Quick Entry & Inbox Settings in OmniFocus

An Inbox is integral to any solid task system. Whether we decide to use a piece of paper for a single session of work or a task manager to orchestrate many sessions, we need some way to set thoughts aside while focused.

There are several important properties of an Inbox are that it:

  • Can be called quickly,
  • Will remain until dismissed, and
  • Can be sent away quickly.

When we can call it quickly, ideas can be written without fuss.  When it stays until dismissed, we can better settle with the sense of having addressed the interruption. When we can move it out of the away quickly, we can reduce a tendency to be distracted by whatever we’ve put in it. Together, these properties allow us to field interruptions, whether they come from our own ideas or from outside demands while we maintain a chosen focus.

Problematic Inbox Use

However, we can still use an Inbox problematically by assigning a task more characteristics than are necessary to simply setting a thought aside.

For example, while I work on Project X, an idea comes to mind about checking on a file upload I had started earlier. I might then write, “Check on file upload”, assign it to its own  project “Build Flying Saucer” and also assign it a context “@Laptop”. I then decide if that is enough information for me to see the task when and where it would useful to be seen. Perhaps I add a defer date, due date, or flag, too.

While it may seem that I am saving future Inbox processing time, I am actually creating several avoidable problems such as:

  • Focusing too much on the interrupting idea, while my chosen focus falls to the side. Since I am effectively skipping the Inbox, I will not see the task until I encounter it through the system, so focus on how and when it will appear becomes important.
  • Incorrectly filing the idea, and then really need to derail myself from my current work to address it.
  • Incorrectly filing the idea and not realize I had done so, thereby missing it later.

Simpler Inbox Use

A better way to handle an interruption is to simply add the idea to the Inbox without assigning it any characteristics. That way I can focus on processing it later as its own session. For example, just writing “Check on file upload for flying saucer” in the Inbox is enough. Not assigning a project is particularly important when a default context is assigned to its project, and the clean up process will whisk it away.

Later, when processing the Inbox, I could just take care of a task if it takes 2 minutes or less. If it might take longer, I could now deliberately focus on how I wanted it to show up in my system. The session is dedicated to processing the Inbox.

Experimenting with Quick Entry Settings

I’ve been experimenting with a few settings of both the Quick Entry and Inbox to streamline their use and have listed them below. I should point out that I use not only OmniFocus’ Inbox, but others as well such as a sheet of paper for certain types of sessions.



The Quick Entry guides me to only enter what is necessary for now. The Quick Entry is simply presented, prompting me only for the task’s title and contact.  The project, defer date, due date, flag, and note fields are conspicuously absent.  If I truly need to add a flag, I can use my key combination (Shift-Command-L) or if I need to add a note, I can use (Command-’).

This way, the task will not be automatically whisked off to projects that have a default context assigned. It is deliberately held in the Inbox for later processing as its own session.

To set your own Quick Entry appearance:

  • Open the Quick Entry panel (I use the default key combination Control-Option-Space)
  • Select the Eye icon in the bottom left corner:

Quick-Entry-on-OSX-prefs.png Which reveals the following:


My settings are noted above.

Legacy vs Default Behavior

Secondly, I prefer to use the legacy behavior of the Inbox from OmniFocus 1. In OmniFocus 2, the Inbox disappears by typing Return.  However, I often have several ideas at once, and I would like the Quick Entry Inbox to remain until I am done with it.

If you would like to use legacy, OmniFocus 1, behavior, then enter the following code into Safari[1]:


For any setting changed via URL, you can revert to the default value by omitting a value entirely, like this[2]:


In legacy behavior mode, the following entry methods work:

  • (Return) ends task editing. (Return) again creates a new task.
  • (Control-Return) makes a new task immediately below the currently edited one.
  • (Shift-Return) creates a new task above the current one

When done entering tasks,

  • Use the clean up command (Command-k).

Inbox on OS X

When I process the Inbox, I do so as a dedicated session. I would like to have all resources available. Therefore, I use a fuller set of the preferences to show all major components by opening the inspector (Option-Command-i) as well as having more components available inline:


The settings can be accessed via (Shift-Command-v). Here are my own:


Certainly, these are not the only settings possible or potentially useful to you. But the idea remains the same. The Inbox should be:

  • Easy to get to
  • Easy to keep in place until dismissed
  • Easy to remove from sight
  • Easy to process as its own session of work

  1. Note that this sort of coding into Safari is not officially supported by the Omni Group, nor myself.  ↩
  2. I use Keyboard Maestro to hold onto these sorts of codes I’ve gathered:

Quick-Entry-Legacy-KM.png Quick-Entry-Default-KM.png

That way, I just toggle between the modes using the key command Shift-Control-c, and then a number key, as noted above.

A Daily Review Habit

“Falling off the GTD wagon” (or any task system for that matter) can be all too easy and all too disrupting.  Especially, when you’ve grown used to a system, the gradual loss of trust in that system can come with feelings of anxiety, the need for constant damage control, putting out fires, losing follow up tasks, losing communication trails, losing the state of projects, and more.

To keep a system useful, it needs to be reviewed regularly. I often say that I’m not sure a system even exists unless it is reviewed.

Getting Things Done author, David Allen, suggests weekly as an optimal frequency. I used to review my entire system weekly and had done so for several years. At times, the review process would take me about 1-2 hours. I’d often feel quite positive about doing a review as I know how on top of things I can feel.

But, that is a chunk of time.  I can easily see how a person would lose the interest in review especially at times, for example, when things are very heavy or very light. At those times, you may think either, “I have no time” or “Why bother?”, respectively. The problem is that work ebbs and flows, and you can get hit with a whole bunch at once.

Nowadays, I do both a daily and a weekly review, which interestingly saves me time. The Daily Review takes about as long as my coffee takes to brew in the mornings. The Weekly Review is more centered on system blindspots and now takes about 20-30 minutes.

The Daily Review

My Daily Review includes:

  • Clearing the Inbox,
  • Reviewing any projects that are in the Review indicator, and
  • Making sure my flagged projects are appropriate for the day.

Generally, I use the iPhone to do this:

Morning Mini-Review - Before & After

Detailing the process, I:

  • Examine my calendar to review my scheduled meetings and appointments.
  • Acknowledge any tasks that are due soon as noted from the Forecast view.
  • Process the Inbox to “0”
  • Review all projects requesting review, thereby bringing that number to “0”. Note that this is a different method of Review than what I was doing when writing in Creating Flow with OmniFocus. At that time, I was doing the Weekly Review session only. Now, I do this aspect of the review daily.
  • Review the Land & Sea project as needed. I set its review reminder to every other day, so it is examined very regularly as part of this Daily Review.
  • Examine the Dashboard and decide if it supports me for the day.
  • Process the Inbox to “0” again, as needed.

If I want to be more thorough, I may also:

  • Review my Communications perspective
  • Review my Filing perspective

When I can sit with my tasks and calendar with a sense that they will support me and nothing else comes to mind, about my day or otherwise, I can then pause and decide on what to do next.

This can seem like a lot, but when you’re practiced, all of this can take only a few minutes.  Even if you work from a simpler set of lists, maybe only a single todo list, the same applies.  Examining the list and waiting until nothing else about it comes to mind can be a powerful way to help you move through your day smoothly.


My Current OmniFocus Dashboard “Recipe”

My workflow has, in general, shifted towards a session-focused style, as is evident from my recent post.  Essentially, that just means that my dashboard of tasks number only a few (about 5-8, give or take) and each represents a session of work. They are not very specific tasks and are more orchestrating in nature.  This means that my choices of what to do next are simple.

In addition, I tend to work by habit. In other words, I often work on a project over multiple sessions.  Similarly, my routines for maintenance are also a matter of recurring sessions.

As a result, my Dashboard has largely become a series of repeating tasks, using the “Defer Another” function.  Tasks repeat at different frequencies – daily, weekly, monthly, or other.. My current Dashboard “recipe” includes the following:

  • 1-3 “Land & Sea” tasks daily (“Land & Sea” Project)
  • 1 Office Filing task on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Home Filing task on Fridays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Weekly Review task on Fridays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Family Agenda review everyday, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Develop: Music task everyday, (“Music & Artistry : Music & Artistry” Project)
  • 1 Morning Communications on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Afternoon Communications on weekdays, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • 1 Financial Maintenance task monthly, (“Routine : Home & Office” Project)
  • Rare odds & ends when they do not fit in the above.

Each task links to a custom perspective or project.

And, of course, there are types of habitual work that do not appear above. For example, I also have the clients I see throughout the day, so I often check on my @Office : Agendas context in the morning.  Clients are scheduled in the calendar.

Also, these tasks are not forced.  For example, a particularly busy day with clients means I may not make it to a Land & Sea project that I thought I could have. If that occurs too often, though, it is likely time for me to re-evaluate my workload. In that way, I use my understanding of how the system is stressed to consider where to make adjustments in my general workflows.

Stats reports for OmniFocus

OmniFocus is very much an app about doing.  It’s not designed with graphical reporting in mind.  Here’s a neat app, though, put together by Thomas Schoffelen, that shows a list of open tasks, and completed tasks from the last 7 days, last 3 months, and completed per weekday.


Omnifocus stats

A Principle of Completable Lists

We can have any number of types of task lists, be they a perspective, a context, or a project. Some lists stick around: the daily list, phone calls to make, things to file, agenda items, and more. They fill up, we clear them, and they fill up again.

Two questions we can ask when approaching any list are:

  • Do I intend to complete this list?
  • If so, how often?

These questions are useful because completable lists affect us differently. When we can arrange a list to be completed regularly, we effectively create a reliable channel of work. Whatever we throw in there, so long as it isn’t large enough to clog the system, has a good chance of being done.  As soon as one task starts to stick around though, other tasks tend to stall, too, and soon we’re wading through cobwebs.

We can consider a Principle of Completable Lists:

Lists that are sensed as readily completable within an easily envisioned time frame are more enticing, readily done, and resistant to procrastination.

These lists tend to be short, easily envisioned, with tasks that are either made of habit or are themselves easily envisioned. For example, I use the Dashboard as a completable daily list. I hope to finish it by the end of the work day, though it is not always possible. When it is not, I consider what about it needs adjusting, be it that the tasks are not clear enough, or perhaps that I have taken on too much and need to delay or drop some things.

If we wish to make a list completable, then we need to pay extra attention to its tasks. Consider for each task:

  • Is it appropriate for this list?
  • Is it clear and specific enough? I.e. Is it broken down to the point of confidence?
  • Would it be useful to convert it to to repeating task? I.e. Is it better broken down in time, perhaps performed over several sessions of work?
  • Is there something that needs to happen before this task?
  • Is a next action actually scheduling a time for the task itself?
  • Is it well written?
  • Is it too large for this list? (E.g. would it benefit being converted to a Land & Sea project.)
  • Is it an actual action?

Notice that these questions are just as appropriate for use during review sessions. And of course for the entire list:

  • Are there too many tasks?
  • Can I imagine actually doing all of these tasks in the time frame I intend?


Getting more Focused with OmniFocus & Links by Hotkey

Jesse Hollington recently wrote a great post called Getting more Focused with OmniFocus. He’s totally got the Grouping Tasks by Session down, complete with a really nice hotkey/script.

The script takes a link in a task and executes it. So you can have a link to a perspective, application, URL, etc and go straight there with a key command. He uses Fastscripts to set the hotkey.  I don’t own that software, so I linked it up using Keyboard Maestro.  Here’s my setup:


Keyboard Maestro - Go to LInk