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How to Manage Checklists with OmniFocus

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OmniFocus

We’re a big fan of using checklists. They help you get things done with little margin for error and it speeds up the whole progress of getting something done without thinking about it too much.

There are lots of different ways to manage checklists and one way is to use OmniFocus (our favorite task manager on the Mac). OmniFocus is at its core one big checklist app when you really think about it and I want to show how you can utilize it as a checklist repository and app.

Before I delve into that, I want to make a clear distinction between a checklist and a template to make sure we’re on the same page.

My definition of a checklist is a list that is pre-defined, has a specific outcome and doesn’t change much. We have plenty examples of checklists here. A template is a blueprint of a project or list that is mallable and provides a starting point but it’s encouraged for you to add more necessary steps.

For example, cleaning the fridge would be a checklist. Working with a new client would be a template. A morning ritual is a checklist. Setting up a new event is a template.

Now that we’re on the same page, let’s go through a real world scenario. Here’s a recent OmniFocus Premium Posts customer who had a question about managing checklists in OmniFocus and further below is my response:

Hi folks! just signed up, avidly pouring through everything.

I have some projects that are really templates or checklists that are duplicated and used only on certain occasions. For example, I have a long checklist of stuff I need to do when my family and I go on vacation. When I know a vacation is coming up, I create a new version of that project, take it off On Hold, and go from there.

My question is, where do I put these On Hold checklists? I want them to be somewhere so that I don’t see them every single time I choose “Remaining” from status. Weird to me that I would see them, since the whole project is On Hold, but anyway, wanted to get your thoughts.

Thanks!

Robin B, USA.

My response

Hi Robin,

Thanks for getting OmniFocus Premium Posts!

To answer your question, I would create a folder called “Checklists” and then put all your checklists in there. Whenever you need to use the checklist, copy it and move it to the right folder/project and go from there.

So when you setup your perspectives, you shouldn’t Focus in on that Checklist folder so it won’t ever be visible as you’re planning stuff (this might make more sense when you go through OmniFocus Premium Posts).

Personally, I keep all my checklists in Evernote. That’s another option. I like this approach so that I can just focus on “work stuff” whenever I’m in OmniFocus.

-Thanh

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I want to expand on this a little more. If my response doesn’t make sense to you, it’s probably because of the concepts discussed in my response are in OmniFocus Premium Posts. That’s why I want to elaborate a little bit more.

In this example you need to know very clearly if you’re using a checklist or a template. Personally, I prefer to keep one-off checklists out of OmniFocus and store them in Evernote. Even though I told Robin to use them in OmniFocus because she insisted, I would personally prefer not to. However, daily and often repeated checklists are great in OmniFocus.

For example, having your morning and evening ritual in OmniFocus is great. It’s there every day and you just check things off as you go. Since I’m in OmniFocus every day to get stuff done, it’s only natural, easy and frictionless to have daily checklists in there too.

BTW: If you don’t know how to set up checklists or repeating tasks, read this post on repeating tasks in OmniFocus or get OmniFocus Premium Posts.

Same goes for weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual checklists. Anything that repeats fairly frequently and is somewhat time sensitive is perfect for OmniFocus. Things like “weekly OmniFocus review” or “monthly goal revisioning” should be in OmniFocus.

However, anything that’s random or one-off really shouldn’t be in OmniFocus. Why?

  • They can mess up certain perspectives
  • They clutter your search results whenever you search for something
  • By not having it there I can really focus on my work and get stuff done

Examples of checklists I wouldn’t put in OmniFocus are cleaning the fridge or packing for a trip. I’d rather have those in Evernote.

As you probably notice, there’s a clear distinction between Evernote and OmniFocus. If you often get confused where something needs to go, then you probably don’t have a strong definition or purpose for each app so let me share mine:

  • OmniFocus is for tasks and getting stuff done on a regular basis
  • Evernote is my repository for information that I can store and reference

This helps me distinguish where something needs to go. Do you have a purpose and definition for apps you’re using? If not, copy mine.

This doesn’t mean that OmniFocus and Evernote can’t work together. In fact, they complement each other very well as I’ve written about that here on how to use them together.

What about templates in OmniFocus? I’ve got another extensive post coming up about that. Stay tuned. (Hint: templates belong in OmniFocus.)

Further Resources

I hope that was helpful. If you’re interested in more resources, check out the list below:

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