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Conditional Action Groups – How to have If-Else Contingencies in OmniFocus

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OmniFocus

One thing I’ve always wanted to have in OmniFocus is the possibility to have contingencies. In simple terms, I want it to work like this:

if X happens, then I need to do Y. Otherwise, I need to do Z.

As a former programmer, if-else structures are part of how I think strategically about things. Right now there is no such feature built in OmniFocus. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a simple solution/hack for this and I call it Conditional Action Groups. It’s not neat, a little weird and advanced but it works quite well.

Example of Contingency

Here’s an example of how I would use it. Let’s say that my car insurance is about to expire and I want to figure out if I should renew it with the same insurance company or go elsewhere. I’ve contacted my insurance company and now I’m waiting for a quote from them. As soon as I get it, I want to have contingencies set up for my next move.

The basic contingency is: if the quote is under $500 per year (some made up number), then I will renew my insurance with them. But if it’s over $500, I will have to look elsewhere.

The problem right now with OmniFocus is that actions are listed in a linear fashion – from top to bottom. The way to work around that is by using action groups (nested actions).

NOTE: Action groups are created by selecting a task and then you press CONTROL+COMMAND+ARROW KEY RIGHT. Alternatively, drag one task over another one to create an action group.

Here is how the above contingency would look like in OmniFocus:

Conditional Action Groups in OmniFocus

It’s basically a nested group of action with a top-level representing a condition. If you break it down, it would look like this:

-Outcome

–Specific task needed for this outcome

—CONDITION 1

——Do this step if CONDITION 1 is TRUE

—CONDITION 2

——Do this step if CONDITION 2 is TRUE

——Do this step if CONDITION 2 is TRUE

This is how it is matched up with the earlier example:

Outcome: Renewal of car insurance.

Specific task: I need to call the insurance company and ask for a quote.

CONDITION 1: If the quote is under $500, take the next step.

CONDITION 2: If the quote is over $500, then take other steps.

Now this is where it gets tricky. If one of the conditions is true, you want to mark the others (who are false) as complete. This way you clean up your list and you can focus on what needs to be done.

So if the insurance company quotes me $750, that means CONDITION 2 equals to true and I’ll mark off CONDITION 1 so it’s eliminated from my view. Now I can look at the steps that are part of CONDITION 2 and move forward.

Mark the false conditions as complete

I know some of you might find this way of thinking a little strange, but it works well for me. If you really want to have if-else / contingencies working in OmniFocus, this is one way to do it.

Tips and Tweaks

There are a couple things you can do to make this even more elegant and useful:

  • Instead of marking off the false action groups, another thing you can do is to remove all false contingencies so you only have the contingency left that is true. That works too – whichever floats your boat.
  • The top-level action groups can have start and due dates. You can get really creative with this.
  • Ensure your action group conditions are sequential whenever possible. You can change that by clicking on the double arrows (see screenshot above).
  • You can have as many conditions as you want. Just set up the right number of “condition action groups” as you see fit so it becomes an if-elseif-elseif-elseif-else sort of thing.
  • You can go multiple levels deep – conditions within conditions within conditions. Go crazy if you want.

Again, I want to stress that this is quite advanced and not suited for everyone. I’m pretty sure action groups are not meant to be used this way but it’s a nifty little trick for those who want to have contingencies in OmniFocus.

Give this Conditional Action Groups trick a try and see if you like it. Let us know in the comments below how you like it and post any questions you might have.

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1 Comment

Posted by Ady  | February 26, 2013 at 7:47AM | Reply

That’s a nice implementation of contingent tasks. I’ve managed this in the past by having the contingency as a note in the task, I then ask the (ubiquitous) question: “What’s the next action?” and refer to the note to create a new action.

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