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Sept. 29, 2020, 10 a.m.
How Aaron Hockley Uses OmniFocus To Run His Photography Business

Aaron Hockley of is a Master Photographer and Photographic Craftsman (M.Photog.Cr.), as recognized by the Professional Photographers of America. In 2014, he was recognized for third place in the Commercial/Illustrative category at PPA’s Grand Imaging Awards, and went on to represent the United States as a finalist at the World Photographic Cup. He was also the 2017 & 2020 President of the Oregon Professional Photographers Association.

Show Notes:

Aaron employs [OmniFocus] ( as an essential component of his business workflow. From templating reminders for his gear setup and prep, to automating his pre-and-post blogging checklists, Aaron has integrated Omni’s software to successfully manage attention even as commitments grow.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:

  • TechPhotoGuy OmniFocus Blog Post
  • Omni Automation
  • TaskPaper Format
  • Ulysses
  • Drafts
  • Shortcuts on iOS
  • Transcript:

    Andrew J Mason: You're listening to the Omni Show. Get to know the people in stories behind the Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. My name's Andrew J. Mason and today we're talking to Aaron Hockley of about how he utilizes OmniFocus for his photography business. Welcome everyone to the Omni Show. Today we have Aaron Hockley of and we dive deep into how he utilizes OmniFocus to manage his flow of life's work.

    Andrew J Mason: Aaron's earned recognition through the Professional Photographers of America as a master photographer and photographic craftsman. In 2014, he was recognized for third place in the commercial illustrative category at PPA's Grand Imaging Awards, and went on to represent the United States as a finalist in the World Photographic Cup. He was the 2017, and we actually just found out, 2020 president of the Oregon Professional Photographers Association, and continues to serve on the board of directors. Aaron, thank you so much for spending some time with us today.

    Aaron Hockley: Well, thank you. I'm glad I get the chance to chat with you. I'm a big fan of OmniFocus and it's certainly one of the keys to how I keep my various aspects of my life together. So I look forward to chatting about that.

    Andrew J Mason: Me too, and I can't wait to get into those details. But maybe for some context, talk to us a little bit about what kind of photography you do and maybe how you got involved with that.

    Aaron Hockley: Right. Thanks. I'm kind of interesting in that, unlike a lot of photographers, I didn't necessarily start carrying a camera around at the age 10 and making a zillion photos as a kid. I had some exposure to photography, but it wasn't a big thing in my world. I wasn't involved in photography in high school. I really didn't get into it until after I was out of high school. Those few years in my late teens, early twenties, I started picking up photography as a hobby and then started to just take pictures of what was around me.

    Aaron Hockley: My professional background was in the tech world and in software development. And so, I had various IT and technology-related jobs. In the late '90s, I was a webmaster at a regional internet service provider back when webmasters existed and back when regional internet service providers existed. As I was participating in various technology events and the tech community in the Portland, Oregon area, I started bringing my camera with me and I'd capture some photos at events and things like that.

    Aaron Hockley: At some point, people started saying, "Hey, it looks like you're going to be coming to this event. Can you bring your camera with you?" I'd been sharing my work online through my website and through Flickr and places like that. At the point where they were asking me to come take photos, I realized, hey, if they're asking me to come take photos, let's see if they'll pay me some money to come take photos. And so, that was my entry into the professional photography world. That was probably in about 2008 is when I officially got a business license and started charging people money for photography.

    Aaron Hockley: Since then, my photo world has evolved that, professionally, I do a couple different types of photography. One is special events other than weddings, so conferences, trade shows, startup lunch parties, company meetings, anything like that. That's an area of my business that has changed drastically in these last few months with the pandemic and with in-person events pretty much going away. The other area that I work professionally is in being a Jack of all trades photographer for small businesses and startups.

    Aaron Hockley: In that realm, I'll do anything from a business portrait, a head shot, to photos of an office, product photography sometimes. A lot of startups like to show their cool spaces and what they're working on. So I've worked with a lot of the tech and other startups here in the Portland area to help them tell their stories. Along the way, with my tech background, I got into blogging pretty early on and things have evolved, that in the tech world, I got known as a photo guy, and in the photo world, I got known as a tech guy, and helping both of those different groups with those areas respectively.

    Aaron Hockley: I've spoken at few large blogging and social media conferences several years ago, to help those audiences figure out photography-related topics. In the photography world, I speak to photographers, helping them figure out internet-related topics, whether it's how to have a good online presence with their blog or with social media or things like that. And so, tech photo guy really is the merging of those two worlds where I'm looking at that intersection of technology and photography, looking at what that means for the photo industry going forward, because like it or not, I think we can all agree that computers are here to stay, the internet isn't just a fad. And if someone's going to be successful in the photography world, they're going to have to understand various technological things or work with people that do so. So yeah, that's my background.

    Andrew J Mason: That is awesome. I definitely want to get into how you utilize OmniFocus to get all of this stuff done, related to your business. But before we head there, you said something that just triggered an interesting thought in me about how there really is this left brain, right brain merging together whenever somebody has the creative part of their business, but also the admin side of their business. Can you maybe speak to that intersection a little bit?

    Aaron Hockley: Yeah. I think that makes sense. I mean, it's interesting just even if we just look at the photography world, usually people come into photography from one of two angles. Either they're strong on the technical side of it, they understand shutter speeds and f-stops and how mathematically those things relate to make a properly exposed photograph, or they come into it more from the artistic and the aesthetic side where they maybe they naturally have a really good eye for composition, or they have a good sense of picking out something in the natural world where the colors or the light tones naturally make a visually pleasing pattern.

    Aaron Hockley: For most photographers, they're stronger naturally in one of these areas than the other. And then, if they're smart, they try to strengthen their abilities in the other area. For me, I came into it and maybe my tech background has something to do with this. I came into it being strong technically. I can totally understand how a lighting ratio works in an image or if I double my shutter speed, what do I need to adjust to compensate for that with my aperture size or things like that. And so, for me, it was a case of needing to maybe learn more of the artistic aspects of the business and of the industry.

    Aaron Hockley: What happens, what I found is, for a lot of photographers, again, when they want to be successful with their business, as they start looking at things like, "Okay, well, I need to have a website of some sort. I need to figure out, how do I use social media to share my images, not just for the purpose of getting a bunch of likes or hearts from my friends, but if I'm looking at this as a business, how do I do this so that it's successful from a business standpoint of getting my work in front of the types of clients that I want to attract?"

    Aaron Hockley: There's a little bit of art to that and there's a little bit of technology to that. Again, not every photographer needs to be a web developer, a web designer. There's a lot of great web platforms that people can use without having a ton of technical knowledge. And so, I help with those photographers that are maybe a little bit afraid of the technology or have just realized that's not an area they want to focus on, help get them connected with either platforms or with people that can help them out in that area.

    Andrew J Mason: Yeah. That makes absolute sense. Talk to me a little bit about OmniFocus. You utilize this in the operation of your photography business, possibly even personally. Maybe fly over at a high level, what it is that OmniFocus allows you to do.

    Aaron Hockley: I came into OmniFocus... I should have gone back and figured out when I started using it, but I've been using it for a long time. Really what I've found is that, with a lot of different things going on in my life, not just professionally, but also personally. I mean, professionally, I have photography business working with clients. I have the Tech Photo Guy ventures where I work with other photographers. I'm currently writing a book. As you alluded to in the introduction, as we record this, it's been less than 24 hours since I was voted to be president of the Oregon Professional Photographers Association to pick that up as an interim role after their previous president resigned fairly abruptly last week.

    Aaron Hockley: So all of these different things are on my plate, not to mention personal obligations. I'm married, I have a couple of kids. I'm interested in other hobbies and things like that. OmniFocus really helps me organize all of the different things that I have going on and helps me have a vision into what's important right now. That I think is one of the things that I've really found powerful, is through the use of some of OmniFocus's features such as defer dates and custom perspectives, is I can look at what's out there in different ways and figure out, what do I need to be paying attention to right now and in the next few days, as opposed to what's going to become important in a month or a year.

    Andrew J Mason: That actually fits really nicely where I wanted to head next with that blog post. There's a blog post that you've written in 2016, right when OmniFocus was fresh. But it has so much relevant information in it. It's so comprehensive and so applicable to us today still.

    Aaron Hockley: Right. Yeah. I did actually just update that blog post yesterday. I probably should have given you a heads up about that. But substantially, my use has been very similar. Although OmniFocus has evolved with new features over the years, a lot of how I use it, the concepts, are very much the same. I mean, some of the details of maybe how I do template projects and things like that have evolved, but yeah, I did write a blog post about OmniFocus as a photographer.

    Aaron Hockley: I think probably some of the big areas that I call out as strengths for me as a photographer are that, as I work with different clients, somebody calls me up... For example, recently I did some business portraits for an insurance firm here in my town. Somebody contacted me, "We're going to set up this portrait shoot." They needed new photos of six of their employees. And so, in advance of the photo shoot, it's things like, "Okay, well, I need to get a contract in place. I need to invoice them. I need to pay attention to knowing when that payment arrives. I need to get my gear ready for the shoot. I need to make sure I get batteries charged."

    Aaron Hockley: Depending on the type of job, there's a possibility I may rent some gear. Then I go and do the photo shoot. But then after the photo shoot, I need to back up the images. I need to keep track of where I'm at in the editing and retouching process, and then eventually delivering those images to the client. It's one of those things where each job is a little bit unique, but they all follow substantially the same pattern. And so, I can use OmniFocus to help me keep track of where I'm at throughout that process in working with multiple clients at a time.

    Aaron Hockley: The client stuff is one side of my use of OmniFocus and keeping track of my tasks as a photographer. But I also rely on OmniFocus to help me keep track of the other stuff that I need to do to run my business. A lot of this isn't even photography specific. It's things like routine business accounting or bookkeeping tasks. It can be things like maintaining my professional network. I'm out there on a lot of different social media platforms, some of which I use more actively than others. But I want to make sure that, for example, that I go check in on LinkedIn occasionally and that I make sure my profile's up to date and respond to anything I need to respond to there.

    Aaron Hockley: I also find that one of the things I use OmniFocus for is I use it to help me keep track of staying in touch with my professional network, in that I have single action projects in OmniFocus that are essentially just lists of names. It might be people that I want to periodically contact with in my local community. It might be people that are elsewhere in the photography industry, colleagues, and such. I will just have their name as a task in that single action list project. And I'll set that task to essentially repeat every number of weeks, months, whatever, that I want to stay in contact with that person.

    Aaron Hockley: It's something that I have a custom perspective that just shows me all my upcoming networking tasks. It's a good flag to reach out to somebody who I maybe otherwise haven't come in contact with a while, but I want to maintain that professional relationship with, see what they've been up to, see what's on their social media, send them a quick note to check in on things, or set up a call, or something like that.

    Andrew J Mason: I love this idea of pattern recognition. For whatever reason, that just speaks to me. It's been a reoccurring theme in our last couple of episodes whenever somebody touches on OmniFocus and templates. I guess it's because I feel like that is the difference sometimes between an amateur and a professional. The professional knows what the commitments are, executes on them with precision, and there's that pattern recognition, that scaffolding that's built out in their lives. Can you talk to the person that recognizes the need for that sort of structure, but is just like, "Okay, where do I head next?"

    Aaron Hockley: Right. Where do you start? One of the things that I find that's interesting as I talk to somebody about OmniFocus or as I talk to somebody about just productivity and getting things done in general, getting things done in the lower case sense, not necessarily the GTD system, but people that will look at, it's like, "Oh, well, you've got a family, you've got your business, you're involved with this organization, you're involved in this other volunteer community and all that, how do you manage it all?" One of the things I often say is like, "Well, honestly, being able to manage all of these areas of my life, it does require investing a little bit of time and energy in doing that management."

    Aaron Hockley: I feel like this is one of the perhaps barriers to entry for somebody who is looking at trying to implement any sort of a task management or personal management system, is that a lot of times people just aren't willing to put any work into that. I'm certainly not in a case where I'm spending five hours a week managing my tasks, because at that point, I'd probably be spending more time there than I really should. But with something like OmniFocus or another task management productivity system, you do need to spend a little bit of time thinking about your work, thinking about the types of work that you do, how do you want that laid out, how often do you want to do that?

    Aaron Hockley: And so, looking at that, I figured out, oh, these are the sorts of things that I want to do on a repeating or periodic basis. Or these are the sorts of things where I always do these same things over and over again. So, again, like with a client photo shoot, there's no reason for me to go in and manually create 15 different tasks for a client photo shoot because it's probably the same tasks I had last time that I did a business headshot shoot. Or one of the things I photographed fairly frequently before everything shut down was road races, marathons, 10Ks, things like that. If I'm going to go photograph a half marathon, it's basically the same set of steps of getting the exact same gear ready. And then after I'm done, doing the exact same things with the files and uploading them to the systems that I need to do.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, I figured out I can put together a template for this. I can outline what are the usual steps. OmniFocus, for better, for worse, one of the good things I think about it is that it's very flexible. I often describe OmniFocus as a toolkit that people can use to build the productivity system that works for them. It's a little bit opinionated. Obviously, if you're following the GTD methodology, there's a lot of things that fall very neatly into place. But even if you're not, you can use it in a way that suits you well.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, the way that I'm currently doing templates is I maintain templates essentially in the task paper format, which is a very human readable format for tasks. You can outline projects. You can outline sub tasks. You can put in things like due dates or defer dates. I keep those templates. Personally, I keep them in Ulysses. You could also keep them in drafts or any number of other text editor type applications. I primarily manage those templates through shortcuts on iOS.

    Aaron Hockley: When I have a new client shoot, for example, I'll run a shortcut and it'll ask me, "What's the name of the client? What day is the shoot going to happen on?" And then it will go in and it'll build out a set of tasks where it can do math based on those dates. And so, it can say, "Oh, well, I need to pack the gear the day before the photo shoot, generally." And so, it creates a set of tasks for getting the gear ready the day before, or creates a set of tasks for the post processing, and the editing, and the delivery that starts after the photo shoot or things like that.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, I have all of that information in OmniFocus. But because it has those dates attached to it, I can then look at it at OmniFocus where OmniFocus is only showing me what's relevant to me right now. I don't have to worry about what's happening in the future.

    Andrew J Mason: That is so helpful because it's that structure, that scaffolding, where you're in that center, that eye of the storm, and you can start to run faster cycles because you don't have to rethink every single project. But then there's also that element of receiving the inputs and the capture points that come into your life appropriately, and not over or under reacting. You really are that eye of the storm. And then, something comes along like COVID that just blows your existing pattern structure out of the water. How do you reshape that?

    Aaron Hockley: Right. Yeah. I mean, I guess it's been, what, four or five months at this point where we've been in COVID lockdown and response and things like that. I live in the United States, so unlike some areas of the world, we're not fully reopened back yet. In March, it was interesting that I photographed a big conference here in Portland for a national organization, and it was that first week of March. At the conference, it was probably one of the last big events that we had. People were getting a little wary of handshakes, but we were still able to have a conference with about 600 people in a hotel ballroom and over the course of three days.

    Aaron Hockley: I photographed that conference. And as I was delivering those images to the client, and the next week or so, it was basically when everything went into lockdown. As somebody who's business involved a lot of event photography, whether it's a big event like that sort of a conference, or could even be a smaller event. It could be a company that's just having a happy hour mix or meetup type thing, but they wanted some photos of it. That aspect of my business went away.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, I've shifted things in that I haven't photographed an event since the beginning of March. The reality is I don't know when the next time I will do that will be. But other areas of my business have been able to continue. At this point, I can do portrait shoots as long as we're doing those in a safe way and with limited number of people and things like that. I've also continued to work on some of the consulting business that I do. I had a consulting call just yesterday with another photographer who I've been working on as far as building out his online presence and figuring out how we can effectively market that.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, in the past, some of those might have been, "Let's meet up at a coffee shop and go over this," or, "Let's get together in person." Well, now a lot of them, they're online calls instead. And so, things like that have shifted a little bit, but I've been able to continue that aspect of my business as well.

    Andrew J Mason: That's fantastic, that that slice of the business can continue. Speaking of slices, I am curious about, how do you utilize perspectives, because everybody likes to see different data points? You mentioned a custom perspective there. And so, talk to me about what happens for you and perspectives in OmniFocus.

    Aaron Hockley: Yeah. Probably the main perspective that I look at... There's really two that I look at probably every day, I would say, pretty regularly. One it's called Critical, which perhaps makes it sound a little more urgent than it really is. It's not necessarily things that are on fire, but it's basically, "Show me tasks that are available, that are either due soon, so due today, essentially, or that I have flagged in OmniFocus." I'll use a flag in OmniFocus if just there's something that's high priority that I want to put some attention on.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, this will show me tasks that I need to do soon, like if nothing else happens, this is what I should really focus my attention on. I'll check in on that perspective in the morning, but usually at least once else throughout the day. The other perspective that I spend a lot of time looking at is really just a what's on your plate perspective. It makes heavy use of defer dates. I'm a big fan of using a deferred date. I think that defer dates are really one of the powerful OmniFocus features that I can't believe more task management systems don't have.

    Aaron Hockley: Because every time I hear about people using all these other systems, I mean, I'm curious, I'm a nerd, I'll go take a look at it. But I go look at it and it's like, "How do you not have any concept of a defer date or a start date?" Because I have a lot of tasks that are in there, it's like, "Oh, I can do this when I get around to it, but I can't do it until a certain date, or I don't want to do it until a certain date." I mean, networking tasks to reach out to people, it's like, well, I'm not going to reach out and network with somebody every week necessarily if they're just an industry colleague from across the country, but maybe I want to check in with them once a month or every two months.

    Aaron Hockley: This other perspective that I use really is just a list of across all my areas of responsibility, my areas of interest across all my different projects, what's available to work on? From there, I mean, that list could be any... Yeah, I mean, it could be things like, "Oh, I want to get up on my roof and clean the gutters out before we get into the rainy season again." Or it could be something like, "Oh, there's a promotion coming up for a service that I'm an affiliate partner with. And I want to make sure that I let all the photographers on my email list know that, "Hey, there's this offer you might want to take advantage of."

    Aaron Hockley: Or with taking on new responsibilities here in the last couple days as the president of the photography association, I'm gradually building out lists of tasks that I need to do there. I mean, both operational type things of, "Oh, we need to go get the gavel from the president who resigned," kind of a thing. But also longer term pictures of like, what's the financial picture of the organization right now? What are the events that have been planned, and how's that going, and things like that.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, I really find that I have a ton of information in OmniFocus. I mean, there's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tasks probably. At one point I had an AppleScript I think that did a total account. I don't think I have that installed anymore, but it would be interesting to know. But I have all this information that's out there, but I mean, with the different projects, with defer dates, I'm able to put those into a perspective where I only see what I care about right now.

    Andrew J Mason: Aaron, I so appreciate you opening the inner workings of your system. I think it's instructive for other people. To that end, what have some of the bumps along the road been for you? What has been maybe one of the most difficult things that you've encountered when structuring your system?

    Aaron Hockley: I would say, probably the hardest lesson that I've had to learn is being realistic about how much I can do, which is not particularly an OmniFocus problem specifically. It's something that I've heard other people amongst the productivity nerd community talk about. I know I've heard David Sparks, MacSparky, refer to this on his podcasts at times. But just looking at what you have to do and realistically knowing what your capacity is to do that, I'm not going to sit down if I have an hour and send 45 emails and check in on five social networks. So I really shouldn't think that that's going to happen.

    Aaron Hockley: I think taking a realistic look at what is my capacity, but then also using OmniFocus to shift things away from my view that don't need to be there right now. So I can look at either through custom perspectives or through the forecast view in OmniFocus, I can look at, hey, what's coming up that's due? What's on my calendar? What are the tasks that are on my plate? And if I get to a place where it's like, "Wow, I have a ton of stuff that I need to do on Friday," well, if I can look at that and realize that on Tuesday or Wednesday, I can start shifting some things around, or I can start changing expectations around that.

    Aaron Hockley: Maybe there was something that I told someone I was going to get them by the end of the week. But if I can realize on Tuesday that, hey, Friday is going to be slammed, that may not happen, I can head that off and shift that attention. I think that's probably been the hardest part, is not taking on more than I can do. And I think the biggest way to get past that is just having an honest conversation with myself about realistically, what is the capacity, but then also using the ability in OmniFocus to really look at what's coming up and then shift things around and not feel bad that you didn't get to everything that you said.

    Aaron Hockley: I mean, I think one of the areas where a lot of people get into problems with task management systems is they assign arbitrary due dates that aren't really due dates. I think a lot of people do this in some cases because a lot of task management systems, that's the only way to associate a date with a task. But in the way that I use OmniFocus, if there's a due date on something, it's because it absolutely has to be done by that date for... Generally, it's some external reason. It's because I've made a commitment to somebody that I'm going to have it done on that date. It's because it's an external deadline of the contract says I have to make this decision by that date, it's due on that date or I owe more money, whatever it is.

    Aaron Hockley: A due date really is a hard due date. And for all those things that are more just like, "Oh, well, I would like to get to that on Thursday," or, "I would like to get to that on Sunday," that's what I use the defer date or the start date for. I play a lot more fast and loose with those dates where it's like, "I'd like to get to it on Sunday. But if Sunday comes around and turns out that's not really something that's important right now, maybe I'll defer that to Monday or even next Sunday," or just push that out into the future.

    Aaron Hockley: And then, I think one of the other things I've learned is that at some point, if I've got a task that I keep deferring and keep deferring and keep deferring, I have to realistically look at, is this a task I'm going to do? Should I even have this scheduled at all? Should I drop it entirely or should it maybe just go sit on a someday maybe list for future consideration?

    Andrew J Mason: I can absolutely agree with that. Yeah. I sometimes tend to be the visionary crazy maker and think, "Oh, I could do this and I could do that. And I could do all those things." And you do the quick capture so you don't really see the results of what's happening with your ideas in your inbox until you go later on to process your inbox and you're like, "Oh, there's no way I can do all this." It's like that past version of yourself is playing secretary, just feeding the things that you thought you could do any time, back to you saying, "Okay, when is this really going to happen, if it's going to happen at all?"

    Aaron Hockley: Right. Yeah. One of the things, and this comes strictly from the GTD system, but having the ability to do a periodic review of my tasks is key to keeping on top of that. It's referred to as the weekly review in GTD, and that's what OmniFocus will do by default with new projects. But I appreciate that OmniFocus also lets you change that interval. And so, for my client facing projects, for things I'm really actively working on, have a lot of things going on, yes, I'll review those weekly.

    Aaron Hockley: But I also have projects that are things that I perhaps review less often. Like I have a someday maybe list in the GTD realm where it's things I might want to do someday. I don't actually review that every week. I think that's reviewed every couple of weeks. I have a project that lists basically routine accounting and legal maintenance tasks for my business, and those tasks happen periodically. But the project itself doesn't really need to be reviewed that often, because it's pretty rare that I'm adding or removing entirely new tasks from that list. And so I think I only review that project basically once a month.

    Aaron Hockley: And so, the review process in OmniFocus makes it easy to see, hey, what needs review? It used to be that the iPad was my favorite interface for doing the review. And I still do that a fair amount because it's easy to just... That's something that I often find I can do while I'm multitasking with something else, maybe brainless, maybe I'm watching a TV show or listening to a podcast or a YouTube video or something. But it's a great interface that lets me, again, take a look at things, and it's a good option to either trigger stuff that should be in OmniFocus out of my brain, but also to look at, what do I have listed there that, again, is this realistic? Because if there's something that I'm not ever going to do, there's no reason in carrying that digital baggage around in my task system for it.

    Andrew J Mason: Well, I am excited about hearing that your blog post is being or has been updated. But do you mind giving us a preview as to, do you utilize scripting at all? Is there anything that you do to automate things for yourself?

    Aaron Hockley: Yeah. I haven't yet had a chance to dive into the new Omni Automation stuff that's been released, the JavaScript framework that now works across all of the Omni apps, as I understand it. It's something that's on my list of, "I should look at this when I have some spare cycles." The extent that I'm doing any sort of real automation with OmniFocus at this point, it's primarily shortcuts-based.

    Aaron Hockley: Several years ago, I used a couple AppleSripts for some template type stuff on the Mac. But as OmniFocus has evolved and as shortcut support has gotten really good, I now have a handful of shortcuts that I use on iOS for adding template projects into OmniFocus or things like that. And so, you mentioned blog posts. I do publish new information on fairly regularly. It happens to be a WordPress-powered website, but from a publishing and automation standpoint, that's not that particularly important, I suppose.

    Aaron Hockley: But when I do publish new information, I have a whole checklist of things that I'll go through. And that's another template that I have set up in OmniFocus where, as I get an article near completion, I'll create a new OmniFocus project for it that has the set of steps to finish off the article, make sure that I have all the information that I need. It reminds me to do things like take a look at that headline. And is that headline really a good headline? It reminds me to do things like, when I upload it into WordPress, to make sure that I add a featured image to the post.

    Aaron Hockley: It reminds me to do things like check a few things that I want to look at from an SEO perspective. Assuming I want to have some search engine traffic come to this article, have I optimized the article for that? And then, after I press the publish button or schedule the article to be published, it will remind me to do a variety of promotional type tasks as followup. And so, actually, when I run the shortcut that uses the template project to create this project for a particular article, I tell it, "When am I going to publish this?"

    Aaron Hockley: The promotional tasks are, okay, after it goes live, "Well, okay. I want to go and I want to schedule several tweets about it." I'm fairly active on Twitter and I probably want to tweet about it, at least a couple of times on the day that the new article goes live, maybe the next day, and maybe the next week. Because as we all know, if we use Twitter, when you check in on Twitter, you don't read everything on Twitter, you see what's going by at the moment. And so, I want to schedule that.

    Aaron Hockley: If it's something that makes sense to publish to LinkedIn, I'll want to go publish that to LinkedIn as well. If it's something that, being photography related, a lot of times I'll post it on Pinterest. I'm not a heavy Pinterest user myself, but I actually get a fair amount of traffic that comes to the website from people that find photography-related things on Pinterest. And so that's something that I'll put out there. It'll have a task that basically says, "Add this to the list of things you might want to send out to your email list."

    Aaron Hockley: I have an email list that I run and I typically email those folks once a week with what's new and interesting in the tech photo world. And if I've published a new blog post, I'll certainly mention that when I send that email out at the end of the week. These are all things that, yes, I could just trust myself to probably remember to do manually, but I like having the ability to put that stuff into OmniFocus where I just know, here's where I'm at in the process. And again, I don't accidentally skip something that maybe I wanted to do.

    Andrew J Mason: Well, Aaron, this time has been so valuable for me, and I imagine that it has for our listeners as well. I'm curious, do you have any first time tips for that person that is just dipping their toes into the water with OmniFocus? Maybe they've got capture going, maybe they've got a projects list going, but they haven't really quite utilized this to its full potential. Where do you point people next?

    Aaron Hockley: I would say the biggest things, as far as finding success with OmniFocus, and as I've used it over the years, and over the years, my processes have evolved on how I've used it. Right now, and especially with COVID and so much being done at home now, the whole notion of contexts and where might you be doing something has really gone out the window entirely for me, in that pretty much I'm at home all the time now. So I don't ever really have contexts of like, "Oh, I should do this while I'm at a particular location," because I'm almost always at one location right now.

    Aaron Hockley: But other than that, as far as concepts and things like that, I would say, look at how you use dates because so much of looking at your task list is going to be date-focused, whether you're looking at, how much can I do today, whether you're looking at what do I have coming up in the coming days or the coming week, whether it's you're looking at what is due soon, consider how you want to use dates. I don't necessarily say that the way that I use them is going to be right for everybody. But I would encourage you to look at due dates and don't burden yourself by pretending that things are due when they're not.

    Aaron Hockley: I would encourage you to look at using defer dates so that... Sorry about that. Obviously, we'll edit that out. All right. Where do you want to pick that up? I talked about due dates. I would encourage you at looking at using defer dates and using the defer dates to push off into the future that which can't be done or doesn't need to be worried about until the future. So if you're using OmniFocus for tasks that you need to do every week or every month or whatever... Shoot. Hold on.

    Aaron Hockley: Yeah. Sorry about that. Yeah. Taking a drink here. All right. Let's just start back with defer dates again. All right. In addition to considering how you use due dates, I would consider how you might use defer dates and using them to really push things off that don't need to be in your mind right now. We all have limited brain capacity for the amount of things we can think about or keep in our heads at any one time. And there's no sense in having a task sitting in front of you on a task list if you can't do anything about it until next Thursday.

    Aaron Hockley: There's no sense in having something sitting there on your computer, staring you in the face, if you can't do anything about it until you're waiting for a response from someone else. And so, I would encourage folks to use defer dates to push those things off into the future. OmniFocus has that capability built in, and as you start... If you look at building custom perspectives, the ability to only show available tasks is really powerful.

    Aaron Hockley: Probably the final tip I would use for somebody who's really looking at getting into OmniFocus is to just consider the different areas of your life and what you're working on, and consider, how can you break the things down into projects and tasks that are going to be meaningful when you look at them? I break them down to a level where they're going to be actionable. I think one of the areas where people get stuck in productivity is they start building lists of really two big ideas. I mean, maybe as a photographer, their task list says, "Update website portfolio."

    Andrew J Mason: Oh, man, I 100% agree with that. David Allen had this phrase that I've heard him use before called untangling psychic spaghetti. And it's this idea that you have an outcome, and it's in your inbox, and then you realize, well, wait a minute, this outcome isn't necessarily exactly my next action. What do I have to do to get to that next action? For example, I need to narrate an audio piece or produce an audio piece. Okay. Well, my next action isn't really just to go ahead and do it. I actually need to cast another voice. This is more than one voice.

    Andrew J Mason: Well, I can't really cast another voice until I have an agreement with them signed by DocuSign. Oh, shoot. Well, I can't really have an agreement signed by DocuSign if I don't have a word count, so we know how much to budget the project for. And you start tracing three, four, five levels deep until you find out, okay, this is actually a next action for this project. What I so appreciate about OmniFocus is that you can have as many moving components as you want, sub projects within a project, until you drill down to what is that next action. In that way, I feel like it really is bulletproof because you can still be keeping track of those mid-level outcomes that are part of that bigger outcome that you're really looking for.

    Aaron Hockley: It's like, "Oh, well, I'm not really to update. I've got to go get those images ready." Or if it's a task to follow up with somebody that you met at an event, or to do some networking outreach, include some specifics there so that it's actionable. That's one of the aim of that task, have it be actionable. It should include a verb. It should say something like, "Invoice..."

    Andrew J Mason: Aaron, I do so appreciate you sharing this massive slice of your life with us. Honored to be able to do that. We do want to encourage people to check out your work at Aaron, is there anywhere else that you'd love for people to connect with you at?

    Aaron Hockley: When it shows up on your forecast view or your custom perspective, or however you're looking at it, it's something that you'll what to do with it when you see it, because I think otherwise, it shows up and then you have more work to do just to figure out what to do with it. I think that's often a barrier to getting things accomplished, is that people aren't quite sure what to do next. And so, they just defer it again because...

    Andrew J Mason: It's perfect. I'd actually love to see this conversation continue online. Aaron, thank you so much for your time. Well, hey to everybody listening. If you enjoy what you hear, we'd love for a review or rating on iTunes. Or if you want to share it with a friend, that would be fantastic. If you want to keep up with us and what we're up to, check out the Omni Group at or head to @theomnishow on Twitter.