Author Archives: Brian Renshaw

Appearance on Learn OmniFocus

I was recently a guest on Learn OmniFocus, which is a membership website designed to help you get the most out of OmniFocus and other productivity help. I’ve been a member for awhile now and find it of great value. Thanks to Tim Stringer for having me talk about my OmniFocus setup.

Guest workflow shows do not require a membership to watch so you can go here to view my presentation. If your not a member I highly encourage you to look into it!

Tags vs. Projects in OmniFocus

With the implementation of multiple tags in OmniFocus there has been much discussion of using both multiple tags and how that integrates with projects. I have to admit, when multiple tags were introduced I went crazy assigning multiple tags on almost every task. What ended up happening was that I actually never referred to the tags. Gradually, as I attempted to simplify my workflow I tried to modify my setup to how I actually work. Too often in the productivity space the shiny and new always takes priority. I end up implementing what I think would be good for me but in reality it is something I rarely use. This is what I’ve found with using many tags.

In general, here are some rules of thumb I have when it comes to tags:

  • Specific projects rarely have tags except for possibly specific tasks. These tags will usually involve people. I find this useful in some cases because I can check on the status of a task while I’m waiting on them for a response.
  • I use a miscellaneous single project list for tasks that are not complex enough to be a project. I find using tags helpful for identification of the type of task. I don’t use tags in these instances for perspectives but rather identification. One example would be an email I need to send. I just tag it email so when I am viewing the task I can see that I need to send an email with this task.
  • I will tag tasks with “deep work” to alert myself that this task will take some set aside focused time. I usually don’t sort by “deep work” because my schedule of the tasks I need to work on are more project based.
  • Using projects as your categorization method is more helpful when you use the review function in OmniFocus.

I find it freeing not to force myself to use tags in every instance. I am more careful with them and have my OmniFocus more geared towards projects rather than tags.

Dictation on iOS

Using dictation on iOS is somewhere way better than the speech to text you find using iMessage or other apps. There are three apps that I’ve been using the dictation engine in iOS lately: Just Press Record, Day One, and Drafts. Each on of these apps using the same backend in iOS (I think) and it works fantastic.

If I’m on the go and want to dictate something for later such as a draft for an email or blog post, some items I need to work on later, or an entry into Day One I use Just Press Record. The reason I currently use this as a way to draft something for Day One is because currently you have to choose whether to use dictation or record just the audio on the Day One watch app. I wish they would allow you to pick each time that you use it but for now I have it set on recording audio.

If I’m adding something to Day One I will use dictation quite a bit if I am sitting at my desk. Unlike the the watch up when I am using the app on iOS I can quickly choose the dictation function.

I use Drafts for all my notes so if I am sitting at a desk or the couch I will commonly dictate to Drafts. This app does have an Apple Watch app that I will also use to dictate something quickly. I use Just Press Record if I am doing a longer note.

Below is a transcript using Just Press Record on the Apple Watch (unedited) while I was driving. As you can see it does an amazing job. One thing I like about Day One and Just Press Record is that it also saves the audio file along with the transcript.

I want to write a little post on the use of dictation and iOS. Right now I am using the Just Press Record app from my Apple Watch while I’m driving to go get some groceries. I wanna people have said wow, Siri doesn’t work that well when I try to dictate a text. I agree I do not understand what is the difference between their dictation function and their speech to text iMessage or something. I found that their dictation which abs like just press record the day one app or drafts it works really well using the dictation engine that iOS has built it. So I want to do a quick example if you want to you can read the audio or listen to the audio of this and I will just post the exact transcription with no edits on the blog. Just press record is a great app and I can’t recommend it enough if you want to take some notes and then share it with other places because it records the audio file and transcribes it all from your Apple Watch or your iPad or your iPhone.

Here is the audio file of the above transcript: 15-52-53.m4a

Shortcut Monday: Day One Shortcuts on iOS

I was recently on the Day One podcast to discuss Siri Shortcuts, the Shortcuts app, and my use of Day One. I created a couple videos to accompany what we were talking about. The first is the difference between Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcuts app. This can get confusing because they are related but separate and use the same words for each of them! The second video is a simple tutorial on how to create a template using the Shortcuts app for Day One. Enjoy!

You can listen to the episode here: 24 – Shortcuts in Day One with Brian Renshaw

Also, if you’re interested, I’ve posted some other shortcuts I’ve created and explained how they work:

Changes and Improvements for Teaching Greek this Semester

This will be my second semester teaching Greek at Boyce College. I welcome any tips on teaching languages to college students. Here are some things I did last semester that I will keep and also some things that I’m changing or adding this semester.

Ideas I’m keeping from last semester:

  • Using notecards with student names to randomly ask questions to each student every class. I stress in each class that it is okay to be wrong or not know the answer because that is how learning happens. Additionally, if a student doesn’t know the answer or answers incorrectly I don’t allow other students to go ahead and answer. I think this brings some unnecessary and unhelpful shame to the student who didn’t know the answer. Instead, I always address and explain the answer. This way there is no “one-upping” other students and fewer opportunities for comparison.
  • Primer review questions to start the class and help students focus on Greek for the next 50 minutes.
  • No electronics
  • When reviewing homework in class to not allow students to answer based on their completed work but post a blank copy on the board and make them work through it again with fresh eyes.
  • Take home quizzes instead of using class time. I require a proctor to sign the quiz and add their email so if I have any questions I can quickly contact them.
  • Marking up slides, homework, quizzes, and exams via my iPad Pro instead of using the whiteboard.

Ideas I’m adding or changing:

  • With the student notecards, I will also use this for attendance by writing the date on the back of the card during the class if a student misses.
  • Dedicated vocabulary quizzes (take home, 10 words) each week. Mondays will be review words which could come from any of the chapters that have been covered thus far (including Greek 1) and Fridays will be the words for the chapter covered in class that week. I found that just having vocabulary on the weekly chapter quizzes wasn’t helping students stay up to date with vocabulary. Students will grade their own quizzes before uploading them to the LMS. I won’t give them a key so they will need to look up words they do not know.
  • Grade quizzes in class to help with quicker feedback and review. I also hope that it’s a pedagogical opportunity and a more natural way for students to ask questions they had when taking the quiz.

Shortcut Monday: Daily Journal Prompts in Day One Tracked with Streaks

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

I try to do a little bit of journaling everyday. One of the sticking points for me is knowing what to write about. There are numerous suggestions on the internet of different prompts you can use. Some, such as James Clear, suggest writing one line per day with certain prompts. I like his approach because it is not threatening or stressful and its something you easily can do. I’ve taken his idea but modified it a little bit but still with the idea of a minimal barrier of entry.

To this end I created a Siri Shortcut that randomly chooses one prompt from a list that I have created. My minimum requirement is to write a one sentence response to the prompt that will be catalogued in Day One. Some days I end up writing more but this is not required. Depending on the day, all I have time for is a one sentence reflection.

The nice part about this workflow is that its easy to change the prompts if I come across another one that I’d like to add or I can easily remove one.

The prompts:

  • What was the highlight of my day?
  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What was a stressor in my day?
  • What was my most important task today?
  • How do I feel emotionally today?

Journal Prompt Shortcut

Download Shortcut

  • The first step will mark a completion in the Streaks app for tracking. You can easily remove this step or change the streak for your own use.
  • The second step is my list of prompts. If you would like to add/remove an item you can do so here. Make sure that each item is on its own line.
  • The third step makes sure to separate each item into its own line.
  • The fourth step will randomly grab an item from the list. I originally used the Choose from List action but I found this created a little too much friction as I would stare and think about each item and eventually choose one. The random function removes that barrier.
  • Finally, I use the Create Day One entry and format it consistently. The header is the question, the ask for input will bring up a text box where I type my reply, and it will automatically add it to my main journal with the tag “daily journal prompt”

iPad Home Screen

I haven’t shared my iPad home screen on here before so I thought I’d write up a little rationale for my setup.

The Basics

  1. Blank home screen: I’m not entirely sure why but having the blank home screen just feels right for the iPad. Maybe its because it mimics my MacBook desktop (completely clear) but this is what has been working for me. I wish you could hide the dock when connected to an external keyboard. This is what I do on the Mac because I search and open everything via a keyboard shortcut. When I open up the iPad there are minimal distractions and only apps that I use to do something productive.
  2. Second page with a couple folders: This just houses a couple folders of apps. They really aren’t organized except one folder is games (board games for iOS) and the other is just a handful of random apps. I always search for apps so this isn’t an issue.
  3. Dock: Like most people, the dock is my most used apps. I’ll list them below. One particular feature of the dock is I do have a folder in it. The folder is my second tier most used apps. When I do not have a keyboard connected it is difficult to search for apps and put them in split screen. By have the folder in my dock I don’t have to go all the way back to the home screen to search. This has been the biggest change for me and I’ve really grown to like it since having the 12.9” iPad. I keep all time wasting apps out of the dock such as Twitter. It’s too easy to get sucked in just by seeing the app.

Apps in the Dock

I could write a separate blog post for the reason I use each of these apps and why they are my favorite but for this post I will only write a one or two sentence description.

  1. Drafts – for quick notes, adding items to OmniFocus, and other random writings. Since Agile Tortoise released the beta for the Mac app I’ve been using this for all my quick notes since it easily syncs with the Mac. I also have several shortcuts that open Drafts to send an email.
  2. OmniFocus – this has been my task manager of choice for 10 years now. I’ve looked at others and they may be a great choice for some people but for me OmniFocus is tried and true.
  3. Spark – no email client is perfect and has everything I would like but Spark has a decent interface, not buggy, and has some key features that I like such as send later.
  4. Day One – my journaling app of choice and for the past 6 months I’ve really been putting more stuff in here. I use it as my own social media posting so I am not living out my life in public.
  5. Ulysses – the app where I do most of my writing. I’ll throw completed notes that serve as reference for later in this app as well.
  6. Copied – clipboard manager, which is indispensable for me
  7. GoodNotes – what I use for all my handwritten notes, brainstorming, meeting notes, and I use it when I teach Greek
  8. Canvas Teacher – our school uses Canvas as our LMS (Learning Management System)
  9. PDF Expert – I’ve tried all the PDF apps out there and this is the absolute best in my opinion
  10. Accordance Bible Software – my Bible software of choice, which I use for both personal and school research
  11. Safari – self explainable … not a fan of Chrome
  12. Due – quick place to add reminders throughout the day. I really wish this app had keyboard shortcuts for the iPad.
  13. Messages – have to stay in touch
  14. Fantastical – expensive as a separate iPad app but still my favorite calendar app. I like the layout of the week and how you can infinitely scroll through the future and the past. And of course, the natural language input is fantastic
  15. Folder – all my second tiered apps quickly available if I don’t have the keyboard connected

The Shortcuts app could be in the dock but I start all my shortcuts from the widget or the share sheet so really the only reason I would have it in the dock is to create shortcuts. I have this app in my folder for quick access.

iOS Screen Recording and Sharing on YouTube

For some reason, the screen recording feature does something odd with the audio and video of the file. If you screen record with audio and upload to YouTube (or even try to edit in iMovie) you will notice that there is no audio. I don’t know all the details to why this is but I find it really annoying.

A quick fix for this is to use the “Encode Media” Shortcut action and then save the new file.

This simple shortcut will grab the video from the share sheet, encode the media, and delete the original from your camera roll. Lastly, it give you the option to open the YouTube app or close the shortcut.

Again, I’m not sure why when you upload a screen recording to YouTube it won’t capture the audio but this does fix the problem.

Download the shortcut

Shortcut Monday: Getting a List Dates in the Future

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

When I am creating a syllabus for a class it is often a slow and inaccurate (my own errors just reading a calendar properly!) process to get a list of dates in the future. For example, if I’m wanting every Monday for the next 16 weeks I can open up my calendar and write the dates down…or I can use this shortcut.

Download Shortcut

The first step of the workflow is a simple Ask for Input for the number of weeks. The next step takes this total and subtracts one from that number because the workflow will using the starting date that I give it in the next step as the first week.

The second step just asks for the starting date that I would like to use. Next, I format the date for what I would like and set the variable to store for later. The Nothing action just separates the next step so input doesn’t continue being passed through the workflow.

Next, a slightly more complicated calculation that I would not have figured out without the help of sylumer on the Automator’s Discourse forum.

  1. Repeat: This takes the number of weeks that we inputted first and will repeat the following actions X number of times.
  2. Get Variable repeat index: this one is a little bit more complicated but basically it will take the first number and multiple by 7 (1×7), second time through (2×7), third time through (3×7) and so forth.
  3. Next, we will grab the start date with a variable
  4. Adjust Date: this adds the number of days from the repeated variable
  5. Format Date: formats the date properly
  6. Add to Variable: This stores all the dates in a list that we will use in the next step.

Finally, the next group of actions is pretty simple. I first grab the variable from the list of dates and use the Split Text action to make sure they are all on new lines then I copy that text to the clipboard and open Drafts. I have decided if I want to keep the Add to Draft action but currently that is how I have it setup.

You can view the entire Siri Shortcut below.

Podcast Episode Recommendation: Focused 64: The Power of Habits

Link to show

I really enjoyed this first episode of Focused (previously Free Agents) with David and Mike. I particulary liked their discussion of James Clear’s new book Atomic Habits. Additionally, they talked about framing habits and actions in terms of identity, which is helpful to think about.

The switch from Free Agents to Focused is a welcome one. While I always gained a lot of value from Free Agents I think the more productivity focused show will be even more helpful. You should give it a listen.

Summary

David and Mike kick off Focused with an in-depth look at why New Year’s resolutions usually fail. They discuss the power of tiny gains, why systems are more important than goals, and how you can change your identity by implementing better habits.

Siri Shortcut: Send Discourse Forum Posts to OmniFocus

Several podcasts I listen to and apps that I use on a regular basis are using Discourse to form online communities to promote discussion related to the shows and apps. These communities are much better than Facebook groups and help organize topics and conversations in a logical manner. Over the past couple months I’ve found myself posting and interacting with others in the group and am gaining a lot of value hearing others perspectives, giving my opinions, and obtaining help for problems that I face. I check in these groups throughout the day and make note of the conversations that are happening. What I’ve found is that oftentimes there is a post I want to respond to but I don’t have the time to respond at that moment. Instead of trying to remember that I need to respond and or want to go back and read a post, I decided this would be good to utilize OmniFocus.

The four Discourse forums I commonly participate in (with links to them):

  1. Automators Podcast
  2. Drafts App
  3. Focused Podcast – This is a subgroup of the MPU Discourse Forum
  4. Mac Power Users Podcast

I first started by clicking on the link to the post to bring up the share sheet and send the link to OmniFocus. Every time I went through the steps of renaming the action, moving the link to the note field, adding tags (somewhat inconsistently), and then saving.

Of course there had to be a better way so I opened up Siri Shortcuts to create a workflow. This workflow has several different steps (scroll down to see the entire shortcut).

The first action (get name) gets the name of the webpage from the URL. In Discourse (even within the iOS app) it is the title of the forum post.

UPDATE: I’ve added an action that removes " from the title field and replaces it with an actual quote.

The second set of actions utilizes choose from list action. I’ve learned after working with Siri Shortcuts for a little while how to better use this action. First, I use the text action and type in the different forums that this could be. I will use this as one of my OmniFocus tags. As you can see there are four main forums that I converse in. You, of course, can easily edit this for your own needs (Automators Podcast, Drafts App, Focused Podcast, and Mac Power Users Podcast). The second action with this is the split text action, which makes sure that each item is on its own line. Since this creates a list, I use the choose from list action to select the forum.

The third set of actions uses the choose from list action again but this time I want to delineate between if I want to just go back and read this post/replies or respond to it. This will be used as my action word at the front of my OmniFocus task.

The Nothing action may or not need to be there (?) but using it works and doesn’t break anything so that’s why I have it there. My thinking is that this separates the actions from the final action and doesn’t send any input into the last action that I don’t want.

Finally, through the use of Magic Variables I’m ready to create my OmniFocus task via the Add OmniFocus Item action:

  1. The name of the action consists of the “Read” or “Respond to” prompt for my action word.
  2. The second Magic Variable is the Get Name action, which is the name of the topic.
  3. The Context (or Tags…this still needs to be updated!) is Discourse Forums and the name of the forum that I chose. In OmniFocus I have a perspective that utilizes these tags so I can see my list of items to go through in Discourse quickly.
  4. Finally, the Notes field of the task is the Shortcut Input, which is the URL to the post. I then have a Ask When Run prompt that allows me to type in any other information I would like.

UPDATE: I add an action to open the Discourse app again since that is where I originally grab the link.

That’s it! It’s a pretty simple Shortcut but one I find helpful for managing my time and not sorting through and trying to remember what posts I want to respond to or read.

You can download the updated shortcut here.

Brydge Keyboard Pre-Orders for the New iPad Pro are Open

Jason Snell over at Six Colors had a pre-production version of the keyboard and posted some great initial thoughts on it.

My favorite keyboard for the iPad Pro has just started pre-orders for the new iPads. I previously had one for the 9.7 iPad Pro and it was by far my favorite keyboard for the iPad. Like I’ve said before, the Smart Keyboard is good but not ideal. Personally, I hate typing on it. The limited range of viewing angles, lack of controls for iOS (c’mon Apple), and most importantly, the typing experience is less than ideal. The Brydge Keyboard gives you a laptop typing experience for your iPad.

Additionally, since the new iPad Pros have USB-C connection you can charge the keyboard via USB-C or if your Bluetooth connection is spotty you can just connect it via a cable for a no lag experience.

If you’re looking for the best keyboard for your iPad this is it.

Other Features:

  • One Bluetooth keyboard
  • One protective cover for back of iPad for Apple iPad Pro (2018)
  • Full keyboard with dedicated iOS keys
  • High-grade aluminum body
  • Any-angle viewing from 0-180 degrees
  • 3-level backlit keys
  • Matching iPad Pro color, design and form

Pre-order here. I believe they will start shipping in April.

Image from Brydge

iOS Tip – Quickly Share Screenshots

When you take a screenshot on iOS, it now presents a little preview in the bottom left corner of the screen. Most people know that If you tap the preview, then the edit screen will appear and you can markup the screenshot.

What many don’t know is if you would like to share the screenshot right away you can tap and hold the preview image, and it will bring up the share sheet.

Additionally, if you would like to save the screenshot to your camera roll without any edits, you can swipe the preview to the left side of the screen, and it will disappear and be saved to your Photos.

Shortcut Monday: Using Drafts and Siri Shortcuts to Send an Email

Shortcut Monday is a series highlighting Shortcuts that I use on a regular basis. If you haven’t downloaded the Shortcuts app yet, you can do so for free here.

Download shortcut

The following is a shortcut that I use to email our apartment complex for maintenance requests. The basic skeleton of the shortcut is how I’ve set up several different email Siri Shortcuts.

The first question asks whether or not I would like to type the email in Drafts. I could just ask for a prompt within Shortcuts, but I prefer writing in Drafts so I have access to some of the formatting and the email will also be stored and archived for reference. The reason that I ask if I need to type it in Drafts is that I found that sometimes I had already typed the email in Drafts and copied the text before opening the Shortcut. So, if I already have the text of the email on my clipboard, then I just choose no.

If I do need to type in Drafts then choosing yes will open up the Drafts app. From there I will type out my email in Markdown formatting. Once I am finished typing the email I need to copy the text and return to the Shortcuts app to complete the workflow. I created an action in Drafts that will copy the text of the Draft and open Siri Shortcuts. Since I use it so much in other workflows, I set a keyboard shortcut to it as well for when I’m on my iPad.

Once I return to the Shortcuts app, I am prompted for the subject of my email. For all my email workflows I have the prompt for the subject last. By default, I have “Maintenance Request for CURRENT DATE (format SHORT)”. I could change this if I would like, but most of the time I keep the default there. Also, here is a reference to all the different date formats used in Siri Shortcuts.

The next step of the workflow grabs the clipboard (the text I typed in Drafts) and converts it to Rich Text for the email.

The last step opens the compose window with the To, Cc, Subject, and Body already filled in.

While I do not use the default Apple Mail app for my email, I actually find that it works most consistent when sending an email through Shortcuts. Part of this is that if I switch from Spark at any time in the future, I don’t want to change all my workflows that are dependent on Spark. This will always work.

While this simple Shortcut is for a maintenance request, it could easily be changed for your own purposes for an email that you have to send often.

Download shortcut