OmniFocus Task Creation via QR Code

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.

QR buy aa-batteries.png

Go ahead, hit it with RedLaser. You know you want to.

OmniFocus captures that URL and creates a new task, "buy aa-batteries".

You could create a series of these stickers and place them on things around your house and then zap them when they start getting low. Is it faster than stopping and typing an entry in OmniFocus directly? I guess it depends on how often you need batteries. Is it geekier and cooler knowing you can zap a QR code with your phone and add a task. Most definitely yes.

If you are looking for an app to generate QR codes, there are several in the Mac App store.

Capturing Text Message Based Tasks

When you are sending someone a communication requesting that they do something for you, spend a moment thinking about how convenient (or inconvenient) you are making things for your recipient. To me, text messages are a way to quickly share short spurts of information. They're great for things like telling someone you are running late. Using a text message to ask someone to do something substantive, like write a sales proposal, doesn't make sense. It is too hard to capture big projects out of text messages. If you are assigning or requesting work, I would argue that rather than send a text message, you should be writing an email (or sitting down with someone) where you can provide a more thorough explanation, giving your recipient a chance to better understand the assignment and have a nice easy platform to get it started from. Unfortunately, everyone doesn't think the same way I do and I constantly bang my head into this when someone sends me text message that requires further action.

I'm great at capturing tasks from emails and personal conversations. Whether at my desk or out on the road, I can quickly capture those events into future OmniFocus tasks. Nevertheless, I've never been good at capturing tasks from text messages. Part of it is because I just don't use text messaging as much as some people. Jumping when I get a text message makes me feel like a Pavlovian dog and if I'm busy, I may not read it. But that isn't the only reason. It just isn't easy to capture a text message. Regardless, I often find myself blowing something because someone asked me to do it to text message.

I'm trying to fix that. First, I'm making the pool of messages more manageable. I'm deleting message threads as they become irrelevant. For instance, if I have a thread between myself and Katie Floyd talking about what time we will record a Mac Power Users episode, once that thread has reached its conclusion (e.g., "Let's do it at 8 AM."), I delete the thread. No longer do I have a list of 50 or 60 threads just sitting there. The only threads I have are active ones. If there is task arising from a thread, I deal with it before deleting it.

Apple does not make this easy. There's no way to delete multiple threads with one swipe. Moreover, deleting a thread on my phone doesn't delete the same thread on my other iOS devices or the Mac Messages app. I've got to individually deleted it in those places as well (again without the ability to delete multiple threads at once.) As a result, when I first decided to try this, I did a lot of swiping and tapping on all of my various devices.

The next thing I did was change my own personal habits about how I manage text messages. When I read a text message and it requires a future action, I immediately capture it in OmniFocus. How I capture it depends on where I'm at and what I'm being asked to do. I've got Siri, Drafts, or the keyboard. One thing I don't have is the ability to forward a text message to an email address, which would let me use the Omni Mail Drop service. (Update: "Turns out" you can forward texts to an imail in iOS so you can forward a text to the Mail Drop service.)

This new workflow is more work but I'm not blowing it on text message based projects anymore. What I'd really prefer however, is that people stop asking me to do actionable tasks in text messages.

OmniFocus Setup, part 1

The Omni Group just posted part one of the presentations from The Setup. This includes presentations by Michael Schechter, Thanh Pham, Tim Stringer, Dinah Sanders, and Sven Fechner. There are some great ideas in there.

OmniFocus 2 Debut Video

Today the Omni Group released its video from the OmniFocus 2 Debut event. In it Ken Case shares his vision for his amazing company, Liz Marley shows off the product she and her team have poured their lives into, Merlin Mann is charming and articulate as only he can be, and I … talk about peeing my pants. It's amazing anyone lets me out.

Task Planning (In)sanity

Not a week goes by that I don't receive an email from some reader or listener asking about the problem of overwhelming task lists. Specifically, they explain that every day they spend far too much time dealing with an obese task list, for which they complete two or three items and fret over the rest. Then they spend hours fiddling most of their tasks into the next day only to start the vicious cycle again tomorrow. The whole process is demoralizing. Every morning feels like a quiet testament to your own personal failure. I know about this because I have experienced it. Not only does this wreck your faith in yourself, it makes you look like a flake to everyone else. You become the guy who says "yes" but never actually delivers.

Just because you can plan and track 10,000 tasks with your computer, doesn't mean you should. I know that sounds obvious, but at a certain level, it is not. We use powerful tools, like OmniFocus, that make the structuring and organization of our task lists a breeze. It is so easy to add another forty tasks each day. Why not?

The cure is a bucket of intellectual ice water. The first step is just awareness. Be conscious of the growing monster. If you routinely open OmniFocus to find yourself facing 200 tasks every morning, you're going to spend a lot more time organizing than actually doing. Don't fall into that trap. Instead, use the forecast mode and start dates to push tasks out until when you can reasonably accomplish them. Be aware that despite your best intentions, tomorrow will not be a 100 hour day. Some projects may need to go out several days, weeks, or months. (If you think a task needs to get delayed years, it actually needs to get deleted.) Start each day with a small manageable list and get to work.

Future planning, however, only goes so far. Some of your projects must die. You will find that even with smart future planning, the list is still too long. At that point, you're going to have to accept reality and start killing projects. This really isn't the loss you think it is. If you are overwhelmed with tasks, several of the projects on your list are already dead. Deep down, you already know you won't do them. You overcommitted yourself and it is time for the ice water. Be honest with yourself (and the world) and delete them outright rather than let them die a slow painful death, wrecking your faith in yourself (and other people's confidence in you) in the process. This step is empowering. It puts you in control of what you do and afterwards it feels great. Put on your big boy pants and start killing projects today.

Taking back control takes some time. Use as much time as it requires. It is worth it. Until OmniFocus 2 ships, I find it easiest to pull this off on the iPad, where you can use the forecast mode, start dates, and the delete project button to wrest control from the universe. If you are using a start date type planning method, you're still going to be hit with surprises over the next few weeks as previously delayed start dates show up. You'll have to be equally vicious with those where appropriate.

The payoff for this bloodletting is immediate. You will find every day that you have a much more manageable list of tasks and the quality of your work will improve. Moreover, that underlying sense of angst that comes with an impossible task list will go away and you'll feel a lot better about yourself.

You aren't out of the woods yet however. Taking on too much is not a habit easily broken. Even after you complete this purge, your task list will build up again. Constant vigilance! It is up to you to be on guard that you don't sink into the morass again. I'd like to say that I have mastered this skill. I have not. As I look at my own task list today, it's obvious I need to take out the machete once again.

The OmniFocus Setup and Debut

People often ask me how I manage pull off a day job and all my MacSparky stuff. The simple answer is that I love everything I do, which makes it much easier to get out of bed early and keep cranking widgets.

However, I also need a system, not only to manage all of this but also to help me decide which of this stuff makes the cut. I would not be able to do this without OmniFocus. I love OmniFocus so much that I made a lot of screencasts about it.

This year during Macworld, the Omni Group is having a special couple of events surrounding OmniFocus. The first is called the OmniFocus Setup, where you can get hands-on assistance getting up to speed with OmniFocus. The event is taking place during the afternoon at the Cartoon Art Museum on January 31. In addition to the hands-on help from the Omni Group's own staff, there will also be a small presentations and a panel by some really smart people like Merlin Mann, Kourosh Dini, Sven Fechner, and others. (They are also crazy enough to give me the mic for a few minutes.)

That evening, there is an additional event, the OmniFocus Debut, where Ken Case, Merlin Mann, and I get to show off OmniFocus 2. Ken has already written about how the new version will incorporate many of my favorite iOS features like forecast and better review. There is more. It is spectacular. Don't miss out if you are in San Francisco.

The Omni Group is an amazing collection of people dedicated to improving your life with superior software. I often talk about how much I not only love the Omni Group's products but also the people that make them. Now is your chance to find out why this is true. I'm going to be there for most of the event so if you stop by, make sure to say hello.

The OmniFocus Mail Drop

The last few days there has been something of a coming out party for early beta testers in Omni's Mail Drop Service. So at this moment I can't help but stand up and say, "My name is David, and I'm an Omni-holic." The kind folks at the Omni Group let me start testing this quite awhile ago and it has been absolutely killing me that I couldn't tell anyone about it. The way this service works is really simple.

1. You get a special, super-secret, email address and add it to your address book.

2. You forward any email worthy of an OmniFocus task to that address.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 8.41.13 AM.png

3. You move on with your day. At some point you'll find yourself back in OmniFocus and you'll find an new inbox entry with the text of the mail in the note. It actually happens in just minutes.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 8.52.34 AM.png

I've been using this for months and it works exactly how you'd expect it. The only downside is that it doesn't give you a one-click link to jump to the mail message the way the Clip-O-Tron does on the Mac. Having used this for awhile though, I can say I miss that feature far less often than I thought I would.

Moreover, the ability to send emails to OmniFocus from my iPad and iPhone with nothing more than a forwarded email feels like nothing short of magic. You'll need to be syncing your data through Omni's servers to pull this off but, frankly, you should already be doing that anyway. At this point I recommend running here and getting in. It will change your game.

iOS OmniFocus ♥ TextExpander touch

Today's iOS OmniFocus update is a doozy. The headline feature is the addition of iOS TextExpander support. As I've explained before, I aggressively use TextExpander snippets when creating tasks in OmniFocus. I even made a screencast about it. Now they work on the iPhone and iPad as well. I love that.

You can download a few of my OmniFocus related TextExpander snippets right here. In order to get them on your iOS device, install them in TextExpander on your Mac and use the Dropbox sync to transfer them over. If you don't own a Mac, just create them manually in TextExpander Touch on your iOS device. These are really just a sampling. Once you get the idea, customize for whatever works for you.

While Apple added Keyboard Shortcuts with iOS 5, they are inferior to TextExpander shortcuts in several ways. First, they don't synchronize. You have to add them manually to every single iOS device you own. (UPDATE: I'm told iOS 6 remedies this and Keyboard Shortcuts will sync between iOS devices.) TextExpander syncs to Dropbox and takes that tedium away. I find I create very few TextExpander snippets on my iOS devices and instead create them on the Mac and let Dropbox take care of the rest.

Also, there are some strange behaviors using the iOS Keyboard Shortcuts. Specifically, they need to be typed with no trailing characters. If you copy and paste text into a new OmniFocus entry and then move the cursor to the beginning of the pasted text to add a Keyboard Shortcut, it won't work unless you add an additional space and then, using your finger, move the cursor back yet again another space before typing the Keyboard Shortcut. I found this vexing. With TextExpaner snippets in OmniFocus, the snippet fires whether or not there is an additional space. This makes a difference.

Another part of today's iOS OmniFocus update is an improved synchronization with the native iOS Reminders database. This makes it much easier to synchronize these lists. The power tip here is that it gives you the ability to dictate with Siri to Reminders and have that automatically move over into OmniFocus. I use this feature every day and quite often. Again I made videos about this. However, the setup is simpler now than shown in the video. The Siri command I use when adding items to my OmniFocus list is as follows:

"Add [task] to my reminders list."

i.e., "Add fumigate DeathStar garbage room to my reminders list."

OmniFocus watches the Reminders list titled "Reminders" (I appreciate that is confusing) and, once you open OmniFocus on your iPhone, incorporates any items found in the "Reminders" list to your OmniFocus inbox. This does not prevent you from having separate Reminders lists for other things. I, for instance, have Reminders list for Target, Groceries, and other running list type matters.

Overall, the addition of TextExpander support in OmniFocus is huge for me. I've been running the beta for a few weeks and couldn't imagine going back. I'm guessing I'm not alone.

Create OmniFocus Tasks with AppleScript

Sometimes efficiency becomes the enemy. Because I'm now a believer in automating document filing via Hazel and OCR, I sometimes get myself in trouble. A case in point is my life insurance bill. It arrives every quarter. I used to scan it and then name it in my Action folder with a TextExpander snippet, which resulted in it getting sent off to a nested folder somewhere. At the same time I'd record an OmniFocus quick entry to pay the bill. It was all second nature. These days, I use a Hazel rule that looks at the contents of this invoice and names it and files it without me having to trouble to rename the file manually. Put simply, once I scan it, I never see it again unless I go looking for it. The problem is I keep forgetting to create the OmniFocus entry to pay the bill. That's bad. (Especially if I get hit by a bus, which would only add one more problem to cascading badness.) We can't have that.

I decided to create an AppleScript that automatically creates an OmniFocus task when this Hazel rule triggers. After a lot of head scratching, trial and error, and even some help from friends at the Omni Group and Ben Waldie (my AppleScript Sensei), I've cobbled one together. Here is a screenshot and the AppleScript code.

-- Lovingly crafted by David Sparks, The Omni Group, and Ben Waldie --

set theDate to current date
set theTask to "Pay Life Insurance"
set theNote to "Lovingly Scanned by your Mac on " & (theDate as string)

tell application "OmniFocus"
tell front document
set theContext to first flattened context where its name = "Tech"
set theProject to first flattened project where its name = "Finance"
tell theProject to make new task with properties {name:theTask, note:theNote, context:theContext}
end tell
end tell

To test the rule, open AppleScript Editor and copy it in. You need to change the context and project names to something that is in your OmniFocus library. Once you trigger it, AppleScript will create a new task in the designated project with the designated context. The task also gets named and the Note field will include the text "Scanned on {today's date}". This just happens. Don't believe me? Go look in your OmniFocus project afterward.

I use this script directly in Hazel. Specifically, when I've got a scan that requires future action, I add an AppleScript Hazel action at the end to run this script. After Hazel gets done naming and filing my document, it creates a handy OmniFocus task. Below is my life insurance Hazel rule screenshot to demonstrate.


I've modified several versions of the script to handle the variety of documents I scan and OCR that require an automatic OmniFocus action. Creating an OmniFocus task with a script is damn useful. You could use this in a lot of contexts outside of document filing. You're welcome.

Below is a download link for the Hazel rule. Go nuts.

Download Sample Hazel Rule

OmniFocus Forecast and Start Dates

A surprising number of attendees at my Macworld talk about OmniFocus were not aware that you could show start date items in the iPad version’s Forecast View. This is super useful. Here is the setting.

I use this every afternoon as I clear out my current day and look forward to the next. I also use it on Sunday to take an overview of what I’m up against in the following week. If I have days that are full of appointments AND 60 tasks assigned to the day, I make a decision and either move tasks, appointments, or both. Go nuts.

OmniFocus iPhone Update

If you use start dates to manage tasks in OmniFocus, you are going to like the most recent iPhone app update. You now can view tasks by start date in the forecast view. This matches the feature currently available on the iPad version and explains why I do most of my OmniFocus planning these days on iOS devices.

OmniFocus and Windows

A lot of people ask me how I get by using OmniFocus when I spend time every day on a Windows machine. I’ve never clamored for a Web-based or Windows version of OmniFocus. I’ve always viewed the Windows computer as a device to accomplish very specific tasks, none of which involve managing my task list. This became even more pronounced with the iPhone and iPad versions letting me view my OmniFocus data while sitting at the Windows machine. Indeed, the iPad has become my primary window to my OmniFocus data. I use it more than the Mac. Anyway, there is no need for me to write a long post about Windows and OmniFocus anymore because this morning, Eddie Smith nailed it. is sponsored by Bee Docs Timeline 3D. Make a timeline presentation with your Mac.

OmniFocus for iPad 1.3, See Tomorrow Today

I heard this update was coming last week and have to admit I’ve been checking the iPad App Store several times a day lately. iPad OmniFocus version 1.3 warms the cockles of my heart. It was just a few days ago that I wrote about the Omni Group and iteration. Well let me just say that The Omni Group just iterated the hell out of iPad OmniFocus and now it is available for download.

The new version takes the already useful Forecast view and turns the dial up to 11. The new Forecast mode adds a calendar bar to the bottom of the screen so you can see calendar items in the forecast view. Also, you can toggle it to also include tasks with start dates on the forecast days. If you lasted through my 2 hour screencast deathmarch of OmniFocus ninja tricks, you already know I use start dates extensively to manage my tasks. Now I can see what is up tomorrow, or three days from now, along with the calendar items for that day. I’ve been asking for this feature for years and the implementation is great. With this update, iPad OmniFocus becomes even more prominent in my task management workflows. Good times.

There is a lot more to 1.3 including full screen note editing, better badge counts, gestures showing up when mirroring, and other improvements. The Review sidebar is also now sorted in Library order, which is an improvement.