Tag Archives: David Sparks

Turning Your Idea Into a Reality

Who is this for? Those looking for practical and first-hand advice on turning a big idea into a reality.

Jean MacDonald revisits the Mikes on Mics podcast to talk about App Camp for Girls.

A year ago Jean joined us to discuss the community she built for Smile; the makers of PDF Pen and TextExpander. At the end of that episode, Jean shared her plans to develop a program that would help young girls consider and try app development.

A year later, Jean has raised over $75,000 and has already held her first class. We examine how she brought her vision to life.

Be sure to stay tuned at the end of the episode for special bonus interviews where David Sparks, Brooks Duncan, Mike Rohde and Marc & Angel share tactics for ensuring that their own ideas become a reality.

Essential OmniFocus Scripts and Workflows

Who is this for? New or beginner OmniFocus users looking for best practices and basic tricks.

Note: This post is a running list and will continue to be updated with new options. There will also be another list for geeky workflows coming soon.

OmniFocus Walkthrough Videos — MacSparky

This video series from David Sparks is the single best place to get started with OmniFocus, even though it clocks in at four hours (spread across three videos) it is well worth the time and gets you started on the right the right foot. If you don’t think it’s worth the time to watch these videos, you probably don’t need OmniFocus.

OopsieFocus Script — Shawn Blanc

A task manager is only as good as it is reliable. If you close OmniFocus, it won’t react when you use the quick entry or clipper. Thankfully Shawn Blanc solved this problem with a single script. Once installed, OmniFocus will respond every single time you call it.

Templates.scpt — pxldot

There have been a few ways to create templates for frequently created projects in OmniFocus, but this is by far the best and most robust option.

How to get all of your crap into OmniFocus

This post and screencast from yours truly will give you an overview of just how easy it is to create tasks from text, websites, files, emails and Evernote notes.

My OmniFocus Setup

An in-depth look at how I use OmniFocus to get things done. There are several ways to make the most out of this application, this is mine.

OmniFocus Premium Posts by Asian Efficiency

This premium product is a great option for those looking for hand holding while getting started with OmniFocus. It’s ideal for those who want a better way to manage their tasks and projects, but perhaps aren’t entirely married to David Allen’s GTD.

Using OmniFocus by Kourosh Dini

Those who prefer the GTD framework would be better served by Kourosh Dini’s Creating Flow with OmniFocus. It’s well written, very in-depth and there’s also an audiobook option.

The OmniFocus Setup

There are several great videos from The OmniFocus setup that took place during Macworld. If you only plan to watch a few, start with Sven Fechner’s “A Fresh Take on Contexts” and David Sparks’ “Do Stuff!”.

Download OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone or iPad.

Great Resources

One-Press Task Creation in OmniFocus

Who is this for? Those looking to automate the creation of frequently created tasks in OmniFocus (or any task manager with a URL scheme) on iOS.

From David Sparks:

I recently received an email from reader Jonas Bergenudd with a really clever workflow. Jonas has things in his life that occasionally require replenishment, like batteries. So Jonas created stickers with QR codes on them using OmniFocus’s URL scheme to add a new task to his OmniFocus list.

For example, scanning this QR code takes your phone to the following URL – omnifocus:///add?name=buy%20aa-batteries.

David is right that this is clever, but I’m not sure that many are going to adapt this approach. The steps of creating a URL scheme, getting a QR code creator/scanner app, creating a QR code, printing the code and then using it at a later date seems cumbersome. However the seed of the idea is really interesting and potentially useful. Especially when you consider that, rather than going the QR code route, this would also work as a group (or groups) of actions in Launch Center Pro.

A while back, I shared how I use URL Schemes in Launch Center Pro to speed up the creation of common tasks in OmniFocus on the iPhone. These templates always had one or more variables (a person’s name or specifics on the action I’d need to take). I never thought to simplify things and use it to create an entire task.

Rather than creating QR codes, try taking the URL scheme above for batteries and adapt it to your own common tasks (just use %20 to put spaces between words). You can get up to 11 of these in a single group in Launch Center Pro. Much like Jonas’ intent with his QR codes, this would reduce the tiny bit of friction that often keeps us from getting common, yet easily overlooked tasks into OmniFocus.

At the moment, you can only include a task name and note into a task using the OmniFocus URL scheme, so you will still have to manually add a context, project and any Start or Due Dates. Here’s hoping the OmniGroup eventually expands this to include things like Contexts. How nice would it be to hit a single button in Launch Center Pro and get notified to buy batteries the next time you walk past your local store?

For more on Jonas’ QR Code based approach, be sure to check out David Spark’s original post.

The Best Way To Learn Markdown

David Sparks has launched the latest MacSparky Field Guide. This time he is tackling the subject of Markdown along with Eddie Smith of Practically Efficient.

If you write for the web, you should learn to write in Markdown. It makes it easy to format your work to be converted to HTML for posting to the web. It also allows you to save your files as plain text, ensuring that they are essentially future proof. If you plan to learn Markdown, this is the way to do it.

Markdown itself is very easy to learn and use, yet it isn’t intuitive to decide how best to integrate it into your writing workflows. In this guide David and Eddie show you many of the possibilities that come from using Markdown. They also provide enough of a point of view that you won’t get lost in the possibilities.

The book itself is a blend of text, audio and video. It will help you get your head around the basics, gives you glance at some of the geeky goodness you can accomplish and tells you how some of the smartest people I know are using it to accomplish their work.

As with Paperless and 60 Tips (the two previous books in the series) Markdown is well written, easy to understand and the videos are well done. This time around David also added audio interviews to the mix. While they test the limitations of the iBooks format (I’d occasionally accidentally swipe or rotate the screen, both of which stop the audio. The screen would also time out during longer conversations) the audio interviews with Merlin Mann, Fletcher Penney, Brett Terpstra, Federico Vittici and Gabe Weatherhead are worth the cost of admission alone. As I listened, I found myself wondering if we will see audiobooks under the title MacSparky Field Interviews in the future (this is purely wishful thinking).

Bottom line, if you haven’t taken the time to learn Markdown or aren’t entirely comfortable with it yet, do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Note: David was kind enough to send me an advanced copy. I also used an affiliate link, because I’m shameless. That said, this really is a great book. It’s one that I will be gifting out regularly to anyone I know still using Microsoft Word.

The Three Things #24

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

OmniFocus Setup: Do Stuff! — MacSparky

Michael on Productivity: David Sparks changed the way I work. For the longest time, I was overwhelmed by my task list. There was just far too much on it and no effective way to find what mattered. I’d use due dates to highlight what was important, but this only led to everything having a due date (usually when they’re not actually due) and nothing being important. Over time, I learned a few tricks and tactics for finding the right actions, but this was always a struggle, there was always far too much to consider. Then David came along and started evangelizing start dates. This approach hides what you don’t need to think about, shows you what you do and let’s you save due dates for the few times there actually is one.

You’ll often hear geeks, especially OmniFocus geeks such as myself, suggesting a start date centered approach, in this video, David shows you how it’s done.

The Harlem Shake: What’s in a Meme?

Howie on Memes Gone Wild: I find this fascinating. Doing work for a client in the pool industry, it seems many college swim teams have done Harlem Shake videos. The University Minnesota did theirs in speedos in the snow. Ball State did theirs underwater ending with swimmers lunging on bikes into the water. This is a big issue with big media today. People such as Gunther Sonnenfeld evangelize the freedom of content to be changed, retold, and shared as a good thing. But many brands are afraid of their intellectual property going off message even at the cost of more revenues and fans. So glad the owner of that famous Hitler video hasn’t felt the same. Oh and this is a boon for Harlem even if they don’t think so. When was the last time the country went nuts of something with the word Harlem in it?

Mayer Culpa

Gini on Culture: Howie and I are reading the same magazine this week! I know most of you are tired of hearing about Marissa Mayer’s mandate that all Yahoos show up for work in an office, beginning in June. But what I found most interesting about this The Economist story is not that, but the stats from Cisco and J.C. Penney for and against having people work remotely. Did you know a third of Penney employees spend their time watching YouTube videos instead of working? And they’re all in the “office.” It goes to show this isn’t about where you work, but about HR, operations, and your culture.

Be sure to subscribe for free by Email or RSS to automatically receive future editions of The Three Things series and more from A Better Mess.

My OmniFocus Setup Talk on Contexts

Contexts. A group chat covering oddities and niceties from The Omni Group.

Contexts. A group chat covering oddities and niceties from The Omni Group.

Earlier this year at Macworld, I was invited by the OmniGroup to lead a group discussion on using Contexts in OmniFocus with a man who literally wrote the book on this (well, wrote a book on this), Thanh Phan of Asian Efficiency.

I’d recommend watching this if you find yourself struggling to use Contexts “the right way”. Thanh and I both use them in very different ways. While some of the talk discusses the pros and cons of our personal approach (you can learn more about how I use them here), what it really demonstrates is that there is no wrong way to use contexts. There’s just what works for you and what doesn’t. For those struggling to find their unique approach, I believe this video will prove useful or at it should at least give you a few new ideas to try.

In addition to our video, the OmniGroup has posted the first few of the talks from the day including Tim Stringer’s talk on “Holistic Productivity”, Dinah Sanders talk on “Engaged Productivity” and Sven’s “Fresh Take on Contexts” talk. I’d especially recommend Sven’s for yet another take on how to best implement contexts in OmniFocus.

Keep an eye out for more talks from the OmniGroup, including great ones from Koroush Dini, David Sparks, Merlin Mann and my parnter-in-geekery, Mike Vardy on The OmniFocus Setup page soon.

You Can’t Buy A Workflow

Ok, you totally can, but you can’t buy it all at once. You can’t have someone tell you all of the “right” apps to buy, go on a shopping spree and expect that your world is going to be any better for the experience.

Like anything worthwhile in life, a workflow that helps you do your best work is discovered, not merely purchased. A solid foundation is built not bought.

All too often, we expect our wallet and our technology to solve our problems. They can help a lot, but dramatically upping your game doesn’t come in a box, it doesn’t come in a device and, much as I hate to admit it, it doesn’t come in an app.

If you’re struggling to find something that works, stop looking for an all-in-one solution. Go one challenge at a time, examine the solutions and find an option that seems like it fits with the way you like to work while ensuring it plays well with other applications. The best approach that I’ve found is slowly adding in applications that focus on a few key areas of your workflow (i.e. OmniFocus for tasks, Fantastical for calendaring, Evernote for reference materials, Gmail and Mailplane for communication), learning as much as you can about them and attempting to blend them all into a holistic approach that is optimized around the way you do your best work.

You can and should look at what others are doing, just know that what works for them will probably not work for you, at least in its entirety. There may be aspects of what they do that fit, but chances are you won’t just be able to take what works for someone else and apply it to yourself. Most, if not all of my workflow is “stolen” from others like David Sparks, Merlin Mann, Gabe Weatherhead, Brett Terpstra and more. In fact the only parts of my own workflow that are original are the connections I’ve made between their best practices.

I wish there was a fast and easy way to apply a workflow to your life. I wish there was a silver bullet, but truth be told, once I really put my head down and started figuring out the best way to do my best work, it took far less time than jumping from one person or company’s all-encompassing solution to another.

How have you gone about creating your own workflow?