2022.07.04.

Answering follow-up questions about the Process perspective

I linked yesterday’s post on the Process perspectives in a bunch of places and generated a bit more negative feedback than I expected. I was confused because I still think this is a cool trick to have in your toolbox. As “cornchip” said it on the MPU forums:

This is a nice tactic to add to the swiss army knife of tools needed to break up a stagnant list.

I see great questions emerging in the discussion around this trick, which I wanted to answer here to provide a bit more logic.

Should I replace this with the GTD Clarify and Organize step?

Don’t use a remixed version until you are confident that all the habits around GTD are wired into your brain. Afterward, you can use this perspective to enhance your existing inbox emptying habit progressively.

Do I have to tag everything that goes into OmniFocus?

No, but you can. There is a setting in OmniFocus called “Clean up inbox items which have” which controls when OmniFocus should remove items from your inbox on clean-up. Mine is set to projects; otherwise, the Process perspective won’t show actions grouped by project.

Kourosh mentioned that this could lead to untagged/unprocessed items leaking into the system from the inbox, which is technically accurate, but don’t forget if you use this trick:

  • a: the Process perspective always shows unprocessed items which you can clean up,
  • b: if you do Weekly Reviews properly, you should trust your system, but more importantly, you’ll review everything again and catch these items.

Do you still use the OmniFocus Inbox?

Yes. As I mentioned, this perspective is great for breaking down a long list of unknown stuff, but sometimes I straight use the Inbox because it’s easier.

Isn’t it an unnecessary step?

It depends. I wouldn’t call it “productivity p0rn” because it genuinely helps to clarify the unknown.

Imagine you have to clean up a messy kitchen. First, you start to pre-organize: collect the dishes, throw away junk into a trash bag, etc. Then, you wash the dishes, clean the kitchen table’s surface, and get the trash out; sooner than later, you end up with a clean kitchen.

We do the same thing here: we’re pre-organizing a long list of stuff, so we can make sense of how much cleaning we have to do, then we clean each item in context with their related entities. This way, we keep our attention a bit more focused and keep support material easily reachable (especially if you link associated things in the notes field of your projects).

The point is to reduce the unknown and add structure to the inbox processing habit. You don’t need to do this all the time, but after, let’s say, 20 unprocessed items, this can be a beneficial step.

Don’t you keep too much stuff in your OmniFocus Inbox?

As David Allen says, I keep everything in the inbox which is “potentially meaningful” to me. Maybe, in the end, I only save 10% and throw away 90%, but the point of using an inbox (and GTD, for the matter) is to empty our head, and keep it that way.

There is an excellent video about this topic from the Next Action Associates called “What’s The Difference Between An Input And An Inbox?“.

Why do you need access to projects when you process your inbox?

It’s simple. Because I have support materials linked to projects in their notes field. I need to access them via links (and Hook) to store future actions, notes, etc. Having a list of items grouped by projects lets me easily select the project in the list, invoke Hook, or click on the links in the notes.


I hope this post answers your questions about the Process perspective and makes you reconsider adding it to your OmniFocus toolbox.

2022.07.02.

Reduce context switches in the OmniFocus Inbox using a Process perspective

I watched a video from Cal Newport on how he uses a simple text file for the sense-making of a bunch of new information. He mentioned that instead of processing his emails one by one, he captures the essence of every email into his text file, then starts to categorize it, organize it by projects, etc. This gave me an idea about solving a similar problem I had with my GTD inbox for a while now.

GTD recommends that we process our stuff in the inbox sequentially, without grouping beforehand. The problem with this approach is that many items related to different projects are scattered in our inbox, so we’re jumping in and out of projects while processing our inbox. This constant context switching drains energy from our brain.

If we want to spare our attention, it is a good idea to group our unprocessed inbox items by project, so we can reduce the context switching when we process them. Using this approach for the GTD Process and Organize steps will ensure that we clean things related to each project in one go, not randomly.

I will show you how to do this inside OmniFocus, but you can also steal this approach for Things using a similar “Process” tag.

Why is this a problem?

The point is to add a temporary structure to information in the inbox. I usually do some form of project planning and next action creation when I’m emptying my inbox. The problem is that I constantly switch thoughts about many different things as I go through each item. It would be nice to have them batched and grouped by their project. This can reduce the attention switching to different topics/projects.

Let’s say we have an inbox like this:

  • Item 1 (could be about Project X)
  • Item 2 (could be about Project Y)
  • Item 3 (could be about Project Z)
  • Item 4 (could be about Project X) ← This is where I will have to return to “Project X” again. This item can even be connected to “Item 1” somehow.

I hate when I have to switch my current context (not my GTD context, but the current mindset that I’m in) and go back to a project I already thought about and assigned a next action to; possibly, I even closed its support material since then.

Having new information pre-organized by projects (or topics) can reduce the load of thinking about a project twice or more in an inbox processing session.

Using the Process workflow

  1. The first step is to create a new perspective in OmniFocus called Process with the rules shown on the screenshot above. You’ll use this perspective to process things instead of the standard OmniFocus Inbox.
  2. It’s essential to have everything corralled into the OmniFocus Inbox, so you can stop jumping around different inboxes, but more importantly, have everything pre-organized by the project. Go through your inboxes (email, Slack, DEVONthink, etc.) and link a new action to all unprocessed items in OmniFocus. The Hook app can help a lot with this step.
  3. Open the Process perspective, where you’ll see your unorganized stuff sitting in the Inbox waiting to be pre-organized. You must quickly go through each item and assign it to an existing or new project (don’t assign tags). You don’t have to come up with the final name for a new project. Set whatever comes to your mind; the important thing is to pre-organize unprocessed items in this step. If you don’t know where to assign it, just skip it, or move it into a singular action list related to an area.
  4. When you have pre-organized everything, you can click the clean-up button (or press Command-K) to see all of your unprocessed items grouped by project. Now you can go through each item and deal with them in the context of its project instead of having them all over the place.

Why having a pre-organized inbox is better than a flat list of unknown stuff

I always get annoyed when I deal with something related to a big project in my inbox, and then 5 minutes later, another thing pops into my view about the same subject. I have to open the project and its support material again, get into the same mindset, and maybe even reconsider everything I figured out 5 minutes ago. It is a dumb way to plan things.

I’ve been pre-organizing inbox actions by the project for about a month now, and I can assure you that having unprocessed stuff grouped by the project can make a big difference. I can process my OmniFocus Inbox about 15-20% faster than before, but more importantly, I don’t feel tired after doing it. I stopped switching contexts for every item; instead, I’m spending more time at the project level and dealing with new things from this perspective.


I wrote a follow-up post to this one answering reader questions about this workflow.

2020.03.03.

Deleting All Your Tweets

Craig Mod makes some good point about deleting your tweets:

If an idea is any good, chances are you shouldn’t just be tweeting it, but rather giving it a more solid, fleshed out form as a blog post or essay or zine or whatever. This is out of respect for the idea itself. What I find most dangerous about Twitter is that it can generate similar chemical feelings to having done “the work,” when in fact, you haven’t done the work. You’ve just micro-plastic’d idea potential. Make Twitter ephemeral and it seems to undo this psychic voodoo. (For me, anyway.)

It makes sense to me. Also routinely deleting my old tweets gives me some control over one of my concerns with social media: using an old tweet against me. We’ve seen this before.

Sure, I’m not James Gunn, but because Twitter makes it very easy to post things online, we usually do it without thinking. Having these tweets still available years later can be problematic. We are changing, but our short angry bursts aren’t. These are sitting somewhere on Twitter as a record of a random bad snippet of us.

As Craig said, tweets should be ephemeral.

2020.02.26.

Disable ringtones for call notifications on Mac, iPad, and Apple Watch

I was browsing Twitter yesterday and run into a group of people who disabled call receiving on their Mac because of macOS makes your Mac ring like any other mobile device by default. This can be great if your phone is in another room, but if you like me, your devices are nearby most of the time, so it’s really annoying when all of them are starting to ring at once when I receive a call.

Luckily there is a way to mute ringtones but keep the call notification around. This means your iPhone will ring, but other devices will stay silent and just show you the incoming call, giving you an option to answer them or hang up right there.

For some reason FaceTime notification settings are also controlling the appearance of phone calls on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, so you have to customize that.

macOS

Go to System Preferences/Notifications, find FaceTime in the list and turn off "Play sound for notifications". This way macOS will show all incoming FaceTime, FaceTime Audio, and regular phone calls in the top right, but your Mac gonna stay silent.

Screen Shot 2020 02 26 at 11 40 40

iOS/iPadOS

For some reason, there is no way to disable sound for call notifications on iOS and iPadOS, although there is a workaround: you can create a silent ringtone using GarageBand or you can buy one from the iTunes Store (buying will also make it available for your other iOS devices).

After acquiring the ringtone, go to Settings/Notifications, select FaceTime and set your new silent ringtone under Sounds.

IMG 0010

watchOS

Open the Watch app on your phone, scroll down, select Phone and turn off Sound.

I like to keep Haptic turned on because sometimes I’m away from my iPhone but I still want to "feel" incoming calls on my wrist.

PNG image


Setting up your devices this way gives you the best of both worlds: your devices – other than your iPhone – will stay silent when you receive an incoming phone or FaceTime call, but you’ll see the caller ID on the device you’re using. Also it will give you the option to answer the call without picking up your iPhone.

2020.02.09.

2020.02.06.

The original vision of the iPhone as a tool

The original vision of the iPhone was to help in our everyday life, not to became a life broadcaster and receiver device, which we are hanging to 24/7.

According to Cal Newport, we have to return to the original vision of the iPhone, which Steve Jobs showed us when he introduced it in 2007. Be a really good tool for a couple of things, but don’t hijack our attention in a form of notifications and dopamine booster social networks.

We can develop a healthy relationship with this device if we think about it as a tool. It can be a great hammer to solve problems occasionally throughout the day, but after that, it’s very important to slide it back into our pocket and continue focusing on the thing that we’re doing.

Source

Opinion | Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This – The New York Times

Once you’ve stripped away the digital chatter clamoring for your attention, your smartphone will return to something closer to the role originally conceived by Mr. Jobs. It will become a well-designed object that comes out occasionally throughout your day to support — not subvert — your efforts to live well: It helps you find that perfect song to listen to while walking across town on a sunny fall afternoon; it loads up directions to the restaurant where you’re meeting a good friend; with just a few swipes, it allows you to place a call to your mom — and then it can go back into your pocket, or your bag, or the hall table by your front door, while you move on with the business of living your real-world life.

The iPhone is a fantastic phone, but it was never meant to be the foundation for a new form of existence in which the digital increasingly encroaches on the analog. If you return this innovation to its original limited role, you’ll get more out of both your phone and your life.

2020.02.05.

Different notification types

There is a difference between notifications that I want to receive versus the ones that somebody else wants me to receive.

Triggers that I leave for myself in the future to notify my future presence self are important. Otherwise, triggers made by others are having a very good chance of being not important at all.

When we are using a device, we have to set up notifications in a way to receive way less from the latter one. This way we can preserve the essence of the device as a tool, so we don’t become a tool for someone else who can use our device as a remote to control us.

Related

Connection between overstimulation and anxiety

Overstimulation can create anxiety. It happens because the brain doesn’t have enough time to process new information, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or burned out.

We really have to pay attention to how many notifications we let through our phone. A tool should not have the power to bombard us with new information on its own, because we lose our focus, which can also lead to overstimulation.

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