The OmniFocus "Switch" Button


I've received several e-mails and comments concerning my discussion of the "Switch" button in OmniFocus during the task management episode of the Mac Power Users.

This button is among those available in the "Customize Toolbar" menu.

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Simply drag it on your toolbar and you are set. Here is my OmniFocus toolbar.

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The "Switch" button becomes useful when working through your list. I work most of the day in the context view. So, if I'm working through the phone context and perform a task like, "Call Rumpole regarding trial" and decide I need to add a task to that project after the call, I do not need to go digging through the project list for it. I simply press "Switch." Then, using some strange dark magic, OmniFocus drops me right into that specific project for me to fiddle with to my heart's content. When done, I simply press the "Context" button again and get back on my merry way.

Adding a Mail Folder to IMAP Mail Accounts


My friend, Tim, has recently "seen the light" about using IMAP mail services to sync between multiple accounts. (If this sounds like greek to you, watch my E-mail Sorcery screencast, episode 15 right here.)

Having successfully set up his IMAP mail accounts, he now wants to add several folders to also synchronize through IMAP. I thought his question was worthy of a short tutorial so here goes:

1. Create the Folder

In Apple Mail, Go to the Mailbox menu item and click "New Mailbox"

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2. Make it IMAP

Next a dialogue will show up asking what type of mailbox you want. Click on the selection arrow.

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The click will open a list of your current accounts. You want to select the root level of your IMAP account. In the example, I am doing this on my MobileMe IMAP account. This is where mistakes are made. If you create the mailbox "On My Mac" or within an old POP account, it won't synchronize.

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Then you simply give it a name and you are done. It should show up in both Apple Mail and your other linked IMAP devices, such as your iPhone.

MacBook Scuba: What To Do When Your MacBook Gets Wet

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A few days ago I received a panicked call from my sister about her MacBook. She left her white MacBook on a table overnight, lid closed with no AC power, next to a vase of flowers. While sleeping, the cat knocked over the vase right on top of the MacBook which then slowly drained water on it over the course of the night.

Before she called me she had opened it, plugged it in, and tried to boot it up to no avail. Arrg. That, by the way, is the very last thing you should do with anything that is electronic and wet.

Anyway, this is my big sister and I am indebted to her for life.* So I did a bit of online research and called out to my Twitter friends and put together the following MacBook Scuba plan:

What to do When Your MacBook Gets Wet:


1. Get the Mac Out of the Water.



2. Don’t Turn it On.

When your Mac is freshly bathed, the very last thing you want to do is add electricity.


3. Get the Water off, Carefully.

Use gravity, or absorbent towels. Do not, in the process of brushing water off your Mac, push it into areas where it can get inside the machine, like the keyboard, joints, vents, or other ports.


4. Remove Whatever Parts You Can.

Remove the battery. If you are so technically inclined, pull out the hard drive and any other peripherals you may have.


5. Tilt Up.

Turn your Mac Book on its edge slightly open and stand it up, like a teepee, on some thick towels. Let gravity help you out. Leave it this way a very long time. Hours.


6. Evaporate.

Put the Mac in a sealable container with something that will suck all the moisture out of the air. Cat litter and uncooked rice are two popular choices. Make sure you do it in a way that doesn’t introduce Cat litter inside the machine. Do this at least overnight.


7. Wait.

No matter how tempting, wait two days.


8. The Moment of Truth.

Plug it in and see what happens.

So, following the above steps, my sister’s MacBook has survived the big spill of 2009 and seems to be working fine except for the battery, that is a complete loss.

As a an aside, I would like to thank all of my Twitter friends for suggestions as to exactly what should be done with the cat. As a dog person, they all made me smile.

Also, don’t forget, there is insurance for these kinds of problems. You may also want to check with your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to see if they cover it. Sadly, mine doesn’t.

* Why indebted for life you may ask? In addition to many other acts of kindness, in 1980 I was 12 years old and my big sister bought me a pair of Nike tennis shoes. Before that, K-Mart was my cobbler of choice. I thought I was so cool in those shoes. I actually think I increased my jumping height by about 12 feet when wearing them. In fact, I wore the hell out of those shoes. I wore them until there was no sole left on the bottom, Fred Flintstone style. Then I still wore them a bit longer.

Limit Dropbox Sync with Multiple Accounts

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While there are a lot of things I like about Dropbox, one problem is its inability to synchronize limited files.

For instance, at my office I have a PC computer for which I would like to share frequently used reference files. Because Dropbox has an "all or nothing" structure, activating my account on that PC computer would force the synchronization of everything, including personal items that have no business on my office PC. Furthermore, tech staff, work colleagues, and even the cleaning staff have access to the office PC when I'm not around. For these reasons, I do not want my entire Dropbox library on the office PC. This may be a unique problem resulting from my own paranoia but I think not.*

I toyed with a number of possible solutions to this problem. One option is a MobileMe synchronization but again that opens the PC to other files and requires manual steps. I want this to be automatic. Another solution is to set up a free account with a different service such as Syncplicity or SugarSync. Of course that would require operating two synchronization services on my Mac and I'm not thrilled about two seperate applications tracking and syncing files and burning clock cycles.

The best solution I found was simply to set up an additional free 2 GB Dropbox account on the PC under a different e-mail and "share" a folder from my Mac-based paid Dropbox account with the new account. This allows me to control access of what gets synchronized, limits the ability of someone on my PC to only obtain access to the shared files, and allows me to avoid running two synchronization applications on the Mac. Problem solved, for now.

* I'm aware I could set up a limited synchronization using Sugar Sync. The problem is that those require you to submit your account information and would allow a prospective evildoer simply log into your web account and have access to the whole enchilada. See what I mean about paranoia?

OmniFocus Tips - The Omniscient Start Date


I've been promising an OmniFocus screencast for some time but it seems the world is conspiring against me lately. Nevertheless, I thought I would share one of my most valuable tips, the effective use of start dates.

If you're like me, you have a lot of tasks in your database. One of the primary goals of task management is to actually get things done and not be paralyzed with fear when you see a list of 784 items. The trick is to make OmniFocus only give you the tasks you want to see at that moment. In addition to using contexts, another way to accomplish this is through the effective use of the "start date" field. For instance, if you have a particular project for work that you want to start on Wednesday, the start date for the related tasks should be Wednesday. You do not want those items appearing on your task list on Monday or Tuesday. I have some tasks that are not scheduled to begin for over a year. I was reminded of this yesterday when OmniFocus told me it was time to sort out the Christmas card list.

Every morning I do a sort of triage to my task list. Several items appear that weren't there yesterday. I look at them and realistically determine which of those will get accomplished today. Those that won't, get rescheduled to appropriate new start date. It's not that I'm deleting these tasks, I'm rescheduling them. They will appear again and will get done.

OmniFocus makes this very easy. You simply tab over to the start date field and type in a new date. You can also mouse over the calendar and enter the date that way. By far the most efficient and nerdy way to do this is through OmniFocus's intelligent date system. For instance, if the start date lists as December 8, 2008 and I type in the field "2d", OmniFocus will automate reschedule it for 2 days, December 10, 2008. If I type "Wed" in the field, it would do the same. You can even combine these. If you type"3w Sat", it will reschedule the event for three weeks from Saturday. I find it extremely useful and I am quickly able to parse through my task list to show only those events I need to work on today.

If you really want to go nuts, you can also use times in your start date field. If I've already blocked time out to do a specific project in the afternoon for instance, I will set the start time to coincide. That way my task list during the morning is not stuffed with items I do not currently need. I also do this for home related tasks. As an example, tomorrow someone's coming to work on my home and I need to prepare. When I made the appointment last week, I set a task for today. When that task appeared this morning, I promptly rescheduled it to 7 p.m. It will show up tonight but I don't have to look at it all day. If I were a bit smarter, I would have scheduled the task to "mon 7pm" and then I wouldn't have seen it this morning. Using this technique, I am able to keep my task list to a manageable and appropriate size. Once I finish the triage in the morning, I click over to context mode and then I'm off to the races for the rest of the day. By the end of the day I've either finished everything on the list or advanced it to a new appropriate start date.

I know GTD purists would argue that in doing this, I'm tying my hands behind my back. Specifically, GTD canon holds that if you have free time, you should be able to pull up all of your outstanding phone call tasks and work through them quickly. For me, this just doesn't happen very often. I think more in terms of specific projects I want to focus on and I'm such a terrible multitasker that jumping around quite often leads to misery. However, if I do find myself with free time, like I did a few weeks ago when the Internet went down to my office, it is a simple matter in OmniFocus to change your filter to show all tasks "remaining" instead of just those "available" and I can see all of my telephone calls.

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So MacSparky Nation, are these productivity posts helpful? Every time I post one I get several complementary e-mails from readers and several not-so-complementary e-mails from people threatening to unsubscribe because I've gone off the Mac-centric focus of the site. Let me know.

Bento Syncing Done Better

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Awhile back, I posted a tricky little Applescript I made to make syncing the Bento database easier. I was so busy patting myself on the back that I completely missed a much more elegant solution. Thankfully reader Neil shared it in the comments. It was so much better that I decided to give it a separate post. As Neil explained ...

I have a somewhat simpler approach (I think). All I did was copy my Bento folder from ~/Library/Application Support to my iDisk folder. Then I deleted the Bento folder and replaced it with a symbolic link. That way, when I start Bento, it looks in ~/Library/Application Support/Bento and is redirected to the copy on my iDisk. That way, it is always synced between the local computer and iDisk whenever I sync iDisk.

When it comes to computers, simpler almost always equals better. Neil, I bow my propeller beanie to your chocolate covered Mac-ness.

Rebuilding Your Mac from the Ground Up


Since posting about the fact that I was rebuilding my Mac, I've received a lot of emails from readers curious about how I did it. I'm actually surprised about the number of questions on this subject so I thought I'd explain the steps I took in a bit more detail for rebuilding your Mac from ground zero:

1. Clone the Drive.

I use SuperDuper but CarbonCopyCloner also works. No matter what, have at least one clone before you push the button to erase and install. This way you've always got the old system available once you start the process of rebuilding. This also gives you the option to simply copy over your old data to the fresh OS X install. That process only takes a few hours and usually is good enough to fix most problems but this post is about starting from zero so I'll push forward.

2. Keep Your Passwords and Licenses Close By

There are a lot of ways to save your passwords. Some folks use Yojimbo, others use Excel sheets and some of the smarter ones just keep a text file or a mail archive. I do it through 1Password which is great for the rebuild because it is all in the keychain.

3. Erase and Install Leopard

Get the new operating system installed and run the software update utility. It probably will need to run a few times before everything is square but before long you'll have a very clean copy of OS X on your Mac.

4. Load the Stuff that Pays the Bills

In my case that is Microsoft Office, iWork, and the Omni Applications. Once again there will be a series of software updates.

5. Load the Stuff that Makes You Smile

Just the essential fun stuff. One of the points here is not to go crazy. So for me the photo and music software got loaded along with the stuff required for me keep MacSparky running.

6. Get Productive

There are a few applications that just make everything easier. In my case that is Text Expander, Quicksilver, Default Folder X and a few other gems.

7. Load the stuff that Keeps Your Mac Running

I put on the essential utilities like MainMenu, OnyX and other things geek.

8. Sync It Up

For me this was SugarSync and .Mac Sync getting everything sorted out.

9. Stop

The key for me on a rebuild is not to go crazy. Put on the essentials and make everything else earn its way back onto your drive. I view it as audition time for my applications. You'll be surprised how many applications don't make the cut and you will quickly realize what the silent heroes are.

Finally, I would recommend you only do a ground zero build up when you absolutely have to. All of those little tweaks that you've spent years making will be gone and you really will spend a lot of time getting it back. I have had some hardware issues that required this rebuild and while it really isn't that hard, it can be a pain.

What did I miss? Sound off in the comments.

OS X Keyboard Shortcut to Add Link to Email


Having conquered the issue of printing to PDF with a keyboard shortcut, I decided to take on another little thing that frustrates me constantly. I often send links to friends and readers. In Mail.App, in order to get the "insert link" box you have to click the mouse three times.

Add Link.png

Edit --> Link --> Add.

When you are in the middle of typing an email, this is a pain.

Once again, the Keyboard system preference pane to the rescue. Here are the steps...

1. Add a Keyboard Shortcut for Mail

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2. Insert the Menu Title "Add..." Once again, for the ellipsis, make sure to use the key combination "option" + semicolon (;). I have no idea why this is so but don't argue with results.

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3. Type in your keyboard shortcut. I'm using shift + control + L

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That is it. Next time you find yourself writing an email and want to add a link just type in your shortcut and forget about the mouse. Up pops the link window.

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Mac OS X - Quickly Delete Widgets

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Some times I figure interesting tips entirely by mistake. Tonight I was moving some widgets and accidently discovered a very cool tip.

If you hold the "Option" key while over a widget, OS X gives you the option to delete it. This is much faster than clicking the big plus sign below to "manage widgets".

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So there you have it. To quickly remove a widget, press the option key.

Keyboard Shortcut for "Save as PDF..." in OS X

Dear Reader,

 This post was updated in 2013 with a fancy screencast. You should go there now.


Here is one thing that has been driving me crazy for some time.  I constantly find myself saving from Safari to PDF.  Whether it is a utility bill or legal research, I have a fetish for saving PDF copies.  The problem is that in order to do so you must click print, then the PDF button, then the "Save as PDF" button.  Each step requires me to get the mouse in the right place and read the menu.  Granted this is probably less than 10 seconds but I do it a lot and it makes me just a little bit  nuts.

So I've been thinking about this and wondering if there is an Automator action or perhaps an Applescript that can simplify this.  Well tonight I stumbled upon

an excellent hint at MacOSXHints

that address this very problem very easily through with a keyboard shorcut.

Here is the walkthrough.

Open your Keyboard Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard & Mouse system preference pane.

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Click the "+" sign to add a new shortcut for all applications.

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Then a box pops up asking for the command.

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Type in the Command exactly as it appears: "Save as PDF..."  For the ellipses, use the combination: option + semicolon.  Don't ask me why because I have no clue.  Just do it.

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For the keyboard shortcut use: command + P (I know this sounds like a conflict with the print shortcut, but trust me)

Now you are done.

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Now go to your favorite webpage and hold down the command key and press "P" twice.

Bingo.  "Save as PDF..." lickity split.

Selecting Text with the OS X Keyboard


I recently had a switcher friend ask me about selecting and moving around in text in OS X. It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of new Mac users abusing their arrows keys as a result of not knowing how to select text so here is a quick review.

Moving by the letter ...

Arrow Keys

Selecting one letter at a time ...

Shift + Arrow Keys

Moving one word at a time ...

Option + Arrow Keys (right and left)

Selecting one word at a time ...

Shift + Option + Arrow Keys (right and left)

Moving one paragraph at a time ...

Option + Arrow Keys (up and down)

Selecting one paragraph at a time ...

Shift + Option + Arrow Keys (up and down)

Move to Top or Bottom ...

Command + Arrow (up and down)

Select to Top or Bottom ...

Shift + Command + Arrow (up and down)

Move to Front/End of Line ...

Command + Arrow (right and left)

Select to Front/End of Line ...

Shift + Command + Arrow (right and left)

Did I miss anything?

Mac Slow Motion


Reader Anthony recently wrote me about the OS X slow motion features. That is, if you hold down the shift key while minimizing windows or activating expose' or spaces, everything moves very slow. It really gives you a better idea of how the animation works in terms of both motion and fade.

I always thought of it as eye candy but Anthony makes a good point. When teaching your switcher friends how windows minimize into the dock, slowing things down can be helpful to demonstrate exactly how it all works.

Macworld 2008 Sessions Online and Free

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I spent most of my time at Macworld connecting with friends and collecting promotional shirts from vendors. (I think I ended up with seven). I didn't register to attend any of the sessions except those on the show floor.

Well today I discovered that video for most (all?) of the sessions is now online for free at Macworld Encore. The presentations include the keynote slides and are very well done by some of the smartest people in the Mac community. I don't know when I'm going to find time, but I am definitely going to watch several of these.

Changing Icons in OS X

I've had a few readers write asking how to change the look of icons in OS X since I posted the set of glass folders last week. The easiest way is to buy a copy of CandyBar 3. That, however, will cost you $29. If you want to do it by hand that is also possible with the following steps.

First you will have a file for which you want to change the icon. Here is a rtf file that deserves some attention.

Icon 1.jpg

Next you need to find a new icon. There are a variety of sources on the interweb. One of my favorites is Interfacelift where I got this clone soldier icon.

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Now copy the new icon by clicking once on it and then pressing ...

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Now go back to the file that is to get a new icon. First click on it and then press ...

command I.png

This opens the information panel for that file which should look something like this.

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Now comes the tricky part. Click on the icon in the information panel once. It should then have a faint little blue halo on it.

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Once the icon has the blue glow then you paste the new icon you copied by clicking ...

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That is it. Close the information panel and you should be good.

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Sometimes OS X is a little slow updating the icon but it generally happens right after you close the information panel.

If you decide you want to return a file to its default icon, you just give it the blue halo in the information panel and then click ...

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Just to give an example of how crazy this can get, here is my daughter's dock. Whenever I use her computer it takes me five minutes to find Safari ... which is coincidentally (this week) the peace symbol.

Sams Dock.jpg

A Better Mac Volume Adjustment


Hitting the built in volume buttons on your Mac is great for quickly raising or lowering your volume but what about when you want to lower or raise the volume just a little bit. Once again Apple has a solution that they don't tell anyone about.

Hit the following key combination ....

Shift + Option + Volume up/down

Now you have four clicks per volume notch. Note that if you are doing this on a laptop you may also need to hold down the function key depending on how your keyboard is set up. So the next time your significant other/roomate/neighbor/local peace officer ask you to turn it down, you can ... barely.

This may only be a Leopard feature. If anyone still running Tiger can confirm or deny this, drop me a note or a comment.


Thanks to reader Stephen who confirmed this does not work on Tiger.

iTunes Smart Playlist Mojo - Audio Podcast Hotlist


I've been spending some time learning a bit more about iTunes lately. One time waster I'm trying to kill is the process I use to load and discard podcasts. I listen to a variety of podcasts ranging from history to law to tech. I have a "slightly used and battered" generation one iPod Nano that generally gets plugged into my car stereo and my iPhone. It is a pain to manually copy and remove these things from various devices and even more of a pain to do it twice. So I decided to try and build a smart play list to do this work for me.

You can make a new smart play list from the menu bar (under "File") or with a key combination (option-command-N) or by option clicking on the little plus sign below your play lists.


Once that is done it is a simple matter of filling in your rules.

Audio Podcast Smart Playlist.jpg

So in order to fit in the playlist, the audio file has to be a podcast and have a playcount of 0. I then made a few rules to exclude specific video podcasts in my feed. Finally, I clicked "Live updating".

Now, when I sync my iPod, iTunes figures out what podcasts have already been listened to and removes them from the list. It also adds anything new that iTunes has downloaded in the interim. It doesn't matter if I've listened to it on my iPhone or iPod, it all gets synced up in the end.

I'm amazed at how ridiculously simple this was and how much easier it makes syncing. I'm going to be adding more smart playlists. Stay tuned.