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April 5, 2021, 6 a.m.
How Gabrielle Collard Uses OmniFocus

Gabrielle is an expat who’s moved from the UK to Madrid and utilizes OmniFocus to handle her daily tasks.

Show Notes:

In this episode, Gabrielle and Andrew talk about how OmniFocus assists Gabrielle in managing all the details of her busy life.  Whether she’s renovating an apartment, learning Spanish, working with coaches, writing, or just wrangling her priorities - OmniFocus helps ground and solidify her perspective.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:


Andrew J. Mason: 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. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we talk with Gabrielle Collard, founder of The Coach Space, on how she uses OmniFocus to get things done.

Andrew J. Mason: Welcome everybody to The Omni Show. My name is Andrew J. Mason. And today we have Gabrielle Collard. She's the founder of and she's sharing how she uses OmniFocus to remind herself of what's most important, and to stay present day to day. Gabrielle, thank you so much for joining us on The Omni Show today.

Gabrielle Collard: Oh, thank you.

Andrew J. Mason: Now, when we first came across your path, one of the most interesting things that we heard was this wide array of projects that you've got going. You're from the UK, you're currently living in Madrid. And one of the biggest projects on your plate these days is The Coach Space. Talk to us about that.

Gabrielle Collard: Yeah. So this is a website I started just over a year ago, a self-development website. It has a lot of content focused around making big life changes, specifically career changes and any kind of changes that you might want to do throughout your life. But fueling that is a publishing platform for coaches themselves, life coaches, business coaches, career coaches, et cetera. And it gives them a platform and a professional space in which to publish their content, because what I do is I support them in creating that content, give them more engaging content to publish, which in turn gets them more traffic, which is the benefit of them being there, rather than kind of blogging away on their own websites, which doesn't really work anymore for the majority of coaches and consultant, so they're pronounced.

Andrew J. Mason: That's excellent. So I envisioned this just hub of information that's so helpful to people. But that's not the only thing you mentioned you have yourself involved in these days. What else do you have your hand in?

Gabrielle Collard: Yeah, so I'm from London and I quit everything and started again in Madrid, which took a while. It took a few years. And as I say, it's an ongoing project, it seems to take a long time to settle in to a new life. And that's one of the reasons why I needed to be super, super organized with everything. If you're moving abroad, I suppose, as a kind of student, it might be a little bit easier because you don't have so many responsibilities, you don't have a whole life that you've built up in your home country. But when you do it as a, well, I'm not going to give away my age, but a little bit older than the student, you just have so much more to organize. So it involved kind of selling the property or selling my flat that I lived in, selling lots of my stuff, and gradually bit by bit creating a new life in another country with all of that it entails.

Andrew J. Mason: Man, what a perfect segue, because so many people have so many different things that they want to do with their lives, they have so many projects and details that they keep in their heads. They wake at 2:00 AM. They get, "My gosh, I got to do that thing." Talk to me about when you first came across OmniFocus.

Gabrielle Collard: So yeah, OmniFocus. Well, it was Omni everything that I came across at the same time, because I think it's shipped with one of the Macintoshes. I think it was an iron Mac, one of the first time Mac, something like that. I can't remember, but it was a long time ago. And I remember seeing the demo versions on the Mac and sort of playing around with them thinking, "Well, this is really interesting." I kind of really fell for OmniGraffle because I was doing a lot of website work with small business clients and my way of explaining things is with pictures and diagrams. So that for me was just brilliant to come across that. And the Outliner as well, I'd never seen an Outliner before. This was a long time ago. I think you can forgive me, but obviously I know what they are now. But I instantly fell for that as well because I love creating structure where there isn't any in order. That was a godsend at the time. And OmniPlan.

Gabrielle Collard: But I didn't really used the tools until I was in a consultancy working as a freelancer and as a project manager, and I needed some tools. On the Mac you were kind of limited to what was available when it came to project planning. So I started using OmniPlan, which was exactly equivalent to Microsoft Project, but something that didn't make you vomit when you looked at it. So that was just, that scored me quite a few brownie points because clients don't like to look at Gantt charts, generally speaking, but they would look at an OmniPlan Gantt chart. So I used that quite heavily. And as I was using it, I thought, "Well, let's just go the whole hog and get a license for everything."

Gabrielle Collard: So then I was using OmniOutliner on a regular basis and a bit of OmniGraffle to explain stuff. I didn't really use OmniFocus. I did dabble in it. I didn't use it as thoroughly as I am now. And also, I kind of left that work behind a little bit so I didn't need to use OmniPlans. So I kind of drifted away. At that time, software as a service was becoming much more prevalent than many more tools coming onto the market. So I kind of started exploring other things. And through my work, I was using lots of different tools depending on what projects I was working on, and I've kind of come full circle. Now that I'm not working with teams so much anymore, I can do my own thing exactly how I want. And I've come back to OmniFocus and I'm using it to literally run my life.

Andrew J. Mason: What made the difference with OmniFocus for you?

Gabrielle Collard: Well, with OmniFocus... Well, the difference was for me having all these very different aspects of my life that needed quite detailed management and where I couldn't drop the ball. So I found that with other tools, things just kind of slipped off the radar and it wasn't working anymore because I had so much to do. And not so many things, but it was a variety of things that were all equally important things. And it was that that drew me back to OmniFocus and that's how I use it now. So it's the giving these different perspectives which I really need. I can't get that from anywhere else. So that's why I use it.

Andrew J. Mason: Walk us through a typical day of your... actually, if there is a typical day that you have, what might that look like? Where is the structure? Where is there maybe some flexibility there for you?

Gabrielle Collard: Well, yeah, like there is a typical day. If you saw a video of me without sound or without knowing what I was doing, it would look pretty similar every day, because most of the time, like most people are at the moment, I was sitting in front of the computer for many hours per day. So in that respect, kind of looks... Well, there was a bit more physical activity because I am going to the other place where the renovations are taking place. So there is a bit more going out involved than it used to be. But in terms of the activities that I'm doing, there is a main thrust of stuff that I do on a typical day. It will always involve some kind of writing because with The Coach Space, it's content marketing, so whether I'm writing myself or writing a brief for someone else to write something or editing. So there's always some kind of writing or some kind of editing, which is obviously where something like on the Outliner comes into play.

Gabrielle Collard: Other than that, I do have a kind of a routine which involves going out for some exercise and that kind of stuff, doing Spanish homework. So there is a routine, but in terms of typical, it is quite varied because the small tasks can be quite different. So it could be that I'm having a one-to-one with one of the coach members on the website because I provide them with support. So I'm glad that I do get that contact with people as well. Other than my partner who I live with, I do get to speak to people and meet people. And there is a kind of a typical day, but can chop and change from day to day as well.

Andrew J. Mason: Let's dive a little bit deeper into your OmniFocus system. You mentioned to me that you use tags but not necessarily in the physical context way. Do you mind breaking down how you actually go about using tags in your system?

Gabrielle Collard: Yeah. I've heard about that, where people tag things on location, and I also know that there's that feature, the geolocation feature, which I actually don't use because it's just too much detail. I try to keep the management of the tool to a minimum. It's great that it does all those things but you can end up actually procrastinating by playing around too much with this stuff. So I've tried to streamline it with tagging. So I do have about 20 tags, but I reckon about 10 of those could actually be deleted.

Gabrielle Collard: My thinking around using tags is that there are modes of working, so I tag by mode of working. For example, bookkeeping or accounts would be a mode of working because accounts is something that is done across the different work streams that I have. So it might be bookkeeping for The Coach Space, personal bookkeeping or different types of accounts that are being done. But I will tag bookkeeping as a mode of working so that I can avoid doing lots of tasks switching, which is something that I've discovered over the years gives me brain fatigue. And I don't know if I'm that unusual in that. I haven't really spoke to anyone about it, but I've gathered from experience that too much chopping and changing just tires you out, so I'm trying to group things to involve less tasks switching. So writing is a mode of working, which I tag. Reading, organizing, that kind of thing. I don't know what anyone else is doing. I have no idea.

Gabrielle Collard: Oh, I also have a, talking about the geolocation stuff, I do have a tag which is not really geolocation, but it's called Out of Home and tagging everything that I'm doing that's outside of the home. I remember from using OmniFocus the first time around, I was tagging things with like errands and stuff like that. And I kind of worked out this time around that the way for me to do it is everything that I'm doing outside is tagged with Out of Home. That means that I can take advantage of being out wherever. If I'm going out for anything, what other tasks can I tick off at the same time? Because they're not all errands. It could be that I'm going out to meet somebody for a coffee. And if I look at my Out of Home, at least I can see that, "Oh, I actually need to take the library book back. So I can do that on the way to meet the friend."

Andrew J. Mason: When it comes to productivity in your system, I hope this doesn't sound bad, but do you have anything that you consider to be just a massive failure?

Gabrielle Collard: Thanks.

Andrew J. Mason: No, hear me out. It just is so instructional for other people to listen and say, "Okay, this person is where they are in their system, but they tried in something and they thought it was going to work and it didn't." And it saves the people that are listening to this podcast the heartache of maybe even trying it for themselves as well that way. Is there anything that kind of fits in that category for you where you thought, "Man, I thought this was going to be it, but no."

Gabrielle Collard: Yeah. Well, in terms of massive failures, I do have a story of when I did fail massively and it's funny looking back at it now, but at the time it was really embarrassing. Well, my excuse is that it was a stressful time of my life. And it was when I was kind of transitioning from London to Madrid and I'm an organized person normally, but this wasn't a typical scenario, it was very stressful time, et cetera. I had sold my flat and I was living in temporary accommodation in London. I was still working. And I was kind of visiting Madrid quite often, so I was going backwards and forwards and I had all these things going on. I had left my flat and I'd sold a lot of my belongings and I was kind of living out of a suitcase really. My furniture, I hadn't got around to dealing with and so it was all in storage.

Gabrielle Collard: I'd made an inventory of everything that was in the storage facility, photographs, measurements, descriptions, everything. And it was all in a spreadsheet with links to photographs, et cetera. And I was using it as like a catalog to send to people as well. And before I left London, I managed to start selling a few bits and pieces off. I put a few things on eBay and I sold them. But then I got really busy with moving abroad and then, so I left the stuff for a while. I just left it in the storage and thought, "Well, I'll come back to it when I've got more time." So a year later, I picked up the project again, the selling the furniture project, opened up the spreadsheet and got down to listing a few more things on eBay.

Gabrielle Collard: I bought a couple of pieces of furniture on there and the person who won the auction, it was a cabinet I was auctioning off, the guy who won the auction was, he was over the moon that he'd won this piece of furniture. A few messages went backwards and forwards, then we were on WhatsApp and he was saying how thrilled he was, and he couldn't wait to pick it off and all of this. And he explained that he had another cabinet and it was going to be like a pair of cabinets that were going to go either side of his chimney breast in the living room. He even sent me a photograph of it. And I looked at it and said, "Oh well, that's, it's quite uncanny. They are very similar." You know where this is going, don't you?

Gabrielle Collard: So the day came where I wasn't in the country, I don't think so. It was all organized over the phone and the storage people were informed that someone was coming to pick it up and they would have to open the crate and get this cabinet out, et cetera. It was all arranged. And the guy sent his man with a van to pick it up. And on the day of the pickup, I got this WhatsApp message from the buyer basically accusing me of being a fraudster and a criminal. I was saying, "What's happening? What's going on?" And he said, "Well, the cabinet is not there. It's not there." I said, "Well, that can't be right. It's in my list. It's in the crate."

Gabrielle Collard: So I phoned the storage people. I asked them what's happening. They said, "Well, we've opened the crate. We've got everything out of there, that cabinet's not in there." And that's when the penny dropped, that I had already sold him the cabinet the year before. It's the same person. I was absolutely devastated, honestly, mortified. And so I phoned him and with a groveling apology, I tried to explain that I am a normal person, I'm usually really organized, I'm not a criminal. And please forgive me, I'm really, really sorry. He was okay in the end, but it was awful because I thought he was going to complain to eBay about me and I'd get struck off and all this stuff. The moral of the story is you could be using the best productivity task management systems in the world, but if you don't tick off something that you've done, there's a danger of you just doing it again. I think I can safely say that was a one-off, never going to happen again.

Andrew J. Mason: Well, let's flip the coin and say what in your productivity life, doesn't necessarily have to be just OmniFocus, but what do you consider to be a massive success in your productivity? Do you have anything that comes to mind there?

Gabrielle Collard: Yeah, I do because I remember taking on all of this stuff when I was moving abroad and one of the things I did religiously for at least a year, every week on a Sunday, I would do a weekly review. I'm not talking about the kind of project review you do as part of OmniFocus and all of that. A weekly review where you go over what you did in the week, what you achieved and being really honest with yourself in terms of what went well and writing down what went well exactly. And then what didn't go so well, writing down what you think could be improved. And it's just a very, very simple, it takes 10 minutes to do every week. But if you do it every week, you can start to see patterns.

Gabrielle Collard: And also just seeing that what went well doesn't make you feel so bad, you feel like things aren't going quite your way. You can actually see the evidence that things are going your way and things are improving bit by bit over a period of time. I used to keep it in a specific notebook just for that and so I could go back over week by week how things were going. That's what I did and it worked for me. It really got me on track.

Andrew J. Mason: What maybe is the best advice that you remember ever getting yourself? Is there anything that just, "Man, that made the difference for me. When I heard that, the light bulb came on and now I get something that I didn't get when it came to productivity"?

Gabrielle Collard: There must've been quite a few things over the years, but recently, I thought I knew most of what needs to be known about productivity, just through experience mainly. I think the best advice I've had recently is that you can train yourself to become better at being focused. I don't know if that's the way to word it. The thing that I have been struggling with the last six months is the distraction by social media. I heard that it's actually possible to train yourself to be able to focus for longer periods of time. I wasn't aware that that was possible. I just thought, "Well, I'm distracted a lot. This is how it is. I just have to fight my way through it." And well, it's not the case apparently, you can train yourself to be less distracted and be able to do deep work as they call it, which is really important for things like writing blogs, writing articles, anything that you're producing that is of higher value than the day-to-day stuff. You need to be able to do this, which I kind of knew, but I didn't know that I could train myself to do it.

Gabrielle Collard: That's what I'm working on right now. I trained as a project manager so I got a lot of advice from doing that. Learning the skills of project management, one of the things that really changed my way of thinking about getting things done in general was when I trained to be an agile practitioner. I kind of understood what it was, but I didn't really know until I get the training. It changed my way of thinking completely on how I did things. So getting stuff done that's usable rather than perfect and iterating, that kind of thing. Now I kind of apply that to a lot of things that I do in general. That's probably the best productivity advice I've had.

Andrew J. Mason: What great advice. I've got a buddy that says something to the effect of a done is better than perfect. And it's so true when it comes to certain things. You mentioned to me really enjoying one particular feature of OmniFocus and that was defer dates. Why are defer dates so important to you?

Gabrielle Collard: Well, I can't take too many things on and I got much better at that. I did it recently when a friend of mine asked me if I'd like to be involved in a new project, developing a piece of software. And it all sounded groovy and exciting. And I really, really want to do it. I really want to do it, but it's just not practical. I would be spreading myself way too thin. So it's gone on into my OmniFocus and it's deferred for three months. And the sense of relief, I cannot tell you because I know it's still there somewhere and it will come back, it's not gone forever, but it's not nagging away at my subconscious. That's the difference.

Gabrielle Collard: That's how I felt when actually I started using OmniFocus again for the first time properly, is when I put everything in there, the sense of relief was just unbelievable. I know it's all there and things are taken temporarily off your plate. You don't have to look at them. You just focus on what you need to do today or this week. And you don't have that worrying feeling that if you don't keep remembering constantly everything, you're going to forget stuff.

Andrew J. Mason: I've really enjoyed getting to ask this question of people that are on the show and it's just kind of turned into a regular question, but do you have any other go-to software that kind of sits in your stack? So anything that you rely on for creativity, productivity, writers like certain software to write with. What sits there as other go-to pieces of technology for you?

Gabrielle Collard: Well, I'm trying to become a bit more of a minimalist when it comes to using stuff. So that's one of the reasons I've gone back to OmniFocus and OmniOutline and things like that. Using stuff on the desktop to get away from software as a service. I used to use Google Docs to capture everything and it just got really messy. So I've really trimmed things down.

Gabrielle Collard: And to be honest, day-to-day, my favorite things to use for productivity, I don't think there is anything other than my remarkable tablet which is not software. Yes, it goes with me everywhere. Again, it's more of a minimalist thing. So it has an internet connection, it has wifi, but it doesn't have a browser. That's one of the reasons I bought it, because it didn't have that. There are other writing tablets that do that, do so many things. I didn't want it to do million things. I wanted it to capture my drawing and writing because before that, I literally had about six notebooks on the go permanently at the same time. And it was just impractical to have so many notebooks and not be able to find what you'd written and stuff like that. And I love handwriting. I love scribbling and drawing and drawing diagrams and doodling. It made sense to get that remarkable tablet. And I don't regret buying it. I use it every single day for everything.

Andrew J. Mason: This question is so open-ended but I love asking it too. If you had an open mic or a billboard and just wanted to share, this is the one piece of advice that really made the biggest difference for me especially in productivity, what would that be?

Gabrielle Collard: One of the things I've gathered from speaking to various people is that actually to know what your priorities are, it's not so easy to work out. People may think they know what their priorities are, but what your true priorities are can be a totally different thing. And I kind of discovered when I was going through a big life change and decisions that I could make or not make where I wanted to focus my activities and for what aims. So lots of people might just say, "Well, you just set some life goals and you go for it. That's typical way of doing things." But the way I looked at it was if I wanted to live a fulfilling life, how would I know that I'm doing that?

Gabrielle Collard: And the only way I could think of knowing that I'm living a fulfilling life is to go from the deathbed backwards. So imagining what regrets I would have in my last moment before I slipped off this mortal coil. And I created an exercise called the deathbed manifesto, and it involves literally imagining that you are in your last moments and what you would say to yourself or what you would be saying about your regrets. And regrets are usually things that people didn't do rather than the things that they did do. And this is kind of based on the idea of the book by, I think her name is Bronnie Ware. She was a nurse who wrote the book about the last regrets of the dying. And these are all things that people wish they had done and they hadn't. So I did an exercise on myself and I came out with a list of stuff which wasn't anything to do with making money or being famous or anything. It was some surprising things, but really solidified my decision-making and changed the course of my life.

Gabrielle Collard: So if I hadn't done that to work out what my true priorities were, rather than what I thought they might be, I probably wouldn't be here in Madrid living this new life, which I'm very, very happy with. That's the advice I would give, is to really think about what your priorities truly are and work your activities around that. Having done that exercise, if I hadn't done it, and I had to say I've moved here and moving lock, stock, and barrel to new country, maybe even a new city where you kind of have to unplug yourself from where you were plugged into before and then re plug yourself into community, families, friends and all this new stuff is really hard. I have had lots of knee jerk reactions where I've just thought, "Well, that's it. I'm off, going back now. I'm getting on the next plane back." That I did, that did occur to me in the first year and even the second year. And I could have actually done that if I hadn't really understood what I really wanted in order to live, knowing that I lived my best life.

Gabrielle Collard: Some of the other things that might come up on the list are all like big life-changing things. My number one thing was learning Spanish, that's what came up of my exercise. And if I hadn't done that and had that as one of my top three priorities, again, I probably would've given up. I'm not a natural kind of language person by any means. And I may have just not bothered. I know many people that don't even though they're living in different country. And I can understand why, because it's bloody hard. So another things might be to do with relationships. So one of your regrets might be something like, "I never patched it up with so-and-so" or "I never told someone so that I loved them." It could be things like that. Then they become your priorities, which is, I think something I'd like to share with everybody. And I hope people understand what I'm talking about.

Andrew J. Mason: Of course, absolutely. That's fantastic. Gabrielle, how can people connect with you and the work that you're doing if they're interested?

Gabrielle Collard: Well, which is where all the personal development content is. And some of the stuff I've been talking about will be on there as well. And I'm on there on the listing page, I can be contacted through that. I keep a low profile when it comes to other channels. I don't really do much social media. It's The Coach Space basically.

Andrew J. Mason: Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing just your experience with Omni's products and a little bit more about your life.

Gabrielle Collard: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Andrew J. Mason: And thank all of you for listening today. Hey, we're curious, are you enjoying the shows? Are you enjoying learning how people are getting things done utilizing Omni software and products? Drop us a line at The Omni Show on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you there. You can also find out everything that's happening with the Omni Group at