OmniFocus Case Study

Occasionally, I’ll receive an email about how to improve or polish a workflow. Instead of just replying with a quick something, I thought I’d instead put it onto the blog. With the reader’s permission, I’ve posted his question and my response below.

If you are interested in a possible blogging of your own question, do let me know.


Question

"I’ve been using OmniFocus for over a year now, and there’s a snag in my workflow, which I thought you might be able to help me.

"I’ve created, and I use, David Sparks’ Perspectives that he shows us in his OmniFocus videos. (See also reference below.) Likewise, I use your Communications Perspective (which I love and use most often!).

“In an effort to be productive, I strive to input all ideas/tasks into OmniFocus.  This includes long term tasks that I want to do down the road some day.  This might be something like, ”Explore Google+," or identifying books that I eventually want to read.

“These tasks don’t necessarily have start dates, because I just want it in OmniFocus and then get to it eventually.  And, certainly, these tasks don’t have a due date.  I frequently enter these tasks into a project called ”Some Day."

"Here’s the friction.

"If I don’t input a Start Date, these tasks appear in David’s Today Perspective.  Likewise, if I enter a Start Date, it will, of course, only appear when that date rolls around, but, more often than not, I’m not prepared to do that task.  So, I change the date, which merely kicks the can down the road, as I inevitably get to that date again, not being prepared to do the task.

"Ideally, I would like these tasks to not display in my Today Perspective or David’s Clear Perspective.  I’d prefer to only see these tasks when I do my reviews or when I visit this project to evaluate these sort of tasks.

“Any idea on what changes I need to make in my perspectives to make this possible?”

Alan Fowler, CulinaryLawyer.com

Response

Building a system that can handle every thought or intention is an important part of GTD. Much of being productive begins with the act of clearing the mind. This works whether we are building an entire task management system or in just getting ready for an individual session of work.

The process is one of acknowledgement. GTD suggests a “brain dump” when starting to build a productivity system. As Allen describes, the difference between having 95% and 100% of what is on the mind placed into a trusted system is much more significant than that 5% would otherwise suggest.

In fact, I prefer to do this several times a day, at least. Acknowledging what is on the mind creates the best type of silence that can frame any sort of work.

Sparks’ system has at least two strengths going for it:

1. It is relatively low maintenance
2. It calls upon the user to regularly practice saying “no” and prune the system

The latter occurs by way of looking at all active tasks every day. As older tasks begin to feel distant, perhaps by some can-kicking sense, one may decide to remove the tasks or at least put them on hold. In some form or another, we exercise the ability to say “no.” Without doing so, the morning ritual of examining tasks would extend beyond a reasonable attention span, and we would begin to lose the vital trust that the system needs to function at all.

There are at least 2 solutions I believe may work.

Solution 1:

1. Place the “Some Day” project On Hold

Some Day Project - On Hold

2. Select the Some Day project and copy it’s link (Command-C)
3. Create a “Review Some Day project” task. Consider placing it in an Administrative type project
4. Open the task’s note field (Command-’)
5. Paste (Command-V) the link into the note field of the task

Review someday tasks task

6. Set the task to repeat at some interval that works for those tasks’ review

2 week frequency task

Some adjustment to the repeat frequency will likely be useful as the days go. (1 week is too short? 1 month is too long? Try 2 weeks, etc.)

The repeating task should then appear in either the Today or Clear views with some regularity. The single task will be a much more consolidated consideration of those tasks in the Some Day project and should provide significant relief to the morning scheduling process.

Solution 2:

If you prefer not to place those tasks on hold, consider instead focusing on the Clear and Today perspectives to not include the Some Day project.

In other words,

1. Make sure that the Clear or Today perspective has Focus checked.
2. Then go to Project View (Command–1)
3. Select all projects and folders except for those you do not wish to appear in your Clear or Today perspectives.
4. Focus the projects (Control-Command-F).
5. Go back to Context View (Command–2)
6. Save the perspective.

Then, run through the process of solution 1 to create a means of reviewing the project.

The problem with this approach, however, is that new projects added to the system will need to be re-incorporated by un-focusing and re-focusing to update the new perspectives.

Solution 3:

As I tend to use a different system, namely a Flagged Core perspective, I have a slightly alternative solution. The Flagged Core perspective is essentially a perspective that focuses on flagged or due soon items and holds approximately what I feel like I can do today.

Similar to the above solutions, I can have a repeating flagged task that links to a project without flagged tasks. For example,

Review productivity article reminder

The tasks in the Productivity Research project each link to a specific article. None are flagged. But, upon reviewing the project, I can flag one or more of them to read that day.

I’m certain other solutions exist. Feel free to add your own to the comments.

Reference

Today Perspective:

 Content Filter: Remaining

  • Grouping: Project
  • Sorting: Project
  • Availability Filter: Available
  • Status Filter: Any Status
  • Estimated Time Filter: Any Duration

Clear Perspective:

 Content Filter: Remaining

  • Grouping: Ungrouped
  • Sorting: Project
  • Availability Filter: Available
  • Status Filter: Any Status
  • Estimated Time Filter: Any Duration