This is the third in our Customer Stories series.
Late last summer we traveled down to Rancho Alamo Camp 1 to talk to Michael Werk, owner and operator. Before (an alleged) retirement, Michael spent days traveling and directing commercials for TV. Now he’s owner/operator of a vineyard, winery, farm, and Bed & Breakfast.
Michael uses OmniFocus to directly support his vineyard and winery projects, and it can get pretty deep. The folder structure might seem a bit daunting at first glance, but multiple varietals over many years can lead to a lot of the same tasks, timeshifted by days, weeks, and years.
It’s safe to say he has a system.
We talked to Michael in Los Alamos, CA. It was a pleasure to get to know Michael, Natalie, and Max during our visit. A huge thanks to Kalyra Winery, too.
We test stuff internally. Eventually it’s released as a final product. But in between there, we do a thing that might be called a Beta or Private Test.
Why are we doing that?
With the small group of people testing and developing it right now, we already have a large cache of bug fixes to work on. Outside feedback is crucial as well; we need feedback on the design now so we don’t spend a bunch of time polishing a potentially wrong design into perfection. That’s why we plan to start giving some folks access to OmniFocus 2 early.
Phase 1: Internal Test
For a few months now, we’ve been using OmniFocus ourselves. This has helped us shake out the most obvious and painful bugs. I hit several crashes (and wasn’t even able to report them fully, because our Crash Catcher wasn’t working properly either). I lost data a few times. And I had to flip back to OmniFocus 1 a few times when a feature was just completely missing. I know some of you wish you had access to OmniFocus 2 a month ago, but we don’t think it’s helpful to anyone if we ask you to put up with all of that. We got OmniFocus working well enough to show off at The Debut. Then we put in a lot more work to get it sturdy enough for some of you to start using it.
Phase 2: Private Test
There are now over 17,000 of you who have expressed interest in helping us test OmniFocus. And we love that you’re so eager to help us. But if we ask all 17,000 of you to take the app out for a spin all at once, we’ll suddenly have thousands of emails all reporting the same issue. So we’re going to do a phased roll-out. We’ll give access to a few (hundred) people at first. Once we’ve fixed the big issues they’ve found, and our Support Humans are caught up on emails, we’ll add some more folks to the testing team. This will help us get the feedback we need about the app while still providing the level of support we promise for our shipping applications. We want to know about crashes and other errors, of course. But we also hope you’ll tell us what’s confusing, annoying, or tedious – these emotions suggest that perhaps there’s a usability bug we can fix or a workflow we can simplify.
If you want to get in on the Private Test phase, make sure you sign up, and double-check for a confirmation email.
Phase 3: Public Test
When we’re close to shipping, we’ll fling wide the doors, and everyone can download OmniFocus 2 and take it for a spin. At that point, the functionality of the app will be all there, and we’ll be putting most of our energy into getting localizations and setting up the machinery for the formal release to both our store and the Mac App Store. However, this is also a last chance for you to let us know about any bugs that might really really need fixing before we ship.
How to help us test
So, once you get that exciting email saying “You can now download OmniFocus 2 test builds”, now what?
Take a deep breath and think about whether this is really something you want to do right now. The builds will be generated and posted automatically, so you might run a particular build of OmniFocus before anyone at Omni does. There is a small but real chance that the build will destroy your OmniFocus data or worse. Make sure you’ve got backups of your computer data. And if you’ve got a really big assignment due on a Tuesday, maybe wait until Wednesday before taking a test build out for a spin. If all these warnings don’t scare you away, follow the instructions in the email to download and install the app.
We realize it’s probably futile to ask that you not talk about the app at all in this phase. So we will simply ask that if you do talk about or share screenshots of OmniFocus 2, please clearly indicate that this is not a final release. A great place to discuss the app is in the OmniFocus 2 Forum. (And please do NOT share the application itself.)
So you downloaded the app, and started using it, and something went horribly wrong. Now what?
First check if this is on the “What’s NOT Ready” section of the Release Notes (available in the Help menu). For example, right now Review doesn’t look at all like the mock-up we showed at the Debut. Sending us an email telling us it’s unfinished won’t help, because we already know it’s a problem.
Otherwise, please tell us about it. You might be the first person to encounter it, or the first person to give us a critical clue we need to detect the root cause of the problem. Bugs are often best reported via email, because it is so frequently useful to include specific data about the issue. (We will still be answering the phones—during business hours—and twitter as well.)
If possible when reporting a bug please do the following:
- If this is a new issue, please start a new email thread. Replying to an old email thread to tell us about a new bug can make it more difficult for our Support Humans to respond efficiently. (If you’re continuing a conversation about an ongoing issue, it’s fine to reply to the email conversation already in progress.)
- Please mention what revision of the app you’re running. (Send Feedback will include this automatically in the subject line.)
- Tell us the story–what were you doing right before this happened, did you recently upgrade your OS, does this only happen at the coffee shop?
- Include a screenshot. A picture can be “worth a thousand words” even in a bug report.
- If there are error messages, a console log will often provide more detailed errors than what pops up in the alert box.
- If the app becomes unresponsive, including a sample can help us figure out what the app thinks it’s busy doing while it “beachballs” or “hangs”.
The OmniFocus 2 Debut is now available to watch!
Many thanks to everyone who was able to show up on January 31st — we all enjoyed talking to you.
Don’t forget to sign up for the private test to participate in the OmniFocus 2 process. We won’t send a lot of mail, but we should have more information soon.
As I said in my blog post announcing OmniFocus 2, our goals for version 2 are to bring back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes, clearer navigation, and a fresh look and feel. And from the reaction from people I talked to at last night’s debut, it sounds like we’ve done just that!
As with the iPad app, all navigation is now done through a unified sidebar: there is a single sidebar that includes your Inbox, Projects, and Contexts, as well as your Forecast of upcoming scheduled work, a list of Flagged tasks, and list of projects that need Review. The main navigation headers stick to the top or bottom as you scroll, so they’re always visible and accessible with a single click no matter where you are in the list.
The new Forecast mode shows you a summary of your upcoming time-based commitments at a glance in the sidebar. You can leave the forecast collapsed to see the next several days (as in the screenshot), or expand the forecast to see an entire month in your sidebar. From the forecast, you can select any combination of days to see a detailed schedule that includes scheduled tasks from OmniFocus integrated with events from your calendar.
With version 1 of OmniFocus it was already easy to add new items into your system—using the built-in Quick Entry on Mac, or Siri on the iPhone and iPad, or by sending email to your Inbox. Perhaps a little too easy: after using OmniFocus for a few months, OmniFocus could easily become cluttered with cruft that seemed important at the time, but is no longer relevant to the work you need to get done today! This is the problem we aim to solve by bringing Review mode to OmniFocus 2 (which we originally pioneered in the iPad app). Review mode walks you through reviewing any projects which you haven’t reviewed recently, making it easy to update your projects to make sure they reflect your current priorities.
Now that information about OmniFocus 2 is public, we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about it! Some of the obvious questions are:
Will this require new versions of OmniFocus for iPad and iPhone?
No, we’re not updating OmniFocus for iPad or iPhone at this time: OmniFocus 2 for Mac is designed to sync with the current shipping versions.
How soon will OmniFocus 2 be shipping?
The simplest answer to that question is that I don’t really know! A more accurate answer is that the answer really depends on what feedback we receive from all of you. We use an iterative development process at Omni, so our next step is to ship a private test release so we can get feedback from customers on how well it’s working in practice. Based on that feedback, we’ll update our design and ship another private test release (and invite more people into the test pool), and the cycle begins again. How many times we repeat that cycle depends on how long it takes for us to feel like we’ve achieved our goals for the release.
Once we finish those rounds of private testing, we’ll post a wide-open public test release for anyone to download from our website, and finish up some of the other hard work of writing documentation, translating the app and documentation to other languages, and submitting the app to Apple for App Store review. Usually this final stage takes 4-6 weeks—at that time, it should be much easier to accurately project a ship date.
How much will OmniFocus 2 cost?
OmniFocus 1 has been very successful at its current price point of $79.99—and we think that’s been providing great value for its current target audience of professional customers. But with OmniFocus 2 being much more approachable, we think there’s also an opportunity to reach a wider audience who don’t need all of the Pro features from the current edition. So we’re going to offer two editions of OmniFocus 2:
The Standard edition of OmniFocus 2 will include all of the basic features which we’ve talked about above, and will cost $39.99.
The Pro edition of OmniFocus will offer the option of building custom workflows like OmniFocus 1 does today, with its support for Perspectives and AppleScript.
Will there be a discount for current owners of OmniFocus 1?
Yes, on our online store we’ll be offering a 50% discount to current customers of OmniFocus 1, whether you originally bought directly from us or through the App Store. This means that current customers will be able to upgrade to the Standard edition of OmniFocus 2 for $19.99, or to the Pro edition for $39.99.
We would love to offer the same deal to people who wish to purchase OmniFocus 2 from the App Store, but unfortunately the App Store has no mechanism for offering selective discounts to different customers based on their previous purchases.
Will volume or educational discounts be available?
Yes, we will continue to offer volume discounts through our standard online store, and educational discounts through our Education Store.
What if I don’t own OmniFocus already? What should I buy today, and where should I buy it?
From now on, anyone who purchases OmniFocus 1 from our online store will receive a free upgrade to the Professional edition of OmniFocus 2 when it ships.
If you’ve read my most recent blog post about Omni’s Plans for 2013, you already know that we’re just a few weeks away from the debut of OmniFocus 2 for Mac. I’m really looking forward to showing it to you all… but this post isn’t really about OmniFocus 2 itself, it’s about what to expect between now and when it ships.
The first thing I’d like to clarify is that we’re only talking about the Mac edition of OmniFocus! This release focuses on bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition—and it will be fully compatible with the existing iPad and iPhone apps, so you’ll be able to sync with them without paying for upgrades to all three apps.
I also want to make sure everyone understands that the OmniFocus 2 debut on January 31st is not when OmniFocus 2 will be shipping! That’s just the first time the app will be shown in public. Following the debut, we’re planning a limited private test period (which you can sign up for), followed by a wide open public test—and then (finally!) when we’ve evaluated everyone’s testing feedback and think it’s ready, we’ll ship the app. If this sounds like it might take a while… yes, it probably will!
So, if you’re looking to purchase OmniFocus today, what should you do? Should you wait for OmniFocus 2?
Well, first of all, there’s no reason to wait on purchasing the iPad and iPhone apps—as I’ve noted above, they’re not the editions which are getting a major upgrade this year.
But if you’re looking at purchasing the Mac app, it would be quite reasonable to wait until after the OmniFocus 2 debut so you know what’s coming before you make a decision. To make that wait easier for everyone, we’ve decided to post a temporary license key so you can all use the app between now and then without having to make a purchase:
License Owner: Waiting for OmniFocus 2
License Key: [KEY HAS NOW EXPIRED]
(Just copy and paste both the License Owner and License Key into the appropriate fields.)
I hope you’re all looking forward to OmniFocus 2 as much as I am! And that this temporary license key makes the wait a little easier.
Update: We had a great time showing what we’ve been working on in OmniFocus 2, you can find more details and watch a video of the OmniFocus 2 debut to learn more. Please note that the license above has now expired, but if you purchase OmniFocus 1, you’ll get a free upgrade to the Professional edition of OmniFocus 2 when it ships.
In my last blog post, I reflected on all the things we accomplished in 2012 here at Omni—in particular, the completion of our huge “iPad or Bust!” initiative. But as Professor Hathaway said to Chris Knight, “That was yesterday. What have you done for me today?”
With “iPad or Bust!” out of the way, we’ve been able to move some of our projects off the back burner and here are some highlights of what’s coming: OmniFocus 2. OmniOutliner 4. Automatic document syncing. Sandboxing. Accessibility. Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility in our iPad apps. Upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps.
Let’s start with OmniFocus 2! For OmniFocus 2, we’re bringing back to the Mac all of the design and innovation that went into our iPad edition of OmniFocus: dedicated Forecast and Review modes, clearer navigation, and a fresh look and feel. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you! At 6pm on January 31, you’re invited to join Merlin Mann, David Sparks, and me for the first public debut of OmniFocus 2. This will be a free event, hosted at the Cartoon Art Museum (a short walk from Macworld/iWorld), and anyone who attends will get early access to the OmniFocus 2 private beta. Space is limited, so if you plan to attend please let us know.
Next up: OmniOutliner 4! I know many of you have been waiting for this upgrade for a long time—I know I have been waiting for this for a long time! For those of you who might not know the history, OmniOutliner 3 shipped in January, 2005—one year before Macs transitioned to Intel processors. And OmniOutliner 3 certainly hasn’t sat still over the last eight years: we’ve ported to Intel processors and added support for Spotlight, dictionary lookups, LinkBack, Automator workflows, Quick Look, custom toolbars, Word 2008 export, Auto Save, and Versions. But other than a few tweaks to the inspectors and toolbars, its design has mostly stayed the same: it’s starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. So… it’s due.
What’s coming in OmniOutliner 4? We’ve completely rebuilt the outlining engine to support zooming text, showing and hiding columns, and we’ve improved link handling and attachments. We’ve designed a new style system which emphasizes named styles and simplifies the styles interface. And it’s built on a modern 64-bit architecture, with a fresh new look and feel. OmniOutliner 4 isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting close: it’s now at the point where I’m using it to edit all my outlines rather than OmniOutliner 3, so I anticipate we’ll be ready for public beta sometime in the first quarter.
Automatic document syncing is almost here! We call it “OmniPresence”: your documents, synced everywhere you want them to be.
We’ve designed OmniPresence around open web protocols, so you’re welcome to use our free Omni Sync Server or to host your own cloud server. We think that the option to host your own cloud is important—not just because of concerns with respect to privacy and security (though that’s key for many businesses), but because it means you can keep that cloud running as long as you want to keep using it. As we saw with MobileMe shutting down earlier this year, individual cloud services can easily disappear as business models change. Building a solution around open standards means that our customers have a choice of hosting providers rather than being tied to a single ephemeral cloud solution.
OmniPresence is not limited to syncing with a single cloud, either: you can choose which folders to sync with which clouds. This means that teams can set up separate folders in separate clouds, and you can access files from any of them on each of your devices.
Because it’s open and you can host your own cloud, OmniPresence is designed to sync any documents you want: it’s not limited to syncing documents created by our apps. In fact, on the desktop OmniPresence is completely independent of our other apps: if you wish, you can use it to sync TextEdit documents! (But when using OmniPresence with non-Omni apps, we’ll ask that you limit the amount of space you use on our Omni Sync Server since we can’t provide infinite storage to everyone for free. On your own cloud server, though, do whatever you want!)
On iOS, OmniPresence isn’t quite that independent: the sandboxing environment requires that each app embed the OmniPresence logic within its own codebase. We will be publishing our source code for free so other developers can add it to their apps.
OmniFocus 2, OmniOutliner 4, and OmniPresence. Three major upgrades, all coming your way in Q1, 2013.
But as I noted at the top, that’s not all! We’re also working on sandboxing to help keep your Mac safe; and accessibility (currently in private beta for OmniOutliner for iPad) to make our apps easier to use by those who are visually impaired. And we’ve been working on adding Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility to our iPad apps, so it will be easier than ever to go completely mobile with your work.
Finally, with OmniFocus 2 coming we’ve been thinking a lot about how to implement upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps. As always, we plan to offer discounted upgrade pricing on our own online store, but unfortunately we don’t have the flexibility to offer selective discounts in the Mac App Store. We’ve decided to treat the Mac App Store the same way as we treat retail stores: it’s a great way to discover our software, and can give you confidence that it’s been vetted by a third party. And, just as you wouldn’t get a discount from a retail store if you purchase OmniGraffle 5 while owning OmniGraffle 4, you won’t get a discount if you purchase OmniFocus 2 from the Mac App Store. But we’re in the process of updating our store so that you’ll be able to register your Mac App Store apps to get a discounted upgrade price when you buy an update directly from us.
OmniFocus 2. OmniOutliner 4. OmniPresence. Sandboxing. Accessibility. Visio and Microsoft Project compatibility in our iPad apps. Upgrade pricing from Mac App Store apps. I hope you’re looking forward to 2013 as much as we are! (And don’t forget to let us know if you’re planning to come to the OmniFocus 2 debut!)
As we approach the end of 2012 (or the world, according to some), I’ve been reflecting on just how much we’ve accomplished this year here at Omni.
We celebrated 20 years of omnigroup.com, of course, and we moved to new offices. But, more importantly, we finished our two-and-a-half-year “iPad or Bust!” initiative by shipping the last of those five apps, OmniPlan for iPad! Version 1.0 doesn’t mark the end of all our work, of course—but it’s a great milestone and I’m incredibly proud of all our team has accomplished.
Finishing up our “iPad or Bust!” initiative has given us the opportunity to start working through a number of other projects on our “to do” lists, so there’s been a lot of news in 2012…
We rolled out our own Omni Sync Server, so you don’t have to become a sysadmin and run your own web server just to sync your devices. (But you can still run your own server if you like: our syncing engine is based on open web protocols.)
OmniFocus has been on speaking terms with Siri since late 2011, of course, but in 2012 we’ve made it more robust and brought support for Siri to the iPad app as well. We also added support for flexible weekly repeats and TextExpander—and just this month we’ve started beta testing our new Mail Drop which lets you email tasks directly to your OmniFocus database.
This year Apple introduced iPads with Retina displays, and we immediately shipped Retina updates for all of our iPad apps. Apple also introduced Retina displays to the Mac with the new MacBook Pro, and we’ve already shipped Retina updates for OmniGraffle and OmniPlan (and are busy working on Retina updates for the rest of our Mac apps).
Behind the scenes, we’ve also been updating all our Mac apps to leverage the latest fundamental advances in OS X: this year we shipped Developer ID-signed updates for all our apps, 64-bit updates for OmniGraffle, OmniDiskSweeper, and OmniDazzle—and we expect to ship 64-bit updates for the rest of our apps soon. We’ve also been hard at work adopting OS X’s new App Sandbox.
Even before we finished “iPad or Bust!” one of our top priorities has been to build automatic document syncing into OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniGraphSketcher—we want it to be as easy to sync all our apps as it is to sync OmniFocus and OmniPlan. We’ve been working on this for over a year and a half now, and at the start we had very promising results: it felt like magic when it worked, and we thought we’d be ready to ship last year. But though our code was finished, we found the back end service we were trying to use wasn’t working reliably, and we felt it would be irresponsible to ship something so critical until we knew the full solution was solid. After a year of trying to help get that solution working, we went back to the drawing board and designed a new syncing solution based on open web protocols. Nobody was more disappointed about the delay this caused than we were—but we knew we needed to find some way to move forward, and I’m pleased to report that the redesign has gone very well (and our new syncing solution is now in internal testing).
Which, of course, leads right into the subject of my next blog post: what’s coming next from Omni? (Stay tuned!)
Not on the show floor
This is usually when we start making announcements about Macworld for next year. We have some different news this time, though: we’ve decided not to have a booth presence on the show floor in 2013.
This was a tough decision to make, as Macworld gave us our first real “meet and greet” with our customers. One of our first shows was back in 1998 when we shared OmniWeb for Rhapsody, alongside Bare Bones Software (they were showing off a pre-release of Mailsmith), to a new set of OS X-ready users. Our presence included a good chunk of the company, a few computers, and a shared booth.
We do software, and increasingly the Expo Hall at Macworld has been shifting toward hardware. To better serve our customers, we decided to pursue a more personal way to interact and talk software during the show.
(By the way, Macworld still has a full lineup of great talks, workshops, and special events.)
So it’s very important that we continue to make that happen. We’re stepping out and trying something different.
But we’ll still be around
This year we went to a new thing called Userconf. When we heard Chase from 37signals talk about their experimentation with showing off Basecamp, live and in-person to customers, we were intrigued. With OmniFocus (and all of our apps), introducing the app in a minute is difficult (You put things in completable projects after you do a brain dump and use contexts as places or things to do them!), so having 30 minutes to talk about specific features or concepts would be pretty cool.
So, we’re going to try it with The OmniFocus Setup! You can put your name and a question in for a session, and we’ll do the best that we can to see everyone. (With the caveat that, depending on interest, we might have to filter them a bit.)
What The OmniFocus Setup is
So, on January 31st, we’re going to schedule a full day’s worth of OmniFocus “learning sessions” — usually 1-on-1s, but we’re going to turn popular topics into group sessions, too. Someone that really knows how to use OmniFocus (an Omni person) will be there to talk through workflows, features, or whatever, on iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
We’re also going to be doing another thing that we’re waiting to announce until early January, so follow us on twitter if you’ll be around during Macworld. (Remember the get-together during Macworld 2007?)
And a Little Bit More (Update!)
We’ve had a pretty great response to our plan for 1-on-1 learning sessions. A few other people (you’ve probably heard of ‘em) were excited enough to volunteer their brains and know-how, so we’ve added a bit more to our day.
If you’ll be in the area this year, please join us for a set of talks on OmniFocus with Kourosh Dini, Sven Fechner, Dina Sanders, Tim Stringer, and Mike Vardy. Afterwards, we’ll have a panel discussion. All the details here, and check back later for even more!
In OmniFocus for iPhone 1.15, one of our most-requested features went live: TextExpander Touch support.
There are so many different ways to use TextExpander with OmniFocus so I won’t even begin to offer suggestions here, but there’s a lot of reference material out there to link to.
- Sven Fechner started us off earlier this year with a bit on using expansions to track project updates (in OmniFocus for Mac.)
- David Sparks uses TextExpander to populate action titles with frequently-typed phrases.
- Kourosh Dini goes a bit further and performs some calculations inside action titles, especially for “waiting for” contexts.
- Michael Schechter goes one step further, completely automating a clipped email by populating context and project fields, but it won’t work in OmniFocus for iPhone. Sorry!
- Finally, a very useful rundown of TextExpander by Thanh Pham. Mac-centric, but nearly everything works with TextExpander Touch & OmniFocus.
You can find out more about TextExpander Touch (and the original Mac variant) at Smile Software.
Dan W., current holder of the newest Omni employee title, uses TextExpander extensively:
Everyone appreciates a timely response and sometimes it’s required. I can’t always reply to messages right away—when I need to research a topic or have a conversation with someone—but OmniFocus helps track this and doesn’t bug me to send that email until all the required tasks are done.
TextExpander snippets for me are most useful in creating template email skeletons. Each email draft is an OmniFocus task and the task’s “Notes” field is my scratchpad for composing my message. My basic template sets up a text based form that includes ‘To:’, ‘CC:’, ‘Subject:’ and ‘Message body:’ with some space to write the body, it even places my curser just after the message body so I can start typing in the right spot. TextExpander Touch can’t prompt for user input like the Mac application can (an iOS limitation), so I rely on these text based prompts.
‘To:’ and ‘CC:’ remind me to call out who I’m looking for a response from and who’s just listening in. Plus, they also work as a reminder when I think of someone else I’d like to bring into the thread. As I’m composing my draft I have snippets to create URL links from my clipboard, properly case Omni product names, or include my email signature.
When I’m ready to send, I’ll copy and paste the template fields into an email message and hit Send. I also remind myself in the email template to create a “Waiting for response” placeholder task once I’ve sent the email.
This is the final post in a series on how students can use OmniFocus to reduce stress and improve results. Previous posts covered how to use OmniFocus to collect all your tasks in one central location, arrange those tasks, and pick the best task to do in the moment. This final post will talk about using OmniFocus to review your progress.
A Life Examined
In my previous post, I talked about using OmniFocus to look at just the next task that you need to move each project forward. Focusing on a particular context and viewing next actions is a great way to narrow your list down to just the most important items that you can work now. Today I’d like to talk about the tools OmniFocus provides for making sure that you’ve set up a useful next action for each of your projects.
For each of your projects, OmniFocus stores a next review date and a review frequency. OmniFocus for iPad and OmniFocus for Mac each provide a view where you can see just the projects that are due for review.
There are many different ways to use the review features of OmniFocus. I’ll talk here about an approach that works well for me, and that I think is great for students. You can also explore our forums to see what others are doing.
To review projects in OmniFocus for iPad, go to the Home sidebar and tap Reviews. OmniFocus will then show all your projects due for review in the sidebar. If this is the first time you’ve looked at the Review view, there might be a lot of them! Don’t worry about that. Let’s get comfortable first, then I’ll talk about some strategies for tackling reviews.
Tap on one of your projects in the Review sidebar. The main view will show just that project, similar to what you get when you focus on a project.
At the bottom of the main view are a few additional controls. The box toward the left of the main view shows when the project was last reviewed and the review frequency for the project. You can tap this box to change the review frequency.
A good guideline is to choose the initial review frequency for a project based on the amount of time you’re willing to go without taking action on it. For example, suppose you’re taking a challenging math class and are determined to stay on top of the assignments. You might set the review frequency on that project to every day. Or maybe you have a reading group that meets twice a week. It might make sense to review that project every three days. At the other extreme, you might have some partially developed ideas for projects that you want to be reminded of occasionally, but don’t care to make progress on right now, like Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. For a project like that you might set the review frequency to several weeks or months.
The next set of controls at the bottom of the view shows the project’s status. At first, most of your projects will probably be active. This means that tasks from the project appear when you show next or available actions. When reviewing a project, you might decide that it’s done. (Huzzah!) Tap the happy checkmark to mark the project as complete. Or perhaps you’ll decide that you’re no longer interested in your project to build the world’s tallest plastic cup pyramid. That’s OK, you can tap Dropped and remove the project and its tasks from your remaining actions. (It will still be listed under all actions, in case you decide you want it back.) Or maybe you’ll decide that you’re just too busy to work on some project right now. Tap On Hold; the project and its items will no longer appear when you show next or available actions. Unlike a dropped or completed project, the items in an on-hold project will be included in your remaining actions, and the project will show up for review based on its review frequency.
The final control in Review mode is the Mark Reviewed button in the lower-right corner. This button does what it says. So, when should you tap it?
For Your Consideration
Here are the questions that I ask myself before marking a project as reviewed:
Is this project done?
It seems kind of funny to include this question, but I’m serious about it. Sometimes I’ll catch myself with a project that has a next action, but on reflection, I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do. For example, suppose you have a project to “Form an Ultimate Frisbee team”. You’ve rounded up enough players, signed up with the Intramural Sports office, and you have your game schedule. The last task on your list is “Follow up with Adam again about being on the team”. Adam’s a big boy and can get back to you if he wants. Mark the project complete and move on!
Should this project be put on hold?
If you won’t work on it between now and the project’s next review date, then put it on hold. There’s no sense having its tasks cluttering up your view if you’ve already decided that there isn’t time for it.
What’s the next action?
Every project should have at least one task under it. To keep your project moving forward, make sure you have a clear next action.
Is this project still something that you care about?
Sometimes you might not care much about the particular project, but still care about the outcome. For example, we all take some classes that we don’t find particularly engaging, but if your goal is to earn a particular degree or get into a particularly advanced class, then you can use that as motivation for the current project. On the other hand, if the project isn’t something you care about anymore, and you’re OK with the consequences of that, then you might do well to make a conscious decision to drop the project.
When you decide to drop a project, consider whether there are any follow up actions you should take. Do you need to let anyone know that you’ve changed your mind, e.g., teammates, club members, instructors, your advisor? Are there course drop forms that need to be filled out? Project review time is when you have a chance to think of these things and add them to OmniFocus. You might even create a new project for dealing with the fallout from dropping the first one. For example, suppose you decide to resign the presidency of the chess club. You might drop your “Lead the Chess Club” project, while adding a project “Resign Chess Club Presidency”. That new project probably includes tasks like “Tell the VP that she’s in charge now” and “Turn in the club president binder”.
Is this project stuck?
Have you been unable to make progress on it? It’s easy to beat ourselves up when this happens, but try not to do that! Instead, notice when you’re stuck and consider this a message from yourself to adjust the project. Often that means coming up with a different next action. Make sure the first task in the project is something small and actionable. “Write first draft of term paper” might be too big or too vague to help you get started. Instead, try something like “Go to library and find two books related to term paper” or “Write very rough draft of first paragraph of term paper”. Coming up with a small but actionable tasks is a great way to get unstuck.
Does this project have the right review frequency?
Once you’ve thought about the other questions, consider whether you should review the project more or less often in the future. For example, you might want to start reviewing a project more often as you get closer to a deadline. Or maybe you have a project that you considered dropping, but decided to keep around. For a project like that you might consider increasing the time between reviews. I think of this as a “soft drop”; I’m not ready to give up on the project yet, but I’m leaning in that direction.
When to Review
Different people have different strategies for when to do project reviews. These days, I usually do a quick morning review over a cup of coffee. As a student, I was allergic to mornings and tended to do reviews in the evening.
Getting started doing regular reviews can be a bit daunting at first, especially if you already have a bunch of projects in OmniFocus. One good strategy is to do all of the project reviews that are scheduled for today, plus one or two of your past-due reviews. This will let you catch up without being overwhelmed. Another catch-up strategy some people try is to have a marathon review session. Don’t do that! Reviews should help you feel good about being on top of your projects. Trying to review too much at once is mind numbing. Personally, I can’t successfully review more than a handful of projects at once. Beyond six or seven I’m not really thinking about the projects anymore; I’m just checking them off.
Reviewing on the Mac
OmniFocus for Mac provides similar review features to the iPad edition, but they’re organized a bit differently. From the Perspectives menu, choose Review to view all of your projects sorted by next review date. To change the review frequency or project status, you can use the Project Inspector. Use the Show/Hide Inspectors toolbar button to reveal the inspectors.
Click on a project in the main window, and the inspector will switch to the Project Inspector with controls for changing the project status, review date, and review frequency. To mark the project as reviewed, go to the Edit menu and choose Mark Reviewed.
At the Omni Group, we want OmniFocus to be approachable and provide useful basic features from day one. Beyond the basics, OmniFocus provides a powerful toolkit for graduate-level task management. I hope this series has helped you see how you might use OmniFocus as part of your efforts to achieve the results you want in school (and in life). We covered the basics and some intermediate level features like focusing on projects or contexts, adjusting the view settings, and reviewing your projects.
There’s still more to explore. To learn about more advanced features like hierarchical contexts, action groups, custom perspectives, on-hold contexts, and more, check out these resources:
OmniFocus is a great way to get a better handle on your projects and tasks. You can download the Mac app here for a free 14 day trial, read more about OmniFocus for Mac, or check out OmniFocus for iPad and iPhone. And be sure to contact our amazing support ninjas if you have any questions.
Editor’s note: Special promotional pricing is available for a limited time on OmniFocus for Mac and OmniFocus for iPad. Don’t forget about OmniFocus for iPhone, either. Students and teachers can also take advantage of every day special pricing on our Mac apps via our own Edu Store.