Getting More Done, Mac Edition

“Task” and “What’s Next” Tracking


From The Omni Group. Free 14-day trial, $80 to purchase.

I’m already a huge fan of their Omnigraffle application (for Windows users, imagine Visio, but without all the Microsoft frustration). As a Web guy, I use it for wire-framing and practically everything else that needs a simple diagram where Illustrator would be too much horsepower.

OmniFocus has been described as the Ferarri of task management tools for the Mac. It can be overwhelming to someone not familiar with the GTD methodology, but once you start to grasp the basic concepts it becomes terribly simple.

GTD introduces the concept of “contexts” — and this is a central function of OmniFocus. Basically, there are things that you can only do in certain contexts — for instance, I can only do the dishes when I’m at home. So it makes sense that “do the dishes” shouldn’t show up on my task list if I’m sitting at my desk at work. There’s no value to me thinking about the fact that I’ve got dishes piling up at that point. Contexts can also be non-location specific. For example, I have a context called “Calls” — this is especially useful when I’m working from the iPhone version of the software (below).

One of the largest challenges I’ve had is just keeping track of what I need from other people — be it something I’ve delegated already, or something I need to review/discuss/ask someone in particular. This is where traditional task management tools have failed me in the past. This is where the concept of the “waiting for” context comes in, and again, OmniFocus has delivered a great solution.

For example, I have to deliver a copy deck to my production vendor by Wednesday for a Web project. Before that time, I need to have two other people review it in sequence, making revisions as needed between and after their review. Because this is something that has multiple actions, I create a “project” in OmniFocus (and flag it as a “sequential project” rather than “parallel”), and then start creating discreet actions. Some of these actions are things I need to do, and some of them are things that rely on other people. So, for this example, I set up a project like this, and set a “context” for each one:

  • Get Copy Deck from Diane [Waiting For : Diane]
  • Review copy deck, look for any glaring issues [At Computer]
  • Deliver copy deck to Elaine for her review [At Computer]
  • Get copy deck back from Elaine [Waiting For : Elaine]
  • Make any revisions to copy deck with Elaine’s notes [At Computer]
  • Deliver copy deck to Robert’s assistant, asking that she have it printed at his hotel and slipped under his door before his flight back to New York [At Computer]
  • E-mail Robert’s assistant to verify that he received the copy deck [At Computer]
  • Get copy deck back from Robert’s assistant with his notes [Waiting For : Robert’s EA]
  • Make any revisions to copy deck with Robert’s notes [At Computer]
  • Upload final copy deck into project issue tracker [At Computer]

Of course, I also set due-by dates where appropriate and some key steps actually live in my calendar rather than in this list (meetings to review changes, etc). The real benefit is that when I’m speaking with someone, I can refer to their “Waiting For” list and see everything I need to cover off with him or her across all projects, big and small.

Doing this always let’s me know “what’s next,” and I don’t have to spend time thinking about what I might be forgetting.

But what if I’m not near my computer?

OmniFocus for iPhone

From the Omni Group. $20 to purchase from Apple’s iTunes Store.

I’m not always at my Mac, but I almost always have my iPhone with me. Perhaps I’m sitting in a meeting with my boss. I can quickly scan through my open items in “Waiting For : Boss” context and have a quick punch list of items I need answers on.

This is also very useful for “back-filling.” I frequently have downtime away from the computer… commuting on the subway, walking somewhere, sitting at the airport.

Whenever I have a spare few moments, I can refer to my “Commute, “Calls,” or “Errands” contexts to see what I can get done along the way. This, combined with lists in Evernote (see next section), is a powerful way to keep from forgetting stuff without having to rely on random pieces of paper (that I can lose), or my own mind.

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