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Integrating Omnifocus with the Pomodoro Technique

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Omnifocus and Pomodoro Technique

Let’s talk about two of my favorite things in personal productivity: Omnifocus and the Pomodoro Technique. They are individually really useful but when you integrate them you get something even better. By combining the best task manager available and a really effective technique for getting work done, you get fireworks.

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The Pomodoro Technique

In order to show you why this combination is so good, I first need to make sure you’re familiar with both Omnifocus and the Pomodoro Technique. If you are not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, I highly suggest you read our article on it. The basic idea behind the Pomodoro Technique is timeboxing: you set aside a fixed amount of time where you solely focus on the task at hand and nothing else can interrupt you.

To summarize how the Pomodoro Technique works, I’m copying the outline from our earlier article:

  1. Identify the task at hand.
  2. Set your Pomodoro at 25 minutes.
  3. Work on the task until the pomodoro is over.
  4. Take a 5 minute break.
  5. For every four pomodoros, take a longer break (15-20 minutes).

From personal experience, after trying PT for a long time, to me the 25 minute limit became too short. It was great to get myself started but after a while I got too used to it. Not too long ago, I switched over to 50/10 cycles: 50m of work, 10m breaks and every two cycles you take a half an hour break.

For people who can focus for long periods of time and need to do a lot of focused work, I found that 50/10 works even better than 25/5. On the other hand, if you are someone who has a short attention span or ADHD, 25/5 is very effective. Try to see what works best for you.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Pomodoro Technique is especially suited for tasks that require you to sit behind your computer (especially if you use a timer software). If you have a physical timer, it’s also great for chores around the house.

But the PT is really effective for:

  • Tasks that require a lot of focus (especially when you eat your frogs).
  • Things you are procrastinating on.
  • For times when you feel like procrastinating.

When you feel like procrastinating, do a 25/5 cycle. If you have done enough pomodoros over time you know that 25 minutes is really not that long, which helps you convince yourself to do a pomodoro when you’re not feeling like getting stuff done. I often to do this myself so I can start solar flaring to overcome procrastination.

Omnifocus

Okay, you should have an idea now how PT works. Next up is our favorite task manager Omnifocus. In order to get the most utility value from Omnifocus, we have a list articles on how to use Omnifocus. I highly suggest you go over them. Several readers have emailed us telling how it takes hours to implement everything, so if you have an afternoon of nothing to do, this would be a great way to do something useful.

I am going to assume you know what perspectives are in Omnifocus. If not, you need to read our article on perspectives: one by Aaron and one by yours truly. Perspectives will greatly help your workflow, especially in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique. Here are some must-have perspectives you need to have.

Next Actions

The Next Action perspective is the one which shows you all the tasks that need to be completed to move a project forward. Within Omnifocus, if your projects set to parallel, the task on the top of the list is your next action (or at least should be!).

Next Actions in Omnifocus

Next Actions perspective in Omnifocus.

This perspectives pulls up all the tasks that are the “bottle necks” of projects:

  1. Make sure you select the Library folder on the left sidebar and in Project Mode.
  2. Project Filter = Active
  3. Grouping = Folder
  4. Sorting = Unsorted
  5. Availability Filter = Next Action
  6. Status Filter = Any Status
  7. Estimated Time Filter = Any Duration

Save the perspective as “Next Actions” (Perspectives > Save Window As > New Perspective). Anytime you look at this perspective, you should see all your next actions of your projects.

Today

Here at Asian Efficiency we really like using the flag feature of Omnifocus to come up with a Today list (things you want to do that day). You just flag your tasks and then they show up on a separate list (perspective). I know some people prefer using start dates, but I found it to be really inefficient. It’s like due dates; you end up guessing too much when something should be done or available.

Setting up a flagged perspective is really simple, because it comes by default with Omnifocus! A simple way to get started with that is to use the Next Actions perspectives from above and flag the tasks you want to do for the day.

Low-energy

This is one of my favorite perspectives: the low-energy perspective. The basic idea behind this one is that the list shows you tasks that have no urgency to get done and take very little energy to complete. For example, tasks such as changing your Mac background, updating software, or emptying the trash can.

This perspective is amazing when you don’t feel so productive but you still want to do something useful to not feel bad. Most of my Sundays are spent hammering away in this list.

Low Energy perspective in Omnifocus

The Low Energy perspective in Omnifocus.

To use this perspective, you first need to create a new context called “Low Energy”. You will assign this context only to the following tasks:

  • They need to get done but have no deadline or urgency.
  • They take less than 25 minutes to do.
  • They take very little focus and/or energy to complete.

Violate those guidelines and this perspective is doomed. You have been warned. But if you use this one properly, you will get a lot of things done when you least expect it.

Here is how you set it up:

  1. Go to context view.
  2. Select Low-Energy context.
  3. Set these filters: Context Filter = Remaining, Grouping = Project, Sorting = Project, Availability Filter = Available, Status Filter = Any Status, Estimated Time Filter = Any Duration.
  4. Save this perspective as “Low Energy”.

Best Practices

Before I conclude this article, I quickly want to make you aware of some best practices for managing your to do list:

  • All tasks in Omnifocus have a time estimate shorter than 50 minutes (or 25m if you prefer 25/5).
  • This also includes all your next actions.
  • Read our 10 tips for managing your to do list to keep your Omnifocus in shape.
  • Make sure to regularly review your projects.

The Two Together Equals Three

Okay now it is time to have the rubber meet the road. While Omnifocus and the Pomodoro Technique are great individually, they each lack something. For example, Omnifocus sucks at actually helping you getting things done. It’s great for telling you what you can do, but actually pushing you to do it…not so much. This is where the Pomodoro Technique shines. In a way, it forces you to do something but it lacks the framework of knowing what you should be working on. Also, if you remember from PT, the first step is determining the task at hand. This is where Omnifocus complements nicely because it can show you what is available to be completed and you can pick what you want/have to do.

I truly believe having those two integrated brings your personal productivity to the next level. It is what Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, would call “synergy” where 1 plus 1 equals 3. Using them together is also really simple. This is how it will look like (roughly):

  1. In Omnifocus, you select the tasks you want to do (your Today view), which is essentially a couple steps wrapped up in step one of the Pomodoro Technique.
  2. You start working on each tasks one pomodoro at a time.
  3. EXTRA: Strive to have four hours of focused work done each day.

That’s really it!

I would highly suggest that if you use one of these, try to combine them and see how your effectiveness goes up. Let us know in the comments below how it’s working out for you.

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11 Comments

Posted by Alex Furmant  | October 10, 2011 at 7:38AM | Reply

this is soo booring , I like pomodorium more

Posted by Jacob  | October 13, 2011 at 3:09PM | Reply

When I read advice on productivity, I often wonder what the author of the text has done in his or her life. I would not take advice on how to run a business from a school teacher, for example.
This leads to my question: What have you, founders of this site, accomplished?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 14, 2011 at 8:42AM

Hi Jacob,

We both run online businesses fulltime that allow us to live a lifestyle we both enjoy. On the side, we like to spread our knowledge on time management which we have used to allow ourselves to live the life we want.

Posted by Ccdozier  | December 9, 2011 at 5:41AM

just wanted to say thanks for the awesome productivity tips. I am using omnifocus and I am loving it. Your site was the only place I could actual useful tips on how to set it up and how to use it to organize my life and get things done. The other day I saw this post about pomodoro and have subsequently using that in conjunction with omnifocus. Honestly, I have gotten so much done since then and my productivity has sky rocketed. Thanks for this great site! I actually feel like I can concentrate and get organized!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | December 11, 2011 at 2:23PM

Awesome to hear. Always great to read that people are using what we write about and and that they are enjoying success with it.

Posted by Francois  | August 17, 2012 at 10:26AM | Reply

I personally use Things instead of OmniFocus but it’s the same thing… In my opinion they both lack true integration with the Pomodoro Technique. For instance I’d like to be able to assign an estimated number of timeslots (or at least an estimated duration) to each task. Then I’d like the Today (Or any other filtered view/perspective) to give me the total time estimated to do all that list (so I can adjust what fits & doesn’t fit on today) and finally I’d like to be able to start a timer on any of these tasks and count how many Pomodoros/timeslots (or at leats) time I’ve already spent on each.
THAT would be a real 1 +1 = 3 in my opinion ;)

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | August 17, 2012 at 7:09PM

True. OF & Things are more designed around GTD concepts – pomodoros are something different altogether. Which is why you need to come up with systems like Thanh has for making them work together =)

Posted by Stefan  | May 18, 2013 at 4:27PM | Reply

Hi Guys, check out http://www.eggscellentapp.com/, it’s a former “Pomodorable” app. It has integration with Things, Reminder and OmniFocus. I have tried it with OmniFocus only. Eggscellent will pull flagged tasks from OF and once you will finish it, Eggscellent will automatically mark it as finished in OF, too. It is still in beta stage but after an hour of looking for pomodoro apps that are intergrated with OF I like this one the most.

Stefan

Posted by carlos  | February 23, 2015 at 4:53PM | Reply

Eggscellentapp does not work anymore with omnifocus :( have any other suggestion?

Posted by Yunjiang Qiu  | March 10, 2015 at 11:46AM | Reply

you can find a updated version at https://github.com/devon/eggscellent/releases, which works with OF2

Posted by Paul Mann  | January 3, 2017 at 3:48PM | Reply

Great article, thanks for all of your hard work with these. Really appreciate them.
I often use Omnifocus with the PT technique using the Mac App Vitamin-R2. I find it excellent, with options to play grey noise and block out interruptions during the focused period. I simply drag out the action I want to work on from OF to Vit-R2.
The two sync up nicely.

May be one to try.

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