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5 Ways to Reboot Your OmniFocus Setup and Start Over



An often overlooked aspect of using OmniFocus is that you have to maintain it. Regardless of the system or approach you’re using – you have to maintain it otherwise things will get out of hand.

You know the spiel. An overflowing inbox. Contexts that don’t make sense anymore. Too many overdue items. Too many projects. The list goes on.

When you consistently do your weekly review, you’re probably okay but sometimes you have zoom out for a moment and look at your OmniFocus setup from a higher perspective.

I do this at least once a year where I’ll do a “super review” and really question everything in OmniFocus. Things I would ask myself include:

  • what are my current frustrations and challenges with this setup?
  • Is this context still relevant?
  • Why is this still on hold?!
  • Is this thing on my someday/maybe list still something I want to do?
  • Am I still working on this project?
  • Is this area of life still a focus for me?

You get the idea.

In the early days this sometimes meant completely overhauling my OmniFocus setup and starting over as I was still trying to figure out the best way to use OmniFocus. Nowadays that’s not the case anymore. I just make minor tweaks because the system I use works 99% of the time (the system is detailed in OmniFocus Premium Posts).

If you need to revisit your OmniFocus setup and you’re considering rebooting your setup, here are five ways to go about it.

1. Scrub Dead Projects, Lists and Tasks


This is the least disruptive one as it doesn’t change your system or setup. You’re simply getting rid of excess information that might be overwhelming you right now.

The next time you’re doing your review, question everything. Scrutinize it. Really ask yourself if this piece of information, project, list or task is relevant.

My general rule: if it’s older than 3 months and I haven’t done anything with it, it gets deleted.

Err on the aggressive side when you’re doing this review. It’s better to delete too much stuff. I know it sounds scary, but from my experience if it’s important enough it will find its way back in OmniFocus.

You should end up with lists, projects and tasks you can work with and finish within the next 3–4 weeks. The goal is that you have a setup where you’re excited again to work on the things you can accomplish in the short-term.

2. Create a New Folder And Redesign Your Life

Another approach is to slowly make a transition into a new setup. This is where you create a new folder and move stuff around into your “new OmniFocus setup” that you’ll be using in the near future.

Think of it as designing your new life in OmniFocus. You might create a new folder called “Personal 2” or “Work 2” and create all your new projects and lists in there. You have your book project, your new list of stuff you want to buy, your new list of rituals, and so on.

This is great if you don’t want to delete a lot of stuff just yet. That can come after you’ve set up your new structure.

The downside of this approach is that there will be lots of overlap of information and you’re running two concurrent systems as you’re in the transition phase. So you want to make sure the transition phase is as short as possible.

3. Reset All Settings

Let’s get into more drastic overhauls and ways of starting over. You want to consider resetting all your settings.

You still have all your projects, lists and tasks, but anything else is fair game to be scratched. This means:

  • resetting OmniFocus preferences to factory default
  • reverting back to the default color scheme
  • deleting all your contexts
  • deleting all your perspectives
  • renaming every project or list to something that makes more sense

To reset the settings, go to Preferences and click on the bottom left button:

Click on the bottom left button to reset your OmniFocus settings.

Click on the bottom left button to reset your OmniFocus settings.

This is allows you to start over but still have all the right information in OmniFocus. You can now dress it up to your new liking. I generally recommend this if you’re experienced with OmniFocus and you want to try something new. For example, you want to implement Agile Results in OmniFocus.

Just make sure all your projects, lists and tasks are up-to-date. There’s no point doing this if you’re still overwhelmed, you have too many overdue items or it’s a mess.

As my old computer science professor would say, junk in, junk out. Avoid that. So do your review first, clean it up and then do this reset.

4. Start From Scratch

fresh start

Time to bring out the big guns. When you’re absolutely sure nothing else works and you need a fresh start with OmniFocus – it’s time to start over.

The first thing you want to do is make a backup of your current setup. Just in case you need to reference any important information. You can do this by going to File > Back Up Database.

Once you have your backup, now you can start fresh. Delete everything and reset your sync service. Try to forget everything you had in your previous OmniFocus setup and start putting stuff in there to how you like it to be.

This approach can be time consuming and there will be an experimental phase where there will be a lot of tweaking, fiddling and dabbling. I only recommend this if you’re out of options and you need drastic change.

5. Use A Different System

The last option I want to mention is to copy someone else’s system that works. This can be a combination of completely starting over or just resetting your current setup.

This is one of the fastest way to restart. You’ll skip the learning curve, the experimental phase and challenges that will come along with any new setup. Of course I’m biased to say that you can use the Asian Efficiency Workflow outlined in OmniFocus Premium Posts and use it right away, but this approach works for any workflow or system you want to copy.

As long as the system is properly explained, documented and you can contact the source for any support (like we have for OmniFocus Premium Posts) you should be in good hands. Otherwise you’ll end up with more challenges and frustations with a setup you don’t know how to use and no one there to help you.

Next Action

There you have it. Five approaches for starting over with OmniFocus. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with and that you think will work best for you.

If you need a quick solution and want to get up and running with OmniFocus:

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