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@waiting for, @agenda, delegation and OmniFocus

Tony Green

There was a kink in my workflow for OmniFocus for quite a while, I could never find the right way to handle items I've delegated to or need feedback from others on.  There are dozens of different workflows that I've seen out on the interwebs but none of them fitted right.

I've slowly changed role at $work over the last couple of years, from being a full time techie to running a (growing) team.  I was finding having a single @waiting-for context didn't scale, I tried putting tagging into the task summary but that didn't allow me to see things at varying levels.

What finally worked for me is to nest some contexts like this:

By nesting in this way, I do a couple of things which are important to me.  Firstly, any items I need to talk to John Doe about will sit in the base "John Doe" context.  Secondly, any items which I need John to come back to me on will sit in the "WF: John Doe" context.

This simple change to my workflow means I can simply select one context ("John Doe") and see both the items I need to talk to John about and the items I'm waiting for him on.

When taken to the next level, it becomes even more powerful.  By continuing the nesting idea, you can give more structure to your agenda contexts:

Now I have layers to the agendas.  I can select the "Engineering team" context if I want to see every task I have that involves that team, from individuals to the meetings.  I can also drill down to individuals to see the micro view.  

When used with the new OmniFocus "quick open" function, you get REALLY fast access to the data you need at whatever level you need to see it at.  It makes it easy when I catch up with anyone to pull up a list of what I could ask them and what they're supposed to be coming back to me on.

The down side is you end up with a lot of contexts.  I have almost 100 at the moment, 80 of them nested under my base "Agenda" context.  I've not noticed a performance issue from doing it though and the payoff is more than worth the potential clutter.


OmniFocus "Quick Wins"

Tony Green

Could it be?  Yes, it is, another OmniFocus workflow post.

This is an evolution of the classic 2 minute rule that is a core part of the GTD workflow.

I've been struggling finding free time at $work to be able to work off my lists.  We're down a few people and are busier than usual at the moment, so things are starting to back up.

While I'm not dropping things, I'm certainly seeing a build up in my action lists at the moment.

I started paying attention to where and when I was able to find slots of time to action things off my lists.  They tended to fall into the following categories:

* 5 minute window because people hadn't turned up for a meeting
* 15-30 minute window because either a meeting had been cancelled or I didn't have back to back meetings for some reason (yes, it was that bad)
* 60 minute windows, usually when I get in early 

There are a few limiting criteria when chosing the tasks you can work in when you follow the .  You have:

* Context (phone/office/agenda/errands etc)
* Energy available
* Time available

There is an option in OmniFocus to include details of *estimated time* in actions.  You might have a phone call to make that you know will only be 5 minutes, but another that will take at least 30.  Having that information available to you helps when you know you're short of long stetches of time.

By putting the estimated effort into these tasks, you can create a perspective which shows all tasks that can be completed within defined times.

Once you have this in place, you can use this "Quick Wins" perspectives to see your tasks, ordered in the time it'll take you to do them.

All tasks in this context are ordered by the estimated time they'll take, with the quickest ones first

One thing to be careful of is that tasks WITHOUT an estimated date will not show up in the "Quick Wins" perspective.


I've been using this for a while and it's really helped me make use of the small bits of time that crop up.  It's amazing how many projects you can push forward with just a few minutes of action.

OmniFocus project layout

Tony Green

We've been having a lot of discussions about Omnifocus at the Sydney GTD Meet-Up over the last few weeks. One of the common questions is around how to lay out the projects view.

OmniFocus gives you a lot of flexibility in how you arrange your projects, giving you folders and nesting as ways of customising things.

Over the years, I've played around with many different ways of laying things out. It was about 12 months ago that I hit on my current layout that works really well for me.

Being an avid GTDer I have a mindmap which lists my areas of focus. These are the key areas of your life that will be the focus of your projects and next actions.

You might want to think about these are the different hats we wear in different parts of our lives. This is an excerpt of my areas of focus:

  • Work
    • Management
      • Budgets
      • Training
      • Strategy and roadmaps
      • Communication and PR
    • Service Improvement
    • Projects
    • Monitoring and reporting
    • Personal Development
  • Personal
    • Family
    • Health
    • Personal Development
    • Jobs around the house
    • Administration
    • Finance
    • Holidays and recreation

I found that if I laid out my folder structure in OmniFocus in the same way, I could accomplish two things. Firstly, I could use the structure as part of my weekly review. Because all of the projects would appear under the relevant area of focus, I can tell at a glance if there is an area that I'm not focusing on enough.

This happened to me in the last few days. I did my review and noticed that I didn't have any projects in my budget folder - yet we're fast approaching budget season.

The second reason is a bit more subtle but, in my opinion, more powerful. Unless you have put a due date on a project or action, the context view will list tasks in a set order. That order is the order they appear in the proejcts list.

That means, all things being equal, tasks for projects in my Management folder will appear higher up the next action list than tasks for projects in my Monitoring and reporting folder.

For example. I have two phone calls to make, one to book in a budget meeting (area of focus == budget) and one to talk to a project manager about resourcing (area of focus == project). If neither of the tasks or projects have due dates, the call about the budget meeting would appear above the call to the project manager.

This means you can arrange your folders with a pseudo level of importance. This helps a lot if you're working off larger next action lists. It doesn't remove any other filtering or sorting you may do, just adds another metric to assess your next action decisions against.

This workflow is valid in all versions of OmniFocus (Mac and iOS).

Digital Tickler File on OSX Using Hazel

Tony Green

I've never really found a place in my physical life for a tickler file in my Getting Things Done workflow, they seem like a great idea but I have no real world paper to manage.

When carrying out GTD training, I'm often asked if there is digital equivalent of a tickler file. I'm usually training fairly technical people who're trying to embrace the paperless lifestyle, the idea of having a draw dedicated to 43 folders and having to remember to check it isn't that appealing. Tickler files only work if you have the discipline to check them daily.

There are various ways to fake a tickler file, some of which I use already. My current method is to put a link to the file I want "tickled" into [Omnifocus][omnifocus] with a start date of the day I want to see it. That works pretty well and certainly gives the desired (fully automatic) result.

Well, this would be a pretty short post if that was the end of it..... But it's not.

I was over in Houston doing training a couple of weeks ago and the topic of tickler files came up again. We discussed the idea of having a digital version of the tickler and some people though it would be really useful. I put a loop into Omnifocus's inbox and didn't think too much more about it.

A few days later I was at the airport processing my inbox while waiting to board. I got to the inbox item "Digital tickler files?" and when I got to the standard GTD question of "is it actionable?" I decided, "yes, it is".

I spent the next couple of hours figuring out how to setup a fully automated tickler file system on a Mac using a wonderful tool called Hazel. For those of you who (for some unknown reason) don't know what Hazel is, I'll quote their website : "Hazel watches whatever folders you tell it to, automatically organizing your files according to the rules you create."

I use Hazel extensively to manage my files, handle my filing, organise my backups and perform housekeeping on my directories, amongst many other things. I figured if there was a tool that could take care of the hard work involved in a digital tickler file, Hazel would be it.

What I've come up with is a couple of rules that take your files and put them under a tickler directory structure, which Hazel manages. The rules also then "untickle" the files on the day that you've requested them back, moving the files back into a specified directory.

Enough waffling, let's get into how you can set this up. Firstly, obviously, you need a Mac running the Hazel. At the time of writing this I'm running version 3.1.3 of Hazel, I'd recommend a recent version as one of the conditions (Current Time) was only recently added to the product.

You need to decide two things, which directory will be your "inbox" and which directory will contain your "tickle" directory. I use my Downloads folder as an inbox and put the tickle directory on Dropbox under $user/Dropbox/Documents/tickle. You can obviously change these to suit your setup.


You then need to download the rules and import them into Hazel. The rule "Downloads" needs to be associated with your chosen inbox folder, the rule "tickler" needs to be associated with your chosen tickle folder.

Once those files are in place, you can start testing. Easiest initial test is to add a filename suffix to a file in your inbox. Hazel will look for anything that has a filename that ends in - tickle MMM DD (e.g. example - tickle Jan 01.txt). Hazel will strip out the - tickle MMM DD and put the file into your tickle folder in a structure like this tickle/MMM/DD. You can use textexpander to automate the addition of the suffix, there is a snippet in the download which will help you out.

Once the file is in the tickle structure, you can safely forget about it. On the day you've chosen, the file will automagically be placed back into your chosen inbox folder, ready for you to work on it.


I'm actively developing the code, but it seems pretty solid at the moment. You can download the code from my GITHub site.

If you have any comments, suggesitons or problems, feel free to e-mail me.

Mono-space font joy

Tony Green

I really love writing in a decent mono-spaced, non-serif, font. From hacking in the terminal to writing Markdown in nvAlt, having a nice font seems to make things just a little nicer.

There's a great article which I've just read which gives you the chance to view the best programming fonts, including a sample of code.

Source Code Pro has edged ahead (yes, there's a vote!) but I'm glad to see a few new mono-spaced friends I can add to my list.

To Evernote or not to Evernote

Tony Green

I've been trying for about a year now to switch over to pure text files for all of my documents. I love the simplicity, the portability and the longevity of text files. Not being locked into proprietary formats and being able to chose which application I want to use to write my documents, all lofty and noble goals. I've taught myself Markdown and love writing everything I can in it.

Only problem is, about three years ago, I got myself entrenched in Evernote. I use Evernote for a huge majority of my document storage, from images, spreadsheets, presentations to PDFs and text files. Using Hazel and my beloved ScanSnap scanner, I've completely embraced a paperless lifestyle. I just feed the paperwork into the scanner, it scans both sides, performs OCR on the document and decides what to do with it.

Hazel reads the file and if there is a rule set up for that type of document, it automagically renames it, pushes it into Evernote, tags is appropriately and removes the file. If it's something that needs some action (bills etc), then an Omnifocus task is created with a link to the Evernote note inside it.

That's some pretty frictionless automation.

Once it's in Evernote, everything is searchable. It's available on all my platforms and has yet to let me down.

So, here are the problems:

  • Evernote doesn't support plain text files (all text files in Evernote are HTML behind the scenes)
  • Evernote doesn't support Markdown
  • I can't use external editors to manipulate Evernote files
  • While I'm not locked into a proprietary format, it does feel to me a lot less open than a plain file system full of files (my UNIX side coming out!)

The other thing is that writing in Markdown just feels right.

Moving from Evernote will be a huge deal for me and something I'm really not sure I'm ready for. Using something like openmeta might help me get over some of the problems and spotlight searching is a lot more robust than it used to be. For much more tag related awesomeness, checkout Brett's blog. My Evernote system contains 3,000+ notes and I've finally managed to get SWMBO into searching within Evernote for things.

I think I'm going to spend some time hacking up some Hazel rules to dual dump into Evernote and into a filesystem and see how things go. I'll update as I go.

A great story about revenge and porker porn

Tony Green

On the night of 28.10.11, I had my MacBook Pro, debit card and PIN robbed from me in Central London. Luckily I‘d installed tracking software on the laptop and eventually it kicked in, not just with a few images but a whole slew of information potentially linking the current ‘owner’ to the original crime.

There have been a lot of these stories over the years, but none that I can remeber got me laughing quite this much. I can heartily recommend hidden, especially when it leads to this kind of fun.