Getting active with OmniFocus: reviewing

by Linda Sharps on May 19, 2009

Yes, it's yet another article in this why-pay-for-the-full-seat-when-you'll-only-need-the-edge series on OmniFocus: a Beginner's Experience Going from Productivity Zero to HERO. Oh, I know what you're thinking: if you're so productive, Ms. Blog Writer, don't you have something better to do than document every excruciating detail of your OmniFocus learning process?

Well, according to my OmniFocus document, I DON'T. My only tasks due today are “search Twitter for amusing mentions of the Seattle bear” and “bore the pants off the Omni blog readers yet again”. So put that in your productivity . . . uh, pipe . . . and . . . listen, let's just all put our pants back on, okay?

ANYWAY. Where were we? I talked about the first days of setting up OmniFocus, and configuring more in-depth task information like due dates and start times.  I now have a bunch of useful information in my document, but I'm finding that unless I assign a due date to a task, it sometimes gets ignored. Take for example “wash car”—I've had that in there for three weeks now, but does my car still have seventeen giant splotches of seagull poo on it? Yes, yes it does.

Plus, things are just getting a little sloppy. My fastidiousness of the first couple weeks has worn off and now I have a few items in there that aren't really defined as an individual action, like “fix website”. In this case, I should break that task into some more specific to-dos: “install latest copy of WordPress”, and “check plugin compatibility”.

It seems like it would be helpful if I had a process for periodically going through my document to re-assess the status of each action and make sure it's correctly filed. Not that I want another to-do, exactly (to-do: check to-dos?), but the whole idea here is to stay on top of things, right? Sloppiness leads to entropy and entropy leads to suffering and something something Yoda.

The Getting Things Done® methodology recommends that all items in your task management system are reviewed at least once per week, to make sure they're properly filed away and that everything's up to date. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a hardcore GTD®-follower, but a weekly review definitely seems doable. I know OmniFocus has a Review function, but I don't really get how it works—how is a “review” view more useful than just, you know, looking at all your projects at once?

To get this figured out, I go and talk to Kris, the Support Ninja whose OmniFocus workflow I briefly described in this post (recap: Kris sets each of his projects to be reviewed every Tuesday). He gives me some background on the Getting Things Done concept of a weekly review, which is a much more big-picture function than I had imagined it to be. It's about looking at your existing tasks, sure—but also processing emails, capturing new projects, reviewing areas of responsibility and goals, and evaluating your “someday/maybe” lists (where things like “Stuff on Amazon I want to buy” and “Holiday ideas” might go).

The actual functionality OmniFocus provides when it comes to the review process isn't super-complex—it's really just another way to group and display your information. You assign review dates under the Next Review field in a task's inspector, and clicking the Review icon in your toolbar essentially just re-orders your projects by this filter. Selecting a task or project and choosing Mark Reviewed from the Edit menu (or clicking the Mark Reviewed toolbar button) makes it disappear from view until the next review process.

To me the importance of the review seems less about how it works in OmniFocus—because, again, it's just another view of your existing data—and more about how you incorporate reviewing into your own workflow. You can use reviewing simply as a way to quickly scan your task list, or to take a step back and do some more meaningful evaluating and organizational processes.

I have to say, I'm sort of warming up to this whole GTD thing. It feels a little goofy—actually, the word I think I'm looking for here is uber-meta (well, or possibly anal-retentive)—but I go ahead and add some GTD-specific items to my document with the reviewing function in mind. I basically take Kris's lead, as he's added some guidelines from the GTD Weekly Review Template Handout that's available inside GTD Connect, although I change them slightly to be more meaningful to me.

Now I've got a little roadmap of sorts for doing my reviews. Like Kris, I set all my tasks to be reviewed once a week, and while I'm looking at my Review perspective, I also open another OmniFocus window that only contains the reviewing guidelines (you can focus on a specific project or folder just by double-clicking it).

WHEW. Okay then, reviewing = deeper than I thought! I'll let you know how that process works for me over time, and I hope it's been at least marginally useful to suffer through this long-winded discussion.

OTHER THINGS I WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT:

• By default a project or group must be marked as completed in order to change its status. If you'd rather have it automatically marked as completed once you complete all the tasks within, you can change that setting under Preferences: Data.

• Also, the default Due time is set to 12 AM. Which I think is cuh-RAZY, because if you make something due today it will turn red like INSTANTLY and how depressing is that? Happily, you can also can change this setting in Preferences.

AMUSING TERM THAT ENTERTAINS ME BECAUSE I AM IMMATURE:

• “Tickler file”. Heh. Tickler.

And now for my question of the week: is reviewing part of your workflow? If so, how often do you do it? What sorts of things do you review?

(Actual GTD® Do Not Disturb sign hanging on my actual office door! HA HA HA DOOOOORK.)