Our Four Favorite Books About Productivity and Project Management

by Omni on February 13, 2020

Effective project management is crucial to the success of any business—and keeping yourself sane—but establishing a healthy balance between the priorities of competing tasks and the rigors of work and personal life is the key to doing it effectively. Easier said than done. It takes a little help. In this article, three people from around Omni HQ share their favorite books about project management and productivity. We hope the insightful tips they gained will help you deal with your own distractions, stress, and burnout.

We’re sure you’ve heard of the productivity bible “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” by David Allen. (If you haven’t, “Getting Things Done,” or GTD, is a system for managing everything—from your day to day stuff, to the big goals you don’t yet know how to accomplish.) We haven’t included it here so we can introduce some books that may be new to you, but the methodology is the inspiration for OmniFocus and it’s definitely at the top of our favorites list. There was also an excellent adaptation of the book released in 2018 that contextualizes the GTD principles for young people, helping them navigate social pressures, overcome procrastination, and plan for their futures. That one’s called “Getting Things Done for Teens: Take Control of Your Life in a Distracting World,” by David Allen, Mark Wallace, and Mike Williams.

(1) “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

I found “Burnout” helpful because it acknowledges the patriarchal society we live in and offers insightful and actionable advice for women navigating the workplace. I’ve read many books on project management from a man’s point of view, and I appreciated the viewpoints and unique challenges shared from a woman’s perspective. I loved the conversational (and often humorous) way these two sisters approach the subject of effective project management.

“This book has shifted my priorities. I’ve learned how to not feel guilty when I take time to be with my daughter. It’s okay to just have fun—and to schedule time for fun. I’ve finally figured out how to compartmentalize what society considers important, and I now take time for what is truly important to me.

Effective project management is impossible when you don’t take time to rest, and the Nagoski sisters focus on the importance of taking a moment to reset and recharge. We need to be conscious of how we schedule our days. My takeaway from these two authors is that it’s OK to take a break to refresh your mind. “Burnout” presents the science that backs up the connection between taking time to reset and effective project management in an approachable manner.

“Burnout” was written with women in mind, but it’s really for anyone who struggles with setting time aside to take a breath and restore your reserves. Now when I take time to rest, I can flip the work switch back on revitalized and focused, which makes me a more effective project manager.

—Annette Fuller, Support Human

(2) “Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life,” by Jessica Abel

“Growing Gills” is a fantastic book for creatives feeling bogged down with ideas, and Abel offers helpful suggestions for how to prioritize your to-do list. (I also love that the author shared she uses OmniFocus to stay organized.) Abel has good ideas on how to say “no”—something that’s hard to do in the workplace (or at all). She also talks about why multitasking isn’t the best way to get things done.

I identify as being on the ADHD spectrum, and dealing with inner and outer distractions is a skill I’ve learned throughout my journey. This book helped me develop a plan for staying focused on one thing when I’m juggling several different tasks. I’m now more aware of the complexities that one thing might require, and I schedule time accordingly to deal with unexpected challenges.

I appreciate how this author presents actionable solutions for project management with the creative in mind. If you’re drowning in ideas, “Growing Gills” offers terrific insights about how to master the skills needed to bring your creative ideas to fruition. Nothing in life or at the workplace is as simple as it seems, but if you know how to prioritize what’s important, you’ll accomplish more than you ever imagined.

—Mark Boszko, Video Producer

(3) “Extreme Ownership,” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Extreme Ownership” changed my perspective on how to be a better manager. I started owning my mistakes the moment they happened and working on finding ways to implement positive changes in real-time. One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is not being self-aware of problems requiring personal change. I now know how to be an agent of change to elevate my team’s productivity.

Reading “Extreme Ownership” has also impacted the way I communicate and how I help others speak up. I’ve learned the importance of creating a safe place to talk. All too often people are afraid of sharing their ideas. This book has given me effective strategies on how to get everyone on the team to contribute, which is when true collaboration and innovation within an organization happens.

The frank way these two Navy SEALs compare and contrast business scenarios with their military training made it easier for me to connect with the real-life examples they share. This is recommended reading for anyone looking for practical and actionable strategies to effectively lead and communicate with others.

—Grayson West, Design Manager

(4) “Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean,” by Kim Scott

OK, this one is cheating—it’s not technically about project management, but it does provide a lot of valuable tips regarding communication strategies and techniques for empowering teams to succeed. It’s kind of project-management adjacent. I found Scott’s insights on how to be a caring and effective leader impactful. This book has fantastic advice about how to offer praise and constructive criticism to help your team grow. Respectful and kind relationships are possible in the workplace, and it’s the secret of success for many leaders I respect.

—Grayson West, Design Manager

Omni Roadmap 2020

by Ken Case on January 29, 2020

Looking Back at the 2010s

Welcome to the 2020s! Ten years ago (on January 27, 2010), Apple introduced iPad—a new device category that would, as Steve Jobs put it, “connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.” Inspired by the announcement, we put many of our plans for the next few years on hold—and just two days later I shared our first public company-wide roadmap, “iPad or Bust!

When we completed “iPad or Bust!” a few years later, I found myself reflecting on 2012 and looking ahead to 2013. This established a pattern for the rest of the decade, as we started regularly sharing roadmap updates for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and of course 2019.

Our roadmaps have never been perfect predictions of the future. Our world is constantly changing, and each year we have to be prepared to adjust those plans based on what we’ve encountered along the way:

Changes to the projected iPad or Bust! roadmap

But while our roadmaps don’t predict the future, they do state the direction in which we’re headed—and I hope you find them useful!

Looking Back at 2019

Before we talk about future roadmap, let me quickly summarize the major updates from last year:

(For more detailed notes on what we did last year, I recommend reading last year’s September roadmap update.)

Looking Ahead

In last year’s roadmap, I said that beyond shipping OmniFocus for the Web, we would continue to work on site licensing, JavaScript-based automation, sharing linked tasks, and improving the flow of using our apps:

“We’ll be reviewing the ways customers navigate our apps—making them easier to navigate on small touch devices, more efficient to use from a keyboard, and more accessible to the sight-impaired. We’ll be improving integration between our own apps (such as linking tasks between OmniFocus and OmniPlan), between our apps and others (such as OmniGraffle’s import and export of Visio and SVG files), and with the rest of the system. We’ll be tracking down and fixing rare crashes and other bugs. And we’ll be taking a hard look at performance issues, so our apps respond to your input faster.”

We did ship OmniFocus for the Web as planned—but when iPadOS was announced in June we took a pretty big detour from the rest of our planned roadmap. There was a lot of benefit in that detour: it’s great to have multiple windows on iPad, support for iCloud Drive and other document providers, and Dark Mode! But it did leave a fair amount of unfinished business from last year’s roadmap, and we’re continuing with that work this year.

Specifically, we will continue our work on sharing linked tasks in OmniFocus, and on improving integration both between our own apps (such as linking tasks between OmniFocus and OmniPlan) and between our apps and others (such as OmniGraffle’s import and export of Visio and SVG files).

We’re also continuing to improve the flow of using our apps—particularly on iPad and iPhone. We want easy navigation, so everything in the app feels like it’s right at your fingertips—whether your fingertips are using the mouse, touch screen, or a hardware keyboard.

As we do this work, we’re also actively listening to your feedback. When we hear that you’re repeatedly encountering pain points in our apps (whether you’re encountering performance or stability issues, or dealing with common workflow issues such as time zone changes in OmniFocus), we will be setting aside time for addressing those issues.

Using Automation for Custom Features and Integrations

With AppleScript, we’ve always had first-class support for automation in our Mac apps. This support for automation has enabled our customers to create some wonderful solutions, such as the Kinkless GTD scripts for OmniOutliner which inspired us to build OmniFocus.

But AppleScript had some big caveats: it was generally easy to read, but it was a fairly esoteric language that many developers found less easy to write. It was able to accomplish some amazing things, much faster and more accurately than working by hand—but it was generally slow enough that you could watch it work, and if it had a lot of work to do you could be watching and waiting for a while. And it was only available for the Mac platform—which was totally fine in the ’00s when that was the only place our apps ran, but was a lot less useful in the ’10s when our customers were increasingly spending their time on mobile devices.

To overcome those limitations, in 2015 we started working on Omni Automation: a technology which lets customers run JavaScript code in our apps using Apple’s highly-optimized JavaScript engine. Since then, we’ve shipped Omni Automation support for OmniOutliner, OmniGraffle, OmniPlan—and in 2020 we will be officially shipping support for Omni Automation in OmniFocus.

Why does this matter? If you don’t know how to program JavaScript, how does Omni Automation benefit you?

By providing automation technology in our apps, we make it possible for customers to extend our apps’ capabilities. People can build customized solutions to meet their own needs—and then share those solutions with others. We had thousands of customers using Kinkless GTD in OmniOutliner, even though most of those customers didn’t know AppleScript. I’ve been told that one of JTech Communications’ most popular blog posts was for a script for OmniGraffle which counts items on a canvas. With automation, people are able to create their own keyboard shortcuts to quickly perform actions like creating a task calendar from OmniFocus, or exporting Markdown from OmniOutliner—and those solutions can often be shared with others, making everyone’s lives easier.

Automation is also a building block that can be used to integrate our apps with other applications and systems. We’ve had customers use AppleScript automation to sync OmniPlan with their internal bug tracking systems, so they can easily keep their project plans up-to-date as work gets completed and their tracking system up-to-date as their plans change.

It’s definitely true that writing JavaScript code isn’t for everyone! But automation solutions powered by JavaScript have the potential to benefit everyone—and we’ll be working to make it easier for all of you to share your solutions with each other.

Simplifying Licensing with Sign-Ins

In our ideal world, nobody would have to think about how our apps are distributed and licensed. You would simply install the app from whatever source is most convenient for you, and pick whatever licensing option works the best for you. This was how our software worked in the ’90s and ’00s: you could install our apps from CDs or our website, and you could purchase licenses for those apps from retail stores or our website—whichever was most convenient for you.

That picture has changed with the App Store. We can still offer app downloads and licenses on our website, but only for the Mac platform—to install on an iPad or iPhone, you must install from the App Store. We can offer trials and upgrade discounts and price protections in the App Store, but only when we use free downloads with in-app purchases. But in-app purchases can’t be made directly by businesses and schools—so those customers really need the option to pay in advance as well.

In our attempt to provide the best options to everyone, we’ve ended up with three different distributions of our apps: website installs (purchased from our store), free App Store installs (licensed with in-app purchases), and pay-in-advance App Store installs. (The pay-in-advance App Store option is certainly the most straightforward—but with no options for trials or discounts, it’s also the least friendly and flexible.)

Those who follow closely may have noticed that we introduced another approach to this problem last year: sign-in licensing, which is used for our cross-platform OmniFocus subscriptions. While the App Store doesn’t allow apps to be unlocked using license codes, it does allow apps to be unlocked based on signing into the app (as seen with Microsoft Office, Netflix, and many other apps). With the sign-in licensing model, you no longer have to worry about how the app was installed, or whether their subscription was purchased from within the app or directly from our website. You don’t even have to worry about which platform you’re using: the same sign-in unlocks OmniFocus on Mac, iOS, and web.

We think this provides a much better experience overall. But right now this experience is limited to individual OmniFocus subscribers—which means most of our customers still have to think about how they’re licensing our apps, because it doesn’t apply to any of the other licensing methods. To make this benefit universal, we’re working on supporting sign-in licensing in all our apps. We’re extending it to support teams, so organizations can purchase subscriptions for people on their teams. (This includes single sign-on support for our larger customers—many of whom have tired of managing spreadsheets with hundreds of license codes.) And we’ll also be updating our store to support sign-in licensing for one-time “à la carte” purchases of our apps, so customers who prefer that model can benefit from it as well.

OmniFocus for the Web

OmniFocus for the Web is still relatively new, having shipped less than a year ago. It’s been very useful and popular—but in terms of functionality, it still has a lot to do to catch up with its older siblings on other platforms! Aside from keeping pace with new features (like floating time zones), our top priorities are to add support for custom perspectives and for the Mac app’s Focus feature (so you can focus on your work projects when you’re on your Windows box at the office).

OmniPlan 4

We’ve been listening carefully to your feedback on OmniPlan, and I’m very pleased to share that we’ll be shipping OmniPlan 4 for Mac in the first half of this year! We’ve improved the discoverability and ease-of-use of OmniPlan’s existing feature set, and introduced a number of new features like Recurring Tasks and Task Roll-Up. We’ll be introducing OmniPlan 4 more fully as we start its public test period (soon!), but for now I’ll focus on just one of those features, Interval Tracking:

Many of our OmniPlan customers have asked for a way to report on the costs of a project over time, not just broken down by task or resource groupings. OmniPlan 4 solves this problem by adding Interval Tracking, which breaks down the cost over time of each item on the Gantt chart, based on your current Gantt scale:

OmniPlan 4 Interval Tracking

For those of you doing cost planning (or reporting), Interval Tracking makes it much, much easier to see exactly how much time or money you’re going to need to spend (or have already spent) on each item or group. (And if you just need to see the totals, we’ve got you covered! You can enable Interval Tracking for just the headers.)


I hope this year’s roadmap gives you a sense of where we’re headed next! When we think about what to focus on next, we think about how to build products that help you, our customers, be your most productive selves. You’re working on big projects, and you’re looking to us for powerful tools to help you with those projects. It’s our job to help you accomplish those projects efficiently and effectively, without wasted effort. As we work to improve our products, we hope that the improvements we’re making will help you do just that.

(Feedback? I’d love to hear from you! You can find me on twitter at @kcase, or send me email at kc@omnigroup.com.)

The Omni Show: How Jason Atwood Uses OmniFocus in His Business

by Brent Simmons on January 22, 2020

In the latest episode of The Omni Show, we talk with Jason Atwood, COO and one of the founders of Arkus, Inc., a Salesforce consulting partner.

Jason and his co-founders are long-time OmniFocus users, and they’ve rolled it out across the company: everybody at Arkus uses OmniFocus. It’s just as much standard equipment as an email system. Everyone is trained on it, and education continues for every employee.

Jason says, “This is the best-of-breed productivity tool. Because I want people at Arkus to be able to satisfy our clients, to be on top of it, to be extremely good at what they do, I want to give them the best tool.”

It’s one of the keys to the success of Arkus. His clients definitely notice.