Doing email, not in my job description

Using artificial intelligences (AI) to get the job done

Roughly 3.8 billion people are using email today and still growing. McKinsey’s stunning study already showed back in 2013 that we are spending 36% of our working time on email and messaging (7% on fixed voice, 20% on mobile voice, 10% on VoIP, and 26% on social).

During the pandemic, remote working has become the standard, and I can imagine that email, social and VoIP have grown tremendously, based on my own experience.

Looking at your job description and your objectives, probably writing, and processing email and socials are not on it. How come that we are spending over 50% of our working time on email and socials? Some six years ago, being overwhelmed by email and creating negative energy around processing email, I decided to “do email” differently.

In this blog post, I explain the result of my years on the journey “on doing email” for inspiration only. Containing some links to downloadable Shortcuts and Keyboard Maestro macros. A lot has already been written on the subject of the email. I am not pretending to have found “the holy grail” on email processing; however, it works for me.

On the right you see my Inbox, handling six mail accounts and, on average, 173 emails per day.

I have used the principle of ESSA (Eliminate, Simplify, Standardize and Automate) and using Artificial Intelligence in pre-processing, decision making, and handling email, showing me the most important stuff first and creating flow. If you are interested in how, please read further, it starts with some theoretical context and my vision on email as communication tool.

As you can notice, I use familiar aviation concepts (e.g. “platform”, “prepare for flight”, “take off” and “in-flight” etc.) to have a structured flow (and I love aviation.) I like safety first and the used workflows/ standards in the aviation industry. I need “to be safe” with email too and cannot miss any “check and balance” in processing mail.

This post will cover the following topics:

The email and message challenge

Agree upon guidelines for email

At the organisations I led, I was always surprised that, if spending 50%+ of the working/ human capital on e-mail processing, there were no guidelines or even (onboarding) trainings/ competence development initiatives on how to deal with email. For inspiration I have attached to this blog post, a concept guideline for:

  1. Tips when to e-mail or when not to e-mail
  2. How do you compose the correct e-mail?
  3. What is the best way to read e-mail?
  4. Other points for attention.

You can find this guideline here.

Intention matters

The intention behind sending an email can say something about your organization of how effectively your organization works together to pursue a common goal. Let me explain further. The problem is that email is boundless. I receive email from:

  • colleagues with good intentions
  • some colleagues who are “covering their ass” (informing me so they can transfer accountability when “shit hits the fan” by saying “I have informed you”)
  • colleagues who are trying to delegate “stuff” which is their own job/ responsibility (give me a problem)
  • and a lot of it comes from robots or people who “don’t give a damn” about your precious time and your energy levels.

💡 Tip: look at your mail from a tactical point of view at first. What is the intention behind sending this email? That will determine your answer and “tone of voice.” I even tag email so I can assess the Health of my organization.

Let email not determine your time spend

Every email (good-intentioned or not) creates its sense of urgency that will seem more important than doing your job, as agreed upon in your job description or delivering your objectives, or even spending quality time with yourself and your family.

💡Tip: Do not let email consume your precious time too much. Plan in your schedule/ calendar time for processing email, according to your needs (f.e. two times 45 minutes). The other time is for doing your job.

Determine if email is the right way to communicate

The more you engage in email, the more email engages you. Every email could result in many more emails on the same topic in the coming days. I prefer to have personal contact (Phone, Zoom/ MS Teams, personal “face to face” conversation), 70% of communication is non-verbal, which you miss in email.

💡Tip: send and reply on email in such a way that there are no open endings and communications/ debate “stops here”. Do use a “standard” structure of composing and answering mail. Do not discuss topics by email: it could take weeks of lead time to finish the discussion, pick up the phone or do a short zoom meeting, and you are done with the debate in a couple of minutes. (and personal contact creates more energy/ fun.)

Email inbox is not your Inbox on “stuff to do”

If you were going back to the time when we were using post pigeons or the mail post for getting the message over, there is a pretty simple workflow involved with handling paper mail:

  • Get it out of your post mailbox.
  • Fetch the paper and sort through it, and throw some of it away
  • You read some, and you may even scan some and keep it for later
  • Act on it (pay bills, reply on or even go to the store to buy the discounted items)

The one thing you are not going to do is walk out to your mailbox, look through your mail, and then stuff it all back in your mailbox. However, I did this some years ago with email, which I need to take action on (using it as an Inbox to-do list). The next time we go back to our email clients, we see the same emails we ignored last time, plus a whole new pile of mail dropped there, while we were away. We are using our energy and brains again to read again and determine again what to do with the email, like yesterday. At some point, it makes you crazy and feeling overwhelmed. 

Furthermore, all email clients are designed for processing and holding email and have a business model to “keep you engaged” with this, especially Google. A communication tool is differently designed than a task management tool.

💡 Tip: process/ answer mail immediately. If the time of processing is over 3 minutes and it can wait a little while, put it on your to-do list in your task manager of choice.

In my work currently, I receive on average 173 mails per day (weekends included). I handle 6-7 email accounts (work, businesses I own, assignments, and privately). I had to switch off notifications on all my devices and needed some Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help me handling these amounts of emails.

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How Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes to the rescue

There is already a lot written about AI. For reference behind my email setup, I will mention one concept I am using. The concept of AI in relation to email processing, different levels of AI:

Decision trees are in your head. F.e. I receive an email from my boss and I want to respond quickly so I put a flag on it. Or an email looks like spam, so I move it to the spam folder. This way of working is the most simple way of working and works fine with “low” email counts. What is low depends who you are as person (energy and brain capacity).

Static machine learning, the decision making is still in your head but the email client is helping you determine what to do and in which order. Mostly you see the use of mail rules like “if mail subject contains “invoice” move mail to folder “Invoice processing” and remains “Unread”. Next time an email comes in that you would be expected to be picked up by the rule but did not, you add a new rule or adjust the current rule”. This way of working is advanced already and working okay if you have a consistent email inbound (same senders, use of standard subjects and not too many mail category comes “from robots or people who “don’t give a damn.” about your time and your energy levels“. Rules are not available on iOS or iPadOS mail clients. If you need to change mail rules often, it is time for the next step in AI.

Neural networks could sound creepy and or nerdy however it is already existing and working for me. I use Sanebox for all of my six mail accounts and it is preprocessing my email. SaneBox restores sanity to my Inbox by prioritizing the incoming email that actually matters and is relevant to my day based on super-smart algorithms. Less important emails are automatically filtered into a separate folder and then summarised in a daily digest. You can also create customs folders which you can train while f.e. moving mail to that trainable email folder (without creating rules).

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How I manage email – the flow

Organisation of mailboxes

Every mail box has a “standard” setup, as following:

One (smart mailbox) over all 6 mail accounts

Because Sanebox is working on a server (email remains on your company servers) the initial processing takes place for all your devices, in my case Mac, iPad and iPhone but if you use other equipment it works the same. On the Mac I am using Smart folders to collect all six similar folders into one folder. This looks like below:

It has the same structure as all the other 6 mailboxes however I add a new one, on top of structure called “☑ Prepare for flight”.

Because I handle my email also “on the road” on my iPhone and iPad and I cannot use the functionality of Mailtags and MailActon (Mailsuite) on iOS or iPadOS and want to add a project and tags to email conversations, I do this here. It showing all the mail not in Archive not having a Project attached. Before I can take off I need to process these first.

The Routine is simple:

  • I start on top of the list “☑ Prepare for flight” and I am processing all email which does not have a Project and or Tag attached. Mostly because I processed some mail on my iPhone or iPad.
  • I am prepared to take off and I will at first process all the Inbox email items for the persons I have indicated as VIP
  • In the smart view “🛫 Take off” I find all “remaining” inbox items. The AI determined that these need immediate attention (and is pretty accurate doing so). I answer immediately or if more than 3 minutes time, I transfer it to my task manager, in my case OmniFocus with a simple keyboard shortcut.
  • In the folder “✈️ In flight – ☕️ Waiting for” I can find all my emails which I have sent and did not receive a reply on.
    • How do I know if I am awaiting a reply? Copies of the sent email appear in this folder, in my case 3 days after sending, until I receive a reply from each To recipient. You can choose how many days you want to wait.
    • Please don’t put emails in this folder. SaneBox will remove any email that is accidentally added to this folder.
    • What if I don’t expect a reply? Simply remove the email from this folder. Or, I can add “NNTR” (no need to reply), “NRN” (no reply necessary), or “FYI” to your subject, and SaneBox will ignore that sent email.
  • Etc…

I do this a couple of times per day, and is planned in my agenda. Max 45 minutes.

Archiving

At first, I was archiving all emails in one folder: the Archive folder. The search functions of the email clients are so good that I can find everything back. So why bother to build a subfolder structure? However, I was missing the possibility to analyze what I did communicate on a Project (=goal) or not. (or could not remember exactly what to search for in 210k+ email Archive).

I use OmniFocus for setting up Projects; this gives a specific folder structure on my area of responsibilities. The same structure is applied to all my reference material in DevonThink, even connected with links. Please find here the setup of the Folder structure in OmniFocus.

I am using MailTags as part of the MailSuite application for using the OmniFocus project for storing email in the same Project structure. Mailtags is connected to OmniFocus projects. Now OmniFocus (task manager), DevonThink (reference files), and Mail (for emails) have the same folder structure. If I create a project in OmniFocus, it will be copied to DevonThink and Mail.

In my Weekly debrief, I check if I have recent communications done on projects/ goals. Is the project/ goals realisation still moving forward?

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How to set up this device-independent

I will explain in this paragraph how to set this up. First I will list the tools used, show you my email preferences, and how to setup SaneBox and MailSuite. Sanebox is a device in-depended and can work with many email clients. MailSuit is only available for the Mac Mail app as an add-in.

The tools I use

Email client of choice

  • On the Mac, I use the native Mail app but you can achieve the same in Outlook, Spark, or Airmail (without Projects.)
  • On the iPad, as well as the iPhone I use also the native Mail app. However, I was able to copy the setup to Outlook app Sparks app and to the Airmail app also (again without Project functionality).

Using Artificial Intelligence tooling

  • I use Sanebox for AI purposes. Sanebox’s AI will analyze my email history and learn what is important to me. I teach Sanebox by moving any misplaced email to the correct folder without adjusting many mail rules. The AI is trainable.

Using tagging, rules and project management tool

  • I am using MailTags (tagging and projects) and MailActon (advanced mail rules) from the company Smalcubed for this

User interface improvements

To do list

  • I am using OmniFocus for my to-do list. Please find here the setup of OmniFocus
  • I am using DevonThink for storing all my reference files

Please find below the preferences and settings of:

Email preferences – speed of handling matters

If you receive many emails, it is nice to have an efficient “way of working”. Handling mail the fastest way you can, gives you more time to do your job. The way the user interface has been set up, matters. Please find below my setup, how it works for me:

Here you see one example of Smart mailbox setup, showing four email accounts in one folder.

The setup of the “☑️ Prepare for flight” is shown here. It is intended to pick up all email handled on iPhone or iPad so I can add a project and or keyword to it. This task can also be done by a personal assistant.

View and sort options

I prefer to setup the user interface in such a way that I can work without any friction. I am aware that this could be very personal preference but for inspiration I will show you mine:

For me the most important option is that I “organise by conversation”. Meaning that all emails in one threat are showed together with newest message on the top. I can process many e-mails in one threat “at once”.

All the other options are self explaining and are for me building “a razor sharp” user interface for handling email without friction.

Mail.app preferences

On the left you will see the first tab of preferences in Mail app, called “General”:

  • I have switched off sounds and notifications
  • I also prefer to open messages in split-screen
  • Searching in Bin is also handy

In Accounts all your email accounts are set up.

  • I have also mapped the mailbox behaviors differently. I use a separate Archive mailbox folder.
  • I check manually if the Junk folder contains emails that are not junk and then delete manually the content (to be sure)

Junk mail setting

In Sanebox I have also set up the folder “🕳 Put in a black hole” per email account. If the spam filter allows email to come in the Inbox, which I never/ ever want to see now and in the future, it will be trained to do so.

Fonts & colors are your personal settings. Please be aware that if MailTags is installed, you will overwrite some of these settings.

Viewing is set up to be as “lean & mean” as possible. But also this could be a personal preference.

Composing

  • I always use Rich text and spelling check
  • I send emails from the account is originated from
  • I always use my own message format

MailSuit is also containing a module called SigPro. Every mail account has its own signature set for new and answering mail.

Rules has three submenus:

  • Inbox rules
  • Outbox rules
  • Act-on rules (if you have installed MailSuite with MailActon)

Most rules come from the AI from Sanebox, however I tag some messages with Projects, f.e. all Invoices and Financial statements get the project [Workflow administration]

In my outbox, I have only one rule. When I send a mail to my accountant it adds a project and Archives the mail for me.

The Act-on rules are kind of snippets you can use in Inbox and Outbox rules. F.e. the “☑️ Action processing” puts an email in OmniFocus with a link back to the original mail and tags the mail with “Send2OF” so I can see it is on my task list. You can download the script here.

Mailtags settings

If you have installed MailSuit, you get, depending on your selection, two extra tabs in preferences, one for Mailtags and one for MailAction. I will explain below the setting I use for both modules.

In the first tab “General” you can set up the “snippet” you will see if you activate Mailtags in your mail. If you hover over the top of the email note section the following will appear:

You can also use the shortcut Control + Command T

In the tab Keywords, you can set up keywords and or use Gmail labels. I have limited to a couple and added the sales funnel to it.

For me this is the killer functionality of MailTags, I can connect to OmniFocus (Things is also possible) to use the Projects as setup in OmniFocus.

Here you can set up colors of your message to your preferences.

I do not use reminders a lot because all my tasks are on OmniFocus.

This feature makes it possible to synchronize all settings over to other computers. Think about your Personal Assistant, working in your same setup, or your spouse.

Mail Act-On settings

Mail Act-On’s powerful ‘Keystroke’ rules and message filing interface gives you the ability to quickly take action on your email. Use Mail Act-On to build sophisticated email workflows that eliminate repetitive, time-consuming, and error-prone manual email organization. Outbox rules give you the power to alter and organize the messages you send.

With Act-On you can automatically CC or BCC messages depending on rule criteria. Make sure you always use the right delivery account for each recipient; add special headers; delay delivery and more – all with Outbox rules. Mail Act-On gives you unparalleled ability to manage your messages.

Use Act-On’s templates to quickly reply to messages. Use Act-On composer options to specify when messages are delivered, where sent messages get archived, and even which outbox rules are applied.

It starts with the general Tab, please see on the left my settings

On the tab Menus you can add and change keyboard shortcuts. I did not change anything here.

On the tab Message views, you can overwrite and add extra functionality on how to view your messages. I have tweaked it to be as fast as possible/ as few as possible keystrokes/ as little as possible friction.

On every message you can set one of more outbox rules, I do not use any.

As with MailTags, you can synchronize your settings. Think about your Personal Assistant, working in your same setup, or your spouse.

Keyboard Maestro setup

I use Keyboard Maestro a lot. The tool could be a little overwhelming at first use. MacSparky has published an excellent field guide on this product, here. It takes a couple of hours but the return on this investment will be very fast.

In my user interface, you see right under a floating palette. By pressing “1” it will send the email to OmniFocus Inbox with a link back to the email and tags the email with “Send2OF” and archives it. The waiting for the tag is self-explaining.

I can also save attachments to my tickler file of choice. You can read here more about the use of tickler files

An email can also be printed to pdf and send to the Inbox.

You can download here the macro to adjust for your own use. An example of a used Automator script you can find here.

SaneBox setup

I do not use all the functionality of SaneBox. You will find below the settings I use. If you start using SaneBox it will install some mailbox folders, mostly with the name starting with “@SANE….”. You can change the name to your own preference on your mail client (sometimes you need to confirm in Sanebox preferences).

  • Inbox is handled by the AI-engine. You can allow that new contacts to come in your Inbox or in @Sanelater (which I call “✈️ In flight – 🕰 Later”.
  • “🚉 Platform – 📰 News others” is a smart folder, it will learn if you move mail to this folder or back.
  • “🕳 Put in black hole” is an extra Spam folder, everything you put in here will next time also be put here.
  • “🚉 Platform – 🐥 Social” and “🚉 Platform – 🌤 Updates” are smart folders also. They will learn from dragging and dropping mail into our out of this folder, without needing to adjust rules (it will learn)
  • “🚉 Platform – 🤝 Sales” and “🛬 Landing – 📰 News prof” are smart folders too.
  • The folder “✈️ In flight – ☕️ Waiting for” is a standard folder in which you receive the emails you send but did not get replied to. You can change the waiting time to any days you want. I prefer 3 days

You can also snooze mail from any day to re-appear again in the Inbox so you can look at this. There are several options but I prefer to use tomorrow and +1 week options only.

If you do not pick up an email directly you can also send and customizable auto-reply text.

There are many more features.

  • I use attachments to drop attachments in Dropbox and with a Hazel rule transfer to Inbox of DevonThink.
  • I also use Domain filtering. If I receive a company domain like @bc.nl in my private email inbox, it will automatically be moved to my bc.nl account.
  • In subject filters, I use the words invoice, financial statement, etc. to move the email into the “🚉 Platform – 💶 Financials” folder.

You will have your own use-cases for this.

Guideline for e-mail handling in organisations

Below you will find a template for a mail guideline for organisation. You can use this as inspiration, make it your own, adjust to your needed “tone of voice”.

E-mail Etiquette – Less is more

The purpose of this e-mail guideline is:

  • to limit the amount of e-mail circulating within our organisation to the essentials; 
  • make optimal use of the unique properties of e-mail;
  • achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness;
  • improve mutual communication.

The use of e-mail is currently not optimal. On average, we spend (too) much time on e-mail and often determine our daily priorities through the notifications in our mailbox, not by the objectives we have set for our organisation. 

You probably also often conclude that you have been e-mailing about a specific subject for days, while if you had picked up the phone, it could have been ready in 5 minutes. Some colleagues look every day at a mailbox of around 500+ unread e-mails, which is not very motivating.

A guideline will work if we all use it as a guideline in our daily work, and this means that you can and must hold each other accountable for compliance with these guidelines. Below you will find the guidelines for:

  1. Tips when to e-mail or when not to e-mail 
  2. How do you compose the correct e-mail
  3. What is the best way to read e-mail?
  4. Other points for attention.

Ad 1) Tips for the use of e-mail.

  • If walking into a colleague or calling is just as easy/efficient, don’t use e-mail. Besides, personal contact makes working much more fun. Time for a joke and a laugh, but also to add depth to your work. You cannot achieve this via e-mail;
  • Save questions such as “how are you?” and “how was your weekend” for other times such as at the proverbial coffee machine, in the hallway, or during lunch;
  • Never use e-mail to express irritation or other negative emotions to your colleagues. If there is a disagreement, talk it over with a cup of coffee/tea, where you can look each other in the eye. If there is no other option, save your e-mail message as a draft and look at it again after a few hours with a fresh, calm look, straight in the eye. 
  • If you have to negotiate about a specific topic, the mail is less suitable for this;
  • If the subject is complex or sensitive, it is better to discuss this in a personal conversation. It can take days to make a point clear by e-mail via question and answer/explanation;
  • In general, the more urgent the message, the more e-mail is not a suitable medium;
  • Do not use mail to initiate (delegate) actions with others. Only use this when you have a verbal agreement on the action to be taken, and you want to confirm it by e-mail;
  • Avoid joint e-mail exchanges with “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” etc…

Ad 2) Compose the correct e-mail.

If you choose to communicate via e-mail, try to compose the e-mail so that the reader can understand the message with little text. Be direct and write what you want. Leave out any “political” sensitivities (then it is better to communicate verbally).

Compose an e-mail

  • Consider whether an e-mail is indeed the best medium for the message you want to send (see above). Use of the telephone, personal contact, a meeting or the canteen and other locations is often more effective;
  • Only copy people if the message is relevant and always explain why the employee is in the CC. If you can’t explain this, then don’t CC; 
  • Try to use a fixed structure in the mail as follows:
    • Paragraph 1: background and reason why you are sending this e-mail;
    • Paragraph 2: goal – what you want to achieve by e-mail;
    • Paragraph 3: approach – what you expect in terms of action/feedback, in what way, and the timeline within which;
  • Preferably ask one question per message; 
  • Keep messages concise and business-like by:
    • Pay attention to a good, meaningful subject line. No subject line is not allowed; 
    • To formulate to the point (take just a bit more time for that); telegram style is permitted;
  • Not to send attachments if the relevant documents can be published on the Shared disk, intranet, or SharePoint, then only the link; 
  • Send messages without formatting (so no bells and whistles, such as colors, different fonts, smileys, backgrounds, and colourful signatures); 
  • Only use humor in exceptional cases; a difference in interpretation can quickly lead to misunderstandings; 
  • Reread your e-mail critically before pressing the send button and enable spell check;
  • Formulate what you expect from the other (a reaction, an action, an answer). Also, indicate if the message is for information and the recipient does not have to respond;

When replying to an e-mail

  • Respond preferably within one but no more than two working days to e-mail messages from colleagues. If you are absent for a more extended period, use the Out of Office.
  • Explicitly state what you will be doing and when in response to the message. In your reply, delete irrelevant passages if you quote parts of the original message (with the familiar> characters)
  • If there are several questions in the mail to answer, dedicate each paragraph to one answer with the section’s bolded question. Answer them all or indicate if you cannot. In other words, don’t let things “hang”;
  • Indicate at the bottom of your message – if relevant – when you can be reached on which number so that the recipient can respond to your message in a way other than by e-mail.

Ad 3) Reading messages:

  • In principle, only open each e-mail once. It may be one of the most challenging things. Because how often do you open an e-mail and then think that you will look at it at a later time. It happens that messages are opened twice or three times. Time and again, you have to delve into the text again. Precious time, memory, and energy are lost.
  • Keep wondering what the core of the message is:
    • a question: answer the question immediately if possible;
    • an assignment/request: work this out directly if this can be done within 3 minutes; otherwise, put it in your to-do list and or plan the job in your calendar and communicate back when you are going to do this;
    • inform: read through or print important information that you need to consult several times or archive in the document database;
  • Keep your inbox organized. The inbox should only contain messages that you have yet to read (unread):
    • keep the inbox organized by archiving messages immediately after you have answered and finished them;
    • if you have given the activity resulting from the action a place on your to-do list or in your calendar (you can then open the message from the archive as soon as you start working on the task in question);
    • if you have printed them out because you want the information on paper to hand; 
  • Take the time once a day (plan this in your agenda) to empty your inbox to start with a clean slate the following day. 
  • Never use your inbox as a to-do list. You will never get your work done. Schedule in your calendar or move an e-mail to Tasks / Tasks in Outlook;

Ad 4) Other points for attention

  • Turn off your e-mail notification. This signal that sounds as soon as a message arrives distracts from work and disturbs others working in your room; 
  • Take action if you spend more than an hour a day sending and replying to the e-mail. Is all that e-mail part of your task and objectives, can you “cut back” on e-mail, can you handle your e-mail more efficiently ?;
  • Talk to each other! For this guideline to work optimally, you may alert colleagues who ‘sin’ against it by referring to this document. Do this in a friendly manner: “I would like to refer you to our e-mail guideline.” Or “I know you mean well, but I’d rather not receive jokes.”

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revisited – David Allen’s killer GTD app

In July 2019, I published a post about an experiment to build a working system as sketched in David Allen’s drawingsThis blog has gotten quite some attention, and I have received many questions. I was also part of some discussions about the concept and feasibility of GTD. I have also posted the links to the used Shortcuts, Applescripts, and Keyboard Maestro macros, which were downloaded a lot.

Because the system has brought and is bringing value to me, I continue innovating the setup. Furthermore, Apple improved iOS/ iPadOS/ MacOS with Shortcuts, Widgets, and many more improvements. On top of that, Drafts 5 and OmniFocus are also progressing continuously (worth the subscription business model). “The way of working” evolved last 1.5 years, and I received some requests to publish the more matured system. I did my best to make this blog post comprehensive as much as possible, but I do believe I must keep trying harder.

How it shows now!

GTD  menu setup
iPhone Home Screen
GTD  menu setup
iPad Home screen
GTD  menu setup
MacBook Home Screen with Keyboard Maestro palette

As you can see, I have the same setup structure on every device. Every device is synchronized with iCloud and Dropbox (the latter for scanned documents and DevonThink) and contains the same information.


It has become somewhat a lengthy post. Below you can click on (underlined/ bold text) the subject of your interest or continue reading the whole post (if you dare):

Index

Guiding principles
My guiding principles for “way of working” with an enabling system are:

I pay great respect and acknowledge used sources but adapt this to my own needs and philosophy, not being dogmatic about it. In the Shortcuts/ Macro’s and Applescripts, you will find the source if I used the concept of “Copy, Improve, Paste” (or so-called the Chinese way). I am grateful to all the wonderful people in the community. However, I am a clumsy programmer. Programming is a real profession, and I am “not fit” for that job

I have written several blog posts to explain some guiding principles further with videos and links to Shortcuts. You can find these by clicking the underlined/bold lines above.

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Way of working keeping simple as possible – ESSA.
I fully embrace the goal to keep the “way of workings” as simple as possible. However, this working method’s enabling system setups are not simply due to the used apps’ rich functionality. The enablers for this way of working are OmniFocus 3 (the heart of the enabling system as task manager), Drafts 5 (for writing), DevonThink 3 (for reference files and knowledge center). I use Shortcuts on iOS/ iPadOS and Keyboard Maestro on macOS and Applescript/ Javascript on both platforms.

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How I translated David Allen’s drawings to my “way of working” in an enabling system

Per sheet in the pile of drawings from David Allen, I will show you an image or video of how I have translated this into my system. I have added links to the building blocks for downloading. Please note that the building blocks are based on the way I have set up OmniFocus with specific Folders, Tags, and Perspectives. (you can find here my OmniFocus setup guide). If you want to re-use the building blocks, please adjust these to your needs in your OmniFocus setup. In the beginning, this is feeling a bit nerdy, but it is not super complex to change it.

I will use the iPad setup of my enabling system to show how it is built. This is a similar setup as on the iPhone and MacBook (the latter with Keyboard Maestro).

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Top menu

GTD killer app - initial view
GTD killer app – Home Screen
iPad Home Screen with dashboard, GTD killer app, calendar commitments and trusted system
iPad menu explained

GTD killer app. All mentioned “menu” blocks of David Allen’s GTD killer app design are build in the top right of the home screen (iPad).

KPI and status on personal effectiveness and efficiency. On the left top and going down, you see KPI’s and the status of my system. This dashboard shows information and KPI’s as shown below (stacked widgets you can scroll). If you want to read more about Dashboarding and access to the Shortcuts, you can read about this here

On the Home Screen, I can view the following items:

  • Time in flight, can I perform the tasks planned for today?
  • Week time, the time I have to spend on meeting and actions (looking back)
  • Week Qty, likewise but now in quantities.
  • Tag division, how much task per Tags
  • Due vs. open tasks
  • Delegation ratio, waiting for vs. own tasks

Below the calendar widget (stack), I have more information about current Tasks:

  • Next actions: an overview of open tasks and which are available. NA are projects without a next action.
  • The 2nd and 3rd widget is the number of tasks per status and required time per status

Calendar commitments. Here, I see my next fixed commitments in the left middle of the screen and direct my calendar events. I use Fantastical.

These widgets’ build is described herein as a separate blog post, including the links to the downloadable Shortcuts and a periodically update widget routine to keep the information up-to-date.

Trusted system. Working with an enabling system is only sticking if it is actual. It is not cumbersome to maintain, avoids any distraction, and you can easily find what you are searching for. The middle part of the home screen is about “keeping it trusted”. I have made a separate blog post about the concept of maintaining a trusted system, here to find.

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In

The GTD killer app design shows a trigger list to put Tasks into your Inbox.

David Allen GTD killer app
GTD killer app – In

I have set up a Reveille process in which, via a questionnaire, I fill the Inbox. Reveille is part of the way I keep the system trusted. If you want to read more about this Reveille process, click here. The Weekly debrief is the most crucial activity in the week, which I perform together with my assistants (who are working in my system, by the way – Omnifocus for the web).

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In process

I have more than one Inbox to process, Tasks (OmniFocus), Notes (Drafts), Documents in the reference file (DevonThink), and Inboxes from several Mailboxes. The Reveille process helps me to collect and process those Inboxes.

David Allen's killer app - Process Inbox
GTD Killer app – Inbox process
iPad Inbox menu
iPad – Inbox menu

The Inbox has been designed into one Shortcut icon (Inbox – menu, click on the picture to enlarge) on the Home Screen and gives several options for processing your Inboxes. The menu is above, and you can download the Shortcut here. Down below, every menu option is described/ demonstrated with links to the appropriated Shortcut.

  • Add to OmniFocus Inbox is an easy step to enter a Task/ Project into the Inbox of OmniFocus and is included in above mention menu Shortcut.
  • The menu option Process OmniFocus Inbox is a routine to process all the Inbox items and is also included in the menu mentioned above.
  • Process DevonThink Inbox opens the DevonThink Inbox directly for processing reference material to the appropriate project. The project structure in DevonThink is equal to OmniFocus project structure and are linked with each other. You can read about this setup here.
  • The option Process Drafts Inbox opens the Drafts 5 Inbox directly, containing all the notes that require further processing. I have written in a separate chapter about Meetings. This chapter is here to find.
  • The options Process VIP mail is opening the VIP inbox in the Mail app, likewise for my other mailboxes. You can download here the Shortcut to open specific mailboxes (need Spark to support this) and adjust this to your setup.

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Project (input)

I have perceived the GTD killer app’s design – Project input as a way to collect ideas/ tasks etc., and put this in a project. Furthermore, as a kind of template for a project template and views of actions within a project. 

David Allens' GTD killer app - Projects
GTD Killer app – project input
iPad GTD menu Projects
iPad – Project menu

The menu is shown above, and you can download the Shortcut here. Below every menu option is explained and, if applicable, demonstrated with links to the appropriate Shortcut for downloading.

  • Project overview in OF asks for which project you want to open OmniFocus. It’s part of the Project menu Shortcut.
  • Cheatsheet – overview of a project asks you for which project you want to show a summary and send an overview to Drafts. I use this when I am meeting to have a quick over a specific project (goals) to complement and or ask questions and know what I still have to do to move this project forward.

The Shortcut, which you can download here, will generate an output in which you can review these specific tasks, agenda events, and note (with links):

  • some project KPI’s
  • goals and results you agreed upon, which
  • next actions are available to do
  • agenda topics for this project you have collected
  • actions you are Waiting for,
  • decisions that need to be operationalized
  • the last 10 (meeting) notes for this project
  • which meetings are planned for this project?

On the right, you see the output. For confidential reasons with some white strikeout sentences ->

Meeting sheet Project
Meeting sheet Project

 

  • The menu option Areas of responsibility – AOR asks which AOR (=folder in OmniFocus setup) you want to view OmniFocus tasks. It is also part of the Project menu Shortcut.
  • The Reference material menu option helps me find reference material directly (the concept of contextual computing) in DevonThink. After selecting which Area of Responsibility and within that which project, it will search in DevonThink for the appropriate reference material. You can download the Shortcut here.
Purpose of projects overview in Drafts5
  • The purpose of the project’s menu item fits in my approach to a value-driven way of working. It selects the Area of Responsibility (AOR) and with which Projects (goals). It generates in Drafts 5 an overview of “purpose per project.” Please find on the right an example of the output, and you can download the Shortcut here.
  • The menu option Outcome of projects works as described above; however, now I can see the agreed outcomes for myself or which I have delegated to others or both. You can download the Shortcut here.
Next action in Area of Responsibility in Drafts 5
  • The next action in AoR (Area of Responsibility) creates an overview of which actions are available to push forward per AOR. It sends the output to Drafts 5, contains the links to individual tasks, and does not have a next action (the project is stopped/ paused/ on hold). Here you can download the Shortcut.

 

  • The menu option Next action per project works as above but now per project. The shortcut can be downloaded here.
Waiting for in Area of responsibility in Drafts 5
  • Waiting for.. in AoR is listing all tasks where you are waiting for completion (delegated) with the selected Area of Responsibility. You can download this Shortcut here.
  • The menu option Waiting for.. in Project has the same dialogue as above. It shows all the Tasks you have delegated in a specific project, with links to the specific tasks. Please find here the Shortcut.

 

  • The option New project – based on a template refers to switch to the MacBook. There is a script which copies, based on a template of choice, a project. I have written about this here.

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Projects

I have combined this concept of the Killer app design in the above menu.

David Allens' GTD killer app - Projects
GTD killer app – Projects
iPad menu Projects
iPad – Project menu

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Next Actions

I use it mostly for projects, the sequential setup. Some projects require discipline, where tasks must be performed in a specific order. Others allow you to mix things up. OmniFocus handles these different scenario’s with:

sequential , parallel , and single action project types.

Sequential projects are those that require tasks to be performed in a specific order. A good example would be drinking tea. You have to boil the water and add boiled water and the tea bag into a glass. You can’t start drinking until after you’ve to finish previous actions. There could be dependency grouping in tasks for parallel projects but not first “to do things.” Single actions lists are what the name means.

The significant advantage of sequential project setup is that if you work with views set to First available or Available, you see only these tasks, which moves a project forward, no clutter from other tasks. I prefer sequential projects as intended in GTD killer app design, and it keeps it more simple.

David Allens' GTD killer app - Next actions
GTD Killer app – Next actions
iPad menu - next actions
iPad – Next actions

The next actions (NA) are in my system part of the Project menu. It is split into the NA’s in a specific Area of Responsibility (here) or within a Project (here).

The Clear perspective is showing all the actions which are actionable (First Available actions). The setup is explained here. I use the Reveille, Weekly debrief and Closure routines to keep the system trusted and perform the activities as indicated in the GTD killer app – drawing for the next actions.

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Persons

The concept of Persons is to see what is happening on a personal – level. What to discuss (agenda topics), waiting for, involved in which projects and points of interest, with the ability to write notes and process these notes into your trusted system.

GTD killers app - Persons
GTD killer app – Persons
iPad - overview of Persons in OmniFocus
iPad – Persons

I use a Perspective called Person, and the setup can be found here. You view agenda topics, waiting for’s, what projects this Person is working on, which goals, which outcomes are agreed upon, and what I have to do together with this Person. However, this is not fitting in the concept of contextual computing, so we have extended this. I have created an extra menu option called Waiting for, which can be downloaded here.

Waiting for – I have several tools to prepare for a meeting with a person. The meeting cheat sheet – person helps create an overview in Drafts, amongst others with Waiting for tasks.

The Waiting for menu on the home screen contains three options:

1) Waiting for due, 2) Waiting for and not due and 3) Waiting for in Area of Responsibility.

Click on the underlined text/ bold to see the Perspective set up and or download Shortcuts.

Agenda topics – If I prepare meeting notes before the meeting, I retrieve all agenda topics for this meeting and put them in Drafts’ meeting notes. See below the Meetings section for further explanation. I can also send an email to the person before the conversation to prepare and not be surprised. See below the setup of this.

Goals – On the meeting cheat sheet, I can view all agreed goals. Realizing outcome and impact is the central part of my job, so I need to frequently set up Goals and track progress. I have created a separate menu for Goals. The conceptual thinking about goals, outcome, and impact is as follows:

From Purpose to Goals to Outcome and Impact
From goal to outcome and impact

If you are interested in the concept of “creating value,” I refer you to this blog post here.

On the left, you see the menu Goalshere to download. You can select your own goals per area of responsibility, the goals you have delegated, and an overall view.

Because of confidentiality, I have collapsed and blacked out some information. By clicking on the specific views (underlined/ bold), you can download the Shortcuts.

Processing – I generate from every meeting/ discussion short notes. These notes are stored in Drafts, and either direct or in the Reveille process, I process this note in tasks/ decisions. See also below, Meetings section.

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Someday/ maybe

I think David intends to overview someday/ maybe tasks and a trigger process to go through the tasks and add new ones.

David Allen's GTD killer app - Someday maybe
GTD Killer app – Someday/ Maybe
iPad - Someday Maybe
iPad – Someday/ Maybe

Overview. The concept is quite simple and can be viewed from a Perspective. Someday Maybe tasks are “put on hold,” not cluttering your available or remaining tasks overview. Please find here the menu Someday maybe, which opens the perspective. The setup of the perspective can be found here.

Someday maybe list

Trigger process. In the “Weekly debrief process,” I have a routine to go through a trigger list, which sends OmniFocus tasks after completion of filling in the trigger list. It is split up into work and privacy related questions and can be done in Dutch and English. The output goes in the Inbox to decide what to do with this or put it on the Someday/ maybe list. Because I cannot always add projects (goals) to tasks, I have a separate “on hold” project under Someday/ Maybe folder. See the picture on the right. Please find here the ShortCut for the trigger process.

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Tickler

I am not quite sure what David’s ideas were on this sheet. It involves a tickler file with events/ notes and can be connected to persons and linked to a Calendar event.

David Allen's GTD killer app - Tickler file
GTD Killer app – Tickler
DevonThinks - tickler file
iPad – Ticker file as part of Reference materials

I am using DevonThink for the storage of all documents. The reference database structure is equal to OmniFocus’s setup (Area of responsibilities/ folders – Projects). You can read here how I link OmniFocus with DevonThink.

Tickler file

The Tickler file consists of the 12 months and within every month the days. When I receive meeting materials per mail, I (mostly my assistances) put these in the folder equal to the meeting date.

I have a Keyboard Maestro script periodically running on my MacBook, which moves all the content from previous days back to the Inbox tickler file to move these to the appropriate project folder after the meeting during the Reveille process. You can download the script here

Documents that other people or I have to (re-)work on can be copied to OmniFocus inbox as tasks you can Tag for yourself or delegate.

DevonThink to do to OmniFocus
Add as to Do to OmniFocus
Due time
Date selection

These scripts are part of the standard functionality in DevonThink, and you can adjust this to your needs.

I am working completely paperless. If I receive a document, it will be scanned by a FUJITSU Image Scanner ScanSnap iX500. The scans are OCR’ed and placed in a folder on Dropbox. I use Hazel to rename the files to my taxonomy and place the files in the appropriate Inbox in DevonThink for further processing. 

In meetings, I use only my iPad with the one side on the screen Drafts 5 opened (notes) and the other side DevonThink ticker file with the documents. If I have questions about a document, I have annotated these documents with the questions I want to ask or remarks I want to make.

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Meetings

The idea I get from David’s design is that this screen shows everything you want to know, do/ say in a specific meeting, and the ability to process the outcome in your enabling system.

David Allen's GTD killer app - Meetings
GTD killer app – Meetings
iPad meeting menu
iPad – Meeting menu

About 70% of my time, I am “on meetings.” I am always looking for ways to minimize this time, but this remains a struggle. My current working way helps me be more efficient and effective in meetings (most of the time, I am really prepared). I try to determine for every meeting what the goals are and the expected outcome. If I cannot formulate one or it is not applicable for now, I cancel the meeting.

I have extended David’s concept with a 1) preparation phase, 2) conducting phase, and 3) processing phase. Please find here the menu Meeting menu Shortcut and below every menu item with a short explanation, sometimes a video, and downloadable Shortcuts and Perspectives.

1) Preparation of meeting

Plan preparing for a meeting. Some meetings do not need a lot of preparation, but others could need “in-depth” preparation. I prefer to identify these meetings in the Reveille process. I have a Shortcut that creates preparation tasks in OmniFocus if required. After selecting the meeting, you want to prepare two things that will happen:

Prepare now a meeting works as above and collect meeting topics and create a concept meeting note directly. It is also used in Drafts 5 to generate concept meeting notes for a specific meeting as you need them immediately. The Shortcut can be found here.

Add or delete meeting topics. I have set up in OmniFocus periodically meetings and meetings per project. The tag “📅 Agenda” I use for collecting meeting topics I want to discuss and or hear about. This tag is used in the above “preparation of the meeting,” meeting notes to draft meeting notes before meetings automatically containing the topics I want to discuss. This Shortcut here opens OmniFocus and asking where to put a new meeting topic (project/ person (tag)/ specific meeting (tag).

Send 1 on 1 meeting topics. I have 1:1 meetings (Bila’s) with people in my team but also chairing Group meetings. Every periodical meeting has its tag within groups. The Meeting prep tag I use to add a meeting topic what I want to achieve with this topic. I need to do this because I cannot always recall what the intention was for a topic. See also OmniFocus setup guide here. 

The Shortcut, here, will ask for which person you want to send “meeting topics to discuss,” if you’re going to review the topics first, you can do this, in which language the mail should be drafted and then prepares the mail for you, which you can check/ change before sending. Please see the above video.

The menu item Send availability is useful if somebody wants to schedule a meeting and ask when available. Please see the short video on the left. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

Meeting cheat sheet – person. Before a meeting, I would like to have an overview of things related to a specific person.

Drafts 5 meeting sheet Person

Things like on which goals is he/ she working on, which agenda topics do I want to discuss, which results is he/she working on, which decisions did we take and what is the status of implementing/ getting these into effect, which meetings I have with this person the coming 14 days and which notes I have where he/ she is mentioned.

The output goes into Drafts 5, and I can use this as a cheatsheet. The Shortcut can be downloaded here and the output is on the right.

Meeting cheat sheet – project is working as above, but you view it not on person-level but on project level. You can download the Shortcut here

Do not disturb. It will ask you the period to switch off (until turned off, until events end, or until a specific time). If you chose the end of an event, it asks you for which calendar event and will set the end-time until the event. See below.

2) Conducting meetings

There is a lot of stuff written about how to conduct a meeting successfully. I will not go into this. Everybody has his way which will suit him/ her. I have three things that help me a lot with conducting meetings to share this with you.

  1. The menu option Activate “do not disturb” silences all my equipment for the meeting duration. I often forget this, or if I switched off my gear, I fail to switch them on again. This Shortcut here is helping me with this.
  1. Writing notes. In my style of working is an aspiration that I want “speed” for myself and others. Therefore I want to send meeting notes on the same day to the attendees. Sometimes the meeting notes are drawn up by the personal assistant (meetings with a larger group of people), but I will do it myself for the 1 on 1 meeting. (the personal assistant will do processing). I use my iPad or iPhone for this. On my iPad, I work with a split-screen. On one side the meeting note in Drafts 5, and on the other side of the screen, my reference folder with tickler for today containing all the presentations/ memo’s for this meeting.

My ideal way of working is:

  • Use of a standard template
  • It retrieves the meeting/ event information from the calendar event (the notes sections)
  • It gives me the possibility to select the meeting topic I have for this meeting (Person or Project)
  • It gets the attendees from the meeting/ event information (and the absentees)
  • I can put the actions and decisions in there and being able to transfer these automatically to OmniFocus.
  • All the meeting material is stored in one folder, which I can retrieve/ read easily.
  • Before the meeting, I can see in my calendar app if my assistant or I prepared the meeting note’s first concept.

I can achieve these “standards” by using Drafts 5, Shortcuts, Fantastical/ Calendar, and OmniFocus. Please find below the template and how it shows after processing. I use Markdown syntaxis, so it formats correctly in mail or Word or any other app.

Drafts 5 template for meetings
Template meeting minutes

 

Drafts 5 output meeting template
Formatted meeting note

 

  1. I have turned my iPad/ iPhone into an efficient capture device. I have generated a particular group of “Meeting keys” shown in Drafts 5 above the keyboard (see below). It holds the keys I often use to write notes, here to download, and by double-clicking, it will be installed in Drafts 5.
Meeting keys in Drafts 5
Meeting keys in Drafts 5

3) Processing meetings

The processing of meeting notes is done either by myself or my personal assistant. If your assistant works in the same (system) environment as you, it is easy. The processing process is straight forward:

  1. Format the concept note neatly and check spelling and grammar
  2. Tag the Drafts for searching and structuring
  3. Process action/ tasks into OmniFocus with a link back to this note
  4. Process decision as tasks into OmniFocus with a link back to this note
  5. Store in the reference file

or 6. Ask the personal assistant to do the actions 1 to 5.

Draft 5 is “the central hub” for conducting and processing meetings. It works on the iPad, iPhone, and MacBook. Below you can see the action group I use to process meetings. You can download the Action group here and import it in Drafts 5 by double-clicking on it.

Drafts5 meeting minutes workflow

If I have finished a meeting, I mostly end up with notes. These notes are being processed via a workflow and follow the principles of contextual computing.

Step 0a -> c are not intended for processing meeting notes but creating meeting notes with cheat sheets (being prepared) if you did not already do this in the Reveille process.

0a. Prepare meeting notes in Drafts – Also captured above, here.

0b. Meeting cheat sheet cheat person – Shows all the goals, result streams, projects, actions per selected person.

0c. Meeting cheat sheet project. Same as 0b. but per project.

  1. Check if a) the note is orderly formatted, b) the content okay, and c) tag the draft
  2. Mail the meeting notes
  3. All the sentences commencing with “@” copy to a) OmniFocus, b) MS Planner (Teams environment), c) sentences beginning with “🔨” decisions are being logged in Omnifocus in decision log/ register
  4. Store the Meeting notes in the corresponding reference folder in DevonThink
  5. If I do not have time to perform myself actions 1 -> 4 my Personal Assistant will be asked to process the meeting note (send mail and add waiting for task for PA)

Please find below the links to Actiongroups and Shortcuts I use:

  1. The action group for Drafts 5, here
  2. 0a. Prepare meeting notes in Drafts, Shortcut Notes in Drafts for today, here
  3. 0b. Meeting cheat Person, Shortcut, here
  4. 0c. Meeting cheat Project, Shortcut here
  5. 1a. Make Markdown Line Breaks, included in 1.
  6. 1b. Markdown Preview -Swiss, included in 1.
  7. 1c. Tag the Drafts, included in 1.
  8. 2. iPad – Mail meeting minutes, included in 1.
  9. 3a. OmniFocus tasks with link-back, included in 1.
  10. 3b. Planner (with link to notes), included in 1.
  11. 3c. Decision log tasks with link-back, included in 1.
  12. 4. Send to DevonThink, included in 1.
  13. 5. Mail to PA for processing, included in 1.

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Communications

I have interpreted David’s design as a list to whom to communicate and via which communication channel. It also indicates that you can add meeting topics to a scheduled event in your calendar.

David Allen's GTD killer app - Communications
GTD Killer app – Communications
iPad - Communication menu
iPad – Communication menu

The Shortcut which creates the Communication menu can be downloaded here. Please find below a short description of every menu item. Plus links to the downloads of the ShortCuts and some videos demonstrating the functionality.

Add to the communication list in OF is a straight forward entry of a communication action to OmniFocus’s communication list. It will ask for the person you want to communicate to, via which channel you can add to a specific project if this has to be done at a specific time. It will ask for the subject and add this to OmniFocus with the contact’s particular details. The Shortcut can be downloaded here

iPad - overview of communications to do

The menu item Overview of communication to do generates a comprehensive list of communication tasks on hand. It starts a Perspective in OmniFocus. The setup of this perspective can you view here. For confidentiality reasons, I have collapsed the list.

Add to the meeting topic list, as demonstrated on the right, ask for the topic title, whom you want to communicate, what you want (give information, get information, etc.). It will also request to add it to a specific project or not, is it time-specific communication, the duration of the topic, and this to OmniFocus. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

The menu item Send email starts up a dialogue for the mail and send a mail.

It has a preferred structure for the mail: background, goal/ question, approach/ steps, planning/ due date. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

The menu options Send Whatsapp will be based on the device it is running on sends a Whatsapp via either CardHop (iPad) or directly in Whatsapp (iPhone). This is already included in the Shortcut menu.

Call a Person will open CardHop and allow you to place a direct call after selecting the person you want to call. Likewise for FaceTime

MS Teams call and Zoom call will open the MS Teams app or Zoom app. Tweet will open Tweetbot app.

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Area of Focus

David Allen’s design indicates that you have an overview of Goals and objectives, the next actions within these Goals, and Someday maybe lists and Routines and reminders.

David Allen's GTD killer app - Area of focus
GTD killer app – Area of focus
iPad - Area of focus
iPad – Area of focus

I have designed this for myself differently. You can read here the conceptual thoughts about Goals -> Input -> Output -> Outcome and Impact. My way of working has an aspiration to create Value, not only achieve Goals. Goals are “only” a means to create an Outcome and Impact; if divided by costs for this effort, you have the Value. 

See the below picture. Because of confidentially reasons, I have collapsed my list. Still, with this “simple” OmniFocus Perspective, I create an overview of a specific goal, which outcome this goal must deliver, including all next actions to deliver this outcome. In my Perspective on Next Actions, I am also working Goal and Outcome directed. The Perspective can be found here.

Perspective in OmniFocus overview of Area of Focus

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Reference material

The design is mentioning a filing cabinet for project-related “stuff.”

David Allen's killer app - Reference list
GTD killer app – Reference lists
iPad DevonThink's reference material
iPad – Reference file

I am using the DevonThink tool for storing a Reference database. It also included the Tickler file. You can read here how I have set this up. The reference file structure is the same as in OmniFocus, and projects are linked with folders, so you can jump from project in OmniFocus directly to the project reference material in DevonThink and vice-versa.

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Weekly debrief

The design shows data dump, inbox processing, future commitment in the calendar, project reviews, waiting for, and routines for clearing/ getting actual.

David Killers app - weekly debrief
GTD killer app – weekly debfriefing
iPad - Weekly debrief
iPad – Weekly debrief as part of trusted system

As you can see above, the Weekly debrief is part of the middle screen, meaning the “keeping the system trusted” area. I have written a separate blog post about the Weekly debriefing process, which can be read here.

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Coaching messages

If I interpreted the design correctly, it means that the enabling and trusted system is giving you warning signs if it is not “sane” anymore. For example, you have put an action on the calendar where the activities themselves do not have a due date (commitment).

David Allen's GTD killer app - Coaching messages
GTD killer app – coaching messages

As the beating heart of the enabling system, OmniFocus has built-in its user interface all kinds of “coaching messages.” In the OmniFocus preferences, you can set a lot of “triggers” on coaching messages:

  • When the Inbox will be cleared, in my case, when a task has a Tag and a Project.
  • Which notification you want and when.
  • Settings to define “due soon” and other time notifications
  • With the Time in Flight perspective, I am also checking if a duration time has been set. (see Reveille process, here). The Weekly debrief has also some “check and balances” build in.
  • ………

Please find in above short video, the iPad settings and the way I have setup “the coaching messages”.

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Coaching models

In David’s design of the GTD killer app, it seems that he anticipated that the enabling system would support you with processing information through the system in a workflow. The example shows the Inbox processing process. It is close to the concept of using “checklists.”

David Allen's GTD killer app - coaching models
GTD killer app – coaching models

As the beating heart of my enabling system, OmniFocus does not have workflows build in, but your sequential tasks lists can be functioning as workflow items (but you do not have “if this, then that” steps). If you process 100’s of tasks per week through your system, I believe that all these questions/ coaching messages are annoying. You know the criteria and decisions you need to make already. I will show you three examples of “coaching models” in my enabling system.

  1. In the Reveille and Closure process (which are coaching models also), I use a checklist that is easily accessible and stored in Drafts. Please find below the link into the Inbox processing tasks with a link to a checklist if I can remember how to do this correctly.
Link to checklist
Link to coaching model Inbox processing
Checklist in Drafts5
The actual coaching question

 

  1. Preparing for a specific meeting is also a “coaching model” type of workflow where I process nine questions to be fully ready for a meeting. I have explained here how this is working.
  2. I have separate folders and projects with checklists, f.e. how to prepare for a conference call/ webinar.
Overview of checklists

Do you see the possibilities for creating your coaching messages? It can be significant. But if you do something often, coaching is not always needed.

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The end of the beginning of a beautiful day.

Dashboarding – how well are you doing?

Creating value for an organization and in my private life is my core business. Therefore, I have designed my “way of working” according to my value creation principles and build a trusted and enabling system to support my work. But one thing was still missing…

Are my goals still valid? Do I have the Outcome in line with my Goals? How many tasks are available? Am I on top of my commitments? Did I delegate enough to my team? Is my system still trusted etc.? All relevant questions. To get the answers, I have to open every app. My task lists (in OmniFocus), my notes (in Drafts 5), my commitments (in my Fantastical calendar), and my documents in the reference folder (In DevonThink) are in a “black box.”But now, no longer anymore…

Last year Apple introduced iOS 14 and iPadOs 14 widgets. You can enjoy customizing the look of your iPhone and or iPad. I like that this has let users feel a closer connection to their technology.

At the first release of the widgets’ concept, I wondered what I could do with this functionality. Is it too nerdy for me? At the same time, I embraced the concept of contextual computing, which made it possible to navigate my devices directly to the point where I want to do something without opening apps and any distraction within these apps. See my blog post here.

I have embraced the concept, and I am now using a couple of widgets. I am a huge fan of Scotty Jackson’s work, and I have altered some of his builds to my needs. So if I want to know how I am doing, I look on the Home Screen of my iPhone or iPad and see how it looks below.:

The iPhone

On the top with “+,” I can enter a journal entry or tasks directly. Write a note in Drafts, refresh “Get to it” or refresh the Rings.

I use the Rings to identify progress on “due tasks,” progress on “Waiting for and due” and how I am doing with keeping the system “trusted.” Get to It, contains my today’s next actions list (due, flagged, and available tasks).

When I swipe to the left, my second dashboard appears. I see how many tasks I have in the Inbox with Count and function. How many tasks for today, how many communication tasks still are pending, and how many notes in my Drafts Inbox to process. On the second row, I can open my calendar directly, enter a task or journal entry, open OmniFocus, or refresh Show up or refresh this widget.

Show up shows all pending calendar commitments for today. And below, you will find a widget stack where you can scroll graphs on how much processed this week, how I spend my time on tasks and meetings, how much time I have, to do the tasks which are planned for today, division of priorities, due vs. open, delegation ratio.

On the iPad, I use a similar concept, shown below:

iPad – dashboard

How it shows – stacked widgets

The available Shortcuts

I have 15 Shortcuts that are building up the widgets on the dashboards. Please find below the overview and links to the Shortcut for downloading. These Shortcuts are based on how I have set up my OmniFocus, which you can read here. If you want to reuse the Shortcuts, you need to adjust to your setup. So, I give you the links to the Shortcuts for inspiration only.

01. Day widgets

OmniDay quantity shows today’s tasks and can be downloaded here.

OmniDay time shows the same, but now in duration minutes, it can be downloaded here.

OmniDay NA shows the next actions per Total, First available, Available, and projects where no NA’s are identified (project are stalled). The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

Charty Omni Rings shows the tasks “due before tomorrow” as total and how much you have completed today so far. Same for “waiting for and due.” Trusted is about how many actions I have completed of the total tasks at hand for checking that the system remains trusted. See the blog post about the concept of a trusted enabling system. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

02. Week widgets

Omniweek Qty gives me an overview of the tasks (purple) and meetings (red) I have completed. The star is today and then goes back six days. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

OmniWeek Time does the same but now not reporting in quantity but in time (duration time of meeting and tasks in minutes). Here to download.

03. Dashboard widgets

Dashboard. I have a different dashboard setup on iPhone vs. iPad. So I am running a device depending on Shortcut first and then runs either the iPad or iPhone version. It shows (left to right) on row 1. number of Inbox items, Today’s next actions, Waiting for and due, number of notes in Drafts Inbox. 

  1. The second row, opening Calendar, Inbox, Today next actions, my Journal and refreshing this Dashboard.
  • Dashboard device dependence here
  • Dashboard iPhone here
  • Dashboard iPad here

The header widget is the widget on top of the iPhone. You can easily add a task, write a note in Draft 5, refresh this dashboard, and refresh Omni Rings. You can download the Shortcut here.

The get to it widget shows my “Today next action” list. You can download the Shortcut here.

04. Status widgets

Delegation ratio indicates how much of my total task on hand I have delegated to my team. It shows how I am leading. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

Due vs. Open indicates how many “burning” actions I have, compared with total tasks. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

Tag division helps me assess, using the Eisenhower matrix, how the divisions are between f.e. “1. important and urgent”. If everything is Important and Urgent, I have to recalibrate my thinking (and doing). (OmniFocus setup – Tags). You can download the Shortcut here.

Before starting every day in the Reveille process, I determine if I have scheduled my tasks for today in a manner that fits in my available time. It shows the total amount of working minutes for this day and how much I will spend in meetings. So you can determine how much time is available. I summarize the duration time of tasks for today to see how much time is remaining in the day for “other stuff.” In this example, nothing and need to extend my day or take actions from my today’s next action list. The Shortcut can be downloaded here

How to achieve that information is actual?

All content in the widgets is being created by running a Shortcut. In the Shortcuts app, you can schedule specific Shortcuts in the Automation section of the Shortcut app.

Apple has added the option to run a Shortcut silently, which allows you to run automation even if the device is locked. “Ask Before Running should be switched on.”

To update all my widgets, I have created one Shortcut called Update widget routine. This routine is running all the 15 shortcuts at 00:00 and every two hours next. Please note that Automation scheduling is (for me) not synchronizing between iPhone and iPad, so you have to set this up twice. On the iPhone, I start at 01:00 and every two hours next. You can download the Shortcut here.

Weekly debrief process explained

GTD gives you some direction on how to get things out of your head, get clear, and being prepared for the things to come. I have adjusted these steps to my needs. You probably will have your own needs. The below steps are for inspiration only.

A lot already has been written about the importance of a weekly review/ debrief. For me, it is about taken good care of myself. If I do, I will be able to do more things for others (and myself).

My weekly debrief is mostly on a strategic level and covers subjects like planning, goals, and responsibility roles. But first, bring order and make it clean again!

I have written a blogpost about “maintaining” the system trusted. You can read it here. Next to having a fair Reveille process, you need also to clean up the remaining mess/ clutter of the week (create better chaos). See if everything is still working (efficient/ effective), and think about the status of value creation -> goals -> outcome -> impact and the effort and the resources (means, people, money) you still need to accomplish this aspirational Value.

I have some weekly “checks and balances” that I ask myself. It’s a rather long list, and the estimated duration of a weekly debrief for me is about 2 hours. These two hours are worthwhile because mostly I acknowledge that a lot has been accomplished. I find loose ends that I can pick up next week and re-calibrate if goals, outcomes, and impact are still realistic. My start of the weekend feels good, and I mostly have a “clear mind” concerning work.

The debrief steps high level are:

  1. The debrief step process all inboxes (virtual inboxes like mail, task lists, your bag, wallet, notebook, handwritten notes, desk, etc.)
  2. Clear your – data dump
  3. Become actual with the future (goals, outcome, and impact)
  4. Check if the system is still trusted.

In general, I use OmniFocus (IOS/ MacOS/ iPadOS versions) for the tasks in the Weekly debrief process. Please find below the general principles for the Weekly debrief list:

  • I use as the “defer date” every Friday 15:00 and due date Friday 17:00, every task defers x minutes later to get an automatic sort order.
  • The tag I use is the Routine task (OmniFocus setup guide here)
  • I repeat the tasks every Friday, based on the completion day (so if I need to skip a Friday, it is picking up the next available Friday)
  • Notifications are (always) off.
  • In the tasks, I have added in the notes section of the task contains the Shortcut link for iPad/ iPhone or link to Keyboard Maestro macro if I work on the MacBook.
  • I can do the same routine no matter which device I use, but I prefer using the iPad for the Weekly debrief routine.
  • Most apps support the x-callback functionality. A Shortcut has the following syntax: <shortcuts://x-callback-url/run-shortcut?name=name%20of%20shortcut&x-success=omnifocus://>. In DevonThink, the number at the end of the link is the unique identifier you get when you copy the “database link” or “folder link.”

01. Process all Inboxes

01. If I carry an office bag while traveling, I empty my bag with all papers and put these in the scanner (to reference folder in DevonThink) or in the trash.

2. Sometimes, I write with a pencil in a notebook (which I can remember better as putting it directly in the iPad, probably my age generation). I process these notes and or scans into the reference folder inbox.

03. I store mostly the receipts in my wallet, which I have to expense to one of my companies or assignments. I scan these into Reference Inbox in DevonThink.

Receipts need to be sent to the company for which I made the expense. I also have to send it to my accountant for the general ledger. I have in KeyBoard Maestro a unique routine to process these receipts.

Please find below the processing of receipts in DevonThink with the help of Keyboard Maestro:

  1. I know when to pay an invoice.
  2. Send the document/ receipt/ invoice to one of my two companies’ accounts, send an email with the receipt attached to my account.
  3. If step two has succeeded, a Send tag in DevonThink is attached, so I know which documents are shared and which are not.
  4. I do not want/ need to send to the accountant for documents I have a not Send tag in DevonThink.
  5. I can also put a piece of paper into OmniFocus for a task to do

Put an Invoice for payment in Omnifocus on the requested payment date. By using Send and Not Send tags, I know that documents that are not tagged I need to decide what to do with this.

You can download the Keyboard Maestro macro’s here. Please adjust to your needs.

04. Clean up desk and other papers “laying” around

During this step, I clean up my desk and papers. I throw these away or scan them in to put in the Reference file in DevonThink. In the post about David Allen’s GTD killer app, I wrote down the process and added some useful macros.

02. Clear your head

05. Data dump

During the week, I did and experienced a lot. During this step, I will clear my head with things I have noticed and do something with them. The triggers help me to trigger my thoughts.

I use a Shortcut, which triggers a list with questions for Work and Private to fill the Inbox with potential tasks to do. I mostly do the process with my assistant. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

03. Become actual

06. Review your calendar for the coming four weeks and determine if meetings can be canceled/ postponed or new ones need to be added.

Open your calendar in month view. I use Fantastical for this.

07. Or if there are significant events that require preparation.

For this I use a Shortcut to select the event which needs preparation this month, to put the preparation tasks into OmniFocus. You can download here the Shortcut.

08. Process all document, meeting notes, and Linkedin Inboxes to zero

At this step, I am cleaning out DevonThink (Reference database and Tickler file), the meeting notes in Draft’s Inbox still, assess and process Linkedin.

09. Check if every project has a next action so projects are not stalling

I make progress if I or somebody else is doing tasks in a project. A project with no tasks is or completed/ finished, or you did not agree with yourself or with somebody else what the next steps are.

I am using a script that I run on the MacBook. It will search for every project if “next actions” exists if not. If not exists, it will put at the end of the project’s name “(verify if next action exists)” and opens a view with all projects with this text. I review per project if there is a next action to do, do it within one minute, or put the tasks into Omnifocus under this project or delegate tasks.

  • The script to identify if “next actions are existing”, is here to download

10. Go through your list of projects

Which projects are done or need to be dropped?

I use a Perspective called Review, and this is the standard view that OmniFocus is using for the Review process. The set up of this perspective can be viewed here.

11. Where are you waiting on?

Is it time to agree with your team when they will finish their agreed actions? So do it right away.

I am using a Perspective for this, which you view here.

12. Review status of own goals

I intentionally start reviewing my own goals I have set for my private and work life. I add or close goals or add actions on specific Goals to move them forward. Or sometimes, I decide to delegated some own goals to my team.

I use this Perspective here to review own goals.

13. This is the same step as 12, but now you review the status of delegated goals

Here I decide if and how to follow up on the progress of delegated goals. I could add a topic to my agenda to discuss this with the specific Person or drop him/ her a mail with a status request.

I use this Perspective here to review delegated goals.

14. Plan writing a post

I have target myself to write one blog post per week. This is the moment to plan this.

To get inspiration, I have one checklist for blog posts and one checklist for articles. They are written in the Dutch language. If you click on the bold/ underlined text, you can view them. I could also enter an idea with the click “add an idea to Inbox.”

04. Check if system is still trusted

This step is where I check and do maintenance on this enabling system and do performance/ maintenance tasks on my devices. Why and what is a trusted system I have posted here.

15. Are the routines still working perfectly, mail not cluttered, and MacBook still in good shape

This step walks me through a checklist that helps me maintain the routines complete and current, mail and MacBook maintenance. Any new or improved routines/ shortcuts from the community will also end on this list to check out.

The link is to a checklist called 🛠 [Maintenance – GTD system], see below

The following needs to be done:

  • Routine check. Review if steps are still complete (that is why they are numbered), and the Repeat is current.
  • Review Tags is checking if Tags are still complete and in order.
  • Also, the Folder and Project structure will be checked on completeness and, if still orderly.
  • Process junk mail lets me discover if in junk mail emails have arrived which are not junk. Then I delete the junk mail folder.
  • I also clean up any double contacts in my contact list.
  • On Zapier I have a couple of zaps running, like synchronizing MS Team / Planner with OmniFocus and MailButler (email) tasks via Google Tasks into OmniFocus. I check if they are still running smoothly.
  • I use CleanMyMac for maintenance tasks on my MacBook.

16. Area of responsibilities changes over time. Check if you have new ones or drop some.

The way I have set up the area of responsibilities has been described here. What to do is described in the notes field of this task and is self-explaining.

17. Are your checklist actual?

For me, checklists are helping me to go fast and be complete in analysis and doing things. Often I improve these lists based on my experience, or I add new ones.

The link is opening the Checklist folder.

18. Check if the “Horizon of focus” are actual and complete.

I have written a blog post about how I extended the Horizon of focus to a Value creating concept. You can read about this here. Every week I check if these are still actual and complete, f.e. has every Goal one of more Outcomes, are the result streams making the project complete, etc…

The link opens the Perspective Focus area’s, the setup of this perspective you can view here.

Horizon of focus

19. – special – Update reminders from MS Team

Some of my assignments are working in the Microsoft Teams environment. Tasks for me are stored in Planner, and every time a task is entered there on my name, it will be, via Reminders, be imported in OmniFocus. Every week I check if everything has been imported and clear out the Reminders list.

I use Power Automate (MS flow) to transfer Planner tasks to an Outlook task list called “Tasks” set on my iPhone and iPad as a default reminder list. In OmniFocus for iPhone/ iPad, you have a setting to capture reminders into Omnifocus; see the below picture. In this way, tasks with MS Teams flow into OmniFocus.

For deleting the appropriate Reminders, I build a Shortcut that can be downloaded here.

20. Device maintenance

In this step, I make sure that all my device (tools) are in good shape to last one more week.

Below you see the tasks I will do. Updates mean to check on Appstore on updates and check the OS on available updates.

21. Reserve the time for next week debrief moment

The weekly debrief costs time, but I also need to keep the system trusted and give me “peace of mind.” Therefore I check if it is scheduled already for next week, together with my assistant.

22. Clean the Inbox

All the above steps probably generated some items in your Inbox. The last step is to process the Inbox, and then you are done. Have I nice and from a brain point of view, a calm weekend.

Reveille process explained

Reveille routine

The Reveille routine
GTD gives you some direction on how to get things out of your head, get clear, and being prepared for the things to come. I have adjusted these steps to my needs, and probably you will have your own needs, so the below steps are for inspiration only.

The steps are based on the aspiration that “doing stuff” is not enough, “delivering goals” is not enough either but creating/ delivering business value (output and impact) is the aspirational way of working.

The Reveille can be perceived as a cumbersome process, but I can do this between 15 – 20 minutes per day because of the contextual set up I use. High level the Reveille routine contains the following steps, also shown in the video:

  • 05. Get actual. Process my inboxes to zero and follow up on ☕️Waiting for and due (progress stopped)
  • 06. Get real of how much “time to fly” is available still and check with what you have to do today, and compare this with time available
  • 07. Plan today by (hyper)scheduling the Today tasks into your agenda

Below I will explain step by step how it is set up with short videos and links to downloadable Shortcuts and or Perspectives in OmniFocus and or Keyboard Maestro shortcuts.

In general, I use OmniFocus (IOS/ MacOS/ iPadOS versions) for the tasks in the Routine. Please find below the general principles for the Reveille list:

Inbox empty
  • I use the defer date today 05:00 and due date today 10:00, every task defers 5 minutes later to get an automatic sort order
  • The tag I use is the Routine task (OmniFocus setup guide here)
  • I repeat the tasks every working day, based on the completion day (so if I need to skip one day, it is picking up the next available working day)
  • Notification is (always) off
  • In the tasks I have added in the notes section of the tasks, the Shortcut link for iPad/ iPhone or link to Keyboard Maestro macro if I work on the MacBook.
  • I can do the same routine no matter which device I use, but I prefer using the Reveille Routine iPad.
  • Most apps support the x-callback functionality. A Shortcut has the following syntax: <shortcuts://x-callback-url/run-shortcut?name=name%20of%20shortcut&x-success=omnifocus://>. In DevonThink the number at the end of a link is the unique identifier you get when you copy the “database link” or “folder link.”

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01. Process Inboxes

I am not using one Inbox. Documents are stored in DevonThink, several Inboxes due to multiple database setup, mails in mailbox Inbox, tasks are in the Inbox of OmniFocus, and notes are in Drafts 5 Inbox. So I have to clear out several Inboxes. When I can do something directly, within a reasonable time (1 minute), I will do it now. Otherwise, I will process the specific Inbox item to a Task in OmniFocus.

01. Process the reference documents stored in DevonThink and Process the notes stored in Drafts 5 – Inbox (see also the blogpost about Meetings)

02. Process received message in Linkedin/ Process the notification. I try to send everybody in my network “best wishes” if they have a birthday or new job/ Looking how can maintain my professional network/ Looking for new assignments

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02. Be prepared

I do believe that part of professional working should be about being prepared for the things to come. F.e. I strive to be ready for every meeting. I can accomplish this by adding this to my daily Reveille process.

03. Select a meeting which you want to prepare and add preparation tasks for this meeting to OmniFocus inbox

This is how it works with the end-result:

The Shortcut will ask which meeting you want to plan preparation for, creates based on a fixed template an OmniFocus subproject, and puts 10 minutes before the meeting a preparation block in your agenda. Please find the Shortcut here.

04. Select the meeting for which you want to create meeting notes in Drafts 5 in a predefined template

This is how it works with the end-result:

The Shortcut will ask which meeting you want to prepare meeting notes for, then you can select for which project (or none), with Tag (I have a Tag per person with meeting topics), will ask you in which language you want to draft the meeting note and then creates the meeting note in Drafts 5. You can also select to create a cheat sheet for yourself per person or project, stored in Drafts 5. Puts 10 minutes before the meeting a meeting block in your agenda, so you know the concept meeting notes are prepared.

Please find below the specific Shortcut links:

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03. Plan & prepare for travel

Traveling is part of my role and costs a lot of preparation and time. Therefore in the Reveille process, I am considering the traveling aspect of my work.

05. Reserve time for traveling and or create a travel plan

The Shortcut – Travel time all agendas will create in your agenda time for traveling to or back from the selected meeting. See the short video on how it works with the end-result, time reserved in the calendar accordingly. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

The Shortcut Travel plan will create a task list for a specific travel event by walking through a questionnaire. On the right, the video of how it works with the end-result.

The tasks for travel preparation are placed in OmniFocus for further processing:

The Shortcut Travel Plan can be downloaded here.

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04. Clear your mind

This section is about clearing your mind and put it in your trusted and enabling system.

06. Get things out of your head and put in the Inbox and review all available actions and flag those who needs to be done today

The perspective Clear shows you all first available actions with Tags 📍Priority, 📣 Communications, 📓Administration and 👨‍👩‍👦 People in the area of responsibility (folders) 🤝Assignments, 👊Work and ✊Private. The setup of this perspective is pictured here.

The Add link simple open the add to Inbox dialogue to be able to put “stuff” out of your head into OmniFocus.

07. Are there any interaction you want/ need to do this day? Put in your Inbox or schedule a call with somebody.

The add to Inbox dialog is the same as above and puts “stuff” directly into your Inbox. By assessing the Clear list again (see above) you could probably be inspired to interact with somebody. I

If you want to call contact the “Call to contact” starts up a dialog to put the task into your system if you cannot call directly. This works as following:

The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

08. Get out of your head the new meetings you want to organise, calls to make (same as above) or which communication need follow visiting your communication list

Step 12 is also about interactions; however, I need this step 13 for myself as an extra step to think about meetings/ meeting structure and follow up on communication I have or have not done yet. It links to Shortcut “Call to contact” as described here, but I also have added a Keyboard Maestro macro you can download here if you work on macOS. Please find here other Shortcuts:

OF: SMS2OF puts a task on your task list. Normally you will do this at once, but sometimes you want to do this at a specific moment, then you can use this Shortcut

The KeyBoard Maestro shortcut can be downloaded here.

Add meeting can be done with the Shortcut Add meeting which you can download here. Clearing list is the same as described here and used for inspiration.

The communication menu gives you access to a lot of options. See also the Communication section for how to set up with links to the specific Shortcuts used.

09. To plan my day realistically (Time in flight) I need to be aware of any distraction which could pop up (e.g. an escalation) and review the tasks planned for today what the impact will be on the plan.

Clear on time perspective

The “🧹Clear” perspective is my most used perspective in OmniFocus.

It is showing all my first available tasks that I can/ want to work on.

It shows all available tasks, or due soon or flagged, Tags 📍Priority, 📣 Communications, 📓Administration and 👨‍👩‍👦 People in the area of responsibility (folders) 🤝Assignments, 👊Work and ✊Private.

The setup of the perspective can be viewed on the left.

10. When I do still have any ideas in my head, this is my last chance to add this to the trusted system

The links brings you directly to the Inbox dialogue in OmniFocus

05. Get actual

I use the concept of pilots who “prepare for a flight” and then check-in, dock off and go “in-flight.” Getting actual is the phase for preparation for a flight. Therefore every task should have a Project (goals) and a Tag (sequence/ order), and an estimated duration to predict the “time for-flight” today. Time for flight (remaining time today) = available working time today – meetings duration for today – selected tasks for today duration. The Shortcut can be downloaded here.

11. I go through the Tasks which are not properly administrated. Sometime my clients work with MS Teams or Asana tasks list. I connect OmniFocus with MS Teams via Zapier so “both worlds” are actual.

The perspective Prepare for flight is showing all actions without Project (goal) and or Tag and or Estimated duration time. The setup of the perspective can be viewed here. In Keyboard Maestro I have a ‘maintenance” script running several times per day which places at the end of the title of a Task the estimated duration: . The macro can be downloaded by clicking here.

To be sure I then check if Inbox is empty and I have a separate perspective No context still to be sure, here.

12. Follow up if the tasks which you have delegated are finished on (or before) the agreed due date. When I did not agree on a due date, I do not fill this in, and I will check in the Weekly debrief what the status is/ get actual.

The perspective Waiting for due can be viewed here.

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06. Get real

This part in the Reveille process is about selecting and deciding the Tasks (and therefore Goals) you need/ want to work on today based on “available time for flight. The result will be a list with Today – next actions.

I work during the day in the Today next actions perspective. The setup can be viewed here. This perspective gives me the following items:

  • All tasks which are due soon
  • All tasks which are flagged (during the Clearing the list routinely, I have identified that I want/ need to do this task today by flagging these)
  • All tasks which are first available in projects (move the project forwards)

I order the tasks on Tag (priority) and then on Due date and Flagged.

It should fit with the “Time in Flight” I have today. That is checked in step 13 below. If it does not fit, I take a decision to defer specific tasks.

13. Check how much time is available do things, if no time enough defer tasks to another moment, too less add tasks from Clear list to today by flagging the Task or moving the defer date to today

I run the Shortcut “Time in Flight” to see how much time is available for flight (doing stuff). This Shortcut asks you when is the start of the working day and when is the end of the working day. It collects all the calendar events in these periods and calculates the number of minutes you have committed to meetings. Then it will look in OmniFocus how much time you need for the tasks you have currently listed for Today’s next actions. Then it creates an overview in Draft 5 and Charty graph that will be placed on your home screen on iPad/iPhone only.

In this specific example, I have 600 minutes of working time, 123 minutes I will spend in meetings, and 1085 minutes for tasks to do today; hence I have to clear my to do today- next action list by deferring specific tasks. The Drafts list contains links to the Task concerned, so it is quite simple to move out tasks.

This ShortCut can be downloaded here. I have also a daily maintenance routine which updates all the graphs/ widget hourly. Therefore I have also the same ShortCut functionality for a silent run, here to download.

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07. Plan today

14. Get the “Today – next action” list realistic/ achievable by making choices/ creating focus.

Via the Clear list perspective and or Today – next actions perspective, I can move out Tasks by changing the defer date and or unflagging or agree on new due dates. Mostly I use the Draft, as created in the previous step, to select the link of a specific task and adjust accordingly.

15. If the “Today – next actions” list is doable, I move the tasks to the free calendar slots for that day, so my agenda is guiding me through the day.

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OmniFocus as the heart of the enabling system – set up guide

OmniFocus
OmniFocus is essentially an outline of tasks that can be tagged and filtered in different ways. This makes it incredibly flexible—much like paper—which lets it grow with your needs—one of the requirements for my enabling system is simple. OmniFocus can be as straightforward or as complex as you choose to make it. The CEO of the OmniGroup has written an excellent blog about the concept of keeping it simple here.

Below I have described how I have set up OmniFocus. The setup is an evolution of some ten years in which I am working with this wonderful product with excellent support. Because it is reliable and of good quality, it can serve as the “heart of the enabling system” and can be trusted.

💡Tip: If I use a Shortcut or Applescript I have linked it to the text as link, so you can download it, use it and adjust it to your needs.

The content of “the OmniFocus set up” guide is as following (click on the link to go to this paragraph directly):

Areas of Responsibilities
I use folders to map out my area of responsibility. Within the folders, the projects are listed. Projects are the reflection of the goals I want to achieve. (💡the conceptual setup of how to go from goal->project->tasks you can read here).

  • Assignments are commitments I have made to clients to deliver agreed results. Because of confidentially, I cannot show the clients I am working on.
  • Work is the area of responsibilities for own companies or companies I work for
  • Private is the (financial) administration area’s responsibilities, keeping up my knowledge and competencies, maintaining my Cars, things I want to do to maintain and improve my personal HealthMaintenance of my old home. How I keep relaxed. I believe in the concept of lifelong learning, so I also have projects (goals) on Personal development.
  • For me, life is extra enjoyable if I can party with, enjoy and contribute to my friends and family, so it has “earned” a place as a goal.
  • Routines are the tasks I conduct to keep the enabling system trusted.
  • Someday/ maybe are things I probably want to do sometimes. To get it out of my head in a trusted place. I review this section weekly.
  • The checklist contains a professional checklist to increase my output and deliver quality products and services.
  • Templates contains predefined “goals/ projects/ result streams/actions” for “projects set up” so every project (goal) start with an identical setup/ structure, “Travel plans” and “Preparation for meetings”.

💡Tip: The order/ sequence of folders are essential: in views, perspectives, and listing, I mostly use the project order. The most important is on top of the folder list, so I work on the important stuff first.

💡Tip: I try to use as many sequential projects () to work with the first action available and the next actions and not see all actions in available action.

Tags – to sequence what is important for you

Tags can help you quickly and conveniently home in on the projects and actions that are most relevant. A tag can represent a context or an extra bit of “metadata” that makes it easy to locate and create lists of related actions, action groups, and projects.

For example, tagging actions with ☕️ Waiting for makes it easy to identify all of the actions you have delegated to your colleagues across all areas of responsibilities and projects (goals). 

  • Priority. Are the most important and most used tags in my way of working. I am using the Eisenhower Matrix mostly to sort my tasks in Importance and Urgency. The basic principle is that items that consume time, energy, and attention are ordered based on their relative urgency and importance.
  • New Assignments. I use a sales process to sell “new” assignments. I use these tags to build up and follow the sales funnel. An opportunity/ lead is defined as a project.
  • Communication. I try to do communications directly as they come up; however, sometimes I have to follow up or call back later. I use a tag per communication channel.
  • Administration. Owning businesses and private life, I have to make/ send/ collect Invoices and pay Invoices and do accounting. For all significant administrative processes, I have a tag.
  • The Kanban tag is an experiment. If you want to set up OmniFocus as a KanBan board, you can read here how this is possible.
  • Routines are collections of checklists and or rituals. I have written a separate paragraph on Routines here.
  • The tag Agenda I use for collecting meeting topics I want to discuss and hear about. I also use the tags to draft meeting notes before meetings containing the topics I want to discuss. (separate article about Meetings can be found here). I have 1:1 meetings (Bila’s) with people in my team but also chairing Group meetings. Every periodical meeting has his tag within groups. The Meeting prep tag I use to add a meeting topic what I want to achieve with this topic. I need this because I can not always recall what the intention was for a topic.

  • Waiting for is a tag for projects or tasks I have delegated and want to track progress on, most of the time against an agreed due date. Also, mails where I need an answer, are collected with this tag.
  • The Decision tag is used for decision logs on all projects. Taking a decision is one step. Most decisions need to be operationalized to keep track of these items until they are also implemented.
  • The Horizon tag I am using for areas of focus. What and how to use Focus on horizons is explained here.
  • The People tag I am using to add names of people to a task. For example, if a need an answer from John I add the tag Waiting for and the tag Jan stored under People. This is how I can build “meeting cheat sheets” with people to see in a few seconds which commitment somebody has with me.
  • Maybe/ Sometime is being used for ideas/ bucket list stored in Someday/ Maybe folder
  • None, is used in Shortcuts were I want to do something without collecting tags, and “untagged” is not working (f.e. draft meeting minutes without prior tags).

💡Tip: As you can see, the Tags “Routines” to “Maybe sometimes” are “on hold,” meaning that they will not show up in Available/ Remaining actions views: no clutter.

💡Tip: You can use more tags on one project or action. I try to minimize the use of more tags (keep it simple). I only use it for New Assignment (priority and step in sales funnel), Waiting for and people I am waiting for, and Agenda.

Goals represented in projects
Within the folders (=area of responsibility), I set up projects. Sometimes I oversee programs or projects with more than 100 people, but I also have project teams with two people. I still use one template that I strip for the smaller or personal projects to maintain a consistent structure.

I am using a script for copying a template into a new project using <<placeholders>>. You can download the script here. The breakdown/ setup of the project is as follows:

  • The project name is a short description of the expected result.
  • 00. Add to DevonThink reference file is being used to create a reference folder with documents/ presentations that have the same structure as the OmniFocus project structure and are linked together. The set up is described here
  • 01. General information contains subprojects project general information, the project’s purpose, approach, project planning, and milestones.
  • 02. Standard and templates contain a standard for progress reports, decision documents, communication plans, etc.
  • 03. Programme/ project procedure contains procedures for changes, problem reports, management of deliverables, acceptance, onboarding of project members.
  • 04. Communications contains sub projects for a communication plan, external meetings, internal meetings, and correspondence.
  • 05. Reporting and information contain subprojects for progress reporting, evaluation reporting, steering comité, project groups, result teams, and suppliers (contract management).
  • 06. Quality and risk is about risk assessment and managing the mitigation tasks agreed upon.
  • In 07. Registrations, you will find budget vs. actual reporting, time reports, and deliverable status.
  • Every goal has one of more results. To deliver the end-results, I create per end-result a subproject in 08. Result streams

The user interface on MacOs version

I use different devices in my Apple ecosystem. However, every menu structure is the same, no matter which device I use. Furthermore, my way of working is based on the concept of contextual computing to avoid distraction as much as I can. This also means that I am not using OmniFocus’s user interface a lot but instead use KeyBoard Maestro pallets to jump directly to the action I want to do. In a certain routine task, the link to the specific perspective is embedded.

Below I will explain what is on the Sidebar. If you click on the link, you will see the setup and or download the AppleScript. For the Sidebar, I have chosen to put here all important perspectives/ views on my task list.

  • Prepare for flight It contains all the untagged tasks and or have not a project and or have not an estimated duration. It helps with maintaining a trusted new system. Like many of you, I have more work at hand than hours in a day. I use the concept to add to every task the estimated duration (in 5 minutes blocks). In the morning, during the Reveille routine, I can see how much time is remaining (total working time minus meeting duration) for doing specific tasks. In this way, I can plan the remaining time with tasks I can finish, and at the closure of the day, I can be 🥳joyful that I could finish my plan for the day. You can find the setup of this perspective here.
  • Inbox contains all the items which I need to process with a project and tag still. If I did “prepare for flight,” it should be empty. It helps with maintaining a trusted system.
  • Waiting for due. This perspective contains all the tasks I am waiting to complete on or before the agreed due date. The setup of this perspective can be found here.
  • Communications perspective is listing all available communication tasks per communication channel. The setup you can find here.
  • Meeting topics contains all agenda topics per meeting and or people. .
  • Focus areas are the list with current horizons of focus. T. his perspective setup you can find here.
  • Clear is a list of all available tasks per area of responsibility and project. This list is being used to clear out the available tasks to another moment if today’s remaining work time exceeds the sum of all duration times of the available tasks. I do this by deferring the task to another Defer date. Please find here the setup.
  • A weekly debrief a checklist to keep the system trusted. See the paragraph Keep the system trusted for further explanation.


Toolbar
I use the toolbar for contextual computing. Unfortunately, we cannot please the text of an icon under the icon, so I have an overview. Please find below the setup of this toolbar:

Toolbar

From left to right, I will explain every icon’s functionality and, if applicable, attach a link to the setup and or AppleScript.

  • View all project is a standard functionality of OmniFocus and shows all projects, depending on how you adjust your focus
  • Likewise, View all tags.
  • Reveille is a perspective that helps to prepare for the day. I have written a different blog on the Reveille process here. Please find here the perspective.
  • Today’s next actions (used the most) show all the tasks I have decided to work on today during the Reveille process (or added later in the day by a triggering event). It shows me all available tasks plus tasks that are due soon (I have committed to deliver) plus flagged tasks. These tasks should reside in the folders (area of responsibility) Assignments, Work and Private, and Hold tags 📍Priority, 📣Communications and or 📓Administration. The perspective can be found here.
  • The icon Forecast is the standard functionality of OmniFocus. It shows a combination of the calendars and tags you have chosen in the Forecast perspective setup (I use all my calendars combined with the 📍Priority, you can only choose one tag).
  • Inbox is standard functionality, and it shows for me all the tasks with project and or tag.
  • Add to Inbox, do what the title states.
  • Clean up screen, refreshes your views and is standard functionality.
  • Mail tasks link to an AppleScript, which sends the selected task in a mail. Often used by me to inquire about the task per mail communication channel. You can download the script here.
  • Kanban Board is an experiment that I am working on and changes OmniFocus in a Kanban board. You can find the information and scripts here.
  • So today is a script that changes the defer date of selected tasks to today. I use the “start method” by deferring to today. I use it a lot when I am processing the Clear list. The script can be downloaded here.
  • Defer one day does the same as above but moves the defer date to tomorrow. The script can be downloaded here.
  • Defer one week, as above but defers with one week or any other number of days as required from the current date. Here to download.
  • Create a folder in DevonThink creates a reference folder in DevonThink of the selected project. You can find here more information and a download of the script.
  • Complete and waiting for a reply. I am not using it a lot anymore, but it is a script that completes the selected tasks and creates the same tasks with waiting for tag. You can download the script from here.
  • Templates is a script that copies a template project into a new project, using <<placeholders>>, you can download the script here.
  • View options are standard functionality to change the view.
  • Focus removes all the clutter from your screen and gives you focus on the selected view.
  • Inspector shows the project/ task details, which you can change. I have the inspector always open.

Trusted enabling system

What is a trusted system
We are talking about a trusted enabling system if:

  • You put everything in it
  • The system is always at your disposal, wherever you are, whenever you want/need it
  • All the devices you are carrying with you are synchronized with each other and have the same apps/ functionality
  • It is out of your head
Inputs into your head

Your system in “continues improvement”
Every person today has many sources of information. Besides personal interaction, there are many mails, news, meeting info, exciting topics on the Internet, Twitter messages, Facebook messages, SMS, Whatsapp messages, Instagram, iMessage, etc. In addition to the interactions with your colleagues, family, friends, and other stakeholders in your network, things are often asked from you to do.

The idea behind the GTD method is to go through these sources one by one and organize from an Inbox what you want or need to do with them. Over time, these sources will change (Hyves no longer exists), and new sources will be added. Therefore, it is essential to keep asking yourself which sources provide inputs for you and adjust your system accordingly as part of the Weekly debrief process.

When becomes your enabling system trusted

  • You choose a fixed routine (or ritual) as you prefer, with the same steps of which you know that if you go through them consistently, one after the other, “everything is caught” and ends up on the right pile;
  • You consistently go through these same steps every day/week in a fixed rhythm (routine);
  • Do not get distracted to get off your “plan for that moment,” also called discipline. But also embrace a concept like contextual computing.

Setup the routines on every device

On the MacBook (and on the Elgato StreamDeck), iPhone and iPad I use the same menu structure:

MacBook GTD setup
iPhone GTD setup
iPad GTD setup

What is needed to create and maintain a trusted system

  • An enabling system containing those steps/ routines, in my case, I use OmniFocus.
  • Reserve time in your calendar for these routines and always do it (discipline).
  • Conceptual computing concept (menu structure) taken you directly to the action you want/ have to avoid any distraction.
iPad - trusted system
Trusted enabling system on the iPad

I have the following routines in place:

  • Reveille (of course) you do at the beginning of the day. I have in the morning the most energy. People who have the most energy in the evening recommend doing the routine in the evening, or even middays if you prefer. But do it every (working) day. The setup is described here.
  • Closure: simple steps to get current and enjoy what you have accomplished today.
  • Daily digest of news and other information. Please read here the setup with video and downloadable Shortcuts.
  • Weekly debrief: this is the most essential (professional) moment in the week. Here I take steps to make sure I am current and actual. The setup is described here.

The Reveille routine
GTD gives you some direction on how to get things out of your head, get clear, and being prepared for the things to come. I have adjusted these steps to my needs, and probably you will have your own needs, so the below steps are for inspiration only.

High level the Reveille routine contains the following steps, also shown in the video:

  • 01. Process Inboxes containing documents to zero and clear out Linkedin
  • 02. Be prepared on meetings, meeting notes and meeting reference material
  • 03. Plan and prepare travel
  • 04. Clear your mind on
    • new commitments you have made
    • which interactions you want to do extra
    • which new meetings/ calls to plan
    • which distraction will I face
    • new ideas which popped up
  • 05. Get actual. Process my inboxes to zero and follow up on ☕️Waiting for and due (progress stopped)
  • 06. Get real of how much “time to fly” is available still and check with what you have to do today, and compare this with time available
  • 07. Plan today by (hyper)scheduling the Today tasks into your agenda

The Closure of the day routine
I use the same Shortcuts as in the Reveille process but limit the action to clean up the Inboxes and decide what to do with the task I did not finish today. It is an abbreviated morning routine and shows as following:

The Daily digest routine
I found myself spinning into multiple hours of reading and consuming news coverage and social media too often. Now there are fully 24/7 networks, social media platforms built around the premises of sucking you in and keeping you there. It is very much a profit thing, and they are good at winding you up to stick around for that next segment/hour/day.

I have mitigated this for myself by allowing only 30 minutes of daily news and socials media consumption. In the video on the left, you view how this is working for me. If I start the first action,, it sets a timer of 30 minutes automatically. The last step asks to stop the timer if the 30 minutes are not exceeded

You can find below the action group tasks in OmniFocus, the Shortcuts which are linked in the tasks of OmniFocus and the result of each step. Adjust this to your individual needs:

  • The project and actions set up of Daily Digest you can find here
  • The menu Shortcut which also starts the 30 minutes timer is here to download
  • The Shortcut for Tweets, you can download here
  • The Shortcut for internet feeds on specific topics, collected in Reeder, can be downloaded here
  • The Shortcut for Nu.nl, here
  • ……… I think you get the drift and you can set up this easy-to-build Shortcuts for the news sources you want yourself
  • The End of Digest Shortcut stops the 30 minuted alarm if not already “stopped”. To download click here

The Weekly debrief routine
The weekly debrief is a list in Omnifocus with repeating tasks, which start on Friday at 15:00 and Due on Friday. High level it consists of the following items:

  • Process all Inboxes
  • Data dump from out of your head with the help of a trigger-list.
  • Become actual with the future (meetings/ events, every project has an action, how to finish projects, waiting on and due, review of goals, outcome, and impact)
  • Check if the system still is trusted (are the routines still working, checklist are actual, area of focus are actual, clean up devices (updates and maintenance)

If have written a separate blogpost about the Weekly debrief process, here to find.