OmniFocus Mac IconOmniFocus is a personal task management solution for Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad that is designed and developed by the Omni Group, a Seattle-based company that specializes in productivity software for Mac and iOS. OmniFocus is what I personally use to manage both personal and business projects and day-to-day tasks. For me, OmniFocus is integral to operating with a clear mind and having a relaxed sense of control.

I’m often asked why I chose OmniFocus, how I have it configured and what my day-to-day use of OmniFocus looks like. This article is all about how and why I use OmniFocus and the best practices I’ve implemented based on my in-depth study of David Allen’s GTD methodology. It also draws on wisdom I’ve gained through working with people as an OmniFocus Consultant and Trainer and is inspired by the many OmniFocus articles and training videos that I’ve consumed over the years.

Note: You’ll find a growing library of articles and videos to support you in using OmniFocus effectively at LearnOmniFocus.com. Also check out the Holistic Productivity Online Course featuring OmniFocus and other Mac and iOS productivity apps.

A Trusted System That’s Up to Task

A key distinction that is often overlooked is the difference between the GTD methodology and a GTD system. The GTD methodology is essentially a set of best practices that David Allen documented in his wildly popular book, “Getting Things Done”. The principles he describes can be applied using technology, pen and paper or any combination of the two. A GTD system, on the other hand, refers to the specific tools and workflows that make up a GTD implementation and is very individual by nature. A key benchmark for whether your GTD system is working for you is whether you can truly let go of keeping track of things in your head. Such a system is what David Allen calls a “trusted system”

My trusted GTD system includes OmniFocus as well as other software, such as OmniOutliner, Evernote and Daylite, as well as more traditional elements, including a physical inbox and a filing cabinet (though my workflow is largely paperless at this point). Over the years I’ve looked at wide range of task management solutions — many were attractively designed and very easy to use, but also tended to be overly simplistic. I found that I quickly outgrew their capabilities.

I consider OmniFocus to be a professional system. It is more feature rich than most tasks managers and learning to use it effectively requires an investment, albeit a relatively minor one, in time and energy — an investment, I might add, that pays generous dividends. The more I use OmniFocus, the more I appreciate the thought that has gone into this software. Some key features I use regularly that are notably lacking in many other task managers are:

Mac Integration — The Mac version of OmniFocus is tightly integrated with many popular Mac applications. For example, through the use of a hotkey, I can select a message in Mail and create an OmniFocus task that contains the contents of the e-mail and a reference to the original message. At this point I can clear the e-mail from my inbox and manage any actions that need to be taken from within OmniFocus.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Email Integration

Cloud Sync — The Omni Group provides a free “Omni Sync” service that keeps multiple Macs and iOS devices in sync. In my case, I use Omni Sync with my iMac, MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad and enjoy the freedom of being able to access and edit my projects and tasks from any of my devices.

Offline Access — I appreciate the fact that I can access my OmniFocus projects and tasks on my Macs, iPhone and iPad, even if I don’t have an Internet connection (e.g. when I’m flying). When an Internet connection does become available any changes and additions I made while offline are synced to my other devices through OmniSync.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Project Types - MacProject and Single Action Lists — OmniFocus tasks can be added to two types of containers: projects and single action lists. A project, in GTD speak, is a clearly defined objective that requires two or more actions to complete. By definition, projects have a beginning and an end. Single actions lists, on the other hand, are essentially a bucket of tasks related to a specific area of focus and, by definition, don’t have a defined starting or ending point. OmniFocus is one of the few task management solutions that I’ve seen that distinguishes between projects and single action lists. This is a key distinction that greatly enhances the usefulness of this software.

Sequential Lists — In some cases the first task on a list must be completed before the second becomes available. For example, I wouldn’t be able to send out invitations to a party if I don’t know where the party’s going to be held. OmniFocus makes it easy to define groups of tasks or even entire projects that are sequential in nature. OmniFocus can then be configured to only show tasks that are available — in this case, the next available task in a sequence.

Perspectives — One of my motivations for tracking my projects and tasks through my electronic devices, rather than through pen and paper, is the ability to easily see different views of my data. For example, I may only want to see business-related projects, or may choose to focus on all of the phone calls on my list, regardless of which areas of my life they relate to. OmniFocus’ Perspective feature makes gaining access to these common task and project views very fast and convenient. More on Perspectives later.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Start Due Times - MacStart Date and Time — Projects and tasks can be assigned both a start date and a start time. For example, if I tell a client that I’ll call them back tomorrow afternoon, I can create a task that starts tomorrow at 1pm and can configure OmniFocus such that this tasks doesn’t show up until tomorrow at 1pm rolls around, keeping my task lists relevant and focused.

Review — Regular reviews are a key component of the GTD methodology, and this is the aspect of GTD that I’ve found most challenging to implement. OmniFocus is one of the few task management applications that provides an easy way to perform and track reviews. Having this support at the software level has greatly increased the likelihood that I’ll perform regular reviews and makes the review process much more efficient (and even fun).

Efficiency — The folks at The Omni Group have put a lot of thought into making OmniFocus as efficient as possible. This includes the ability to efficiently perform actions, such as sorting tasks into projects and assigning contexts, using the keyboard. For example, rather than selecting a project from a menu or dragging the task to the sidebar, I can type a few letters of the project name to quickly hone in on the target project. Assigning start dates and due dates is equally efficient. Abbreviations such as “1d” and “1w” equate to a date that is one day or one week into the future. Similarly, typing “mon” or “apr 1” will translate to the appropriate day.

Looking at the BIG Picture

Before delving into OmniFocus I took a look at the big picture of my life. Specifically, I started by looking at all of the responsibilities that I’ve assumed in various areas of my life and all of things that are important to me, including fun and recreation, my health and creative pursuits. In GTD speak, I took a look at my life from 20,000 feet, identifying my “areas of focus”. I expressed this information as a mind map, a graphical representation of my thoughts, using my mind mapping software of choice, MindNode Pro. This mind map document continues to evolve as I take on new responsibilities in my life and as I delegate or let go of existing responsibilities. I have shown a high level version of my mind map below.

Tim Stringer - Areas of Focus

I also created a second mind map identifying the various tools, people and locations that are part of my daily life — what David Allen calls “contexts”. Having a clear understanding of these delineations up front was also key to configuring OmniFocus effectively.

Creating Containers for Tasks and Projects

Once I had identified my Areas of Focus I was well on my way to setting up OmniFocus, even though I hadn’t even touched the software. I started by creating two folders in OmniFocus —“Business” and “Personal”, with the intention of creating a clear separation between areas of my life that have a business focus and personal aspects of my life.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Folder SetupWith this simple foundation in place, I created folders representing each of the major areas of my life. For example, under “Personal” I created folders such as “Car Maintenance”, “Health”, “Fun & Recreation” and “Family & Friends”. Similarly, under the “Business” folder I added  various folders, including “Accounting”, “Clients”, “Professional Development” and “Marketing”.

Having these folders in OmniFocus provides a basic organizational structure, while also reminding me of the many aspects that make up my multi-faceted life. Having this visual reminder helps ensure that I’m giving the appropriate amount of attention to each of these areas and helps to prevent me from becoming overcommitted.

With this basic folder structure in place I went on to add projects and single action lists. As mentioned previously, projects are used for anything that has a clear outcome (e.g. “Install new car stereo”), whereas single action lists are containers for tasks that relate to a specific area of responsibility (e.g. a task called “Make appointment for annual service” within a single action list called “Car Maintenance”).

Keeping Things in Context

With my folder and project structure in place I set out to add the appropriate contexts. Just as folders allow me to separate, for example, my business related tasks from my personal tasks, contexts allow me to easily identify tasks that are most relevant based on where I am, who I’m with and what tools I have at my disposal.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus ContextsI placed the most general contexts at the top level. For example, I have a context called Errands that encompasses all the errands that I run when I’m out and about. Similarly, everything that I accomplish using my computers and portable devices falls under the general heading of Technology.

In some cases I defined sub-contexts to provide added granularity. For example, I often shop at Whole Foods and find it useful to have a sub-context of Errands that allows me to easily access any tasks that relate to this location. Using the OmniFocus iPhone app I associated each of these sub-contexts with a physical location and am notified by OmniFocus if I have any available tasks when I’m physically close to each of these locations.

On the technology side of things, I also use contexts to distinguish tasks that can be performed on any of my devices from ones that can only be performed on a specific device. For example, I can browse a website from any of my devices, as long as I’m connected to the Internet (and assuming it’s not a Flash-based website). Such tasks are given a context of “Technology, Online”. Conversely, maintenance on my iMac can only be performed if my iMac is available. Such tasks are assigned a context of “Technology, iMac”.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

Perspectives are one of the most powerful features of OmniFocus. As the name implies, they make it possible to see projects and tasks from whatever angle I choose. For example, if it’s the weekend and I’m taking a break from my business ventures, I’m most interested in seeing projects and tasks that are related to the personal areas of my life. And when I’m out and about, I may be interested in seeing a list of errands in a way that encompasses both personal and business aspects of my life.

OmniFocus Toolbar - Tim Stringer

I make regular use of the Perspective feature in OmniFocus and the following Perspectives adorn my toolbar. On a side note, the custom Perspective icons come courtesy of DryIcons — they have an impressive array of icons that are free for non-commercial use.

Available — A list of all tasks that I could do, assuming I’m in a context that makes them available. In practice, this is a list of all tasks that are incomplete that either don’t have any defined start date/time, or have a start date/time that is now or in the past. Tasks that are complete, are not on the top of a sequential list or have a start date/time that is in the future don’t appear on this list. What I’m left with is a relevant list of tasks without the unnecessary clutter of projects and tasks that are not yet available.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Favourite Perspectives - iPhoneImportant — All of my tasks and projects are important. If they aren’t, why would they be in OmniFocus in the first place? At the risk of sounding a tad Orwellian, some tasks are decidedly more important than others. The tasks that populate the”Important” Perspective have either been flagged or are due today. Generally speaking, these are the tasks that get accomplished first.

Business — The “Business” Perspective lists all tasks that are contained within projects in the “Business” folder that are incomplete and available. It provides me with a convenient of honing in on my business-related tasks without being distracted by things that are going on in my personal life.

Business+ — The “Business+” Perspective is a refinement of the Business Perspective. It contains all available business tasks that are either flagged or due today.

Personal — The “Personal” Perspective is equivalent to the Business Perspective, with the focus shifted to personal aspects of my life. I often use this Perspective during the evening and on weekends.

Personal+ — Similarly, the “Personal+” perspective allows me to readily identify personal tasks that have been flagged as important or are due today.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Map - iPhoneErrands — The “Errands” Perspective allows me to easily identify tasks that are available and have either a context or sub-context of “Errands”. I often use this context when I’m out and about. Conveniently, any context that I create on either of my Macs is automatically available on my iPhone and iPad.

Waiting — The “Waiting” Perspective gives me a convenient way to view all of the tasks that have a context of “Waiting”. Unlike most other contexts, tasks with a context of “Waiting” are paused, meaning that they never show up on lists of available tasks. The “Waiting” Perspective helps ensure that I don’t lose track of things that I’m waiting for.

My OmniFocus Workflow

I typically start my day by going through all of the tasks in the “Available” Perspective. I flag tasks that I’d like to get done that day — these tasks automatically appear in the “Important” Perspectives. Tasks that I definitely won’t get to today are assigned a start date that is off in the future or are deleted if they’re no longer relevant.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Forecast View - iPhoneThroughout the day I generally work from my “Important” Perspectives. During times of the day that I’m focused on business-related activities I work from my “Business+” Perspective and during times set aside for personal activities I work from the “Personal+” Perspective. Once all of my the tasks in my “Important” Perspectives are complete I typically go back and look at all “Available” tasks, focusing on “Business” or “Personal” as appropriate.

As things come my way during the day, whether it’s e-mails, thoughts or phone calls, I capture them into OmniFocus using the Quick Capture tool. In some cases I simply add the item to the OmniFocus Inbox for later processing. Sometimes I take a few extra seconds to assign the appropriate project, context and start date to avoid the need to process the item later.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Personal Tasks - MacAt the end of the day I typically go through all of my “Available” tasks. I mark tasks complete, as appropriate and assign new start dates, if necessary with the goal of keeping my workload balanced as I go through the week. As part of this process, I sometimes use the Forecast feature on my iPhone or iPad to make sure that I’m not over (or under) committed. I also process any items in the OmniFocus Inbox.

Tim Stringer - OmniFocus Review - iPad

Once a week, more or less, I perform a “weekly review”. This is a key component in keeping my system current and accurate and helps ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. As part of my weekly review, I process items in the OmniFocus Inbox and review my “Waiting” Perspective. I often perform weekly reviews using the iPad version of OmniFocus. The Review feature is exceptionally well implemented on the iPad and I find that the portability of this device makes it much more likely I’ll follow through on my commitment to do the weekly review, even if I happen to be travelling at the time. I also find it useful to schedule a specific date/time for each review (an hour works well in my case) and typically choose a time that is outside of my normal business hours to minimize the possibility of being interrupted.

Best Practices with OmniFocus

The following are a series of best practices for using OmniFocus as part of a GTD system. They’re based on my own experiences of using OmniFocus as well as the wisdom I’ve gained through helping numerous consulting clients learn, configure and use OmniFocus.

Stay Current and Relevant — Keeping your OmniFocus setup up-to-date is key in getting maximum value from using this software. Collecting data into OmniFocus is easy, but keep in mind that this is only part of the process. If you don’t trust yourself to regularly review and process what you’ve collected you’ll continue to track things mentally, which doesn’t tend to work very well in this day and age where many of us have a lot of inputs to deal with.

Keep Organized — Having an organizational structure that makes sense to you is key to using OmniFocus effectively. Create as many containers (i.e. projects and single action lists) as you need with the simplest folder layout and context definitions that you can get away with. Also take care when naming each of these elements — choose names that you’ll remember later and use words that you find inspiring. A best practice of GTD is to name a project in a way that defines its outcome and includes a verb. For example, “Plan trip to Hawaii” is preferable to “Trip to Hawaii”.

Make OmniFocus a Sacred Space — It may be tempting to put everything under the sun into OmniFocus, including lists of books that you might read one day and movies that have been recommended by friends. While, it’s certainly technically possible to store this information in OmniFocus, I recommend storing it elsewhere and reserving OmniFocus for all the projects and tasks that you intend to complete and not using it as a dumping ground for things that are of questionable importance. To give a few specific examples, Movies that I’d like to watch go into the Watchlist that comes with my free IMDB account and books that I have been recommended to me by friends and colleagues are added to my “to read” list in GoodReads. I also make extensive use of OmniOutliner when capturing project details and use Evernote to capture a variety of information that I may want to refer back to in the future. All of this information is easily accessible when I need it and doesn’t add clutter to OmniFocus. For added convenience I often create OmniFocus tasks and projects that reference a particular source of information — for example, an OmniOutliner document or a note in Evernote.

Use Due Dates Sparingly — OmniFocus is a great way of keeping track of your commitments. If I tell someone I’m going to call them next week I create a task with a start date of Monday and a due date of Friday. This way I can rest assured that this task will appear on my “Important” list the day it’s due, assuming it hasn’t already been completed. If, however, there’s no commitment around having something complete by a specific date, I highly recommend leaving the due date blank. If you use due dates arbitrarily it becomes difficult to distinguish between what’s actually due and what you’d like to get done by a specific date. If a particular task is important and is something you’d like to get done today, even though it’s not technically due, I recommend flagging the task to make it stand out from your other available tasks.

Keep Fiddling to a Minimum — Unless, of course, you play the violin. OmniFocus is a highly configurable solution, which is generally a good thing as it means that you can create a setup that matches the way that you work. The potential pitfall here is that it’s easy to fall into a trap of spending hours fine-tuning OmniFocus and not end up getting much done, which largely defeats the purpose of using OmniFocus in the first place.

Conclusion

I’ve come to think of OmniFocus as a trusted personal assistant. It provides a systematic way of keeping track of all my commitments in a way that frees my mind for more creative pursuits. Like most professional tools, using OmniFocus effectively requires that you put some thought into how you’re going to use this solution and that you take the time too learn the software. It’s equally important to spend the time necessary to make sure that the projects and tasks that are stored in OmniFocus are complete and updated regularly. If you’re willing to make this investment I think that you’ll find OmniFocus to be a trusted sidekick that supports you in having a relaxed, productive, healthy and enjoyable life.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to begin by thanking the Omni Group for all of the time and energy they’ve put into creating OmniFocus and their other productivity applications that support me and many other people around the world in a very tangible way.

Owning a calculator doesn’t make you a mathematician. The GTD methodology, developed by David Allen, allows me to use OmniFocus effectively. GTD has had a profoundly positive impact on all aspects of my life and applying this methodology helped me get through the most challenging life circumstance I’ve ever faced. I wrote about this experience in an article called A Healing Journey that was published on the GTD Times blog in 2009. Later that year I was interviewed by David Allen himself as part of his “In Conversation” interview series, available through the David Allen Company’s information rich GTD Connect service.

My decision to adopt OmniFocus as my personal task manager was strongly influenced by David Sparks and Katie Floyd, who co-host the Mac Power Users podcast. I listen to this podcast regularly and consider it to be one of the top productivity/technology podcasts on the Internet. Many thanks to you both for the time and energy you put into creating this podcast. Whether you’re relatively new to OmniFocus or are a seasoned user, I strongly recommend checking out a series of OmniFocus workflow videos produced by David Sparks. These videos, as well as a wealth of video content from the Omni Group and other sources, are available on the OmniFocus Video Tutorials page of the Omni Group’s website.

Last, and certainly not least thank you to all of the people who have enlisted my consulting services and participated in the courses I offer through Technically Simple. I feel blessed to have the privilege to work with such amazing people and to play a role in the inspiring work that they’re doing in the world. And, I find that I gain some valuable insights through the work that I do, that ultimately help me be more effective as a consultant and trainer and more effective in my life in general.

My OmniFocus Training and Consulting Services

I work with people, both individually and in groups, to help them get up and running with OmniFocus and to fine tune their OmniFocus setups — ultimately supporting them in leading lives that are healthy, productive and aligned with their values. The process I go through when working with people draws upon my professional coaching training and goes beyond OmniFocus and technology. Through the consulting and training work that I do, individuals have an opportunity to look at the big picture of their lives and to reconnect with their dreams and passions. As part of this process they also have opportunity to take a close look at all of the incompletions and indecisions in their life that are holding them back and to put a plan in place to tie up loose ends.

Contact me to learn more about the services I offer and to book a session or register in one of my upcoming courses.

Tagged with →  
Share →

54 Responses to How I Use OmniFocus

  1. Craig says:

    Thanks for this. Wondering how you are able to create a perspective that includes only items within a folder AND has only flagged or due tasks?
    Thanks
    Craig

    • Tim Stringer says:

      You’re welcome, Craig. To create this Perspective:

      1. Select the folder you want to focus on.
      2. Click the Focus button in the toolbar or choose “Focus on {folder name}” from the View menu.
      3. Click the Contexts button in the toolbar or choose “Context Mode” from the View menu.
      4. Click the View button in the toolbar or choose “Show View Bar” from the View menu (assuming the View Bar is hidden).
      5. Choose “Due or Flagged” from the View Bar’s Status Filter menu.
      6. Choose “Save Window As, New Perspective” from the Perspectives menu.

      • Jason says:

        Thanks for the information. I’m still trying to show ONLY items that are due today. I’ve created a perspective that shows all due items (which I can sort), but I want to filter out only today’s items and haven’t figured out how to do that. Suggestions?
        Thanks,
        Jason

        • admin says:

          There isn’t currently a way to only show items that are due today. You can however choose to only display items that are Due Soon and there’s an option in Preferences, Data where you can specify what “Due Soon” means (I have mine set to 24 hours). OmniFocus 2 will have a Forecast feature, similar to the one on the iPad. Among other things, Forecast allows you to see which items are due on a given day.

  2. Des Dougan says:

    Excellent article – and it’s good to see local expertise.

    Thanks for putting it together in such an easy-to-understand way.

  3. This was wonderful. Thanks so much for publishing these helpful tactics!

  4. [...] a great article last night by someone named Tim Stringer on how he uses OmniFocus (via MacSparky). One of the [...]

  5. Mo says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’m going to give your perspectives a try.

  6. Amazing Site, Thx! Keep up the good work.

  7. Amazing article!! Thanks

  8. Eurobubba says:

    Thanks for this! I’d love to see a write-up of how you combine OmniFocus and Daylite.

  9. What an extraordinary catalog of life snapshots you have provided. I am a noobie to the iPhone and GTD. A friend of mine recommended OmniFocus as I begin to launch a side-business while continuing a very busy tv career. Your insights are very valuable. Bookmark city. Thank you. And all the best to you.

  10. Alex says:

    Fabulous insight into your Omnifocus workflow and one of the best Omnifocus articles I have read in a while

    I would be intrigued to know more about the way you have your custom perspectives setup as this was only briefly covered with a single screenshot.

    You appear to have your focus perspectives grouped by folder instead of context. Are all your focus perspectives setup in a similar way and is it not more difficult to see items in context in such a view

    Also, for your Available / business / personal perspectives are these viewed in project view with focus filtering applied

    • Tim Stringer says:

      Glad to hear you found the article useful, Alex.

      To give a specific example, you can create the “Personal” context as follows:

      1. Select the folder you want to focus on.
      2. Click the Focus button in the toolbar or choose “Focus on {folder name}” from the View menu.
      3. Click the Contexts button in the toolbar or choose “Context Mode” from the View menu.
      5. Click the View button in the toolbar or choose “Show View Bar” from the View menu (assuming the View Bar is hidden).
      6. Set the Availability Filter to “Available”.
      7. Choose “Save Window As, New Perspective” from the Perspectives menu.

      The Perspective will default to Context Mode, but you can easily switch to Planning Mode by choosing “Planning Mode” from the View menu or by pressing ⌘1. When in Context Mode I generally prefer to have the tasks grouped by Project rather than by Context. This is a personal choice — others may prefer to group by context. Keep in mind you can always use the sidebar to focus in on a specific context.

  11. Alessandro Melchiorre says:

    hello,
    you don’t need any type if sync with Ical?
    Thanks

    A

    • Tim Stringer says:

      I’m not sure I understand the question, Alessandro. I don’t currently use the iCal syncing. I keep my calendar for appointments and to remind me of key events (e.g. income taxes due) and tasks and projects are managed through OmniFocus.

  12. Jim Woolnough says:

    Ive just found this blog and must say its very insightful. The part on creating your own perspectives seems like it could be very useful.

    Would it be possible for someone to explain how to create the ‘available’ perspective Tim mentions.
    Thanks

    • Tim Stringer says:

      I’m glad to hear you’re finding the blog useful, Jim.

      The key to creating the “Available” perspective is to set the View filter to “Available”. Once this filter is set, tasks and projects that have a start date that is in the future won’t appear until that date/time arrives. If you look through the comments you’ll see more information on how specific Perspectives are created.

  13. [...] If you’re curious to read more about GTD and OmniFocus…check out the GTD® “The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and How I Use OmniFocus articles. [...]

  14. Kyle Hayes says:

    Tim, thank you for writing this in-depth article about your OmniFocus workflow. I’ve longed for reading how someone else who has similar goals and desires in organization and productivity as I do works in OmniFocus using the GTD methodology.

    Your level of categorization is a lot lower level than I would have thought efficient but I’m certainly willing to give it a try. I also appreciate the links to the other tools that you use such as Evernote.

    There have been times when I’ve though to myself, “Should I be putting my books to read and movies to see in OmniFocus?”. After reading your clear explanation and self implied commitment to keep OmniFocus sacred, I quickly pulled out those two lists and moved them into my IMDB and GoodReader accounts (good call on that one).

    I plan on archiving this article and referring and reviewing to it as I find a system that works for me. I read the book a couple of years ago and have had the OmniFocus products on my MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone but never felt that I was using them as efficiently as I could have. Thank you for exposing my weak points and areas where I could improve.

    Cheers!

    • Tim Stringer says:

      Thanks for your detailed feedback, Kyle and I’m happy to hear the article was useful.

      Your level of categorization is a lot lower level than I would have thought efficient but I’m certainly willing to give it a try. I also appreciate the links to the other tools that you use such as Evernote.

      I purposely called this article “How I Use OmniFocus”. Different people’s OmniFocus setups may look quite different. The key is to provide an easy way to hone in on the data that is most relevant, keeping things as simple as possible, while being careful not to oversimplify.

  15. Andy Odom says:

    I’ve been waiting on an article like this one for a while. I’ve tinkered far too much with how I work (or, sometimes, don’t work) with OmniFocus and the detail and explanation you gave were very helpful in me developing a better system.

    One question: can you explain how you got your project perspectives over to the iPhone? I read that this isn’t possible at the moment, but you appear to have a screenshot – complete with icons! – that shows project perspectives.

    Thanks again!

    • Tim Stringer says:

      I’m glad to hear the article was useful, Andy!

      To answer your questions, Perspectives sync over to the iOS apps automatically as part of the Sync operation and can be accessed by tapping on “Perspectives” on the Home screen. For convenience, you can click the Edit button, located in the top left-hand corner and tap the star to display selected Perspectives on the Home screen.

    • Tim Stringer says:

      To add to my previous comment — it turns out that only Context-based Perspectives sync over to iOS devices. Planning/Project-based perspectives sync between Macs, but don’t show up on iOS devices.

  16. Rick Mathes says:

    Tim, this was simply an outstanding writeup. A++, GREAT job!

    I don’t know why I never thought of it, but I LOVE the idea of having a mindmap file that maps my different levels. Have one file for areas of focus, another for contexts. I really used the mindmap to think that out, then went in and spent the last couple of hours cleaning up OmniFocus and what a difference. Just freed up tremendous “psychic ram”.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, I greatly appreciate it.

  17. dwaine says:

    Hi All. First this article is extremely helpful, excellent! Quick question. For your folders, do you find it simpler to keep a single level of folders or do you break your folders into subfolders, ex. if you have a “friends and family” folder do you further categorize it by projects and single action lists or do you create folders under “friends and family” before adding projects and SAL’s? I’m using friends and family more as an example. Thanks

    • admin says:

      Great to hear you found the article helpful, Dwaine! In general I only go two levels deep with folders (e.g. A “Personal” folder that contains a “Family & Friends” folder that contains projects and single action lists). In some cases I may add an extra level (e.g. A “Business” folder that contains a “Clients” folder that contains a “” folder with projects and single action lists specific to a given client). My goal is always to keep things as simple as possible and to have enough structure to keep things organized.

  18. [...] positive shift in your health. I also share some best practices that I’ve developed based on my own use of OmniFocus and on my experiences of working with OmniFocus users all over the [...]

  19. Nathan says:

    As many have said already, this is an extremely helpful article. You have a gift for explaining things. I would really be interested in knowing how you handle someday/maybe items. Do you have one master list? One list in personal and one in business? Or do you have a separate list in each area of responsibility (i.e., car maintenance, home maintenance, friend and family, etc.). Thanks for your time.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your kind words and I’m happy to hear the article was helpful! I used to store someday/maybe items in OmniFocus, putting them in an “on hold” single action list in the appropriate folder. I’ve since moved to storing someday/maybe lists (and their related notes) outside of OmniFocus, which helps keep OmniFocus focused on actionable items and projects that I’ve committed to completing. A recurring tasks, or a task included in a recurring weekly review project can be a great way to prompt you to review the someday/maybe lists stored outside of OmniFocus.

      • Scott Gabel says:

        Hi Tim,
        Thanks so much for such a great article. Your article has really helped me with setting up OmniFocus. Do you mind if I ask what software program you are using for your someday maybe lists? For a while I had these lists in OmniFocus but like you said it then gets to cluttered. I seem to have a real need to get a big picture view of a specific area of focus from time to time and thats where I got into trouble stuffing everything into Omnifocus. For example there may be times when I want to see active projects, someday maybe items, and other miscellaneous lists/idea’s all related to for example my “Career” area of focus. Maybe that is wishful thinking but I seem to have a real need to reflect like that on an area of focus from time to time. Thank you again for such a great article!

        • admin says:

          Glad to hear the article was useful, Scott! I tend to keep someday/maybe information in Evernote. I find it’s a convenient place to add and access this content and, if you control+click on a note in Evernote you can use the “Copy Note Link” to copy a URL to the clipboard that can be pasted in the details of an OmniFocus task. For example, you could have a weekly task that prompts you to review your Career notes and conveniently be taken to this reference information in Evernote with a click of the mouse/trackpad.

          • Scott Gabel says:

            Thanks Tim! I was considering using Evernote myself and just starting using it for my someday maybe lists. I have so many someday maybe items and have them broken down into many lists across different area’s of focus. Where I tend to get stuck is being able to setup higher level “views” in Evernote using notebooks and/or tags. For example, I may want to see all my someday maybe different type of lists related to my “Career” area’s of focus only. I love your “Copy Note Link” tip. That has given me some great ideas’s / thoughts on using that feature possibly with a mind mapping application to give me the higher level views I’m striving for. I’ve really been stuck on this for a long time and really appreciate your advice. And like you mentioned that “Copy Note Link” feature is great to paste into an OmniFocus reminder task. Thanks again!

          • admin says:

            You’re very welcome, Scott. Good to hear this was useful!

  20. NadBlake says:

    GREAT ARTICKE! I may have missed this but exactly how do you use OmniOutliner with OmniFocus? I’m thinking of using OO for project plans but not sure how the two work together. Does OO feed into OF? If so, do you type it in twice once in OO and once in OF or is it automatic?

    • admin says:

      I use OmniOutliner as part of my brainstorming process and to store detailed information on projects. For example, when I develop a course I use OmniOutliner to keep track of the details of the course outline and as a checklist for developing things such as the course manual and slideshow. I don’t store this information in OmniFocus as it’s reference information rather than a task/project. Actions I articulate in OmniFocus would move me towards completing the project and some of these actions reference OmniOutliner documents.

  21. […] appetite for the main course. While you’re waiting, you might want to check out my article on How I Use OmniFocus and watch a video of my Holistic Productivity talk at the OmniFocus Setup in San Francisco earlier […]

  22. julie browne says:

    when is the omnifocus consulting/training?? how much does it cost? what else is involved in being competent to teach this?

  23. Jamie says:

    Tim, this was an amazing article. I have had Omnifocus on my computer for 2 or 3 years but have never been able to consistently use it. I found tracking the minutia of life to be overwhelming. But I had never really learned the power of the custom Perspectives view and the folder structure you set up. I have now done something similar and it is a night-and-day difference.

    One thing that hit me was the idea of OF as the “sacred space” for the important stuff. I don’t need to put in tasks for things I will habitually take care of anyway. I reserve it for important things that I’m likely to forget or procrastinate. Again, the Perspectives has been a great way to laser-focus on the things that matter today.

    Thanks for restoring my confidence on both OF and in my ability to leverage it properly. Most every other “how-to” article on OF just makes it all more confusing and cumbersome. Your approach just made perfect sense.

    Regards
    Jamie.

  24. Craig Kennedy says:

    Tim
    I’m wondering how deep you go in your mindnode maps. Do you just iterate the areas of focus or do you list projects within those AofF on the map or just in OF?

    • admin says:

      Great question Craig. I typically recommend keeping the mind map focused on the 20,000 foot view (in GTD speak), typically going about 4-5 levels deep, and using OmniFocus to articulate and track the details of projects and tasks. However, in some cases it makes sense to include some broader objectives within the mind map, especially those that involve multiple projects in OmniFocus. I’ll be going into this topic in more detail in the Holistic Productivity Online Course (just launched) and on Learn OmniFocus (coming soon).

  25. Paul says:

    Per your article, I love the idea of having a ‘Due Today or Flagged perspective.’ However, I can’t seem to figure out how to configure that. There is no ‘Due Soon or Flagged’ Status filter. I’m assuming you have a workaround for that. Thanks.

  26. JR says:

    Hey Tim,

    I’ve read Kurosh Dini’s book and loved it, but his organizational structure didn’t really talk to me. Love that I stumbled onto this article, as I too live a very multi-faceted life and your clear organizational structure makes it easier to really keep work and home life separate.

    One thing I’ve adopted that I see you don’t is the concept of “Routines” (I can’t remember if this comes from Kurosh or the Asian Efficiency guys). Your example of a car maintenance annual task in your ‘Car Maintenance’ project makes sense in your structure. I guess the ability to group all your recurring things horizontally across your life allows you to really glance at this and even add it to your review process.

    I’ve adopted a very similar structure, but I’ve created a “Routines” folder, each with a Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Yearly single-action list under each Business and Personal high level structures. I found this to be one of the only ways I can review my “regular chores”, or tasks @ work that need to be accomplished on a regular and recurring basis.

    It’s not ideal of course, I’d prefer having the “annual car maintenance” in my “Car Maintenance” project, that’s where it goes after all. I just found it very difficult to group all these recurring events across the entirety of OF, while being able to quickly review these recurring tasks to confirm their ongoing validity. Typically (and maybe this is where I’m in error), I don’t set a review time (I set it to 99 years) for Single-Action lists that fall in my areas of responsibility. I figure I’ll always have Finances at home, “Outside” work, House-work, etc, so there’s really no point in reviewing these projects. So if you have a suggestion or insight on how you handle this, I’m all ears.

    Great article and looking forward to learnomnifocus.com

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your feedback JR and great to hear my article was useful. Since writing this article I’ve added another top-level folder called “Maintenance” which includes routines, particularly those focused on keeping the system accurate and relevant. I’ll be sharing more on this and many other topics on Learn OmniFocus, that is slated to go live in June.

  27. Hi Tim,

    Love your blog! I’m slowly making my way thru it, implementing changes to my omnifocus as I go. One thing that has me stumped, is the Waiting Perspective. I cannot figure out how to attach a Waiting context in the Perspectives editor. The only choices available are: Remaining, Active, Stalled, On Hold, Dropped. Help?
    Thank you!

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback, Kim. There’s also a growing library of free and members-only content over at LearnOmniFocus.com. You can referencing the Waiting context in OmniFocus 2 for Mac (Pro) by selecting the Waiting context in the sidebar and then clicking the “Add Current Sidebar Selection” when you create the perspective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>