Staying active with OmniFocus

by Linda Sharps on April 23, 2009

I'm going to be straight with you: I'm not good at using OmniFocus. I know HOW to use it, and I'm not just blowing smoke up your heinie when I tell you I think it's a great app, but I haven't been able to … well, commit to it.

I've never really managed to embrace the process of recording and organizing my to-dos, and I think this mostly has to do with the fact that I tend to view that activity as just another to-do. I feel like I need a task reminder to write down my task reminders, you know what I mean? Like I need to make a note to myself not to forget to make a note of all the stuff I need to not forget ahhhhhhh I am trapped in an infinite loop of checkboxes SEND HELP ALSO COOKIES.

Ironically, when I do get into little bursts of self-improvement with regards to productivity I find it immensely helpful to have sorted, organized reminders of everything that's on my plate, and I'm amazed at how much easier it is just to bomb through a list of nagging to-dos when they're filed somewhere instead of floating around in the ether. I get motivated to actually pick up the phone, say, and get the kids' pediatrician appointments scheduled, cancel that gym membership I never use, and book a salon visit because duuuuude, it's been too long. Five minutes on the phone and I'm DONE, instead of having those things bumbling around in my head, never at the forefront of my mind but taking up valuable clutter space that could otherwise be filled with Coen brother movie quotes (“Donny, you're out of your element!”).

In short: I definitely get the value of using a system to manage my tasks, but my follow-through is, ah, lacking.

I asked a couple of Omni folk what methods they're using to stay on top of their OmniFocus documents, and I got some really good tips which I thought I'd share:

Bill, Omni User Experience Lead: Bill seems frighteningly organized to me, so it was a surprise to hear he wasn't into task management before he started using Kinkless, Ethan Schoonover's set of scripts that was the OmniOutliner predecessor to OmniFocus. His tactic for configuring OmniFocus to be useful for his work style is to create a bunch of recurring tasks that are either standalone to-dos (“practice guitar”), or send him to other places (“Check Omni email”). He then sets OmniFocus's built-in “Due” perspective to display only those actions that are due today or this week, and that's his default view of the app. As soon as OmniFocus is launched, he's able to see everything he needs to take care of at a glance. Bill also relies on the “Flagged” perspective to only view those tasks which he's flagged as needing to be done sooner than later, but don't have a strict due date.

I like this approach because it really only requires that you set up a bunch of tasks once in order to start making good use of the app. Having a good starting point on a daily basis is probably exactly what I need to be more active with entering and organizing my own information.

Kris, Omni Support Ninja. Kris is a pretty hardcore OmniFocus user, as evidenced by a peek at the long list of tidy folders and actions in his document. His trick for managing all of this information is to set each of his tasks to be reviewed on a specific day per week (you can do this by selecting multiple items and using the Inspect button to configure the date under “Next Review”). He then commits to sitting down every Tuesday morning and using the “Review” perspective to go through all of his projects and to-dos, at which time he re-assesses the status of each action.

Kris tells me this not only helps him keep his document up to date and reflecting reality, but the process of really looking at all of the areas of his life he's managing with OmniFocus helps him realize when certain things are getting out of balance. His point is that we often fall into a trap of putting too much time into one area—our jobs, for instance—without even thinking about it, so there's real value in taking the time to continually assess where our energies are going.

Awesome. I hadn't even thought of that, but what a great side effect of using the program.

I'd love to hear from you folks on this subject. Those of you who are GTD followers or OmniFocus fans, do you have any tips for incorporating task management into your daily life, without making the process itself another odious task? How do you stay committed to the practice?