Using BusyCal and OmniFocus to Manage My Time

Back on September 3rd I posted My annual resume… and the things I learned from it. This post was 3,000ish words which honestly feels too long to expect anyone to digest. So I have broken down its meatier portions into a few blog posts which I will be posting here in the coming days. Of course, I do recommend you read a little bit of the original post for some context.

In that post, I discuss a lot of the ways I manage my time. I broke that down into cooking, exercise, and technology tools. Today, I am reposting the “Tech Tools” section of the post where I detail two of my favorite time saving productivity apps for the Mac.


Now on to time and energy management. Tools that help me manage the many events in my day and the tasks I squeeze in the cracks. BusyCal is my go to on the Mac. It looks and feels like the macOS Calendar app in nearly every way with a ton of great power features on top. It has weather integration, the ability to tag events with people, and more. My favorite is a persistently open “Info” panel on the right side of the screen. Instead of double clicking events to see the notes and location I have assigned them, I click once. And instead of a floating modal box, I can always see the contents of my events. This feature alone is worth the 50 dollars for me. Especially because I use the notes field to track what my private students are working on and I hate clicking so many times in the standard Calendar app to get this info to show up in those modular pop-over windows.

Each lesson, I type student’s assignment into the “notes” field of their block. My “Lessons” calendar is in Google Calendar, and I have published it to a password protected part of my website for private students only. This way, they can log in to see when their next lesson is, and also what I assigned them recently. Now there is no excuse for them to say they forgot what I assigned. And it cuts down tremendously on unneeded parent communication. 

Check out the right side of the user interface of BusyCal. Reminders and an edit window can be persistently visible on the screen.

Check out the right side of the user interface of BusyCal. Reminders and an edit window can be persistently visible on the screen.


OmniFocus has been my “todo” app for years. OmniFocus has a great feature called Review where you set your task lists to be reviewed every “x” days, weeks, or months. Every day, it rolls up projects that need to be reviewed. If I wake up up early, this is what I do the moment I sit down at my desk. But it is also possible to do in little spurts throughout the day. This ensures that things don’t slip through the cracks. 


OmniFocus just released their version 3.0 for iOS. This introduces some killer new features. First of all, the Forecast view now shows your tasks inline with your calendar so that you have better context for when you should be working on them.

Next, OmniFocus 3 supports a tag that will show something in the Forecast even if it is not due. While Reviewing, for example, I simply swipe left on the tasks that I want to be thinking about for the day, and it adds them to the list. 

Forecast view shows me my todos in context with my calendar events.

Forecast view shows me my todos in context with my calendar events.

OmniFocus now allows you to assign multiple tags to the same task, so I have began including tags for energy level. “Low,” “Medium,” and “High” help me to filter items based on my current state. If I have five minutes, and haven’t eaten in a while, I can look at all the “Low” energy tags and get one or two done. 

Introducing The Class Nerd Podcast

As was teased last week, I am launching a new podcast. Well, it is here! Craig McClellan and I are excited to launch The Class Nerd Podcast today. Craig writes at The Class Nerd Blog…

Introducing The Class Nerd Podcast:

Robby and I are both teachers who are passionate about our jobs, but also about not making our jobs our lives. We both work hard to make teaching as efficient and effective as possible so we have time to spend with our families and on other things we care about. A lot of this increased efficiency has come out of our love of Apple devices, and we have both tried to share our workflows with the greater education community through blogs, and in Robby’s case, a book. This podcast is meant to be another resource for teachers.

Semester 1 of The Class Nerd Podcast will be 10 weekly episodes around 25-30 minutes in length. Hopefully this is conducive to the busy lifestyles of teachers, and can be some easy summer PD.

With the the school year ending for me today, I cannot help but think this could provide a nice listen for some of you while you are traveling in planes, cars, or relaxing by the beach this summer.

Episode 1 is all about tools for beefing up your email productivity, focusing predominantly on Apple’s Mail app. We hope you enjoy it! 




The Class Nerd Podcast (Sneak Peek)

I am excited to share a sneak peek of a project I have been working on for the past few months.

Nashville based educator, Craig McClellan, and I are launching a podcast later this summer called The Class Nerd. Our hope is to introduce teachers to some really cool technology tips and workflows that will help them on their path to being better educators.

As we sort out all of the technical details that come with managing a podcast, check out "Episode 0: Tech Origin Stories" where Craig and I discuss our paths to becoming classroom tech nerds.

Brief Thoughts on Apple’s Education Event

Well it has taken me long enough… This past week, Apple held an education event. Below are some brief thoughts on the subject. Chris Russell is coming on my podcast later this week to talk about all of the details. Keep in mind, I do not work in a school with 1:1 iPads or any kind of deployment strategy. But I am very seriously invested in Apple’s role in education and their vision for how their products fit into the classroom.

New iPad

This device looks great. Adding the Apple Pencil to this model will be an asset for schools. But will schools really pay 89 dollars for a pencil after just having purchased numerous 250 dollar iPads? 

The thing that gets me most excited about this device is its consumer potential. I am tempted to buy one for myself as a (more) mobile counterpart to my larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

iWork Updates

Apple Pencil support. FINALLY. This was my favorite announcement of the day. I anticipate editing Pages documents, scribbling on bus attendance lists made in Numbers, and annotating Keynote slides at the front of the classroom on a daily basis. I hate to be cynical (which the rest of this post will be), but Microsoft Office for iPad has had the ability to write on documents with an Apple Pencil since the Apple Pencil launched, two years ago. 

iBooks Author

Seems like the Mac app is no longer going to receive development. All book publishing features have been moved to Pages for iOS and Mac. It doesn’t appear that the new feature does everything that iBooks Author can do. Hopefully this is like when Apple rewrote Final Cut Pro X, took away some features, but then eventually added them back. Or when iWork was rewritten to be the same for iOS and macOS, stripping AppleScript features from the Mac, but eventually bringing them back. I would hate to see iBook authors unable to use workflows they have in the past using iBooks Author for the Mac. 

Classroom App for Mac

Apple’s learning management system comes to the Mac. Great! But what took so long? And can Apple keep up with the vastly more mature and flexible Google Classroom? (See conclusion below)

School Work App

An app for teachers to give assignments to students, check their progress, and collect it back. School Work can route students to other apps to do their assignments using the ClassKit API which is very cool. But why is this separate from the Classroom app? And where does iTunes U fit into all of this?


Apple is making a lot of solid efforts here but a lot of it it feels like too little too late, especially the student and learning management software. I really do hope they can keep up with Google Classroom who has been eating everyone’s lunch for years. Apple will have to be aggressive about adding new features to all of these new apps and making sure that their app ecosystem is flexible enough to compete with Chromebooks which use browser based software. Yes, there are way more apps on the App Store than there are Chrome based apps, but in education (and especially in music education) a lot of the big players are writing for Chrome OS. To me, the draw of Chromebooks in education is not their price, but the flexibility of web based software.

Apple’s software engineers seem spread very thin and unable to balance the release of various applications, consistently over time. This is true of many of Apple’s consumer apps. Mail and Reminders, two tentpole productivity apps have fallen way behind the competition. Calendar has not seen any more than a few major feature updates since I started using the Mac back in 2006. Apple’s apps are part of the “nice” factor of being in the ecosystem. Sometimes an app like Notes will get some major new features, but then we won’t hear from it for a few years. Google’s apps, by contrast, lack the same design sense, but are constantly being updated with new features. And they are not locked into annual OS updates like iOS is. In my opinion, this is Apple’s biggest problem right now.

Ironically, software is still my draw to Apple products. Even though their hardware is the most indisputably good thing they are doing right now (I am nearly without complaint of my iPhone X and the iPad 10.5 is perfect), it is the software that locks me in. In other words, I am much more committed to macOS and iOS than I am Mac and iPhone. This leaves me with some long term concern about my interest in continuing to use Apple products. And great concern about any educational institution who jumps on the iPad bandwagon just because apps are bright and colorful and demo well on stage. Apple has to show continual support for their education software if their dream for the classroom is to come true.


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! 


Pro Tools 12.5 Review - Cloud Collaboration Tested

Pro Tools 12.5 Review - Cloud Collaboration Tested:

Pro Tools 12.5 is Avid's latest version of Pro Tools, bringing cloud collaboration features. Here is our extensive review of Pro Tools 12.5 complete with video demo and our conclusion.

Cloud collaboration enables users of Pro Tools 12.5 the ability of working on projects together with other Pro Tools users around the world offering a set of integrated tools for sharing all or some of your Pro Tools session so other people can add their own parts or mix tracks.

I would love to know if anyone reading this has use for or has tested the cloud collaboration features of Pro Tools. They demoed really well when first announced. The process seems reliable but really clunky. If Apple had a bigger stake in this area, I wonder what collaborative features would look like in Logic Pro. 

Quick and Dirty Thoughts on the WWDC Keynote

Here are some quick and dirty thoughts I have on many of the announcements at Apple’s WWDC Keynote on Monday.

Apple TV

Disappointed we didn’t get any new features in tvOS. Maybe next year with the introduction of new Apple TV hardware. YAY for the announcement of an Amazon Prime app though.


Not really impressed here. The main things I think Apple Watch struggles with are…

  1. Access to audio controls
  2. A more predictive, contextual, ability to show things on the watch face

As for 1, Apple did address this by making music controls a swipe away while running a workout in the Workout app. I was hoping for something a little bit more globally accessible. They accomplished 2 by introducing the Siri watch face. But for me, the Siri watch face is too much of a compromise because it can’t show any other complications on the screen at the same time.

I am also disappointed that they didn’t announce a Podcast app or Notes app.


No complaints here really. I wanted them to start the process of breaking iTunes down into smaller apps. Maybe at least breaking Apple Music into its own app and TV into its own app and leaving the rest of the things iTunes does inside the app known as iTunes. Really though, I am cool with Apple making slower and steadier updates to macOS. My Mac is the machine I depend on the most for work so I appreciate that Apple is focused on stability.


The new iPads look great! I can see myself eventually buying the 10.5 size. I love my 12.9 inch for reading scores with the forScore app, but I really miss being able to hold it comfortably with one hand and also reading it in bed. Maybe the 10.5 inch will be the perfect compromise.

The iMac Pro looks fantastic. Its not a machine I am looking for right now though so I will just enjoy it from far away and appreciate that Apple still cares about the Mac and its professional users.

iOS Features for iPad

  • Drag and drop: YES! Love it. Looks really well implemented too.
  • Dock: YES! A great idea I did not expect. 
  • Files app: This is where I started to loose my mind. A native file browser with support for Google Drive and Dropbox is going to completely change the way I use my iPad! This might be my favorite announcement of the entire keynote.
  • System wide markup. This is another one that is going to completely change the way I use my iPad. 
  • Notes app: Sooooo much good stuff here. In line drawing? AWESOME! Document scanner? AWESOME. Text searchable handwriting. YES! Bye Evernote.

… yeah. So this iPad stuff is going to be huge.


Smart of Apple to position this device as competition against companies like Sonos instead of as competition for products like Google Home and Amazon Echo. The speaker ecosystem is something I really enjoy about having Sonos speakers but its lack of integration with my phone and music library is a constant hurdle. Something with good quality, that I can operate without using an extra app would be much more enjoyable. 

Will I buy one of these? It is really hard to see how this will play out. Amazon Echo and Sonos are working on some kind of integration. That could potentially keep me in that ecosystem, though the idea of selling the Sonos speakers and eventually replacing them with these Apple things has crossed my mind. It might be the kind of situation where I get one HomePod just to get a feel for it and then wait on additional purchases.

Bringing Apple HomeKit Support to Ring

As someone who has invested hundreds of dollars in home automation devices over the past two years, this news was exciting to me.

Bringing Apple HomeKit Support to Ring:

Some of you may have recognized a familiar name onstage at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) earlier this week.

We’re excited to officially announce that HomeKit support is coming to Ring later this year, which means Ring neighbors will have an easy, secure and private way to monitor their home via the new Home app in iOS 10. We’re also adding Siri support, which gives you another great way to interact with your home and Ring products.

Unfortunately, it is one year later and the app is still not updated with HomeKit support. I am still looking forward to it though. The demo at WWDC last year depicted the Ring doorbell app sending “rich” notifications to the iPhone. Rather than launching the Ring app to see the video feed of who is at your door, the live video feed was embedded right into the notification. Pretty neat stuff.