Tag Archives: Robert Agcaoili

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

Turning Tasks Into Projects in OmniFocus

Who is this for? Those looking for a step-by-step process for expanding a single task into a fully fleshed-out project in OmniFocus for Mac.

Robert Agcaoili shared an excellent post from Gabriel Ponzanelli. Gabriel uses a friend’s desire to go SCUBA diving in Mexico to demonstrate a common tendency to capture projects as unclear tasks. In his post Gabriel takes the single-worded task “Mexico” and contrasts it to a properly structured project.

Gabriel does a wonderful job of showing how you should approach project planning, but like Robert:

I have and still do enter supposed projects into OmniFocus as a 2–3 word task. The reason is that when that project idea comes to mind, I don’t really have the luxury to stop what I’m doing, flesh out the project, and make sure the flow and the metadata is correct in OmniFocus.

Properly Capturing a Project

It’s rare that an idea for a new project appears when you have the time to thoroughly flesh it out. What I do in these cases is quickly capture the task on my Single Actions list (the Inbox would also work). I make sure to at least capture a clearly structured task that will remind me to plan this out later (e.g., Plan: Go on a SCUBA trip to Mexico). I give the task a proper context and assign it to my Single Actions list (this is obviously not needed if you plan to use the Inbox). If planning this out is urgent, I assign a Due Date to ensure it gets thought through in time. If time allows, I create a note which states my desired outcome for the project and includes details that might help later on. This last part happens less often than it probably should.

Expanding During The Weekly Review

Unless the project is urgent, I wait until my weekly review to convert these tasks into fully fleshed-out projects. When I sit down, a key step in my review process is to search and expand any project that starts with Plan: (you can use CMD-OPT-F to search for these if your list is overwhelming). If it’s too early to think about a specific task, I might add a few notes and set a Start Date. Everything else goes through the following process.

Converting Tasks into Projects

Initial OmniFocus Project

The first thing to keep in mind is that you need to be in the Planning Mode (you can get here by hitting CMD–1) and not the Context Mode. You’ll know if you’re in the right mode when you attempt to take the first step. Speaking of, here are the steps you’re going to want to take once you’ve selected your Task/Project-to-be:

  • Hit CMD-[ to convert your task into a project (if this isn’t working, hit CMD–1, find your task and try again).
  • Hit Tab to rename the task (or at least remove “Plan:”).
  • Hit CMD-’ and add a clear desired outcome for your project into the notes field (e.g., Goal: Plan a trip in mid-July to go SCUBA diving in Cozumel).
  • Hit CMD-’ to close up your notes field.
  • Add any Start Dates or Due Dates for the project.
  • Press Enter to add your first task.

From here you’ve successfully taken a task and converted into a project, but we’re far from done. Now, we plan.

Planning Your Project

Creating Your Sub-Projects

Sub-project in an OmniFocus project

Once I’m ready to plan, I like to break the project into logical sub-projects. For example, in Gabriel’s post, he had sub-projects for Learn to SCUBA dive, Learn Spanish and Organize trip to Cozumel. To do this, just start typing these sub-projects as tasks. You can also enter goals for each one of these if you feel they will help and add any Contexts, Notes, Start or Due Dates as needed. Once you do, press Enter twice to add the next sub-project.

Before moving on to planning out each sub-project, there’s one last thing you need to determine. Should these sub-projects be done sequentially or in parallel? In other words, do you have to finish the first sub-project before you see the next one or do you see them all? At this level, I tend to always choose parallel (this is the default), which allows me to see all of my major sub-projects. You can change this by clicking on the parallel arrows that appear before the Start Date field.

Adding Tasks to Sub-Projects

Project in OmniFocus

Once my main Sub-Projects are setup, I add individual tasks to each. I start from the first task, determine all of the steps needed to accomplish my goal and work my way through each sub-project until its conclusion. To do this I:

  • Go to the first task. You can either use the up arrow if you’re still in tasks, or just click into it.
  • Hit enter to add a new task between your first and second project.
  • Hit CMD-] to create a nested task.
  • Enter all tasks with any necessary Contexts, Start Dates, Due Dates or Notes
  • Press Enter twice to add the next task.
  • Once you’ve entered all the tasks needed to complete your sub-project, press the down key to move onto the next and repeat these steps for each one.

With each sub-project you once again need to determine if they should be sequential or parallel. At this point, I often choose sequential so that I’m not overloaded by tasks. When I finish the first task, the second appears. Most times the tasks within a sub-project need to be completed in order, so it’s worth clicking this. It avoids overwhelm and keeps you focused on the next possible step. There are also two best practices you’ll want to consider.

  1. You can go as crazy as you want with the nested tasks. Just keep hitting CMD-] and you will see. I don’t like to go below this level (Project, Sub-Project, Tasks) as I think things tend to break down and get confusing, but see what works best for you.
  2. Determine how detailed you need to get. If you’ve read Gabriel’s post, you’ll notice that he included a task to add the certification course to his calendar. This is overkill for me. It will take a little trial and error, but over time you’ll get a sense of what needs to be captured and what doesn’t. Some people are extremely granular and that’s fine. Just figure out what works best for you. If there’s the smallest chance that something would keep you from achieving your goal, add it. I just know that I’d never schedule an appointment without adding it to my calendar, so the task is superfluous for me.

As Gabriel rightly points out, a properly thought-out project has a far great chance of success, but—and I hope he’d agree—it’s not always possible to do this at the time when you decide to take on a new project. Capture projects when they occur to you, expand on them in a timely manner and you’ll have a far greater chance of getting them done.

Taming Massive Projects With Evernote

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Robert Agcaoili. I’m consistently impressed by his ability to create quality work over at Gridwriter, all while raising a family and holding down a full time job in “an Information Technology sector of a government agency” (which impresses me now matter how much it scares me). Robert’s a great guy with an incredibly sensible understanding and approach to how we can leverage technology in our lives.

“Preparation is the key to success.”

That’s the old saying, right? The more you prepare, the stronger the foundation you set up for yourself.

Planning a dinner? You should be doing all your preparations and planning prior to making the meal. Get your recipe, create a shopping list, measure your ingredients, prepare the proper utensils and cooking ware.

But what if you’re doing something much larger? Producing a short film, writing a book, starting a business — these are massive projects in which continuous planning is a must.

Everything is Massive

The difficulty with large projects is that:

  1. It’s almost impossible to predict everything that is bound to happen. There are a lot of unpredictable events that could occur.

  2. The duration is a lot longer which definitely tests your mental endurance – especially if you take on the project by yourself and/or have never taken on a project of this scope.

  3. The amount of information, contacts, research, and obligations can be overwhelming.

In other words, everything in the project is massive. In most cases, these large projects actually host several other projects within it. However, the payoffs are typically just as large.

It’s important to stay on the ball with everything that comes your way, even if its unexpected. Keeping tabs of any piece of information, idea, and/or issue that comes your way will insure that nothing slips past you. Mismanagement can totally lead to jeopardized situations which can affect the success of both you and your projects.

One of the best ways that I have found to do this is to keep all your material in one place. Luckily with the mobile technology that we have today, keeping tabs on everything is easier — especially with platforms like iOS and Evernote’s mobile suite of apps.

Myriad of Formats

I’m sure there are a lot of plain-text nerds out who swear by their ubiquitous format – trust me, I’m one of them. But the problem with our “gated community” is that the rest of the world doesn’t, and sometimes can’t, play by the plain-text rules. There’s PDFs, images, vector files for your company logo, emails, and so on.

To stay on the ball with all of this information, it’s important to keep them all in one place. If you have a paid account, Evernote is a great place to store all these formats as you can gain access to them wherever you have the client installed or by using their web access from any browser. Evernote even supplies you with a unique email address strictly for your account that adds all emails sent or forwarded to it to be added to your Evernote account. This makes archiving project-related emails a lot simpler.

Even though I am a plain-text kind of guy, I highly doubt that those who will benefit from the success of these epic projects will give a rat’s ass if I used plain-text or not.

Capture Ideas

Evernote’s powerful mobile client allows you view and create new notes — even voice notes. Personally, there have been several times where I had an idea pop into my head that really wasn’t coherent. In fact it was a lot harder to convert those thoughts to proper grammar instead of the seemingly random adjectives in which the idea existed in my head. So what do I want to do when those moments hit?

I record a voice note in Evernote to express my ideas exactly the way that they existed in my head. Nothing will be lost in translation, and I can also speak slightly faster than I type so that always help.

See a color scheme that would be great for your logo? Or maybe you encounter a beautiful location in which you want to base your short story off of. Snap a photo of it and toss it into Evernote. The saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t always the case — sometimes it’s worth a lot more. Instead of trying to describe it and, as before, losing things in translation, just memorialize it with a photo.

Not a big fan of Evernote’s speed for the mobile clients? While the program is powerful, it does take some time to load, at least in the iOS world. Use a faster note taking app to send it to Evernote.

There are a tons of apps that can do this. Apps like Fastever are fast note taking apps that actually hook up to your Evernote account. Then there’s even the crowd-favorite, Drafts — or my favorite, Scratch. Both of these apps, while adding a lot of power-user features to it, can send the note contents to Evernote.

You can even email the notes to yourself using the default email application (Mail.app in the case of iOS devices) — or use quick-email apps like Captio if you want to be fancy. In the case of the latter, you would set the recipient address to your Evernote email address.

Whatever the case is, there is always a way to capture your quick ideas, thoughts, or concerns into Evernote.

Maintain a Bird’s Eye View

I create mind maps for all of my large projects. If it truly is a big project, then remembering every branch and detail of it should be fairly difficult. Plus, I’m a visual type of person.

Mind-mapping via iThoughts HD on the iPad, and now the iPad mini, has always been my preferred route for the task. While there is Dropbox syncing, I prefer to save the mind maps for large projects to Evernote using the “Send to App…” menu item when dealing with large project planning. There is one limitation that I actually like about this (aside from having all my material in the same Evernote account) — while you can open the OPML file from Evernote back into iThoughts HD, you cannot save back to the original. Therefore, any changes that I make to the OPML file via iThoughts HD will be uploaded to a new note. In other words — I like to see it as a simple “versioning” technique.

Although one issue with this is that the main node will open up using the file name — in the case of opening from Evernote, you get a large cryptic name. To me, it’s just a minor convenience as I usually just rename it back to what it should be.

Task Management

While I am a strict OmniFocus user, small task lists also work great inside of Evernote. You can be fancy and use the checkbox feature, write it out in Markdown (though no rendering will occur) or use my preferred method — the Taskpaper format.

With some creative tag usage, you can also set up something that OmniFocus lacks — multiple contexts. This is great and extremely helpful if you’re trying to keep tabs on something you have delegated out to another person to complete. I usually tag by the name of the project, an “in progress” tag (which can later be changed to “complete” when it is finished), and by the delegated party or individual.

Back to the Mothership

Of course, the most known benefit of Evernote is that it syncs everything to your centralized account. So whether you’re working on your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet, your information is ready at your disposal.

In any attempt to embark on something that takes a lot of time, energy, and devotion, the last thing you want to do is fight with yourself. It is key to remove many of the stresses that can possibly discourage you and hinder your project’s success. Staying calm, clear-minded, organized will help you stay on top of your game.

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How To Pitch With TextExpander

Over the next month, I’m going to be writing less here on the site. I have a larger project that I want to focus in on and need to free up some attention in order to actually get it done. Rather than letting the site sit idle, I’ve asked several very special guests to share their thoughts and expertise on how they actually get big things done.

Pitching a guest series, or anything for that matter, takes time. Especially if you want to do it right. While many of the people I asked are friends and good acquaintances, I didn’t want to send a mass email. I’m asking them to spend their valuable time to help, so a more personal approach seemed like the least I could do. That said, much of the information was the same and much as I wanted to reach out to everyone personally, time would not allow for 30+ entirely unique emails. This is where TextExpander comes in.

I was able to speed things up significantly by creating a TextExpander snippet that included a few key aspects:

  1. A fill-in field to put the person’s name – Basic as this sounds, you’d be shocked by how few people do this.
  2. A paragraph that went to everyone explaining that I needed to take some time off from writing and that I could use their help.
  3. Another paragraph that went to everyone explaining the “Actually Getting Big Things Done” series and what I was hoping to accomplish with it.
  4. A fill-in area to add a personalized message including why I thought they made sense for the series and a possible idea for a piece (while making it clear that I’d welcome anything that resonated on the topic).
  5. An optional fill-in section that briefly explained my site for those who may not be regular readers.
  6. A outro that provided an idea of timeframe and next steps.

After naming my snippet and giving it an easy-to-remember abbreviation, I was able to type it into a new email message which prompted me to fill in the name, write a personal paragraph and decide if I wanted to add my optional paragraph explaining the site. Upon completion, the initial abbreviation was replaced with a fully written, personalized pitch.

TextExpander let me move through my list at a brisk pace, but made it possible for me to do so in a way that I was proud of. Better yet, when I received some early feedback that my pitch was a little long, I was able to jump into TextExpander, tweak my snippet to offer a more streamlined version and get back to asking for help.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, so over the next month or so there will be guest posts from Gini Dietrich, Mike Vardy, Aaron Manhke, Erin Feldman, Jason Konopinski, Nick Wynja, Justin Lancy, Dave Caolo, Gabe Weatherhead, Bryan Clark, Robert Agcaoili, Thanh Pham, Jason Rehmus, Sven Fechner, Stephen Hackett, Yuvi Zalkow, Brett Terpstra, C.J. Chilvers, Matt Alexander, Andrew Carroll, Marcelo Somers, Jean MacDonald, David Sparks and more surrounding the topic of “Actually Getting Big Things Done”. I’ll share on my own big thing soon, but in the meantime, I can’t wait to be inspired by so many who know how to make big things happen. I hope you will be too.

Check back tomorrow as we kick of the series with a great post from Aaron Mahnke or better yet, subscribe for free by RSS or Email to receive all of the “Actually Getting Big Things Done” posts and more from A Better Mess.