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30 Days With: OmniOutliner Professional

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30 Days With: OmniOutliner Professional

    Editor’s note:

     This is a featured post in our ongoing series “30 Days With” which outlines the use of a productivity tool, service, or product that we have used for the past 30 days. We want to provide our readers with an in depth view of tools and products that they are interested in and provide them our thoughts as well as ways to use these products faster and better. Enjoy.

    I love outlines and I think in them. I love to be able to quickly make a list, add children to certain topics or ideas and then easily sort that list. For many years I have used the Outline mode in Microsoft Word and then in Microsoft OneNote to make my outlines, take notes, create plans, and plan projects. This was several years ago before I switched to Mac and ever since then my use of the Microsoft Office suite (at least for personal use) has slowly been diminishing with the availability of excellent replacement apps on Mac as well as Google Docs.

    The outlining tool for the Mac is OmniOutliner Professional, plain and simple. In doing a quick search of the Mac App Store there are a few other outlining applications, but OmniOutliner is the one that wins with its feature set, ease of use, excellent interface, and design decisions.

    I have been using OmniOutliner 3 a little over 30 days now. Below is my accounting of that experience.

    What OmniOutliner got right

    Let’s first take a look at what OmniOutliner does the best.

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    Ease of use

    The first Omni Group product that I had the pleasure to use was OmniFocus. OmniFocus is awesome because of how easy it is to use and organize things, that is once you get over the small learning curve. What OmniOutliner gets right is that it uses the same type of list creation interface that OF uses that makes creating a parented list of items dead simple and super fast to do. You can easily drag and drop items, reorder them, indent and outdent them, sort them, etc. This is probably the main reason that OmniOutliner is so good.

    Oh, the export options

      Something else of note is that OmniOutliner accepts the growing in popularity outline format OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) making it pretty darn versatile. I have taken mindmaps from iPad or Mac, exported them to OMPL, and then opened them in OmniOutliner. I could then easily organize my outline once in OmniOutliner. This is much easier than organizing in a traditional mindmapping application because organizing tends to be a more linear process than actual brainstorming. Also, with OMPL I can open up my outline in Scrivener and then sync different sections of text with Dropbox and have access to it with any text editing app I use.

      Exporting options in OmniOutliner are superb. You can even share with your Microsoft Word using friends or create a quick HTML page that you can open and view with any web browser.

      Two dimensions

      OmniOutliner gives you the option of adding multiple columns. This opens up a whole new dimension to your outlines allowing for almost any type of data to be stored like a check register, task list, budget, contact list, time log, or any other type of small “database” data.

      Two dimensional outlines coupled with the next point make OmniOutliner very powerful.

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      Datatypes

        I love that OmniOutliner supports several different datatypes. You can set a column to any data type that you want including dates and duration, amounts, checkboxes, pop up lists, etc. Another nicety is that you can then sort your rows by the columns’ data types allowing for ease of sorting your outline data.

        Something else great is that OmniOutliner has a nice short hand for durations. So, you can type something like, “12w148h” and OmniOutliner will convert it to “15w 3d 4h”.

        What OmniOutliner got wrong (for me)

        There isn’t too much that is “wrong” per se with OmniOutliner, but there is one glaring issue that I encountered for the first couple of weeks of use of the app: it’s complexity and my own tendency to want to fiddle and tweak it.

        Complexity

        There is a good quote on the Omni Group’s site for OmniOutliner,

        “If you can think it, it is possible with OmniOutliner 3 Pro.”

        – IT-Enquirer

        This is both a blessing and a curse. OmniOutliner is one of the best apps I know for creating a simple, nested list, but also templates for creating budgets, keeping an inventory of things, planning projects, etc. But there are almost endless options for font styles, line heights, tab spaces, etc. Its versatility and complicated nature make it an app that has to be learned with an overcoming of a steep learning curve, that is, if you want to use the more advanced features of the applications.

        If you are simply wanting to create simple lists and outlines, change their appearance a bit, and use them for keeping track of things, that is pretty straight forward. But, the notion of “if you can think it, it is possible,” leads to the potential for thinking that you need to tweak the application and your document to be perfect in some way.

        What can you do with this thing?

          Like I said above there really is not too much of a limit to what you can do with OmniOutliner as you are only limited by your imagination and time. I have used OmniOutliner as an intermediary step to project planning by following the process that I mentioned above by first planning a project with a mindmapping application an then importing the OPML. This is even more powerful when you find that you can easily drag-and-drop your outline into OmniFocus where it will ask you what columns in your outline match up with the inherent columns in your OmniFocus setup (name, project, context, due date, etc.)

          I found that creating quick budgets and some basic things that I would use spreadsheets for can easily be done in OmniOutliner because of its sorting and summation capabilities.

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            Another thing OmniOutliner is good for, and something that I am working on now, is using it as a way to store information, like research that I may be doing for an article, keeping track of product warranty information, a list of hardware for the company I work for, and other things that would “traditionally” be stored in a database of some kind. OmniOutliner is a great way to create a personal database of sorts, but only if you and possibly a small team are going to access and manage it. Anything larger than this, especially with need of custom reports and views, there are much better options.

            Does it replace anything?

            I can’t say that OmniOutliner has replaced anything completely in my workflow as of today, but has definitely added value to it. I could see OmniOutliner replacing Evernote for the way that I keep data (mostly research and links) while using my MacBook or Mac, but can’t do anything like Evernote can do while I’m mobile with my iPhone.

            If you just do basic calculations and sorting in Excel or Numbers, then OmniOutliner may be able to replace that. But really, OmniOutliner feels like a product of its own and if you are in need of a good outlining application, this is the app to get for Mac.

            Conclusion

            My 30 days with OmniOutliner has gone a little longer because of my growing love for the app. I love taking notes with it, organizing ideas, keeping track of small datasets, and summing up values. But, the thing that makes OmniOutliner so darn compelling is Omni’s excellent outlining engine that is also included in OmniFocus. It make organizing and moving things so easy and once you use it and try something else for outlining, you will see just how awesome it really is.

            The long and the short of it; OmniOutliner is the best way to create outlines on the Mac or any platform for that matter and if you want that, the $39.99 for OmniOutliner 3 or $69.99 for OmniOutliner Professional is totally worth it.

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            More by this author

            CM Smith

            A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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            8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

            How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

            Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

            When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

            Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

            What Makes People Poor Listeners?

            Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

            1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

            Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

            Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

            It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

            2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

            This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

            Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

            3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

            It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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            I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

            If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

            4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

            While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

            To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

            My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

            Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

            Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

            How To Be a Better Listener

            For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

            1. Pay Attention

            A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

            According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

            As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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            I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

            2. Use Positive Body Language

            You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

            A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

            People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

            But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

            According to Alan Gurney,[2]

            “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

            Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

            3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

            I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

            Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

            Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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            Be polite and wait your turn!

            4. Ask Questions

            Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

            5. Just Listen

            This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

            I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

            I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

            6. Remember and Follow Up

            Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

            For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

            According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

            It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

            7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

            If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

            Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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            Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

            Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

            NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

            1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
            2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

            8. Maintain Eye Contact

            When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

            Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

            By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

            Final Thoughts

            Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

            You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

            And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

            More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

            Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
            [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
            [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
            [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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