The Today Card/Journal File

I saw Patrick Rhone’s post about his Today Card and it reminded me that I may have never talked about my journal and accompanying AppleScript to file it in OmniFocus at the end of the day.

I keep a basic plain text journal in Dropbox and I open it up quickly using Keyboard Maestro.

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wkg="$HOME/Dropbox/Documents/Markdown"
journal="$wkg/Journal.md"
touch $journal;open -a "BBEdit" $journal

At the end of the day (I run a Launch Agent every day at 8pm to file my journal) I run this AppleScript to import my journal into OmniFocus.

set the_file to "Users:your_username:Dropbox:Documents:Markdown:Journal.md" as alias

open for access the_file
try
   set the_text to read the_file as «class utf8»
on error
   return "Journal empty."
end try
close access the_file

tell application "OmniFocus"
   tell front document
    make new inbox task with properties {name:"Journal for " & ¬
    date string of (current date), note:the_text, flagged:true}
   end tell
end tell

set eof of the_file to 0

Set the_file to wherever you keep your journal file, and then if the file has text in it, it will create the task in OmniFocus. If there’s no text in the file, it will error out and do nothing. Run this with launchd every day and you have an automatic way to dump your daily journal into your inbox.[1]


  1. I use as «class utf8» in order to properly read and write Japanese characters.  ↩

SmartPerspective for OmniFocus

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I have an order to the tasks I work on. If something’s flagged in OmniFocus, it should be done first. If there aren’t any flagged tasks, then I move on to regular next actions. If there aren’t any next actions, (which is rare) then I move on to “someday” tasks. This AppleScript checks if tasks fit those conditions, and shows you the proper perspective.

Check out SmartPerspective here.

If you want to take it a step further, run SmartPerspective with Keyboard Maestro and have it run anytime OmniFocus activates. If there’s no front window, nothing will happen. If there isn’t a front window, then the proper perspective will open up.

Update: 2013-09-14

I’ve finally done it! (I think…)

I wrote up a little script called SmartPerspective for OmniFocus that smartly opens up different perspectives depending on whether certain conditions have been met. If tasks in my “Daily” project (all the junk that needs to be done every day), it opens the “Daily” perspective. If that’s clear, it looks for flagged tasks in every context and if any exist, it opens “Flagged”. After that, if any available tasks are left, it opens “Next Actions”. Lastly, if none of these conditions have been met, it opens up the “Someday” perspective and then you can look at stuff that isn’t blocked (by a start date) but isn’t in an active project.

The first version of the script stupidly closed all windows and then created a new document window. This was awkward and slower than just resetting the perspective name property for the document window. Now, if a front document window is visible, it resets the perspective name property. If one isn’t visible, then a new document window is created. This is faster and smarter. Also, this approach finally seems to make using Keyboard Maestro’s application trigger “when OmniFocus activates” open the right perspective every time.

OmniFocus and Energy

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Omnifocus Needs An Energy Field

For me, the one thing missing from OmniFocus (as of 2013-01) is an energy field. You can give a task a start/end date, a context, a project, a time estimate and set it to be repeating, but you can’t set an energy level for it. One for the criteria David Allen suggests that you base priority of tasks on is energy. You can’t do something if you don’t have the tools for it. You can’t do something if you don’t have the time for it. And you can’t do something if you don’t have the energy for it. Don’t get all “You have to push yourself!” on me. Sometimes, you just don’t have the energy to do certain things. Writing a blog post is not really a low energy task. You have to be in the mood for it, or at the very least, be “up” for the task. On the other hand, things on my daily checklist includes flossing, taking a multivitamin and logging cash transactions in Koku. Those things aren’t mentally or physically taxing. Writing a blog post might be sometimes. Running a couple miles is. Those things are “high energy”.

Faking An Energy Field With Omnifocus 1.9

When OmniFocus 2.0 gets unveiled this month, it might have an energy field, but until then (and possibly even after), you can fake energy fields by adding “High Energy” and “Low Energy” as sub-contexts. I have contexts for “House” and “Mac” and each of those have high and low energy sub-contexts. Luckily, if you sort those tasks in OmniFocus, all of the “High Energy” tasks get lumped together, so it’s easy to quickly see which ones are high energy-only. Of course, you can also create perspectives based on these, and I do have a “Low Energy” perspective that I switch to when I’ve got time but I don’t have much energy to get stuff accomplished. Perspectives don’t update automatically, so if you create more energy sub-contexts later, be sure to update your energy perspectives accordingly.

Getting (Your Files) Organized

What is Organization?

I’m constantly trying to be organized. I’m sure that word means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some guy, it may mean that everything has a specific place. For another guy, it might just mean that he kinda knows where things are. For something like a computer, it should be a relatively easy thing to accomplish…being organized. The problem is not that we can’t be organized, it’s that there are too many ways to be organized, and geeks being fiddly types by nature want to play around with their organizational systems all the time and ultimately their need to fiddle with everything in hopes of finding the be all, end all organizational system leads them to being less organized.

The number one goal of organization should be that you can find the things you need…fast. The number two goal should be that finding things should be easy. If you can’t remember how to find something, your system is broken, at least for you.

Folders

So let’s look at the oldest way of organizing files. Folders where how you organized things. It was the only way. Before you could search for things, you had to stick things somewhere. Folders exist on computers because they were all we had (have) in the real world. Imagine being at your desk, and searching for a single document from a single giant pile of everything. That’s how Google thinks you should manage data. Just search for it. On a computer it’s doable. In real life, it’s impossible. But just cause you can do something doesn’t mean that you should, right?

The good thing about organizing your files in folders is that everything has a singular place that it lives. If you put your credit card statements in a “Credit Card Statements” folder, you’ll always know where those PDFs are. You’ll never have to search for them. You’ll know that they’re all there, in that folder, and you can see them all in a list of just credit card statements.

The downside of organizing files in a purely folder-based system is that files only exist in one context. If you’ve got a PDF of a receipt from your doctor, where does it go? Does it go in a receipts folder or a health folder? How granular should your folders be? If go too granular, your folder hierarchy goes nuts and searching for a file turns into Alice venturing down the rabbit hole. If you don’t get granular enough, then you’ll probably have trouble finding your files because you’ve got a giant mess to wade through. Try finding a receipt from your eye doctor when it’s sitting in a general receipts folder and you’ve also got receipts from your family doctor, dermatologist, orthopedist and your ear, nose and throat guy and you’ve been going to these guys for ten years and you wanna find a bill for a very specific visit that you can’t remember when it took place. It quickly becomes a nightmare.

Tags

Tags are generally the perferred way of organizing data post-Web 2.0. I think Gmail had the biggest influence on this. Labels and tags let you organize data without committing that data to a specific “place”. You can have a piece of data that sits everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but you can find it and all other related files based on any number of different tags. Going back to the doctor’s visit receipt, you could tag that PDF as “receipt”, “doctor”, “bloodwork”, “vd” and you could find it based off of any or all of those criteria.

There is no real standard for tags. OpenMeta tags exist on OS X and work between the file system and play well with apps that support them, but Apple could kill these in some future update to the OS. OS X has keywords but don’t work across all apps. And neither of these work on other OSes. You can’t take your OpenMeta tags over to iOS, and your OS X keywords aren’t going to work in Windows.

Search

While Google may have created a tag boom, their real goal is to get us to just search. With a purely search-based system, you don’t worry about folders or tags. You rely on meta data and the contents of files for finding things. It’s why Gmail just has an archive. Emails never get deleted. Why delete things that don’t need to be. Space is almost unlimited and if you’re not bothering to organize data, what’s the point of cleaning it out of the system. It’s better to keep it around.

While that may work for Gmail, hard drive is finite. Your MacBook Pro will run out of space if you never delete an email or save every photo you ever download. So data management is a necessity.

Smart Folders

The best thing that ever happened to search was the smart folder. Smart folders and saved searches allowed you to take the best parts of folder-based organization and tagging and put them together in a way that let you keep data in a specific place and apply various types of classifications at the same time.

With saved searches you can have a “smart folder” that looks at just your receipts folder, but also only show you PDFs tagged “doctor” and “flut” and restricts the parameters of that smart folder to just PDFs created in the past year.

What’s the Best System?

It’s like they say about cameras. The best camera is the one you have with you. You have to make an organizational system that works with how your brain works. If one big pile and search works for you, have at it. If you need a strict folder-based system to manage your neurosis, then that’s what you should build. For me, I need data to be in a specific place, but I love tagging for its ability to insert a ton of searchable variables. Saved searches and smart folders are what I should be using and I’m going to make an effort to use them more in the future.

What I use the most for finding my files is Launchbar from obdev. Launchbar excels at finding things fast with just a few keystrokes. If you’re reading this you’re probably already familiar with Launchbar (or Alfred or Quicksilver). Launchbar can find things from all the metadata that is index by Spotlight and is great at quickly opening up directories. You can even assign abbreviations to files or folders you often access by pulling them up and typing ⌘⌥A. Try that and make Calendar.app’s “iCal” or Contacts.app into “Add” and see how nice it feels. :)

Automate Sticky Notifications with Keyboard Maestro

I bought Sticky Notifications a few weeks back and couldn’t think of much use for it. I was thinking today that it might be a good idea to take flagged items from Omnifocus and have them on the desktop as sticky notifications so that I make sure I don’t forget about them. I made three of them, and then figured I should automate it. It took me a while to figure out that I needed to filter the clipboard with percent encodes to make it work properly.

If you have multiple items selected when you invoke the macro you’ll get everything selected, but in one single reminder, but it works best on individual items.

Here’s the macro:

Screen Shot 2012 11 16 at 11 39 58 AM

And here’s the download link.

Evernote 5.0 for iOS

Evernote on iPhone

Evernote on iPad

The newest edition of Evernote for iOS is out and it’s a radical change. The old basic iOS style is gone. No more buttons at the bottom of the screen, which means more room in the list and note views, but that also means a very different style of menu navigation. The root view of the app looks like you’re staring down a drawer full of file folders. There are folders for All Notes, Notebooks, Tags and Places.

A Neat Thing

If you leave the Notebook view on Favorites, then you have essentially created a Favorites tab. You can do the same for tags as well. This allows for actually faster access to your most used notebooks and tags. If you go digging around (which you may be apt to do, I don’t know you) you’ll lose your place, but if you don’t do a lot of hunting around and just rely on search in Evernote, then you can get a hidden feature.

Source of Frustration

I’m really frustrated that Evernote can’t understand Markdown. If it did, I could see myself doing all of my note taking there. As it stands, things that will later be published to my blog or printed with Marked need to be written in a text editor that is purely plain text and comprehends Markdown. Unfortunately, I don’t think Evernote or the people who work on it will ever support Markdown.

Russian Roulette Productivity

Asian Efficiency had an interesting post about forcing decisions. Essentially, you write down six possible tasks, and one of those possibilities is that you get out of working entirely. I also noticed that they double-loaded the more average task and added one double load of the task they hoped to accomplish. It’s an interesting idea that I’ll have to try. Would make a good AppleScripting project!

Vitamin-R: Kinda Getting Things Done

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Can it help you get more done?

Vitamin-R is not going to help you plan better. It’s not a GTD app the way that Omnifocus is. You’re not going to be building project lists and adding contexts to help you figure out when and where you can get work done. It’s not going to make you work harder. Simply put, if you’re not willing to do the work, no software is going to make you do it. Vitamin-R’s app description states that it will help you actually get things done, but I think that’s a false statement.

What can it help you do?

So what can it actually do for you? Vitamin-R can nudge you in the direction of getting work done. It can hide apps for you (although you could easily switch back into them), it will run a timer, and let you know when your allotted time is running out.

That’s all fine and dandy, but I think the real value in Vitamin-R is in its logging ability. Every time you start a task, you enter in the objective you want to accomplish and then the time you want to work on it. When you complete it, you can log it as a success or whether the objective was completed. You can also rate your level of focus. For example, “I wasn’t focused”, “I was highly focused” or the stupidly named “I experienced ‘flow’”. After your objectives are logged, you can then check your statistics and see what time of the day you had the best and worst levels of focus. I suppose that if you were on a regular working schedule, you could use those charts to see when you should be doing intense work and when you should do work that requires less intense focus. Inversely, you could also see where you need to make an effort to work harder at certain times of the day, or just certain days of the week. You might notice that you work harder on Tuesdays instead of Fridays.

Is it necessary?

Do you need Vitamin-R? No.

Could you find it useful? Sure.

If you like the idea of logging your productivity and like the idea of an assistant that keeps track of work time for you, Vitamin-R is a worthwhile investment.

Buy Vitamin-R in the App Store here.

Scratch 1.2: The Launch Center Pro of Text

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Launch Center Pro has become an important part of my iPhone workflows. I start a large portion of my Omnifocus tasks with it and I use its scheduling features to remind me to launch Downcast in the morning and the Dropbox app at night (to make sure the Camera Roll gets uploaded). In much the same way, Scratch 1.2 is becoming my Launch Center Pro for text. Scratch 1.2 added a multitude of export features. It added Omnifocus titles, Day One, Email HTML and a few others. Maybe the coolest things I’ve seen is that Scratch has the ability to add new export function through an in-app refresh button. The developer can push out new functions without pushing an update through the App Store. I tweeted them about having an export to Omnifocus note function, and maybe 12 hours later, it was available through the in-app refresh feature. You can all thank me with a donation.

Launch Center Pro took some getting used to. Not so much using the app as getting used to opening it up to do things. I went all the way and put it in the iPhone’s dock. It’s always there. In the same way, I think I’m going to train myself to open up Scratch when I’m typing something. If I then decide I want to tweet it, there’s an export option. If I want to add it to Omnifocus, there’s an export option. If I want to email it, there’s an export option.

Great Idea

I’d love to see a way to type something in Scratch, and then send that text to Launch Center Pro and have Launch Center Pro filter it and run one of it’s actions on the text that’s been passed along. It could be cool to type in Scratch, which has TextExpander and Markdown support, and then have your text run through an existing email action in Launch Center Pro that then sends along your email to a pre-defined contact. I don’t know if this is possible, but it would be super powerful.

Buy Scratch Here.

Quick Capture and Peace of Mind

Most GTDers will tell you that you should have one inbox and no more. I do agree that you should have only one inbox, but I would argue that the concept of an inbox is a two-step process. The first step, or the “reception desk” of your inbox is in your head. Before you fire up Omnifocus and tap the quick entry shortcut, you need to make that decision in your head of whether or not you need to be capturing the task into your trusted source. The first rule of GTD is: if you can do it in two minutes, now, then do it.

Let’s say you’re walking to work and you realize you forgot something. First, you have to decide, is this something I can act on now and finish in the next two minutes? No, of course not. You’re on your way to work, and the thing you need is at home. You pull out your phone and open up Omnifocus to enter in a task. You could enter in a project, a context, a start time and flag the task so that it only pops up after you’ve gotten home and you can act on it. I’d argue that it would be better to enter the name of the task and then just close Omnifocus. Quick capture is about getting the thing in your head out of your head and into the inbox. It’s not about processing the task. I have this problem where I want to process everything right away. I’ve realized that I’m better off just dumping things into the inbox and leaving them to be processed during a daily review. The term “daily review” might not be the best one though, because reviewing Omnifocus just once a day might not be enough. I probably need to do 2-3 reviews a day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at night before going to bed. Quick capture should be about peace of mind, not productivity, per se.