How to Create A Sleek iOS Perspective on OmniFocus

OmniFocus can present your tasks with a lot or a little information, depending on your tastes. One place that The Omni Group have recently made this even more useful is on perspectives in iOS.

As an example, here is my Current perspective:

My current "Current" perspective in OmniFocus on iOS
My current “Current” perspective in OmniFocus on iOS

It displays tasks with only the projects they are related to showing. OmniFocus gives you the option to have Projects or Tags show or not show in any combination. To adjust this,

  • Select the Perspective editing icon:
Select Perspective Editing Icon
Select Perspective Editing Icon

Here is an overview of my Current Perspective settings:

Overview of "Current" Perspective
Overview of “Current” Perspective

At the bottom, you can see where the options are to adjust the presentation of tags or projects:

Show project paths on
Show project paths on

For instance, if you wanted to see tags and not projects, adjust the settings so they would appear as follows:

Show tags on
Show tags on

You should see something like:

Perspective with tags visible
Perspective with tags visible

You could also have neither show:

Perspective without tags or projects visible
Perspective without tags or projects visible

For this particular perspective, I’m not a fan of seeing my tags, but I do like the projects showing as presented in the first image above.

Also, check out the parallel post about clearing visual clutter for the Mac client.

Two Ways to Use Checklists with OmniFocus

This post inspired by a conversation at the Omni Group Discourse site.

Checklists can be very helpful. These are lists that tend to repeat themselves. You may have a checklist for preparing for a trip, setting up a performance, shutting down the workday, and more.

Here are two examples of how I might manage them in OmniFocus:

Example One: Weekly Review

The first is a weekly review. I:

  • Create a weekly task to trigger review project:

The task has a defer and due date of this Friday.1

The task repeats by defer another at a frequency of weekly. It has a tag of “Current” which causes it to appear in my Current perspective.

The resulting task rests in my Current list:

Instead of linking to a dedicated perspective as you see in mine, you could simplify matters by linking to a project directly using the Copy as Link function. To do so:

  • Secondary click the project.
  • Select Copy as Link:

Here, the project is also repeating weekly and is set to auto-complete when its last task is done:

However, I have no due date assigned to it. This keeps all of its tasks from cluttering a perspective such as the Forecast perspective. The only thing that would appear in the Forecast’s due areas is that single task. The idea that there is one thing due is much more representative of how I want things presented, rather than 20 or 30 in a checklist. The only thing that has the due date assigned is the triggering task described early that appears in the Current view.

Example Two: Morning Checklist

As another example, I will use a repeating task to trigger a daily office checklist. I could use the same method as above, but I prefer to have all of its tasks outside of OmniFocus. This can further minimize any cluttering within OmniFocus, though at the cost of syncing the list to other devices. I’m certain there must be ways to do so, but I have not explored them.

This method uses a program external to OmniFocus, namely OmniOutliner.

To set it up:

  • Create an OmniOutliner list of all of the tasks for the morning .
  • Save it as a template. (In Omni Outliner, select Menu > File > Save as Template).
  • Create a task set to repeat daily such as “Go through morning routine”
  • Open its note field (Command-‘)

If you want to have OmniFocus directly connect an alias to the file:

  • While holding Control, drag the OmniOutliner template file into the note field.

Alternatively, you can use a program such as Hook to link to the file. I prefer using Hook as the links tend to be more reliable for me.

This second example does, more or less, tie the work to my laptop where the template resides, but that is fine as the laptop is the only place I do the office checklist.

  1. In practice, I do not have a due date for this trigger task. Instead, I rest on the habit of doing reviews, preferably by Friday, end of the day.

How to Set up a Double Cycle

Sometimes we have work that may need doing every month or so. Take, for example,writing a newsletter. 

This type of work may take a few days. Doing it tends to look like doing some of it, then putting it aside, then working on it again later, then putting it aside, etc. At some point it’s done, but it may not be clear how many sessions it would be until we get there.

In this way, simply writing a task that says “Draft newsletter” doesn’t quite work.It wouldn’t be done on the first day, but at the same time the task would have to sit there since it wasn’t done. But then the task would clog up the Today list. You now introduce the need to review your list for what you’d like to do, what you can’t do, etc, instead of having a list that just works. A feeling of irritation wells and we may even think of abandoning the list sensing its lack of help.

Also, in the case of the newsletter, I want the work to show up monthly.  Writing a task that repeats every month also does not work. Again, if I’m not yet done with it now, but I’ve done enough for today, I would have to leave the task sitting there.

To solve this issue, we can create a double cycle. 

Setting Up a Double Cycle

The setup for a double cycle is as follows

The task repeats by defer another by one day. Here’s a screenshot from the Repeat section in the Inspector:

Effectively, what this creates is a task in my today list that I can 

  1. Do a little of each day.
  2. Then, mark complete and have it appear again tomorrow.

When I am actually done with the newsletter, I’ve scheduled its release and there’s nothing more for me to do, the parenthetical “Defer 1 month when done” functions as the second wave in the cycle.

I’ll tap the “+1 month” tab:

Note September 4, 2019: This is the second version of this post.  Thank you to the commenters for pointing out the lack of clarity from the first version.  I had originally started an addendum, but then quickly realized I just had to rewrite the whole thing.

Learning to Drop Tasks – A New OmniFocus Function

Learn about Dropping Tasks – a New OmniFocus Function

The Omni Group is adding some functionality in allowing the user to drop tasks. You can join the beta here.

The 3.4 update adds a new “Dropped” state for a task. Tasks can now be:

  • First Available
  • Available
  • Remaining
  • Completed
  • Dropped

A dropped task appears with a new corresponding sign:

A dropped task has similarities and differences with a completed task. They are similar in that a dropped task is removed from any views that only allow Remaining and Available tasks. A dropped task is different in that it still allows for a differentiation between the two.

An example may illustrate its use better.

An Example of Using a Dropped Task

Here I have an exercise task set to repeat every 2 days:

We can drop the task by selecting it, and then, either:

  • Use the menu command:
  • Type the key command (Option-Space).

When dropped, OmniFocus offers the following options:

We can either:

  • Skip This Occurrence which drops the current task and creates a new identical task 2 days from now.
  • Drop Completely which drops the current task and does not create a future task.

Where the benefit may come in is in retrospect. For example, we can create a perspective that only looks at dropped tasks, grouping them by the date they were dropped.

A Dropped Tasks Perspective

This gives you a perspective that you could visit at the end of the day:

Dropping tasks would help to free up a Today view of things as you felt that you could not get to them. But, using the Dropped Tasks perspective, you would still have a way to review dropped tasks at day’s end to see if you could return anything to a working list if time permitted.

Cautions

There are certain cautions to this approach, however. I could easily imagine a user getting into the habit of overburdening the Today view reasoning that tasks could always be dropped and later reviewed. However, an overburdened list is poisoned in that it must be thought through precisely at those times when it should be instead be supporting you.

Dropping tasks is fine, but perhaps it is best considered a signal that some estimation of workload was amiss during the day. When thought through, we can use a goal of minimizing dropping tasks as a way to practice visualizing what we feel is realistic in our work days.

A second caution appears when returning a task from dropped repeating to active. Since OmniFocus created a new task at the repeat frequency when we originally dropped the task, we already have something set for 2 days from now. Returning the dropped task, perhaps if we suddenly find time in the day, now creates a second task. Once completed, OmniFocus will create another instance 2 days from now. This duplication of tasks won’t be apparent until 2 days from now. For this reason, instead of returning a repeating task from dropped to active, it might be better to simply create a new exercise task for today, instead.

A Change of Key Commands

Please note, the default key command for dropping a task is Option-Space. Previously, I had written about using Option-Space to open links using Keyboard Maestro and an AppleScript. I have, therefore, changed the key command for doing so to Option-Command-Space.

To make this change, I also had to make an adjustment to the mac system settings:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Go to Keyboard
  • Go to Shortcuts tab:
  • In the left column, go to Spotlight
  • Uncheck Show Finder Search window:

Certainly, feel free to chose a key command less troublesome to set up, but I like this one.

Fear and Saving in OmniFocus

Working without Stop

Some people feel that they can only work on something from beginning to end. Once they start, they don’t stop until it’s done. At times, they may boast about how they work this way, too, pointing to excellent grades and beating out deadlines by the skin of their teeth.

However, working straight through a project can be a problem, too. Many other responsibilities are easily missed in the meantime. Projects with conflicting deadlines create impossible situations. Looming deadlines and all they might mean about the work and the person’s character loom as Damocles’ sword.  Not to mention, this style does not suit large projects like writing a book.

But for some, working from beginning to end is the only way they know how to work. At least partly, I believe there is a fear to stop in the middle. Reasons are plenty:

Fears of Saving

    1. Historically, you may have rarely returned to something that you once dropped. As a result, there can be many things you have dropped strewn about, confirming this feeling.
      • But, this is fine. Perhaps as you learn the skills of saving, those dropped projects may be addressed in time, whatever you decide to do with them.
    2. To responsibly stop working on something before it is done, means it must be saved. But, you may have never known what saving something means.
      • This is fine. Saving is a skill. And skills can be learned. Practice with the basics first. Take your time, but stay with the practice.
    3. You may worry you have never been successful with any form of practice.
      • Practice is a form of habit. You have habits, whether you recognize them or not. Habits are merely repeating actions.
    4. You may worry you have never sustained any meaningful habit or habit you have decided on.
      • You have learned to move, reach, and grab. History shows you have learned meaningful habit. Perhaps you have only forgotten how.
    5. You may worry that you will never be able to return to where you are.
      • Likely you won’t. Rivers are never stood in twice. But you may also return refreshed, with ideas that have been melding in the unconscious since last time you were with the work.

Feel free to add any fears to the comments below. We can consider them as well.

Saving Work

In the meantime, to save work, it is useful to:

  • Give yourself time (See also Being Productive – Module 4 – demo available). Be sure to consider the time you might allow yourself to work for now and set aside a healthy amount of it at the end for saving your work.
  • While saving your work, you’ll likely have thoughts about what to do next. That’s great. This is the time where your thoughts are most fresh. Write your thoughts down – either use the Inbox (Command-1) or a piece of paper.
  • When you’re done adding thoughts, go through them, putting them where they belong. Process them GTD-style. There’s no need to do anything unless it would be quick. Address the thoughts by writing as tasks to wherever they best belong, including a list of things to do for this project.
  • If you don’t have a list of things to do for this project create a project as needed. Use a dedicated piece of paper or Shift-Command-n if using OmniFocus.
  • Consider a next time to visit. Create a reminder or task for that time. Certainly, this may be a daunting step when there are many partially done, well-meant projects laying about. A solid task system would help, and you may not have that now. If that’s the case, think about this as one of the first steps in building one. Try to think about where your mind might be at that time you’d like to revisit the work and how you’d best be reminded. If you learn to save here, you’ll better learn to save whatever it is you’re up to when the reminder goes off.
  • Consider, is there anything else on your mind about this project? If yes, continue until nothing else about the project comes to mind. If not, you have now saved the project.

When you learn to set work aside and store the intention to return to it well, you begin to take charge of your interests and steer things towards where you want to go.

 

An Unusual Metaphor to Engage Vision

Beyond the importance of developing habit, much of productivity can be summed up as the following two sentences:

Bite off what you can chew. Pause before the next bite.

These ideas seem simple, and in fact, are simple. But their deliberate execution requires a practice of mindfulness.

When you bite off what you can chew, you cordon off what is next. You create a vision of what you are doing next and consider if it is completable. If it is not, you can reassess and figure out, what is the next truly actionable step.

When we take this step with patience, we can fully acknowledge what can be pictured in mind. The practice creates a reasonable bite that we may now fully engage and perhaps even enjoy.

In pausing between actions, we allow our unconscious selves to play and build. We digest. We decide should we continue in this direction. We have “aha!” moments. We allow ourselves the ability to find perspective, consider our goals and how we may take next steps in converting them into reality.

Strawberry image by Dang Cuong