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OmniFocus iOS Automation – First Look

UPDATE (2016-05-01): I’ve updated this template to calculate defer dates, add flags to tasks, and make the project parallel instead of sequential. You can find the updated template to download, along with an explanation, in this post.

The Omni Group released a new version of OmniFocus for iOS yesterday. That version dramatically improved automation in OmniFocus for iOS, adding support for two-way communication with other iOS apps. This was irresistible for me, so I dove in, albeit at a very basic level.

I decided to find an activity in my work life that I repeat with some frequency, and see if I could use automation in OmniFocus to make it easier. I quickly hit on the answer – getting our county’s case management deadlines into OmniFocus. Every civil suit filed in my county ends up with a unique case management order, which for many lawyers has resulted in pages of deadlines we have to monitor and manage on a regular basis. Headaches and stress. Getting those deadlines into my trusted system would be a big help.

I started with Editoral for iOS, creating a TaskPaper-formatted document. I first needed to install this Editorial Workflow, which is a workflow to send TaskPaper-formatted documents from Editorial to OmniFocus.

After installing that workflow, I created the following Editorial document:

Editorial TaskPaper-format template

I pieced the document together using a post in the OmniFocus forums. Basically, anything you see either surrounded in brackets, or following an @ symbol, passes information to the Editorial workflow. In my document, «ClientName» tells the Editorial workflow to prompt me for a client name. The words “@context(Office : Case Management Deadline)” tell the workflow the name of the context to use in OmniFocus. The various @due references tell the workflow to prompt me for the due dates of the different tasks.

This is the template that I will use every time I need to enter dates from a Case Management Order. I went simple with this template. Some complex cases will have more deadlines. I figured I’d aim for the lowest common denominator, and add actions manually in OmniFocus for more complex cases.

Whenever I get a new Case Management Order, I will hit the little wrench icon at the top right of Editorial, and pick “New OmniFocus Project” (that’s the Editorial Workflow I mentioned above). The following window then pops up in Editorial:

Editorial workflow input screen

Note that when the window first appears, all the data in blue text in the right half of the window (the actual client name and the various dates) are blank. I have to manually take that information from a Case Management Order, and plug it into the form.

When I hit the “Done” button at the top right of the input window, OmniFocus automatically opens. Here’s what I see in OmniFocus, from the sample information I input in the above screenshot:

Automated OmniFocus for iOS project

That’s it. This one is pretty simple. A few points to note:

  • There’s a post in the OmniFocus forums which spells much of this out. My example only specifies the project name, some due dates, and the context. The forum post gives you information on how to go deeper, including the use of defer dates, flags, notes, and more.
  • I found you can’t use the regular brackets found on the keyboard (<<). I had to copy and paste the brackets («) from a sample document in order to get the workflow to work. Those brackets are probably buried somewhere on the keyboard, using a modifier key.
  • My specification of a context for every task was probably redundant, since I set the context for the project as a whole.
  • My TaskPaper document creates a top level project in OmniFocus. I need to figure out if there is a way to nest the project (within my Work folder, for example).
  • When you first create your document in Editorial, make sure you choose TaskPaper format at the prompt.

The future sure looks bright for OmniFocus on iOS. I’m excited to see what someone with some actual know-how can put together.