Customer story: managing work tasks with OmniFocus

by Linda Sharps on April 12, 2010

Welcome to another post in our ongoing series of real-life customer stories, which are kind of like case studies only hopefully a little less prone to making the claim that our "innovative solutions" are improving anyone's "bottom line". Let it be known that we here at Omni feel it's inappropriate to monkey with your bottom line.

Today we're talking about OmniFocus, and how Mr. Tim Metz, managing director of Yourzine China, makes good use of it. Tim writes,

My brain relies on OmniFocus so much these days I could be considered a "junkie" if it were a drug. I often consider sending my short term memory on a permanent holiday to the Bahamas as OmniFocus does all the work for me: managing my email, keeping track of delegated tasks and remembering those valuable ideas that seem to pop up at the strangest of moments for future use. 

(I love everything about this, and yet I think there's room for improvement. Could OmniFocus and my short term memory get together on the emails and whatnot while the rest of me takes that Bahamas vacation? I'm going to file a feature request.)

Tim's a GTD fan, and uses OmniFocus to support those methodologies:

To me OmniFocus is really the next logical step in the evolution of personal organization: (1) using a classic paper to do list - (2) your inbox is your to do list - (3) the Getting Things Done method - (4) OmniFocus.  David Allen so strikingly describes what happens when you use your inbox as your todo list: you lose the overview and you find yourself repeatedly skipping certain hard to-do items over and over again. Moving from that behavior to the GTD system is then a revelation. However, as things get more and more busy, I found the same happens with the GTD system: it's hard to keep track of all your next actions, emails and projects, even when you have them nicely organized in folders, your calendar and a word document. As soon as you lose trust in your system, you will start worrying about forgetting things and can't focus on the task at hand with a clear mind, which is the goal after all. This is where OmniFocus comes in.

What I love most about OmniFocus is that it allows me to capture everything I need to do in one place. No more mail folders with "next actions" or word documents where you might forget to look, everything goes to OmniFocus. The best example of this is email. Running a 30-people internet marketing agency in China, I have a daily steady stream of email to be dealt with that is challenging to say the least. Of course I stick to the rule of trying to handle things that can be done in under 2 minutes immediately, but sometimes you just don't want to deal with something at that moment but also make sure you don't forget about it. With OmniFocus I press one button, add a due date and hit enter and the email is filed for later review, without ever having to leave my mail program. 

 

 

Upon switching to OmniFocus at a later stage, I sort all my tasks in a custom made "due" view and I'm sure I won't miss the email that has to be dealt with, but I do it at my convenience and without having to worry about forgetting it.

 

 

Another great feature is the way "contexts" can be used. Contexts are the extended versions of "locations" as described by David Allen. So you assign a "home" context to tasks that can only be done at home, an "office" context to things that can only be done at the office and I use an "iPhone" context for websites that I want to check out and can easily read on my iPhone. 

My favorite context though is the "waiting" context. In this special context, I park all the important tasks that I have delegated to other people. Not every little wishy washy thing of course, because my colleagues are very capable of managing their own work, but assignments that are critical and can't be forgotten about no matter what. By safely storing them in this context and adding a recurring task for myself to check the "waiting" context every other day, I help myself to be a thoughtful manager for my colleagues and inquire at the right moment about the progress of certain tasks and if there's anything I can do to help.

 

 

Talking about people and contexts: another great way of using contexts is by adding people you interact with a lot as a context. For me this greatly helps to reduce the mailflow between my colleagues and me. Often mails go back and forth several times on a topic while it could be dealt with in a minute if you were to discuss it face-to-face with each other. On the other hand you also don't want to stand next to someone's desk every hour. Here the "people" context is great: when my colleague Bruce sends me an email that I want to further discuss with him, I file it to the context "Bruce" and leave it at that for the moment. Then whenever I have a meeting with Bruce, I'll check his context on my iPhone while entering the meeting and discuss with him in person the issues that are listed there. Much better than a chain of emails that can span a whole day.

 

 

This brings me to the iPhone OmniFocus app. Since it syncs with OmniFocus on my computer over the WiFi of our office, I use OmniFocus to take notes during meetings. My experience is that most meetings lead to actions / tasks, and previously my assistant or me would write them down on a piece of paper. However, after having several meetings in a day, I would have multiple papers with multiple actions that still had to go into my GTD system or OmniFocus. It often ended up not happening if I had a lot of notes. 

Now I have my iPhone during the meeting and record tasks directly into OmniFocus during the meeting. Not only will it be synced immediately with my computer, I don't have to process the written notes anymore and I can even add a "context", "project" and if necessary "due date" on the spot, right there in the meeting.

 

 

Last but not least is reviewing, one of the most crucial parts of the GTD method. If you don't review regularly and update what has been done, which next actions still need to be answered, etc. the whole GTD system will fall apart. Now OmniFocus already has a nice review option by itself, but the iPhone app really brings the reviewing process to another level for me. Because reviewing and organizing your tasks in itself doesn't add to whatever you need to get done, it's a bit of a waste of your valuable office time that could be used for other things. This is where the iPhone comes in: it allows you to do the organizing of your tasks on idle moments when you could otherwise not do much else: in a taxi, on the subway, in a queue. Back in the office it will sync with your computer over WiFi and you're all set again!

 

 

 

These are just some of the ways OmniFocus can be deployed in daily busy work life. But besides some of the applications described above, I can highly recommend it as a gift. It's great to help other busy people you know straight from the "inbox-to-do-list" stage straight to the OmniFocus stage of organizing your tasks. They will instantly get it and they will be thankful forever :)

 

There was so much great stuff in Tim's email I pretty much included everything as is, and I hope you find it as interesting as I did! You can find Tim at his online marketing company, Yourzine, at his electronic music production company, Dancetrippin, or on LinkedIn. Thank you, Tim, for sharing your story with us.