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Goals and Task Managers

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Over the past couple of months, we’ve been getting a lot of emails from you guys about how to use goals and task managers together. It can be easy to use those two separately but when you want to mesh the two it can become confusing. Today I want to illustrate how to use your task manager together with your goals. At the end I’ll also show you how you can do this with my favorite task manager Omnifocus.

The Habit

It’s actually really simple to combine goals and task managers. You just need to know one specific habit and how to review your goals. This is the habit: before you use your task manager, review your big goals.

It’s really that simple. Before you open Omnifocus, or whichever task manager you use, go over your big goals so you are clear which direction you want to go. Only after you have reviewed your goals is when you start to deal with Omnifocus.

Let me illustrate with an example why this is important. Imagine you just finished your morning routine and you’re about to fire up your task manager so you can see what you need to do. This is the list of things to do:

How do you know what to do? Should you work on all of them today?

Of course without knowing your goals it’s hard to prioritize and to figure out what the most important next step is. Even with a little context you would still not figure it out. Let’s say the current state of affairs is that you’re at a 9-5 job where you’re the marketing manager of a brokerage firm.

Do you then know what to prioritize?

Maybe.

Now what if I told you that the big goal is to escape the 9-5 and to have a digital nomad lifestyle by making income online (ala 4-hour workweek style). Do you now know how to prioritize? The first and third tasks are your highest value tasks because they are in alignment with the goal.

Without knowing your goals you have no clue where you are heading. Your decisions will be based on your mood, feelings and whatever gets thrown at you. It’s short-term thinking and reactive – not proactive. You want to be proactive about this and that’s why you need to review your goals before you use your task manager. Every. Single. Day.

You really need to burn it into your subconscious so that your decision making will always be tilted towards what helps you achieve your goals. Don’t lose sight of what your goals are because then you will waste time by working on the wrong things. Like I’ve written before – once it is out of sight, it is out of mind.

The problem most people face is that they can’t see the big picture. By opening up their task managers and seeing what needs to be done, they tend to lose sight of the direction they need to take (as the example above showed you). In GTD speak it’s what people call different horizons of focus (50k vs 10k). At 50,000 feet you see the big picture of where you want to be but you don’t necessarily know what the next action is, i.e. escaping the 9-5. At 10,000 feet (run-way level) you know all the necessary steps to move forward but you can only know the right direction if you know what the destination is (your goal). If your big goal is to escape the 9-5, your next actions could include:

  • Download WordPress and install it.
  • Setup an Excel file to figure out how much money I can save each month.
  • Write a blog post.

And so on. This top-down approach is important so is its sequence. By reviewing your goals before you fire your task manager, you will know which tasks you should be working on. You will automatically see which tasks are high-value and which tasks are low-value (which you should delegate). It’s a simple habit but a very powerful one – especially if you combine it with frog eating. Know your big goals before you actually start working.

Your Goals

How you have your goals laid out is really up to you. My preference is to use a mindmap because it allows me to see in one overview what my big goals are. Below is an example of a mindmap:

goals mindmap

An example of how you can have your goals in a mindmap. The advantage of a mindmap is that you can see everything in one illustrative overview.

You don’t necessarily have to use a mindmap. If you have a big poster in your environment that has all your big goals laid out, that’s great too. However you do it, as long as you have goals you’re good to go. I highly recommend to take a couple minutes each morning to review your goals as part of your morning ritual.

Omnifocus

Now I’m going to show you how you can use a checklist so you can enforce this habit. You can implement this process within Omnifocus by using an action group as a checklist. Here is how you do it:

  1. Create a new singles actions list and call it “Morning Ritual”.
  2. Create a task and call it “Morning Ritual steps”.
  3. Create a new task and call it “Drink water”.
  4. Make the last task (drink water) part of an action group by pressing CONTROL + COMMAND + right arrow key.
  5. Add multiple steps to your morning ritual.
  6. Give each step a context (I like to use “Rituals”).

Below is an example of how that looks like:

morning ritual omnifocus

Now select your action group (Morning Ritual steps) and pull up the meta data by pressing the Inspect button or by pressing SHIFT + COMMAND + I. Make sure to tick the box “Mark complete when completing last item”. Also set the repeat to “1 day” so the action repeats itself every day (every morning). That’s it!

meta data Omnifocus

Just make sure to tick the box and set it to repeat every day.

If you use a mindmap to store your goals, you can drag the mindmap inside the step of “Review Goals” so it becomes an attachment to that task. Each time you reach that step it will be really easy to open your mindmap.

Now each morning before you start to work within Omnifocus, just go through this checklist – don’t forget to do the goal reviewing!

Next Actions

  1. If you haven’t already, figure out your goals.
  2. Before you open your task manager – review your goals.

If you liked this post, you may like our OmniFocus Premium Posts – the simple guide to use OmniFocus the right and effective way. Click here for more information.

Photo by SteveD.

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10 Comments

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | January 14, 2012 at 8:35AM | Reply

I really liked how you included even the simplest tasks like drinking water and going through OmniFocus, instead of batching them.

Morning ritual checklist is specially important, because you can be sleepy in the morning, and running through your checklist can be awesome guidence.

Posted by Timo Kiander  | January 14, 2012 at 12:06PM | Reply

This is so true!

You have to figure out your goals first, so that you can align your actions based on that.

Cheers,
Timo

Posted by Alanna  | June 6, 2012 at 8:15AM | Reply

Is there a windows – friendly task management tool that you’d recommend? I’m specifically looking for something I can use to keep track of tasks at work. Unfortunately don’t have the luxury of using Mac in the office!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | June 9, 2012 at 3:37AM

Hi Alanna, since neither of us have used any Windows task manager we can’t give out any recommendations.

Posted by Anton  | September 5, 2012 at 7:09PM

IMHO, best task manager for windows is MyLifeOrganized. It’s fast, and very flexible software. After my moving to Mac, sometimes I miss this one task manager.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 7, 2012 at 2:19AM

Thanks for the insight Anton – I always appreciate your comments.

Posted by Chris  | November 28, 2012 at 4:14PM | Reply

How would you apply this using omni focus for ipad?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 28, 2012 at 9:38PM

You can apply the same ideas. Have your goals on your iPad, review them and then open OmniFocus.

Posted by Dellu  | January 5, 2013 at 11:28AM | Reply

Brilliant blog! One of the best in the web really!
I never spend more than an hour reading the same blog; I frozen for 4 hours here. It is really wonderful to see how you put the power of OF into practice.

I have one suggestion though. Most of the examples you provide quite repetitively revolve around geeky people…blogs, themes, software management, etc. This makes the impression that your system doesn’t work beyond the pc world. It would be great if you can diversity your examples from the real people in the real world (offline), as in taking the cases of study plans for students, for health workers, teacher or whatever.

Posted by Evan Lovely (  | February 22, 2013 at 10:01PM | Reply

When selecting the repeating setting, do you select “Repeat Every”, “Start Again”, or “Due Again” option? And why? Thanks!

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