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Jan. 22, 2024, 6 a.m.
How Kaitlin Salzke Uses OmniFocus - Part 2

Today, community member Kaitlin Salzke returns to the Omni Show to share how her system evolved over the last 2 years.

Show Notes:

We learn how Kaitlin has integrated OmniFocus with a physical task management system. She shares insights on the limitations of human productivity and the innovative ways she leverages OmniFocus for work-life balance. Kaitlin's story is a testament to adaptability and clarity in the midst of life's constant changes.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:


Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to The Omni Show, where we connect with the amazing community surrounding the Omni Group's award-winning products. My name's Andrew J. Mason. Today Kaitlin Salzke returns to share how she uses OmniFocus.

Hello and welcome to another episode of The Omni Show. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today we have Kaitlin Salzke here with us again. And I love her intro, so I'm just going to re-read that. So if you've never heard of Kaitlin Salzke, this is the perfect introduction for her. It shows up on our website. She says, "I'm the kind of person that tries to represent everything in Venn diagrams and flow charts, uses too many emojis and has an OmniFocus automation set up for managing my laundry. And if that doesn't tell you enough about me, well then, I really don't know what will." Kaitlin's a rock star in our community. We're so grateful to have her back. Kaitlin, thanks for joining us.

Kaitlin Salzke: Thanks for having me back.

Andrew J. Mason: Absolutely. I believe when we last talked you were looking at an executive role in government, pursuing a degree in computer science. Just catch us up; what's been happening since then and how are things for you now?

Kaitlin Salzke: Yeah. I was surrounded by boxes last time I spoke to you, so I was packing up my house and it was all a little bit crazy.

Andrew J. Mason: That's right.

Kaitlin Salzke: And things haven't really gotten less crazy, but the crazy's changed a little bit. I did move, did take on the new role. I'm 18 months into that now. So that's been interesting and interesting from an OmniFocus point of view as well because it's different type of work that I'm having to manage with OmniFocus and some different approaches that I'm having to take.

Andrew J. Mason: And the boxes, you've moved?

Kaitlin Salzke: Yeah, living in a new place, kids getting older.

Andrew J. Mason: Oh boy.

Kaitlin Salzke: It's all happening. Bachelor of Computer Science, I made the decision to defer. It got a little bit hectic. So I'll jump back into that later next year and I'll see how that goes.

Andrew J. Mason: Oh yeah, absolutely. And massive respect in your direction as well, because deferring computer science or not, I couldn't make it through. That's what I went to college for and once I landed in the computer assembly language, I realized I was way in over my head, so this needed to change direction and fast. So respect in that direction for sure. Talk to me about OmniFocus. So you've mentioned how it's showing up is different because of the different work environment.

Kaitlin Salzke: So I've had a bit of a journey with this over the last 18 months because in my role before, I did try and make myself use OmniFocus because I'm a little bit invested, but it wasn't really necessary because the work I was doing was a lot more transactional. We had systems in the workplace, in the business that directed the work. You'd pick up one thing and then you'd do the next thing; there wasn't little bits of pieces of things coming to you from everywhere so much. Whereas now, being in this role in local government, local governments try to do absolutely everything. We're really running about 40 businesses and we're a small remote local government, so that means that everyone's involved in everything, which is really interesting and really fun, but can be a lot to manage as well. So I came from, a lot of my usage of OmniFocus was more in the personal kind of space and keeping on top of more mundane kind of things like the laundry, which I still do to an extent, although a lot of that because I've got this full-time role, my partner's taken on a lot of the more household running sort of stuff. So less of that's in there, but just because I actually contribute less than I used to. But the work side of things, I started by trying to take the same kind of approach as I always have, which was to put everything into OmniFocus, but there was just too much of it. It didn't work. I think if it had all been my work, it might've worked, but because so much of it was actually things that I was waiting on someone else for or just trying to oversee, it didn't really work. It was just too much to put in OmniFocus. And so eventually I've moved over to, I've actually got largely a physical system. I've got a big wall of... You can see it because we've got video.

Andrew J. Mason: Yeah. And just for folks that are listening, we're on a video call right now, but this podcast is in audio, and behind Kaitlin there is just this grid of post-it notes that have a visual representation of the tasks that are flowing in and out of her world. So I do get that, it's probably a lot more difficult when you have that speed of running the equivalent of 40 businesses and so much of it is waiting fors. I could see where that would get pretty tricky, pretty fast. But I interrupted you; please continue.

Kaitlin Salzke: So I've got that big wall over there that I have staring at me all the time with all the things that I haven't done, but as you say, it's sectioned up into things and that's the biggest stuff usually or the stuff that's multistep, like a project. And so I can look at that. I've got a bit of a plan of when stuff's going to happen. I can see what's started, what needs to be started. I've got a done section so I feel a little bit better about it when I look at it, but I try to run that [inaudible 00:04:48] on a quarterly basis. And then when I've actually actively working on something, so when it's in my little in-progress quadrant, I'm trying to limit OmniFocus to basically those tasks that I'm actually actively working on at the moment. And also the little miscellaneous kind of things that aren't necessarily a project, but, "Oh, hey, I need to remember to send this document to X or talk to Y about ABC." Those kinds of things make it into OmniFocus too. And then a few other bits and pieces like, if something's actually got a due date, I like to put it in OmniFocus just almost as a placeholder task so that it pops up and I don't forget about it. But trying to really limit what's actually there and narrow the focus down has been pretty helpful.

Andrew J. Mason: This is great. Thank you so much for breaking down what's happened over the last 18 months as your system has morphed and the demands of your life have morphed as well. I was thinking about asking, talk to me about what the most significant challenges that you've been facing over the last 18 months in terms of your system, but I have to imagine that it was adapting it to be flexible in the moment for all of the demands coming in and out. So feel free to approach that or talk to me about the most significant achievement in your system over the last 18 months as you've been changing things.

Kaitlin Salzke: I think I'll go from a challenge point of view actually because it is related to that process, but I don't know that we've explicitly addressed it, which is that idea and accepting that idea that you actually can't do absolutely everything. It's actually just physically not possible, not just in work, but in life in general. So I actually read a book recently, was a few months back now, called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which I just highlighted everywhere. It's been a little while since I read it, so I hope I don't misrepresent it. But basically what I took from it was you just need to accept that the fundamental state of being human is the inability to do everything. And so that actually led me to, as I said, I decided to defer that degree. I went, "No, I actually need to make some decisions here." And the most dangerous thing is that thing that you want to do. It's all the stuff that's almost at the top of the list that stops you, that distracts you because you go, "I'll work on projects two, three, and four" when really what you want to be achieving or aiming for is project number one, which there's nothing wrong with that approach, depending on what you're trying to achieve. But I think that's been the biggest thing for me is just accept the fact that some conscious decisions are going to have to be made about what is not going to be done or what's not going to be done right now at least and be okay with that.

Andrew J. Mason: That's actually incredible though. I think all of us go on this journey where you go from stressed at the beginning of the bell curve saying, "I can't do it all," and then you find some sort of productivity tool or superpower and you're like, "Oh, I can do anything." And then on the other side of it now through taking that journey, it's like a more calm, "I can't do it all." And I think that's a really humble journey and stance to take. Tell me more about the role automation is playing in all of this for you.

Kaitlin Salzke: I've still been doing it. I've done some for some other people. So I've just written one that I'll probably publish at some point where I don't know if I'm going to use it myself yet, but I was intrigued by the idea that in the note of each project, it puts a little tag as to whether it's a parallel project or a sequential project or a single action list so that you can then use that as a filter in custom perspective, which I've just done that in the last week and I feel like that's got to unlock something, but I don't know what yet. Other thing that I've done recently is I'd been working for a little while, because my work type database was so overwhelming, I was running two separate instances of OmniFocus in different user accounts on my Mac, which was okay, but was a pain because things would get out of control a little bit. So I've in the last couple of months moved it all back into one but set up some automations where I've just got a work folder and a personal folder, which I don't think is particularly unusual or revolutionary. But what I've also done is set up some automation so that things in those folders are all tagged with a tag that represents work or personal as well, which, it might be redundant, but what it's allowed me to do is set up an automation where the opposite tag is put on hold when I join the Wi-Fi network for either task and some quick automations to filter just those folders with the keyboard shortcut kind of thing as well. But it means that when I've got those kind of perspectives that I use all the time, I didn't have to recreate them with a work version and a personal version. I can just see the relevant thing. And that's working pretty well. It doesn't work for perspectives that show remaining actions is the only thing I would say. But for me that works okay because I'm still using a very similar view to what I think I probably was using when I spoke to you last. That's stuck, and what I think I've posted about on my website where I've got the dashboardy view of what's there. And most of that is available tasks and what's not is either stuff I've said, "I want to do this today" or it's stuff that's due right now. So I probably still want to be aware of it at least in the back of my mind anyway. And then for everything else, I've got a list of available tasks or if I'm doing my review or something, which I found I'm using more in the work side of things, I've not really used it that much. I've done a review, but it's been more of a complete review rather than the OmniFocus built-in feature. So, been doing that and also using in OmniFocus 4, experimenting with using the forecast a lot more because of that ability that they've added to group things to show the hierarchy and to reorder things. It's been helpful. I've sort of alternating between the forecast view and my own today view, but that ability to reorder things changes the game I reckon.

Andrew J. Mason: That's awesome. And I feel like I'd be remiss if I didn't ask if you did happen to have a favorite OmniFocus 4 feature.

Kaitlin Salzke: I think that reordering ability has got to be it. To be honest, I've been using OmniFocus 4 forever. So I've sort of forgotten what it was like to be in OmniFocus 3. I don't even remember what's a new feature, but I think that's pretty key for me is planning the days. It makes much more sense to be able to see it in an order and to be able to group things up. If you've got a whole set of things that are all part of one task, but you want to see more, you don't have to see 300 things in the list if you're not working on it actively at that time, I think is pretty cool too.

Andrew J. Mason: Let's shift over to the plugin development space. How is that going? What have you been working on? What have you been finding to be true in that space?

Kaitlin Salzke: There's people doing interesting things for sure, but a lot of them are either pretty general, like I've got a next tag and a today tag and I want to be able to run an automation to move all my tasks from one to the other at 6:00 AM every day or whatever, which is fairly useful for sure, but not particularly revolutionary. Or ones that are really specific, I've just done one for someone, I don't know exactly what they're doing, but they're managing some kind of quote database and wanting a random quote to pop up and then be copied to another folder. And I don't know how much broad use that has, although it was interesting. So I'm looking at eventually putting that up as just the ability to select a random task in a selected folder or projects and pop it up, which I feel like could be kind of useful to some people depending on how indecisive you are. I know I'm not the first one to do this, but I have been working on, it's broken or didn't quite work, but I think it's a shortcuts issue rather than an Omni automation issue. But I had been working on a shortcut, as I said, I was keeping some of those projects for work in particular with dates in OmniFocus, but I obviously have a work calendar as well and also a personal calendar. So I was playing around with some automations to create calendar events based on those due dates, but divert them off to particular calendars. And I think others have done that. I think Rosemary Orchard may have done that with various things. Mine, I particularly wanted to avoid having, for example, if I've got a project with 30 tasks in it and the project's got a due date, then the project is the one I want to know about. I don't necessarily need to know about the 30 tasks below it, because they're implied. The one I want to be aware of at the high level is the one that's got the actual assigned due date. So I was playing with doing some filtering to just get that into the calendar, which was cool. But as I said, it's broken a little bit and I've had a couple of requests from people to share it. That's probably next on my list to do that. I've had some requests for some changes and improvements to the templates plugin that I've shared ages ago, things like integrating it with my dependency plugins, so you can have dependencies between tasks that actually show up when you create a template and being able to create multiple templates at once with the same variables and that sort of thing. So I've had a few requests for that and I think that plugin needs a little bit of love and rewriting. So eventually I'll get back to that.

Andrew J. Mason: And one final question. Everything else that's not work related, how is that going? Is there anything different, new, updated in that space?

Kaitlin Salzke: I don't think there's that much that's changed there, to be honest. And I probably haven't really ticked off any tasks there either in the last 18 months hardly. The main thing that's changed, and I don't quite know how I'm going to address it, I think when we spoke last time, I was very much in a position where I had OmniFocus pretty much open and in front of me. If I was at home, it was on my computer, which it's on my phone and things, but I tend to sit down and it doesn't tend to be as in my face. And so the little stuff, I'm not spending less time because I never spent that much time, but I'm processing it more in chunks, more as a confirmation that I've picked up everything than actively working out of it, if that makes sense. I think that's probably the biggest change. But the structure's the same; that stuck and I think will largely stick for a while.

Andrew J. Mason: Excellent. And Kaitlin, final question: how can people connect with you, all of the automation and tools and plugins and stuff that you're working with and on and just keep up with you and see what you're up to?

Kaitlin Salzke: Well, I'm pretty negligent in posting online anywhere. I've got a Twitter account, I put a message on the account. I don't really open either of them, so the best way to get in touch with me is to shoot me an email. The address is on my website. So just Again, almost never updating there at the moment, but it's there. If you send me an email, I'll get back to you eventually, almost definitely.

Andrew J. Mason: Kaitlin, thank you so much.

Kaitlin Salzke: Thank you.

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