43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Clippings intelligently convert "stuff" into OmniFocus tasks

[Disclosure: I'm a volunteer contributor on the development of the OmniFocus app]

You could be forgiven for being exhausted by my harangues about the importance of putting actions into their own special place outside of email, web sites, or other action-bearing media ("Email is just a series of tubes," Senator Ted Stevens, might one day say).

In fact, liberating actions from the email in which they arrived and putting them into a system that you trust is arguably the most important tenet of Inbox Zero. But it's also advice that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads: "OK, big shot, so where do I put this new task, and how exactly is it supposed to get there?"

Well, I'm happy to say that recent sneaky peaks of OmniFocus now have a pretty neat way to help with this problem. It's called "Clippings," and if you're familiar with the similar feature in OmniOutliner, you can imagine how it might work in the context of a task-tracking app and the complementary apps whose contents you want to direct to it.

Alongside the recently-added Perspectives, this is a feature that is making me very happy right now.

Once lightly configured, via the OF Preferences, Clippings allow you to select text and images from inside most OS X applications and send it to the OF QuickEntry box, where it gets munged into an inbox task automagically.

My favorite way to use this right now is inside Mail.app and alongside Scott Morrison's wonderful MailTags plugin.

Let's say I get a message from my client, Thorstenson Finlandson, containing some bit of work that he wants me to do.

See how I selected some of the text? Now I select "[Mail] > Services > OmniFocus: Send to Inbox" (n.b.: you can also define a system-wide key command for this in OF Preferences). And, waa-lah, the selection gets sent to my OF QuickEntry box.

Note that the message Subject is the default name of the task, the selection is added as a "Note," and (this is huge) the sender's email address is added as a link, as well as an URL that points me back to the original message (thanks for that one, MailTags!).

Since Thorstenson thoughtfully used an awesome subject line, I'll need only a bit of light editing and the addition of a few task details to turn this into a real thing.

I hit "Save" and I'm good to go. Back in OmniFocus, I'm ready to get to work:

All that note stuff I added is safely shunted away in its currently-hidden field, but I can bring it up any time by selecting the task row and hitting "CMD-[apostrophe]" or by clicking the "Expand Note" icon on the far right.

Happily, this works right out of the box in many other popular OS X apps (I'll go out on a limb and guess that it works in most Cocoa apps that play nice with OS X Services; feel free to correct me). But this already feels like a really healthy, Quicksilver-like habit to me. I love a) that it's super-fast, and b) that I keep that wonderful link back to the item the task came from. Disco.

Could I do things like this inside a Single Heavyweight Application? Yes, probably. But, personally, that's not my gig. I love Mail.app for email, Safari for web browsing, NetNewsWire for feed reading, and so on. I've chosen a series of super-sharp paring knives over one monstrous Swiss Army Knife, because, frankly, that's just how Daddy rolls.

I love how Clippings capitalizes on standard OS X technologies to lightly glue things together for me, regardless of my app preference. Personally, I don't need a massive robot to try and do a bunch of thinking for me; I just need a few very simple tools that shorten my path from cognition to completion.

Anyhow, as you can see, I'm a little giddy about this and wanted to share it with you guys. If you're in on the sneaky peak, be sure to give Clippings a spin (along with the hugely useful Perspectives). If I may say, my OmniGroup friends are doing a swell job on what feels to me like a very solid and non-fiddly app.


A little bird tells me that a certain fast-talking new OmniGroup employee with hip glasses and a buzz cut may soon have a new OmniFocus screencast for you. Watch this space later this week for details.

[Again with the disclosure: I'm a volunteer contributor on the development of the OmniFocus app]

patnotz's picture


I've been meaning to ask some of the same questions that devon just asked. And, now that I see you're a volunteer contributor (does that mean no financial stake?), perhaps I'll ask too. I'm curious about the real benefits of OmniFocus over iGTD. Like devon, I see a lot of the same features but possibly with OmniGroups beautiful UI. I'm a big fan of OmniGroup so I'll be trying the sneaky peak but it seems like you (Merlin) may have the most insight at this point.

On a related note, an iGTD importer (exporter too?) if it's not already there would be huge in luring iGTD users to give OF a spin.

Alas, competition is good and I'm all for paying developers for their work. I'm just really interested in hearing your take on iGTD vs. OF.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »