The following began as a comment to a thread over at the OmniFocus blog …
There are likely many ways of using the task management software OmniFocus, but as I’ve been using it for a while, I’ve adapted my own methods and thought it worthwhile to make mention of them. OmniFocus is an excellent program which is likely the one I use most (even including my internet browser).
For a basic guide, I refer the reader to the video at the Omnifocus page linked above. For the advanced practitioner, read on …
Have a Focus
The GTD method is excellent in that it respects the extremely valuable resource of attention. Carrying that mindset into OmniFocus can help a lot. My main focus in using OmniFocus is to get past treading water and instead into projects I need to do and, better yet, those I really enjoy.
For most tasks, I assign a start date to things I want to do today. Some of these are on repeat – daily, weekly or otherwise. It is a good skeleton structure around which everything can revolve. These tasks can be as simple as “check the mail” or complex like “work on billing” – broken down into individual tasks, etc …
There are usually at least 2-4 windows open :
- The main window and my center of focus: “General” aka treading-water which is basically a checklist that if I get it done, I’ll have tread water successfully (bleh).
- General Project View (just to have readily accessible)
- One flagged project I need to get done (usually work related …) (minimized)
- One flagged project I want to get done (music, video games … ) (minimized)
Flagged projects are those that I want to remain in my consciousness. I try not to have more than 5 flagged at any one time (I often break this rule, ah well).
Treading Water vs Moving Ahead
The goal for me in getting things done is in getting past treading water. The treading water window is my main window. It carries all of my repeated actions and those things that I have assigned to start today. It is a context view with the “start date” as the grouping characteristic and “available” as the grouping filter. Anything that really needs a due date gets one, but I try to stay away from that as much as possible. I think I’m allergic to the orange and red.
My goal is to get through this window so that I can do either number 3 or 4 listed above. This way, I separate those things that are treading water and those things that will move me ahead either in work or in fun.
If there are a group of tasks in a particular project I need to do in a day, I will mark one of them with the start date and then use the alt-option-r function (Show in Planning Mode) to jump to the Project and double click the Project to have it in its own window. I’ll then return to the general “Treading Water” window. This way, I have that project ready to go as its own entity and the treading water window is still available.
Whenever something I’d like to get done today comes to mind, I can get to quick entry and enter today’s date as the start date and it will show in my main context view. It will wait for me until I feel ready to go back there from my focused project.
Using Project View
A folder labeled “Routine Maintenance” rests at the top of my project list. Inside I have projects labeled “Daily”, “Weekly”, and “Monthly.” These all carry simple tasks that are set to repeat at the interval of their namesakes. Things like practice piano, clear the laptop desktop, etc…
Separately, there is also a folder at the bottom of the Projects called “Omnifocus Maintenance” with one project inside called Routine OmniFocus Organization. Inside this are the following:
- Review “Waiting for …” (repeated daily)
- Review “due” (repeated weekly)
- OmniFocus Review (repeated weekly)
- Review Projects On Hold (repeated monthly)
- Archive Completed Projects (repeated monthly)
- Flagged Projects Review (repeated daily)
All have “OmniFocus” set as their context. The reason for the placement of the “Routine Maintenance” folder at the top and the “OmniFocus Maintenance” at bottom of the Project view is in how they present in the Context view. I prefer my daily repeating tasks to show up first, my projects that require some action today to show up next, and my cleanup of the task system itself to show up at the end.
Areas of Responsibility and “Levels of Consciousness”
Areas of responsibility are folders that have folders and projects within them. These are projects that I have put tasks together and wait. There are several levels of “consciousness” that the projects here exist in. Here my psychiatrist roots show I guess.
- At the most “unconscious” are those that are completed or dropped. I rarely review these if ever.
- At the next level are those On Hold. As noted above, these are reviewed monthly. When reviewed, they either remain On Hold, are Dropped, or are made Active.
- The active state is essentially a “pre-conscious” state meaning that they are ready for recall, but are not necessarily my main focus. These are reviewed weekly. They may either go On Hold, remain Active, or become Flagged.
- Flagged items are considered in my conscious focus. These are reviewed daily and what I attempt to get to at any point.
- Finally there are those that are quite rare as both flagged and repeated – An example of this would be a major exam that requires long study. This would be flagged (occupying one of the 5 flagged spots) and repeated as a daily task – showing up in my “General” treading water window.
When reviewing, consider reviewing both your projects and your contexts. Are there better contexts or descriptions of contexts you could be using? Sometimes I just use “online” as a context when I’d be much better off using something like specific sites such as “amazon” or “website administration.”
Overall, the only way the system works is if it works for you. This means that as you change, you’ll need to adapt the system to work well for your quirks and eccentricities. As an example, I don’t like to see “take out the garbage” until later in the day so the process went from:
- I don’t like to see that (for several weeks it stood at this step)
- Move it to 6pm (~after work) (I didn’t like this either and it stood for a while)
- Move to 8pm (after dinner, before the family goes to bed) and change to “Prepare garbage” (meaning getting it ready to take out on the way to work the next morning) and “take out garbage” as repeating at 7am – (which didn’t look so icky anymore as it was now prepared and I’ve saved a trip downstairs).
As I have several places I tend to be – home and 2 offices each with their own characteristics – using perspectives can be helpful. One office does not have ready online access so it is un-highlighted from the rest as well as the home computer, etc. It is saved as a perspective. This perspective now becomes my main treading water window until I return home when I can select that perspective.
I think it’s clear that I enjoy task management, and I hope this helps any of you using OmniFocus.
- Part II: How to Use OmniFocus – Integrating Email
- Part III: How to Use OmniFocus – Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground, and
- Part IV: Using OmniFocus – Unlocking Future Projects
- Part V: Using OmniFocus – Projects, Attention, and Conditions Continued