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March 6, 2023, 6 a.m.
How Brian Wright Uses OmniFocus

Get ready to meet Brian Wright, the fractional chief communications officer who's making a significant impact for late-startup and early growth companies. With over twenty different roles and a myriad of tasks to juggle, Brian has found a valuable advantage with OmniFocus. This powerful tool has helped him accomplish impressive achievements, from supporting his autistic son in publishing a best-selling poetry book to empowering his clients’ communications strategies.

Show Notes:

Join us in this episode where Brian shares his insider tips for maintaining a clear and healthy workload, how to slice through data overwhelm with perspective views, and when to build custom solutions using the genius of other creators and their automations. Don't miss this enlightening conversation and learn how OmniFocus can improve your productivity today!

Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:
- OmniFocus
- Fantastical
- Brian's son Brady's Blog
- Hostage to Silence Book
- Wright Communication Strategies
- Getting Things Done
- Rosemary Orchard
- David Sparks
- Learn OmniFocus
- Devonthink
- Pushcut
- Drafts
- Devonthink
- Notion
- Inoreader
- Zapier
- Omni Automation


Andrew J. Mason: You are listening to The Omni Show, where we connect with the amazing communities surrounding The Omni Group's award-winning products. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we have Brian Wright sharing how he uses OmniFocus. Well, welcome everybody to this episode of The Omni Show. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we have Brian Wright. Brian is the owner of Wright Communication Strategies, where he is the Fractional Chief Communication Officer and assists with the communication strategies of late startup and early growth companies and uses OmniFocus to get it all done. Brian, thank you so much for joining us today.

Brian Wright: Andrew, thanks very much for having me.

Andrew J. Mason: Well, Brian, I just said a mouthful, but do you mind telling people more about you, who you are and what you're up to?

Brian Wright: Sure. Well, I can break it down into a couple pieces. On the personal level, I'm a lucky husband of about 20 years to a wonderful wife and partner. I have two beautiful teenagers, a daughter who's super talented in music and academics, and together we're getting ready to weigh her college adventure options, and an equally amazing son who for the last six years has been on an incredible journey, if I can share that for just a second. Despite the challenges he has of being both autistic and non-verbal, about six years ago, he found his voice through a special form of typing that he does on iPhones and iPads. Today, he dispenses autism advice through his own blog and was even self-published on Amazon. Both his blog and his book are called Hostage to Silence. It's about chronicling his lifelong battles. That's been a big part of our family as well. On a professional level, I am a fractional chief communications officer, and that probably needs a little bit more explanation. For most of my career, I've had the good fortune of working for some very large and top companies with their corporate communication departments, working in them and eventually leading them. What that means is I work with CEOs to help them tell their stories, the company stories, to whether it's employees or customers or governments or investors, things like, who are we, what are we doing, where are we going, how are we doing along the journey? About five years ago, I gave into an itch to start my own company, hang my own shingle, as they say. Today, I do that fractionally for our group of late startup and early growth companies across different industries. I offer the same services, but on a part-time basis to a whole bunch of different companies.

Andrew J. Mason: Wow, Brian, this is excellent. Honestly, I'm getting to know you along with everybody else listening as well. I don't have a whole lot of research, so I'm learning this along with everybody else. Do you happen to recall when your first interaction with The Omni Group or OmniFocus happened to be?

Brian Wright: Yeah. Well, I'm a longtime listener, and I'm starting to pick up on a common theme from a lot of us who've had the opportunity to speak with you, and that's David Allen's GTD, Getting Things Done I got hooked on that, I don't know, around 2011-2012. At that point, everything changed for me, everything became a lot clearer. As someone who has always been fascinated by technology, that got me looking for some solution, some software out there that could handle a GTD methodology. I not too long ago went through emails and found my very first receipt back to 2013. That was OmniFocus version 1.15 for iPhone. A long time. I believe it's because of OmniFocus on iPhone and then knowing that there was, whether at the same time or shortly thereafter, OmniFocus for Mac, I'm pretty sure it's OmniFocus that got me the jump from PC to Mac.

Andrew J. Mason: Wow, Brian, that is so cool, knowing you've been hanging out since version one. Thank you for joining us on this journey. It's so cool. I love hearing about all the different roles too. There's husband, father, business owner, for all of these different clients. Talk to me about how these roles slice up for you. Is this something that OmniFocus handles one part of it? It handles all of it? What does that look like? How does that break down for you?

Brian Wright: It is the link in a little bit larger of a chain. It's the hub. OmniFocus organizes my entire life, personal and professional. I deviate just a little bit from typical GTD, where I have the top level folders representing the roles of my life. You said it just a moment ago, I'm a husband, I'm a father, I'm a friend, I'm an accountant for my household, I'm an advisor to clients, and the list goes on. I have upwards of 20 or more top level folders that represent the roles or the hats that I wear in my life. And then within those, I have your projects and your recurring areas of responsibilities and your habits and so forth. Again, it's a little different than how GTD does it. The only other person I know who's done that is David Sparks or AKA MacSparky. But that really I've found through trial and error helps me figure out what role I'm occupying in a particular moment.

Andrew J. Mason: Brian, what advice do you have for the person that's listening to you talk about all of these different roles, this incredibly rich life, and they say, "What tips do you have for me? I'm just starting out whether in productivity or OmniFocus?" What's something that you would say, "This is something you could try and you'd get immediate results right away?"

Brian Wright: Well, I guess there's two ways of answering that. One is I think outside of OmniFocus, I still encourage everyone to familiarize themselves in GTD. I know over time it's become quite popular, and I do it myself to proclaim. I don't follow it exactly. I mold it to what I need and some things I don't need. That's fine, but I still recommend that's a great place to start, and then you can pick and choose what you want to adopt from there. I've had people ask me about the software that I use and why do I use it and how do I get started because it seems so daunting, because it has so many different functions. First thing I tell them is do an online course of some sort. There is an amazing wealth out there from learning OmniFocus from Tim Springer or David Sparks with MacSparky, where they for very low entry can give you a full course to help you really understand it. I've devoured all those through the years, but that was after I had become proficient and I will still continue to use those to learn even more. But I wish I had those things available when I first stumbled upon OmniFocus, because there is a bit of a learning curve, and I think that we've flattened that curve pretty substantially.

Andrew J. Mason: This is incredible, Brian. Thank you so much for sharing that piece too. Your workflow, you mentioned OmniFocus is more of a hub. Tell me more about the spokes that are involved as well. What are the pieces that have information flowing in and out, and what other software methods do you use to get things done?

Brian Wright: OmniFocus has become my hub. I think a lot of people who probably listen to this podcast, I've tried every piece of software under the sun. I'm starting to train myself not to chase after every shiny new object that gets released. And that's been, again, not because I know better, just I've learned through trial and error that eventually what you're comfortable with is probably what you should stick with. I have really three core apps and then a handful of other adjacent ones. My three core, of course, OmniFocus, and that's my hub. I'll come back to that in a second. Fantastical, I use for my calendar. Calendar is very important when I have different calendars tied into different clients, because a lot of times I'm on their systems. I have different calendars with different members of my family. That's a really important piece. Fantastical has so many different options in it. I highly recommend it, as I believe others in the show have. My third is one that I've probably had the most of a journey with from on again, off again, and that's Drafts by Agile Tortoise. But what I mean on again, off again, I believe everyone uses Drafts to be their instant input. I think the tagline is something like it's where your writing starts and then you can drop it off somewhere else. I say I've gone on many journeys. I've tried Obsidian and Craft and Evernote and all those other places where everything is started in drafts, and then it takes more energy to try to put it in something, and then the formatting is not right. Where did I put it? It was about a year ago I realized Drafts is where I am all the time. Why not just stay in Drafts? It's not where my text originates, it's basically where my texts live. I had note-taking app I do a lot of my writing. Again, corporate communication, I do a lot of writing for clients. It all goes in Drafts. And at this point, it doesn't go anywhere else. It stays in Drafts through tagging. That was a big learning for me. And then outside of that, around the periphery, I do use DEVONthink to archive finished work. I do use Readwise for those snippets that I want to hold onto. When I do go chasing up that shiny object, Readwise is able usually to go... You can pull that into Obsidian or Notion or others. And then the last tool I'll highly recommend, in my line of work, monitoring news and keywords and such is really important. There are a lot of different readers out there. I think it's either Inoreader or Inoreader. I think it's like OmniFocus, the most sophisticated, most souped up, and that's what I go with. That's kind of my stack at this point.

Andrew J. Mason: You mentioned that trial and error. It's so hard to resist the pull of the shiny and new though, isn't it? There's something new, I got to try it. What is it?

Brian Wright: But you know what? The one thing is I will never tell someone, don't go chasing the shiny object because it has an irresistible pull. All I tell people is expect to go through the journey and eventually you realize, I got to stop.

Andrew J. Mason: Very true. Sometimes it's a journey that people just have to take for themselves. Tell me about your perspectives right now. Do you have just the built-in perspectives? Do you do anything custom as far as that goes?

Brian Wright: Yes. I use three primarily. I'm going to cheat just a little bit, but I think it's worth touching upon. My go-to perspective is actually the built-in Forecast, but it wasn't always that way. And what has changed for me is the combination of... I'm beta testing, like a lot of people are, the version four of OmniFocus. And with that, they have introduced the opportunity to add a third type of date that can show up in Forecast. Just to step back, for people who might be new to OmniFocus, it has primarily two forms of dates. It has a deferred date and the due date. The due date is pretty obvious. The deferred date, although used by different people, I think was originally designed to be this task is not to be worked on until this date. And then it becomes active or available and you can start working on it. What a lot of people like myself do is if something is due on a Friday, I may want to work on it, and I may want to calendarize it on a Monday or a Wednesday or two weeks beforehand. With the OmniFocus 4 Forecast ability and Kaitlin's plugin, she has a scheduled plugin that will allow me to look at any task. And if it doesn't fit the due criteria and I don't want to push it back with a defer, I can schedule it and it will pop up in Forecast. Forecast now with her plugin gives me tasks that pop up when they are available on that day, tasks that pop up when they're due that day and they've always done that, but now it'll also pop up the task that I have scheduled a particular day. And that's been a game changer. Not a homegrown perspective, but a twist on an actual OmniFocus perspective. But that has now got me to use Forecast when before I didn't because it just didn't serve my purposes very well. Big props to Kaitlin for creating that. That gives me the here's what I'm working on today and I can see what's going on in the near term horizon. The only other perspective I use is the available, which is a very simple one, but the key is I use that on a particular focus window on a particular role. Today, I need to worry about client X. With OmniFocus, I focus on the client X folder that has all the information in there, and I go to the available perspective to see everything that's perspective, and then I'll schedule with everyone's schedule to work on. Or if I see something that is interesting, I don't want to lose sight of it, but I don't want to schedule it and it's not due, I might flag it. But that's the really two things I use the most. Forecast with the amendments that Josh talked about and the available perspective, which is very simple, but you have to focus on the hat or the role that you're occupying, whereas it becomes overwhelming.

Andrew J. Mason: To me, that sounds really similar to culture codes today view where it's a little bit of a different take on defer where it doesn't necessarily show back up in the inbox. For the person that says, "I don't want to do defer because I don't want to have to reprocess something, especially if I just leave it parked in the inbox," I can't tell you how many times I've done this where it's like I don't want to deal with it later. It just goes away. And then the day comes where there's like 40 defer items that just jump back into your inbox. You're like, "Ah, I forgot about those."

Brian Wright: I hadn't thought about that. That's a perfect analogy. Here's why it's necessary. Forecast will pick up something that's deferred today if it's deferred today and it pops up on the today view of the Forecast. If I don't work on it and it's the next day, so now it's deferred yesterday, it doesn't show up in Forecast anymore. But Kaitlin has either created for me or was already in existence a plugin that will assign the today tag to something that's deferred today. If I don't do it, at midnight that night, it will automatically forward that scheduled to the new today. In other words, something that's not due or deferred will never drop off my radar because it will automatically advance to today.

Andrew J. Mason: Got it. That is brilliant. We're actually heading in this direction already. What else do you find yourself doing in the ways of automation, plugins, routines, anything that shows up that lets you handle your tasks in an automated way?

Brian Wright: Full disclaimer, I love implementing OmniFocus automations or any kind of automations like other people love relaxing with crossword puzzles. That's where I go to. Again, I'm not a coder. I have no idea how to code anything, but I love to go explore and see what other people have done. I worked with Omni Automation, Apple Scripts, URL Schemes, Zapier, all these things are tying into OmniFocus. I use beacons, those physical things you can put throughout your home or elsewhere. My beacons, I guess, they're called Apple Shortcuts. I use an app called Pushcut. All of those things do something with OmniFocus. Do I need all those bells and whistles for automation? Absolutely not. But again, other people do crosswords or knit. I find it enjoyable to do these things. In my downtime, that's what I do. Examples might be I have a Zapier automation that will turn any calendar invite that I receive into a task in OmniFocus. And then from there, I can turn it into a project or whatnot. It'll even have the date and start time of the meeting as the due date and due time of that task. I work with all the clients, so I have a lot of meetings, and those meetings are just meetings. I have to prepare for them, so that becomes projects automatically for me. Through Omni Automation, I have a shortcut that allows me to determine through a list of all my 20 plus roles, what am I going to work on, it will automatically focus on that folder. And then from there, I can go through any other perspectives I need to. Using Pushcut and beacons and using the location setting of OmniFocus, if I walk into a given room and there's a task that can only be done that room, Pushcut will send an automation to my phone and watch saying, "Hey, you have something on OmniFocus that can be done. Do you want to take a look at it?" I created none of these. Some of these were prebuilt. Some of them I've asked the community to help me build, but that's the wonder of the OmniFocus community.

Andrew J. Mason: Brian, you mentioned that downtime and enjoying productivity solely as almost a hobby in some ways. How can I squeeze that extra little bit of productivity out of my workflow in order to see things get that much better? You don't do something like that unless you are passionate about productivity. What do you think the deeper why is there? Why do you feel like you're passionate about productivity?

Brian Wright: Well, I think I've covered almost to a fault the amount of fun it brings me, but I also think there's a sense of control that comes with productivity. When you're wearing so many hats, and that's not to brag, everyone wears probably that many hats, you just may not have thought about that way. Most people are probably in charge of their finances, they're in charge of their parents or their children or responsible for being a great spouse, or whatever it might be. Everyone has probably that many hats if you think about it. It's very easy to get overwhelmed with that responsibility and productivity forces, whether intentionally, just a byproduct or sense of organization, knowing what you need to work on today, knowing what's in the near term horizon, ultimately knowing the goal you're trying to achieve by doing all these tasks and projects to begin with. When you have that, I think it gives you a sense of control.

Andrew J. Mason: For anyone who's listening that is maybe not as far along as you, what part of your journey in productivity would you say, "You know what? I would skip that. If I were you, don't do what I did, and you'll probably save yourself some time?"

Brian Wright: I don't know if that's regarding OmniFocus, but that's the first thing that came to mind. I've heard repeatedly advice of don't put everything into OmniFocus. It can overwhelm you. I actually don't subscribe to that, and I encourage everyone to put everything on OmniFocus under one condition, you learn to make the focus feature your best friend. I have so much information, like everyone else does, in OmniFocus. And if it's not filtered and you look at it, you just want to put it away and never look at it again. But it just takes a mindset, and there's a lot of buzz and discussion around mindset and being mindful, and that means a lot of different things to different people. What I've been trying to get myself to focus on is before I look at OmniFocus or my email, what mode am I in? Okay, I am in bill payment mode. Okay, before I open up OmniFocus, I'm going to make sure I'm focused on, oh, I think I made myself a chief financial officer for my world, I'll focus in on that. And then all of a sudden, everything I need to do is a lot less. I think, therefore, dump everything in there, but make sure you know how to zero in on it or else you will get frustrated.

Andrew J. Mason: Brian, I'm not exactly sure where to share this question inside of the show, but we were talking before it and you were telling me a little bit about your world as a father and just a really cool slice that OmniFocus played in all of that world and letting people hear how OmniFocus helped things along for you guys.

Brian Wright: As I alluded to earlier, our world and my son's world turned upside down about six years ago. And that is because up until then, we weren't sure to what degree he had comprehension, which sounds horrible now in hindsight. But when we are looking through our own filters, we understand what we get back. We normally have visual cues or audible cues talking to people that yes, they understand what's being said, they can communicate back, and so forth. That just wasn't the cards dealt to our son. But six years ago, we through a special form was typing learned that he is a fully functioning mind trapped in a somewhat damaged body. There's a disconnect between the well-formed thoughts in his head and his ability to convey it either through his tongue, and that's called apraxia, that's why he's non-verbal, and through typing, because it's very hard. Because if your body is a series of neuron misfires, it's very hard to control your body. We learned that he is a fully functioning man. And through a special form of typing, everything turned upside down in a wonderful way. Fast-forward, he is now prolific in typing and an unbelievable poet, very sophisticated poet. It's shocking to people who know Brady, but didn't see what we didn't see either, again, because of the body he was trapped behind. We started posting things on social media about his typing, about his poems, about his words of advice, and people started coming to us, to our social sites, to Brady saying, "I have a son or daughter, I have a grandson, I have a granddaughter, I have a friend in a similar position. What should I do?" All of a sudden, our friends were telling us, "You need to start a blog." We had no idea how to do that, and that's where OmniFocus really helped us stay organized, from researching to all the software or the subscriptions we would need and so forth and so on. Okay, that doesn't sound too daunting. OmniFocus helped us do that. But then we were encouraged after we had so much content on the site... And by the way, that site is followed by people around the world asking Brady his advice on what they should do in their circumstances, which is just amazing. We were then encouraged that we need to package that and make it a book. There is no one-stop guide on how you self-publish, and there are so many pieces. We could not have managed that without having multiple projects timed together, linked together with OmniFocus, and we would've lost our minds without OmniFocus. I don't think many other task managers could have kept it all together. But because of that, again, as I mentioned, he's a number one author on Amazon because his story is resonating, in no small part to particularly his mom and to some degree me in being able to tie it in with OmniFocus to keep us on track.

Andrew J. Mason: That's so cool, Brian. Thank you for sharing that. Any final words of wisdom or advice or just something that is important enough that, hey, I want to share this with everybody?

Brian Wright: Sure, and I think I've touched upon it a couple times, but it can't be said enough. OmniFocus has so many wonderful bells and whistles that it can be overwhelming to someone new, but the community has so many experts who are so approachable, who can teach so much. I consider myself very advanced with OmniFocus, but I still follow and I still subscribe, and I'm still learning, because they're much better than I am. Kaitlin, Rosemary Orchard, David Sparks, I've already talked about Tim Springer's Learning OmniFocus, Sal Soghoian, all of them have so much to teach, so you don't have to be a coder. They're power creators, I just sample their brilliance. I ask for their help, and they always help, and then I'm able to goof around with all these automations that are both not only fun, but actually help me get the work done.

Andrew J. Mason: Brian, thank you for this conversation. I so appreciate your time and energy just investing in everybody here and sharing back with our community. You all and our listeners are some of the greatest people. We're so thankful. How can folks get in touch with you if they're interested in talking more, finding out more about what you're up to?

Brian Wright: My company is called Wright Communication Strategies, and we generally offer fractional comms expertise to late startup and early growth companies, early Growth CEOs. Website is, and that's the best way to get through with me. You can drop me a line that way and I can help you out either professionally or with OmniFocus. Happy to do so. If anyone is interested in or has family members or friends with a similar situation as my son, whether are autistic, non-verbal, or both, he has put together a wealth of information on a site called Again, by breaking out of his silence six years ago, he's a top author now in a division on Amazon books, and you can get his book in the same name wherever you buy your digital books. It'd be a good opportunity to help those you love or your friends in a similar situation.

Andrew J. Mason: That is excellent. Thank you so much, Brian.

Brian Wright: Thank you very much.

Andrew J. Mason: Hey, and thank all of you for listening today too. You can drop us a line on Twitter @theomnishow. You can also find out everything that's happening with The Omni Group at