Tag Archives: Sven Fechner

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

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.

Looking Forward To OmniFocus 2

Last week, I was one of the many who joined the OmniGroup as Ken Case, Liz Marley, Merlin Mann and David Sparks offered a preview of what’s to come with the upcoming version of my current task manager, OmniFocus 2.0.

Like any self-respecting OmniGeek, I cannot wait to get my hands on it and look forward to the reactions. Since my hands are not yet on it, here are few hands-off/eyes-on opinions…

The latest version brings four features:

  1. A new design that’s more in line with their popular iPad app.
  2. A new sidebar that incorporates the Inbox, Projects, Contexts, Forecasts, Flagged and Review.
  3. It brings the Forecast view and Review mode from the iPad to the Mac.
  4. It introduces a more affordable standard edition while still offering a pro version for geeks such as myself.

Let’s talk about them all…

The Design

As someone who has never tweaked the default design of the current version of OmniFocus (despite the fact that it leaves a lot to be desired here), I’m excited. Not only do I believe the application will be far friendlier to new users, but it will also be a welcome improvement for those who have been living in it, but lack the design skills to improve it on their own.

Shawn Blanc really nails why the improvement to the design of OmniFocus matters:

Never underestimate the power of good, delightful, UI design. In the case of OmniFocus, I think it’s crucial that the next version be as gorgeous and delightful as it is powerful and fearful.


[I]f it’s true that we use something more when we enjoy using it, then it’s also fair to say that a little bit of delight can go a long way in increasing usability.

Early indications seem to show that the OmniGroup is taking all the right steps to balance polish with power. I’m excited, even as a power user, for the delight and improved usability that I expect will come along with the improved design.

The Sidebar

I’m very excited about this (yes, I know it’s sad to be excited about a sidebar. But I am. So there!). A minor annoyance of mine has always been the inability to be in project mode while sorting by project. As you can see from an initial screenshot offered up by the OmniGroup, this is now possible in the latest version. In addition to my own selfish wants, I have a feeling that the new approach to the sidebar will make for a new, intuitive experience for new users while still working well for geeks such as myself.

Debut Main 600x405

The Forecast and Review

Considering the fact that I’ve never been a big user of the iPad version of OmniFocus (more a matter of my lack of iPad use than any issues with the app), I’m glad to see these two features make their way to the app that I spend most of my time in.


The forecast mode offers a nice way to peek at your day, but I’m still likely to stick with the Emergent Task Planner for attacking my day. In a related/unlikely fantasy: I’d love it if OmniGroup eventually breaks Forecast mode off into a more powerful day planner that integrates with OmniFocus. I like the direction that Forecast mode is heading and it will serve as a great “at a glance” option, but without the ability to create a daily schedule, paper still still beat out technology for me here. In my fantasy, there’s also menubar drop down that lets me rearrange my daily schedule, quickly add tasks and complete finished tasks. It’s wonderfully unrealistic.


The few times I’ve used it, I’ve loved the Review mode on the iPad and it looks as if the Mac version will be just as polished. Reviews are often one of the most overlooked aspects of a well maintained task list (and life for that matter). This new feature should make it far easier for new and existing users alike to stay on top of the bigger picture.

The Standard and Pro

OmniFocus for the Mac has always been geared towards power users. The iPad version was far more intuitive, but it was also limited by iOS. Geeks such as myself count on various perspectives to keep us sane and use AppleScripts to hone our own workflows. This makes OmniFocus a powerful tool, but it also makes it a more complicated one.

The OmniGroup seems dedicated to serving both the power user and those who are new to task management (or at least new to OmniFocus). With OmniFocus 2, they plan to accomplish this by splitting the app into two. The exact details are still up in the air, but at the moment, it seems the only omissions between the Pro and Standard versions are the ability to create what are known as custom Perspectives (read: views) and the ability to use AppleScript in order to add functionality to the app.

Steven Hackett voiced some concern that:

OmniFocus 2 Unveiled — 512 Pixels

Perspectives are a key component of OmniFocus for many users, and while I’m sure that the lower price point will bring many new users to the product, I dislike the stripping of such a great feature just to hit a price point.

While I understand the concern, I’m not sure I agree. I don’t believe this was a decision about price point, I believe it was a matter of diminishing the learning curve. My entre into task management was not through OmniFocus, it was from Things, an app that is more affordable, had a better design and, even though it offered a more limited feature set, it was far easier to get started. For a while I worked happily in Things, but inevitably found myself limited by its approach (and as this was before they offered proper cloud sync, I often found myself losing data between my devices). When the pain became great enough, I decided to make the investment of both time and money in order to get over the initial OmniFocus learning curve. With the standard version, which will offered at a far more palatable $39.99 – half the price of the “Pro” version – this entire process can now happen within OmniFocus.

Steven is right, perspectives are a useful part of the OmniFocus experience, but between Review mode, Forecast view, a more powerful new sidebar and an emphasis on the Focus mode (which is now prevalently featured in the toolbar), a new user will have more than everything they need to get started. They’ll also find less that will cause them to run away screaming.

OmniFocus will be making it possible to upgrade from “Standard” to “Pro”, so new users can look to become power users when the time is right. This will also make the transition from average user to power user a lot smoother. It was disruptive when I moved from the more basic Things to the more robust OmniFocus. Not only did I need to buy an entirely new application, I had to learn it, set it up and manually migrate my data. With “Standard” and “Pro” versions, users will only need to upgrade and be willing to learn a few new tricks.

We’ll have to wait until OmniFocus 2 is available, but I believe the omission of Perspectives and AppleScript will not be a challenge for the majority of entry level users. I also believe it will simplify the first impression just as much – if not more – than the new and intuitive design. And even though a reasonable price should not be an issue for the right tool, the new “Standard” version of OmniFocus 2 will let new users get up and running on the iPhone, iPad and Mac for under $100

The Rest

Are there new features I’d like? Sure. Was I hoping there’d be one super secret “one more thing…” feature? Of course. But here’s the thing: the current version of OmniFocus works for me. It – like every application on the planet – has its shortcomings, but overall, the app works for me as is. I don’t struggle to create tasks, organize them into projects and create views that help me actually get said tasks and projects done. Once OmniGroup has accomplished their goal of getting “Back to the Mac” I do hope they will set their sights on new features including collaboration tools and improvements that in some way address the changing nature of contexts.

I won’t lie… when I initially heard about the “Pro” and “Standard” versions, I was a bit concerned. OmniFocus has always been a power user tool that helps me get things done and while I’m happy to see it improve and become a more intuitive application, I don’t want it to get watered down in order to appeal to a newer customer with simpler needs. You also have to consider that this shift mean that OmniFocus will have to think about improving, maintaining and servicing two versions of the apps rather than one. With a lower price point and a significant feature set, I can see a world where the “Standard” version is popular enough that it could diminish the focus on power user features.

After a few drinks, a good night’s rest and a one-on-one conversation with OmniGroup CEO, Ken Case (which you can get by subscribing to Mike Techniques), I’m confident that the OmniGroup will be there for new and power users alike. We will have to wait impatiently until later in the year when OmniFocus 2 is released, but when it arrives, I’m confident that both users will find everything needed to get started or to just get back to work.

For a more detailed look at the latest announcements, I suggest you read the full announcement on the OmniGroup blog or check out Sven Fechner’s comprehensive thoughts on the upcoming release of OmniFocus 2.

The OmniFocus Setup and was compensated for doing so. I was not asked to write this post and I hope I’ve earned enough of your trust that you know these opinions are not influenced by that fact.Note: I spoke at

Getting Started or Just Getting Better With OmniFocus

Of all of the applications on my Mac, there are few I use and depend on more than OmniFocus. It sits at the core of my workflow and has helped me significantly improve the way I approach my work and life.

OmniFocus has been a game-changing application for me, but it comes with two costs: a fairly hefty price tag and a steep learning curve. Having spent my money and my time, I can tell you that both expenses have paid significant dividends for me. More than any application that I’ve tried (and I tried quite a few along the way), OmniFocus has proven to be a powerful and flexible tool that best suits the way I like to work. It has allowed me to adapt it to my workflow rather than trying to force me into the application’s point of view. As the way I work has evolved, so has the tool.

For those who have been looking for a better approach to task management, there’s never been a better time to give OmniFocus a shot. As they prepare to release OmniFocus 2.0, they’ve decided to make the current version of available at no cost until the new version is available. You can find all of the details here. This extended free option should provide more than ample time to see if OmniFocus is for you.

OmniFocus Resources

If you’re looking to make the most of this trial, here are a few free and paid resources you should consider to help you get acquainted or get more out of OmniFocus.

David Sparks’ OmniFocus Screencasts

This three video series spans nearly four hours and is the resource I used to get familiar with the essential features of OmniFocus. David provides an over-the-shoulder look at how he uses OmniFocus, while showing off several of his favorite power user features. These videos are a great way to get familiar with OmniFocus, especially if you’re struggling to get your head around the essential functionality of the application. You can watch the entire series of videos for free here.

OmniFocus Premium Posts from Asian Efficiency

This newly released paid product from the team at Asian Efficiency is ideal for those looking to up their OmniFocus game. Thanh and Aaron offer up tactics and philosophies that aim to save you time and offer peace of mind while helping you get more done. It’s a comprehensive product that comes loaded with additional audio bonus material. Where David’s videos are meant to give you a thorough overview, OmniFocus Premium Posts looks to provide you with a cohesive workflow. There will also be free updates to this guide when OmniFocus 2.0 is released. You can purchase OmniFocus Premium Posts here.

Creating Flow with OmniFocus by Kourosh Dini

An alternative premium product geared towards new and existing users alike. Kourosh’s Creating Flow ebook (and audiobook) is one of the most commonly cited resources for improving at OmniFocus. While the Asian Efficiency borrows from GTD, it does not adhere to it. Creating Flow, on the other hand, is the perfect resource for those looking to align David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done methodology with OmniFocus. You can purchase Creating Flow with OmniFocus here.

The OmniFocus Setup

For those who plan to attend Macworld, the OmniGroup (the team behind OmniFocus) are offering a day of 1-on–1 setup appointments on January 31st. In addition to the hands-on help, the day will included several speakers including Merlin Mann, David Sparks, Mike Vardy, Thanh Pham, Kourosh Dini, Sven Fechner and yours truly in order to help you make the most out of OmniFocus. For more on The OmniFocus Setup, click here.

If you’ve been considering checking out OmniFocus, there’s never been a better time or a better group of resources to help you get more done.

Adding Context(s) To The OmniFocus Setup Event

Sometimes it pays to ask a question. Oftentimes questions lead to answers and, occasionally, opportunities (more on this in a second). Recently I’ve found myself questioning Contexts and the way that they can best be used in a personal productivity system. I questioned them when sharing my own approach in a recent post and questioned them in recent Mikes on Mic’s episodes with David Allen, the creator of GTD, and Ken Case, the CEO of OmniFocus (my task manager of choice).

No idea what Contexts are? As Thanh Pham shared in his Getting Started With OmniFocus series:

A context is a “label” you can give a task that allows you to group tasks based on a tool, location, or people.

This is a valuable bit of information when creating tasks as it allows you to logically group actions. Over the years however, the importance of individual tools and locations have diminished as our technology has become more powerful. We can do more work in more places and there is tremendous overlap in the various devices we use to accomplish our work (for more on this, I suggest you read this post).

While I’ve found what works for me, I still do not believe that the dust has settled on the best way to move forward with Contexts. Our tools and our best practices are yet to fully adjust to modern technology. As someone who is always looking for a better way to make things happen, I was thrilled that the OmniGroup decided to start “The OmniFocus Setup” event with a group discussion on “Contexts: A group chat covering oddities and niceties” and was honored to be asked to help lead the conversation along with the aforementioned Thanh Pham.

I’m a strong believer that there’s no wrong way to use Contexts and OmniFocus has always excelled at allowing for various uses. My suggested best practice is to start with something that seems logical and fine tune from there until you find what works (even if that means using no contexts at all). In my case, this began with the straightforward approach from David Spark’s OmniFocus Screencasts and led to a far more boiled-down approach. This is what worked for me, but as you’ll often see, there are various effective approaches to Contexts.

I’m really looking forward to being a part of The OmniFocus Setup on January 31st. Our discussion helps kick off the day at 10:10am (the one-on-ones start at 9:30am). I hope to see you there and look forward to learning as much from the conversation (and the entire day, for that matter) as I can. With fellow guest speakers like David Sparks, Merlin Mann, Sven Fechner, Kourosh Dini Tim Stringer, Dinah Sanders, Thanh Pham and even Mike Vardy, I expect it to be an educational day for anyone looking to up their OmniFocus and personal productivity games.

About To-Do Lists, Choices and Big Things

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 Sven Fechner from Simplicity Bliss. When I first started getting my crap together and gravitated towards OmniFocus it seemed like all roads led to Sven’s site. I’ve picked up more small tricks and sage advice on OmniFocus and GTD than I could ever possibly account for from Sven. In addition to his site, Sven’s also a manager for Cisco System Services and is in the process of writing a book on OmniFocus that will likely arrive around the same time as OmniFocus 2.0 in 2013.

Big goals are primarily big for the person trying to achieve them. For others they may actually look tiny, but for her, who tries to achieve them, they a monstrously big. At first sight unachievable and unattainable.

We trip over the supposedly easiest things turning them into the most difficult ones: Stop smoking, start exercising, spend more time with the kids, write that novel, hike through the Andes, get the promotion. Look at your list of goals. You are more likely to finish a meaningless presentation at work than get around to train for the triathlon you wanted to do before you turn 40.

What Getting Big Things Done Really Is About

The difficult part about getting big things done is rarely the bigness of the thing, it is really about making the required choices. It is also about whom we allow to make these choices in our life. Our boss? Our colleague, spouse or friend? Or ourselves?

It is also not about skills. You can acquire nearly every skill in this world if you work hard enough on yourself. Only in arts the thing called ‘talent’ influences how good you are. But the ‘technical’ skills required to paint, compose or play music, carve stones into statues, perform a dance or a play or even write a novel can be acquired. And sports are no different. It is whether you choose to do it and if you accept the consequences that come with your choice.

The consequences of making a choice is that the we cannot choose everything. It is a decision to do the one thing and not the other. In our world of plenty, multi-tasking and 18-hour-days the concept of choice got lost somewhere and as a direct result of this we are frustrated and disillusioned as we do not get (big) things done.

It looks like always the others are the ones that get big things done, we do not. But the others make a lot of choices, every day: They say ‘no’ to other things to say ‘yes’ that one big one. We do not.

Getting big things done is also not about tools. Life never really is about tools. A better tool does not automatically yield a better result.

  • The best DSLR does not make you a better photographer. Your experience, skills and “eye for compositions” do that. Some of the best images I have seen have been taken with the cheapest and crappiest cameras.
  • A better text editor does not finish your book earlier or makes it any better. In fact you can write and finish your book with the text editor that shipped with your operating system without a problem. You do not think that all great writers have in common that they all use Scrivener or Byword, do you?
  • It’s also not that 27″ display that makes you a better designer and not the $5,000 carbon cycle that makes you a better or faster rider.
  • Reading more books or blog posts like this talking about how to achieve BHAGs does not actually make you achieve them more, faster, better or at all.

Finally it is not the most expensive, featured-rich and best tweaked task management application that magically turns you into a better executer. I would even argue that for the things that really matter to you in life — such as your most important goals — you do not even need any task management application. Actually productivity methodologies and task management application are important if you have to make choices in life. Most of us still need to make them on a regular basis. If you have made a choice for a big thing already likely you do not need any tool support of magnitude anymore.

You believe you need to colour tasks, tag them and assign priorities to them? with all respect, you missed the point. Priorities do not get big things done, choices do. Priorities are something entirely different and like it or not, you do not even have control over them. Like Merlin Mann wrote in his epic 2009 post “Mud Rooms, Red Letters, and Real Priorities“: You don’t make or set priorities, you can only observe them.

Helping Yourself To Make The Choices Required

Now that we have established that big things get done because of the choices we make, let’s get back to how to make these choices, bust some myths around productivity methodologies and establish a new perspective on your endless todo list.

First you need to realize that the choices required to get big things done do not really happen on a level where your todo list tool operates. They are made on a higher level and in your head and heart. David Allen classifies these choices as the 30,000ft Horizon of Focus where you define your mid-term (2–3 years) goals that correspond with your vision of life, which is the 40,000ft Horizon of Focus per GTD.

Once these choices are made what matters most is that your protect them on your operational level, in projects and todos. And that is why you need to create a completely new relationship to your inbox and todo list.

Life has become too rich of options, influences, information streams and too fast paced to retain the concept of completing every task on our list, follow every thought and idea you have or answer every request you get. Most of us have and still are collecting all “stuff” in our inboxes (which is the right thing to do), but what no longer works is that we turn all of them into projects and tasks that we aim and plan to complete. And since you let so much into your system it is also no longer feasible to complete all the tasks on your list for the day, the month or at all.

What really needs to be done is to make choices again and again, every day. What made it to your inbox must not make it to your todo list. What once made it to your todo list must not stay there or must not be completed. Make these micro decisions in accordance with the macro choices. Delete, cancel and drop stuff that does not comply with the choice you made for the big thing(s) that you want to pursue. Do not let that time consuming and meaningless request on your todo list from the start. Review your daily tasks and the corresponding projects critically every day, do a more diligent and more reflective review once a week and kick the stuff out that does not support your big thing.

None of this is really new, but the diligence and intensity with which you need to do it (maybe) is. If you use OmniFocus then having the right perspectives setup helps immensely with making regular choices.

Remember that getting big things done is exclusively about the choices you make.

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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.