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Feb. 20, 2023, 7 a.m.
How Dr. Christian Calma Uses OmniFocus

Today, we hear from Dr. Christian Calma, an OBGYN currently residing in Iowa. Christian shares how he uses OmniFocus to manage the various aspects of his busy life, from daily tasks to long-term goals.

Show Notes:

In the episode, Christian touches on the importance of taking control of one's daily life. With help from a custom plugin created by Kaitlin Salzke, he also discusses the importance of staying productive on day-to-day tasks, even in the midst of a major life transition. If you're looking to streamline your own workload and bring order to your life, Christian's insights on using OmniFocus are a must-listen.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:
- Keyboard Maestro
- Kaitlin Salzke's Website
- Anki
- Appigo's Todo
- OmniFocus
- Getting Things Done
- Hookmark


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 hear how Dr. Christian Calma uses OmniFocus. Welcome everybody to this episode of The Omni Show. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we have Dr. Christian Calma talking about how he uses OmniFocus. Christian is an OBGYN currently working in Iowa and uses OmniFocus to handle various parts of his life. Christian, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Christian Calma: Thanks for having me.

Andrew J. Mason: Christian, tell us a little bit of your story. Where do you find yourself currently? How did you get there? And just a bit more of a thumbnail sketch of what your life looks like these days.

Dr. Christian Calma: Totally. So I guess where I'm from, so I grew up primarily in California. I guess this kind of makes sense in hindsight, but I grew up specifically in northern California where Apple was blowing up at the time and all that stuff. Went to undergrad out in San Diego, then worked a bunch in Northern California before heading out to Omaha, which is where I went to medical school. And I'm here in Iowa right now where I'm finishing off my residency. I'm heading off to Indianapolis, which is where I guess my fiance now is settled and we have a house and a little dog and all that stuff. So that's all super fun. I guess as far as my day-to-day stuff with OmniFocus, I think I learned a lot in this time before I started medical school, but had finished undergrad where you just need to be responsible for your daily life stuff. And I mean, there's just so much going on, but if you don't keep track of it, then you're just going to be in this constant circle of trying to figure out, okay, what's the next thing? What's the next thing? What's the next thing? And that's how OmniFocus ended up falling into my life. Well, these are little lists I can form and worry about them as they pop up once I figure out a system that makes sense for me.

Andrew J. Mason: Now, I do want to point out that you are a person on the move, California to Iowa then to Indianapolis. Do you mind zooming that out a little bit more and giving this some more context around that?

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, here is kind of more the full story. So I was born in the Philippines and when I was 10 months old, my mom for some reason was like, "You know what? We're applying for a visa for funsies to Canada." And my dad was like, "Well, all right, I guess we're doing that now," because then they were selected for their visa. We lived in Canada for 10 years, then moved out to California. So I guess to answer your questions, yeah, there's a lot of flux with that stuff. I will say that Omaha's a really cool place. You're on the East Coast, right?

Andrew J. Mason: Yeah, I'm actually in Delaware. I tell everybody it's the little state that could.

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, that's funny. Omaha in truth is very similar to, I guess it's the weather, Canada prepared me very well for that. And the thought I had when I was applying for different places for medical school and having lived in bigger cities like San Diego and San Jose and going to a place like Omaha, the truth is just because you live in San Francisco or New York City or something like that doesn't mean you're always going to the Golden Gate Bridge every day or something. The truth is, it's more the day-to-day stuff that matters. And the truth also on top of that is when you're in some sort of graduate school or working you're too busy to do the fun stuff anyway.

Andrew J. Mason: It's so cool because the larger narrative of somebody's life is just this big sweeping epic, and I feel like we're pausing at a pit stop where you're just in a very specific spot as all of that's playing out. Tell us how The Omni Group came to be a part of your life. Do you have any recollection as to when you first heard about them or first came across OmniFocus? Tell me a bit more about that.

Dr. Christian Calma: I think the app that I was using previously was Appigo's Todo way back when, kind of at the start. The company is Appigo, I think it's A-P-P-I-G-O, and the app itself is called Todo. I essentially had a to-do list system and I just needed something more, something that I can schedule things and just customize as much as I wanted to. And then I fell onto OmniFocus, I think two because we're on three now. So I fell on two between that upgrade and it was at that time where I was filling out a bunch of med school applications and you got to just keep track of different things. And what I found convenient with OmniFocus is that you can set defer dates so that it just pops up as it becomes relevant for you. So you're not always worrying about it. As long as you trust your system that you have and review it fairly regularly, it'll all work out. What I really liked about it is that when three came out, where you can have the custom perspectives and just setting that up and tinkering around with setting it all up to see things that you want to see from different perspectives.

Andrew J. Mason: I really am fascinated by this wide range of things that you have going in this large life story. What spaces in your life do you use OmniFocus for? Some people use it for personal, some professional, some everything. How does that look for you?

Dr. Christian Calma: The answer to that is all encompassing and interestingly, less so my professional life than my personal life. So I guess to kind of explain where I am in everything. Are you familiar with the medical system and how you go through all that stuff and how you ultimately become a doctor?

Andrew J. Mason: No. I know there's schooling involved, but at what level and how it looks I couldn't tell you.

Dr. Christian Calma: So I'll just kind of take a step back with it. So you do your undergrad and then you apply for medical school. You get in, so it's four years and it's another four years, and then you do residency. And residency's either three years to I think nine, and then you can do fellowships on top of that, and then you work at some point, have a real job. And for me, I'm on the tail end of finishing my residency and have a job already lined up, so I'm just budding in my actual career. I haven't even started this whole process yet. So that's just kind of some perspective of where I am in all this stuff. Now, to answer your question more directly, I guess, how do I end up using OmniFocus? I've found that trying to follow the getting things done, principle initially is where I've started, but it ultimately has become my own system basically. And the way I think about it's just kind of divvied up in the morning, before I go to sleep, things that happen monthly or weekly like groceries, chores that are repeating in addition to basically scheduled things, daily chore stuff, whatever, in addition to random, what I have deemed in my system as collections, just lists of, okay, this would be a cool restaurant to go to when I'm in Peru or something like that, in addition to just big old projects that I have. So for example, when I was applying for jobs, that would be an example of that and using that as a list of, okay, these are the places that I've sent applications to. I'm waiting to hear back for these things, so now they're going to show up in this certain perspective and so on. To answer your other question, so I actually don't use it so much professionally, I guess, or medically because in truth, you're using a computer at work that's very much the work computer. And the things that you're doing are just so fast-paced this isn't a thing that's going to be three days at 4:00 PM I need to hear back from X, Y, or Z. So I guess I ultimately do the same thing, but just in a written down form, just because that's just the nature of the job, I guess.

Andrew J. Mason: Wow. I have to imagine that with the fast-paced work that you do, there's got to be a really unique review and upkeep process for you.

Dr. Christian Calma: So I'm honestly more, it's so funny because I can definitely tell when I have more time on my hands, because then I'll just full on go through the review and that kind of stuff. But to walk you through my process. I have it set up so that every evening I can review articles that I wanted to read, that kind of stuff, and I'll just click through and choose the articles that I have read and cross them off my list or don't because I haven't. But to do a more formal review of my current projects in addition to my chores and these random collections that I have. So those are set to happen on my system about every week. So it'll prompt me to do a review a week from the last time I've completed it, and I typically try to do that every day and it will fall as it falls. And I guess the reality of that happening is none. So I guess more realistically, I end up reviewing maybe at least weekly, I guess on the Saturday that I have off or the Sunday that I have off. And I do think it's very helpful. At some point when you take that bigger picture view, you realize it's good to take a step back and realize, oh, the system that I have envisioned for myself just is not working, so I'm just going to change my workflow. But you don't really get to appreciate that until you actually go through a review to see how it all kind of lays out.

Andrew J. Mason: I think that's a great way to do it. And as a parent, I feel like my review is relatively flexible just because it's the nature of life and life at pace, but at the same time, it fills in the gaps and it works.

Dr. Christian Calma: And the thing is too, I just feel like all this stuff, OmniFocus, just all the automation stuff, it's nice when it works, right? And then once your system is a fine-tuned system and just kind of chugging along, having things digitally now on your phone and your laptop and stuff also makes it very convenient with how everything syncs up. But the truth is you still need a good 10, 15, 20 minutes sometimes just to really think about how everything is working. You can get those 15 minutes, but you're going to get them in three minute increments and you're just going to be having to switch your mindset from putting your kids to sleep to doing this real quick task before brushing your teeth and going to bed.

Andrew J. Mason: What advice might you have for somebody who's not as far down the road with experience and productivity in OmniFocus as you are? If you were able to say to them, "Hey, skip this piece, this is something that I did. You don't necessarily need to do it that way."

Dr. Christian Calma: Regarding OmniFocus or life, I guess?

Andrew J. Mason: Either way you want to take it OmniFocus specifically if you have something tactical or even more kind of general in the productivity space.

Dr. Christian Calma: Sure. I'll start with OmniFocus. I think starting off just having too many things, too many projects and just too many, let's say a routine, your daily routine of waking up, brushing your teeth, making coffee, whatever. And being so granular with that control at some point makes the badges of, "Hey, you need to do this" meaningless because it's always there. I mean, you're going to do this anyway, let things be more meaningful. Save your clicks I guess you're going to just get burnt out or fatigue from just seeing this alert that you're just used to seeing all the time anyway. So I guess my whole productivity setup is, I use OmniFocus, I use OneNote to take notes I guess for medical things or when I'm learning stuff in addition to Keyboard Maestro to just run automations and stuff and On Key. So on Key is a flashcard app and it uses something called spatial repetition. So it'll ask you a question of what's the capital of California with a frequency enough such that it is just barely beyond the grasp of your memory, and then ask you that question. It learns how well you know this question or how poorly this question and it asks you this again and again and again. And for something like that, I've just gotten so granular with it when I was starting out and you just have a billion cards that you're never going to look at, and none of them makes sense. Sometimes it's better to ask yourself, "Hey, is it smarter to just start again? I'm putting more effort into fixing these problems that I've built for myself. I can already appreciate that and I kind of know the bigger picture of what's going on here, so should I just quit?" And it's not like you're starting from ground zero.

Andrew J. Mason: Wow, Christian. Wow.

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah.

Andrew J. Mason: This is truly unique. You're kind of blowing my mind a little bit. So if I may, just want to restate that to make sure I understand it. So there's a sense in which over time maybe people create a monster, a little bit of a monster that the tasks are unwieldy or there's too many of them, or it's this kind of this Frankenstein thing together? And sometimes the best advice is start fresh. But it's not really starting fresh because you have the progress and the learning that came from the previous iteration. So I'm just going to set Frankenstein over here to the side and begin again with the fresh knowledge that what I'm doing might end up being more elegant.

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, exactly. And I think the knowledge or understanding of you're not starting at zero, you've definitely learned things. For me, it came to a point of, well, I know the answer to this card, but I'm confused why it's set up a certain way or whatever. And I'm just putting more thought into fixing the system than, wait, this is dumb. Let me just start again in a way that makes more sense.

Andrew J. Mason: Talk to me a little about automation. Do you have any automation in your system? And if so, what does that look like?

Dr. Christian Calma: So this is kind of how I met Kate. I was kind of mentioning this earlier, but I forget what I was looking up. Just some sort of automation kind of thing where I ran into her name. I think the first time I made contact with her was I wanted to be able to run something that reorganizes my tags, either one, alphabetically or two, based on the due dates of the items there. And I was trying to figure it out. So I was an engineer for my undergrad. I should have been a computer engineer, so I could just do all this stuff on my own, but I wasn't, and I ran into Kate, found her website, and from then she built that for me. And it's been very nice because I could just throw ideas at her and she'll tell me if they're reasonable or not reasonable, and she'll just frankly make it for me after I pay her however many bucks. One really cool thing that she and I have looped backed and kind of refined for these past few, I guess months here was this grocery thing. So this is super cool. So I will build a grocery list and I'll go to the store, buy these things, mark them off my to-do list, and then this automation runs, and then it adds them from my grocery list to my pantry list. And then you can automatically set [inaudible 00:14:15] dates and due dates if you want to, or you cannot, whatever you want. So this is the second little bit that Kate's done where once you clear them from your pantry and you hit the button again, it adds them back to your grocery list.

Andrew J. Mason: Christian, that is awesome.

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, it's super slick.

Andrew J. Mason: That is cool. So it just removes so many points of friction.

Dr. Christian Calma: I imagine many people have had this problem before or have had this thought before of wanting to do this. And I think I found the really old article when OmniFocus was in its infancy about someone doing something similar to this, but it just required a lot of, it was 10 steps to build the system per grocery item. And then it's just like, what are you doing? You're trying to fit your system to your task when it's not as natural for it to happen. So yeah, this made it very slick. And then you're familiar with Keyboard Maestro, I assume?

Andrew J. Mason: Yeah, I am.

Dr. Christian Calma: With that, I set up this automation where it basically, whenever OmniFocus launches, it just automatically runs that automation. So I don't need to just manually press this button. All I need to do is clear these grocery items or this pantry item.

Andrew J. Mason: That's funny. I think this is really funny that we're actually having a show where Caitlin's probably listening and is realizing we're talking about her in this, but I wonder if she's actually ever productized that or thought about, hey, this is a plugin that more than one person could benefit from.

Dr. Christian Calma: I think when I was looking through her website, I think there was some reference of I may use this personally or sell it or something, which I don't care. I think it's whatever. I just wanted it done and I'm happy it exists in the world now.

Andrew J. Mason: That's right. Anything else that fits in the space of automation for you, as simple as repeating tasks, as complex as plugins, anything at all in that space for you?

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, it's a lot of stuff like that for now. I think for me, I'm really trying to mess around with Keyboard Maestro. So for example, I use it for that On Key app that I was telling you about, it basically runs a bunch of maintenance things for me. So it just makes sure the database is good, delete cards that are trash, or are missing certain files because I deleted them and don't want them anymore. I do this thing where I link, are you familiar with Hook app or it's called Hookmark I think now?

Andrew J. Mason: Yeah, I am.

Dr. Christian Calma: So I basically have this giant PDF of practice guidelines that I then put into these flashcards that I make myself, and I use primarily PDF Expert, which is a good PDF reader, but the thing is PDF Expert doesn't rely on or doesn't work with Hook Mark. So basically I have kind of made a Keyboard Maestro, I guess a macro, that opens up that page in this PDF in Skim because Skim does work with Hookmark, Skim is another PDF reader, and then creates the hot link so that I could put that into On Key. So I mean, is this a little like glue holding the boat together? Kind of, I guess. But it does save me 20 clicks, so I'm happy with that.

Andrew J. Mason: I feel like a lot of the ground that we've already covered does fit this category, but I do want to ask, is there anything that we haven't talked about where it's like, this is actually pretty unique to my system. I haven't seen this blogged about or seen in other places but this is just the way that I do it?

Dr. Christian Calma: Well, I think I very much tried to start off with a whole David Allen's Getting Things Done System, but it has eventually evolved into my own thing. I had one of the other residents here, she just saw my OmniFocus pulled up when we were just working on something and she was like, "Oh, what is this app? It looks super cool." And I told her, and then a few months down the line, she was like, "Hey, what is that app again? I'm about to download it." So honestly, I think I'm a huge nerd. I feel like I'm very much more technologically interested in things and frankly because of that, a little bit more savvy than a bunch of my coworkers, I guess. And it's just I feel like I've just gotten so much into my system that if I were to explain to my coworker how I do it, it makes sense to me but I just don't know if this is going to make sense to normal people. But for me the way that it works out is I essentially think of two bins. There's the daily chores, or I guess three bins, daily chores and that kind of stuff, projects that are constantly running, and then there are collections. The collections are just these lists and stuff. And what I do is I look at my daily perspective and my daily perspective just shows me chores that I need to do every day or with some sort of frequency or regularity. And then there's today's perspective, and that is just things that aren't chores that need to be either done today or are actionable today. For example, things that are just straight up due today. I don't know if other people use it like this, but if I need to follow up on an email, then I'll set the defer date for let's just say a week from today without a due date. And because of that, it'll show up in this perspective in a way where it acknowledges to me that I'm just waiting for something. It's not actionable, but I need to wait on John to get back to me. And so that I know to follow up with someone with that. Then it's basically a pending category, which shows things like that. It just filters things that I need to follow up on because a certain person's gotten back to me or whatever. And then another perspective that shows me the things coming up for tomorrow. And then what else? Oh, I've made essentially my own projects perspective. Because it can be a little much, right when you just see all the tasks with all your projects there. This way it just shows me all the active projects and if there is something actionable today, so then I can just click on that and then it'll expand and it'll be a little less overwhelming. But yeah, that's basically my system. And then I also use flags to prioritize things. And I use another tag, it's just a next tag, so then the next tag in combination with a flag and a due date will signify to me how important or how much something can wait to be done.

Andrew J. Mason: One last question. For somebody who is maybe just getting started in productivity, what would you say to them that would be, here's a tip that's just low hanging fruit. It's an easy start. It's an easy win. This will give you the 80/20. If you just do this, this is something that you'll see some great return on. Especially if somebody's like, "I'm taking on more responsibility than I know how to deal with things are leaking out the back of my head. Help." What would you say to that person?

Dr. Christian Calma: In truth, if someone was approaching me with that and wanted just general advice I would frankly tell them to just journal about it, write it out. I have definitely had times where I have just felt so busy with whatever, and you just feel like there's all this stuff kind of going on in your head and so on and so on. And I just took a second to write it down, and I just realized that, oh, it's actually just two things, but my mind just keeps bouncing between them. Once I realized that it's just, oh, I could just calm down. Doesn't make it any less, but it at least puts it in perspective of what are the issues. For example, you just feel like, I want buy a steak, but then I don't have gas and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If you just write it out, you can get to what do you really need to get done to get started on this path? But anyhoo, I would start out with journaling just to write down your problems. I would probably tell this person to just start off with bullet journaling and even that system's a little much. But I think it's nice because one, OmniFocus can be intimidating given that it's very customizable. And I think if you start dipping your toes in that and you're just not ready for that and not willing to deal with all the options, I guess it can be too overwhelming for people. But I would just start off with one, a to-do list and two, a system of reviewing your to-do list and just recognizing things that aren't done and are moved to a certain date or just crossing off entirely. And I think if you can figure that out in an analog format, then that's great. And then if you care to take it to that next step, then adding on OmniFocus to that and then going however deep you want to. Because I think too, it's nice to have these toys, whether that's an iPad or a laptop or something, and a new app. But it's important for people to realize, don't try to make your life fit into a system or put meaning into a system when you could have done something just as easy for you with a different method. So I guess for me, when I had read that original grocery article for how to do this thing with OmniFocus with a grocery list and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, that was just 10 steps to buy eggs. So that just did not make sense. But having spoken Kate and with things like Keyboard Maestro and so on and so on, and how technology has advanced, now it's very easy. All I have to do is just open the app and then everything just refreshes on its own. I just need to remember, she'll hit that I have eaten the eggs or something, or purchased the steak, and the next time I log into the app, it all just runs on its own. So I guess what I would say is just make sure it makes sense for you before committing to a system that's just going to fall apart if you have to think about it too much. And again, it's like it doesn't make it any less important, but at least you now have put a name to it and you can tackle it now.

Andrew J. Mason: Christian, I am just so grateful that you spent some time with us today talking through your system. I know there's probably a lot of people out there that are better for it as well. Thank you for spending this time with us. It's great to have you on the show.

Dr. Christian Calma: Yeah, of course. Nice chatting with you.

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