Keeping Track of My Someday & Maybe Tasks with Git

Someday and maybe tasks and projects are one of those things where I can never seem to find the perfect system. I’ve tried putting these things in OmniFocus and tagging them, using Trello (which I still use, but for different purposes) and I know there has been more than one paper planner over the years!

Some of you may be asking “what is a someday maybe task?”. The name comes from Getting Things Done by David Allen, the idea is something is a task or project you want to do, but you can’t work on it right now – so you put it on a list called “Someday/Maybe” to get around to when the time is right.

A few months ago I turned to Git to try and solve my problem. There were a few features I knew I wanted from a system:

  • Some interoperability with OmniFocus to make it easy to take things out as well as put things back in, or something I could easily script.
  • The ability to track what changed, when, and optionally why .
  • The ability to tweak my system easily without rebuilding it.
  • Automation options.
- [ ] This is a sample task in the format I started with

I started in Drafts, using the task format. This is nice and visual but doesn’t offer all the other features I wanted without setting up lots of actions and cobbling things together. Drafts has versions – which satisfies my want to be able to look back in time, but it lacks explicit change messages connected to these. While Drafts is the right tool for many jobs, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for here.

Next, I did some digging around and stumbled across my old friends BBEdit and Textastic. These are my preferred text-based file editing apps on macOS and iOS, but alone neither of them really hit the spot – until I decided to take some lessons from the professional side of my life and use Version Control.

Version Control systems are designed for programming, so you can track who changed what, when, and assuming they wrote a decent commit message to accompany the change, why. There are quite a few services out there offering these, I chose to use Git and to use GitLab for this. (That said, the sample to accompany this blog post is on GitHub because I know most people are more familiar with that!)

Now, I can make a change to my Someday/Maybe lists from any device, including the web, and just type why I changed it. Version control, in this case, Git, automatically stores what changed and when. You can even do a diff, compare two files side by side so see exactly what was added or removed!

Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty! Let’s start with the apps. As mentioned above, on macOS I use BBEdit, this has Git integration so I can theoretically do everything with that. That said, sometimes I switch up my apps so I also have SourceTree around to handle the Git stuff. I could use the command line, but I usually don’t want to. On iOS I use two apps Working Copy and Textastic. There’s good documentation on how to connect the two of them together so I won’t go into detail on that here. To be clear, I use Working Copy for the Git side of things and Textastic for the writing.

Next up: Files. I have two primary lists, Someday and Maybe. Someday is “I really want to do this and will make time for it, but that time is not now”, whereas Maybe is “I like the sound of this”. Projects/tasks stay within these lists until they become unwieldy. If a project has more than 10 tasks that I want to document I create a special list for it. To keep things organised I start these file names with an underscore (_) and then add a note below the task to see that file.

Finally: Format. This took a while to nail down. As I mentioned I started in Drafts so as of when I recorded an episode of Nested Folders 11: Someday/Maybe/Never I was still using - [ ] to indicate a task. This does give you the look of pretty checkboxes – but the point of your Someday/Maybe list isn’t to keep of what you have done, but what you want to do. This means I would never check the tasks off. Instead, I’ve changed to just Taskpaper (at least the elements that OmniFocus uses) as this allows me to copy items over directly when I am ready to do so, and also to export easily.

Now I can update my someday/maybe list whenever I like, across devices, and see what I changed, and when. If you want to see a sample of this check out my GitHub Repository for a sample!


Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals!

There are a few Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday deals on things I use regularly, so I thought it was a good idea to collect them all together!

Luna Display

Luna Display
30% off & free shipping

Use your iPad or even another Mac to extend your Mac’s display! Unlike Sidecar you can actually touch your display, and you can even use it as a wacom style tablet with Astropad.

Luna Display

MacStock Ticket

Macstock Ticket
$100 off!

I had a great time at MacStock this year and will definitely be there again next year! As well as all the great talks there are lots of fantastic people to meet.

MacStock

Cyber Monday Only

The Sweeet Setup Courses

The Sweet Setup Course Bundle
$99 for all the courses

If you want to learn how to take advantage of Ulysses, GoodNotes, 1Password, Day One, Things, or even up your mobile photography game, then these courses are for you.

The Sweet Setup Bundle

MacStories Shortcuts Icons

MacStories Shortcuts Icons
50% off

Thanks to iOS 13 we can put Shortcuts on our home screen and when we run them it just runs Shortcuts! Which means I ran out of icons really quickly–thankfully MacStories rescued my Home Screen and my sanity!

MacStories Shortcuts Icons

Take Control Logo

Take Control Books
50% off selected books

Take Control has a lot of great books covering pretty much every Apple related topic you can think of! They’re picking 13 of their books to put on sale this weekend, check them out!

Take Control Books



Automators 37: Mac Maintenance & Management Magic

In episode 37 of Automators David and I got our enchanted brooms ready and went to town on maintaining and managing your Mac. We did our best to get out all the cobwebs and find a way to automate all of this, while there may not be a robot vacuum for your Mac, there are plenty of tools you can use to make the magic happen automatically – good whether it’s your system or one you end up managing because the owner relies on you to do it!

First up we tackled trash. I realised after the show that while we talked about how to use Hazel’s built in preference pane to manage the trash, I didn’t go into detail about how I do the more specific things that don’t show up there. The answer is (relatively) simple, I add the trash as a folder – this is easiest to do if you have something in the trash as you can drag that into the selector in Hazel. This lets me add all the usual Hazel rules, though I should also mention I’m doing it this way because that’s how I’ve done it for quite a while, rather than this being a good practice!

We also talked about Dropzone, there are a lot of actions available that you can just install in Dropzone, there’s an official actions page and a further action repository, I really need to look into deleting/moving files after I’ve done specific actions, but these are a great way to automate nonetheless.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Automators, it was great fun to put together!

Automators 37: Mac Maintenance, Management Magic. Thanks to our sponsors for this week’s episode: ExpressVPN, Freshbooks, and Flatiron School.



Automators 35: Automating Business with Don McAllister

In the latest episode of Automators David and I got a chance to talk to Don McAllister about the systems and processes he has built over the years to automate ScreenCastsOnline. As a recent addition to their team, it was a fun look behind that side of the curtain, and I hope the system and processes Don has in place will inspire you!

Automators 35: Automating Business with Don McAllister. Thanks to our sponsors for this week’s episode: PDFpen from ExpressVPN, Freshbooks and Bottomless.




Automators 34: Getting Cozy with Regular Expressions

When David first talked about doing a show on Regular Expressions I confess I was a little nervous, how do you explain something so text based in audio? Well, it turns out that with a lot of determination and research you can – and hopefully you won’t confuse everyone on the way!

 

To dive into the world of magic with text search listen to Automators 34: Getting Cozy with Regular Expressions. Thanks to our sponsors for this week’s episode: PDFpen, from Smile, Zapier, and Freshbooks.


Nested Folders 7: How to Do Productivity With Others (Who May or May Not)

Working with other people can be a challenge, and not everyone likes to wave their productivity system around so we often don’t know how they get things done! In this episode Scotty and I talked about how to work with others – whether or not we have a productivity system, how we can learn from them, and what to do to make sure the work gets done.

How to Do Productivity With Others (Who May or May Not)


ScreenCasts ONLINE: iOS 13 Deeper Dive

I’m very excited to be joining the ScreenCasts ONLINE team! My first short is a deeper dive into iOS 13, Don did an overview earlier this month when iOS 13 was released – and now iPadOS is out it seemed like a great opportunity to dive further into some of those new features.

In this episode, I’ll show you some of the new features in core applications, including operating system changes, to allow us to use our devices more effectively and efficiently with all that iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 has to offer.

iOS 13 Deeper Dive on ScreenCasts ONLINE



Automators 33: Packing List Extravaganza in Drafts

It’s no secret that I love to travel – and I also love to be organized! Making a packing list is great fun, until you forget something so in this episode of Automators David and I decided to find as many ways as we could to solve the problem of creating a packing list. Naturally our techniques overlapped in a few places, but we still came up with a variety of solutions – which you can use to solve other problems too.

 

I’ve documented most of the Shortcuts in the show notes for this episode, but my Drafts action group (and accompanying Shortcut) need a little more space – so let’s dive in!

First of all, no matter how organised I might be I still need a task in my task management system to actually do the packing, so I kick off my process with a Shortcut, it looks through my calendar for all day events, I choose one of them, and then it creates a new Draft (tagged with packing) before adding a task to OmniFocus with the title “Pack”, a due date of the start date of the trip, and a link to my Draft in the note. You can download the Shortcut here: Create Packing List (Drafts & OF)

Now let’s look at my Drafts action group, this has 8 actions (I’ve expanded a little since recording).

Manage Template List
This gets you started with creating your basic lists if you don’t have them yet – you choose categories (it suggests Clothes, Toiletries, and Technology), and then set the emoji for each category before adding items to it.
If you already have a list you get 4 choices:

  • Add category – Asks you for the name of the category, an emoji to represent it, and items to add to it.
  • Update Emoji – Shows you all your categories and the emojis associated with them for editing.
  • Delete Category – Gives you a choice of categories to delete.
  • Manage Category Items – Allows you to add or remove items in a category as well as correct spelling.

None of these actions affect anything in any of your packing list – maybe someday I’ll get to it, but not yet.

Tips:

  • To find emoji quickly use Emojipedia, it has a great search and you can copy the emoji with just a tap.
  • Add a 🔋 emoji after anything that needs charging – I have a few actions to help you keep track of those.

 

Tag Packing List

This just adds the tag “packing” to your Draft so you can filter for these quickly.

 

Add Packing Items to List

This shows you a prompt with a list of your categories, you tap a category, deselect items within that category you do not wish to include (I assumed that you’ll likely want all items in a category), and the items are added to your list. After this it runs the action “Sort Packing Items” automatically.

 

Sort Packing Items

You might be wondering why I’m bothering to assign emoji to my categories – aside from “they’re cute”. It’s simple: Emoji are sortable. So everything with a 👖 tag is grouped together. This way I can both visually identify items in a category, and the sort action (which is alphabetical) groups them together. All the items are in the task format in Drafts, this looks something like this:

- [ ] 👖 Jeans
- [x] 👖 TShirt
- [ ] 🛀 Shampoo

Tapping on one of the [ ] boxes checks it off ([x]) or unchecks it. The x is sorted below the space so unchecked items stay at the top.

 

Uncheck All

I like to reuse my packing list on the way home to make sure I don’t forget anything and that everything is charged, this unchecks everything, resets charging icons, and sorts the list again for me.

 

What should I charge?

Maybe I travel with too much tech, but I do travel with a lot and most of it needs charging – after all, what good is a battery pack that isn’t charged? Everything that needs charging has a 🔋 icon at the end of it, this action grabs all of those items and shows them to me, selecting one replaces the battery with a 🔌 emoji, so I can see it is ready.

 

Charge

For items that you add outside of your list you may wish to add the battery emoji, instead of hunting though your keyboard for it use this action. It will also replace the battery with a plug or vice versa.

 

Delete Item

This just deletes the current row in Drafts.

 

This all works with scripts in Drafts, I can’t guarantee it will work perfectly so I would love to hear your feedback!

 

To hear more about ways to create packing lists listen to Automators 33: Packing List Extravaganza. Thanks to our sponsors for this week’s episode: ExpressVPN and Daylite.



A Roundup of Health Features to Check Out in iOS and watchOS

Apple has made health a commitment over the last few years. In the latest iOS and watchOS there are a whole host of features which you can use to keep on top of your health, including several things new in watchOS 6 and iOS 13. And on Tuesday, Apple announced a range of new health initiatives and studies to keep their focus dialled in for the next few years.

Continue reading “A Roundup of Health Features to Check Out in iOS and watchOS”



Nested Folders 5: How We Weekly Review

In episode 5 of Nested Folders Scotty and I dived into our weekly review routines. It was also good to review traps we’ve both previously fallen into with our reviews – I’ve been considering making a printed list of how I do my weekly review and if I do so I’m also going to make a list of “not to do” on it – as a reminder of those lessons that I’ve learned over the years!

Nested Folders episode 5: How We Weekly Review.


Latest Shortcuts Beta Allows You to Get Links to Shortcuts with Shortcuts!

Something I’ve been hoping for for a long time is the ability to get a (sharing) link to my Shortcuts with Shortcuts – and with the latest developer beta of iOS and iPadOS (beta 2) it can be done!

Shortcuts actions

Thankfully this is fairly simple to do, there are just 6 actions required to get a list of all your Shortcuts as Markdown links:

  • Get my shortcuts
  • Repeat with each item in My Shortcuts
    • Get link to Repeat Item
    • Text: [Name][Link to File]
  • Combine Repeat Results with New Lines
  • Share Combined Text.

There is one caveat to this: Unfortunately you need to confirm getting the link to each Shortcuts from a prompt which appears.

Download the Shortcut: Get Shortcuts as Links

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and watch Netflix and tap the same prompt 900+ times.


Update! I’ve been experimenting and there’s also a way to just tap “Create Links” once: Get Markdown Links to Shortcuts – you get the links first and then iterate through them grabbing the names of the associated Shortcuts. As long as the order of the Shortcuts remains constant this is a much more user friendly workaround.


Automators 31: Making Your ScreenFlow Flow and More with J.F. Brissette

In this episode of Automators David and I got a chance to dive behind the scenes of ScreencastsOnline and into the Terminal app (not at the same time) with J.F. Brissette. David and J.F. met years ago at Macworld!

J.F. does editing and assembly for ScreencastsOnline — which means he spends a lot of time working with video and audio in ScreenFlow, and he has got his workflows down with automation. As he said “it needs to be automated if you’re going to use it as much as I do” which is something worth bearing in mind for any application you use heavily.

Keyboard Maestro is his tool of choice (as it is for many people), and he has many macros which he has found. The Clipboard History Switcher specifically makes it much easier to copy and paste elements around — also allowing you to create a palette of elements from your macros, something that applies to many kinds of work!

J.F. also uses Terminal a lot, for everything from opening apps to checking what day you were born on or what day your birthday will be on next!

open -a Safari
open -a "Keyboard Maestro"

These open apps — because Keyboard Maestro has a space in its name it needs to be wrapped in quotation marks. Note that capitalisation is optional, and you can use either single or double quotation marks — J.F. tends to use lowercase and single quotations, like this: open -a ‘keyboard maestro’.

cal 01 2021

This will show you a calendar for January 2021 – so you can quickly scan for “11” and see that my birthday will be on a Monday!

We also had a look at regular expressions, which are a way to do search (and replace) with extra magic by defining very specific patterns. Shortcuts even supports regular expressions, both to “Replace Text” as well as with “Match Text”, which can be followed by “Get Group from Matched Text.”

Thanks to our sponsors for this episode:

  • ExpressVPN: High-Speed, Secure & Anonymous VPN Service. Get 3 months free with a 1-year package.
  • Pushcut: Automation your way. Trigger iOS Shortcuts from anywhere. Try it free. P.S. If you haven’t listened to our members-only special yet you should – the camera and audio equipment were all monitored (and set up by) J.F.! Listen to

Automators 31: Making Your ScreenFlow Flow and More with J.F. Brissette.


Relay’s 5th Anniversary Live Show

This week I was fortunate enough to be able to go to San Francisco and take part in a very special live show to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Relay FM – a podcast network now old enough for kindergarten!

For this show Myke, Stephen and Jason Snell devised a very special game of Family Feud – I’d never played before so of course I ended up being team captain (I’m not sure that was an entirely wise decision, but nonetheless it happened).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The episode is out now – wizards worked magic to turn 14GB of audio (seriously) into an episode overnight. Listen to episode 257 of Connected.


Automators 30: Our Recent Automations (& Shortcuts Album Player)

In episode 30 of Automators David and I thought we’d share a few of our recent automations with you – as well as updating my TextExpander outputs to accommodate a switch in my email addresses I had some fun with Shortcuts!

Continue reading “Automators 30: Our Recent Automations (& Shortcuts Album Player)”


Nested Folders 3: Building Bookends

Episode 3 of Nested Folders has landed, in it we talk about building bookends – those magical periods of time in the run up to something in which we get everything done that we need to! I also trick Scotty into doing maths, and most important of all: Scotty has a new mic.

On top of this, to celebrate episode 3 we’re also having a competition: listen in for details on how to win a year of OmniFocus Pro and a copy of Build Your OmniFocus Workflow.

Check out Nested Folders 3: Building Bookends


Catching Up After MacStock

Last month I went to MacStock – it was my first MacStock and my first time speaking there too (why not combine firsts!) and I had an amazing time. For anyone who has been on the fence about going I would highly recommend it – so many friendly people and it turns out we all have at least one thing in common 😉.

I’ve put together a page of the resources from my talks: MacStock 2019 – here’s where you can grab the Shortcuts to download them, as well as links to the apps I talked about!


Review: Tom Bihn Synik

Disclaimer: Tom Bihn provided this bag free for a review. All opinions below are entirely my own.

You may recall that recently I reviewed my Waterfield Staad backpack which is a lovely backpack that I use a lot of the time. However there are times when I need to carry more than fits in this bag – trips where I’m away overnight or just need to carry a lot of things. When the chance came up to review a new Tom Bihn bag with a dedicated laptop compartment, clamshell opening and luggage pass through it seemed meant to be – and this was confirmed by the random number generator saying I won!

Continue reading “Review: Tom Bihn Synik”


Automators 29: The Dark Dungeon with Adam Tow

Automators Artwork In episode 29 of Automators we got to talk to Adam Tow – creator of awesome automations. I met Adam at the Automators WWDC meetup this year and he demoed some of his wonderful shortcuts for me. I’ve seen them before and even tried them out, but once I saw Adam demoing them David and I knew we had to get him on the show to share how this all works!

Adam walked us through a few of his amazing automations:

  • MsgFiler: A way to file messages in Mail extremely quickly. I’ve been trying this since we recorded and I’m sold, I’ll admit I love using the keyboard and tend not to reach for the mouse unless I have to but this is a great utility!
  • Photo Magic: Adam has an amazing setup whereby photos taken on his DSLR end up automatically sent to him via iMessage, added to Photos, uploaded to Google Photos, oh, and the RAW photos are uploaded to Amazon too. Sounds crazy? There’s a bunch of very good reasons for this!
  • The Dark Dungeon Text Adventure: Did you know you can play a text adventure game in Shortcuts? Or have it translated into (almost) any language? Adam made it easy!

For more details you’ll have to listen to the show.

As a note, in the show I said I thought you could get a public link to a Dropbox folder through Shortcuts. You can get links to files, but for some reason links to folders no longer works – this is a shame, but we can hope that Dropbox offer this as a paramaterised Shortcut in iOS 13.

Thanks to our sponsor for this episode:

Episode 29: The Dark Dungeon with Adam Tow


Nested Folders Episode 2: No(n) Zero Day

In this latest episode of Nested Folders I introduced Scotty to the idea of the Non Zero Day. I stumbled across this a few years ago on Reddit and thought that it was a great idea, do something towards your goals every day. It might not seem like rocket surgery but saying it out loud and then reviewing your efforts can make a big difference – especially for those larger goals!

 

There’s more to no(n) zero days than this, so I’d highly recommend you check out the episode: Episode 2 of Nested Folders.


Introducing Nested Folders, a Productivity Podcast

Nested Folders Podcast ArtworkToday I’m launching a new podcast called Nested Folders with a friend of mine Scotty Jackson. Scotty and I met when we started testing early versions of OmniFocus 3 together, I believe our first real encounter was me helping him replicate a bug report so he could nail down the steps to email in. (Coincidentally this is also where I met Ryan Dotson who I ended up writing Build Your OmniFocus Workflow with – who would have guessed that people eager to do an early beta test of OmniFocus would also be good people to make productivity related content with?!)

Nested Folders is a productivity themed podcast, Scotty and I will be diving into all sorts of topics from project planning, to weekly reviews, when not to be productive and more. The Introduction Episode (0) and Episode 1: Checklisting a Project are out today! Episodes will come out every 2 weeks on Tuesdays.

I hope you’ll download the first episodes, give us a listen and subscribe. All of the details are over on the Nested Folders website, and the podcast also has it’s own Twitter account @NestedFolders which because I am an automation geek automatically feeds into our spreadsheet for feedback.


Automators 27: Shortcuts in iOS 13 – Diving into the Deep End!

In Automators 27 David and I did the thing we do best: ignore all the advice, install the betas, suffer for it, but in the end we got you the goods on Shortcuts in iOS 13 and what it’s really like!

One of the things we love in this new version of Shortcuts is the replacement of Get Variable with this new sentence format in each action.

Shortcut on iOS 12: Get calendar event, choose from list, get start time, get chosen event, get end time
Shortcut on iOS 12: Get calendar event, choose from list, get start time, get chosen event, get end time
iOS 13 version of the same shortcut
iOS 13 version of the same shortcut

I know in the episode I said I would do a video on this, but I think these screenshots explain it much better than a video would have! It’s now much easier to see what you’re working with – and that’s better for everyone from Shortcuts super nerds to people just poking around who find it installed on their devices after they update the OS in September.

I hope you enjoy listening to the episode – David and I are both running developer beta 3 now!

Episode 27: Shortcuts in iOS 13 – Diving into the Deep End!

One note: I said in the episode that I wasn’t able to run Shortcuts from notifications (e.g. with triggers like time) – beta 3 resolved this.

Thanks to our sponsors for this episode, Away and TextExpander from Smile.


Discourse Forums I Visit

There are lots of wonderful communities out there on the internet, and I’m fortunate enough to be a part of some of them! I’ve seen several people recently asking for recommendations of forums to visit and thought I’d put together a list of the ones I visit:

  • Automators – Yes, the podcast I host with David Sparks has its own forum! There are lots of wonderful people who hang out there sharing automation goodness, and we also host the Scriptable forum inside it too.
  • Mac Power Users – A great podcast, and another forum of awesome people (just like all the others on this list). From tech support to Star Wars there’s plenty to talk about – and the forum for Focused is here too.
  • Bookworm – Another excellent podcast, I love looking through this forum for book recommendations (and summaries of the key points people got from them).
  • The Productivity Guild – This is a great place to talk about the productivity things many of us love and often struggle with.
  • Drafts – I’m constantly stealing script ideas from people here to use in my own Drafts installs.
  • OmniGroup – I confess to primarily being in the OmniFocus area of this forum, and it’s always interesting to see how other people are using this task management software.
  • DevonTechnologies – DevonThink can be used in so many ways that every time I open the forum I come up with new ideas to make even more out of the software.
  • AirTable – I’m still learning how to use AirTable to the max and this place has lots of suggestions.
  • Agenda – I use Agenda for my notes at work and it’s great seeing how other users set it up for themselves.

On a side note, some of you may be thinking of Discord – a chat system, Discourse is forum hosting software – they have similar names and both can host communities but that’s where the similarities end!





Review: Waterfield Staad Backpack (Slim)

When I was in Chicago for MPU Live in March I took the opportunity to order a Waterfield Staad backpack to my hotel to bring back with me. I’d been intrigued by their bags for quite some time, but after seeing MacGenie with one of these at PodCon, and seeing MacSparky’s Sling bag at the same event, I was convinced I wanted the bag.

Let’s start with logistics: I realised only shortly before my trip that this would be a great time to get the bag, so I paid for premium shipping, contacted Gary through the contact address on their web page, and hoped for the best – and they delivered (with time to spare)! After collecting it from the Fedex in my hotel (still cheaper than international shipping I would note), I actually got my hands on it.

I picked the black ballistic with the chocolate leather, I’m a fan of the Indiana Jones look – but I like my bags to look pristine for as long as possible and knew the ballistic fabric would deliver that, however leather ages whatever you do – so the chocolate was an obvious choice to let me still see the wear on it! The inside of the flap is lined with smooth black leather, and this doesn’t mark easily so I suspect the completely black model wouldn’t have either.

Some background: I fly, a lot. I’m writing this review on my 5th flight this month, which happens to be my 3rd weekend on the road (or in the air) in a row. Next weekend I’m not going anywhere (at least that I know of), and then I’m off to WWDC which involves 4 flights. I fly carry on only whenever I can, because it’s cheaper, and it means I know my things will be with me when I land. However this means my backpack is restricted to some pretty small dimensions – unless I wanted to put everything in my backpack (which if you’ve queued in the immigration line at LAX before you will probably agree is not fun). So I need a small backpack, I also want to be able to get at everything pretty easily – without said items falling out of the bag if I open it up.

This bag is perfect for me as it has a laptop sleeve which fits my 13″ MacBook Air like it was made for it (it’s actually made for the 13″ MacBook Pro which is cuboid rather than wedge shaped), and another sleeve on the front of that for my 11″ iPad Pro in the smart folio with the Apple Pencil. On the inside of the bag at the top there are two vertical pockets which close with Velcro – I use one for my passport and one for my charger and USB C cables (to USB C and Lightning). On the front at the bottom you have two pockets as well – these are designed so that if you swing the bag up under your arm they face up (or completely down if you open the opposite side pocket), which is where my purse (American: wallet), AirPods, any medication I need, lip balm, tissues, etc., live. If I’m taking the bag to work my work ID/access card go in there too.

Everything else goes in the main compartment in front of my iPad Pro – this usually includes things like my Bose headphones in their case (I prefer to fly with the QC35s, but sometimes take the QC30s instead), Nintendo Switch, etc. Overfilling the bag isn’t an option because then the flap wouldn’t close – but this helps me limit what I’m carrying and I appreciate that.

I was impressed with this bag when I first got it in March, but 2 months later I can see it’s truly holding up as it ought to – it looks great, and it works. Because of the sleeves for my devices (which aren’t insanely large as they often are in bags) I can just slip my laptop and iPad in and out, the half zip on the front under the flap lets me get access to things inside if I need to, but keeps things securely in place. The clasp is very good too – it closes easily (unless you try to overstuff the bag), and it stays put. The fabric is also exactly wide enough that you can slip a pin on it for decoration without worrying about damage or impaired function. The bag also fits nicely on my frame – the Stout model is unsurprisingly larger, which is one reason why I didn’t order it (if I have space in a bag I will absolutely throw things in “just in case” and then end up regretting lugging said items around later) – and I’m 5’7″ as well as pretty slim. I’m also really pleased with the padding on the straps and the back of the bag (pictured below), they’re thick and comfortable, but not so thick that the bad becomes bulky.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if the iPad pocket will fit my iPad Pro with the Brydge keyboard attached – however that is something I’ll have to wait another week or so to try! I’m very pleased with my bag – and now I have to admit I’m very tempted to try out some of their other products like one of their cases for the Nintendo Switch!


Shortcuts for Accessibility

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day and I’m really pleased to see that Apple has updated the Shortcuts gallery to highlight some Shortcuts targeted at solving some of the problems people face every day. These shortcuts include:

  • Speak Brush Teeth Routine
  • Mood Journal
  • Special Day Countdown
  • Do Not Disturb timer

There are 13 of these shortcuts in total, and it just goes to show how technology can be helpful for everyone, but in some cases it can make a massive difference.

 

Shortcuts for Accessibility Gallery screenshot

 

These shortcuts are available in the Shortcuts app, in the gallery, it should be the first item featured at the top.


Pushcut: Smart Notifications Kick Off Your Shortcuts

 

As I’ve talked about on Automators before, I have used Zapier to send notifications to my iPhone which trigger Shortcuts – this means that I can have a series of automated actions happen and follow it up with something I need to manually do. I’ve been using PushBullet and Pushover to do this – I’ve tried both and they’re both good, but they’re designed for notifications and the URLs triggering automations is not something it was designed to do. Additionally PushBullet still hasn’t been updated for the iPhone X(s) screen format. Pushover has been updated more recently, but it still doesn’t quite match up with what Pushcut can do as a dedicated app.

Let’s start by looking at a few use cases for this:

  • MacSparky and I take it in turns to post the Automators episodes, that means every second episode when it releases I need to be prompted to put up my blog post about the episode. That post is prepared, and is in Drafts, so once the episode is up I get a notification that triggers a Shortcut to help me find the right Draft and post it.
  • When an article of mine goes up on The Sweet Setup I like to go and clean it out of my Dropbox (where the drafts sit), which I do through a Shortcut, and then post about it on my site.

Those are just two of the many use cases I have for this sort of thing, in each case there can be multiple steps I would like to execute on my device – some of these I’ve combined into a single Shortcut which runs those other shortcuts, but others I’m still trying to rely on my memory (which has more holes in it than a sieve!). Also if I want or need to change these I need to log into Zapier and change the URL scheme that’s in the URL part of the notification action step (whether that’s through Pushover or Pushbullet).

Pushcut is a free app with two subscription levels, I’ll give you a quick overview of those:

  • Free: Create three notifications, which can each trigger one action (opening a URL or running a Shortcut).
  • Basic: Create as many notifications as you want, with as many actions as you want on each notification. Plus you can sync these between your devices.
  • Pro: Dynamic notifications – based on JSON you use to trigger the notification which can give you: inputs for Shortcuts and dynamic title and text in notifications. You can also target individual devices.

I immediately decided I wanted the Pro – I’ve been passing variables to Shortcuts as parameters through Zapier, and I’ve been building my own workarounds for branching to give me different information. Most people should start out with the free level and then try basic though to get to grips with the system.

Setup

The first thing to do is to create a notification in the Pushcut app, and give it a name. The name of the in the app is separate to what appears as the title of the notification which is very useful allowing you to have useful internal descriptions, but have an action based title. The title gets URL encoded and becomes part of the URL you POST to in order to trigger the notification. Tapping this URL will copy it to your clipboard – and I’ll come back to what to do with that near the end!

Secondly you want to set the Notification Title and Description. These are what will show up on your device when you get the notification, I like mine to tell me what to do, and why I’m doing it – this way I won’t just ignore the notifications because the seem irrelevant. After this you should set a default action, and you probably want to add this as action as well. The default action is what happens if you just tap on the notification, or swipe on it from the lock screen, and the actions are what you (can) trigger after force touching the notification – you can add multiple actions to a notification here, giving you a choice in which action to execute.

Now we have the basics set up we can trigger the notification! Depending on your needs you could use this with something like IFTTT or Zapier’s web hooks, or even build it into a script somewhere.

Now whenever this is triggered you will get a notification sent to your device which when opened will trigger a Shortcut.

In addition to what I’ve outlined above you can enhance this with the Pro options – allowing you to specify custom notification titles and content, and also pass input to your shortcuts. You can also run URL schemes allowing you to something like add a task to Due – without having to go via Shortcuts.

I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to the developer of Pushcut over the last few weeks and he’s been adding enhancements right and left! While the app and service are already a step up from existing solutions just because of the ease of use, the fact that this is a dedicated service for triggering automations on iOS means it really is well thought out.

Pushcut – Automation your way


Automators 23: Diving into Drafts Automation with Tim “The Drafts Man” Nahumck

I was really excited when Tim Nahumck agreed to come onto Automators to talk about Drafts! In the last year the app has increased in power so much, as well as gaining a Mac app, and now seemed like the perfect time to cover it. Continue reading “Automators 23: Diving into Drafts Automation with Tim “The Drafts Man” Nahumck”


MindNode 6 Released

MindNode icon MindNode 6 is out today, and having been a part of the beta I thought it was high time I shared some of the many ways I use

Lots of things for me start as vague ideas, this often happens in Drafts, but for multi faceted ideas that need exploration – like this blog post, I then move things over to MindNode – specifically I do this using an action which makes use of MindNode’s URL schemes – you can get the action from the Drafts Action Directory.

Focus Mode in MindNode on the Mac

I’ve been doing a lot of things at work recently that involve hierarchies – one thing branching into more, which in turn branch into more. I’ve been showing this as we progress throughout a meeting with MindNode, so we start the meeting with the centre point, or main node, and progress from there. This means as people are discussing ideas I can reflect it visually on the whiteboard, and I have a pretty graphic to send them afterwards! The enhanced presentation mode in MindNode 6 has been very helpful for this, letting me show off notes that I’ve made on areas, or even to lock the view while I zoom in on something else and tweak a spelling mistake.

A few features of MindNode 6 have been game changers though – first of all, multi select. You can do this with a finger or an Apple Pencil – and it’s exactly what it sounds like, letting you select multiple nodes. You can then move them all, copy them, or do whatever you want or need to do with them.

Searching for stickers in MindNode

I also love how you can search for stickers, the team was smart and assigned multiple keywords to each sticker – so searching for “sign” gets me, among other things, the warning sign – as does searching for “warning”!

Outline Mode

Another way I use MindNode is to give me a good overview of projects, the folding and unfolding of nodes comes in handy here, allowing me to zoom in and out as needed. Add to this the new ability to hide connections and I have a great way of looking at everything, or just the key areas – helped by the focus feature which lets me fade out everything else. I love the ability to switch to outline view too – while I tend to prefer visuals, sometimes you just need a list – like when you’ve planned out a packing list! Being able to switch to the outline view also shows me things from a new perspective – which often helps me to fill in gaps in my plans.

It’s hard to describe use cases for MindNode unless you’ve previously used a mind mapping application – but when you need to structure keywords, and text it’s a great place to start.

MindNode 6 is out now and is a free upgrade for all MindNode 5 users. The Mac app is also part of Setapp.



CalZones: An iOS App To Help You Plan around Time Zones

A lot of things in my life involve working around time zones – David Sparks lives in California, so when organising a time to podcast with him that’s a 9 hour difference, add a podcast guest and unless they’re in the same time as one of us, you have a headache!

For a long time I’ve used Klok as my go-to widget for checking what time it is somewhere, and recently I added Time There, an iMessage app, to help me find future times for appointments, meetings, and everything else. This wasn’t a great system though, Time There is really for planning things in the next few days so going beyond that involves a lot of scrolling, and Klok means you need to calculate everything yourself. I use Fantastical as my calendar and that has timezone support too – so you can add an event at 8am San Francisco time and it shows up at 5pm Vienna time, but this works after you’ve planned the event, still leaving you with the task of figuring out the when which is the most difficult part.

Enter CalZones – by David Smith, maker of Sleep++, Workouts++ and Activity++. He is familiar with the problem I and many others face – and decided to make the app for us! CalZones starts by giving me a month overview of my calendar, I tend not to have too many appointments in one day, and the coloured dots below each date indicate how many events I have and which calendar they are on.

In the app settings, you can configure your timezones and for each time zone, you can give it a custom name and an abbreviation. This means that I can call SoCal time “David”, but central time “Stephen” so I can skip that mental overhead of remembering who is in which timezone. These timezones then show up as a vertical scroller when creating and editing events, letting me see the time selected for all of my favourite timezones. These timezones also show up in the widget, with your preferred names, giving you a quick reference as to what time it is where – or in my case, for whom! The expanded widget shows you these in a linear fashion, and tapping on a time in the future jumps you straight to the event creation page for that time.

Along with specifying your time zones you can also control which calendars you see, your preferred theme and icon, work day times, week start, and how event times should be displayed. The latter is very useful allowing you to see that the event you’re looking at starts at 7pm local time, but 10am in the organisers time.

The daily calendar view is where your chosen colour theme comes into play. It highlights working hours (set in your preferences), then non-working hours before midnight, and then the hours after midnight until the working day starts – in three colours. This lets you see how hospitable the time is to your fellow participants, and helps you avoid scheduling something at 3am instead of 3pm by accident.

In the few weeks I’ve been using this app it’s been indispensable – and it earned a spot on my home screen within just a few hours. For people who never deal with timezones, this app might not be for you, but it’s a solid app and those of us who need something like this are very grateful for its existence!

CalZones is available on the App Store today for $4.99.

You can find out more on David Smith’s blog.



Automators 21: Invoicing, Writing, and Regular Expressions with Dr. Drang

In episode 21 of Automators, David and I were joined by the lovely Dr Drang! You may have heard him on a few other podcasts, including Mac Power Users. Continue reading “Automators 21: Invoicing, Writing, and Regular Expressions with Dr. Drang”


Review: Anker USB C to Lightning Cable

Anker recently released a USB C to lightning cable, and while there are dozens of USB A to lightning cables out there, USB C cables which are approved for iPhone are new.

 

My first impression after opening the Anker box is that this cable is thick, when compared side by side with an Apple cable it isn’t that much thicker though – just enough to give one a feeling of solidity, I plan to keep this cable in my on the go cable bag and am confident it won’t be as susceptible to the kinks that inevitably happen with thinner cables. As with all Anker cables, it comes with a nice cable tidy on the cable – as these attach to the cable with a mini loop they don’t go missing easily, and that means that with my always on the go everywhere lifestyle my cables are more likely to stay wrangled.

The cable works like you would expect it to work, I plugged the USB C end into my MacBook Air charger, and the other into my iPhone Xs Max with the battery pack attached, I did not try to measure the speed scientifically, but it felt like it charged just as fast as the Apple USB C cable which is what is most important for me! I also used it this morning to pair my Magic Keyboard to my MacBook Air – and as expected, it worked fine!

What I do like about this cable is the rounded corners and moulding where the connectors connect to the cable – these are less likely to snag on things, and combined with the thicker casing on the cable itself also increases its lifetime for people who bend their cables near the connectors. We all know someone who abuses cables and probably internally wince when they do so to ours!

Anker’s Lightning to USB C cable is definitely well made, and with it being cheaper than the Apple version I’d wholeheartedly recommend it instead if you’re in the market for a cable that can connect your Mac to your iPhone, AirPods, or new iPad (aside from the latest Pro models) directly.

Thanks to Anker for sending me this cable to review!




Upcoming Event: MacStock July 2019

I’m very pleased to announce that this year I’ll be attending and speaking at MacStock! It’s my first time for both – but I’ve heard such great things about the conference that I can’t wait to join everyone there for a weekend of fun and nerdery. If you want to come to the event you can use the code rosemary to get a discount on your ticket – while the early bird sale is running this means your ticket will be just $169.

Stay tuned for more details as they’re announced, and I hope to see you July 27th and 28th in Woodstock!


Event: Automators Meetup at WWDC

As well as a meetup before WWDC in Orange County, David and I are hosting a meetup at WWDC – Tuesday lunchtime to be specific! We don’t have the precise location nailed down yet (we’d like to meet outside) so make sure to keep an eye out for updates on this event! As well as David and myself, Alex Cox and Matthew Cassinelli of Supercomputer, and Simon Støvring developer of Scriptable will be there! If you’re around we’d love to meet you and say hello.

You can sign up for a free ticket on Eventbrite. Make sure to keep an eye out for emails from them to confirm your ticket and with updates we send out.


Event: Automators Meetup Orange County

David and I are hosting a meetup in Orange County, California before we head up to WWDC – the exact date, time, and location are yet to be determined, but it will be on either Friday May 31st, or Saturday June 1st. We hope to see many people there!

You can sign up for a free ticket on Eventbrite. Once you’ve done so make sure to keep an eye out for emails from Eventbrite to confirm your ticket and for the precise details!



Automators 19: Shortcuts Updates

In episode 19 of Automators David and I dive into recent updates to Shortcuts.

David has recently updated his Siri Shortcuts Field Guide, and if you listen to the podcast there’s a discount code you can use to get a $10 discount – he’s added a lot of videos which are great! Continue reading “Automators 19: Shortcuts Updates”


Automators 17: Live at PodCon

Episode 17 of Automators comes to you live from PodCon!

TripIt – Automated Trip Itinerary

I personally use TripIt to create my itineraries – it actually automates everything for me. I could let it read my email inbox and auto create itineraries, but I prefer to choose which emails to forward to it. As I mentioned on the show I also have a filter in Gmail that marks and read and deletes all of the “Your TripIt Itinerary was imported” emails – I only need to do something if it didn’t work after all.

Bear Notes for Trips

David rolls his own travel schedule system – with Bear. The advantage of Bear is you can easily add attachments and text to a document, meaning everything is in the same place. You can even use a nice Shortcut to allow you to append a document or text to a specific Bear note: Append to Bear

Zapier Turning New Trips into OmniFocus Projects

This is an automation I mentioned that is a little hacky, but it works well for me. TripIt creates a calendar, or you can use any of your own calendars for this if you don’t want to use TripIt – you just need to get that calendar into Google Calendar. What we do is we watch this calendar for new events, then we filter – continuing if the length of the event is more than 23 hours. Then I use the text action to write up the TaskPaper I want to be added to OmniFocus, and URL encode it. The final step is to add a task to OmniFocus – this is accomplished via the MailDrop, and it has a URL scheme which looks something like omnifocus:///paste?target=/folder/Travel&content= -%202019/09%20-%20Amsterdam%0A%09-%20Organise%20Travel in the body – so when this task arrives in my inbox and I process it, I just tap on the URL to add the project. You can even run a Shortcut via a URL scheme (which I usually do!). The Zapier steps are:

  1. New Event
    • Watch the specific calendar in Google Calendar
  2. Only Continue If
    • Duration (hours) Greater than 23
  3. Text (Formatter)
    • I typed my TaskPaper in here, and URL encoded it, if you already have the URL encoded text, or another URL you want to appear in the body of the task ready you can skip this step.
  4. Create Task
    • The title is “Set up project for trip Event Name“, which I also include in the Text action above. The body is the URL I will tap on when I process the task.

This series of steps is a pretty solid way to add projects and tasks to OmniFocus based on other events happening, I use it for lots of automations.

Rose’s Packing List Shortcut

I use a modular approach to create my packing list – along with an extra list of devices to charge! While I save this to OmniFocus you could easily modify this to work in any task management system, or just to create a PDF to print if that’s what you prefer to do.

Naming Documents with Scanner Pro


Scanner Pro is an app David and I both use to scan documents on the go – as well as when we’re on the road. It has built-in OCR, and Workflows which allow you to chain multiple actions together. Most of the time I use a Workflow called “Simple Scan” which formats the name to Scan YearMonthDay, Time and saves the document as a PDF to Dropbox. I usually save to a specific folder in Dropbox which Hazel then watches and automatically files certain things or me.

Airmail Custom Actions for a Trip

Airmail is a mail app for power users, especially with its custom actions. I have a custom action which forwards the email to TripIt and then moves it to my Gmail account’s Travel tag, this allows me to find all my travel email quickly if I need it, and gets it into TripIt without me needing to remember to forward it as well.

Quickly Add Travel to your Calendar with Shortcuts

This Shortcut isn’t really generic, but hopefully, it will inspire some of you. To get to the airport I take a tram and then a train (at least most of the time). The tram normally takes 11 minutes to get to the train station, and then the train should take 16 minutes to get to the airport. While I could use the public transit API to get all of the information to figure out my route to the airport I prefer to look at the available times in the app and choose which one I would prefer to take – before adding this to my calendar. This Shortcut asks me for the departure and arrival time for each mode of transport (and automatically suggests the arrival time based on the departure time) allowing me to just input 2 dates and times most of the time. You can grab it here: Airport Travel.

If you haven’t already listened, make sure to check out episode 17: Live at PodCon!

Chapters:

  • 00:54: Automating Travel
  • 01:04: TripIt
  • 01:57: David’s Homegrown TripIt
  • 03:57: TripIt to OmniFocus Project
  • 04:51: Packing Lists
  • 06:11: Rose’s Packing Shortcut
  • 08:55: Scanning on the road
  • 11:21: Project Templates for Travel
  • 11:34: Airmail Travel Action
  • 12:21: Dealing with Email on the Road
  • 14:47: Rose’s Travel Task Management
  • 16:22: Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • 17:06: “Here I Am”
  • 19:38: Sponsor: Express VPN
  • 21:44: Welcome Back from Seattle
  • 23:59: Feedback Time
  • 24:25: Forums
  • 25:21: iBeacons
  • 28:11: David tries to convince Rose to be Jane Bond
  • 30:15: Filing Feedback
  • 35:57: Creating a Contract
  • 36:43: List all the applications on your Mac
  • 38:39: Launch Center Pro NFC Stickers
  • 39:56: David’s Break from Time Tracking
  • 41:43: Chapter 25
  • 42:18: Our Favourite Feedback

Thank you to our sponsor this week: Express VPN.


Automators 15: Automate Your Time Tracking

Episode 15 of Automators has arrived – and with it our secrets for automating time tracking.

Time tracking is something some people are required to do, some people ought to do, and something everyone should try at least once just so you can see where all your time is going and how many of those “it will just take 2 minute” tasks really take 45 minutes.

David and Mike Schmitz talked about how to figure out what you shouldn’t be doing in episode 53 of Focused (formerly Free Agents), and that’s one of the things I’ve kept an eye on through my time tracking – things that are taking a lot of my time, that I don’t truly enjoy doing or that I know aren’t beneficial to me.

My Oversleeping Tracker

Now, depending on the day of the week, this should perhaps more accurately be called my “lazing in bed” tracker, I title it oversleeping by default – you could call it whatever you like. This is is a solid example of a tracker which should automatically start at a specific time.

To make it I kept things simple – the trigger is the schedule action, set for 6am in my case. I have set it not to run on Saturdays and Sundays. Then the actions are as follows: Toggl, start a time entry (not create!) – I set the workspace, project (called Personal), and add a description of “Oversleeping”. The final action is to send myself a Pushbullet link notification. I misremembered during the episode but I am actually triggering a Shortcut, the link is simply shortcuts://run-shortcut?name=Stop%20Toggl (you can download the Shortcut here, you’ll need to have the Toggl app installed for it to work), and the title is actually the description of the Toggl timer – so if I change what I put in the description later I don’t need to remember to update the notification name. If you’re on the free version of Toggl then you’ll have to skip the notification part.

That’s it! When the Zap runs it starts the timer, and sends me a notification – and when I open that notification it opens Shortcuts, which stops the timer. You could have it open the Toggl web page instead – or any number of things if you wanted to do so. (You could also run a different Shortcut, one which starts playing your morning playlist, tells you what events are on your calendar, etc., as well as stopping the timer.)

My Zapier Stop Timer Automation

This one does the opposite of the above – it stops a currently running timer at 10pm. The trick with this is you will need to use the Toggl API, and as such you’ll need a premium Zapier plan to do this (you could use Microsoft Flow if you’re comfortable doing the whole thing via APIs though, and that’s free!). So, how does it work?

  1. Every day at 10pm is the schedule which triggers this, I have it run on weekends too.
  2. GET – I make a call to the Toggl API. I call the URL https://www.toggl.com/api/v8/time_entries/current, and make sure to fill out the Basic Auth field with email|password.
  3. Only continue if: the data returned by Toggl has a negative duration if the timer is still running, so if it’s less than zero I continue.
  4. Stop Time Entry – using the ID captured from the GET in step 2.
  5. Send a link via PushBullet. This opens the alternative Toggl app I’m beta testing so I can just continue the timer if necessary.

A note: while I am doing some of my Toggl automations through IFTTT that is via their Maker service and the API, it doesn’t have direct integration with Toggl itself.

Automators Episode 15: Automated Time Tracking

A big thanks to our sponsors for this episode:

  • ExpressVPN: High-Speed, Secure & Anonymous VPN Service. Get 3 months free with a 1-year package.

Automators 14: Automated Journalling

Episode 14 of Automators is all about journalling – when David suggested the topic for this episode I jumped on it. I subscribed to Day One last year and have been trying to improve my usage of it, this episode forced me to go figure out some automations to make it easier – thankfully since recording I’ve been journalling more consistently than ever!

David made a short video breaking down how he does some of his automations too. I hope you enjoy the episode!

Episode 14: Automated Journalling


Announcement: Build Your OmniFocus Workflow

Today I’m very excited to announce a book: Build Your OmniFocus Workflow. I’ve been hard at work on this for the last 3 months – but not alone. My fabulous co-author, Ryan Dotson, has been hard at work right along side me (admittedly with a timezone difference) – and we have 150 pages ready for you!

This book is designed, as the name implies, to help you build a workflow which works for you with OmniFocus – whether you’ve never used the app before, or if you’ve used it for years and just want to improve your setup. It is comprised of five sections:

  • First Steps: Getting OmniFocus set up with a basic setup.
  • Fundamentals: Walking you through the default perspectives, and expanding on your current setup – plus diving into settings.
  • Advancing: Diving much deeper, including custom perspectives, creative uses for tags, review and onwards.
  • Final Horizons: Honing your workflow to get the most out of your system.
  • Our Workflows: Ryan and I get personal and tell you about how our setups work.

Throughout the book there are tips, notes, personal comments, and most important of all: activities for you to complete in order for you to create a set up which allows you to be productive and which will hopefully also allow you to feel like you’re fully in control of your life.

OmniFocus is a remarkably flexible app and can adapt to practically any workflow. As such, everyone must go through the process of building their own workflow with it, whether from scratch or based upon someone else’s. Build Your OmniFocus Workflow, written with the insight of two long-time OmniFocus users, offers practical advice on top of solid technical information. Ryan and Rose guide you through the basic concepts and perspectives of OmniFocus and into the more complex world of custom perspectives and automation. All throughout they give their own interpretations of how they use features in their workflows and finish the book with more details about how their systems work for them.

Build Your OmniFocus Workflow is available for a short time at launch for $25. The price will increase in the new year to $30.

This book is not static, we intend to update it when new features are added to any of the OmniFocus platforms. That is not to say the book is incomplete, we have about 40,000 words and are very happy to release it today!

Now, to the nerdier side of things. You may be thinking “I’ve never heard of Ryan” – and until I started beta testing OmniFocus 3 for iOS I hadn’t either! In fact, Ryan and I have never actually met in person – the internet put us together (with some help from The Omni Group), and we ended up writing a book. If that’s not a testament to how wonderful the world can be I don’t know what is! I’m going to go through a little of how we wrote the book, just to give you a taste.

We started by mapping ideas out in iThoughts. We thought we’d write Markdown files and check them into a private GitHub repo – but for a variety of reasons realised this wasn’t going to work how we had originally envisioned so quickly moved over to Scrivener where the project has been ever since. Scrivener has excellent Dropbox sync support so we worked through that, back and forth – with differing timezones coming in handy as you can only have one copy of a Scrivener file open at once. Once we had a large chunk of the book written then came the hard part: formatting.

I have a confession, I had very little input on the formatting. By which I mean the styling formatting rather than the organisation of the book. Ryan had a hidden talent for this from which I have learnt a great deal! If you think the book looks pretty that’s down to him. From the font choices, to the indentation, and the whimsy of the hands for the notes and tips, Ryan did all the hard work. Just don’t ask him about list formatting, he’s still recovering from that.

The cover design was done by the extremely talented Josh Hughes. Josh has also designed a series of icons for OmniFocus custom perspectives.

Get the book here! If you’re not sure (understandable), then you can also get a free sample.


Automators 11: Shortcuts Home Screens

The world has gone wild for Shortcuts home screens – including David and myself! In episode 11 of Automators we have gone into why you might want to try this crazy fad and how we’re using it ourselves, so – let’s dive in!

There’s numerous reasons why you might want to have Shortcuts on your home screen:

  • To run your shortcut, yes – an obvious one, but a worthy one.
  • To give you context – e.g. when I tap on my Automators icon I get the options I want when I’m wearing my Automators hat.
  • To run multiple actions at once – such as starting a timer.
  • To put one app or shortcut in multiple places, so Quip is in my Learn OmniFocus and my Automators shortcuts, but the Quip app itself could only be in one folder.
  • To assist less technical folks with an iOS device.

You can build these Shortcuts very simply: with a Choose from Menu and either Open App or Run Shortcut actions. I put together a short YouTube video on that for you.

One of the examples Shortcuts I talked about was my Home shortcut, this lets me choose from different scenes at different times of day – something you may want to incorporate into other Shortcuts, here’s how it works:

The trick is to format the date action to give you just the hour, and then you can nest if actions to get what you want. You can download this Shortcut sample here.

David talked about his Shortcut to take a nap – it sets an alarm and turns on Do Not Disturb. You can download that Shortcut here, it will ask you how long you want to take naps for too: Take a Nap.

David made a video where you can see how he does his different contexts with Shortcuts:

And you can download a sample Shortcut here.

We also dived into customising Shortcuts, as promised here’s a Shortcut to put that blank character on your clipboard so you can have Shortcuts with no name: Copy Whitespace.

As we mentioned on the show, you can put Shortcuts just like these in a widget too – and here’s a bonus trick for you. Tap on Show More on your Shortcuts Widget, and then at the bottom tap Customise in Shortcuts – this lets you enable and disable Shortcuts in the widget, as well as change the order of them quickly.

Since we recorded the show Federico Vittici, Shortcuts nerd par excellence, has created a wonderful Home Screen Shortcuts Shortcut which you can check out over on MacStories: Home Screen Icon Creator: A Shortcut to Create Custom Icons for Apps, Contacts, Solid Colors, and More – MacStories

Listen to Episode 11: Shortcuts Home Screens


iPad 11″ First Impressions

My iPad Pro 11″ with Smart Keyboard folio and Apple Pencil arrived just before 10am on Wednesday (earlier than I could have got it at the Apple Store) and I’ve been putting it through its paces ever since.

Straight away I was impressed with the screen, it’s big and beautiful – and more importantly, hasn’t increased the size of the device at all from the 10.5″ iPad. I have several bags I love which fitted the 10.5″ iPad perfectly – and I’m very pleased to report that my 11″ iPad is not going to require a change in my handbag collection 😉.

After attaching the Smart Keyboard folio I became slightly concerned by the weight of the device, but I weighed it very scientifically – with the 10.5″ and Smart Keyboard in one hand and the 11″ and Smart Keyboard folio in the other, there’s not much of a difference in it, and as I won’t be using the leather slip case anymore I have no qualms about the weight. Scientifically it’s about 50g heavier than the 10.5″ iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard folio itself is good, slightly clickier than the previous ones – especially on the space bar. It is sturdier than the previous model in my lap which is where I frequently use it. The second angle is however essentially useless to me, much too steep unless I’m putting the iPad on a relatively high table to watch media on. That said that second groove is a good place to put my Apple Pencil when I’m not using it if I don’t want to put it on the side of the iPad for whatever reason. The Smart Keyboard is however a very boring shade of grey with just the fold and the camera cutout on the back, and not even that on the front. It would be nice if Apple offered this in a few different colours – at least on the outside.

I really like the new Apple Pencil. I’m no artist however I use the iPad frequently to take notes by hand and sketch out ideas. The ability to switch between tools with a double tap is very useful – and I’m very pleased to see several apps such as OmniGraffle and Notability have already implemented support for it.

The new screen size does of course bring some challenges with it – namely that apps have to update again to support these new screen sizes. Of course, I primarily use apps such as Airmail, Drafts, and OmniFocus which have all been updated for these new sizes already! Facebook however looks terrible – and I don’t think they ever got around to supporting the original 12.9″ so I highly doubt we’ll see an update there any time soon! That said I rarely use Facebook nowadays so it’s no problem.

Most people of course don’t need to upgrade to this iPad Pro from the last one – and for most people I’d even suggest they get the older generation which is still for sale in the 10.5″ size. I use the iPad as my primary device though, leaving my 15″ MacBook Pro on my desk at home when I can – and I’ve been looking for a larger screen size on the iPad without going back to the full size 12.9″ behemoth! This definitely fits that bill no problem.

I did consider ordering the 12.9″ – and I’ve looked at it in the store too, but frankly it’s still too big and heavy for me. While I don’t get two full size apps side by side on the 11″ I generally don’t notice or mind – in fact in some cases like when using Shortcuts in split screen it’s definitely a blessing that it scales down to be a mobile screen when I have a list or menu to select from as they get pushed to the bottom of the screen. My iPad goes almost everywhere with me and I would like to keep that up, if it’s too big or heavy that won’t happen and I’ll go back to browsing Twitter on my iPhone instead of reading or doing something productive.

I’m definitely happy with my purchase, and this year I’m not going to keep the 12.9″ around as my big iPad (for one I’d have to keep two separate pencils!) – I’m consolidating my devices and am pleased the screen size of the 11″ will allow me to do so.


Using Keyboard Maestro to Create an Always Up to Date Task Calendar from My OmniFocus

OmniFocus 2 had a calendar you could subscribe to, which gave you a calendar view of your tasks. Unfortunately just because of internet connections and syncing times which was always a little flakey (completed tasks would hang around for a while) and didn’t have all of the options I wanted. Unfortunately very few people used this service so it was discontinued in OmniFocus 3 – but I have an alternative!

Someone in the OmniFocus Slack pointed me to this post in the OmniFocus forums to help you create calendar events from your OF database and I got stuck in.

The first thing I decided was that OmniFocus should have its own calendar, this made life much easier later so I highly recommend you do this too. The next step was to decide how long events should be input for if they have no estimated time. The old built in option used an hour which I found too long so I set mine to 30 minutes.

I am using Keyboard Maestro to run this script hourly, but to prevent duplicate events showing up it makes sense to delete the existing events first. There’s no finesse here, if it’s in this calendar it gets deleted – this is where having a dedicated calendar makes life easier, you could write AppleScript to just delete specific calendar events, or even to track which tasks in OmniFocus have been created or edited since the script last ran – but I was aiming for the simplest and fastest solution here.

On to the code itself

property calendar_name : "OmniFocus" -- This is the name of your calendar
property default_duration : 30 --minutes

-- Rosemary Orchard
-- Modified from a script by unlocked2412
-- This creates calendar events for tasks which have a due date, if an estimated time is not set then the task defaults to 30 minutes in length

tell application "Calendar"
   set calendar_element to calendar calendar_name
 tell calendar calendar_name
        set theEvents to every event
       repeat with current_event in theEvents
         delete current_event
       end repeat
 end tell
end tell

tell application "OmniFocus"
  tell default document
      set task_elements to flattened tasks whose ¬
           (completed is false) and (due date ≠ missing value)
        repeat with item_ref in task_elements
          -- GET OMNIFOCUS TASKS
         set the_task to contents of item_ref
           set task_name to name of the_task
          set task_note to note of the_task
          set task_due to due date of the_task
           set task_estimate to estimated minutes of the_task
         set task_url to "omnifocus:///task/" & id of the_task
          if task_estimate is missing value then set task_estimate to default_duration
           -- BUILD CALENDAR DATE
         set end_date to task_due
           set start_date to start_date - (task_estimate * minutes)
           -- CREATE CALENDAR EVENT
           tell application "Calendar"
                tell calendar_element
                  if not (exists (first event whose (start date = start_date) and (summary = task_name))) then
                       make new event with properties ¬
                           {summary:task_name, start date:start_date, end date:end_date, url:task_url} at calendar_element
                    end if
             end tell
           end tell
       end repeat
 end tell
end tell

To summarise: Every incomplete task with a due date is added to the calendar.

  • The name of the task becomes the name of the event.
  • The task note becomes the event note
  • If the task has an estimated duration this is used, otherwise the event is set to whatever the default_duration property is at the top of the list (30 minutes in this example)
  • The due date and the duration of the event are used to calculate the start date
  • The URL of the event is set to be a URL back to the task

Graphical view of the Keyboard Maestro Macro

I don’t use the calendar much myself (preferring Fantastical) so I also have Keyboard Maestro quit the calendar afterwards for me.

This Macro uses the cron timer in Keyboard Maestro to run hourly, I’ve added it to a specific group so it only runs on one of my Macs too. When you download it you will need to enable it, first make sure you create an OmniFocus calendar though, and if you give this calendar a different name then you’ll need to update the Macro too.

This approach has several advantages over the original OmniFocus implementation:

  • I can sync this calendar, and store it in whichever service I like.
  • I can control the default length of events.
  • I could choose to exclude certain events if I wished to.
  • It could be a jumping off point for other scripts – such as a calendar of events you have completed if you wanted one of those.

You could of course use other approaches to run the script automatically, or run it manually when you want to, it’s entirely up to you!

The script can be downloaded here.


Overcast 5.0 Review

This year I was fortunate enough to get onto the Overcast TestFlight this year and wow, Marco is using those watchOS features that everyone got excited about at WWDC!

 Standalone Watch Playback

I never thought I would use my watch to play music or podcasts without my iPhone, but I’ve recently discovered that our apartment is just long enough that my headphones or watch are out of range of my iPhone when I’m at one end at it’s at the other. I put some music on my watch and paired my Bose QC35s, and then immediately wished I had podcasts on there. The standalone watch playback in Overcast is great. Sync can be a little fiddly due to watchOS limitations, and I had the best success by putting Overcast in my dock on my watch, opening it, putting it and my iPhone on charge and leaving them to it – and now I’m by the pool listening to podcasts on my watch with my iPhone back in my hotel room!

Now Playing Screen

The Now Playing Screen in Overcast has been revamped to use a cards style, with show notes and chapters being split onto separate screens – this is going to be useful as then I will be able to see which chapter I’m currently listening to but still preserve my place in the show notes.

Shortcuts Support

This is why I was excited about getting into the beta, and I was not disappointed! Here’s a quick list of shortcuts:

  • Play
  • Pause
  • Previous Podcast
  • Next Podcast
  • Seek Back
  • Seek Foward
  • Previous Chapter
  • Next Chapter
  • Set Speed To 1X
  • Set Speed
  • Turn on Smart Speed
  • Turn Off Smart Speed
  • Turn on Voice Boost
  • Turn Off Voice Boost
  • Recommend
  • Play All Episodes
  • Play All Podcasts
  • Play Favourites

Other shortcuts will also be present based on the playlists you have, and podcasts you listen to as well. For those you may have to play the playlist or podcast to have them appear as options. You can use these shortcuts either in the Shortcuts app, or by adding them to Siri in either the Overcast App under ‘Siri Shortcuts’, or in Settings > Siri & Search > All Shortcuts.

Search

Search is another new feature in Overcast 5, there’s a search bar at the top of each podcast’s page which lets you search through the episodes for it, and on the main page of the app where you can see all of your podcasts – which lets you search for episodes or podcasts.

Overcast 5 requires watchOS 5 and iOS 12.


Open Workflow.is Links in Shortcuts

I’ve been asked several times since yesterday how to open a workflow.is link in Shortcuts. Currently clicking on one takes you to the gallery of Shortcuts and nothing else happens. If you copy the URL and use a very simple Shortcut then you can click the “Get Workflow” link and everything works as expected.

Here it is in action:

The iCloud links for Shortcuts seem to be having difficulties at the moment – so you may want to just recreate this one by hand.

Download the Shortcut (the link may not be working).


Scriptable: Use JavaScript to control your iPhone

Some time ago on Twitter I stumbled across Simon, he was retweeted by the developer of Working Copy, an app I love and use heavily – and the retweet was a video of a script being run on an iPhone and returning some pretty cool results – so I asked “what is this and how can I get a copy?”. Not too long later I was invited to the beta of Scriptable, and got stuck in.

Scriptable is an iOS 12 app, and has integration with Siri Shortcuts to help you automate to the max. Simon has integrated a huge number of iOS APIs – so you can get your current location, communicate directly with the calendar, and more. The app also uses native UI elements too – so if you write a script that shows an alert the JavaScript you write calls the native alert box.

So, what can you do with this app? The built in examples include getting the current Slack status, grabbing the latest XKCD comic, and viewing shared JSON in a readable format. There are many more sample scripts over on the Automators Forums where I host a community run forum for the app (what better home than with Automators?).

You can also trigger Scriptable scripts in any number of ways. When you tap the settings icon inside of a script you get the option to immediately add the script to Siri, you can copy the URL scheme to the app, and even add it directly to Launch Center Pro which will then let you trigger notifications to run it at specific times or places.

All of your scripts are donated to Siri too, which means they’re available in the Shortcuts app as well.

You can get Scriptable on the App Store now – and it’s free which is insane, so please make use of the tip jar!


Wave GoodBye to Workflow, Say Hello to Shortcuts

It’s iOS 12 release day and the time has come to do something many people feared as long ago as March 2017 – it’s time to say goodbye to Workflow. I’m extremely happy to have had Workflow – and what’s more I’m happy to say goodbye to it because today Shortcuts launches and we have nearly everything that was in Workflow – and a way for app developers to hook straight into the app and the operating system.

What are we losing?

This question was what came to my mind at WWDC, I try not to be negative but a concern for many of us Workflow and automation nerds was “what won’t work anymore?”. Thankfully there are only a few things which we have truly lost:

  • File manipulation in Box
  • Triggering IFTTT Applets
  • Post to Slack
  • Save to Transmit (as the app is no longer on the iOS App Store it’s not a surprise)
  • Post to Tumblr
  • Edit Image
  • Send via DeskConnect (also unsurprising – the service was shut down long ago).

The only one of these that really causes difficulties is the edit image action, while you can still crop images and various other actions you can no longer do so in an interactive manner as part of a Shortcut.

What have we gained?

We have gained a lot in Shortcuts, here’s a list of actions which to my knowledge didn’t exist in Workflow but are part of Shortcuts – but aren’t donated to Siri by an app developer.

  • Add to Draft (Drafts 5)
  • Get Contents of Draft (Drafts 5)
  • Open Draft (Drafts 5)
  • Run Drafts Action (Drafts 5)
  • Markup
  • Request Payment
  • Run Javascript on Web Page
  • Send Payment
  • Set Airplane Mode
  • Set Bluetooth
  • Set Cellular Data
  • Set Do Not Disturb
  • Set Low Power Mode
  • Set Wi-Fi
  • Show Result

The last action is most interesting to me – it works like an alert if you run a Shortcut from Shortcuts, but will display the answer in Siri if you call the shortcut from Siri. The dictation action has also had an upgrade – allowing it to stop automatically after a pause, or a short pause, or on a tap (you can choose). This makes Shortcuts much more useful if you’re using it via Siri.

What’s still to come?

The possibilities here are seemingly endless – I’ve already seen many of the apps I use daily updating to support Shortcuts, from Waterminder to TripIt, Carrot to Working Copy, and many more. What we get now will be up to the app developers – but they seem to be making the most of it!


Backing Up Your Workflows/Shortcuts

It’s almost time for the iOS 12 release and while I think that Shortcuts is going to be a separate app in the App Store to update to from Workflow, backups are a good idea. Of course backing up your device is a good idea, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to do a separate backup of your Workflows or Shortcuts that you’ve created – and maybe it’s time to clear out your collection and start afresh (speaking as someone with over 800 Shortcuts, it’s definitely time!).

I’ve created both Workflows and Shortcuts to do this for you, the Shortcuts shortcut is designed to be run on each of your devices – while iCloud Sync should be working now, some of us with extremely large libraries have had the syncing get a little stuck.

Essentially all this does is grab all of your Workflows and create a zip of them in iCloud Drive, the date and time you run the automation is included in the file name, and the Shortcuts variation also includes your device name.

Backups are good, and even if everything goes perfectly on Monday, which I’m sure they will, you won’t regret it!

Keep on automating.

Download the Workflow

Download the Shortcut


Automators 5: Project Templates

Episode 5 of automators is all about project templates, and how they can help you to be more productive. David and I are both OmniFocus users, but project templates can be used with almost every task management system out there – even Reminders!

The simplest type of project template is a project you can copy – this is easily done in both OmniFocus and Things, the advantage is it’s easy to set up, but it’s also static – what you have is what you get.

You can also store project templates somewhere else, the places I have used are:

  • Editorial
  • iCloud Drive
  • Dropbox
  • Drafts
  • Workflow/Shortcuts

One thing I have done is to import all of the templates I’d previously saved into Dropbox and iCloud Drive into Drafts – this was easily done by pressing and holding the + icon which then lets you import a file.

Something I use a lot when making templates for OmniFocus is TaskPaper – and I even made a Drafts Action Group to help me do so easily. What you can do with OmniFocus and TaskPaper is create a template in OmniFocus, copy it and then paste it into a text editor (like Drafts) to edit it – this allows you to put “fuzzy dates” in, such as “Thursday” or “Monday -2d”, the latter evaluating to two days before Monday. You can also include «variables» which the TaskPaper to OF action will then help you replace.

I demonstrated how to use this action group in a screencast for you:

And there’s also a blog post all about it: Using Drafts 5 Taskpaper with OmniFocus

As I mentioned in the podcast, Todoist supports importing a CSV file – and if your task manager does too then you can use Numbers or Excel and date math to make relative dates.

So, what kind of project templates might you create?

  • Packing Lists
  • Publishing a podcast episode
  • Writing and submitting an essay/report
  • And much more!

While David and I are both primarily OmniFocus users, there are also lots of great resources for Things users:

And the Todoist blog also has a post called A whole new way to create and share Todoist Templates – Todoist Blog.

One of the workflows/Shortcuts I mentioned on the podcast was one to create an essay project, the options here are somewhat simplified, but demonstrate quite nicely how this works:

  • Essay to OmniFocus
  • Essay to OmniFocus
    As the URL Scheme in Things doesn’t support adding headings I formatted the project in Things somewhat differently – however you can import a JSON which does support headings format so if you’re willing to get stuck in I’m sure you can figure it out!

Another Workflow/Shortcut I mentioned is the iOS implementation of these scripts:

David also did a great screencast about how he uses Shortcuts to make project templates:
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Make sure to check out the show notes for all of the links, and I look forward to discussing this episode and all of your examples for project templates in the forums!


Workflow: Upload Blog Post via SSH

I use Grav as my blog CMS, it’s powerful and customisable, and it lets me upload blog posts via (S)FTP. The catch? My previous system for blogging involved using Transmit and Workflow – and sadly Transmit for iOS is no more. (You may be wondering why I’m only changing my system now, instead of back in January when Panic stopped working on Transmit for iOS. It’s simple, it was still supported in Workflow, sadly it is no longer supported in Shortcuts.)

This Workflow takes advantage of the stdin input option for the Run Script Over SSH action, in simple terms it means that you can give this action input as well as using variables as input in the script section.

A quick lesson on how Grav works for those unfamiliar with it and looking to modify this for Jekyll or another CMS:

  • There is a User folder where the data for your site is stored (config files, pages, etc.)
  • Inside of this folder is the Pages folder, where your pages are stored.
  • Folders inside of this become slugs the URL, so my blog posts are all in blog.
  • The file name is the name of the twig template.

To start with I choose where I want to store the post, if it’s a link to a guest post it goes in one folder, and a blog post goes in another – this is just my personal preference. I’m using a dictionary to do this because then I can see one option, but have it output something different – as my blog is the second item in my menu I would have to choose 02.blog every time otherwise. The next step is asking for the slug – this is nearly always on my clipboard (because I run this from Drafts and Drafts puts the slug on my clipboard!), then I get the text that was shared to the Workflow and Run Script Over SSH – which is where all the magic happens. The workflow I’ve shared does the following:

cd user/pages/$Chosen_Location;
mkdir $Slug;
cd $Slug;
cat > blogpost.md;

I’ve used the dollar signs here to represent Workflow variables – the key line is the last one, where I save the input of the SSH action to the file blogpost.md.

Steps:

  • Dictionary: This is a list of the folders where I might choose to save a blog post.
  • Choose from List: I choose one of those folders
  • Ask for Input: And grab the slug for the post.
  • Set Variable: I save the slug to a variable
  • Get Variable: And then I get the blog post shared to the Workflow.
  • Run Script Over SSH: Finally I run the SSH script.

Now, I actually save my blog posts in numbered folders – Grav will drop the number and dot at the start of the a folder name and use the rest of it as a slug, this helps me find posts based on when they were published from a folder list. If I create the post in the Grav admin GUI then it numbers them automatically, but it is possible to do this on the command line too! The script I use is as follows:

cd user/pages/$Correct_Location;
filecount=$(ls | wc -l);
mkdir ${filecount}.$Slug;
cd ${filecount}.$Slug;
cat > blogpost.md;

What this does is it counts the files and folders in the current folder and saves them to a variable on command line called filecount – and then I use this to create the folder for me. This variable is only valid for this session – but that’s fine for what we need. The folder where the post will be published contains a file which will display the list of blog posts and this gives me the +1 I need to create the next folder.

I hope this script is of use to at least one person!

You can get the workflow here: Upload Blog Post


Workflow: Add Task & Sub Tasks To OmniFocus

One thing I frequently do in OmniFocus is to add an action group, that is a task with a series of sub tasks. Action groups are flexible because they can be turned into projects if necessary, or be a series of tasks within a project.

The Workflow works by asking you for the main task, then it asks for the sub tasks. Each sub task is indented (and has a dash added in front of the name to make it TaskPaper friendly), and then the whole lot is put into my OmniFocus inbox.

Exact Workflow Steps:

  • Ask for Input: This is the main task.
  • Text: Add a dash before it – which in TaskPaper makes it a task not a project.
  • Add to VariableTask List
  • Ask for Input: Ask for the sub tasks.
  • Split Text: Turn this into a repeatable item
  • Repeat with Each – go through the sub tasks.
    • Text: Add the tab indent and the dash before each task.
    • Add to VariableTask List
  • Get VariableTask List. This makes sure we get the main task too, the output of the repeat loop would just be the sub tasks.
  •  Combine Text: Put the action group together.
  • Add TaskPaper to OmniFocus: Everything goes into my OmniFocus inbox.

You can get the workflow here: Add Task & Sub Tasks To OmniFocus.


OmniFocus 3 for Mac Sneak Peek

I am once again lucky enough to be in the early preview for OmniFocus 3 – this time on the Mac! What’s important to keep in mind here is that this is a beta, and an early one at that – things can and likely will change between me writing this post and OmniFocus 3 for Mac being released – they may have already changed by the time you read this post!

Stability

This is a beta app so there’s no guarantees, for me the app has been very stable – but I’m also running it on High Sierra. However as the builds can literally be released every few hours (depending on what is being added or changed) this could change at the drop of a hat – so be warned 😉.

The Icon

We have the sketch icon again! It’s cute, and helpful to distinguish between the two apps in your dock. Personally I put OmniFocus 2 in a folder in Applications called “OmniFocus 2” and the beta in a folder called “OmniFocus 3” (yes, I was feeling creative, however did you guess‽). This means if you launch the app via spotlight you get a helpful text hint about which version of the app you’re launching too.

Forecast View

Interleaved tasks and calendar events have made their way to the Mac in the forecast view. This is really handy for putting my day together and I’m a big fan of this on iOS.


I find this view much more beneficial than the gantt style view in OmniFocus 2, just because it brings everything together.

Appearance

OmniFocus looks different now, for example the toolbar across the top is much slimmer and by default includes fewer actions – though as always you can customise it by right clicking on it to add more options. The sidebar where the perspectives (and any starred custom perspectives) are listed, as well as the area where the project or tag list is shown have a dark background too, which I find helps me focus on the tasks area – the important things!


One place where you can see some subtle, but effective changes to the design is in the inspector. For example the status of the selected item has changed from a dropdown to segmented controls – the iOS equivalent of radio buttons (you have probably seen these in the maps app, to say that you want to see a map, transit, or satellite view). Tags of course have changed too, so that you could see multiple tags which are assigned to the current item at the same time.

Repeats

In OmniFocus 3 for iOS we got custom repeats, and these have been brought over to the Mac as well. The place where this really shows is in the monthly where you can specify that a task should repeat on day X of the month, or you can specify a repeat on the yth zday of each month (e.g. the second Tuesday). These repeats have come in very handy for me – for example I submit my timesheet for last month on the first Monday of the next month.

Custom Perspectives

Another feature we’re now seeing on the Mac is enhanced custom perspectives. You can build these by nesting rules – if you’ve used Hazel or created smart folders in Finder then you’ll be familiar with creating the rules (click the + to add a new one), and you can press ALT++ to add a nested rule. A new feature here that’s not yet on iOS is the ability to change the overarching rule, on iOS it defaults to “all of”, and this can be changed to “any of” or “none of” in the new Mac version – though at the time of writing this doesn’t yet sync to iOS.


I’m very excited about the new OmniFocus 3 for Mac, and really looking forward to seeing how it evolves throughout the beta process!


Automators 3: Sal Soghoian uses AppleScript to turn a Numbers Sheet into a Keynote Chart

In the third episode of Automators we are joined by Sal Soghoian, AppleScript God, to learn about AppleScript and how to use it!

While David and I usually take it in turns to write up everything about the show and provide complete documentation, Sal’s actually done that for this week:

You can find the scripts, videos, and a complete breakdown of everything over at macOSautomation, along with all of Sal’s other things.

In this show Sal gave us 3 AppleScripts. The first takes a whole table, and converts it into a bar chart in Keynote, the second takes a row or column and makes a pie chart, and the final one takes selected rows and turns them into a chart.

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Widget A $1212 $1495 $1170 $1423
Widget B $1902 $2345 $1835 $2121
Widget C $2636 $3250 $2542 $3168

The brilliance of this, is the first script is just 17 lines – that’s it!

You can listen to the episode over on Relay FM. And make sure to use the code in the show if you want to attend CMD-D Down Home Scripting Bootcamp!


Useful iMessage Apps

I was recently asked on Twitter which iMessage apps I use regularly, and thought it might well be worth a blog post – there are some really useful iMessage apps out there, but most people just seem to use stickers! (Not that stickers aren’t great of course.)

Airmail

If you’ve ever wanted or needed to send an email attachment via iMessage this is an easy way to do it. You simply get a list of attachments on emails, allowing you to send the file onwards.

Citymapper

This particular app is very useful – you can send your current location, a recently searched for destination, or your current trip. Very useful if you’re trying to meet up with people!

Copied

I love Copied, it’s a great clipboard manager that syncs between iOS and macOS, and you have access to images in it iMessage app. I often share to Copied and then I can use either the keyboard or the iMessage app to share things on.

Doodle

If you’ve ever tried to arrange an event that involves more than one person you’ve done the back and forth of “are you free then? No, how about next week? FIne, I give up” (or similar), Doodle is fabulous to help you fix that – you just create a poll when you are available, and everyone votes for the dates that work for them. Well throw that into a group iMessage and you’ve saved yourself 100 notifications (more or less, depending on the size of the group and how busy their schedules are!).

Drafts

I often start my writing in Drafts, regardless of what it is, and now I can grab a Draft and send it via iMessage. It’s very useful and helps you avoid that copy and paste dance!

Dropbox

If you want to send a file that’s stored in Dropbox this is the easiest way.

Glympse

I love sharing my location with people to help us find one another, Glympse goes a few steps above Find Friends here. You can choose to share for a time period, or until you get a location – if you do that it calculates the route and shows the person where you are on your route, how fast you’re moving, and your estimated arrival time. Being able to share it via iMessage is extremely useful, especially as the other person doesn’t need to be using Glympse check on you.

Mapstr

Mapstr is one of my favourite apps, I bookmark locations in it all the time, and I frequently want to share them! With the iMessage app you can search for a location – sorted by nearest to you automatically. The shared item results in a map, with the name and tags you have specified – so the person could import it directly if they wanted to.


Music

I like to share music with people, they probably heard about it months, years, or decades before I came across it, but it’s fun nonetheless. With the iMessage app I can send the exact track I’m listening to right now to a friend – or pick something earlier from my playing history.

OneDrive

This works the same way the Dropbox app does, but with OneDrive (funny that). It’s pretty useful for Word documents I’ve had to wrangle.

TripIt

I travel, a lot. At least compared to some people. I love to use TripIt to share parts of my trip with people. It formats things prettily, while still giving them the information they would want.

Week Calendar

I usually invite people to calendar events if they’re involved or affected by it, however sometimes that’s not practical. It’s nice to be able to share the details of an event though. What’s great about this app is it shares both the text (name of the event, start date/time, end date/time), and it also shares a URL, from the URL the person can add an ICS file straight to their calendar of the exact event if they like, or use iOS’s smart recogniition to add their own event from the dates.



Yelp

I don’t save everything to Mapstr – so Yelp comes in handy, especially when evaluating options. You can search and choose from recently searched for locations, and share them – by default the preview shows an image with the name and rating overlaid – but with the address underneath, so once you’ve finally picked the perfect pancake place you can head right there.

iMessage apps certainly come in handy, which ones are you using?


Automators 1: Automating Calendar Events

This week’s episodes of The Automators is focused on calendar event creation. There are many ways you can automatically create calendar events, and it’s useful to be able to do so, to avoid losing information. You can also use calendar events as a trigger to do something – which we cover towards the end. Below there are details of all the automations we cover, including 4 (really, four!) screencasts.

Workflow: Calendar Event Templates

This is a very simple Workflow which asks me for the date and time of the event, and then what kind of event this is (the demo has 3 examples) – it then adjusts the time to add an appropriate length for the appointment and adds it to my calendar. This is very useful because I can never remember what floor my dentist is on or exactly where to turn to find my hairdresser – so I can add this to the notes. Even if the places you frequent are not hidden like mine are you can still use this!
You can get the workflow here: Calendar Event Templates Make sure to read on to find out about the “Run Workflow” action at the end of it.

Workflow: Add Event To Work Calendar

This workflow follows the first one, and is in fact run by it – or could be. It simply asks you if the appointment you’ve made is during working hours, and if you say yes, adds an event that starts half an hour before and ends half an hour after the appointment you’ve just created to your calendar. Make sure to tweak the calendar setting here! You can get the workflow here: Add Event To Work Calendar (Menu)

Of course, you can automate this too, this formats the date of the event as one letter (so Monday becomes M, Friday becomes F), and if it’s not Saturday or Sunday, checks if the event starts after 8 am but before 6pm – if yes it adds an event to your calendar. It’s not insanely complicated, but it’s not as simple as the Workflow above.
You can get the workflow here: Add Event To Work Calendar (Auto)

David’s Hyper Scheduling Workflow

Since February David has had an ongoing Hyper-Scheduling Experiment, which involves scheduling blocks of time in his calendar to provide a framework throughout his day. You can see his Workflow to generate some of the core blocks here.

You can get the workflow here: Block Schedule

Add Travel Time

Here David walks you through how his Workflow to add travel time events to your calendar works.

You can get the workflow here: Travel Time

Repeating Events

Of course, one of the simplest ways to automate calendar event creation is repeats – and you can go from very simple up to fairly complex within that. The simplest repeats are every day/week/month/year, but if you go into the Custom... options then you can create repeats such as “On the first weekday of every month”.


Copy and paste

If repeating events count as automation (they do!) then copying and pasting events does as well.

  • CMD+D allows you to duplicate an event, and then you can drag and drop it.
  • CMD+C and then CMD+V lets you paste, if you select a new date before you paste then the event is automatically added to that day. In many apps you can even paste it in at the time you have selected.
  • Fantastical on iOS gives you the option to duplicate an event when you tap and hold on it, or when you swipe, and tap “More…”, BusyCal allows you to duplicate an event by force touching it. I personally prefer Fantastical as it immediately asks me for the new date where as with BusyCal you need to edit the new event.

Workflow: Copy a Calendar Event

This Workflow lets you choose from calendar events, and uses the chosen item to create a new event. It is currently set to use events from today, but you can easily change the filter in the “Find Calendar Events” action to look in the last week, the next week, or any time period of your choice.

You can get the workflow here: Copy Calendar Event

Parsing a list of events with Numbers

I first mentioned this automation in episode 418 of the Mac Power Users, this is designed to help you take a list of events and quickly add them to the right calendars. As David mentioned on the podcast you could also use it to calculate dates backwards from a specific event (he used a trial as an example) to add other events or deadlines to your calendar.

You can download the spreadsheet here.

The Keyboard Maestro Macro is very simple, it splits the text on your clipboard into lines, and then runs the following AppleScript on each line.

tell application "Keyboard Maestro Engine" to set myEvent to getvariable "Event"

tell application "Fantastical 2"
    parse sentence myEvent with add immediately
end tell

This AppleScript merely sets a local variable to the Keyboard Maestro variable for the line, and then uses Fantastical’s AppleScript support to get it to parse the event and add it straight to your calendar. If you wanted to evaluate each event before it gets added then you would remove the with add immediately.

You can download this Keyboard Maestro Macro here

You can also make this system iOS friendly in two ways, the Numbers sheet itself of course works on iOS. But you can do two things with the list of events it generates, the first is to use a Workflow, Clipboard Events To Fantastical which goes through all the lines on your clipboard adding them to Fantastical for you. The second way is to use Drafts, with the Events in Fantastical action provided by Agile Tortoise.

As mentioned in the show, David has a great series of video tutorials for Fantastical where he guides you through the core features and some of the syntax options.

Adding event with AppleScript

As we mentioned in the show, AppleScript is not the most flexible when it comes to adding events to your calendar. However it is definitely possible! I highly recommend the official Apple documentation as a starting point for a script that works, There’s also a library called CalendarLib which is linked on the very helpful macosautomation.com.

Of course, you can also use AppleScript to control Fantastical – as demonstrated in my Keyboard Maestro Macro above, here’s their documentation for integration with other apps.

Cloud Based Automation

Using web services like IFTTT or Zapier to automate things based on calendar events can be limited if you’re not using the “right” calendar system – so you can have IFTTT trigger things based on an event starting in Google calendar, but not in iCloud calendar. You can however use a variety of triggers from time and date, to RSS feed entries, to add events to your calendar on almost any system – as long as if it’s iCloud you have the IFTTT app installed.

Favourite Workflows

In this last part of the show we talked about our two favourite automations related to calendars.

David – Meeting Confirmation

This workflow is really useful if you have meetings that you need to remind other people of, David actually has two – one for in person meetings, and one for scheduled calls. You can get them here:

Rose – Workflow: Event Review

I use this Workflow to help me review the events that have happened in the last week, as well as to prepare tasks for appointments in the upcoming week. This adds the calendar events from last week to a Drafts note, and combines any tasks you note down for the next week into Taskpaper and adds them to Omnifocus.

You can get the workflow here: Event Review


Launching Automators: a Podcast About Automation

I’ve been asked several times if I have a podcast of my own, or a podcast about automation, and today I’m very excited to announce both: I’m launching a podcast with David Sparks on Relay FM called Automators.

We plan for every episode to be approximately 30-45 minutes in length, and will release them every two weeks. Every episode will be accompanied by a blog post either on my blog or on David’s where we provide all of the automations in the episode ready for download. The episodes will be released every two weeks on Fridays, which means you have the weekend ahead of you if you want to take our examples and go crazy!

This podcast is for everyone, you don’t need to be a super nerd or a programmer – we are giving you the finished automations directly so you can just use them. You simply need some imagination (to think of things to automate), and a willingness to try things.

If you want an RSS feed of the blog posts which will accompany the episodes, you can find it via Automators.fm – these will link straight to David’s blog post or my blog post, but is ideal for automation! We also have a YouTube Channel and a forum, where you can see any screencasts we make, and discuss every episode.

We created an episode 0 where we tell about the podcast, and David and I got a little carried away and made a Memoji version which you can actually watch!

I hope you’ll subscribe to the feed, and that you enjoy the first episode which is coming on Friday!

Here are links to the podcast in some popular podcast players:


Workflow: OmniFocus When Home

I often add things to my OmniFocus as reminders of items to do when I get home – however they’re not due when I get home, which would be the default if I added these icons through the Forecast view for today. As such as I have the following Workflow which allows me to defer items until I get home.

Steps:

  • Ask for Input: The first thing I do is input one or several tasks which I would like to accomplish.
  • Split Text: Turn this block of text into a series of items.
  • Repeat with Each
    • Change Case: Make the task sentence case.
    • Text: Flag the tasks and my preferred tags – Home, Afternoon, and Evening.
  •  Combine Text: Turn this list back into a block.
  • Add TaskPaper to OmniFocus.

You will want to tweak the tags added to the tasks, to suit your needs. You may also wish to remove the flag I add to these tasks. You can get the workflow here: OmniFocus When Home


Workflow: Drafts 5

Workflow has built in support for Drafts 4 – but no actions for Drafts 5. This workflow is intended to replace some of that functionality. You can share text to it, get text from the clipboard, type text in, or modify the text on the keyboard to start.

The next step is choosing your action, you can create a new draft, and append or prepend to an existing draft – with the ID of the draft (Drafts Action to get ID).

Next you can choose to run an action after putting the text in Drafts, this is done by typing in the action name, though you may want to replace the Ask for Input action with a List and Choose from List if you have a few actions you regularly use.

You can get the workflow here: Drafts 5


Workflow: OmniFocus Travel Plans

Another Workflow workflow I demonstrated in my Learn OmniFocus Video was one to generate a project for travel. I travel a fair amount, and often to more than one destination so this is built around that.

The first thing I do is decide where I’m going and when I’ll go there. Then the Workflow puts together the start of a “before I go” list – including entries such as booking time off work, booking flights, charging battery packs, etc. The next step is to choose if this is a one or a multiple destination trip, if it’s just one location then I add a few entries for that – planning travel to and from the airport, things to do, and so on. If it’s a multi destination trip then I have to tell the app which places I’m going and in what order, and it generates a series of tasks based on that. The last thing the template does is to add packing categories to my project, I keep my actual packing lists in TripList as it has a wizard which generates a list for me (I could replicate that in Workflow of course!) – and syncs things to my TripIt plans.

The taskpaper result for a one destination trip looks like this:

2018/08 - Belgium:
    - Book time off work 11/08/2018 - 14/08/2018
    - Book flights to Belgium
    - Plan travel to the airport for 11/08/2018
    - Plan travel home from the airport for 14/08/2018
    - Make a packing list
    - Pack
    - Charge battery pack
    - Charge headphones
    - Put films & TV shows on iPad
    - Book accommodation for Belgium
    - Plan travel from the airport to accommodation (11/08/2018)
    - Plan travel from the accommodation to the airport (14/08/2018)
    - Plan things to do in Belgium
    - Packing
        - Clothing
        - Documents
        - Electronics
        - Miscellaneous
        - Hand luggage

And for a multiple destination trip you end up with this:

2018/08 - Belgium / Netherlands:
    - Book time off work 11/08/2018 - 18/08/2018
    - Book flights to Belgium
    - Plan travel to the airport for 11/08/2018
    - Plan travel home from the airport for 18/08/2018
    - Make a packing list
    - Pack
    - Charge battery pack
    - Charge headphones
    - Put films & TV shows on iPad
    - Belgium @autodone(true) @parallel(true)
        - Book accommodation for Belgium
        - Plan travel from the airport to accommodation
        - Plan things to do in Belgium
    - Netherlands @autodone(true) @parallel(true)
        - Plan travel from Belgium to Netherlands (14/08/2018)
        - Book accommodation for Netherlands
        - Plan things to do in Netherlands
    - Packing
        - Clothing
        - Documents
        - Electronics
        - Miscellaneous
        - Hand luggage

As you can see there’s not much of a difference – just the division and repetition of some tasks.

You can get the workflow here: OmniFocus Travel Plans

If you look at that Workflow and think that it’s too complicated and I’m crazy (possible), then I also have a simple version for one destination which you can get here: OmniFocus Travel Plans – Simple


OmniFocus 3 Overview

 OmniFocus 3 for iOS is here, and there’s more than a few changes! If you want to see a video of my setup you can do so over on Learn OmniFocus, there’s also an article on how I’ve been using OF3 over on Inside OmniFocus. Finally you might want to check on my OmniFocus Sneak Peak – though that was back in March and more than a few things have changed since then!

Multi-Pane Mode

My favourite feature has to be the multi pane view, being able to see 3 columns at once makes me happy, and it works exceptionally well on the 12.9″ iPad Pro. You can choose to pin the sidebar and the inspector independently of one another or together, so you can have a 2 pane view if that’s what you need. The outline view is always shown on the iPad.

Tags

Tags, glorious tags. What used to be contexts has been renamed, and that opens up all sorts of possibilities. I’ve seen people experimenting with energy levels, I’m personally experimenting with “time of day” tags, and you can go as crazy as you like. Where tags are really paying off for me is being able to add both “waiting on” and “Person A” to a task – so whenever I check my agenda for “Person A” I see that I’m waiting on that task, as well as seeing it in my waiting on list.

Perspectives

Perspectives are where everything is different. All your perspectives have been migrated over from OmniFocus 2, and you can upgrade those to OmniFocus 3 perspectives which gives you the following options:

  • Status
    • Due Soon
    • Flagged
  • Availability
    • First Available
    • Available
    • Remaining
    • Completed
  • Has a due date
  • Has a defer date
  • Has an estimated duration
  • Has an estimated duration less than
    • 5 minutes
    • 15 minutes
    • 30 minutes
    • 60 minutes
  • Is untagged
  • Has a tag which
    • Is active
    • Is on hold
    • Is dropped
    • Is active and has available actions
    • Is active and has no available actions
  • Is tagged with any of
  • Is tagged with all of
  • Is not a project or group
  • Is in the inbox
  • Has a project which
    • Is active or on hold
    • Is on hold
    • Has been completed
    • Has been dropped
    • Is active and has available actions
    • Is active and has no available actions
    • Is active and has a future defer date
  • Is contained within a project or folder
  • Matches search terms
  • All of the following
  • Any of the following
  • None of the following

The best part of perspectives is being able to add as many rules as you like. The top level is always “All of the following”, and then you start adding rules within that. You can also add “Any of the following”, “None of the following” and “All of the following” and add rules inside of those – useful for requiring a group of rules (e.g. flagged and has Tag X), or setting optional groups. I have a “Now” perspective which changes all the time, and I tap the rule above my Work folder to change it to “All of the following” to “None of the following” depending on if I’m at work or not.

Batch Editing

Being able to edit more than one task at once is not a feature I need frequently, but it is one I really appreciate when I use it. You can enable it by tapping the “Edit” button in the top right, and then selecting multiple tasks. You can access the task inspector in the batch edit mode, and it will show you all of the properties which are the same, and a greyed out option where they’re different. If I selected two tasks, one had a due date of today and one with tomorrow, I could still set a new due date for both items at the same time though. You can also use CMD+A to select all the tasks in the current view if you have an external keyboard attached – very useful if your inbox was empty, you added a lot of tasks and then realised they should have been in a project instead!

Custom Repeats

I love repeating tasks, my problem is my repeating tasks aren’t all that regular (at least most of them), thankfully I can handle this in OmniFocus 3. You can set repeats with an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly interval, but you can also say “every Tuesday and Saturday”, or “the first Wednesday of every month”, or “the last day of every month”. This has made submitting my work timesheets much easier to remember.

Notifications

Some tasks are very important, so important you want flashing lights, sirens, and people in hazmat suits running around if the deadline gets too close. In the main settings you can specify notifications for due dates and defer dates globally, and these can also be enabled or removed on each task. You are also able to set two extra kinds of notifications – ones relative to the due date, and ones at a specific date and time. These reminders are a great help with those crucial tasks – if you need someone with a hazmat suit though you’re on your own.

Customisable Inspector

Some people love defer dates, some people hate them. Some people don’t want notifications or repeats, for others those are on every task. In OmniFocus 3 you can choose which properties you want to see by default in the inspector – just open up a task, tag or project and tap “Customize Inspector” at the bottom to move the items you want to where you want them to be.

Forecast

The forecast has changed a lot in OmniFocus 3, there are two major changes which I’ll look at here.

Interleaved Events & Due Items

Calendar events are interleaved with due items in your day. Instead of the gantt chart style event display in in OF2 (which at least for me wasn’t very helpful), they are nice big blocks which show which calendar they’re on, when they start and when they end. If you have a meeting 9am-10am, and then a due date at 10:30 that’s the order you’ll see your tasks in.

Forecast Tag

You can now choose a task to display in the forecast view, this is ideal for things like routine tasks, a sprint at work (a series of tasks or projects to be completed within a specific time period), or errands. You can choose different forecast tags per device, so on your iPhone you might choose calls or errands, but on your iPad it could be “secret nerdy tasks”.

There are a lot of big changes in OmniFocus 3, and based on the roadmap there will be a lot more to come, but first of all we have WWDC and the Mac app to look forward to!


Using Drafts 5 Taskpaper with OmniFocus


I have created an any action group for Drafts 5 which is meant to help you create Taskpaper formatted projects or tasks and then send it all along to OmniFocus afterwards.

The first thing you will want to do is to create a Draft with the Taskpaper format. This is the last but one action in the action group – the reasoning being you’re not likely to need it as often as some of the others! It simply opens a new Drafts with the format set to taskpaper – you can do this yourself by tapping the + icon if you’re in a Draft, and then using the Aa button to set the Syntax Highlighting of the current draft to Taskpaper.

The first action in the group is a tab, this is for iPhone users and iPad users without an external keyboard and it simply inserts a tab wherever the cursor currently is.

The next action is Placeholder, if you have text selected it will wrap the text in «» characters, and if no text is selected it will insert them. This is ideal for dates in templates you will want to update later.

The first Due action takes advantage of the natural language parsing that OmniFocus has available via URL Scheme. Again, if you have text selected it will wrap it in @due(), otherwise that will be inserted empty for you to fill in the brackets.

The Defer, Estimate, Tags, and Context actions work the same way as Due. Tags and context are both available so if you’re on the OmniFocus 3 beta or simply want to prepare your templates to work for both 2 and 3 you can already.

Tags (suggest) offers a list of tags for you to choose from, allows you to choose more than one of them, and inserts them inside @tag(). You will need to edit this script to make it work for you – the "one", "two", "three" is the part that needs changing. Bear in mind that a long list of tags will be annoying to look through most likely. If you want any tags to be pre-selected for you (e.g. you usually add the evening tag to tasks created via Drafts), you can put that into the [] after the tag list.

Autodone asks you if you want the task or project to be automatically completed when the tasks inside of it are completed and inserts @autodone(true) or @autodone(false)as per your choice.

The Repeat Method allows you to choose how the task should repeat, and inserts @repeat-method(fixed), or whichever the relevant choice is.

The Repeat Rule is very simple, but allows you to choose if a task should be repeated every X days, weeks, months, or years.

Parallel works the same way Autodone does, if the project should be parallel (actions able to be worked on at the same time) then @parallel(true) is inserted, if not @parallel(false) appears.

Flagged just inserts @flagged when it is run – which adds a flag to a task.

Due and Defer are here again – but this time with date and time pickers. This allows you to choose an exact date and time when your task or project is due. I’ve used European date formatting, but you can modify that to any other date formatting by replacing the "dd-MM-yyyy hh:mm" (for example in North America you might prefer "MM/dd/yyyy hh:mm").

Estimate makes another appearance, this time it asks you to choose how many minutes, hours, days or weeks something will take and fills in the @estimate() for you.

The final action in this set is Taskpaper to OF. This will ask you where you want to save your Draft (as a new project, a new project in a folder, as tasks in a specifc project, or the inbox), go through any «placeholders» you have and help you replace them (important cat is always going to be replaced with whatever you tell the script when it asks you about it, so make sure you to use unique placeholders where necessary!), and then send everything off to OmniFocus. Once you return if it did have placeholders to replace it offers to make a new Draft, update your current Draft, or do nothing.

This action group is set up as a keyboard group, which should make quick entry easier. You can get the action group from the Draft 5 Action Directory: OF Taskpaper


Drafts 5 Review

[TOC]

Intro

For those of you not familiar with Drafts, it’s designed as an app which lets you input text and then decide what to do with it. Why? Sometimes that message turns into an email, or maybe the quick idea turns into a mind map. Or maybe you just don’t know where the text is going to end up when you start writing. Drafts is designed to let you write and then process the text, removing the need to choose where the text should go first.

When you open Drafts you get a blank note – automatically. You can set the time out period so that when you return to Drafts you either see your last note or a new note – mine is set to the default of 60 seconds. You can also open the app with force touch which allows you to create a new blank note, create a note from the clipboard, dictate a note, search, or open any one of your 4 most recently edited Drafts. The first three of these options, plus the choice to import a file, appear when you force touch the + on an iPhone, or press and hold on an iPad. The great part about the dictation is that unlike regular Siri dictation there’s no timeout, that’s right – you can dictate for as long as you like. David Sparks made a great introduction to Drafts 5 which I highly recommend: Drafts 5 Overview

What Changed?

Some of you may have used Drafts before, in fact if you’re reading this it’s likely you have so what’s new? First of all the app has been completely rewritten, this means everything is new and shiny – and 100% up to date. There’s also lots of new features.

First things first, you can import all of your notes to Drafts and most of your actions. Make sure you’re running the latest version of Drafts 4, and then in the settings of Drafts 5, tap “Migrate from Drafts 4”. You can choose to import your Drafts, and/or Actions and Keys. You can also export from Drafts 4 into Drafts 5 – there’s a special Send to Drafts 5 for drafts, and inside each action in Drafts 4 you can choose to migrate the action, or add it as a callback so when the action is executed it is done so in Drafts 4 and then returns you to Drafts 5. Not every action which was available in Drafts 4 is available yet in Drafts 5, but Drafts 5 will make a list of the actions that couldn’t be imported so you can handle those manually.

Themes

Drafts 4 had three theme choices – white, cream and black – and the ability to automatically switch to the black theme at a certain brightness threshold. Drafts 5 has several more colour theme options, and you can specify a day theme and a night theme to work with, which will switch at the brightness level you prefer. Choose the theme is a pro feature, and I’ve really enjoyed using the dark Solarized theme during the day with black at night.

Custom Icons

Choosing app icons is definitely a nice way to make your device yours, and Drafts now offers the ability to choose your app icon. There’s a mix of flat images and ones with gradients – I personally picked the purple as that’s my favourite colour.

Tagging and Flagging

Tagging allows you to optionally file your note in multiple places – and helps you to group together notes on a particular topic as well. Tags are shown under a draft in the list of drafts. When adding a tag to a draft you can see a list of your current tags in the keyboard bar, if the one you are looking for doesn’t exist then you can type to create it. Tags are lower case – you can type capitals when creating them but they will be formatted for you. This is really useful as it allows you to avoid having Groceries and groceries by accident.
Flagging is simple – a draft is flagged, or it is not flagged. You can use it however makes the most sense to you.

Filtering

Now we have filters we need to be able to work with them. Filtering allows us to choose combinations of tags to see or not as we want. By tapping the name of a tag in the filter section we add it to include, and by tapping the (ban) icon we can add the tag to the omitted list. This means you could include the tags cat and dog, but disallow spider. These tags are combined with an AND, so only drafts with all of the included tags and none of the omitted tags will show up.
Tags are not the only settings however, you can also set how much of a draft you want to see in the list, the sort order, if flagged items should be included or not, specific text to search for and more.

 

The full documentation for filtering in Drafts is well worth reading.

Workspaces

Workspaces can be created in two ways, from a filter you are currently using, or from scratch. They have the same set up as filters, but as you can name them and set the colour and icon to represent they are easy to keep track of. You can set the order that you would like to view your Workspaces in, and optionally show them, with or without their name, at the bottom of the list of Drafts. Workspaces are ideal for filters you make frequently, or which are more complex to construct.

Focus

By default Drafts will open to a new draft after a set period of time – which can be adjusted by you. Focus mode allows you to do that by focusing on one particular draft, this means that whenever you open the app – even if that’s next month – you’ll be back at the draft you had open last. You can enable focus mode in two ways, by tapping the eye icon in the bottom left hand side of the editor when you’re not editing a draft, or by opening the Settings and enabling it.

SiriKit Integration

Hey Siri, make a note in Drafts to investigate buying the llama farm

You can now create new Drafts using Siri, it’s simple but effective. You can also dictate notes, but that’s not new – what’s very useful though is that the dictation will not end as it does usually when dictating elsewhere on iOS.

Editor Options

In Drafts you can now control a lot of settings with regards to how the editor appears, from paragraph numbers to syntax highlighting, and even whether or not the toolbar or the status bar should show you have plenty of choices.


Here are some of the options you can choose to set for the editor by tapping the Aa button:

  • Syntax highlighting
    • Plain text
    • Markdown
    • Simple List
    • Taskpaper
    • JavaScript
  • Font
    • Choose from any of the fonts pre-installed on iOS, or ones you have installed yourself.
    • Select a particular font to use for Monospaced text.
  • Line height
  • Paragraph spacing
  • Margins
  • Paragraph numbers
  • You can enable or disable
    • Autocorrect
    • Spell check
    • Smart punctuation
      • Quotes
      • Dashes
    • Capitalisation
      • None or sentences
  • Portrait, landscape, or any (only on iPhone)

Draft 5 also has an improved arrange mode, Drafts 4 just allowed you to rearrange lines, Drafts 5 lets you edit blocks (separated by two line breaks) or lines, edit sections, and delete or remove them. You can also trigger the arrange mode via the URL scheme.

There is also a pre-installed Tasks action, which is shown on your keyboard by default. This is very clever, it makes the line that you’re on or the text you have selected into a simple bullet checklist by adding - [ ] at the beginning of the line. By tapping on the [ ] you can mark a task as done [x].

 Actions and Keyboard Groups

For those of you familiar with Workflow, actions are very similar in some ways. An action can contain any number of steps, a number of which are provided for you to use as is. Drafts does not arrive empty, it comes with 5 example action groups, 4 of which are available as keyboard groups for you – you can do what you like with these actions, including delete them. But if you’re not familiar with Drafts and it’s actions I recommend you swipe across the action from left to write, tap edit, and have a look.
One important change between Drafts 4 and Drafts 5 is there is no longer an app wide default as to what to do once an action has been executed, you now set this per action group. This is very useful so if you have a group of “share” actions for example, designed to get the text out of Drafts, you could immediately have the draft the action was executed on archived or trashed as you prefer.
You can choose to enable an action group on the keyboard, Draft has a row of buttons above the keyboard, and if you have multiple groups of keyboard actions you can swipe up and down on this row to switch between them. As you can assign keyboard shortcuts to actions as well this becomes very powerful very quickly.

Scripting in Drafts

The most powerful part of Drafts actions is the Script action, this is what it sounds like – you write a script which does things. Drafts uses JavaScript, if you use OmniGroup products they are introducing JavaScript for automation in those too – so learning the language could definitely pay off in the long run.
There is a wiki about Drafts scripting, which is definitely worth reading if you intend to use them.
My favourite functions that can be included in Scripting is the Prompt – so if you want to ask the user “cats or dogs”, you could create a prompt which shows “cats” and “dogs” as buttons, and then depending on which they choose your script would react accordingly. A prompt can have any of the following options

  • Title
  • Message
  • Text Fields
  • Date and or Time Fields
  • Selects – single or multiple choice
  • Buttons

Here’s the script to create that prompt:

var p = Prompt.create();

p.title = "Title";
p.message = "Message";

p.addTextField("myTextField", "Text Field", "");
p.addDatePicker("myDate", "Date Field", new Date(), {
  "mode": "date"
});
p.addDatePicker("myTime", "Time Field", new Date(), {
  "mode": "time"
});
p.addDatePicker("myDateTime", "Date & Time Field", new Date(), {
  "mode": "dateAndTime"
});
p.addSelect("mySingleSelect", "Single Select Field", ["Cat", "Dog", "Llama"], [], false);
p.addSelect("myMultipleSelect", "Multiple Select Field", ["Cat", "Dog", "Llama"], [], true);
p.addButton("Button");

p.show();

The cancel button is in a prompt by default, but you can hide it if you wish. The prompt will definitely make an appearance in actions you import from the action directory – if only because it’s a great way to get credentials from you which can be used in an action.

Credentials

If you want to Tweet with Drafts, save something to Evernote, or add tasks to Todoist, there are two ways to do that. Passing the data to the app on your device and telling it what to do – which is not possible with every app – or by using the API of the service to complete the action. The difficulty with an API is you need a token to access it – similar to needing a username and password to log in. Drafts 5 has a clever way to store these, so that scripts can access them without needing to save the access key in the script itself – so there’s no worry that by sharing your Todoist action people can start adding things to your Todoist, unless you explicitly want them to do so and share your credential! You can change the credentials saved in Drafts by tapping on the Settings wheel in the bottom right of the editor, and opening Credentials. By choosing the “forget” option the credential is deleted, and you can input a new one the next time you run an action that needs it. This system is especially useful as you can share one credential with many scripts – so it doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 100 Todoist scripts, they can all access the same key, and you are in charge of it. The documentation for credentials in scripts is definitely worth reading if you want to access APIs, and the general documentation is also very helpful – especially if you have multiple accounts you want to interact with.

 Price

Drafts 5 is free. Yes, you read that correctly. For the basic functionality you can get the app for free. If you want to create and edit your own actions, choose your theme(s) and custom icon, use Workspaces, have access to enhanced URL automation and support development you can do so for $1.99 a month, or $19.99 a year. If you’re not sure which you need then there is a 7 day trial to let you play with the pro features.

David Sparks (MacSparky) made a second video for Agile Tortoise showing what’s new in version 5: Drafts 5: What’s New

Upgraded and Awesome Things

That’s a brief overview of the new things, now onto everything else!

Widgets

Drafts 4 had a widget, which allowed quick entry by default and if you enabled “Show More” (on the top right) allowed you to see the most recent Drafts. Drafts 5 has 3 widgets – one for quick entry, one for your recent items, and one for your workspaces. This allows you to enable and disable the ones you want on different devices, and with the workspaces go straight to the collection of Drafts you need.



Backup and Export

Your data is important, and there are backup options in Drafts which allow you to backup your drafts themselves, and/or your actions. These options were there before, but are now unified onto one screen. You can also export your drafts with the option to add a filter – so you could export all of your Drafts with the tag “cake recipe” if you wanted – for example to send them to me.


Reminders Import

Reminders import was present in version 4 too, but now you can add a tag when the reminders are imported – which is very helpful for filtering for them later.

After Action Success

This setting used to be global which could be overridden on a per action basis. You can now set this option for each action group, and you can still override it for an action if you wish. This is extremely helpful for the keyboard action groups as you’re unlikely to want most of those actions to archive or trash your Draft when use them.

Drafts Forums

Agile Tortoise have set up forums where Drafts users can talk to one another, help each other create actions, request features, and more – I’ve already signed up and am checking it regularly to see what I can learn from everywhere else.

Drafts Forums

Conclusion

I’ve been using Drafts 5 instead of Drafts 4 for quite some time now, and I’m very happy with it. It has been my go to “text starts here” application ever since I bought it after hearing it mentioned on an episode of the Mac Power Users at some point – and it has become more than that over time. With the scripts and actions I can now write entire blog posts in Drafts, and could even upload them to the server and post them immediately if I wanted. This app has more than earnt it’s position in my dock and will be there for the foreseeable future.

Other Reviews

Get The App

Drafts 5 is available in the App Store from today.


I’m Going to Be on Learn OmniFocus May 23rd

I’m very honoured to have been invited to present my OmniFocus workflows on Learn OmniFocus with Tim Stringer. The session will be live on May 23rd, and you can sign up for it now. As well as showing how I use OmniFocus I’ll also be demonstrating some of my Workflow workflows and automation that I use every day.

For those of you not familiar with Learn OmniFocus, it’s a great site with articles, videos and more which will help you learn about OmniFocus. You can see some examples from previous workflow guests if you want to get an idea of what my session will be like. If you’re a member there’s plenty of extra goodies too like AppleScripts – including the ability to watch my session live and chat with everyone before and after but the chat sessions won’t be included.

I hope to see some of you there!


Omnifocus 3 Sneak Peak


I’m fortunate enough to have been let into the very early OmniFocus 3 Beta. The app isn’t finished yet, but here are some of the features which you might enjoy. To make things clear, I have the dark theme on OF3, and the light theme in OF2 – and I’ve tried to do screenshots to let you compare the two easily.

Multi Pane Views

You can now have a multipane view, this means you can have the traditional Home Screen on the left, tasks in the middle, and the inspector (detailed view of a task, project or tag) on the right – or you can have any combination of these three.



Forecast View

There have been some changes to the Forecast view as well – primarily the interleaving of tasks and calendar events. This is purely based on the due time of a task and the time of the calendar event.

A new feature is the ability to have a tag displayed in the forecast view. This might be very handy if you have lots of #waiting on tasks which you need to be on top of, or if there’s a particular area you need to focus on. Of course, if you want multiple tags that’s what perspectives are for.

The Inspector


The inspector for tasks, tags, and projects has received some updates. You can set what you want to see and hide by default – so if you never use locations in tags (or contexts as they are in OF2) you can hide them.

The Project Inspector

The Tag Inspector

The Task Inspector

And of course these changes are present on the iPad as well.

Search

Search can now happen from any view, just by pulling down on the tasks list. Previously it was in the bar at the top.


Location Based Notifications

The notifications have had some changes made to them as well. Here on the top you see OmniFocus 3, and below it you see OmniFocus 2. Omnifocus 2 shows you the name of the context, the first task, and the number of other tasks available. OmniFocus 3 shows you the name of the tag, and how many tasks are available to you.

The watch notifications are exactly the same. At first glance this seems like it is less information – but force touching or 3D touching the notification (depending on which device you’re on) gives us a lot more choice.

OmniFocus 3 here lets me View Location, or View Actions. OmniFocus 2 lets me dismiss the notification.

Notifications

Notifications have had an overhaul – gone are the days where you get pinged as something goes from “hell being about to break loose” to “apocalypse”, you can now set up a series of notifications for a task. If your task has a due date you can set reminders to happen X amount of time before it becomes due by adding minutes, hours, or days. Whether or not your task has a due date you can set a custom or fixed notification which will happen at the date and time you specify – very helpful. These notifications are one off, but the customisability is definitely something I’ll be using frequently.

Flagging

A task or project is flagged or isn’t flagged. A task can inherit a tag from the project or task it belongs to – and none of this has changed in OmniFocus 3. What has changed is how you tag things. You can simply swipe from left to right on a task or project, and tap to flag it.

You can also see very easily when a task is flagged because its parent is flagged which is very nice.

Quick Editing

So swiping from left to right lets you flag or unflag, swiping in the other direction allows you to delete the task, or if you tap more you can schedule it – for today or tomorrow.


Batch Task Editing

It’s now possible to edit multiple tasks at once as well – this is hard to explain in screenshots so I’ve created a very short video for you.

To summarise, I absolutely love the beta of OmniFocus 3. There are things planned for this iOS app which haven’t yet arrived, and many exciting new possibilities. I’m going to really have to dig into tags to see mysq

A quick note about the icon:


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