Category Archives: Productivity

Ulysses for iPad

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Ulysses for Mac has added a lot of functionality for writers into their app over the last 2 years which made it more and more interesting. Meanwhile Ulysses is to text what Adobe Lightroom is for photos. It covers the whole process from entering text (without the hassle of a file system), intelligently allows for tags and smart folders and – where most other editors fail – offers solutions for output. Ulysses has always been about writing and organizing. However, so far there was no IOS counterpart.

That has now changed as Ulysses for iPad is out now. And boy, does it deliver. This is not a companion app to just sync characters. You can see that this app was developed with the intention to bring the full Mac experience to the iPad. It does not just sync your text, but also you folder structure, embedded images and even themes.

Ulysses-iCloud

Once done composing your text a lot of other IOS text editors rely on external tools to output. I have not seen an IOS editor capable of exporting to HTML, ePub, PDF, .md and RTF. Plus the ability to apply themes to each of these.

Themes are another topic where Ulysses shines. Not only can you choose from some nice preinstalled templates, there is also Style Exchange which allows for downloading customer made themes – even on IOS. Creating themes, however, is only possible on the Mac version but I believe this to be a minor issue for most users. Style Exchange will be a higher priority for the masses.

Some drawbacks

As its philiosophy is to put away with file management Ulysses heavily relies on iCloud which is not for everyone. The Mac app does support external files (such as Dropbox) but this meant loosing some Ulysses features such as embedded images and tags. On IOS the ‚external files‘ functionality is provided, but unfortunately the IOS Dropbox app does not function properly even when switched on as data provider under IOS:

Ulysses-External

This does work in the Mac app as it simply accesses the local Dropbox folder. If you have your text management setup like many others involving a Dropbox folder combined with Nvalt and various IOS editors you are out of luck for the moment.

The second issue I have is that despite all the fantastic export and theming options it does not support exporting directly to a blog. Yes, it is of course possible to copy the HTML and do it manually. It just seems odd that the process oriented approach of Ulysses ends with a manual step.

Praise

Writing on the iPad is more fun with Ulysses. It removes friction and is a complete writing environment. If you do not want to fiddle, to handle a file system and only concentrate on your words Ulysses might just be the tool you have been waiting for.

Omnifocus versus Todoist

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I really tried. I wanted to give Todoist, a rapidly growing platform for task management, a serious try. As a serious Omnifocus user. It didn’t work.

Why on earth would an invested Omnifocus user switch to Todoist?

Well, in short because of

  1. Sharing
    Todoist let’s me easily share tasks with my wife related to managing our private life with two kids. Omnifocus is showing no signs to develop in this direction.
  2. Tags & Filters
    Context in Omnifocus only provides one dimension (although nested). Tags in Todoist allows me to build any (multidimensional) view on my tasks no matter how far I take tags. I am aware that if you standardise the naming of your tasks you can include a respective search in your Omnifocus Perspective – but that seems very fiddly to me.
  3. Speed
    Todoist syncs nearly instantaneously. With Omnifocus I always have to wait a few seconds before things are updated. And yes, I have background sync enabled in Omnifocus.
  4. Attachments
    It’s probably me but I always hesitated to put attachments in my Omnifocus database because I feared it would make it slow down or consume too much space. Todoist as a web based platform at least to me seems much better suited to handle bigger file attachments.

So I gave Todoist a serious try. I switched all my projects over, set up my wife with an account and tested the pro features for about a month (without Pro features it is very bare bones). I did the full monty: Exchanged my today widget on the iPhone, installed Todoist on all my Macs and IOS devices, even hooked it up to IFTTT and switched to Cloudmagic on my IOS devices to be able to process email directly into Todoist.

I also faced a stressful period at work where a lot of projects were getting pretty intense at the same time – perfect conditions to test drive a task management system. To put things into context – I overlook approx. 30 active projects at a time in a company with north of 500 staff. From experience I know I should maintain a good handle on my projects when things are getting hot. Otherwise it all falls apart pretty quickly and I loose control.

And this is exactly the point where Todoist broke down for me. It took me too long to update lots of tasks in lots of projects multiple times a day. I missed Omnifocus’ start dates, sequential projects and focussing abilities which allow me to filter better on what is really available, important and urgent at the same time.

I tried to accomplish this by setting up various filters. But no matter what I did – I always felt overwhelmed as I had to look at too many unrelevant tasks at the same time. I started fiddling again with filters – exactly what I wanted to avoid especially during a period where all of my resources were required to actually DO things.

It is not about price. Omnifocus on Mac, Ipad and Iphone add up quite nicely in (one-time) cost. Todoist is 23 Euro per year per person for the premium plan – for my wife and myself this translates to about three years of usage before I hit the Omnifocus price range. I am happy to pay for a solution which I use on a daily basis in order to manage my various roles.

In short, I learned that the following features in Todoist are essential for me before even consider switching again:

  • Start dates
  • Automatic ‘next action’ available per project
  • Better filtering in the UI, not only by filters

For Omnifocus I would like to see:

  • Task sharing
  • Tags
  • Faster sync

I would like to hope that Todoist adds these features, but I doubt they will be doing so anytime soon. For the time being Omnifocus just has to be my sort of hammer for the type of work I do.

Omnifocus 2 for Mac

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Finally! The Omni Group has released Omnifocus 2 for Mac, its high profile task manager. After an initially halted beta test the Omni folks started seeding updated versions and announced a shipment in June. Now it shipped end of May – Horray !

In my day job I oversee quite a few people each dealing with lots of projects, juggle my own ones, manage my colleagues, sit in (too) many meetings and try to make sure nothing falls between the cracks. Beside work I try my best to raise two boys together with my lovely wife which involves a lot of tiny things to remember as well.

Omnifocus is my weapon of choice to pull all of this off and it has saved my bacon quite a few times. I read David Allen’s book and I totally get it. It helps me to dump everything into Omnifocus which in turns brings an item up when it’s time and otherwise stays out of my way. Omnifocus let’s me be as forgetful as I want.

That’s all nice, but what about the new version?

The Look

Version 1 has not received a visual update in years and frankly, looked pretty dated for quite some time. The new look is much cleaner and in my opinion was worth the wait. The inspector window has been intregrated into the main window similar to what Apple has introduced to its iWork suite.

It’s all very subtle and colours are used only sparsely to draw attention – especially to “Status Circles”. They indicate by a combination of colours and shapes if a task is

  • Overdue
  • Due today
  • Completed
  • Selected
  • Flagged
  • Repeating

It took me a while to get used to it but once you don’t have to look it up anymore, the information comes across quite nicely.

Review and Forecast

Up to this point the iPad version was the only one with the outstandingly well implemented review and forecast view. Not any longer as they found their way into the Mac version. The forecast view let’s you see on a timeline when what tasks are due blended on top with your calendar(s). You can select to see only a week or a month. You can also select specific weekdays, say all tasks due every Friday for the upcoming month – nice.

 

Quick capture

Omnifocus has always been the tool with the quickest way to enter a new task. On a Mac hit CMD+O and you’re ready to go. A welcome addition is that OF2 now auto-fills suggestions which makes it even faster:

 

Now in two flavours

Omnifocus for Mac now ships in two flavours – Standard and Pro. The difference in price is significant – €39,99 or €79,99. The Pro version adds the following features:

  • Create custom perspectives
  • Focus view
  • Applescript support

I believe the differentiation to be fair. The Standard version will most probably suit the most people. If you have so far only used the standard perspectives on the iPad, I guess it’s safe to go for the Standard version.

Personally I went for the Pro version as I do use the Focus view often due to the multitude of projects I need to deal with. I have used some custom perspectives in OF1 but I think I would also get away with the standard ones. Applescript support is certainly for the geeks – which I am. I have tied a few folders on my Mac via Hazel to remind me to actually pay bills, review files I dump into specific folders and a few others as well. But that’s just me.

Verdict

The upgrade is a solid one. Fresh look, redesigned Quick Open, Forecast and Review mode, Inspector and pinnable perspectives are welcome additions. I think it is a fair move to differentiate between Standard and Pro with a clear distinction in price. In both versions Omnifocus remains a professional task manager with still a steep learning curve due to the underlying GTD concept. What is still missing though is sharing of tasks – OF2 still is a one-man show and in our increasingly collaborative world this may become a show-stopper for some.

Pricing and Upgrades

OmniFocus 2 costs $39.99, with the Pro License at $79.99. Customers who purchased OmniFocus 1 from the Omni Store can purchase an OmniFocus 2 Standard license for $19.99 or a Pro license for $39.99. If you bought OmniFocus 1 from the Mac App Store, you can buy OmniFocus 2 and get the Pro feature set for free. For details see Omni’s upgrade page.

Drafts

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So everybody is talking about Drafts, the inbox for all of your text on IOS.

Initially I could not imagine to actually need such an app as most of my writing happens in Byword which also has a Mac client.

But as geeky as I am I gave it a spin anyway and am impressed. It completely changed my writing even for messaging, email, calendar entries and even meeting notes due to Draft’s extensive export options. The standard options are:

  • Share, Open in, Email, message
  • Send to Omnifocus, Day One, Byword
  • Post to Twitter, Facebook, App.net
  • Save and append in Dropbox
  • Save and append in Evernote
  • Create events, reminders
  • Parse in Fantastical

As it is compatible with Smile Software’s excellent Textexpander I can make use of my various snippets making text entries even faster.

But that’s only scratching the surface. Drafts adds to the growing support of URL schemes . In practice this means you send text to other apps who support URL schemes and are not included in Draft’s standard export options.

Why do I need this? How about feeding an address to Google Maps? Prepend your shopping list on Dropbox. Let Hazel watch a certain text file and trigger actions on your Mac at home. The possibilities seem endless and I cannot wait to see what people will come up with.

Podio

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Introduction 

Podio is another contender in the battle for cloud-based productivity suites. Where it differs is the users ability to develop own “apps” to customize it to their individual needs. This in my view is extremely powerful as most platforms impose their system on the users – Podio does it the other way round.

Podio lives in the cloud so integration of other cloud services seem natural and it does not fall short:

  • Google Docs
  • Dropbox
  • Box
  • Skydrive
  • Evernote
  • Instapaper
  • RSS
  • Freshbooks
  • Zendesk
  • Twitter

Existing resources in of these services can hence be leveraged quickly and easily.

 

App Store

 

Podio offers an „app“ store as well where various preconfigured apps can be imported into your own workspaces. The range of apps is already extensive: CRM, sales, project management, intranet, ticketing, task management – all covered and constantly extended by the growing customer base. Of course dedicated solutions for say CRM do have the one or another feature more, but the real strength though is this: Want another label or checkbox? Just add it yourself. Want a different language? Change the app yourself. It even imports your existing excel files and gets you up and running quickly.

The time I have been following Podio and playing around with it I noticed constant development, regular updates and a sensible addition of features. For instance in the very beginning I was unable to share only a part of an internal project with an external consultant. I did not take long and Podio Share was released allowing you to share single projects and tasks with anyone even outside Podio.

For mobile access there are native apps for IOS (Iphone and Ipad), Android. Dealing with Podio is less like trying to become a MS Project Professional but rather like updating your social network.

The only feature I am missing are workflows. You cannot define the routing of documents or design approval processes. There are only checkboxes available which can be turned on/off anytime. If that feature would be implemented as well Podio would have a killer offering. Watch out Yammer !

As Podio is free for a couple of users I highly recommend to give it a try. It might be one of the better decisions.

Verdict

 

What I think is great

– ability to develop own apps
– availability of mobile apps (IOS, Android)
– wide range of cloud services supported
– steady development with careful addition of features

What I am missing is:

– Workflows