2019-06-19 – OmniFocus 3 Workflows with Beck Tench

Teacher, PhD student, and researcher Beck Tench shares her highly creative approach to using OmniFocus alongside complementary productivity apps and pen and paper.

Beck Tench

Beck was an early adopter of OmniFocus, but abandoned it years ago in favour of what she describes as “simpler and more aesthetically pleasing options”.

After experimenting with a variety of other tools, Beck returned to OmniFocus in 2018, concluding that “OmniFocus is the most robust and thoughtful tool out there right now for my needs.”

After years of experience in the productivity realm, Beck was well equipped for her return to OmniFocus. She makes good use of carefully chosen emojis to bring a strong visual element to OmniFocus. She also uses OmniFocus to help cultivate the person she wants to be, emphasizing her role as a wife, friend, daughter, colleague, and neighbour, in addition to her own personal and professional development.

Session Overview

Beck took us on a tour of her OmniFocus setup and workflows, highlighting the creative ways that she’s customized OmniFocus to make it as attractive as the pantry in her kitchen.

Topics covered in this session include:

  • Beck’s thoughtful approach to using OmniFocus in a way that fosters growth and possibility.
  • How Beck structures OmniFocus based on her Areas of Possibility.
  • Strategies for keeping OmniFocus attractive and engaging through the use of creative titles and carefully chosen emojis.
  • How Beck systematically uses a modified version of the paper-based Bullet Journal note-taking method alongside OmniFocus.
  • The role that OmniFocus plays in supporting productive routines.
  • How she uses the weekly review to determine what to focus on next.
  • Her workflows for transforming emails received through MailMate into actions.
  • How she handles the inflow of information, including ideas and notes that she wants to leave for her future self.
  • An overview of her academic workflows, including how she uses Google Docs, Paperpile, Bookends, Hazel, and DEVONthink alongside OmniFocus.
  • Why she finds the Pomodoro Technique preferable to time-blocked work sessions.
  • And more…

About Beck Tench

Beck Tench is a wife, daughter, friend, teacher, gardener, cyclist, kind stranger, and PhD student at the University of Washington Information School. She researches how the design of physical and digital spaces cultivates contemplative experience and practice. She is particularly interested in understanding how space facilitates a greater capacity for accessing personal wisdom, connecting with others through compassion and friendship, improving the quality of our lives through greater awareness of life as we’re living it, and coping with the distractions of digital culture.

She was formally trained as a designer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent her career before returning to academia helping museums, libraries, and non-profits embrace risk-taking, creativity, and change through technology and personal space-making. Her work from that time was mentioned in the New York Times, National Public Radio, Scientific American, and several books and blogs.

Beck’s Productivity Toolkit

Beck has years of experience using paper-based solutions alongside digital tools. Among other things, she uses a modified version of the paper-based Bullet Journal note-taking method that was created by Ryder Carroll. Her paper notebook of choice is made by Black n’ Red.

She’s also a fan of the Pomodoro Technique, that was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Her procrastination-preventing implementation includes her bullet journal, OmniFocus, and the Be Focused timer app.

Apps she uses include:

  • Bookends — Beck’s work involves detailed research. She chose Bookends as one of the components of her reference system.
  • DEVONthink — Beck makes extensive use of DEVONthink as a repository for research material. Among other things, she frequently links OmniFocus tasks to data stored in her DEVONthink repository for easy access.
  • Freedom — To help stay focused and avoid distractions (e.g. Twitter), Beck makes good use of Freedom. As she mentioned during the session, distracting apps and websites are automatically blocked between certain hours of the day.
  • Hook — Beck mentioned that she recently started using Hook, a macOS app that makes it possible to link many different types of information together without having to manually copy and paste URLs.
  • MailMateMailMate is Beck’s macOS email client of choice. During the session, she demonstrated how she uses a combination of MailMate and OmniFocus to take action on requests received by email.
  • OmniOutliner — OmniOutliner is Beck’s outlining app of choice. She talked about some specific use cases during the session.
  • PaperpilePaperpile is a component of Beck’s extensive research system. She’s particularly drawn to the ease with which she can capture reference material into Paperpile.
  • Rocket — If you make frequent use of emojis, it’s worth giving Rocket a look. During the session, Beck demonstrated how she uses Rocket to add emojis to the titles of actions.
  • Slack — While Slack can be a source of distraction, Beck has a clever way of using it in a way that encourages focus. Watch the session recording to learn more.
  • TinderboxTinderbox is a key component of Beck’s productivity system. Among other things, she uses Tinderbox to plan out courses and map out insights from her research.

You can learn more about Beck’s time and task management workflows on her website.


Other things referenced during the session include:

  • Beck’s Blog — To learn more about Beck’s approach to life, work, productivity, and technology be sure to check out her blog. Specific posts referenced in this session include Mapping Areas of Possibility and Kinder To Do Lists.
  • Focusmate — Tim Stringer referenced a service called Focusmate that he learned about while listening to Chris Bailey’s podcast, A Life of Productivity.
  • Morning Pages — Beck talked about her love of writing and made reference to “morning pages”, a process documented by Julia Camera in the popular book, The Artist’s Way.

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