The Keys to Making Your Digital Planner More Functional

Everything you need frequently can be just a keystroke away.

Any task that you’re going to do over and over again should be as simple as possible to perform. When a task is easy, you’re more likely to develop the habit and stick with it, and you’ll save more time and effort in the long run.

A paper-based planner is pretty easy to access, as long as you have it with you. I’d just leave mine open on the desk, where I could refer to it and capture with ease.

Digital planners have a little more friction. You don’t want to have it open and visible all the time because that visual clutter can distract you from what you’re working on. If things are too out of the way, the cost of the context switch to bring up your calendar or task list is too high.

Thankfully, you can easily set things up so that the app you need is just a keystroke away.

Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / African Studio

Many productivity apps, including OmniFocus, Things, Fantastical, Evernote, and DayOne, have their own quick entry panels. The problem is that they either fight over the spacebar or use some arcane key combination that you’ll never remember. At one point, I had ⌘-space, ⌃-space, ⌘⌃-space, ⌘⇧-space, and ⌘⌥⇧-space all in play. No, I could never remember which did what, and usually picked the wrong one first.

Instead, why not repurpose some of those keys at the top of the keyboard that you never use? Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard and make sure “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys” is turned on. This frees up an entire row of keys that are now ready to help you be more productive.

For example, I use an extended keyboard that 19 function keys. I’m pretty sure that F13 and above never did anything. Now they do. I have four planner elements I wanted to make available, so I gave assignments to the last group of four keys:

Planner Component Application Key
Tasks OmniFocus F16
Schedule Fantastical F17
Daily Record Evernote F18
Journal DayOne F19

OmniFocus, Fantastical, and DayOne already have quick entry panels. Just go into their preferences and set the keyboard shortcut to one of the function keys.

Configuring the Quick Entry keyboard shortcut in OmniFocus

Configuring the Quick Entry keyboard shortcut in OmniFocus

Note: if the app isn’t running, its keystroke won’t do anything. If you’re like me, and you always have your planner apps running in the background, this isn’t usually a problem. If this affects you, you can use a variation of Shawn Blanc’s OopsieFocus for each app.

If an app doesn’t have a quick entry panel, you can use Keyboard Maestro to bring up the app itself with just a keystroke. Its “Activate a Specific Application” action can show the application if it’s hidden and hide it if it’s already visible. It’s nice to be able to hit the same key to dismiss the app after you bring it up.

This also works nicely in conjunction with the quick entry panels to bring up the full application if you hold down a modifier key.

Planner Component Application Key
Tasks OmniFocus ⇧F16
Schedule Fantastical ⇧F17
Daily Record Evernote ⇧F18
Journal DayOne ⇧F19

Now you have all the elements of your digital planner readily accessible on a group of keys you can easily find. When it’s time to capture a task, schedule a meeting, or record your thoughts, the right app is just a keystroke away.

I’m a fan of acting without thinking wherever possible. You have enough to think about without figuring out how to bring up OmniFocus every time you think of something you need to do. Organize your shortcuts, let kinetic memory learn what to do, and get more done.

Question: What apps do you want to make the most accessible? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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