Backing Off Defer Dates: An OmniFocus Experiment

For years, I’ve been using defer dates to manage the flow of work in OmniFocus. I’ll often push projects out days, weeks, or even months so they disappear from the radar until a later time. Using this method, I've generally been able to keep my daily task list to something manageable while at the same time knowing all that other stuff is managed. 

With lots of little projects, managing those defer dates can get tedious. It’s the end of the year, so I'm doing lots of small corporate compliance-type projects for legal clients. As a result, I realized I'm spending more time than usual managing defer dates in OmniFocus. 

So I decided to a little experiment where I'd stop using defer dates for awhile. Over the last few weeks, my list of available tasks in OmniFocus has swelled to hundreds of items. For this experiment, I'm accepting that I'm not going to finish that long list any particular day. Instead, I'm simply flagging the priority items as they show up. (I’m trying to keep that to 3-5 tasks a day.) Once I knock out the flagged tasks – hopefully before lunch – I'm then just working contexts, projects and the other ways OmniFocus can slice and dice my task list until the end of the day.

This experiment has been interesting. On the plus side, I don’t feel compelled to spend as much time managing defer dates. I still use defer dates but now only where they make sense. For instance if I'm going through the big list and see something about paying a bill next month, I’ll defer that task to next month. Before this experiment, going through that general finance project, I'd defer everything except for those items I intended to finish that particular day. Another advantage is that you don’t feel lousy at the end of the day if your task list looks untouched. Micro-managing defer dates, as I’ve historically done, can make you feel miserable if you set up your tasks carefully in the morning only to get none (or very few) of them done during the day. With this alternative system, it doesn’t work that way. I'd argue a third benefit is that this system is a little more forgiving for flow and energy. My prior system of limiting the daily list to just a few items can at times be artificial and the projects that you ear-mark in the morning may turn out to be the wrong projects for you 6 hours later. Being able to snipe through my big list at will can feel more productive and more consistent with how I'm feeling at the moment.

While you may think this new method takes less time to manage (since you aren’t constantly juggling start dates), I'm not sure that’s true. You still need to manage your tasks. This requires you to be double sure nothing important gets lost in the noise. If I don’t flag or set a deadline for a task, it can easily get lost among its hundreds of brethren. Taking the time to properly read through what is out there is important. I think working this way also makes having a reliable project review practice important. Additionally, with this big list system, you lose that ability to see a list of 15 just things in the morning and the satisfaction of knocking them all down by the end of the day.

I'm only a few weeks into this experiment but it nice to mix things up every once in awhile and I can report at this point that the experiment isn’t an abject failure. I'm finding things I like about this method and other things I don’t. At this point, I'm extending the OmniFocus experiment until the new year to see how things go. I’ll report back then.

MarsEdit 4

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MarsEdit, one of the premier Mac blogging applications got updated today to version 4. This new version has seven years of development behind it and a lot of new features including a new look, additional WordpPress support, additional editor improvements and automatic preview template generation. There’s a lot to this.

I used MarsEdit extensively back when MacSparky was on WordPress and it was a great solution. These days I'm on SquareSpace, which doesn’t play nice with third-party editors, but if you are blogging on anything other than SquareSpace, I'd recommend downloading the new MarsEdit and giving the free trial a spin.

Apple Text Replacements Now Working

For a long time, Apple’s built-in text replacement system has been unreliable at best. A few months ago Brian Stucki went deep on the problems with Apple Text Replacement, and it got a lot of attention on the Internet. In my mind, the inability to synchronize text expansion snippets was one of iCloud’s biggest black eyes … for years.

Anyway, all this attention appears to have led to Apple letting John Gruber know that they were aware of the problem and in the process of fixing the underlying iCloud sync for text replacements and promising that things would get better soon.

They did.

As of this morning, Text Replacement syncing is working immediately across my Mac, iPad, and iPhone. This has never worked reliably for me in the past. In the past, I've reset (and even nuked) my devices trying to get this feature to work to now avail. I had to grin a bit as I was looking at the now-syncing text snippets as so many previously lost snippets were resurrected. There about ten separate “test” snippets as I'd tried over the years to get this to work. Also, I had one snippet that refused to die. It was the phone number I had for my old law firm. I haven't worked there for over two years, and the snippet would still fire off despite my best efforts to kill it. Today I deleted it, and it vanished from all devices instantly. 

You may ask now that we have working text replacement from Apple, do you still need something like TextExpander. I certainly do. Take this as you will since TextExpander sometimes sponsors my podcast, but TextExpander still runs circles around native text replacement. Autofill, date and time tokens, Tab keys, rich text, and images are just a few of the reasons why I still use TextExpander for most of this stuff. Nevertheless, it is nice that Apple finally got this sorted out.

Jazz Friday - Bill Evans' Santa Claus is Coming To Town

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This week for Jazz Friday, I'm featuring the Bill Evans' cover of Santa Claus is Coming to Town from 1964. This is a weird track. It’s the only Christmas tune buried on Evans’ Trio 64 album released in January 1964. I'm guessing it is a live recording from the holiday season of 1963. They probably played it for giggles and then decided to put it on the album because what musician isn’t at least a little interested in holiday music residuals?

Anyway, to continue the weirdness, the song starts with this odd, loping, off meter melody. Go ahead and tap your foot to the beginning of this song. I dare you. Then it gets a more straight ahead feel, including a most excellent bass solo by Gary Peacock. The whole thing is quintessential Bill Evans. It's so easy to cover traditional holiday music. I like it when musicians decide to mix it up a bit and this track does that.

I'm going to cover some more holiday jazz through December but if you’d like to cut to the end, here’s my Jazz Yule Apple Music playlist. Enjoy

Pixelmator Pro

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Many years ago, I spent something like $30 to purchase Pixelmator for my Mac. For years now, that application has served as that little bit extra for me when Photos isn’t up to the task. This week Pixelmator released Pixelmator Pro, I significant upgrade to the original. There’s a whole list of additional tools and an excellent video showing you the basics of Pixelmator Pro.

There is a lot to the new Pixelmator including improved layout tools, way better painting support, photo adjustments of seemingly every kind and nature, easy application of nondestructive effects, and more. Having only used the app a few days, I'm really digging the new repair tool.

As with the original, Pixelmator Pro is entirely a Mac app and takes advantage of every dirty trick Apple lets developers use including Metal 2, Core Image, use of the graphics chip for processing, and machine learning-enhanced editing features.

At $60, this is a significant investment but it is also a significant upgrade in the image and vector tools available in the original. Pixelmator seems to be holding the line about not going to a subscription model and it is nice that you pay once and you’re done. Likewise, the Pixelmator team issued a lot of updates to the original Pixelmator over the years and I fully expect them to do the same with Pixelmator Pro. I guess what I'm trying to do here is justify the fact that I spent $60 on the new Pixelmator but I expect I won’t have any regrets.

If you’re looking to get some better image and vector tools, go check out Pixelmator Pro.

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Home Screens - Dan Catlin

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Dan Catlin (Twitter)(Website) is an interesting guy. He had a fancy pants job that required him to do lots of traveling but one day realized his kids were growing up and he was never around. So he gave up the fancy job and opened his own business making candles so he could have more time to be "dad". MiddleDavids is a sometimes sponsor of this blog and over the years I’ve come to know and respect Dan as a friend and fellow nerd. So Dan, show us your home screen.

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I’m a one page guy with page two overflow pretty much only holding new apps I haven’t decided if I want to keep yet. My top row is folders that I usually access via pull down from top and search, although occasionally I’ll navigate them old school. My second row is mostly media - I find that I tend to pick something to listen to and let it go, so I don’t really need one handed access too often.

My third row is mostly there because usually I’m thinking about going for a bike ride and the weather, routes/buddies, wind are useful, but just seeing them makes me happy.

The closer you get to the bottom, the more I’m thinking about using them on the fly, with one hand. Row four is calculators, my calendar and Waze, which is an annoying data hog in many ways, but seems to be the best in my area at getting traffic right, so it earns its place until Apple Maps catches them. The bottom two rows and dock are things I want to open quickly, often with one hand.

Favorite Apps:

Braintoss - strangely simple way to get stuff into my GTD system. Tap it (or say, “Hey Siri, open Braintoss,” then either record a voice memo, take a picture or (rarely) type something in. Then it emails me with the item. I’m much better at getting things into my system from email than all the other ways things come at me, so this helps a lot.

Strava - I was an early adopter about six years ago, and have been logging my bike rides, almost 30,000 miles of them, ever since. Has social media components (kudos, comments), but mostly it’s a way to keep track, set goals, follow friends and find new routes, etc. 

Soulver - Although I use pCalc for simple one-off math and love the Reverse-Polish notation option there, Soulver plus TextExpander is my secret sauce. I’ve built several fill-in formulas that really take it to the next level. Example - making a custom batch of candles in an odd amount of wax. On my Mac, I open Soulver, type ‘xbatch’ and a fill in snippet asks me for the amount of wax I’m making, the % of fragrance strength I want to make, and the magical “pop” gives me the exact amount of fragrance needed for the batch. Because the iPhone is more limited, I just keep a batch calculation worksheet in the list and can edit quickly. And because Soulver ‘shows your work,’ you can double check and live the old adage, “measure twice, cut once!” It’s really pretty slick!

I’m a data nerd. I love the Activity App that lets me worry about filling in my rings each day, Pedometer for steps tracking, and love-to-hate LoseIt, for calorie tracking. It’s the simplest and least cluttered way for me to manage portion control, and once I’ve built in most of our family recipes, it’s pretty easy to log and keep myself honest.

My phone is almost always adding sound to my world, whether through Audible books, Overcast podcasts, or my 80’s Rock ’n Roll dominated music collection, so those are favorites, too. 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Through the Ages - an iOS adaptation of my favorite strategy BoardGame that I always have a game going with three of my friends. Only get to take a turn or two each day, but enjoy them! Ascension is another game I usually have a few games going with friends - I like turn based games that I can jump on once or twice a day and think about the people I’m playing with as much as the game itself.

What app makes you most productive? 

Braintoss and Drafts (plus Due) for smaller ToDo’s. Braintoss helps me capture, Drafts is where most ideas/messages, etc. start (and sometimes stay - I have lots of notes there that I keep running like reading lists, quotes, etc.), Due is where things go that have to be done at a set time since it will annoy me until I do them!

OmniFocus for projects with lots of moving parts or that bear repeating. Today I have am embarrassing 87 things to do, but that’s a little silly because all of my month end tasks are ‘available’ at the moment, many of which are multi-step like payroll and sales tax for our small business, using a monthly repeating project keeps me from forgetting a step, which helps a ton.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

OmniFocus. Although it is a wonderful tool that I use faithfully for larger projects, I wish I was better at getting more of the ‘cruft’ into it so that I could have a single task management solution. Still working on that.

What is the app you are still missing?

I’d love to have a sort of DayOne alternative that kind of interviewed me at the end of the day, captured maybe my location data, and had elements of ‘streaks’ or activity ‘hooks’ and even completed ToDo’s in it so that you could sort of build a single view of what that day was like. One of my goals for next year is to see if I can hack DayOne to do that with some TextExpander snippets and screenshots.

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

I use my iPhone almost constantly in the background (tracking steps, podcasts, music) and actively several times an hour.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

I haven’t really adopted many of them. Sometimes use Find Friends when coordinating kid pickup, etc, but that’s something I could probably do better.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

The fact that it really is a computer that I always have with me and is truly acting as a ‘second brain’ for much of my life. Having a camera, voice recorder, and supplemental memory at all times is really pretty awesome. (I haven’t fallen in love with the iPad yet - I’m a piano player and fast touch typist and if I have to do more than a little typing, I run for my Mac.)

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

We’re pretty ‘all in’ with the Apple ecosystem. My wife and I have three daughters, and our family has a Mac Mini, four MacBooks, two iPads, five iPhones, a bunch of iPods, some of which still get used, two Apple Watches, and the new Apple TV. We love how well they interact. Probably our one complaint is that we’re always out of storage and not in love with the Cloud yet. I’d love it if onboard storage was a little more modular/granular and maybe a little less expensive - it’s probably the one thing that leads to frustration.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

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I got it for my birthday this past June, and really like it. Messages on my wrist and the fitness stuff are the primary uses (and just telling time on my wrist again rather than from my pocket)!

I wore an analog watch for years and love the way it makes me think in ‘quarters of hours’ rather than digital minutes. My complications are all fitness focused - Pedometer

What's your wallpaper and why?

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My Lock Screen wallpaper is our family crest that a friend made from a sketch. My wife and I both graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, hence the anchor with ’89 (the year we were married), and our family slogan, “We do hard things the hard way.” Kind of a joke but also reminds us that worthwhile things are usually not easy, and often it’s the journey that matters far more than the destination. My app wallpaper is just plain in my favorite sort of dark indigo color that makes the apps ‘pop’ so my rotten eyes can see them!

Anything else you'd like to share?

Thanks! I’m humbled to be considered since so many of the tips and techniques I’ve developed have come from hours spent listening to MPU and reading the MacSparky blog and books. If anything I’ve said is good, you deserve a lot of the credit; if not, I’m still learning!

Thanks Dan.

 

Free Agents 35: I Guess I'm Felix Unger

The latest episode of Free Agents is up. In it, Jason and I discuss the importance of prep time, resetting your balance, gauging the value of your work, time tracking, managing ongoing commitments, keeping clients happy when you get sick, and the value of uncluttered office space.

This episode of Free Agents is sponsored by:

  • Freshbooks: Online invoicing made easy.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code FREEAGENTS at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.

Root Problems and Black Eyes

Yesterday we got news that there was a serious flaw in macOS security that allowed villains to get full access to your Mac without a password with he ability to change personal files without needing any admin credentials.

There are security holes and then there are security holes. This one was about as big as they get. It required physical access but other than that, all bets were basically off. It reminded me of that bug a few years ago at Dropbox where they accidentally made passwords optional. 

I’m using past tense here because today Apple released a patch. I’m guessing right now a few Apple engineeers that were up all night are heading home to get some sleep. Not only can you install the update manually, Apple is pushing this update out on all currently updated Macs regardless of whether their owners go push the button. That should give you an idea of exactly how bad this bug was.

I’m happy that Apple fixed this bug as quickly as they did but the fact that it existed at all is pretty terrible. It’s the kind of thing that casts doubt over the entire operating system. This is definitely a black eye for macOS.

* Correction - Apparently this exploit did not require physical access. It could also be pulled off with remote access. Ugh. 

Apple and Animoji

Apple has a new ad out capitalizing on the success of Animoji.

I think Apple is smart to put the pedal down on Animoji. It is way more popular than anyone expected and gives Apple a chance to distinguish the iPhone X from anything else.

However, I don't think Apple is doing enough to ride this wave. Just like I wrote about Messages effects last year, Apple needs to be more agile when these social-related features start to take off. There's no mystery that companies capitalizing on things like stickers and effects, like Snapchat, are constantly rotating in new effects that keep users coming back.

Apple should have a team preparing new Animoji faces that go out frequently. Why not an Animoji Reindeer or Santa or Baby New Year? 
If instead, Apple leaves Animoji as they are right now with significant change for an entire year until iOS 12, people will move on.

Scrivener 3 for Mac

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Scrivener, the remarkably good long-form writing tool, just got updated to version 3 for Mac. The update is a big one. New features include a complete interface overhaul. The new interface is cleaner and feels more modern than the older one did. 

The text system is easier to use. There is now full styles system so you can easily format text throughout your document.

Scrivener is now also 64 bits and largely rewritten making it faster and more stable.

A few other things that strike my fancy with this update:

  • The compile tools have always been powerful but also a bit cryptic. While they’ve retained their power, the interface is more manageable than it used to be.
  • Index cards can now use color!
  • Better Epub 3 and Kindle export.

I’ve been using Scrivener for ten years and written several books in prior versions. I’m thrilled to see Scrivener get such a substantial update. In my opinion, nothing can beat Scrivener for research-intensive writing. For instance, I write all of my complicated legal briefs, where I’ve got piles of PDFs, text snippets, images, and web pages as resource materials, in Scrivener. The app can manage a lot of resources while still giving you a useful writing environment. We covered Scrivener most recently on the Mac Power Users last year and virtually all of the merits I listed in that show remain with the new version. If anything, Version 3 just makes all of Scrivener’s best features more accessible to users. You can learn more at the developer’s web site.

Jazz Friday: Wynton Marsalis Christmas Jazz Jam

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This year I'm going to feature some of my favorite holiday-themed jazz music every Friday. One of my favorites Wynton Marsalis’s Christmas Jazz Jam (iTunes) (Apple Music). Wynton, who I’ll cover another day in greater detail, is very much a traditionalist but as he’s got older, he’s also added more of a sense of joy and humor to his trumpet (in my opinion). This album fits in nicely. It’s jazz music that you could just play in the background while eating or, you could carefully listen to and have moments of delight. This album works both ways. 

Some of my favorite parts are Wycliffe Gordon’s wild, reindeer-inspired trombone Solo on Santa Clause is Coming to Town and the Dixieland feel in Jingle Bells. You are going to either love or hate what they did with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer but it makes me laugh out loud every time it comes on. Finally, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is classic, straight ahead jazz, and excellent. If you like Wynton, you’ll also want to check out his 1989 album, Crescent City Christmas Card (iTunes) (Apple Music), which is also pretty an excellent jazz holiday album.

2017 MPU Hoodie and Shirt

It's been a few years since we did any merchandise at the Mac Power Users so we've teamed up with the Cotton Bureau on these really great looking hoodies and shirts. The hoodie features an embroidered MPU Battery logo and can keep you warm through the winter. The zipper was at my specific request because nobody likes to wrestle themselves out of a pull-over hoodie. The T-shirt also features the MPU Battery, but its bigger and it glows in the dark. That's right. My podcast officially has a glow-in-the-dark shirt. According to 8-year-old me, I've officially made it.

We really wanted these products to be of good quality and I think Cotton Bureau's going to really deliver. There's a pretty short window here. Sales end December 3, so place your orders now.

MPU 405: 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

This week's episode of the Mac Power Users is our annual gift guide. Katie and I looked high and low this year and we came up with some great picks. We also had some great ideas from the community and added those as well. The worst part of this episode (for me) is where I say confidently that I think the HomePod will ship in December. Apparently, Apple disagrees with that optimism.

Sponsors include:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code MPU at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
  • Balance Open: Find out more about Balance Open and get $2 in Ethereum.
  • Fujitsu ScanSnap ScanSnap Helps You Live a More Productive, Efficient, Paperless Life. 
  • 1Password Have you ever forgotten a password? Now you don't have to worry about that anymore.

Gabe Weatherhead's iPad Experiment

I enjoyed reading Gabe Weatherhead's thoughts following his attempts to do more on his iPad. Although I have to admit that I could never see Gabe going into the iPad-only crowd, at least not in the foreseeable future. Gabe is far too clever in the way he uses his Mac. Indeed, Gabe never was looking to replace his Mac. While that is possible, and even preferable, for some, I still think for most of us the question should not be about whether one platform can replace another so much as us users figuring out which platforms work for us best under which circumstances, which is exactly what Gabe did.