Geeky Quick Tips | Forcing Focus With OmniFocus and Keyboard Maestro

Geeky Quick Tips is a series of simple, code-free tips and tactics for doing more with your Mac or iOS device. For more detailed geekery, be sure to checkout the Techie Scheky series.

When at work, I’m able to control quite a bit of the real estate around me. I’m able to create a space that helps keep my unfocused mind on track. When working from home, this isn’t always possible. Our small apartment does not allow for a workspace and my 13″ MacBook Air does not offer enough screen space to help me keep things like my task list in my line of sight. I’ll head down some rabbit hole and all of the sudden the night will be gone without ever having done what needed to happen.

Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that I’m an OmniFocus advocate, that it has done a lot to help me organize my disorganized world. But to be honest, I was finding that it sucked for me at home. This wasn’t a byproduct of OmniFocus, rather it was user error. I’m guilty of out-of-sight, out-of-mind (I mean, I use OmniFocus for a reason…) and since the smaller screen size means less open windows and more full screen usage, my task is usually out of my sight and it’s often out of my mind.

I tried having a stern “talking to” with myself, I tried promising myself I’d do better, but no matter how hard I’ve tried, intentionally opening my task list hasn’t come naturally to me. Since that didn’t work, I decided to do the next best thing: I made my computer do it for me. I created the simplest Keyboard Maestro macro imaginable to automatically open OmniFocus every 90 minutes, seven days a week from 8:30am – 11:59pm (a lot of my writing is done between midnight and 2am, so I’ve decided to let my mind roam free during those hours). Regardless of what I’m doing, every 90 minutes the “Home” perspective (the list of things I need to do while at home) pops into the forefront of my view. 

Keyboard Maestro Editor and OmniFocus Macro

While this is still new, this stupid little hack is proving to be an invaluable gut check. My computer forces me to take a momentary look at what I should be doing, it breaks my web-based trance. Occasionally it also breaks a nice flow, but considering flow is always a struggle and the interruption is infrequent, the gain is proving to be worth the loss. When working on something important, I’ll jump right back into what I’m doing. When goofing off on the web, I’ll take a second and see how I might want to better spend my time (or find a way to rationalize and continue goofing off…).

Much like many of my visual reminders to focus, this might seem a little silly, but if you find yourself prone to getting lost, this is a nice way to tether yourself to what you truly hope to accomplish. 

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Update: Ben Brooks offered up a nice revision for those looking for a subtle reminder. Rather than having OmniFocus pop-up, potentially interrupting something important, Ben suggests using Growl to provide a reminder instead. I’m going to try this on my iMac at work, while leaving the more aggressive pop-up macro above active on my MacBook Air at home.

Keyboard Maestro Macro  Growl Editor For OmniFocus

Ben also pointed to some excellent suggestions from Dan Byler on how to use Keyboard Maestro to minimize distractions as well.

  • Yuvi

    This is a great tip!… hmmm… I’m also wondering whether this might work so every 90 minutes I can automatically (and violently) shut down Safari — no matter what I’m doing :-)

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      The things I should force myself to do every 90 minutes… alas, this seemed like a good start.

  • Lusule

    I use Geektool to embed my flagged items onto my desktop so that I see them whenever I switch tasks, move windows, or just when my computer is sitting there with not much open because I’m working on something else.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      What code are you using to do this? I’d love to have the same

  • http://www.eugenegordin.com/ Eugene Gordin

    Thanks for the tip. I too struggle with heckling my Omnifocus list regularly, so I have dealt with it in two ways:

    First, for my morning review, I refuse to let myself read any emails or RSS feed items without having reviewed Today’s tasks, Waiting For tasks, and All Available tasks. This takes no more than 10 minutes, and I’m ready for the day. It’s my habit loop, with a reward built in and all.

    The second thing I do is use Launch Center app on my iPhone to schedule Omnifocus to launch with a push notification at 11:20 and 3:20 pm – this provides additional reviews of my Today tasks throughout the day, with minimal intrusion.

    I like the idea of Growl, but only if it’s sticky to avoid the passive noise problem.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      Like the idea of the reward being built in and the Launch Center reminder is a nice touch (that I will be stealing). The Growl reminder is a bit passive, but it’s a nice occasional reminder at work. It would not work for me on the MBA setup at home, so I’m sticking with the pop up.

  • Phillip Gruneich

    Is there a way to create this growl (or notification center) notification WITHOUT Keyboard Maestro? Perhaps an applescript included in launchd?

    • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

      I’m not a big AS guy, so I don’t know if it can handle the timed reminders, but I believe it does play with Growl.