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Jan. 8, 2020, 6 a.m.
How Eric Bowers, Mortgage Loan Officer and Novelist, Uses OmniFocus

Eric Bowers — mortgage loan officer by day, novelist by night — talks about using OmniFocus to help people buy homes and to keep up with writing his novel. As a recent Florida transplant, he also uses OmniFocus to keep up with pool maintenance — a perfect case for recurring tasks.

Show Notes:

OmniFocus is Eric’s centralized brain. He uses it everywhere, and he’s customized it a bit — he has his own Next perspective, for instance. But he’s also mindful of his favorite advice: keep it as simple as possible so that you can get your work done.

Eventually we start talking about music, because of course we do. Eric plays bass and sings, and he loves grunge. :)

You can find Eric on his website: bowersvoice.com.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:

Transcript:

Brent Simmons: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS.

Eric Bowers: Music.

SFX: [MUSIC PLAYS]

Brent Simmons: I'm your host, Brent Simmons. On the line with me today is Eric Bowers, who is a mortgage loan officer and an author. And we'll be talking today about how he uses OmniFocus. Say hello, Eric.

Eric Bowers: Hello Eric.

Brent Simmons: So people may not realize, in fact probably people don't realize that Eric visited the office some while ago, and when he came he brought me… it's not a trophy exactly, or a plaque. Well, what would you call that?

Eric Bowers: First place in my audio heart. How about that? Both of you.

Brent Simmons: So it's like a little like brass plated microphone with a little plaque on it and it says, “Say hello, _____.” You know, then with the underscore. Then it just says “The Omni Show.” But it was, it was a beautiful thing and we keep it here in the podcasting room. I show it to everyone who comes in.

Eric Bowers: It's well deserved.

Brent Simmons: Thank you. So happy New Year. Welcome to 2020.

Eric Bowers: Happy New Year.

Brent Simmons: Did you have a good Christmas and New Years?

Eric Bowers: I did. We had family come down to Florida where we relocated to, and they're all in the Northeast in New York and New Jersey. So they loved it, brought the dogs. It was a wild time.

Brent Simmons: Awesome. Of course, dear listeners, we're actually recording December 11th so this is all just optimism.

Eric Bowers: We think we had a good Christmas.

Brent Simmons: You visited here, when did you come? It was springtime, summertime?

Eric Bowers: Yeah, like June. Early June. You guys were about to head off to WWDC, I remember.

Brent Simmons: Yes. It was right before then. And you got the tour of the office and all our weird arcade games and beautiful views and all that kind of stuff.

Eric Bowers: I was surprised. I pulled into the parking lot and I thought that, I didn't know that we'd get the tour being that everyone was leaving town, but we did.

Brent Simmons: It was a little quiet. People on vacation, people leaving town. So you're a mortgage loan officer and an author. What have you written?

Eric Bowers: Well, it's odd to say it on this podcast, but I wrote a book about probably your largest competitor about three years ago, and I've used both applications over the years, kind of obviously found that OmniFocus fit my style. And now I'm using OmniFocus and some of your other apps to help me write my next book, which is a novel totally created by me, and out of fevered dreams, and it's all going down in a writing app, and I can't believe it's coming out. I probably am going to have to release it later in 2020 here. But it's been a passion of mine for sure.

Brent Simmons: Oh, that's awesome. What, what genre of novel?

Eric Bowers: It's kind of a drama with some comedy. Little music, but it's got dramatic character development. It's a good book, I think.

Brent Simmons: I don't know which would you would say if it's not science fiction or fantasy? Not a mystery.

Eric Bowers: It's a science fiction story.

Brent Simmons: Oh, it's science fiction. Okay.

Eric Bowers: Yeah. I'll just leave it at that.

Brent Simmons: All right. That's fine.

Eric Bowers: I don't want to spoil.

Brent Simmons: Well, our entire office, of course, is into science fiction, fantasy, and so on. And I bet a lot of our listeners are too. So that's awesome.

Eric Bowers: Part of it actually takes place in your fair city, which is why we were also visiting.

Brent Simmons: Sure. Got to travel for the research. Absolutely.

Eric Bowers: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: So what does a mortgage loan officer do? I think I talked to one once ’cause I bought a house. Otherwise, not a profession I keep close tabs on.

Eric Bowers: Yeah. That's right. I'm probably similar to that person that you spoke with. I'm someone who helps a customer get their first home or do a refinance. Basically either get them into that home financially with the mortgage or help them save money. So it's something that I've gotten very good at over the years and something that's near to my heart because I'd love to help people and I'm halfway decent at it. They pay me for it, so you know.

Brent Simmons: Oh that's good. There's nothing wrong with doing well by doing good, right?

Eric Bowers: Right.

Brent Simmons: So does OmniFocus play a role in your day job as well as your authorship?

Eric Bowers: Yeah, it plays the role. I get really wonky if I don't put things into OmniFocus. I wake up and I go, “I don't know where I'm going.” I'll look at my wife Alexandra and say, “what am I supposed to do?” And she's like, “have you been writing things down in OmniFocus?” I'm like, “no, I'm trying to keep it in my head.” So it's the nucleus of everything I do in my life. I put everything from customer leads in there. You know, not overly sensitive info, but like who should I be calling today, and do I need to follow up on an appraisal that's just come in, and should I reach out to that person, all the way down to “write chapter 16 of the book tonight” and it's got a due date on it. And so it really is the centralized brain of all my daily actions.

Brent Simmons: I imagine with a bunch of different clients, potential clients. That's a lot of details just to keep track of all the time.

Eric Bowers: It is. I don't use a contact relationship management software, per se. I've kind of cobbled one together between a few different applications, but OmniFocus is at the heart of that. And so in the notes field, I'll have a link to the reference file that contains a little bit more information about the client, so that I don't crowd my OmniFocus with overly useless information. I just need to get in and get out of OmniFocus pretty quickly.

Brent Simmons: It's about knowing what you need to do, not about storing all the data you need to have.

Eric Bowers: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: Makes sense. I mean that's what it's written for.

Eric Bowers: I'm a big proponent of and a customer of Learn OmniFocus, that site that Tim Stringer runs. I love it. And one thing I really took away from some of his lessons, and he's a great teacher. I sat there and said, “geez, I'm putting everything under the sun in here, with due dates all over the place that mean nothing, getting nothing done because I'm stressed.” And now I look at my Forecast and it's got five things on it for the day, but those five things absolutely have got to be done today and everything else I'm just using Perspectives to see. Right now I've got it pretty simplified with a “Next” perspective, sorted by GTD context. I'm a very hardcore GTDer — the Getting Things Done methodology. And so that's just an overview of everything that could be done, sorted by context. But that forecast really drives my day to day actions.

Brent Simmons: What are the criteria for the Next perspective? That sounds interesting. How's that put together?

Eric Bowers: Well, they have to be available actions. They have to not be part of one of my meta-tags, which are either “subproject” — so, all sub-projects get this meta-tag that literally says “subproject”, or they cannot have “lists” as a tag, because I now got around my one wish for OmniFocus of checklists by using a tag called “lists”, and now I just keep that out of my way unless I really, really need to get into it. So Next has available, not a meta-tag of “subprojects” or “lists”, and sorted by tag, and… I think that's it, actually. So it's pretty simple set-up, but it's really effective. It's just the big button, you hit that and you can see everything.

Brent Simmons: Nice. So you're using tags a bit. Better for you than just plain old contexts were?

Eric Bowers: Yeah, I've started to get into the multi-tag. I was actually a little bit, not against it, but I was apprehensive about it, because I said, “oh, I know me, I'm going to just go down this trail where I'd start adding tags to everything.”

Brent Simmons: I did that at first.

Eric Bowers: Yeah, what I did was this, I said, “okay, listen, create some ground rules here.” So when I go into, "waiting for," I have as a tag. I also, if it's a person that I regularly contact, like we have a branch manager, he's very imperative to my success, he's got his own tag. So if it's “waiting for,” I've got his name as well as an additional tag. And that's the only time that I'll allow myself a two tag system.

Eric Bowers: Otherwise, it's like, "Apple device” where I can make a call from. I can make a call from any machine, or “home,” I've got to be home to do this thing, or “errands,” the old GTD context. I love the multi-tagging system. It does offer a lot of freedom.

Brent Simmons: Sometimes just that one or two additional dimensions can make a big difference.

Eric Bowers: Yeah, absolutely.

Brent Simmons: Do you do a weekly review or how do you go about dealing with that issue?

Eric Bowers: I used to do the calendar entry where I say, “weekly reviews Sundays at 7:00 AM” and invariably I never stuck to it. So now I have that mean old review button and OmniFocus just staring at me and saying, you have like 32 things. Which I did review 32 things today, and it said you have to review these.

Eric Bowers: So, once I see that, it gives me the itch and I say, “uh-oh, I've got to get in there and review.” And that's enough. Because it's my brain, my external brain, it's enough to trigger that, “oh, you've got to go look at this calendar entry about that thing to make sure that's set up.”

Brent Simmons: What else is in your OmniFocus workflow? I have Next perspective, you use tags a little bit. Sticking with contexts more or less. Yeah.

Eric Bowers: I used to have, and I think I will have again, some variation on, “click here to make money.” All these tasks are focused on making calls or supporting a customer in some fashion, as opposed to my Next perspective, which houses everything personally and work-related. I used to have it really, really drilled down, I had 10 perspectives and it just, it became unwieldy.

Eric Bowers: I am going to probably create something along the lines of a work perspective, a Bower's Voice perspective, which is the company that I write the books through and do any audio recording through, and then one for personal and then one for Next. So I have kind of a quadrant.

Brent Simmons: That makes sense. Are you one of those people who do Mac and iOS and Apple Watch even, or do you pretty much just stick to one platform or another?

Eric Bowers: I am so mobile that I said to myself, when I set up this business, I have to be able to run it from anywhere. And I mean, driving, if I need to pull over and look up something, it's got to be in my hand. So on all platforms, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and with some current limitations, the web, I've got everything looking exactly the same and acting the same, so that it doesn't matter what machine I'm on, OmniFocus is the same.

Brent Simmons: No matter where you are you can get to your external brain.

Eric Bowers: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: It seems like a good thing.

Eric Bowers: I'm a big watch guy too. I love OmniFocus for the Watch. I use the handoff between the phone and the watch. So when we go out, I'll pull up an Errands tag and then throw that to the watch. And that way I just look at my watch and that one tile and it's got everything that I could be doing while I'm out, and nothing more. It's very cool.

Brent Simmons: That's perfect. How did you find OmniFocus in the first place?

Eric Bowers: I went back to university as an adult and I had run a business and said, “okay, it's time to get a degree.” And so late one night in class, before class was starting, actually, I was Googling “a better task manager than Things,” and OmniFocus came up. And it was OmniFocus 1, this is like 2012.

Brent Simmons: Okay.

Eric Bowers: And I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, that's a lot of purple,” right away.

Brent Simmons: That should be the tagline. “That's a lot of purple.”

Eric Bowers: So, I immediately bought everything. I'm kind of a completist. I'm either not going to do it at all or 100%, and so I bought all platforms that were available and used it. And so OmniFocus 1, it really turned my mind inside out. I was like, “How do you manage things in here? There's so much, yet so little.” And it took me probably a good year to learn it. And then when OmniFocus 2 came out, that's where I saw like "oh," and iOS 7 had that redesign. And I remember OmniFocus for iPhone was the first app that I got that just on launch day, you guys were right there and had the new design and I said, “whoa, I don't even know where I am in this app, but I want to be here,” because it was clean, it was easy to navigate and I really have stuck with it ever since. So it was very cool when I finally got my head around it, I said, “This is super powerful.”

Brent Simmons: Yeah, well certainly part of our job is to keep improving the app and make it so it doesn't take so much effort to get your head around it. And part of doing that is having people like you on to tell people about their workflows, so that's cool.

Eric Bowers: Absolutely.

Brent Simmons: Do you use any other Omni apps? Are you an OmniGraffle user, for instance?

Eric Bowers: Yeah. My one foray into OmniGraffle, which was pretty successful for me, as I'm not a graphic designer, was I created the logo for my bowersvoice.com site. It was so easy. I put shadows under the letters. It was super simple. It was everything I needed. Now, do you think I could go back in there and create something else with it? No, it's like starting from ground zero, so I've got to relearn the app now, but it was well worth it, because I own it now and I can use it at will as opposed to having paid someone to do that logo.

Eric Bowers: So that's one of my goals in 2020 is to really get to use OmniGraffle a little bit more. OmniOutliner, hands down. My workflow goes from… I use MindNode by IdeasOnCanvas as a blank canvas, and once the ideas get in there, immediately they come into OmniOutliner, because from there I can arrange and really get a structure of what I'm trying to do for maybe a big project. And in particular, the book, that was super helpful for the novel I'm working on. And I was able to rearrange scenes and I said, “wow, that really doesn't go there, that belongs in that other scene,” and it's just pretty easy to drag and drop this stuff all around the screen with OmniOutliner.

Eric Bowers: So, I love it. And I actually used it for a revenue database at one point because I've got the pro version so it can do calculations in there and it really was probably better left to something like Numbers, but I like going to one app for everything. So I kind of threw everything I could at OmniOutliner for a while and said, “You know what, it's better as an outliner. Just leave it with words, not numbers.”

Brent Simmons: It handles that stuff though.

Eric Bowers: It does.

Brent Simmons: I think Ken may have said this publicly that the app actually started because he needed something for budgeting.

Eric Bowers: It's perfect for that, actually.

Brent Simmons: And spreadsheets don't have expand and collapse, but it turns out… pretty darn useful.

Eric Bowers: It really, can. I posted something on the Omni Group channel there a while ago, a budget spreadsheet that I had created in OmniOutliner. I actually know I can find it, I'll send it to you if you want to post it anywhere.

Brent Simmons: Oh, sure that'd be great.

Eric Bowers: It was really cool. OmniPlan is the one I'm still — after, I think, three years of ownership — trying to get my arms around. I found that it's not necessarily great for one person because it's a little like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight, so I thought, I'm just going to buy it. I love you guys. I am going to be a completist. I haven't really found a use for it yet. I think if I get that one big construction job in the sky, I think I'm all set for it, but until then it might just sit there in my dock.

Brent Simmons: OmniPlan really is for project managers who are managing multiple resources, including multiple people. It's such a cool app, but of all our apps, it's the one that really has a specific profession in mind, I think.

Eric Bowers: Speaking of professions, I don't want to forget. I used… the coolest use of OmniOutliner for me was when I was in Philadelphia recently. I was in a band and I'm a bass player and singer and I would write all the songs down that I had to lead sing, so that I knew that I had two jobs on that song. So I kept this database of really classic rock songs within OmniOutliner. And that kind of saved my hide too, onstage. I'd bring my iPad with me, put on a musical staff and read my OmniOutliner to say, oh, next one. I've got to make sure that I know that voice is in tip top shape.

Brent Simmons: So classic rock. What was the name of the band?

Eric Bowers: Saloon Dogs. I didn't name it.

Brent Simmons: I like the name though.

Eric Bowers: It was fun. It was a good time. It was a bunch of great guys, but obviously I had to quit to move down here to Florida.

Brent Simmons: Whereabouts in Florida?

Eric Bowers: I'm in Tampa. On the Gulf side. It's 81 degrees here today.

Brent Simmons: It's miserable in Seattle today.

Eric Bowers: It's funny though. When we visited, I told my wife, I said… we visited Discovery Park, and I said, “you could drop me off here and this could be my home.” I love it there. I'm from upstate New York. So the latitude or what have you was very similar to where I grew up. It was like those cloudy days and water everywhere.

Brent Simmons: On a given day from my neighborhood, my commute to work, I may see Mount Rainier, two separate other mountain ranges, salt water, and the ship canal, and Lake Union. I mean, there's just so much. It's gorgeous.

Eric Bowers: Yeah. It is.

Brent Simmons: So we have a few listener questions for you. Rose Orchard asks, how many items are in your OmniFocus database?

Eric Bowers: Well, I counted before the show and I had 146 actions and 52 projects, but that's all going to get much larger because I just got employment with this new company, so I have to put some customer names in there, and so it's going to probably triple in size.

Brent Simmons: Cool. So, Josh Hughes asks, what's your favorite tip?

Eric Bowers: This is just a general one, but keep it as simple as possible, so that you actually get work done. This is a tip for myself. This is what I said when I dove into OmniFocus. Keep it simple. It can do so much. Make it useful.

Brent Simmons: Some people do have a tendency to just groom their system more than actually doing the things they need to do. OmniFocus will let you do that, but it's a good tip. Don't do that.

Brent Simmons: Scotty Jackson, another friend of ours asks, what is the most surprising way that you found OmniFocus to be effective?

Eric Bowers: A funny thing that I do now that I never used to is I will email myself a voicemail that someone leaves me in order to follow up on it. It's not earth shattering, but it's newer for me. I always use the email into the inbox [Mail Drop] feature, but I like doing that because then I have a record. It's in my OmniFocus database. It's very cool.

Brent Simmons: Nice. Back to Rose again, she asks, how often do you feel that power tools are the only solution to your problems?

Eric Bowers: Lately, that's all I've done is power tools, power tools, power tools. My wife was so kind to buy me pretty much everything under the sun. I took down three unfortunately dying trees a week ago.

Brent Simmons: That's a big job.

Eric Bowers: I'm a guy that lived in a city for the past 16 years, so it's not normal for me. So I'm getting very handy with the power tools. I've got a leaf blower. I was up on my roof blowing off leaves last weekend. That's crazy.

Brent Simmons: I got a leaf blower just a few years ago, and yeah I go up on my garage. I have to leaf blow weekly, year-round. Now it's not leaves year round, but there are enough trees on my lot that there's just debris all the time.

Eric Bowers: Yeah, it looks like… I've got an Oak outside. It's huge and it's cut back from the house, but I mean, leaves. I think I'm going to have to be up there every week, maybe two.

Brent Simmons: That's your basic recurring task right there.

Eric Bowers: If you want to see the ultimate recurring set of tasks, try owning a pool. There's weekly, monthly, there's yearly, and it is like a needy little friend. If you turn your back on it for one moment, forget it. It's going to cost you a lot of money.

Brent Simmons: So I take it you have a pool at your new place.

Eric Bowers: I do. It's sitting 10 feet from me. Yeah, I love it. It's great. We've got a jacuzzi, pool, but it is constant maintenance and so OmniFocus definitely helps with remembering to do all that.

Brent Simmons: What — I don't even know. I've never owned a pool. What happens? It just gets dirty in some ways. Algae grow in there?

Eric Bowers: Yeah. I was going to say the two dirtiest words that you ever want to hear as a pool owner are algal bloom.

Brent Simmons: Algal bloom, okay.

Eric Bowers: If you keep the chlorine too low, forget it. You got a green pool. So I hated chemistry in school, but I'm apparently a chemistry major in my forties here, owning this home, because it's, that's all it is.

Brent Simmons: Chemistry and biology.

Eric Bowers: Oh forget it. Chemistry. Biology. Yes, the whole mix. pH balances and all these things. But it's doable. I've got it down to a system now.

Brent Simmons: Algal bloom would have been a good name for your rock band.

Eric Bowers: For the band? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Brent Simmons: Back to the band, when you're singing, what's your favorite stuff to sing? I mean maybe it is classic rock or maybe that was just a fun thing you did. What do you love to sing?

Eric Bowers: I was born in ’77 so grunge was my era. All that stuff. Alice In Chains. That was always my favorite stuff. But if we're doing classic rock, I'm a huge Police fan as a bass player and singer. I got to tackle Sting. Little Cream, a little Jack Bruce in there. Little classic rock there. Love that stuff. So blues based and a little new wave.

Brent Simmons: That sounds cool. We have similar tastes. I was lucky to have moved to Seattle right as grunge was starting to become a thing, and it was great time to be in this city.

Eric Bowers: Oh my gosh.

Brent Simmons: To this day I still love the music. My personal favorite might be Screaming Trees.

Eric Bowers: I love Mark Lanegan. That's a voice right there. I tried to convince the band to play “Nearly Lost You,” they weren't having it.

Brent Simmons: I love that song so much. What is that, “Sweet Oblivion” song? Oh man. So much fun. “Dollar Bill”.

Eric Bowers: But I mean really, if you're what, 14, 15 years old and you're listening to “Dirt” by Alice in Chains over and over, your mom probably should step in and say “what's going on?”

Brent Simmons: That was cool. The first time I heard Alice in Chains I think was probably the song “Would?”. And I actually saw the video. At the time, my wife and I lived in Seattle, but we spent a year in France in ’92 or something. And the movie Singles came out right as we were in France and we were like, “oh, we want to see this,” because it was filmed in the University District when we lived there. And so we were keen to see the movie, but the only version that we could see was dubbed in French. And we didn't speak that well. So we didn't really understand what was happening in the movie. But before it started, they just played the video of “Would?” by Alice in Chains. And we were just gobsmacked. The song was great.

Eric Bowers: Absolutely. And when I was in Seattle, I stood in front of Jerry Cantrell's “Blue Dress” guitar in that case, and I was like, that's the guitar I've watched all these beautiful songs be played with. Very cool. I'm a big geek like that.

Brent Simmons: Come out and visit again sometime. After all, you will need to do some more research for your novel.

Eric Bowers: 100% we'll be back out.

Brent Simmons: All right. Well, thank you very much, Eric. How can people find you on the web?

Eric Bowers: They can go to Bowersvoice.com.

Brent Simmons: Bowersvoice.com, cool. That will be in the show notes, of course. People will be able to just click on it. I'd also like to thank our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello, Mark.

Mark Boszko: Hello Mark.

Brent Simmons: And especially, I want to thank you for listening. Thank you.

Eric Bowers: Music!

SFX: [MUSIC PLAYS]