If you have been reading Asian Efficiency for a while, you know how much we love Omnifocus. We have written extensively on how to use this task manager and in this article we’ll explore another way of using it. One of the frequently asked questions on using Omnifocus is: how do you prioritize tasks in Omnifocus? I will show you one way to do this with the ABC method of prioritization.
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A lot of Omnifocus users are familiar with GTD. One of the things that is lacking in the Getting Things Done system by David Allen is a way of prioritizing your tasks. It’s all based on your next actions lists but you can’t distinguish which ones are more important than others. If you have a list that has ten next actions then how do you decide which ones are more important than others?
In reality, there are certain tasks you want to absolutely finish while others would be nice to have done. One high-level way of prioritizing tasks is by using Covey’s Quadrants. This is a great way to prioritize but it might not be as effective in specific cases where priorities can shift a lot. This is where the ABC method of prioritization is very useful and practical.
The premise is really simple. You label each task with either a letter A, B or C. There are different definitions of this method but this is the one I find the most useful:
- A – These are tasks you want to get done today and are the highest priority.
- B – These would be nice to finish, but you will live another day if you don’t complete them.
- C – Lowest priority, these tasks tend to have no sense of urgency but are nice to complete at some point.
You can compare your A-tasks as your most important tasks (frog eating). If you just complete those tasks, you can consider your the majority of your workload done for the day. In order to make this method work you have to complete those tasks first before you work on any B or C-tasks. In other words, never work on any B-task until all A-tasks are done. Likewise, don’t work on any C-task until all B-tasks are done.
The ABC prioritization method is really useful when your work in an environment where priorities are constantly shifting. This is especially true when your role involves working with a lot of people and clients that have an influence on what your workday looks like. Examples of roles like tech support, account managers and customer service would fit this bill.
Now that you have a sense of how this method works, let’s get it implemented in Omnifocus.
I do assume you will have a good understanding of how Omnifocus works. If not, I highly suggest you read our article series first. It’s not that this is something complicated to implement, but I will assume you know how to navigate around Omnifocus to implement this. It’s actually quite simple to apply the ABC method in Omnifocus. There will be a couple perspectives involved, but the main part is making these contexts:
- Priority A
- Priority B
- Priority C
We will use the contexts as a way of segmenting the tasks. For you visual graspers, this is how the workflow looks like:
First, you need to select the tasks you want to do that day by flagging them. The first perspective will show you all available tasks in front of you. In a different perspective, that is where you will assign the priorities. Once the priorities have been assigned, you will have a list of tasks in order of priority.
Technically, you can already assign priorities when you have that list in step one, but if you have a lot of tasks to look at you cannot really prioritize. That’s why the first step is about selecting all the tasks you want to work on and the second step is using that (short) list to prioritize (remember: less choices prevents procrastination).
This is how you setup your first perspective that will show you all available tasks. First make sure you are in Planning mode (CMD+1). Also, if you have multiple areas of responsibilities (folders to organize projects) you will have to use the Focus feature to segment the tasks properly. Now here are the filters:
- Project Filter = Remaining
- Grouping = Ungrouped
- Sorting = Start
- Availability Filter = Available
- Status Filter = Any Status
- Estimated Time Filter = Any Duration
Now save this as a perspective and call it “Plan” (Perspectives > Save Window As > New Perspective). Each time you look at this list, flag the tasks you want to work on and prioritize in the next perspective.
Your second perspective will show you all flagged tasks. In other words, the tasks you selected in the previous step. First make sure you are in context mode (CMD+2). Here are the filters:
- Context filter = Remaining
- Grouping = Context
- Sorting = Start
- Available Filter = Available
- Status Filter = Flagged
- Estimated Time Filter = Any Duration
Now save this perspective as “ABC”. When you look at this list, you should your flagged tasks and their respective contexts. Now is the time when you change the contexts around to prioritize. So some tasks you will assign “Priority A”, others “Priority B” or “Priority C” (you can type “pa” to get Omnifocus autocomplete “Priority A” which is quite cool). Thanks to the grouping by context filter, Omnifocus will automatically sort it in order. Just make sure Priority A is above Priority B in the context list on the left-hand side. Yes, that order does matter.
After you have prioritized your list, you can use this list to start chipping away at your A-tasks. It’s that simple to implement.
The only downside of using contexts like this is that you cannot tell by the context what tool you need or what type of task it is. Normally contexts like “Errand” or “Phone” will tell you what type of tasks it is and this helps with creating really useful perspectives. However, if you are someone who does 99% of your work on the computer you won’t find this a big issue. Just make sure you follow our guidelines of using task managers so that your task descriptions are verbose enough to tell you what needs to happen.
Give this method a try and let us know in the comments if you like this!