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How do I get OmniFocus to remind me of my daily rituals when my schedule is always different?

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One of the underutilized features of OmniFocus is that you can manipulate and automate a lot of the dates assigned to tasks. Most other task managers don’t have this feature.

For example, if I know that I need to take the trash out every Monday morning, I can set that in OmniFocus with just one task that repeats every week. This basic feature is great but you’ll be surprised to see that most to do list apps don’t support this.

Once you know the basics of using dates and automating parts of OmniFocus with repeating tasks, you will take your productivity to another level. We cover this in OmniFocus Premium Posts. I now want to show you a real world example of this.

Recently one of our OmniFocus Premium Posts clients emailed us on how he could automate parts of OmniFocus to remind him of stuff to do. When you have to do something on a fixed interval, it’s really easy to set this up.

In OmniFocus you can easily implement things like:

  • Remind me on every workday to clear my email inbox
  • Remind me every Wednesday at 10am to prepare agenda notes for next staff meeting before noon
  • Show me all tasks I can only do on the weekends
  • Remind me every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to clear my OmniFocus inbox
  • Remind me to call the supplier in 4 days each time I finish the call
  • Remind me to take the trash out every 4 days

As you can see, OmniFocus is really flexible and you can get really creative with it. That’s one of its core strengths. However, if you don’t know how to use all of this flexibility, it can feel overwhelming.

So Mark, one of our OmniFocus Premium Posts clients, didn’t know how to automate OmniFocus to remind him to do his rituals in a way that works with his dynamic schedule. See his email below:

I work as a firefighter so I have a unique schedule. I work a 48 hour shift followed by 96 hours off (2 days on, 4 days off). So, my work days of the week change each week (because of the 2+4= 6 total days). One week I’ll work Wednesday/Thursday, the following Tuesday/Wednesday, the next Monday/Tuesday, etc. It’s a bit confusing to write out, I hope I’m not over explaining it.

Regarding Omnifocus, I’ve taken on your idea of my daily rituals. Within my rituals I would like to have one set which I perform daily (this part I have figured out), one set which I perform on my four days off when I’m home, and one set of rituals I perform on my days when I’m at work.

So my question is whether there is a way to set up something repeating like this where the days are changing each week. I also don’t think it would work to have it repeat every x days because I want the at home rituals to repeat on each of my four days off but not the days I’m at work. The only workaround I can think of is to have four separate but identical tasks that each repeat once a week on each of my four days off (repeat every 6 days since the days change by one day each week). This sounds like a cluttered mess though.

I’ve attached a pdf of my schedule which I think should help see my unique schedule. The days in red with the “A” are my work days (24 hour shift x2), followed by four days off.

schedule of Mark

(Editor notes: click to enlarge)

I hope I’ve been clear. This is a challenging one and I don’t know that there is a clean way to do it.

Thank you,
Mark S

The Basic Math Problem

I want to clarify a bit what Mark said. When you look at the calendar, you can see his dynamic schedule. He’s working on days that are highlighted by “A” (red) and he wants to have specific rituals shown only on days that he’s working. Then on his off days, he wants to be reminded of other rituals.

The problem is – how do you set this up? You can’t say “OmniFocus – repeat this ritual every week” because that’s not the case. His schedule is dynamic which makes it a bit tricky.

I grabbed a big calendar and tried to see where the pattern was. I noticed that the same schedule repeats every 6 weeks, so I could create a set of tasks that repeat every 6 weeks. The problem is that you end up with a lot of tasks.

Since studying up on Apple, I’ve been obsessed with always finding the simplest solution. Steve Jobs was relentless when it came to simplicity. EVERYTHING had to be simple. So having a lot of tasks repeat every 6 weeks wasn’t an option.

I kept experimenting and trying to figure out what the simplest solution would be. As Mark mentioned in his initial email, he could create a repeating task to take place every 6 days.

So, after considering all of OmniFocus’s different recurring task setting options, I came to the same conclusion. Setting the tasks to repeat every 6 days is simplest solution.

Let me show you the adjusted calendar so you can see how everything repeats every 6 days:

Notice how each day repeats every 6 days.

Notice how each day repeats every 6 days.

As you can see, his work days as indicated by A and B, always repeat every 6 days. His off days, shown as C, D, E, F, also repeat every 6 days. When I charted this visually with annotation, the solution was actually really simple.

See my response below:

My Response

Hi Mark,

If you extend your calendar, and if my math is correct, you should see that your 2 day shift repeats every 6 weeks. So technically if you set up bunch of tasks and have to them repeat every 6 weeks, it would work. The problem is that you end up with a lot of tasks.

Fortunately, there’s actually an easier way to set it up. See my attachment with your calendar that I’ve marked with letters.

Notice how each day repeats every 6 days.

Notice how each day repeats every 6 days.

As you can see, each day is marked with a letter. What you’ll notice is that the day repeats itself every 6 days. So what you can do is set up 6 tasks (2 for work days, 4 for off days) and have each task repeat itself every 6 days.

Also, when you set up these new tasks, be sure that the start AND due date are on the same day and that you set up each task for a specific day. See other attachment screenshot to see how that works.

Repeat a task every 6 days.

Repeat a task every 6 days.

The important thing is that for this system to work, you have to complete the steps on the same day. If you miss it, then the step moves one day further which messes it up. You’d have to reset the dates so keep that in mind. But I think this is the solution you’re looking for. Let me know if this works for you.


Further Elaboration

As I told Mark, the technical implementation is fairly easy:

  • Create two tasks for your work day (A, B). Each task has a start and due date on the same day, e.g. start at 6am and due at 8pm. Make it repeat every 6 days.
  • Create four tasks for your off days (C, D, E, F). Again, each task has a start and due date on the same day, e.g. start at 6am and due at 8pm. Make it repeat every 6 days.

And that’s really it. It might seem a little cluttered because you have to create 6 tasks, but it’s really not in my opinion. If you create a perspective that only shows you your available daily rituals, then you won’t even know you had them there.

For more OmniFocus tips and techniques, check out OmniFocus Premium Posts.

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Posted by Attila Zimler  | November 15, 2014 at 9:31PM | Reply

Additionally, it could be a solution to order the tasks (from each 6 days) into an order where the whole possible combination is correctly ordered, then add the repetition to the tasks one-by-one (like brushing your teeth repeats every day, for example) and switch off the completion of the ritual project itself.

This way the ritual project will always customize itself automatically.

Posted by Henrik  | May 1, 2014 at 8:53AM | Reply

ಠ¿ಠ I can see this setup work. But I think it can cause a mess if you don’t have the habit of completing the rituals and marking them off every single day (if you get sick, have a holiday or just don’t use omnifocus for some days). Since I know I have periods when I don’t look in my omnifocus I’m very careful with how I set up repeating tasks. I want my omnifocus to be really really easy to climb back on when I have slipped off.

Here are two other ways to solve it, one simple and one more ninja-ish.

First, you could have the two morning rituals active at the same time and simply ask yourself first thing in the morning “am I at work or at home” and then choose. This could also be nicely executed with context based perspectives (to allow use on iPhone/iPad). The projects could then repeat after an hour or so after being finished.

Here is the ninja-approach, (I use a tweaked version of this myself). I have 4 different sets of morning rituals:
1. Workday exercise (used on workday with a 40 min workout included before I go to work)
2. Workday kids (used on workday when I am responsible for waking, dressing, feeding and driving the kids to school before going to work)
3. Workday short (used on workday when I want to a) sleep a little longer or b) get to work a little earlier)
4. Home day (used on weekends or other days when I don’t need to go somewhere really early)

In my end-of-the-day ritual I select witch morning it is going to be the next day. If you don’t have an omnifocus ritual for the evening you can have an action called “What kind of morning will it be tomorrow” in the Post work ritual or even included in the morning ritual itself (ie 1. Drink coffee, 2. Get dressed, 3. Select what kind of morning will it be tomorrow, 4. Go to work).

To get this to work you need to know how to use self-populating-lists in Omnifocus. They are not really easy to understand at first I think, but they are so, so, so useful in many different situations. I found out about them on a Mind Like Monkey blogpost by Augusto Pinaud called “Cool Grocery List” years ago and they are really sweet (perhaps there is an explanation on how to set them up here at AE, I haven’t looked. Really sorry if there is one guys).

It works like this, you have one perspective – Morning rituals setup, with the 4 alternatives listed above, and when you select one of them a new project is automatically created and populated with actions witch are then presented in an other perspective. The beauty is that you don’t see the projects in the background, you only select an option from the setup perspective and then in the morning you go to the Awesome morning perspective and follow your rituals. So nice. It’s almost like using AppleScript only, it’s not, and therefore (and because it is context based) it can be used on the iPhone and the iPad.

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