently. I also found it because it got mentioned a few times by Katie Floyd on the Mac Power Users podcast. All it does, I thought, is show me my entire day in one screen: how many events I've got to get to, where the next one is, what the weather's like today. I also found that it calculates how long it's going to take me to drive to somewhere and it will say so right there on the screen: you need to leave in 10 minutes if you're going to make the appointment. Sometimes it sounds a notification too. I haven't figured out why it's only sometimes.

But I have figured out that it believes I drive everywhere when really it's more that I drive almost nowhere. So I got a Mynd notification that I ought to get out of Dodge and start the car right now when I was already on a train to London.

I was going to ditch it for doing that. I have Fantastical now that does all the work I need of managing my appointments and events. (Fantastical 2 for iPad is £6.99 UK, $9.99 US. Fantastical 2 for iPhone is £2.99 UK, $4.99 US. The iPad prices are launch offers and will shortly increase by about 33%.) Plus I don't care about the weather and when I do have a mind to wonder about whether it's going to rain, I ask Siri.


There is a panel on this Mynd screen called People and up to now it has always been blank. Today it showed a photo of the woman I was meeting. And it got that photo from LinkedIn. When I tapped on that photo, it showed me her short LinkedIn bio and then it had options for calling her. If you're running late, you open Mynd, tap the person's photo, then tap to send her a message. If you've got the number of her mobile, anyway. Or an email address.

That would be spectacularly handy if I were ever late for anything but usually I'm cripplingly early. Still, it's impressive.

What was even more impressive is that I scrolled to tomorrow, saw the first meeting had a fella's photo there – and behind it was a list of related Evernote documents. It's just reminded me of the last note I made when talking to him. Right there. I'd forgotten I'd ever made a note but there it is.

It's like Mynd gives you a personal briefing before you go to meet someone. I don't think that means you should skip looking in to them yourself, but I feel wildly efficient about tomorrow now. And I won't feel wildly stupid if he mentions the topic of my last note.

Mynd is free for iPhone on the App Store. There's no iPad or Android version.

Have a look at the Mynd website too. It proposes using the software as your sole calendar for a week and I've just learnt that you can do that. Bugger. I think I'll continue using it as an adjunct to Fantastical but it's handy to know that all the ordinary calendar functions are in this Mynd app as well.

Windows alternatives to OmniFocus

Pity me. I go around doing workshops about being a productive writer and I've even written a book about it (The Blank Screen: Productivity for Creative Writers, UK edition, US edition) And it all makes sense, it all works – I promise you that and I have such gorgeous tweets and emails from people telling me so – but there is a big problem. It's the To Do list.

When I started this, the problem was that I'm on a Mac and quite a few people go for that there Windows thing. And my To Do manager of choice only runs on Macs. Actually, I say it's the To Do manager of my choice, I think it's more the To Do manager of my heart and soul. It used to be that in a workshop I would put up a slide showing you OmniFocus and where to get it. And then I'd say: “If you know a Windows equivalent, it would be a huge help for me to hear about it.” Or something like that.

But there are two problems now: I can't automatically and easily evangelise OmniFocus because the app is in a bit of a flux as new versions are coming.

OmniFocus for iPhone has already been radically updated and I like it a lot. OmniFocus for iPad hasn't and won't be until OmniFocus 2 for Mac is done. Do you buy now or wait? It's easy with the iPhone version: buy it. It's sort-of easy with the Mac one: buy the current OmniFocus 1 for Mac and you'll get version 2 for free when it's released. But OmniFocus 1 for Mac is hard work. I understand it now and I adore the power, but it took me a long time to get there. Even last year's failed OmniFocus 2 beta was a significant improvement in some key areas so surely OF 2 will be too. So I'd wait for OmniFocus 2.

When you buy any Mac version of OmniFocus, do it from the main Omni Group website itself, don't go through the Mac App Store. As handy as that is, there are problems upgrading for free when you have bought via the App Store.

You have no choice with the iPad and iPhone ones and that's also why I hesitate: the iPad one is already the best of the three, can they actually make it any better? Very likely.

But here's the thing. I have all three versions of OmniFocus and I use them all. But when OmniFocus 2 for iPad or Mac comes out, I'm buying them again immediately.

Because I truly don't know of any other To Do software that is this good.

I ask about that and about Windows and so far so far nobody has ever piped up with an answer during the workshop, during the after-session nattering (possibly my favourite part) or over the many emails I get later.

That's not a scientific or statistically valid sampling of people to call from. For the most part, I don't presume any computer knowledge and I don't ask anyone in advance what equipment they prefer to use. But most festival or university blurbs that describe my talk use one of the many texts I give them and they they invariably include the phrase “make your computer work harder for you”. If you were deeply into Windows software already, or Mac for that matter, I don't think that line would sell the workshop to you. So very broadly, I think one can expect fewer than average power-users in a typical workshop. Which means we can equally expect fewer people to know Windows software well enough to tell me what they've got that is as powerful as OmniFocus.

I know I'm right in all this but I want to tell you that I doubt it matters. I doubt that there is actually an equivalent to OmniFocus in Windows. But telling you that now, six years into this post, feels a bit rich. So let me show you what I've been working on for the workshop I'm doing next week. This is a special limited-number workshop for a specific group of writers that I work with on Writing West Midlands' Room 204 programme. I know them so I have an idea of how they like to work and what kit they use. Many are PC fans and I will ask them for advice but I think it's time I stepped up.

So I've been looking into this in detail. Or at least as much detail as you can without owning a Windows PC. I've checked reviews, I've tried all the online web versions I can find and I've downloaded iOS companion apps. No Android, I don't have the facility to test that nor the patience of Job to go through all the Android permutations.

There is nothing in Windows that is as strong as OmniFocus for Macintosh.


I've boiled it down to a few that have one of the core things of OmniFocus: the start date. Let's just take a second to think about that term and what we'd use it for. If I enter a new task in OmniFocus then I can, if I'm fussed, also give it a deadline date. An end date. If I want to, though, I can also stepm in and add what's now called a Defer Until date. In my head it's still a Start Date. But whatever you call it, OmniFocus uses it and uses it for this one specific purpose: to hide it from you.

It's little short of disturbing. You enter a task, tap in a start date and you're sure you've saved it, you're sure, but you cannot see it anywhere.

That's not entirely true. You can see it whenever you do a review of all your tasks. (Reviews are a big part of Getting Things Done, the ideas behind many successful To Do apps like OmniFocus and yet, weirdly, not many systems include it. Note, too, that the iPhone version of OmniFocus hasn't got reviews either. I truly don't understand why and I think it's a big gap. I'm okay because I just do my reviews on the iPad, where it is a gorgeous system. I do think once you start on OmniFocus you'll buy all three versions, but again, they're in flux. I don't know what to suggest.) There are other ways to find and see this new task but the kicker is that you don't get to see it on your main To Do List. It ain't there. At all.

It isn't there on your list and it isn't going to be there until that start date comes around.

Here's a typical, practical use for that. I'm doing The Blank Screen workshop at the Stratford Literary Festival in May. I've done everything I need to do to get that going, now I don't even have to think about it until mid-April when I'll update and rewrite the presentation. So get it off my list until April. I don't want to see it and I don't want to have to keep thinking “Is it April yet?” (Tell me I'm not the only person who would have to stop to think that.)

Typical, practical and shorter example: if I'm doing a particular job every week on a Tuesday, keep things off my list until the Monday when I need to think about them.

I could talk to you all day about OmniFocus and it would just be cruel if you're on a PC. But if we just and only talk about start dates, then we've got some options here. The following are all Windows apps with web versions that work crossplatform: if there's one you fancy, see whether it has a companion app that works with your phone.

By default, there are no start dates. But go to Account Settings and look for the many fields you can choose to switch on for a task. One of them is start dates and once you've ticked that, every task you enter has the option for a start date.

Appigo To Do
I was a big Appigo To Do user until I found OmniFocus. Since then it's become a little suite of programs including a web client and I'm honestly a little confused over what option gets you what. But as of a few months ago, Appigo To Do includes Start Dates.

It's rather poorly done on the iPhone version: you have no way to realise that this icon is for setting the end date and that one is for setting the start date. None. Do what I did: press everything. When you know which button it is, though, you're set.

Well, nearly. Appigo doesn't have the same control as OmniFocus so it's a touch less refined in what does and doesn't show you. But a task with a start date that isn't today will get separated from more urgent tasks on your list.

This is team-wide To Do management and that would put it outside my usual sphere of interest: I want to make you, personally and specifically you, more productive. Not companies. I reckon if everyone in a firm is as good as you then that's great, but it's you I'm working with.

It also tends to mean complex. Enterprise-wide software takes some learning and I haven't done that. But Asana promises start dates. It's even an automatic thing. Yet I couldn't figure it out.

There's a line somewhere between To Do apps and Project Management software. I think it might be here.

I'm disappointed that there are no start dates in the best-named To Do software ever: Remember the Milk. Going by the chatter on its support forums, there never will be either. So I'm afraid that means RTM is out for me.

They all are, I suppose: I've said before that you'd need Primacord explosive around my waist to get me away from OmniFocus on a Mac, iPhone and iPad. But there is Primacord, it is possible and I thought – I still think – that it will happen that some day there's going to be a better To Do manager. But it isn't today and it unquestionably isn't on a PC.

‘Appy days 2013

I’m a bit disappointed with Apple’s Best of 2013 pick of apps. There’s no real reason I should be, it’s just a list of what’s sold best and what Apple staff seem to like, but I thought I’d find something great in there that I wasn’t already using. And I admit, I unthinkingly expected to see software that helps you be more productive. This year, more than any, I’ve leant on software to get my work done and it’s been a terribly rewarding, satisfying kind of time because I’ve done so much more in so many more areas.

So when I wrote to you about Apple’s pick yesterday, I started in the expectation that I could show you some great tools.

Since that didn’t really work out, since the Best of 2013 became more of a curiosity than a grab bag of productivity tools, let me do what I wanted it to do. Let me show you the best productivity apps of the year.

Two very, very big caveats. One, I’m on a Mac so if you’re on a PC today then this is of precisely zero use to you. Well, not quite: there are some things here that are cross-platform. Platform-agnostic. But I’ll never have the patience to read through a list of Windows applications to find the single thing that will also run on my Mac, so if you’re in that boat, have a mug of tea instead and we’ll chat later.

Two, I’m sure some of these apps came out in 2013 but I’m never going to check. These are the tools that have made me enormously and enjoyably productive in 2013 and that includes ancient apps I’ve only just discovered and it includes old stalwarts that I have used for years. I know. Crazy. Maybe that’s why Apple’s list is more entertainment and games: maybe not much came out this year.

Enough. Here’s the list. I tell you now, it’s not as long as I thought it would be.


(Mac: £54.99/US$79.99, iPhone £13.99/US$19.99, iPad £27.99/US$39.99)

Yes, I have all three and once you’ve bought any of them, you’ll go get the other two as well. So let me add that up for you: in the UK, the triptych costs you £96.97 and in the US it’s $139.97. Prices must vary a bit as I’m sure I spent nearer £80 when I bought them but if you’ve gulped, so have I: I’m going to be buying them again in 2014.

That amuses me a little: I keep saying that this price is incredibly cheap considering what OmniFocus has meant to me and that I would gladly pay it again – and now I’m going to. Because there are new versions coming and they are all paid upgrades. I expect there’ll be a discount for existing users of the Mac one but I know there won’t be for the iPad version because there wasn’t for the new iPhone one.

Nonetheless, the second that new iPhone version was out, I bought it. Actually, it requires iOS 7 so what I did was upgrade to iOS 7 and then immediately buy OmniFocus 2 for iPhone. I liked the previous version very much but I like this even more and use it even more. I’m not entirely sure that is possible, but I do.

All of which is a lot of detail to throw at you when you may have never even heard of OmniFocus. It’s a To Do task manager. But that is a bit like saying War and Peace is a stack of paper with some ink on it. 

OmniFocus may not be for you: it is very powerful and it tends to do your head in a bit at first before you get a whole series of Damascus moments and love it. I wrote in a Mac magazine once that “first it destroys your mind, then it owns your soul” and I meant it as a compliment.

But if it’s more than you need or it’s more than you can face, then £96.97 isn’t cheap, it’s suddenly a lot of cash. So tread carefully but do tread, okay? 

While The Omni Group has not announced its plans, the fairly smart money says that the new OmniFocus 2 for iPhone will be followed soon to soonish by version 2 for the iPad and then at some point for the Mac. This makes things a tiny bit tricky. I’d like to tell you to wait but I also want you to get the benefits of this right now. If the Mac version were easier to use, I’d say pull the trigger: the odds are that if you buy OmniFocus 1 for Mac now you will get version 2 for free when it comes. No guarantees, but it’s highly likely. And that dispenses with the money concern.

But it is a concern that this Mac one is hard to use. I’m happy that I put the work in and I enjoy that the Mac one is very powerful. But I got on the beta test for OmniFocus 2 for Mac early in 2013 and have found it hard to go back. That beta has closed and it looks like whenever OmniFocus 2 for Mac comes out for real, it will look and act substantially different to the beta because OS X Mavericks has brought some new possibilities. But still, even the unfinished beta was easier enough to use that I suddenly found version 1 to be a chore.

How’s this? Right now the very best version of OmniFocus is the one for iPad. It will be updated and it will be radically updated if the iPhone is a clue, but even if you buy it an hour before a new version comes out, it’s still a fantastically tremendous application that will transform you. Not your life, it will transform you.

Enough so that I really did pay the money again for the iPhone one and I really will immediately, no IMMEDIATELY, buy the new versions for iPad and Mac whenever they come. 

Take a look at the video about the iPhone version on this Omni Group page. Then this is a longer video about the iPad version – did I mention it’s great? – and a much, much longer but very good series of videos by independent writer David Sparks about the Mac version.

I promise to be more concise about everything else on the list. <Smiles nicely but has fingers crossed behind his back>


Free or US$35/year for premium (gets you extra features)

It’s an app you can make notes in. There must be eleventy-billion such apps. And okay, you can also pop PDFs in there. Images. You can make a clipping from a web site and drag that in to Evernote. Okay.

But I was in a meeting, right, and suddenly needed a contract that had nothing to do with that day’s work. “Oh, yeah, that one,” I said and then called it up on my iPad exactly as if I’d been a soothsayer and known to bring it with me.

That worked and made me look very good because whatever you put in Evernote, you can get out of Evernote – wherever you are. I enter a gigantic number of notes in Evernote for iPhone and Evernote for iPad but I also use the Mac one a lot and I’ve used the PC version on occasion. I’ve been waiting in someone’s office and I’ve used their computer to open the Evernote website. And in each case, wherever I am, whatever I’m using, every single note I’ve ever made is right there.


Now free

I was on a bus going to my mother when I had an idea for a book. Because I had my iPad and it had the Pages word processor on it, I started to make some notes – and by the time I’d got to her, I’d written the first thousand words of what became The Blank Screen book. That book became a workshop that I’ve now run for individuals, students, university staff, colleges and in online seminars. And it became this blog, which is how I got to meet you. I’d call that worth the price of admission.

Mind you, I would like to mention now that I paid for Pages. It only became free toward the end of 2013 and if you think I’m narked by that, no. Fine. I think it is very undervalued but if you can get it for free, terrific. I’ve got so much out of this software already that I am completely fine with having paid whatever it was. Something preposterously cheap, I remember that.

Incidentally, I do have Word on this Mac. I’ve had Microsoft Word on every machine since the 1980s and I’ve used it on every machine. But the other day someone emailed me a Word document when I was using my MacBook. I’d had a problem with the hard disk on that and had wiped it completely, installed OS X Mavericks and got back to work. And there I was with this Word attachment, suddenly realising that I didn’t have Word.

Not only did I not have Word on there, for the first time in all those years, but I also hadn’t noticed. I’d reformatted that drive a month before and used the machine endlessly. Hadn’t noticed Word was gone.

And I didn’t have to notice now, either. Because my Mac just opened the document for me in Pages. 

I had to send that document back in Word format and Pages just did that for me too.

Adobe InDesign

Part of Adobe Creative Cloud, monthly rental cost varies

I used to work a lot on Radio Times, the website, and a bit on the magazine. There was this job where the site regularly needed some text from the mag and by chance of the schedules, it was always a bit easier to get it straight out of the magazine pages before they went to press. I leapt at it. It was a tedious, trivial and surprisingly slow job and I sped it up with some Word macros that would take the heavily formatted magazine text and make it heavily unformatted for the website.

But it also meant using the page layout program, Adobe InDesign. It is ridiculous how little you needed to know in order to do the thing I needed to do, but I would take the time to just explore InDesign for a minute or two each week. And over the years, especially since I was taking text from some superbly designed Radio Times pages, I learnt a lot. Taught myself InDesign.

To the extent that earlier this year Radio Times hired me back to work on a book specifically because I knew Adobe InDesign. And I learnt even more from doing that book work, to the extent that when I got back to my own office, I could and did design my The Blank Screen book in Adobe InDesign.

Read more about it and the whole Adobe Creative Cloud.


Now free

Presentation software. This – and the Pages and Numbers spreadsheet that I use daily – is part of Apple’s iWorks suite of productivity applications and I’m really surprised they weren’t in the company’s pick of the year. They were great and cheap, now they’re pretty great and free. This year’s new versions shed some features (that are apparently coming back slowly) and gained some others. 

For the work I do, I have barely missed any of those features, whatever they are, and I have very much enjoyed using the latest versions. So far I’ve only used Keynote to present The Blank Screen workshop once but it was a pleasure. No one has ever said that about PowerPoint.

Read more about Keynote for Mac (and the iPhone/iPad ones are the same) on Apple’s page.

Reeder 2

Universal for iPad and iPhone: £2.99

In 2012, it was for iPhone, iPad and Mac. And I used them all. It’s a newsreader, an RSS newsreader, which means rather than my going to a couple of hundred websites to read news and articles, they come to me. I’ve already messed with your head and your patience by going in to immense detail, so lemme just say that the world has changed. Right now Reeder for Mac is no longer available while a lot of work is being done under the hood.

I miss it more than I can say. And I’ve used alternatives but still Reeder and most particularly the new Reeder 2 are so well designed and just, you know, right, that I simply don’t read RSS on my Mac any more. The second it’s back out for Mac, I’m having it and I’ll get back to using it on all my machines.

Read more about Reeder and a tiny bit more about what’s happening with the Mac version on the official site.


Angela showed me this on her iPhone one day and I wondered why anyone would want such a thing as a password manager. By the end of that one day, it was on my iPhone and on the front screen too. Later, I showed Angela the Mac version and that’s now on her machine.

This is why. I need to do some financial things in a minute so I’ll press the Apple and / keys here on my Mac and it will open 1Password. With one tap 1Password will open up my bank’s online banking website, enter my account numbers, passwords and all that. It doesn’t go all the way on that site: I have one last page to go through, one last piece of security, but it’s so fast getting to that point that I use it constantly.

And then later if I am booking train tickets – I’m always booking train tickets – 1Password will log me in to thetrainline.com and it will enter all my credit card details when I tell it to. 

I appear to have a preposterous number of websites I use that require passwords and so I have a preposterous number of passwords – an increasing number of which are generated by 1Password to be extra hard to crack. No more using the word ‘pencil’ as a password here. 

There is one thing I don’t like and it is the agony when you upgrade from one version to the next on iOS. It isn’t an upgrade, it isn’t an installer, it is alchemy. I can’t fathom how it can be so hard to do but once it’s done or if when you’re buying it for the first time, everything is so well done and easy that I can’t resist it. I know for certain that I use 1Password every single day, without fail, and I suspect I usually use it many times.

We could stop now

Those are the tools I spend my life in at the moment. I do also lean on iTunes a lot because I like telling it to play me an hour’s worth of music and then I’ll write until it stops. Plus I’ve been addicted to the new iTunes Radio which this very day also went live in the UK.

Then I came to really relish using iBooks Author to do the iBooks version of The Blank Screen (here’s the UK iBooks one and here’s the US iBooks one). TextExpander is one of those utilities that is so useful you forget it isn’t part of the Mac generally, but I’ve forgotten that it isn’t part of the Mac generally. Same with Hazel and Keyboard Maestro, both of which I’m just coming to use.

I really did expect that this would be a vastly longer list. Can you imagine that? In any average day I must surely use above twenty different software applications and I use them hard, but it’s only this set that I can honestly point to do as being the key productivity tools for me this year.

Next year may be a little different. I expect to carry on with all of these but I did a couple of projects using OmniOutliner for Mac (an outlining program from the same firm that makes my beloved OmniFocus) and now I’ve just got that for iPad too so it’s featuring more in my usual workflow. Bugger. I’ve been trying to avoid the word workflow. Ah, what can you do?

Similarly, I’m actually writing this to you in MarsEdit, the blogging tool that I’ve heard so much about for so long. I’m only on the trial version but it’s pretty much as good as advertised so I may very well continue with it. We’ll see. It doesn’t exist on iOS and I write a huge amount there so it’s not a guaranteed mandatory purchase or if it were, it isn’t guaranteed that I’ll use it a lot.

Whereas I want to give an honorary mention to some hardware. The best thing I ever bought was my 27in iMac last December: Macs do last a long time so my previous office Mac was a good six or seven years old and this new one boomed, just boomed into my working life. But then maybe the best thing I ever bought was my iPad Air as right now it is the thing I use most. I use it more than my kettle. I know.

I had thought that I used my original iPad a lot and while I didn’t regret giving it to my mother, I missed it more than I expected. And then I bought the iPad Air and am using it perhaps ten times as much as I did that original one.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I never step away from one keyboard or another and I see why you say that, but I can prove you’re wrong. By going now.

I need tea. Can I make you one?

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