OmniFocus 3 Tags are Lists

Inspired by Scotty Jackson’s blog

There are some users who haven’t gotten their hand wrapped around the idea of tags in OmniFocus.

Scotty Jackson introduces the idea of using tags as a way to create lists for yourself.

If you can’t create a list from a tag that you created, maybe you don’t really need that tag.

Tags in a task manager becomes powerful when you’re able to create smart lists that you will be frequently using. A smart list could be called a saved search or custom perspective. Look for a task manager that has the ability to create a saved view that you can access easily.

What are your favorite tags and saved searches in your task manager?


Emerging Classes of Note-Taking Apps

If you’ve paid any attention to productivity news in the last 6-8 months, there has been a lot of talk around note-taking apps. Note-taking apps are part of the productivity trifecta (task managers, calendars, and notes), so this attention is no surprise.

And of course, with this attention usually comes a flurry of “What are the alternatives to X note-taking software” articles.

These articles usually lump software like Evernote, OneNote, Notion, DEVONthink, Apple Notes, Bear, and others all into the same list. While these apps all handle text well as note-takers, most have widely different feature sets.

There is a substantial break forming between different classes of apps in the note-taking space which I’d like to draw attention toward. If you’re in need of a note-taking app, this separation into multiple categories may help you make a decision based upon what you need.

Class #1: Note Takers

These are the apps we’re all used to seeing. At the very base, these apps take text, images, attachments, and put them into notes. The apps usually have straightforward organization systems (usually folders, tags, or some combination of both), and offer a similar experiences across platforms.

Apps that fall into this category include:

Class #2: Reference Libraries

This is the first sharp distinction I noticed in the note-taking space. Many tend to lump these apps in with the note takers, but the feature set of reference libraries often far exceeds what note takers can do.

Most often, reference libraries offer easy ways to clip data from external sources, search inside documents and images (usually via OCR), and organize documents in a highly detailed way. Reference apps also normally heavily rely on search and need to have a rock-solid sync system to handle the materials contained within.

Apps that fall into this category include:

You might be saying, “Wait, you added Evernote on this list too?” Well, yes.

While the free version of Evernote is as standard of a note taker as they come (really one of the first), the Premium subscription, which adds OCR and the ability to email in items for storage among other features, fits nicely into the reference app category.

Class #3: Wiki/Documentation

One of the newest categories of note-taking app are wiki or documentation apps. These apps are database-like and can be used for personal information storage or collaboration among team members.

These aren’t solely note takers because the experience tends to be more like creating a web page with information. T

hey aren’t reference libraries either because the apps often don’t feature the ability to easily get documents or web clippings in the software (though they may tie into software like Google Drive or Dropbox).

Apps that fall into this category include:

Class #4: Paper Replicators

With the rise of the iPad Pro, this category is one many look to if they want to move to a completely paperless lifestyle. The number one differentiator in this group: a heavy reliance on Apple Pencil for input and a free-form layout.

Apps that fall into this category include:

Notes are Notes

I think as these categories begin to mature, we’ll see fewer applications trying to be all-in-one. Evernote has done decently at trying to be al things to all people (with OneNote being the most successful), but most people don’t need an everything notes app . They want an appropriate place to store the stuff they need to keep track of.

I recently made the distinction in my life that I need a note taker AND a reference library. The two serve definitively distinct purposes in my system, yet I was trying to cram both functions in either Bear or Apple Notes. While they can serve as reference libraries, that’s not the role they best serve.

If you can get one software to work for you, that’s great. However, I say do not be afraid to use multiple apps for different purposes .

When you’re looking to choose a note-taking application, here are some questions you can ask yourself to get to those honest answers?

  • Do I want everything in one place, or am I okay with keeping different types of information in different apps?
  • Am I needing a place to store documents and search inside the contents?
  • Do I gravitate toward handwriting and like the idea of a paperless notebook?
  • Is something highly visual with building blocks work with my brain better than a sheets or cards metaphor? (If yes, something like Notion may be a good fit).

While these questions don’t get into the depths of individual features you may need from a note-taking application, these will at least help you figure out what classes of apps to focus your research on.

One last thing — be brave and commit to something when you find something that works! Remember: the most important thing is to get the work done.


Article – Reimagining an App from the Ground Up: Behind the Scenes of Todoist’s Redesign

I’ve never used Todoist but have always been curious about it. I just saw this article about Todoist getting a reimagining

What are some of the things that irks you about Todoist? I think I’ve heard the lack of a start/defer date was something that a lot of OmniFocus users wished that Todoist had.

The karma feature sounds like an interesting way to game-ify your productivity.

I found this statement interesting: "These were already the first steps on this bigger redesign project — internally, we call it Todoist Foundations (TDF) — allowing Todoist to better adapt to the user needs and workflows.

The next TDF project we’re working on is a revamped scheduler interface."

I love using OmniFocus plus Fantastical as a scheduler. This would be interesting for me to see in Todoist.

"During the first two months of Todoist Foundations, we also contacted some of our most active users, both premium and free, scheduling user interviews and sending out surveys. That feedback has given us a better idea of how people actually use Todoist, and what common problems they face. Lastly, we use analytic tools and (completely anonymous) usage data to understand which features are used most, and which are barely used at all"

It’s great to see a company actively interacting with their customer base. Of course, software development doesn’t happen instantly. Changes in user workflow must be studied for user ramifications and choices that may impact that user experience.

"We decided the PR bump we may get from a big release isn’t worth the bad experience for our team and our users. Now we work on steady updates that deliver new features and/or improvements every couple of months. This approach fits our six-week work cycles well, and makes it easier to get early feedback on changes and iterate — or even reconsider their value altogether. It also means our users never have to wait a long time to get new updates."

I’m all for a reiterative approach. Instead of the big upgrade that requires a new version number, just iterate, get feedback, and revise as needed. I like seeing a slow and steady approach to new features. Otherwise, the develops might want to hold back a feature that was finished months ago and wait for the big new version update.

I do like Todoist being available on all platforms and collaboration features. I am curious to see their approach to project/task management. I’m not familiar enough with Todoist. What are your thoughts about the Todoist platform? What did you like and what would you like to see in the Todoist ecosystem?


Task Notifications, Or Make Good Habits?

In this way, there are at least two important considerations when starting a journey of productivity.

Consider minimizing your reminders to the bare minimum.

Realize that the smoothest path into work is a deliberately chosen one.

In terms of the first point, consider going through your phone’s system preferences, and one by one turning off reminders, then turning them back on as desired or needed.

In terms of the second, to make a chosen path, the work must be approached by way of habit. The habit to start though is not to “just do everything”. It is instead to create a single list to which you can turn daily: a today list. A well-honed list creates a simple silo of play and work, a collapsed and streamlined set of ideas from the entirety of our environments.

If you have a list that stores your work and other desired habits of the day, then your single habit of “look at daily list” covers you.

Kourosh has great insight here. I liken this to a common life scenario: chores.

Imagine you’re a teenager. Your mom gives you a list of chores to do around the house. The dishes need washed, laundry folded, and dinner needs to be on the stove by 4pm so it is finished when your dad gets home.

Are you going to:

  1. Make your mom nag you until each of these tasks gets done, or
  2. Just get the work done?

While it may be easier to just let mom tell you what to do, of course she’ll be happiest if you just get the work done.

Looking to your task manager, do you need your task manager to be your mom nagging at you to get work done?

Probably not.

There are definite benefits to having due dates and alarms set on your tasks especially if a task must be done by a certain time (i.e. take the trash out on Thursday nights). However, over-dependence on them may signify a larger issue.

I’d contend if you have a bunch of alerts set up to remind you of all the work to get done throughout the day, you may expect too much out of yourself in a given day or you might not have taken responsibility for those tasks yourself.

It is much better to build a habit of trying to realistically assess what you can accomplish in a given day, week, or even month, make those tasks into a list, and then work off it. This is why people love paper for writing down their daily tasks, and why picking the three most important tasks for the day is so effective.

If you relate to the feeling of being alerted and dinged to death, I highly encourage you to take some time, evaluate what you can realistically do, and start smaller without all the bells and whistles.


Justin’s Favorite Productivity Apps — November 2018 Edition

In the last few months, my workflows and application choices have changed quite a bit as my needs as a business owner became more clear.

Without any further adieu, here are my favorite apps in my workflow as of November 2018.

Task Manager: OmniFocus

Oh the softwares you waffle on but ultimately need to come to grips with that this is the right one for you…

OmniFocus is exactly that in my workflow. Now that I’m 100% on a Mac for work, it’s much easier to justify going all in.

The killer feature for me? Recurring projects that complete and defer to another day based upon its completion. I utilize this feature so much with checklists and recurring projects that OmniFocus has ruined me for other task managers.

Note Taking: Apple Notes

If you read my topic on the Community about my note-taking app setup a while back, I had some convoluted ideas. Took no time at all actually using that system for me to realize it was a bad idea.

Now, all my notes are in Apple Notes. I don’t take all that many notes, to be honest, so Notes is a straightforward solution at this point. The benefit is my wife and I share some notes, so it makes things easy when we need to make changes to those as well.

Long-Form Writing: Ulysses

The two major contenders for long-form writing are Ulysses and Scrivener. I don’t do novel or long research writing, so Scrivener doesn’t make sense to me.

I love how Ulysses offers such flexibility in organizational capabilities. Groups, filters, and keywords make it dead simple to form whatever organization complexity I need.

Email: Apple Mail

I was trying out Mailmate earlier this year, and while I really enjoyed the software, I was finding I don’t really use many of the power features. I’ve used Airmail and Spark as well, but some of the quirks and bugs make it challenging for me to fully implement.

Thus, Apple Mail wins.

Planning: Paper

When I actually need to flesh out what I’m doing for the day or week, nothing beats paper. I remember things better when I write them on paper, so a benefit is I stay mentally focused better throughout the day.

My current favorite notebook? A Leuchtturm1917.

Idea Development: iThoughts

I recently jumped into the world of mind mapping. While it’s a bit overkill for smaller projects, using a mindmap to lay out the key areas of a project really helps me get my mind 😉 around it. I’ve found paper is good for dumping ideas out, but mind mapping helps me make sense of all of it.

Mindnode is an excellent contender in this space, even featuring OmniFocus integration. However, iThoughts is included in the SetApp subscription (which I’m a happy subscriber of), and while there are definite design differences between the two, iThoughts fits the bill nicely.

Web Development: Visual Studio Code

A nerdy entry on here, but an obligatory one considering my main form of work — web development. Code editors are plentiful these days, from Sublime Text to TextMate to Atom.

Surprisingly, my choice is Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code. The software is fast, clean, and offers quite a few tricks up its sleeve to make development work faster and easier.

Automation (Mac): Keyboard Maestro

If there’s an app that’s ever fallen into the “Where have you been all my life?” category, it’s Keyboard Maestro. In just a few short months of use, I’ve already developed a significant number of keyboard shortcuts to do even the tiniest of tasks I find frustrating, including showing/hiding specific windows (which is a pain when doing web development and you have 20 of them open…) or closing notifications without touching the mouse.

If you want to get as deep as you can into macOS automation, Keyboard Maestro is for you.

Automation (iOS): Siri Shortcuts

Let’s be honest, Siri Shortcuts is the star of the year for Apple. Forget new iPad Pros, an updated Mac mini, and all the other new gear. Siri Shortcuts is probably the biggest game-changing piece of software Apple has released in recent memory.

The system integration alone makes toying around with Siri Shortcuts infinitely more valuable, let alone the developer APIs.

While I’m not as heavy of an iOS user like others out there, Siri Shortcuts found its place on my iPhone XS as a quick way to trigger actions from my home screen.

Up In the Air

No system is perfect, and at this time, I have a few areas I’m trying to work out.


I’m currently using iCloud for most of my file storage and organization needs. It works, but Finder tags are not the most usable things in the world at any sense of scale (sorry Brett Terpstra).

This leaves me with two major viable options for reference and research: Evernote and DevonTHINK.

I’ve used Evernote in the past for this purpose, and it’s worked quite well; however, the lack of features the community asks for (for years) makes me hesitant to pay them a recurring subscription.

DevonTHINK is the option I haven’t tried all that well. I’m currently giving it a go as a productivity experiment and will report on the results of it in our monthly Pro newsletter. It may just be the option I’m looking for.


Oh email. I survey the landscape and it appears to be the land of 10,000 tradeoffs. My favorite iOS app, Dispatch, hasn’t had a meaningful update in years, and iOS Mail doesn’t cut the mustard with getting email into other systems easily.

Spark and Airmail are promising alternatives, but I haven’t connected with Spark’s design philosophy, and Airmail’s buggy nature makes me nervous. These are both great apps, but I haven’t been able to land on either long term.

Thus, I will probably stick with iOS Mail until an alternative comes out (can you say mashup of Dispatch and Airmail?).


I’m fairly satisfied with Apple Notes at this time with my low-volume note-taking. I do know, however, I’m going to hate the folder-only structure if I need to scale at all. This is why I’m holding onto Bear in my back pocket. It’s a solid app, supports Markdown (yay!), and is under constant development. I do lose the sharing support from Apple Notes, but in the long term, that may be a minor tradeoff. Changes may be coming, but not until they are necessary.