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AppTastic Tuesday: Drafts 4 for iOS

March 31, 2015

drafts4-banner-880x220

 

The purpose of Drafts 4 is twofold:

  1. Provide the easiest and quickest way to get to a blank text entry screen on iPhone and iPad.
  2. Allow you then to send or export that text to as many other apps as possible.

This may sound like one of those apps that developers made just because they could, but I’ve been surprised to find myself increasingly reliant on Drafts 4.

drafts4-icon-512x512-roundedJust the last two days I used it to (a) jot down some stand-up meeting notes (which I then exported to an OmniFocus task) and (b) send an email to someone when I didn’t want to have to be distracted by unread emails in my inbox.

Open the app, and you get a blank screen, into which you can quickly type (or dictate, via Siri) text. I recently was fortunate enough to have inspiration for a sermon outline strike me when I was doing some chores around the house. Not sure what to do with this newly found locus for creativity, I quickly reached for Drafts and jotted my thoughts down:

 

1_Text Entry

 

From here I could access a wealth of sharing options:

 

2_Basic Sharing Options

 

3_Basic Share Options 2

 

This particular draft went into Evernote, where I could easily get it later. I could have exported it some other ways:

 

4_Export to iCloud

 

Also amazingly cool is that when I exported it to Reminders, Drafts made each separate line into its own task:

 

5_Export to Reminders

 

This is sweet enough–an app that lets you quickly jot down text and export/share to just about anywhere. But Drafts is built with an eye to detail. You can make your text look nice, too:

 

6_Text Appearance

Note the option to have a night mode. And all those fonts!

 

You can even re-arrange your text from within Drafts, just by virtue of having started a new line when you were entering text:

 

7_Arrange

 

You can edit the keyboard keys that are available to you:

 

8_Edit Keys

Note, too, the Markdown capabilities

 

There are quite a few settings you can adjust:

 

9_Settings

 

And Drafts can keep everything you enter, regardless of whether you’ve shared or exported it. (Drafts also keeps a record of where you’ve shared/exported your draft.)

 

10_Sort Inbox

 

Yes, you guessed it, there’s a Today widget, too:

 

11_Today Widget

 

Drafts 4 is just as awesome on iPad (not pictured here) as it is on iPhone. The only possible downside to this app is that $9.99 is more than most iOS users are used to paying for an app. But it’s easily one of the most carefully developed and detailed apps I’ve used, and robust in its features and capabilities.

It’s well worth checking out, and has found a home in my daily workflow.

 


 

Thanks to the fine folks at Agile Tortoise, the makers of Drafts 4, for giving me a download of the app for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

From Conflict to Opportunity (“Red Zone, Blue Zone”)

March 28, 2015

Red Zone Blue ZoneOne of the people who has most influenced my understanding and practice of leadership is Dr. Jim Osterhaus. Case in point: one can survive so-called middle management by understanding a concept that Jim introduced me to (via Ron Heifetz): leading without authority.

Osterhaus’s Thriving Through Ministry Conflict, co-authored with Todd Hahn and Joe Jurkowski, offers some of the most practical advice I’ve ever read or heard on how to deal with conflict.

Drawing on the same “red zone” and “blue zone” distinction, a new book from Osterhaus, Jurkowski, and Hahn is due soon: Red Zone, Blue Zone: Turning Conflict into Opportunity. Here is the publisher’s description:

Most of us fear and dread conflict, at home or at work. But conflict can be your ally, not your enemy. Conflict doesn’t have to tear your family or organization apart.

Using the story of a family business leader embroiled in generational conflict, Red Zone, Blue Zone shows how to navigate conflict in a way that is healthy and leads to enhanced relationships, self-awareness, and greater leadership success. Practical response activities and personal reflection questions help the reader understand the sources of conflict, have a working command of conflict navigation principles, and be equipped to help others navigate conflict in their own lives.

You can find the book on Amazon, or at the publisher’s page linked above.

If you now find yourself or ever have found yourself in vexing conflict situations (i.e., if you are human), you should check this book out as soon as you can.

The Last To-Do App You’ll Ever Need: OmniFocus

March 24, 2015

OmniFocusYou know that creeping suspicion that some of your strangest idiosyncrasies could not possibly be shared by anyone else ever?

You’re usually wrong.

Case in point: it turns out I’m far from the only one who has had about a dozen different to-do apps on his phone in the last couple months. But it’s a bad idea to use multiple apps to organize tasks. All the better if you can track everything through one clearinghouse.

OmniFocus is that place for me. In more than half a year of daily use (exception: techno-Sabbath), I’ve only found one real flaw in the program (sync is not seamless). Otherwise OmniFocus (a.k.a. OF) does everything I want a task management app to do, and many things I didn’t know I would want such an app to do.

 

First Things First: Learn OmniFocus Language

 

There’s a lot to OmniFocus. To get a quick overview, check out this video, or this one, which explains the fundamental OF concept of “perspectives,” ways of organizing and accessing your tasks.

Or skip the videos and read this one-paragraph simplification of what you need to know about OF terminology before using it:

Projects help you break a bigger endeavor down into its component actions. Projects can be Sequential (you have to do action 1 before you can do action 2) or Parallel (it doesn’t matter in which order you do the individual tasks). For that matter Projects can just have what Omni refers to as loosely-related but not interdependent “Single Actions,” like a grocery shopping list. Contexts allow you to organize actions according to the things/people/environment you need to do them: Office, iPad, Internet, Computer, Car (careful!), etc. The Forecast view shows your tasks chronologically in one place–I spend most of my time in this view. Or you can just make a quick entry in the Inbox, and then decide how to categorize it later.

 

iPad, showing various perspectives and Inbox

iPad, showing various perspectives and Inbox (“Blog Posts” is a “custom perspective” available with iPad Pro version)

 

The Inbox is the starting point–OmniFocus suggests that you take some time to just “brain dump” everything there and then assign Contexts and Projects, due dates and duration times later.

Using OF requires some patience and learning, but is worth the investment of time if you’re serious about project and task management.

 

Contexts in iPad

Contexts perspective in iPad

 

OmniFocus is Ubiquitous Across Devices and Apps

 

OF syncs automatically across Mac, iPad, and iPhone. When you are in the Forecast perspective, both the iOS apps and the OSX app allow you to see your Calendar Events right next to your actions for the day:

 

iPhone Forecast View

iPhone Forecast perspective

 

I even figured out, using their Clip-o-Tron 3001, how to turn Mac Mail messages into tasks with a keyboard shortcut. (Email inboxes are not a good place to keep tasks, you realize.)

And I love the Share Extension in iOS8. From almost any app I can create an OmniFocus task. I do this regularly. I see something I like, so share to OF:

 

iPhone Share 1

 

From Safari, for example, the Note is automatically populated with the article link, and I can set the Project and Context:

 

iPhone Share 2

 

One lack in the Share Extension is the ability to assign a due date from the screen shown above–you have to manually open OmniFocus if you want to do that. However, the more I use OmniFocus, the more convinced I am to only set due dates if absolutely necessary–you can always look through undated tasks in your weekly review, which OF makes really easy with their excellent Review perspective:

 

OmniFocus for Mac Review Perspective

OmniFocus for Mac Review perspective

 

What if you’re on a library computer or PC or purchased OF for Mac only and see something on your phone that needs to become a task?

OmniFocus gives you your own unique email address, to which you can email a task. This “Mail Drop” feature helps get the user close to Inbox Zero on email, too, since you can just forward a Gmail message to OmniFocus, where it will end up in your OF for future processing. In other words, you can input OmniFocus tasks from anywhere.

And TextExpander helps here. That app allows you to type your own abbreviations that then expand into text of your choosing. With TextExpander enabled, I write “.omni” and my OmniFocus task capture email address (which is neither short nor memorable) pops up right away.

Another way you can input tasks? Connect your OmniFocus in iOS to the Reminders app, then you can tell Siri to remind you something, and it goes into OmniFocus. Awesome!

 

Bonus: It Does Photos and Voice Memos

 

The iOS OF apps even allow attachments to tasks. If I’m processing paperwork and need to set a reminder to pay a bill, I can just take a picture of the bill from OF and save it to a task. Whenever I pull that task up on my computer or other device, the photo will be there.

You can also tap on the “Attachments” tab to record a voice memo, and save a task that way.

 

Limitations

 

There are some limitations to using OmniFocus, though not many, and far fewer than other task management apps. Its sync function, which uses Omni servers, operates with a delay. Though sync is supposed to be seamless, it doesn’t function with the same instantaneous speed as, say, Apple’s native Reminders app. On the ground level this means that if I work through a task list on my computer but don’t have the OF iPhone app open (even though background refresh is on), I will still get outdated task notifications on my phone until the sync properly takes place. This is a daily frustration, even if a minor drawback compared to all the other robust features.

The workaround for this is to manually sync the app each time I update it, to make sure it’s up-to-the-minute. OmniFocus has made improvements here since I started using it, but I hope it will soon match what other apps do by way of syncing speed.

OmniFocus is not cheap–they’re working on making their iOS app universal (very soon), but in the meantime, there is a separate Mac app, iPad app, and iPhone app available for purchase. It’s not on Windows or Droid.

However, if (a) you have a complex set of roles, priorities, and tasks to manage, (b) you don’t feel fully on top of them, and (c) you’re willing to take the time to learn OF, it’s well worth the purchase price. One could probably get by with OF on just one platform, too, though if funds permit, having it on a mobile device and a desktop is an advantage.

 

Made with Care: Some More Thoughtfully Designed Features

 

Perspectives sidebarThe longer I use OmniFocus, the more I appreciate some little features. Just the other day I noticed for the first time that in your perspectives sidebar on Mac, if there are items in that perspective to process, a little colored bar on the left highlights that perspective.

The image at left tells me I am due my Review, that there are items in the Forecast (i.e., scheduled actions), and that there are some entries in my OmniFocus Inbox needing attention.

There are lots of nice little touches like this–the color of your task circles, for example, varies depending on the status of the task (whether flagged, due soon, overdue, repeated, etc.).

And one of the best intangibles for me has been the ease of accessing the help manuals. Sure, you can get impressive help information from within the app, but OmniFocus has made their iPhone, iPad, and Mac help manuals available as free iBooks downloads so you can annotate them to your heart’s content.

Also, using Control-Option-Space on Mac, you can open a Quick Entry pop-up to enter an Inbox item. As long as OF is open, you can do this from anywhere on your computer.

Two more sweet little features I love about the iPhone version–there’s a little “+” icon for an new Inbox entry on just about any screen within the app, so adding tasks is easy, no matter where you are in the app. And once you add a task in iPhone or iPad, you can not only Save it, bu can tap on “Save +” to go right to a new task entry. In other words, you can add a task and not be sent back to your Inbox, but keep adding task after task. I find this feature essential when I’m using OF to track action steps in meetings.

I could go on. Lots of people have! It seems that explaining OmniFocus is its own third-party cottage industry.

 


 

TL;DR version? (I know–I am supposed to put that at the top of the post.) OmniFocus is an amazing app, designed with care, and more than any other tool has helped me to greatly improve personal productivity. With a good system in place, I spend less time worrying about what I’m forgetting and more time doing what I know I’m supposed to do.

 


 

Thanks to the fine folks at Omni Group, the makers of OmniFocus, for giving me downloads for the Mac and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

Two New Greek-Related Books Coming from Baker Academic

March 23, 2015

Invitation to the Septuagint 2nd EdDecember 1 is a long way away. But it’s the release date for two Baker Academic books I’m looking forward to checking out. (HT: Cliff Kvidahl.)

 

1. Going Deeper with Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion, by Rodney A. Whitacre

From what I can tell, Whitacre explains lectio divina… using the Greek text. I had never even considered the possibility, but it sounds amazing.

 

2. Invitation to the Septuagint (Second Edition), by Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva

Jobes and Silva update and revise their classic work in Septuagint studies.

I’ll do what I can to report more on each of these books when they arrive. They are both volumes to eagerly await.

 

I Don’t Have an iPhone 6, but Here is a Review of Anker’s Ultra Protective Case for iPhone 6

March 20, 2015
Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6

Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6

 

The iPhone 6 upgrade never happened, but Anker had already sent the review sample of a sweet iPhone 6 case. I told them I’d still post about the thing, reviewing it as best as I could.

The Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6 appears to achieve that rare balance in mobile device cases between lightness and durability. You put its front screen protector and back casing on separately. It’s not a heavy case at all, so I doubt your hand will get sore even after playing too many minutes of games on your encased phone! The case adds only 0.15 inches and 1.6 ounces to the dimensions of the iPhone 6.

The openings for the charger cord and earbuds appear to be cleanly cut:

 

Anker iPhone 6 case openins

Image via Amazon/Anker product page

 

Anker says the case was “drop tested 6 times from 3 feet onto its corners and back on a hard concrete floor without sustaining any damage.” Presumably this test took place with the iPhone 6 in it.

As much as you think you will just be careful and never drop your phone… you WILL drop your phone. This case has some good grip to it, so your phone is unlikely to slip out of your hands, but if so, you may get lucky and still have a working phone after the drop!

Especially for the $15.99 current price at Amazon, this kind of protection is a good idea.

  Thanks to Anker for the review sample, offered for my honest impressions.

Readdle’s PDF Expert 5 is 50% Off

March 19, 2015

PDF Expert 5 by Readdle is on sale for $4.99 (50% off) right now. Here’s my video review from last fall of PDF Expert 5 on an iPhone (make sure you use the settings gear in the embedded video to watch in HD; you can also view full screen). The app is universal, which means you buy it once and then can use it on iPad and iPhone. Go here to find the discounted app.

 

 

 

That Time My 2-Year-Old Daughter Gave Me a Writing Tip in Scrivener

March 18, 2015

Our daughter is in the Terrific/Terrible Twos stage.

The terrible: she does things like write on the new kitchen floor in permanent marker. She leaves tons of tiny fingerprints on the MacBook and almost pushes the TV off its stand because she thinks they are both touch screens. She changes her own diaper and *tries* to flush its contents down the toilet herself. (Okay–this last one isn’t all bad–potty training, here we come!)

The terrific: sometimes, when she presses random keys on the laptop keyboard, instead of making the computer freeze, she discovers new tips. (Far more terrific than that, of course, is the fact that she is an amazing and wonderful human being.)

The other day she saw this little guy in the toolbar when I had Scrivener open for some work I was doing:

 

Scrivener Compose Icon

 

She tried to tap it (no Scrivener for iPad… but soon, I hear!). Then between the two of us, we clicked it and Scrivener went from this view:

 

Scrivener Screenshot

Click or open in new tab to enlarge

 

to this one:

Scrivener Composition Mode

Click or open in new tab to enlarge

 

Yes, Scrivener can go into full screen, but this is something a little different–a composition mode where you can just write. You’ll see at the bottom (a toolbar which goes away if you want it to) that I can still pull up essentials like the footnote window on the left. Or I can move all that out and just focus on writing.

I’ve used Scrivener for more than a year now and don’t think I’ve ever clicked on “Compose.”

So… thank you, two-year-old daughter, for helping your dad learn more about a program he uses all week, and for simplifying my workflow!

Want to check Scrivener out? (I recommend it, and offer my thanks to the folks that make it for the review license.) Here you can download a free trial, for Mac or Windows. (It’s a generous trial period, too.) You can read more about Scrivener’s features here.

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