Categories
Productivity

Creating a Daily Review Checklist in Keyboard Maestro

The daily review is one of those tasks that I’ve never liked to do. The day is almost over and I’m tired. The last thing I want to do is to go through my shutdown process and run through my checklists so that I’m ready for tomorrow. I decided to use the automation tool, Keyboard Maestro, to speed up my end-of-the day review. I often skip steps to speed up the review process but I usually regret it the next day when I miss a critical time-sensitive issue.

The seed of this article started here:

Updating My OmniFocus Planning & Reviewing Workflow

As a recap, I end the day with a short review of the day. I check the following:

  1. Clear the OmniFocus Inbox and put new tasks into the proper project or checklist.
  2. Visit the Review perspective to review any projects that pop up here.
  3. Check my Menu, or list of available tasks, and flag tasks as a higher priority item.
  4. Check my Agenda perspective to create follow-up tasks based on any agenda items or talking points with other people.

I grouped a list of my end-of-day perspectives in OmniFocus. It is also sometimes called the shutdown ritual or the daily review. It worked because I arranged these perspectives together inside OmniFocus.

I explored using a spreadsheet or an OmniOutliner document to create a checklist using URL schemes to open an app:

Creating a Weekly Review Checklist with URL Schemes

With URL schemes, I couldn’t find a way to do multi-step processes such as opening Day One and automatically create a new journal entry with a series of questions about how my day went. That’s when I tried my hand using Keyboard Maestro to automate the process.

I wanted to create a virtual assistant that would guide me through my end-of-day review. URL schemes were a good start but I was limited to one action for each link. I could learn AppleScript and figure out how to get an app to perform multiple steps to work some Automator magic. Or I could figure out how to do it with my trusty app, Keyboard Maestro. I started experimenting with Keyboard Maestro and OmniFocus by grouping perspectives into checklist palettes:

Creating OmniFocus 3 for Mac Perspective Groups with Keyboard Maestro

I explored switching between different perspectives in OmniFocus. This time, I wanted to go beyond OmniFocus perspectives and start stringing together a series of actions into action groups.

This is what my new End-Of-Day review checklist looks like now:

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I start with the top-left step (clear gMail Inbox) and work my way down the first column and then go down the second column. I’ll start by identifying my action groups.

Defining My Action Groups

The first thing I needed to do was to define the various action groups I wanted. I broke my action groups into three areas:

  1. Clearing the Inbox items into File Reference, Task Manager, or Trash
  2. Identify my task manager lists, views, or smart searches for the end-of-day review
  3. Preparing for Tomorrow

Clearing the Inbox items into File Reference, Task Manager, or Trash

I have a daily stream of tasks, projects, and responsibilities coming at me from all directions. I started to identify some Areas of Responsibilities where I get requests or inquiries:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Facebook
  3. Facebook Pages Manager
  4. Email
  5. Discourse forums
  6. Slack channels
  7. WhatsApp groups
  8. Drafts
  9. Ulysses
  10. Evernote
  11. Bear
  12. Download folder
  13. Dropbox folder
  14. Physical in-tray
  15. My messenger bag
  16. My wallet

For brevity, I shortened my inbox list for this post. We have an endless list of inboxes that come into our daily lives.


Identify my task manager lists, views, or smart searches for the end-of-day review

I want to look at a list of views in my task manager and update the projects and tasks to reflect my current state of reality at the end of the day. To do that, I created a series of custom perspectives or smart search lists in your task manager to help with an end-of-day review. Here’s a sample of what I go through during my end-of-day review.

  1. Forecast calendar – Do I have an appointment in the near future that will require a new task?
  2. Agenda – Are there any waiting-for items or agenda items that will require a new task?
  3. Completed tasks – Do I need to create a followup task for a completed item?
  4. Big Rock projects – How are my Big Rock projects doing? Do I need to change a next action or flag an item to focus on?
  5. Menu – Review my list of currently available next actions. Do I need to delete, defer, or delegate? Do I need to flag a task to the Dashboard?
  6. Today view (Dashboard) – Review my due and flagged tasks. These are the tasks I want to work on tomorrow.

This group of views will change over time because our needs will change. Determine what you need to review and how you review them. Create the views that make sense to you.


Move all inbox items into the task manager, file reference, or trash bin

Now that I’ve identified all my inboxes, I need to start clearing them out. The final destination for all inbox items are:

  1. File reference – Put any useful notes, articles, or items of interest into a storage system for future use.
  2. Task manager – Many inbox items will require a followup action. I create tasks in my task manager for any actions required for incoming email, Slack conversations, or other incoming matters into the task manager.
  3. Trash bin – The perfect outbox for items that I won’t need to save. Junk emails, FYIs, advertisements, and outdated materials go here.

My end-of-the-day review tries to clear up the various inboxes. I don’t have to clear everything. If I have a huge backlog, I chip away at it and clear a handful of inbox items each day. I repeat the end-of-day review daily and eventually clear out my inboxes. Eventually, I’ll be able to catch up to my inbox and not worry about outdated inbox items that have expired. There’s nothing worse than inboxes full of stuff waiting for me to sort out.


Creating the Keyboard Maestro Macro Group Palette

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The first series of macros in this group includes my various inbox items. In my screenshot, I have gMail, DevonThink, and Ulysses. Each macro opens up the app or a web site for me to review. Clear the inbox from each one. Move an inbox item into file reference, my task manager, or the trash bin. The last inbox should be my task manager’s inbox. Clear out the task manager inbox by moving an inbox item to a project or checklist.

  1. gMail
  2. DevonThink
  3. Ulysses
  4. OmniFocus

The next group of macros goes into my task manager checklists. After clearing out my inboxes, I go through my task manager. A task manager’s greatest strength is the ability to filter your projects and tasks into logical groups that makes it easier to manage. In my example, I go through the following:

  1. OmniFocus Review perspective
  2. OmniFocus Forecast perspective
  3. Agenda
  4. Completed
  5. Big Rocks
  6. Review Menu
  7. Review Dashboard

Add any further checklists that needs to be checked at the end of each day. Each perspective looks at certain parts of my projects lists. I could also have a perspective that looks at all Home project or all Work projects. The final list of smart lists is up to you.

The last action group closes out the day. After completing the task manager action group, I’ll finish the day and prepare for tomorrow.

  1. Plan Tomorrow – This is my personal preference of scheduling tomorrow. I’ll have a blog post about this very soon. TL;DR: I arrange OmniFocus to take up half of the screen and Fantastical occupying the other half. I drag and drop OmniFocus tasks to tomorrow’s schedule. If I don’t schedule a task, it usually won’t get done.
  2. Journaling – Compile my thoughts about the day. What did I do? How did I feel? Where there any victories today? Are there any activities that I could delete, delegate, defer, or automate?
  3. Organize my desk – Remind myself to clear off my desktop. Hide all windows except OmniFocus. This prepares my computer for tomorrow. When I return back to the office, my OmniFocus Today perspective (Dashboard) is the first thing I see. Now that I’ve described my end-of-day workflow, I’ll look at the different types of macros I use in Keyboard Maestro.

Three types of Keyboard Maestro Actions

Simple Notification

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This notification can remind me of what I need to do when I click on a Keyboard Maestro action. This macro displays a notification for a physical action that I need to take. A list of physical actions includes:

  1. Clear my wallet
  2. Empty all notes from my briefcase into the in-tray
  3. Collect all items in my office and put it by my desk side for further processing.

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Open a URL (Callback URL or web site)

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I can open a web site and mimic some actions to get to a particular screen. This is helpful when there is no MacOS app available. Examples include:

  1. Open gMail.com and perform a series of gMail actions
  2. Visit Asana and go to my Asana Inbox.

Callback URLs are a popular way of scripting. This is an alternative to AppleScripting. Many apps offer a way to copy a URL link that will take you to different sections of an app. In the next screenshot, I have a link to my DevonThink Global Inbox.

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Open an app and mimic user interactions

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Build a Keyboard Maestro macro to mimic a commonly used routine. In this Ulysses screenshot, I mimic launching Ulysses and opening the Ulysses inbox. Keyboard Maestro has the ability to “record” your actions and save it as a macro. This is a great way to learn Keyboard Maestro and see how it constructs the recorded steps.

You can also use a combination of Keyboard Maestro actions and AppleScript to create complicated macros. You can have two different apps work with each other with minimal programming experience.

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Build your end-of-day workflow slowly

Start with a small group of macros using Keyboard Maestro’s floating palettes. Build it up over time. If you start off with a lot of workflow steps, you’ll be tempted to just skip it. In my personal experiment, I started off with my task manager workflow that were simple. They just switched between my different custom perspectives. After a couple of weeks tweaking my task manager workflows, I added my inbox processing workflow. I finally added the closing actions to my workflow. Take time to discover what works for you. Consolidate where you can.


A simple notification reminder

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I added an action at the end of each macro that displays a notification message. It describes the step I am set working on. Here are some sample notification messages I included with my macros:

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Customize each Display Text message to describe the result desired when you click on a new macro. This becomes your virtual assistant prompting you to continue on to the next step. I’ve discovered that I would just blindly go through the end-of-day review without understanding what each step was for. Every time I click on a macro, I read the quick prompt and remember what I needed to do. This simple, final action in each Keyboard Maestro macro gives me a sense that what I’m doing has meaning and I won’t start skipping steps trying to shorten the review time. Otherwise, I’ll never go through the end-of-day review.


Action Summary

  1. Define your inboxes workflow
  2. Define your task manager workflow
  3. Slowly build up your Keyboard Maestro group based on your inbox workflow and task manager workflow
  4. Create Display Text messages that describes each action

Now that I’ve finished my end-of-day macro group, I’m already thinking of creating a macro group for my weekly review. It will include review workflows that I don’t use daily. I’ll be adding some more processing such as:

  1. Purging projects, folders, and groups in DevonThink and Ulysses. The end-of-day review cleared out my inboxes. This time, I want to delete any outdated documents in Ulysses, DevonThink, and Drafts. I also want to delete e-mails that are no longer relevant.
  2. Review my mind map. Get guidance from my mind map about higher level goals and dreams. Update the mind map when projects have been completed or dropped.
  3. Visit GoodReads.com to look for my next book to read.
  4. Check my weekly routines to see if I am up-to-date. Delete, delegate, or defer weekly routine tasks as needed.

I can create different Keyboard Maestro macro groups for different checklists. Reviewing is an essential part of a productivity workflow. The end-of-day review and weekly review are two of the most commonly used workflows. Using Keyboard Maestro can speed up this cumbersome process.

I’ve included a sample Keyboard Maestro macro file for download. Customize it to your workflow. Add your own Display Text messages. Share with us what you’ve created. I’d love to see what you come up with.


Assets:

Download link for sample Keyboard Maestro Macro Group Palette

Download and unzip. Modify to fit your workflow.

Categories
Productivity

Trying Things 3 for Two Weeks

I’ve been an on-and-off user of OmniFocus for the last half a decade or so. I got pretty excited at the release of OmniFocus 3’s iOS beta earlier this year. Omnigroup always does a great job with their software. However this time around, even after release, there are areas of OmniFocus 3 I felt needed some work.

I’m learning to experiment with my systems, so one night, I decided to embark upon an adventure — try Things 3 for two weeks.

Every task manager is different. If you’ve ever tried out two or three different apps, it’s easy to see each one has a unique focus, strengths, and weaknesses.

My goal in testing Things 3 was to find if it could really work for me, or if OmniFocus would still reign supreme.

How I Tested

There’s really only one way to truly test a task manager — go all in.

It’s true. The only way you’re ever going to figure out if productivity software will work for you is to throw everything you can in it to see where it breaks.

To get going, I downloaded the Mac trial and the iPhone app, set up a sync account, and started moving tasks over.

Importing items into Things 3 isn’t actually all that difficult. I set up some Areas, and I started copy/pasting tasks in from OmniFocus, setting tags, due dates, and the like as I went.

To be fair, I didn’t dive into automation, the iPad app, or much for keyboard shortcuts in my two weeks. These are strong features of the Things suite, but I’m not a heavy user of any of these anyway.

You might be asking, “Why only two weeks? It takes longer than two weeks to get used to something like a task manager.”

True, and fair point. I had two reasons:

  1. The Mac app trial and iOS App Store return period are two weeks
  2. Two weeks is a fair bit of time for the “new shiny” feeling of something to wear off and to get to the real meat of something.

With that being said, here’s what I found in my short venture into Things 3.

Things I Liked

Aesthetics. Things 3 has had its praises sung up and down for its world-class design. It’s true — this software is one of the best looking task managers out there. OmniFocus 3’s redesign is great, too, but it’s not quite as aesthetically pleasing as Things 3. What stands out about Things’ design is user experience did not take a back seat to visual design.

Whimsy. It’s rare to get a whimsical feeling from using an app these days. While Things takes notes from general design trends, it’s whimsical experience is what makes the app a truly enjoyable software to use. Its whimsy comes mostly from the little details — transitions, animations and how the app responds to user interactions. It’s hard to explain in words, but if you’ve used the app, you’ve likely noticed this.

Less-Pushy Due Dates. Nobody wants to wake up to 25 overdue tasks. Nobody. And let’s be honest — this is largely a process problem for most people by overusing due dates. However, if you do end up missing a task on its deadline date, wouldn’t it be nice if it just rolled to the next day instead of ending up in some different “overdue” screen? Things 3 does this, and it remove much of stress from missed tasks.

Rock Solid Sync. Sync is a core feature of any app these days. All I have to say about Things 3’s cloud sync is it just works. As a former Things 2 user, I am grateful to see this in action.

Floating Add Button. This is one of those whimsical design elements, but it deserves its own mention. The floating add button, which can be tapped to add a task in context or dragged to another part of the screen to add a task in place, is a genius addition. I never knew I wanted one until Things implemented it!

Rapid Development. It’s a bummer to see so many great apps (Editorial and Dispatch, for example) have ridiculously long release cycles, especially when OSes and other software are changing at a rapid pace. Cultured Code definitely keeps up with the changes, but also goes above and beyond with major feature releases every few months. I have to give total credit to the developer for this.

Things I Didn’t

No More Than One Level of Subtasks. I didn’t think this was going to be a big deal for me, but it turned out to be. In Things, you can have these items hierarchically:

  1. Area
  2. Project
  3. Task
  4. Checklist

Unless I was missing something, you can’t get any deeper than this.

As a person who sometimes has multi-step, nested processes templated out, this became a little overwhelming to deal with. In big projects, I rely heavily on the hierarchy folding features in OmniFocus. Not to have these was quite a challenge to overcome.

Not as Easy to Hide Tasks. In addition to having only a single level of subtasks, I found it harder to hide tasks. Start dates were helpful, but sometimes they also hid tasks too well for my liking. What I need out of a task manager is the ability to hide tasks until I need them, and then make it easy to see them when it’s time to start checking them off. For the way I think about tasks, Things 3 only got part of the way there.

No Perspectives or Saved Searches. This has been a frustration of many who are coming from other task managers who have a saved search type feature. I’m not the biggest perspectives user in OmniFocus, but even the ability to show tasks fitting multiple criteria without having to retype a search query would be a great addition to Things.

What Did I Choose?

I went back to OmniFocus 3.

Indeed, it’s never easy to change a big piece of your workflow, and OmniFocus has largely been the rock-solid center for a number of years.

Don’t get me wrong — Things 3 is a fantastic task manager. I’m partial to the design choices made by Cultured Code throughout the app. It’s just fun to use.

However, you have to stick with what works for you. Some of the things I didn’t like simply kept me from working as efficiently as I could in Things versus OmniFocus.

Despite not making a change from this experiment, I did learn a number of lessons from Things’ opinions toward task management I’m taking and now applying to my OmniFocus workflow.