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Nov. 23, 2020, 6 a.m.
How David Sparks uses OmniFocus

David Sparks is an Orange County, California business attorney and a geek. David is also a podcaster, blogger, and author who writes about finding the best tools, hardware, and workflows for using Apple products to get work done. David also writes for Macworld magazine and speaks about technology.

Show Notes:

OmniFocus is how David successfully runs his law practice, blogging, podcasts, and personal life. His system expresses both structure and fluidity as he utilizes URL linking to maximize his focus.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:

  • OmniFocus
  • OmniOutliner
  • Mac Sparky
  • OmniFocus Field Guide ("HoorayOmniGroup" for 5$ off)
  • Toggl
  • Timing App for Mac
  • Hook App
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • Podcast Network
  • Mac Power Users
  • Automators
  • Focused
  • Transcript:

    David Sparks: I've been trying to do a better job of tracking habits lately so I went through this thing where I downloaded all the habit apps and checked them out. Then I realized the habit apps have turned into like dispensers of sugar, right? I mean, you just press a button and it's like a dopamine dispenser, right? They flash up, something happens.

    Andrew J. Mason: I so appreciate the level of maturity that says, "You know what? I don't know if I need a visual confetti pop on my iPhone every single time I drink eight ounces of water, anything like that."

    David Sparks: I get it, you know? For some people, I think that's a really good thing. But for me, it was just like your kid breaks her arm and you're going to the hospital to deal with it, but I've got a 300-day streak on my afternoon walk. I think it gets in the way of what's actually important sometimes.

    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 have David Sparks of the Mac Power Users Podcast and on how he uses OmniFocus to get things done.

    Andrew J. Mason: Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Omni Show. I hope you're enjoying all of these episodes as much as we are getting to create them. It's such a blast learning from people on how they utilize Omni's software to get things done.

    Andrew J. Mason: I'm really excited about today because today we have David Sparks. He's from Orange County, California, and he's a business attorney and self-proclaimed geek. David is also a podcaster, a blogger, and an author who writes about finding the best tools and hardware and workflows for using Apple products to get work done.

    Andrew J. Mason: David also writes for Macworld Magazine and speaks about technology. I'll go ahead and throw out there that he's the author of the super awesome OmniFocus Field Guide, where he shows you step by step on how he gets a workflow up and running in OmniFocus.

    Andrew J. Mason: So, David, thank you so much for joining us on the Omni Show today.

    David Sparks: Oh, my pleasure.

    Andrew J. Mason: Before we dive into your intersection with Omni, it does feel like there's a common thread for folks that we've had on this show that have used OmniFocus, that they all have a ton on their plate these days, and I would say that you're no exception. Do you mind taking a few seconds and expanding into each of these roles that we just mentioned?

    David Sparks: Yeah. I mean really I think OmniFocus is so good for people that are juggling. Because life gets hard, and I'm a husband and a father, so we've got like a lot of family commitments, but then also in my day job, for the longest time I was a litigation attorney, but I've kind of transitioned to more of a transactional lawyer, but I've got about 150 separate businesses that I represent. I take care of their problems, whether it's corporate minutes or writing transactional documents or helping them hopefully avoid getting into a fight with somebody. But for each one of these clients, I've got things I need to track.

    David Sparks: Then on the MacSparky side, I've got three podcasts, a blog, and then kind of an unintentional publishing business where I make these videos with the MacSparky field guides.

    David Sparks: So all of these things have different moving parts, and I needed a tool that could be up to keeping up with all of that. I'm not a fan of multiple tools. I wanted a single tool that could do it and I went through the process of looking at everything out there. If you go back a few years, it's kind of interesting, because there was kind of there were no good apps for task management on the Mac for a long time. Then suddenly we had this like influx of rich options, and we still do to this day. There are some just great, amazing options, but OmniFocus was the one that really worked for me for a variety of reasons.

    Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome. So let's wind back the clock a little bit and talk about how did you originally come across anything to do with Omni, or Omni software, Omni Group?

    David Sparks: Yeah, I was thinking about that this morning. I think the first exposure I had to Omni Group was in a big box computer store a long time ago when they were selling OmniOutliner in a box. I'm sure that's the first Omni software I bought, and OmniOutliner is a great tool for lawyers because the way you can easily nest nodes of an outline. So I started using that many years before OmniFocus was a twinkle in Ken's eye.

    Andrew J. Mason: You do give a comprehensive overview of this in the OmniFocus Field Guide, but do you mind maybe glossing through, walking people through your OmniFocus system as it stands today?

    David Sparks: Yeah, it's constantly evolving for me. But that's the thing I like about OmniFocus is that it can evolve. The combination of the review process and the custom perspectives is what really makes it shine for me.

    David Sparks: But what I do is, so it starts on the project level I have broken project groups or folders into the various areas of my life. I like to think of my life as roles. You know, there are different roles I play as husband-father, friend, but also lawyer and MacSparky. Then the more like odd ones like a student, I feel like I'm always trying to learn, or spiritual, whatever. So I've got these various folders that are broken up by role in my life.

    David Sparks: Then inside those, I have projects listed, and in some cases, even more sub-folders. Like for MacSparky, I've got a folder for the blog and one for the podcast and one for the field guide so I can kind of like have a little bit more organization. That also gives me more power in those custom perspectives.

    David Sparks: So if I've got a folder that holds all the field guide stuff, I can create a custom perspective around that folder and then have a way to easily get to just the things that are flagged in that folder that are currently available, for instance. So it starts with areas or roles and then drills down by that into individual folders underneath. In contrast, I've got other areas of roles that don't have sub-folders because they aren't that complex and they don't need them.

    David Sparks: At the end unit is a group of projects. Everybody who does GTD always gets to the point where they are like, "Well, this is kind of GTD. Well, that's kind of what I do." You know? It's got some project specific projects, but then I've also got a lot of single actionless projects.

    David Sparks: For example, on the legal side for every legal client I have, they've got their own folder and they've got a single action general project. I call it corporate general. Like it'll be Acme Company M-Corporate General, and that's a single action list. But then I'll have individual projects that grow out of that. Maybe somebody says, "Well, I need you to help me prepare an employment agreement for this key employee." That will become a separate project.

    David Sparks: I just kind of work my way from the top down. That's the project organization.

    Andrew J. Mason: Have you iterated or change that set up over time since the OmniFocus Field Guide came out?

    David Sparks: Yeah. If you look at me, like the first version of the OmniFocus Field Guide I wrote, or I produced, I was heavily into defer dates and I used that as kind of like the sauce to kind of hold everything together. Ultimately, I gave up on that, and the reason is because it became too much of a maintenance task. You know, you get to the end of the day and you're going to reset defer dates, and I know you can group them and there's a lot of ways OmniFocus makes it easy to do this, but it felt just too much like you were always running with all these heavy rocks in your backpack.

    David Sparks: So what I ended up doing, and I cover this in the most recent version of the OmniFocus Field Guide, is I've got kind of more of a filter and perspective system and a very judicious use of flags. So everything is in its own project, but one of the tags I have is Radar. That means this is something that's really on the radar now. I kind of envisioned of sitting at a radar station, what are the things coming in that I need to deal with, I need to be aware of.

    David Sparks: Then the second layer of that is a flag. So I've got stuff on the radar that I can just keep an eye on, but there's no start dates affiliated with them. So part of my process is checking the radar and then I flag things on there that I'm going to do in the next day. That has evolved to me to the primary way I manage day-to-day now.

    Andrew J. Mason: I'm curious if this rings true for you. I feel like the more people I run across with a lot of tasks in a wide spectrum of projects in their task management system in something like OmniFocus, the less stressed they actually seem to be about what it is that's going on their lives. So there's people with way less to do, way less many things on the task list, and yet they're surrounded by a sea of red for due dates or they're just completely overwhelmed.

    Andrew J. Mason: Here I see this kind of hierarchical structure of roles and areas of responsibility where you're able to just zoom in with that surgical precision and just tick off a task is done wherever it's needed, and it sounds like David Allen mentions Teflon, where you just make decisions quickly and they don't stick to you. You don't have that residue because you're rapidly refocusing in a way that makes sense.

    David Sparks: Well, I do have due dates, but they're very rare. When they are there, they're actual due dates, so that gets a lot of attention when they show up. But I do think that there's a fundamental problem with task management in that the human brain isn't equipped for a lot of tasks and if you wake up and you put 30 tasks on your list, there's a really good chance you're not going to do any tasks that day. But if you put five on your list, there's a better chance you'll do five that day. You know, the whole point is when you go to bed, are you a little bit closer to the destination than you were when you woke up? You've got to think about your task system in that way.

    David Sparks: Now, the reason why I'm able to take this less stringent approach to it is, in my mind, the religious use of the review process. I think that you can't just say, "Oh, I don't need to see everything out there. I just check the radar. Everything's fine." But you know, I've also got a bunch of stuff on my tasks and projects that don't have radar. I mean, the stuff on the radar is maybe 10% of the stuff in the database. So I use those reviews, and that is something I do all the time. I keep up with them.

    David Sparks: I don't review every project every week. I've got different review frequencies set for different projects. Some of them only get reviewed every eight weeks, some of them get reviewed every three days. I mean, it just depends.

    Andrew J. Mason: Is this review an ongoing process for you or is it something that you schedule in through the rhythm of your week?

    David Sparks: It's part of my daily shutdown. I've tried it different ways over the years and I used to do the thing where on Sunday I would do all the reviews, but what I find is when I review that way, I'm really good for about five to ten projects and after that, my review muscle gets tired and then I don't do a very good job of reviewing. So if I have to wait until the end of the week and I have to review 40 projects, 30 of them aren't going to get reviewed very well. I'll end up just checking them off and not doing the process. So I make it a daily practice.

    Andrew J. Mason: Yeah. No, a full disclosure for our listeners, that's exactly the same process I use in terms of, not necessarily a weekly review, because I think things in my world just move too fast. There's so many moving parts that if you review everything, by day three, I feel like everything's already stale again and you're not sure how much the terrain's changed because you're moving so fast and you haven't looked at a map.

    David Sparks: Yeah. I have a very discipline to my review. It's like the first question I ask myself is is this a project that I need anymore? If I can get rid of the project, then that's the best review in some ways.

    Andrew J. Mason: Oh, that's a great question. Sequence matters. You've got to ask that first.

    David Sparks: Yeah. Then the second thing I ask myself is, okay, if this is still on, how important is it? Is it stalled? Because occasionally I find stalled projects and reviews that I just forgot about or whatever, and that's the reason you need these reviews.

    David Sparks: Then from there, if I'm keeping it, are there any of these projects that need to be on the radar? If they are, I just apply the radar tag to them. Then the even more aggressive, ultimately, oh wait, this needs to be done like really soon, and then I'll flag it.

    David Sparks: So I just kind of go through that progressive process from, can I kill this? To, oh boy, I need to do this right away. And then I've reviewed it. Because I have the single action list for each client, I mean, they show up and I do those actually about on an eight week increment, but they're spread out. That's a good excuse to say, "Oh, I haven't talked to that person for a while. I'll give them a call." Or I'll stumble into something that needs to be done. But the review process is what made it possible for me to get off the defer date treadmill.

    Andrew J. Mason: All right. Loaded question, because I know you and I know your audience. Do you have any automation set up for your system?

    David Sparks: No, I automate like crazy. I have a podcast called The Automators, so you can only imagine. But OmniFocus, I mean, well, this is the Omni's podcast, so it sounds like a commercial, but it's not, I just love the app. But the Omni Group has kept up with kind of the evolution of task management and automation. I remember when you guys first started implementing the shortcut stuff and I would get these emails from Ken Case that were like 2:00 AM in the morning when he was like working on implementing this stuff. That just kind of, to me, says these guys really care.

    David Sparks: As a result, I have templated probably about 50 different kinds of OmniFocus projects, and then I've got a shortcut. I fire it all from shortcuts. It's one of those unique cases where automation on iOS is easier than on Mac, but I've got what they call a choose-from menu shortcut and I call it Omni Select. It's just a shortcut where I can easily get into all of these templates and they all use task paper-based automation.

    David Sparks: I'm sure you guys have probably talked about it in prior podcasts, but the OmniFocus app has a very easy way to template and set up new projects. So if you call me and say, "Hey, I need you to make me a new California limited liability company," I press a button and then all of the tasks get created for me. That's just a very basic one, but I do them for all kinds of stuff.

    David Sparks: In addition, I use the automation things for like if I'm going to see something I want to write a blog post about. Why not have a automation so all I have to do is put in the name of the post I want to write and then OmniFocus creates the tags and puts it in the proper location in my database and does all that for me? I definitely want the computers to take over as much as they can and allow me to get back to the important work of using my brain.

    Andrew J. Mason: David, do you have a process, or what does that process look like? You're at the forefront of all this gear, all these automations, all these different things that you're trying in the name of your community, but at the same time, how do you decide that something's worthy? Like, okay, I've hit something, and I know that the people who are interacting with me that I'm talking to online, they're going to love this?

    David Sparks: Something that I bring to my voice as MacSparky is I'm not just a tech writer, I actually have to make a living doing other stuff. So I'm putting this stuff to practice in my law practice and using it on a daily basis. I feel like that gives me kind of the laboratory where I can try things out and see what works and what doesn't.

    David Sparks: There's a big difference between a hypothetical productivity hack and one that you find yourself wanting to use every day, and those are the ones I write about, the ones that kind of make the cut. There are plenty of things I do that don't make the cut, but I guess that's part of my job is to figure that out. But also, I just kind of dig it, to be honest with you. I like playing with this stuff and trying to figure it out.

    Andrew J. Mason: You know, in the spirit of finding information that's good enough to share with your community, you came out with a video recently talking about taking a personal retreat. You mentioned the maker versus manager tension there, which we've heard before, where you're stuck between do I spend time creating stuff or do I spend time managing the creation of those things? The whole forest versus the trees kind of analogy. Do you zoom in and chop down the tree or do you zoom out and say, "Hey, we're in the wrong forest."

    Andrew J. Mason: How do you manage personally, that? When you're actually working with all of these tweaks, all of this technology, all of this automation, how do you keep from being hyper-focused and really looking at the things that matter, the outcomes that matter to you?

    David Sparks: You know, I'll tell you one of the most useful things I do every day is what I call the shutdown. That's the end of the day, every day, I just block out an hour. In that hour, because I don't spend a lot of time in email throughout the day, but in that hour, I go through the email, answer critical email, and kind of try to address it as much as I can. I review my progress in the day, the things I did, what were the things I got completed, and I look at the calendar for the next day and start blocking time for the next day to decide what the big rocks are for the next day.

    David Sparks: I do the OmniFocus audit where I look at what's left on my list for today. Is it still important that I do that tomorrow? So I'll do it tomorrow. I'll look at the radar in OmniFocus to see if there's other stuff I can pick up for the next day and I also do the review process in OmniFocus.

    David Sparks: So OmniFocus kind of plays heavily in that day end shutdown routine for me. But the good part of that process, and everybody listening is like, "Ah, who wants to spend the last hour of their day doing that stuff?" But for me, I find I just jump out of bed the next day and I just start working.

    David Sparks: For me, those first like three or four hours of the day are just the best hours of the day. I always get a lot of work done, so I want to spend that time actually moving the needle and not fiddling with OmniFocus. So that shut down ritual, every time I do it, I am more productive the next day, and every time I find some excuse not to do it, the next day is kind of a mess. That is something that I do all the time and OmniFocus plays a pretty big role in that for me, because that's the bank of tasks for me.

    Andrew J. Mason: Yeah. David Allen talks about the best place to create a new meal in the kitchen is with a fresh kitchen. You can't do that with all your dirty dishes and all of your residue from the last time you were in the kitchen hanging around, so it's good to clean up. So your shutdown routine, I think, just really speaks to that.

    Andrew J. Mason: Speaking of starting fresh, do you have any words of wisdom or first kind of steps of success for somebody that's just cracking open OmniFocus? You know, they don't have an idea of what perspectives are or how to use defer dates or anything like that, but what words of wisdom do you have for somebody that's just getting started?

    David Sparks: Well, I think there is a degree of architecture that enters into planning a good task management system. But I think that if you are just getting into it, that is not the time to do the architecture. I think if you're just getting into it to start, putting some tasks in and checking them off. Don't spend a week setting up the system, just use it as it is in your day to day stuff.

    David Sparks: If you're coming from another app, just reenter the stuff you need for the next few days. Or if you're coming from a paper system, just type in the stuff you need for the next few days. Just kind of get comfortable with it and get the feel for it. The architecture stuff comes later as you get to kind of know the ins and outs of the app and the parts that you find you use versus the parts you don't use.

    David Sparks: I mean, something that changed for me with OmniFocus just recently is I've been trying to do a better job of tracking habits lately. So I went through this thing where I downloaded all the habit apps and checked them out, and then I realized the habit apps have turned into like dispensers of sugar, right? I mean, you just press a button and it just like immediately starts giving you, it's like a dopamine dispenser, right? They flash up, something happens, and then they're very excited about your streaks. I felt like that was kind of getting beyond the point. I just want every day to have a place I can go to to say these are the things I want to try and keep doing to maintain some habits I'm working on.

    David Sparks: So I just went into OmniFocus and set that up and it wasn't hard. It doesn't have all the dopamine bits to it that a dedicated habit app, and it's also the same place I'm doing all my other task management so it just made sense for me. But I couldn't start there. That's something that I got to because I had a system in place and I was able to add a room on the back to go back through the architecture.

    David Sparks: So my advice is really just kind of start with it and get comfortable with it and then you'll slowly figure out the pieces that work for you. I mean, if you looked at my tag list, I have tried so many different tagging systems. A bunch of them fell by the wayside pretty quickly, but I had to kind of like try them out and figure out what worked for me.

    Andrew J. Mason: I so appreciate the level of maturity that says, "You know what? I don't know if I need a visual confetti pop on my iPhone every single time I drink eight ounces of water, anything like that."

    David Sparks: Yeah. No. I get it, and for some people, I think that's a really good thing. But for me, it was just like just another thing for me. I honestly don't care. Habits, for me, are won on the day to day battle. I don't need to see that I've done this every day for the last 400 days, you know? That creates its own baggage because what if like your kid breaks her arm and you're going to the hospital to deal with it but I've got a 300 day streak on my afternoon walk? I think it gets in the way of what's actually important sometimes.

    Andrew J. Mason: You know, speaking of system tweaks and that sort of a thing, do you ever get the feeling or have you ever had the feeling where it's like, I think it's perfect? You know, I love tweaking things, I love changing bits and pieces of the system, but I think the overall structure is the way things need to be and I don't need to mess that up. Or is it the other side where it's like that evolving process is part of the fun for you?

    David Sparks: I do evaluate, reconsider, but I don't dwell on it. I guess, to me, a task system, it has a job to do, and I'm at points where I think, "Oh, this is adequate. This is giving me what I need." But you know, it's really up to me to be checking those things off.

    David Sparks: One of the things I talk about in the field guide is OmniFocus is a great app, but OmniFocus is not your job. Your job is the things you're writing down in OmniFocus. A lot of like technical systems, people want to turn the process into the job, and that's a recipe for disaster. So to me, I'm like, yeah, OmniFocus is doing its job for me. I'm always looking for little ways to tweak, and I do find ways to tweak, but I don't know, I guess I don't ever look at it as necessarily the building is complete. I might be adding on here and there or take things off, but I don't like obsess on it either.

    Andrew J. Mason: When it comes to ways that you've set your system up, have you ever had anything you'd classify as a spectacular failure? Like just, "Man, I really thought this was going to work out, we tag it with this and change the perspective to that, and this is really going to help reduce drag for me." Then after it goes, you're just like, "Nope, that's not going to work."

    David Sparks: You know, I don't think I've really had that experience because usually when I try to make changes in my system it's very incremental. I try things out as little experiments. So I mean, the idea of changing the system is such a burden for me because I've got so many different things I'm doing that I'm not going to ever just spend a weekend refiguring out the whole system and then see if that works on Monday. I'll try it in little corners of my database and then slowly kind of evolve it over. I find that much better.

    David Sparks: Oh, a recent thing I've been doing with OmniFocus that I really hadn't been doing historically that I find that I'm like kind of banging my head like why didn't I do this years ago was the URL links. I mean, I think a lot of people don't realize you can right click on any project or task in OmniFocus and create a URL link to it, and that works on Mac or iPhone or iPad.

    David Sparks: Because I've got different areas where I track, like for instance, a legal client, I've got usually a note in drafts, and lately I've been playing a lot with Obsidian, I'm doing some stuff in Obsidian and I've got documents held on an iCloud drive and I've got an OmniFocus project, so I've been collecting the links to all these various places and OmniFocus makes it real easy. Like I said, you just right click and say copy this link. Having that ability to jump from idea to the exact project or folder I need to be in an OmniFocus really is a great way to kind of avoid distraction.

    David Sparks: That started as a little experiment and now it's like throughout the library. Everything I do, I've got a link now.

    Andrew J. Mason: It's so funny because we've heard this theme pop up throughout the last couple of episodes with Kourosh Dini and Luc Beaudoin about how you're using your system with links to nudge your attention back in the direction of the system. So it's almost like you have the maintenance instructions for the system built into the system itself. It feels kind of like Inception, but it works.

    David Sparks: Yeah. I mean, like for instance, one of my tasks is check in with this task, and that way I don't get a bunch of flags and things thrown at me to kind of overwhelm me. I really feel like the ability to link, it really just creates an option for what I call contextual computing.

    David Sparks: It's just kind of this idea that the problem with computers is usually the middle step. You've got your brain, imagine you've got an idea. I want to send an email, right? Then from the time you think of sending an email there's steps you go through. The middle step is you open the email app and then you hit the new email button and then you start writing the email. Well, in that middle step, how often do you hit an inbox and see something else and find yourself getting distracted? The same thing. Like if you need to do something on the web, you open your browser and then suddenly you find yourself at Amazon as opposed to what you meant to do. All of this stuff is avoidable with this explosion of URL backlinks and ways to jump to specific areas, including OmniFocus.

    David Sparks: So almost everything in my life is contextual, and I have different ways I do it with. On the iPhone and iPad, I do it with shortcuts, and then on the Mac, I do it with Keyboard Maestro. I have built in ways to jump directly to the end point of those ideas without going through the middle point. It's as simple as like if I need to work on some specific project in OmniFocus, I press a couple buttons in Keyboard Maestro and OmniFocus is showing me that project.

    David Sparks: This process is another one I didn't like set up overnight. It started out as some experiments, and over the last year, it's basically everywhere now. But it really saves me time and distraction.

    Andrew J. Mason: This actually reminds me of the conversation last episode we had with Luc Beaudoin. He's the creator of the Hook app.

    David Sparks: Yeah. Actually, Hook is an app I use, yeah.

    Andrew J. Mason: It took me a little bit to get my head wrapped around the concept of it, but now that I understand and have used it, like, okay, you pull up all relevant files around the project that you're working with and it helps you stay inside of context. So he has something that he calls the two-second rule.

    Andrew J. Mason: You know, David Allen's two-minute rule is if you can do something without writing it down, then just do it then because it's going to take longer to stack it and track it.

    Andrew J. Mason: The two-second rule for Luc was this idea that if you're working in a project, you need to have all relevant information to that project at access to your fingertips within two seconds, otherwise you're in risk of breaking your flow. It's a really interesting concept to me, and this kind of speaks to what you're talking about.

    David Sparks: I feel like you're right, saving the few seconds helps. But also I think the huge risk of not doing it with a contextual approach is that there's going to be a big flashing light distraction in between the idea and the execution, which is the email inbox, which is the web browser, which is, honestly, OmniFocus.

    David Sparks: I mean, I can open OmniFocus with the intention of going to a specific client project, but once I open it, I see my OmniFocus inbox and there's lots of shiny things in there that maybe I can find myself going down a rabbit hole on totally unintentionally. By making these direct links and driving literally straight into the garage with your blinders on, or whatever you want to say, just getting to the end point without that middle point means that you don't even have the risk of that happening. It just makes your day go much more in line with what you wanted it to at the beginning,

    Andrew J. Mason: You know, the name of the program is OmniFocus, and I feel like we might be a little off in left field here, but I'd kick myself if I didn't ask this of you. Do you have any best practices for when you find yourself being a victim of that sort of distractibility? So you jump on the computer and 30 minutes later, you wake up, you've blacked out, and there's three things that have been ordered on Amazon or something to that degree. Any tips for how to get a handle on that behavior?

    David Sparks: I can tell you some things that helped me. There is a great app for the Mac called Timing App, and it installs on your Mac and it just tracks everything you do on your Mac. But it's not the creepy kind of tracking, it's just on your Mac. It gives you reports and it will show you that at 10:00 AM you opened your browser and you spent 30 minutes in Amazon and then you went to your work website, right? Then at the end of the day, you look at that and you're like, wow, at 10:00 AM I meant to go to my work website, but I spent 30 minutes at Amazon. You know? So that's kind of a way to keep yourself honest, because you see the data.

    David Sparks: Another way is just manual time tracking with something like Toggle, if you can have the discipline to check in with it. I think that also brings a degree of intentionality because you know you've just said, "Okay, now I'm doing this. I've toggled for this project, so now I need to work on this project. I think that helps too.

    David Sparks: But just, there's a basic awareness we all fall off this wagon frequently, and when you catch yourself doing something that you didn't intend to do, you don't beat yourself up, you laugh at yourself, yeah, I'm still a monkey with a monkey brain, and then you go back and do your work and next time try to do a little better. I think a lot of people are too hard on themselves about this stuff. But for me, it's just kind of trying to have intentionality and awareness, but also building in the technical systems to allow my little monkey brain to avoid the distractions as much as possible.

    Andrew J. Mason: David, I've so loved this conversation, and this continuous exploring of Omni software with all of these guests has been an amazing process for me. But for you, how can folks continue to connect with you and find out what you're up to?

    David Sparks: Yeah, I mean the main place for me is That's my website. Then if you're interested in the field guides, they're all at I'm going to do a $5 discount on the OmniFocus Field Guide as soon as we hang up here and that'll run for a couple of weeks after the show airs. It'll be Hurray Omni Group. If you say Hurray Omni Group, then you get $5 off. That's at learn.macsparky.

    David Sparks: I've got three podcasts. One is called Mac Power Users, which is kind of my main podcast where we talk about iPhone, iPad, and Mac and ways to get more out of it. I've got one called The Automators, where Rosemary Orchard and I just go super deep and nerdy. If you like nerdy automation, that ones for you.

    David Sparks: The last one is called Focused, and that is me and Mike Schmitz. Like you were saying earlier, I feel like focus is the superpower of the next 20 years, and with the world the way it is, it's actually really difficult. So that's what we talk about on that show.

    David Sparks: You can find all of those over at

    Andrew J. Mason: Oh, that's cool. Thank you for your generosity on that offer, David, and just appreciate so much you spending your time with us today.

    David Sparks: Oh, my pleasure. I'm a big fan. Every time I meet someone from the Omni Group, I have to tell them how much I appreciate what they do for me. Because I don't just use OmniFocus, I use OmniGraffle. I map out my workflows with OmniGraffle. I use OmniPlan on client project stuff. I use OmniOutliner still to this day. That box that I bought in the big box store still gets used. So I just really love thoughtful software design and I feel like you guys nail it.

    Andrew J. Mason: Thank all of you, too, for listening and being a part of this episode. We're so grateful to be able to share the story of how people get things done with Omni software and products. I just am so grateful to share this time with you all.

    Andrew J. Mason: If you find this episode helpful and want to help us out, absolutely leave a review or rating on iTunes. 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.