MMEA Session Notes

Thrilled to be back at the MMEA Conference this weekend. I am presenting my session, "Become a Mac Power User," today at 4:25 pm in room 306. Tomorrow, I am joined by my colleague, Ben Denne, as we direct the Ellicott Mills Middle School Symphony Orchestra at 12:50 pm.

Here are the session notes for "Becoming a Mac Power User"...


View notes for "Become a Mac Power User" (OmniOutliner | PDF)


I made the notes using the OmniGroup’s incredible outlining app, OmniOutliner. You can download their app for free here to open the outline (in read-only mode) in all its hierarchical glory. Or, you can simply download the PDF (its way less pretty and interactive though). It is worth mentioning that Omni also has a new 10 dollar "Essentials" version of OmniOutliner if you like what you see and want to create your own.

I am also excited to announce that my sessions are supported by both Sanebox and Hazel. Those who attend my sessions this weekend will get a 15 dollar credit towards Sanebox, in addition to their existing 14 day free trial. Sanebox, for those who do not know, is an essential service for filtering and organizing email. Two members of each session will get a free software code to download Noodlesoft’s powerful app, Hazel (32 dollar value), which automates the organization of files on your Mac’s hard drive.

App of the Week: Anylist —> Grocery Shopping and travel preparation has never been easier

This week’s App of the Week is AnyList.

AnyList is an app for making lists. Why use this? I already have Reminders for basic lists, Due for persistent tasks, OmniFocus for project management, and ToDoist for team collaboration. AnyList solves a grab bag of miscellaneous use cases for me, and offers a handful of other compelling features.

I started out needing a fuss-free list app that could allow me to manage reoccurring lists where I need to uncheck the entire list at the end of a process and start over, without recreating the list. This is useful for repeat grocery list items and a travel packing lists. AnyList was amongst the top recommended apps in this category, so I gave it a download.

On the surface, AnyList offers exactly what I wished for. The user-interface is not bad, but it at least looks like it belongs on iOS. A point in its favor. It works well for grocery lists, but also travel lists. As I continue to promote my book at state level music conferences numerous times a year, I am somehow still a really stressful traveler. Having a stock travel list that I can depend on has been instrumental in my ability to manage these trips and be a sane music educator at the same time. The simple feature of unchecking every item on my list and starting from scratch every time I am preparing for a trip is a game changer for me.

Next, I began to investigate the premium features ---> AnyList is also able to import from the Apple Reminders app, integrate with Amazon Echo, share lists with other users, manage grocery shopping, and manage meal planning. I decided to give the premium subscription a go. 

The Apple Reminders import is great. This allows me to keep my “Grocery” list in the Reminders app. I can say “add eggs to my grocery list” and Siri will add it to Apple Reminders. When I open AnyList, it imports items from that exact list into its own database. AnyList also supports Siri natively so I could say “add eggs to my grocery list with AnyList” and it would do the same thing more directly (though with a fussier syntax). Adding items from the Echo is very convenient as I am often in the kitchen when I realize I need something and can now just speak into the thin air, even if my hands are full while cooking.

Syncing a shared grocery list with my wife is a rock solid experience with AnyList. It happens very fast, and I have never had any duplicate copies. AnyList can also automatically organize your shopping list by which aisle of the grocery store certain items are grouped within. This orders them in a way that all allows me to check them off in store order rather than skipping around constantly. Bonus point! —> The Apple Watch version of the app is actually good, and allows me to interact with my lists smoothly and reliably without fiddling with my phone in the store. (Yes, I realize that describing an Apple Watch app as smooth and reliable is setting a low bar for watch apps).

AnyList is also a meal planner app that can parse recipes from websites, automatically add the required items to your shopping list, and walk you through the recipes step by step. (Though I still prefer the superior app, Paprika, for doing that kind of thing.)

Another bonus point! —> AnyList can be programmed to be location aware. You can tag certain shopping items by grocery store and have AnyList remind you when you are near that store. For example, some items I can only buy at Whole Foods. Therefore, I have tagged my precious Hex Ferments kimchi as such in AnyList and have set it to ping my phone when I am within distance. 

Needless to say, I am now subscribed.

Negative point! —> The AnyList Mac app is terrible and is somehow considered a “premium” feature.

None the less, try this app! 


App of the Week: Scanbot (and Scanner Pro)

This week’s App of the Week is Scanbot

As years pass, I solidify my mainstay productivity apps. I might try 100 todo or scanner apps, but many of the ones I depend on have been on my home screen for years. For a very long time, Readdle’s Scanner Pro was my scanner app of choice for getting documents and sheet music from the real world into my digital database. Scanbot has recently come to challenge it. 

Rather than explain all of the features, I have simply embedded a quick screencast below that shows it off. Both Scanner Pro and Scanbot allow the user to very quickly get paper into their phone, make the text searchable, neaten up the edges, and prepare the document for sharing. Both apps make it easy to customize ways to send finished documents to specific locations in your file system. Scanner Pro does this through custom workflows and Scanbot does it by remembering my most commonly saved locations in my iCloud and Google Drive (you can see this on the last screen of the screencast). But Scanbot has a few nice touches that ultimately push me over the edge, especially considering how tedious scanning documents with a phone can be...

Getting the final scan into a particular location is smoother for me in Scanbot because it always has my most recently saved locations one tap away. I also really like the way that when selecting the edges of the paper, Scanbot has handles that drag an entire edge, whereas Scanner Pro only has handles in the four corners. Notice in the video how Scanbot even detects the edge when I get close and automatically snaps to the edge of the page. Note that both of these apps have an automatic mode that detects the edges for you and bypasses this step. I just wanted to demo the neat snapping feature in the video.

Both apps also create a folder in iCloud Drive that will automatically save all snapped documents so that you can instantly run over to another device like your Mac and get to your new files.

Scanner Pro does have a few unique features. First, its custom workflows are very powerful and can do multiple things with your finished PDF (for example: save a document to Evernote with specific tags, add it to a specific folder in Dropbox, and email it to a coworker all in one tap). Second, it can scan your camera roll for things that look like documents (maybe a business card or a page you shot on your camera in a hurry) and transform them into PDFs on the spot. Third, it integrates with Readdle's other great productivity apps, like PDF Expert

Check out these awesome scanning apps and level up your digital organization!

App of the Week: OmniOutliner 3

I am kicking off a new series this week where I will highlight an app I am making use of lately. 

Hundreds of the apps I experiment with never make it into any of my conference presentations, longer form blog posts, or every day conversations. In effort to start sharing how I am taking advantage of these (and to get me posting here more consistently), I am going to do my best to write about one app a week. 

My goal is to very briefly explain what the app does and how I am using it in my life. I will leave full length reviews to the professionals. 

This week’s app is OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner comes from Omni Group who makes my task manager of choice (and number one most used app), OmniFocus. OmniOutliner is a writing tool that emphasizes features for creating outlines. It is far more intuitive, beautiful, and user customizable than what you are probably using to do this kind of work now, which is most likely a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. These traditional word processors are a clunk-fest of digging through menu options and formatting settings.

Hierarchical, list-types of documents are what this app handles best, though you can really do anything with it...budget, draft your next novel...anything. OmniOutliner has friendly keyboard shortcuts to make outlining fast. Pressing Enter goes to the next line of text. Command+Right Bracket or Left Bracket makes the current line of text you are typing go one level deeper or shallower in the hierarchy. Collapsible arrow buttons can be clicked to expose or hide entire sections of your outline. A theme can be stylized and applied across the entire document, or even just one level of the hierarchy.

Things I have used this app to write in the past few years: my book, every music presentation I have ever given at a conference, and lesson plans. The last one, lesson plans, I have especially come to love doing in OmniOutliner. My daily lesson plan is permanently left open on both my iPad and Mac. When I have something I want to add to my warm up or announcements, I add it from my Mac (or iPhone, depending on what is in front of me), type the extra line of text, and then wait. When I open up OmniOutliner on my iPad alongside my score reader of choice, forScore, the edits automatically sync to my iPad’s copy and I have an up to date version of my plan, ready to rehearse from.

For an actual review of OmniOutliner, check out this great one from MacStories. BTW, OmniOutliner now has a 10 dollar “Essentials” version that gives you most of the compelling features of the app without going all in on the powerful stuff I did not mention here (like cross-platform automation, for example). 

Download here:

OmniOutliner 3 by The Omni Group

OmniFocus 2 by The Omni Group




TMEA Session Notes - “Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers” and “Working with Digital Scores”

I am thrilled to be presenting at TMEA again this year. Both of my sessions, “Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers” and “Working with Digital Scores” will be taking place on February 17th, at 8 am and 11 am, respectively.

Here are the session notes:

Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers

Working with Digital Scores