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OmniFocus for iPhone – a GTD application reviewed

A simple Google search for omnifocus is revealing more than 220.000 results (as of October 2008), which, for a personal task manager application, is a lot. And I would say that this popularity is well deserved by OmniFocus. Not only because it won the Apple Awards for Best iPhone Productivity Application in 2008, but because is a really useful piece of software. OmniGroup, the makers of OmniFocus, are well known in the Mac world for their OmniOutliner and OmniPlan products. I used OmniOutliner a lot until I shifted to mind mapping but I still use it from time to time even today. As for OmniPlan, it was a key factor in big projects, when I used to run my own online publishing business.

But from a large structure planning application to a personal organizer implementing GTD there is quite a gap, and one cannot expect to apply the same knowledge in both areas. Maybe this is why OmniGroup made some very interesting moves back in 2006-2007, bringing into the development team of what they called at that time Omni Fu the icon GTD blogger Merlin Mann, and the maker of a popular GTD implementation called Kinkless, Ethan Schoonover. I dare to say that OmniFocus wouldn’t be what it is today without the advices and know-how of those GTD gurus.

But enough with praises, and let’s start reviewing OmniFocus for iPhone. I expect this post to be rather big, so put aside some time to read it. Also, I must say that the intended audience for this goes from the unexperienced iPhone user who wants to increase personal productivity to the moderate GTD follower, so if you fall between these categories, give it a read.

GTD with an iPhone

The first and the most important thing about OmniFocus is its compliance with the GTD methodology. For those of you unaware of this concept, GTD is a methodology invented by David Allen, which can dramatically boost one’s personal productivity. In short, by using GTD you are doing stuff (Actions) grouped together (Projects) in specific locations (Contexts) and by taking one step at a time (Next Actions). OmniFocus lets you add your Projects, fill them with Actions, assign them to Contexts, and see when and where you can do them. But a picture is worth a thousand words (have I already said that?) so here is how the home screen of OmniFocus looks like:

OmniFocus for iPhone home screen

OmniFocus home screen

Projects and Contexts are just usual handles for task management, so these are pretty self explanatory, but what you can see at a glance in the home screen is also the time constraint for your activities. Being able to see on the home screen how many tasks are due soon, how many are overdue and how many important (flagged) tasks you have is such a time saver. Another noticeable thing is the lower sidebar, which features icons for nearby contexts, syncing, and quick add an action to Inbox. That lower bar is available all over the application. Simple and clear interface.

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My Top 13 iPhone 3G Applications

My iPhone journey started before the iPhone was even born, at the time when all we knew about it were rumors and suppositions. That didn’t stop me to imagine what could we have if we’ll combine an iPhone and GTD. Apparently, this is one of the most read articles from my blog, by the way. Several months after the official iPhone launch I managed to get my own iPhone (and learned how to jailbreak it, of course). Weeks after I got used to it, I wrote a description of my top 13 applications for iPhone. Time flies real fast, and now I replaced my first iPhone with an iPhone 3G, a device which, together with AppStore, changed the rules of the game pretty big. So, it’s time to write my new list of top 13 applications. For iPhone 3G, this time.

iAdd

<shameless self promotion>

iAdd is my own productivity app, it was just launched June 30 and I thought it would be relatively relevant to put it here too. Since this is actually the list of apps which I’m currently using, and since iAdd is really an app I’m using, I don’t see why not. So, in short, iAdd take its name from Assess – Decide – Do, which is my own life management framework (click on the link to learn more) and it aims at integrating your day to day life with your productivity requirements. If you do GTD, iAdd will feel like a breeze. 😉

Although iAdd works on an iPhone 3G it is in fact an iOS4 app, one of the neat things about it being the ability to add and manage local notifications. Just read the launch post to learn more about this productivity app.

iAdd is available on the AppStore for only 2.99 (for a limited time). Get a grip on it here.

</end shameless self promotion>

Calendar

With the latest 2.1 firmware, the iPhone Calendar is now a mature application. Now you can have all your Mac calendars synced, or you can choose from within iTunes which ones do you want only on your iPhone. You can see events from all calendars if you want, or you can chose only one calendar to focus on. I started to use iPhone Calendar for much more than simple events or reminders. For instance, the second event you see in the screenshot above is in fact an exercise for my personal mission statement. After working several days on my personal mission statement I thought it would be interesting to put a daily reminder early in the morning that will list that personal mission. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now and the results are very interesting. But I plan to write more about this way of using tools in a larger post about the Law Of Attraction.

Notes

Surprisingly rising up, Notes is one of the easiest way for me to capture ideas. I use it whenever I don’t have my computer around, because of it’s interface simplicity. Also because of the “email this note” capability, which I found it extremely rare across other similar applications. What you can see in the screenshot above is a typical idea brainstorming. These are barely scaffolds for my posts, or for things I want to do. Usually, a scaffold like this is totally transformed in 6-7 or even more iterations. Some of the ideas are just going to thrash, but most of them are integrated into my daily work routine.

Mail

Widely recognized at the most important improvement in the 2.x firmware series, Mail is finally a very robust tool for online communication. I can use it for PUSH email, like the yahoo mail, for POP accounts, like the one on the mirabilis.ro domain, and for IMAP like Gmail. There is another extremely important improvement in the latest iPhone Mail App and that is the ability to select multiple messages for deletion. I get easily over 100 messages / day and deleting them one by one is more than I can accept, in terms of email management. Also, viewing attachments is so much easier now. Really an asset.

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Manage Your Time As You Manage Your Money

Time is money, that’s one of the oldest English sentences I learned. I guess I wasn’t even in school, and I remember I knew the meaning of this. And keep in mind that English is not my primary language, I was born and raised Romanian. Years after, I still surprise myself thinking in these terms. There is a common understanding that your time is one of your most precious assets, so you should take good care of it. Interestingly enough, this happens mostly in Western cultures, Eastern cultures seems to have a more relaxed attitude towards time.

But even more interesting is the fact that, despite the ubiquity of this saying, almost everybody tries to avoid its message. Don’t get me wrong, people are still putting a high value on time, making it a very precious asset, but almost nobody really treats time the same way they treats their money. People are eager for free time, they are making a lot of effort to gain some extra time, but once they get it, they are wasting it instantly, in a way they will never do to their money. In this post I’ll try to share a few simple and easy ideas for really keeping your time safely in your wallet, the same way you do with your finances.

Keep it clean

If you are a person moderately rich, I bet your wallet looks like a pharmacy. It’s clean and ordered and you know in less than a second where to find the ten dollar bill, as well as the Mastercard you use for shopping only. And even if you are not a moderately rich person, but you have a positive attitude towards money, I bet your wallet is clean and ordered. I know mine is. And I know I have quite a positive attitude towards money.

So why don’t we do the same with our time? For me, that translates in a very clean and ordered working routine. If time will be sliced into ten, twenty and fifty dollars bills, I would know instantly how much do I have left, and where I find the needed bill every time I need it. Slicing my time in ordered pieces, the same way I did with bills and cards in my wallet helped me a lot. And is such a simple yet powerful analogy: keep your time as your wallet.

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iPhone as a travel mate

Initially, this post was written during my first trip to New Zealand, September 2008. But since then I had several other long trips, including Switzerland, Thailand and Japan. Each of these trips added some value to the way I’m using my iPhone, so I felt the need to share what I’ve learned during those trips. You’ll easily find which application was used in which trip, but I guess the most important is to find some help and make your travels more enjoyable.

During my first trip to New Zealand, which is more than 20.000 km away from my country, Romania, I had the chance to use my iPhone as a travel companion. What follows is a compilation of what I tried, learned and used during that trip and the nex ones.

Maps

The first and one of the most important things about iPhone as a travel mate is the Maps application. Although I don’t have permanent internet access (I followed Apple’s advice about turning data roaming off, “to avoid substantial roaming charges…”) but I do have a decent WiFi access at my bed and breakfast facility here in Auckland. Every time I have to go to an area I don’t know yet, I open Maps and try to familiarize myself with the surroundings. I suppose that if I have data access everything would be even simpler, because I can just use the GPS facilities and find my way out in real time. But even without the GPS functionality, the Maps application is extremely useful. In the picture below you’ll see the very beach where I took the sunrise picture in the first post about the trip to New Zealand:

You can even see the tree under which I sat while I took the photo. I admit. sometimes this is spooky… But sometimes is just useful.

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iPhone productivity application reviewed: WhatTasks

The GTD galore is spreading along quite nicely, not only in a vertical direction, by reaching more and more adepts in its traditional western cultural space, but also in new spaces, some of them well over the Atlantic Ocean. One of these days I found the first Brasilian iPhone application which claims to implement the core GTD rules. The application is called WhatTasks and it costs 3,99 USD at the Apple AppStore (on the WhatTasks web page they are advertising a 4,99 USD price, but they also say that “international pricing is available”, so I guess I’ve been included in some kind of discount…). I’ve been contacted directly by the developer, Felipe Belo, a few weeks ago, with a polite request to tell my opinion about this. So, after I finally set up my new 3g iPhone – a white one, you can imagine that? – I thought I should give it a try.

The first thing to know about WhatTasks is that it comes in 2 flavors, a free, limited version, and a full featured version at the price of 3,99 USD. The limited version is called WhatTasks Lite and I installed it on my iPhone 2 weeks ago. What this application is doing is basically a list management. You can create as many lists as you want and add items to them. Once an item is done you can check it out. That’s basically all. It manages the “what” in your everyday activities.

But the real power of the application comes in the paid version (this is somehow predictable, if you ask me). The paid version also gives you access to the “when” and “where” of your activities. This is one of the core principles of GTD: you are doing actions in contexts and at specific dates. You are not just a robot which does everything as it comes, regardless of the specific time or place: you can group your spaces of action into contexts, and you can also group your doing intervals in time chunks: right now, tomorrow or even someday / maybe, if you are not sure of the exact schedule. By adding the “when” and “where” dimensions to the “what” of an action, WhatTasks really comes close to the GTD aware user.

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Put Your Blog Into A Mind Map

There were several posts here at DragosRoua.com, related to mind mapping, over the last two years. In fact, there were so much posts about mind mapping that I had to create a separate category for them. From an introduction of how and why to blog with a mind map, up to a recap of my most downloaded mind maps, I wrote extensively about this. For the newcomer, mind mapping is a writing technique, which expand the linear thinking by letting you write in different “directions” or “nodes” of a mind map. This seems to be the brain’s most convenient way of representing reality, and it is often used as a creativity enhancement tool.

I found mind mapping very useful when it comes to speed up my management activities. Such as maintaining a blog. Like this one. You know, writing on your blog is a completely different beast than maintaining it. It requires a different set of skills, it takes a certain amount of time, and, like all other activities, can be optimized. If I can use mind mapping to streamline my blogging activity as a whole, why not do it?

My blogging process is the result of several different things: the software I use, the ideas that I want to write about, the posts, the categories, the plugins, the downloads, the revenue strategy… Quite a bit of stuff, right? And is not from the same league, as you already saw, it’s a mix of information, skill, activity and strategy. The challenge is to keep this in a manageable structure.

One very important management principle says: keep everything visible. If there are things on your business that are not visible to you, chances are that your customers won’t seem them either. Keep a broader perspective, try to always look at whole picture. And there is nothing more convenient for the “whole picture” than a mind map.

So, I put my entire blogging process on a mind map, and started to unfold it. Here’s the result:

As I already told you, blogging is a mix of different activities, information and tasks. Must be all visible in order to keep a consistent perspective, right? Must put together all items that create the blogging process and my whole blogging process look like this:

  1. headline
  2. categories
  3. posts
  4. revenue
  5. promotion
  6. plugins
  7. downloads

As you may see, there is no specific order in which I added them, and no consistency, some of them are information, like posts and categories, some of them are activities that I have to perform, like promotion and monetization, and some of them are pieces of software, like plugins. Not all blogs may have all the items listed above, but my specific setup does, and I’ll take a wild guess that the vast majority of blogs are pretty much like this.

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Do It For Yourself – who’s benefiting from your actions?

Remember that we started this series with a fundamental sentence: you are the most important person in your life. You, and only you, are responsible for your actions, for their outcome, and for the level of energy that fuels you…

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