Tag Archives: Geeky Quick Tips

OmniFocus to Mind Map using OPML (A Geeky Cry For Help)

I love visuals… they often help me see obvious things I’m missing. And whenever I’m working on a particularly meaty project, mind maps tend to be my tool of choice for expanding and structuring my ideas. Many of my writing projects start as mind maps in iThoughts HD and eventually work their way into Scrivener (using the OPML dance that David Sparks was kind enough to share with us). If I’m working on a freeform piece, I’ll often break my text up in Scrivener and then do a reverse dance to flesh my thoughts out back in iThoughts HD.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about OmniFocus?

Now, at this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with OmniFocus… Fair question. You see, I’m not the best at reviews. They’re great for eliminating excess, but they’ve never really helped me identify the holes. For some reason, the folder structures in OmniFocus or even something like OmniOutliner just haven’t worked for me. For a while now, I’ve wanted the ability to take my entire OmniFocus library and really look at it in a visual manner. I’ve wanted the same experience I get with my writing projects with my task list. I’ve wanted to take my entire OmniFocus library, folder structure and all, drop it into iThoughts and look at it from 30,000 feet.

I’ve had a pretty good feeling that OPML was going to be the best way possible, but I lack the skills to actually make it happen. Every now and again, I’ll throw the request out on Twitter (and now App.net) and this week, I was finally shown a way.

An Ugly Solution

For those of you who are excited by the prospect, I have to warn you, the process is clunky (stay tuned for a plea for help to make it better). It also requires both OmniFocus and OmniPlanner Pro, so beyond the 14-day free trial, you’re going to have to think long and hard if you will want to spend the additional $70 for the OmniGroup’s outliner program. Last but not least, you have to make sure that you’ve archived all of your old, completed and dropped projects (completed tasks are omitted).

Still with me? Here’s what you do once you have OmniOutliner Pro installed (I’m betting if you’re geeky enough to have read to this point, you can figure this part out on your own):

  1. Download this script
  2. Run it
  3. Take the OPML file off your desktop and send it to your iPad (you can either email it to yourself or just throw it in Dropbox)
  4. Import the OPML into iThoughts HD

A bit hat tip and thank you to Jason Verly for pointing me in this direction.

The Ugly Means Justify The Beautiful Ends

The end result doesn’t look great when you first import the OPML into iThoughts, but it’s easy enough to clean up. iThoughts makes it very easy to add colors to break up your Library, Folders, Sub-Folders, Projects, Tasks and Single-Action Lists (I used red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple respectively).

OmniFocus Library to Mind Map using OPML and iThoughts HD

From here, I collapse everything and go section by section, expanding everything, looking over my areas of focus, projects and tasks. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I find this style of review fits my mindset. I find far more holes and once everything’s expanded often get a very realistic look at just how much I’m trying to tackle.

Calling All Nerds

I know this can be better, I just don’t know how to get there, so I’m hoping that some mind-map loving, code-slinging member of the OmniFocus community can help improve things. While I’m sure that there’s plenty I’m not thinking of, there are three main things I’m trying to improve:

  1. How to get around the need for OmniOutliner Pro.
  2. How to eliminate dropped projects and completed projects without the user having to manually archive first.
  3. How to get it to look better initially when importing the OPML into iThoughts HD.

For the last one, I’d be great if the Inbox was omitted and that the Library was on the right side rather than the left (the additional OF_ALL node in the center is also superfluous, but easily removed), it would also be amazing if Folders, Projects and Tasks some how imported with different colors for easy identification. Right now that’s a timely, manual process.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying having this. So much so, that I’m probably going to dive in at some point and pick up a copy of OmniOutliner Pro at some point just so I can have this for my monthly reviews. That is unless one of you smart and lovely folks out there can offer up a better way to make this little bit of OPML magic happen. I’ll be sure to update with any refinements that come my way.

suggestion for getting around OmniOutliner Pro from Rhyd Lewis, but you’ll need to be familiar with Ruby.Update: Looks like we have our first

His script already has eliminated the need for OmniOutliner and eliminates completed or dropped projects. I had a few minor requests (i.e. the ability to opt to eliminate projects with no tasks or items with future start dates), but it has already made things far easier.Update 2: Rob Trew is getting in on the fun.

created one hell of an update for it. You can find details on how to best use it here.Update: Rob Trew, the creator of the original script has

Sending Multiple Safari Tabs to OmniFocus

From Shawn Blanc:

Sometimes the number of tabs I have open in Safari gets ahead of me, and I find myself with a few dozen sites waiting for my attention but I’m out of time. Or perhaps I’ve got several tabs open for a current project I’m working on but I need a break from working on that project. Or maybe I’ve got so many tabs open that Safari starts taking up more than its fair share of CPU resources.

Well, here’s a clever little AppleScript that grabs all the open tabs in Safari’s frontmost window and creates a new to-do item in your OmniFocus Inbox with the Title and URL of each tab listed out within the task’s note.

I’ve been looking for a way to do this and have already managed to put this trick to good use. I made a minor change so that my list of links opens in the Quick Entry box rather than automatically dropping the task into my OmniFocus Inbox. This lets me name the file and provide any additional information, thus avoiding the inevitable case where I find myself staring at my inbox having completely forgotten why I copied the links in the first place…

You can download my Keyboard Maestro macro here or checkout the original version over at ShawnBlanc.net.

Hat tip to Justin at Veritrope

Getting OmniFocus and nvALT To Play Nice

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.

A while back I shared the way that I use OmniFocus to create tasks with links to a specific email, file or website. Shortly after, I followed up with a way to use Keyboard Maestro to overcome a shortcoming of the Quick Clipper in OmniFocus in order to create tasks with links to specific “notes” in Evernote.

Lately I find myself creating far more tasks from files in nvALT and have wanted a similar solution. Once again, Keyboard Maestro came to the rescue and made it possible to replicate the functionality of the OmniFocus Quick Clipper. Just add the following macro to your Keyboard Maestro library (preferably in a folder that only works with nvALT) and you will be good to go.

The macro will copy any text you have selected, and copy the URL that will bring you back to the file in nvALT. It will then open the Quick Entry box for OmniFocus, paste your link as well as any text you’ve selected into the notes field, and return you right back to the first entry field. If you don’t have any text selected, it will only copy and paste the link. The result looks just like this:

OmniFocus QuickEntry

Thanks to Gabe Weatherhead at Macdrifter who, once again, had to reminded me how to handle selected text in Keyboard Maestro.

If you’ve been looking for a better way to create OmniFocus tasks from nvALT, click here to download the macro.

LaunchBar seems to be doing the job just fine. For those who prefer clickable links, Gabe over at Macdrifter has you covered.Update: I incorrectly posted a version of the Macro that copied the Notational Velocity link and not the nvALT link. This has been corrected. I’m also having a bit of trouble getting the link to open on my end when clicking it, but

Update 2: While it’s not as elegant as I’d like, I finally got the macro to function exactly as I wanted. You can download the new version of the macro here. All download links have been changed to reflect this revised version.

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Create Patrick Rhone Style Emails With Launch Center Pro

I’ve been enjoying Patrick Rhone’s recent thoughts on a true innovative alternative to email. Especially when it comes to the traditional hierarchy of how we fill out emails. When composing a new message email clients often start with the recipient, then let us add in any CC or BCC recipients, enter a subject and then and only then do we move on to the actual thing we want to say.

Patrick is proposing that we reimagine this and instead take the following approach to composing new messages:


My personal approach to composing new email messages varies slightly. I prefer to start with the body and say what I need to say, then add in a subject that sums up the message (and encourages the recipient to read it), add any attachments and finally add the recipient(s).

I know that several people including Andre Benrubi suggested using Drafts on iOS to achieve Patrick’s approach, but I’ve been using Launch Center Pro in order to accomplish mine using the following url scheme:


This will create two prompts. The first lets you enter your body and the second lets you craft a subject. These fields aren’t labeled, but remembering that body comes before subject isn’t all that difficult (hopefully future versions of LCP will allow you to show these labels when filling in the prompts). From there, it drops you right into the Mail app with cursor focus in the recipient field.

It’s a hack, but I’m enjoying it for sending brief messages in lieu of a better alternative for adapting Patrick’s approach. I hope someone will end up creating an app more in line with his suggestions (and hopefully they will make the order of the fields customizable so I can better accomplish mine as well), but in the meantime, this is making the process of crafting new messages on my iPhone just a little bit more to my liking.

Have any thoughts or suggestions as to how to innovate with email? Leave them below.

A Cough Button For Podcasters

A common need for podcasters (especially those of us who record in a one two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with a wife, two kids and a dog) is the ability to quickly mute our mic. While traditional microphones allow for the addition what’s known as a “cough button,”1 there isn’t a great solution for USB mics. While some mics, like my beloved Yeti, have a built-in mute button, isn’t ideal to use while recording for fear of bumping the microphone. Thankfully, I think I may have found a solution. Better yet, it doesn’t require any additional hardware and it only costs $1.99.

After hearing Merlin and Dan talking about the challenges of adding a cough button to a USB mic on the latest Back to Work, I decided to see if there was an app that could emulate the effect of a cough button. While I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, I was able to combine two apps to get almost all the way there.

Mute My Mic

While Mute My Mic offers a few essential settings for your microphone, the most useful for podcasters being the ability to mute and unmute a mic with the Option-F5 key. It’s not robust, but it gets the job done. When your mic is live, the menu bar icon is black, when muted it’s red, so you have a nice visual cue to that tells you if your mic is live. It’s only $1.99 and is available through both the Mac App Store or via a direct download. Considering all the recent changes with sandboxing, I’d strongly consider buying direct as this is exactly the kind of global app that is leaving the Mac App Store in lieu of recent Sandboxing restrictions.

Better Touch Tools

No matter how good your muscle memory is, you don’t want to have to go looking for the Option-F5 key every time you need to stifle a sniffle. This is where Better Touch Tool comes in. Much like Keyboard Maestro, Better Touch Tool lets you create macros that speed up common tasks on your Mac. Unlike Keyboard Maestro, it lets you activate these using gestures on your Trackpad or Magic Mouse. And, for reasons that make sense to me, you can download it for free (but consider donating).

Covering Your Cough

Combine the two and you have a passable cough button. In my case, I created a global gesture (in other words, it will work no matter what I’m doing on my Mac) so that a four finger swipe down triggers the Option-F5 key.

BetterTouchTool Cough Button for podcasting

Swipe once to mute the mic, swipe again and you’re live. While a better cough button might only mute when you hold the command down, this should serve in a pinch for most podcasters. I’ve contacted the developer to see if this feature can be added to a future version of the app, and looks like it has officially been added to his to-do list.

Any better tricks for hacking together a “cough button”? Let me know in the comments.

  1. A button that temporarily mutes the mic.  

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.

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.

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