productivity

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.

BusyCal

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

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. 

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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. 





Recent Podcast Episodes - "Noteflight Marketplace" and "Going Paperless"

In case you do not subscribe to either of my podcasts, each had a new episode published this past week. They are good ones...

 

Going Paperless (Semester 1, Episode 8) | The Class Nerd - 

This week, The Class Nerd breaks down their paperless process. In this one, we cover scanning apps, file organization, PDF annotation apps, and handwritten note apps.

 

Noteflight Marketplace, with Friend John Mlynczak (Season 3, Episode 6) | Robby Burns + Friends -

This week Robby catches up with John Mlynczak, Managing Director of Noteflight, about their new Marketplace platform and the state of digital music publishing.

The Class Nerd - Episode 4: Drafts

This week on The Class Nerd, Craig and I pick apart our favorite iOS productivity app, Drafts.

I always explain Drafts as the app that most diminishes the cognitive load of my music teaching job and beyond. Gone are the days of writing down notes, todos, and other reminders on whatever scrap piece of paper is nearest to me only to forget everything when its most important. Drafts is the fastest way I know to take down an idea. I don't even have to think about what kind of idea it is because Drafts offers a rich list of actions that can send the text to other apps.

This episode might be out most technical yet, but don't let that scare you off. Drafts is one of those apps that is as complicated as you want it to be. You can get a ton of productivity out of it with very little learning curve.

Listen to the episode here.

 

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! 

SUBSCRIBE HERE

 

 

App of the Week: Drafts 5

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My ability to handle the cognitive load of teaching middle school band is largely supported by a wonderful app called Drafts, made by Agile Tortoise. I will detail a little bit about how I use this app below, but I want to first say that the developer of Drafts, Greg Pierce, very generously chatted with me about it on my podcast recently. Greg also has a background in guitar, ethnomusicology, and folk studies. He has an interesting journey towards app development, which we also talked about on the show. Listen to the episode here.

So what is Drafts? Drafts is the starting point for all text on my iPhone and iPad. It sits on the dock, right under my thumb, and I press it every time I have any kind of thought that I don’t want to slip away. Drafts opens to a blank white screen and a keyboard so you can instantly start typing. Adding a new Draft is as simple as tapping the plus button. You don't need to worry about what kinds of thoughts these are, or what kinds of apps you should be capturing them in. They can be todos, messages, emails, future blog posts, anything. Picture me at the front of the classroom before band rehearsal. 70 students pouring into the room. Instruments blaring loud. Countless questions being thrown at me at once. Chaos all around. From the podium, I leave Drafts open alongside my sheet music and type anything that comes to mind. If a student tells me they don’t have a 2nd trombone part to Air and Dance, I write a note in Drafts. If a flute is broken, I start an email to the repair shop requesting for them to come pick it up. If I want to take general notes on our rehearsal progress, I start typing that in another draft. Even if I remember I need eggs at the grocery store later, I type that too!

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

All of this stuff is categorized in the inbox where I can easily access it by swiping to the right. Here I can view any current or past archived draft, flag important ones, or send them to the trash. Once I am ready to process it all, I swipe left to reveal actions. Actions can do many things. At the most simple level, they send text to other apps like messages, email, a todo app, or Twitter. But actions can be heavily customized. They can perform multiple steps on text, and even run JavaScript on them. In the example below, you can see that I have a variety of drafts. Meeting notes, a few tasks, a start to a grocery list, a text to my wife, and the beginning of an email. To process these I would use the following actions, respectively: Send the meeting notes to the Apple Notes app, the tasks go to OmniFocus (where I manage all of my todos), the groceries go into my Reminders app grocery list, the text to my wife goes to Messages, and the email goes to Mail. Many of these actions happen in the background, meaning that I don't leave Drafts, and can therefore process them really quickly. You don't need to be a fancy pants to get awesome actions into Drafts, by the way. Some of my most frequently used actions are built into the app. There is also an Action Directory where you can steal the wonderful actions that others have already made. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Drafts 5, the newest version, was released recently. The app is free which means there is absolutely no excuse not to give it a try. Some of the power features like creating your own actions and using automation require a subscription price of $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

I have always treated Drafts as a starting point for text. Interestingly, the new version has added some features that encourage using it as a note app replacement. You can now tag notes, create lists with checkable boxes, and even create custom workspaces that you organize your text into (paid feature). I am not sure if using Drafts this way is for me, but here are some ways I have been experimenting with it…

Processing Text

I have a "default" workspace depicted by the blue star icon below. Navigating workspaces is as easy as tapping custom icons in the lower left. My default workspace is where all of my unprocessed notes go. These generate a badge that appears on the icon of the Drafts app so that I don't forget to act upon them later. This workspace resembles the extent to which I was using the previous version of Drafts.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

Simple Lists

My next workspace is where I keep active lists of things like recommended movies to see, blog ideas, and even a list of things I do every time I migrate to a new Mac. I can automatically append this list by pressing the "Add to list" action (available here) and then choosing which list to add to. 

My lists workspace.

My lists workspace.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

Blog Drafts

My next workspace is for blogging. I usually write my blog posts in a third party text editor called Ulysses which means that I usually get started in Drafts and then tap an action that sends the text there. But sometimes I do like to spend a little bit of time in Drafts writing before I take that step. For these types of drafts, I now have a tag called "blog" that allows them to show up separate from my other notes that need to be processed.

Blogging workspace.

Blogging workspace.

Lesson Planning and Note Taking

My last workspace is called Sectionals. My band program has weekly classes for each instrument. Once a week, I see the flutes from my band during one period, the clarinets the next, etc. I do some lesson planning for these sectionals in a note app called Bear. In those same notes I also write down things that happen in the sectionals. Things I assigned, things I assessed, things I said, students absent, instruments I repaired, etc. Fiddling through my notes app to add these notes was getting cumbersome and was distracting me from engaging with my students. So I created a series of sectional related actions that enable me to automate part of this process. The “R1, R2...” actions in the image below are examples of text expansion. Tapping buttons like these expand text that I commonly type. R1 stands for Rotation 1, which I would type if I were taking notes on the first week trumpet sectional for the quarter. The other actions automatically append my sectional notes. For example, tapping SW Trumpet would take my draft and append it to the bottom of that particular note in the Bear note app.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

As you can see, Drafts is a simple note app with infinite customizability. Check it out today at Get Drafts.

My digital workflows featured in Teaching Music magazine this month

There is a new Teaching Music magazine out. Here is the cover:

Even more fun is what's on the inside! There is a two page article on using technology to be better organized. It features some of my Todoist, Notability, and Dropbox workflows. Also featured is the amazing Amy Burns, who explains how she is using the apps iDoceo and Seesaw in the elementary general music classroom.

It is totally worth checking out. Also, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers is featured in the recommended resources section of the magazine, along with the next book in the Prestissimo Series, Recording Tips for Music Educators, by Ron Kearns.

 

Check out some pictures below...

 

Control your computer's data usage on the go with TripMode 2

If you tether your PC to the cellular connection of your phone or tablet while traveling, you might want to check out this app.

From David Sparks at Macsparky.com...

TripMode 2:

There’s a new version of TripMode out. I’ve written about TripMode before. It’s a Mac app that will monitor your internet traffic and selectively turn off apps. This can be a lifesaver when tethering. As a quick war story, I once had a very large podcast file come in over Dropbox while I was tethering my Mac and burned through a month’s wireless data in about an hour. With TripMode, when I tether, I turn off Dropbox so that doesn’t happen.

I have been looking for an app like this for a while. The idea of tethering my Mac to my iPad’s data connection while I am away from a reliable wireless network is appealing. I always worry about the data that my computer is hogging throughout the various processes that run in the background (things like Dropbox and photo app syncing). With TripMode, that is no longer a concern. You can download TripMode 2 here.