Do the Discardia

by Kris on March 28, 2012

Welcome to another edition of our Use Case profiles, this time featuring Dinah Sanders, a writer and productivity coach from San Francisco. Dinah recently published her book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, which advocates for a new way of addressing over-accumulation. “Make room for more awesomeness” is the primary tenet of her guide to helping you toss out extraneous objects, bad habits, or emotional baggage in order to uncover the stuff that brings you more joy.

Some of our more diehard archivers, defer-ers, and On Hold enthusiasts might appreciate some of her advice in this area. OmniFocus folks that frequently find themselves full of dread at the prospect of delving into their ever-expanding list of projects, though, might consider moving her book to the top of their Amazon Wishlist.

Or heck, secede from the procrastination and grab an iBooks copy now, and consider another step in your “Self Improvement” project done!

Sure, it could be argued that adding another book to your library might be an ironic next action for those who wish to free themselves from feeling burdened by too much stuff, but what Discardia celebrates isn’t minimalism for mere minimalism’s sake, it’s about maximizing what adds value to your life by removing what isn’t helpful.

We recently spoke with Dinah about how she uses OmniFocus and she put it to us this way:

Overwhelm can be a big problem with any task management software, but it is especially a risk when following the GTD approach of getting everything out of your head and into a trusted system. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing—even a somewhat chaotic version of that is going to be better than keeping it all in your brain—but it does expose to us just how many expectations on ourselves we actually carry around.

My belief is that it’s okay to have hundreds of things you’d like to do; what will screw you up (and keep you from achieving many of them) is consciously or unconsciously living as though you must do them all. Limiting your canvas can boost your creativity and increase the chance of completion. The two features which make OmniFocus an intensely valuable tool in helping hold back a sense of overload are the review infrastructure and the ability to distinguish between active and on hold projects. You can dump everything in there, yet still keep most stuff out of your face on your day-to-day action lists while trusting that it will remind you to think about it again at appropriate, adjustable intervals.

And whether it’s today or the next time you sit down for a Review, taking the time to trim your database can have an equal effect to actually checking things off - clearing your plate is clearing your plate!

Remember that there’s a difference between finishing your fair share and biting off more than you can chew. As Dinah puts it in her book: “We all have pet projects, social commitments, goals for personal and professional growth, and hobbies to which we devote our time. We stroll past the buffet of life and load our plates. Unfortunately, we make a lot of trips back to that smorgasbord of options and, pretty soon, we are groaning under the load. Do you really like everything you picked up thinking it would be tasty? Can you really finish all that? Would doing so leave you feeling painfully over-stuffed?”

One way Dinah suggests kicking off un-cluttering a living space could easily be leveraged in OmniFocus as well: “Get yourself two boxes. Label the first box ‘Better Place’. Put in any items currently in your chosen space that belong somewhere else. Label the second box ‘Keep?’ and place into this box anything you’re not sure you want anymore.”

Go ahead, try it! Click the action button at the bottom of the OmniFocus for Mac sidebar, select “New Single Action List” twice, and label them accordingly. Now peruse your projects and drag anything into those two bins that isn’t making you feel empowered to accomplish more awesome actions. Then, redistribute the contents of ‘Better Place’ to more advantageous projects, and carefully consider what’s in ‘Keep?’ before placing them On Hold or putting the final nail in their respective coffins by marking them Dropped, and sending them to your Archive to rest in peace.

Sidebar screenshot

That’s one way to lighten up OmniFocus to support a more meaningful, less maniacal to do list. As an avid OmniFocus user—since the days it was Kinkless—Dinah definitely knows a thing or two about optimization. Discardia is (adequately) full of practical tips and encouraging guidance, concentrated into three core principles: Decide and Do, Quality over Quantity, and Perpetual Upgrade.

In the spirit of that last principle, consider adding the Discardia iCal calendar to help remind you when it’s a good time to ceremoniously cast off any excess baggage and enjoy more awesomeness.

Indie Interaction Design

by Kris on September 9, 2011

Welcome to another installment of our Use Case Profile series, wherein we highlight OMNI APPS—IN ACTION with real working professionals.

We’re always delighted to receive email from customers who’ve experienced unbridled productivity with their favorite Omni app. Every now and then a story like this comes along and we get all giddy about sharing it. Having undoubtedly maxed-out our “this is why we do what we do” affirmations with our loved ones, we figure our blog might be a better outlet for inspiring others to unlock the potential of the Omni productivity suite.

Today’s contribution comes from Libby Donovan, a freelance designer from Los Angeles, whose enthusiasm about OmniGraffle prompted her to develop a ‘Wireframing with OmniGraffle’ class for Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts.


She writes,

I spent ten years working for Microsoft in Redmond, mainly on a PC using Visio for Information Architecture and other work that OmniGraffle would have been perfect for. In 2010, I moved back home to Los Angeles and began looking for work for both myself and my start-up design agency, Mercyluxe Design Group, and found that 90% of the open job descriptions out there required OmniGraffle skills, as it was looked at as what would soon become the industry standard within the IA community. When I began working at MySpace as an independent contractor, I was told that while I could use any program I wished to use, their preference was OmniGraffle as they had already amassed a large set of stencils that were shared amongst the IA and Design teams who were working on the redesign together. The fact that OmniGraffle had taken such a hold on the design and IA communities in LA told me that this was a program that at the very least I needed to seriously investigate.

Larry Asher, who runs The School of Visual Concepts in Seattle is an acquaintance of mine, and we were talking about OmniGraffle and I was (loudly!) singing its praises - specifically discussing how my move from Seattle to LA necessitated me to learn the program. “You just can’t get work down here with out knowing OmniGraffle, Larry, it’s the future, it’s coming!” is pretty much what I told him. Since I moved to LA I’ve been, what I call “OmniGrafflin’ my tail off” for folks like MySpace, Disney and Will >Smith (yup, THAT Will Smith!) :)

Woah! I can only imagine the focus it must have taken to produce AI and UI mockups for Mr. MIB himself. Personally, I couldn’t resist the temptation to create a Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song flow chart, but clearly Libby can get jiggy with discipline.

While working with each client, I have found that OmniGraffle allows me the freedom to build upon each of my design principles and concepts in an almost organic way, bridging the gap between the idea and expression of that idea other programs just don?t >allow.

For example, my desire to find a perfect balance between Swiss design principles and maximum color effectiveness would have faltered under the rigid guidelines of Visio and its inability to work alongside today?s top design programs. During the Will Smith project, however, OmniGraffle showed its chops by allowing for effortless compatibility with Adobe?s Creative Suite, allowing me to fuse Visual Design, Interaction Design and Information Architecture. The finished comps were, looking back, about 80% OmniGraffle, 20% Illustrator and Photoshop. I?ve found [OmniGraffle] allows for such quick mock-ups and edits that you can prototype rapidly – really at the speed of the design conversation.

She goes on to explain which OmniGraffle features are most helpful in her workflow:

I love the ability to draw from my giant collection of stencils, templates and icons, with the ability to add more from the community with ease. The OmniGraffle UI and feature sets also allows for very rapid prototyping, something that other programs just don’t allow for.

One of the first things I do when I start a new project (after putting on my official OmniGraffle kick off song, “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys – true!) is a quick inventory of my stencil collection to see if I have everything I need to get started. Most of the time I don’t – I’m in need of a particular UI element like a slider, and it has to be a certain kind of slider, a UI element from a particular brand of mobile device, or even just the right radio button, I’m off to Graffletopia to comb through their huge stencil collection to see if they have what I need. Most of the time they do, thanks to the awesome community mentioned above. When they don’t, that’s when I head back to Photoshop or Illustrator to create something original that matches the style I’m using and easily import it into OmniGraffle when I’m ready. Doing it old school.

And which Stencil is her favorite?

I am very fond of the Konigi set, it’s my absolute favorite and I use it pretty much daily. I love how clean it is and how it lends itself so neatly to almost any project that can be imagined. There’s also a unicorn stencil included. What else do you need? Well, maybe the ability to use those stencils to create wireframes while you’re out ‘n’ about, right? First, that OmniGraffle for the iPad EXISTS is a big win, making the program extremely versatile and the very nature of agile. The iPad app feels very much like a natural extension of the Mac version. I like how I can use my stencils from the Mac on the iPad making adjustments to a project or coming up with quick interactions studies for example while on the go that much easier. In addition, the freehand option is also very nice for those high-tech “cocktail napkin” times. Since they both work together so well, it’s not possible to pick one over the other, especially as I use them both for very different purposes – the desktop version for my main Grafflin’ and the iPad for quick mock ups, changes on the fly and presentation with room for experimentation and augmentation right then and there.

There you have it, folks - another shining example of OMNI APPS—IN ACTION, and a refreshing testament to our raison d’être.

Thank you, Libby, for sharing your story and samples with us - inspiring stuff, indeed!

If you have a use case that you’d like to share with us, please drop a line in the comments or via email, we’d love to hear it!

Lion Adoption

by Kris on August 5, 2011

At Omni we've noticed a trend that would make Sigfried and Roy jealous: it seems everyone is rushing to get their very own king-of-the-jungle. Y'see, Apple made it so easy to adopt their brand new Lion operating system—by offering it as an upgrade through the Mac App Store—that folks are clamoring to get a Simba to call their own. 

Alright, pop culture references aside, it's really cool to see so many of our customers taking up a new operating system so quickly. As you can see from the following OmniGraphSketcher file, the percentage of Omni customers using Lion within the first 10 days of its release is nearly the same as those who began using Leopard within the first 100 days of its release. That's quite a curve, if you ask us. 

But some of you might want to ask how we're getting these magical metrics. Well, when you update an Omni app, we get some anonymous system data (if you allow it). This helps us to see the adoption rate of new OS or hardware. It also helps us to see when there are so few users on a particular OS or hardware platform (the PPC architecture, for example) that it might be reasonable for us to stop supporting it. From this type of data we get to confirm our instincts to quickly add Lion features to our apps before the OS ships, and our customers get their favorite apps chock-full of cool Lion features faster than they might if we were just guessing at this stuff. 

Though it may not be as thrilling as a Vegas show with giant ferocious cats, we think this trend is quite encouraging and hopefully you do too. 

OmniFocus Ninja Tricks with David Sparks

by Kris on May 24, 2011

Good things come in threes. Stooges, Musketeers, Supremes. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings. Columbus' Ships, Newton's Laws, Caesar's Motto. The list (the one I'm keeping in OmniOutliner for iPad) goes on and on… and the Rule of Three once again proves true for David Sparks' 3-part series of OmniFocus Ninja Tricks from his Mac Power Users Podcast.

In each of the three screencasts David guides you through some essential workflow steps to make the most of OmniFocus. Episode 1 covers the various ways to capture your tasks, Episode 2 delves into the planning process and in Episode 3, he explains the best ways to take action and review. As an attorney, author, and all-around man of many hats, it's pretty safe to say that David is a paragon of productivity. We're delighted to share his trilogy of tricks with you. 

Designing Graceful, Gracious Interfaces for iPad

by Kris on April 15, 2011

If you'll pardon the horn-tooting for a moment, we'd like to take the opportunity to flatter one of our teammates. Omni's UX lead Bill recently spoke at the Voices That Matter conference here in Seattle. At last fall's VTM: iPhone Developers conference in Philly, Bill spoke about Designing Graceful, Gracious Interfaces for iPad alongside other notable tech folk. Though he didn't have as cool of a getup as this speaker, we think he put forth a valiant effort and are perfectly comfortable with calling him a hero from time to time. 

In recognition of his contributions, not only to our apps, but to the ongoing dialogue about User Experience in software development, we would like to share some of Bill's thoughts with you. For those of you who couldn't attend the conference, here's his keynote presentation (paired with some audio from one of his practice sessions). If you find this sort of stuff as inspiring as we do, perhaps we should all arrange for a party-bus to the next conference - an omnibus, if you will.