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OmniFocus Series Part 02: Getting Started With Omnifocus

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Asian Efficiency OmniFocus Series
I love Omnifocus. I use it on a daily basis to figure out what I need to be doing that day in order to be productive. For anyone who is brand new to Omnifocus, it can be really overwhelming. There is a steep learning curve to the program, but once you figure it out it’s amazing. Aaron and I have decided to showcase how we both use Omnifocus, but we both have different ways of using it. Here is my first part on setting up Omnifocus.

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In case you haven’t read our first part, read the first part of setting up Omnifocus. I will assume you have read it so I won’t have to repeat a lot of concepts and ideas (although sometimes I will just to remind you). Over the course of the article series we will use (imaginary) user Tom and his database of tasks. The way I setup and use Omnifocus will be reflected in how I set up Tom’s Omnifocus. Now let me first tell you what my philosophy is to being productive with Omnifocus before I show you to get started.

Philosophy

I first want to give you my philosophy, and my view of thinking on how I approach my task management systems and processes. By understanding how I look at task management you will get a better understanding why do I certain things within Omnifocus.

Omnifocus contains everything in my life. It is like a memory bank in my brain. Since I am a knowledge worker, I consider my brain is my biggest asset and I want to use it at full capacity at all times. What David Allen got right is that you should dump all your thoughts somewhere else (the capturing process), because our memory system is not perfect. From my studies of the brain, I know that I want to free up as many resources as possible so my brain can excel at full capacity for thinking, focus and decision making.

With everything in a database, what I want Omnifocus to do is to give me the information I need and that I am looking for. You can see it as querying your database for the information you need; you tell the database what you want and the database gives you the information as requested. That’s how I also look at Omnifocus. Depending on my state of mind, I will request for the information from Omnifocus that I want. This is a pro-active approach to task management and requires responsibility on your end. My thinking and decision making affects which information and tasks I get in front of me. Omnifocus might give me hundreds of things to do, but it’s my responsibility to pick out the most important tasks.

One of the reasons I believe in strong categorization and differentiation is that it allows me to fully focus and put me in the right state of mind. For example, I separate work and personal with folders within Omnifocus (as you will see later). These two categories of my life are two distinct things, so they get their own folder. If I had another major area of responsibility, e.g. another business, that would again be another folder within Omnifocus. In other words, another category. When I’m focusing on a certain area of my life I want to give it the appropriate attention and state of mind.

My approach is not strict to the Getting Things Done system by David Allen. Rather, it has many different influences from different people and systems. I see it as a mix of Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Tony Schwartz (author of The Power of Full Engagement), and GTD. Covey gives me the right mindsets, Schwartz makes me work at times and moments I feel like I can fully engage, and GTD gives me a framework to work within. Omnifocus falls in there as a tool that gives me the information I need to get work done.

Here are a couple guidelines I use for Omnifocus.

  • Every task gets assigned an estimate of duration. In the beginning you will be horrible at estimating, but over time you will be more accurate. Especially for routine tasks you do over and over.
  • No tasks gets entered that’s longer than 50 minutes. If it’s longer, it needs to be broken down. I work in 50/10 cycles, kind of like a double Pomodoro Technique.
  • All tasks start with a verb. I want my tasks to be clear and actionable. Common verbs include “email”, “look up”, “find out”, “write” and “get”.
  • I use one universal inbox for capturing. During my daily inbox cleanup, that’s where I assign tasks to appropriate projects and contexts.
  • I’m not shy about using notes and attachments for tasks. When I’m using Omnifocus, I don’t want to leave it to reference look for materials outside of the program. That’s a waste of time.
  • I avoid using due dates. The only times I use it is when something actually has a due date.
  • Anything delegated gets a start day of the day it was assigned and a due date set to whenever you want to have a response by.

These are some of my guidelines for using Omnifocus. Now get’s get the practical things working for Omnifocus.

Preferences

We first need to get the foundation right for Omnifocus. The program comes with many features and the default settings will work for most users. Below you will find the settings I personally use.

General Omnifocus preferences

General Omnifocus preferences

Most of my settings are default, except the quick entry shortcut and the backup location.

For the quick entry box, to get things fast in your inbox, I use control + option + spacebar. Feel free to use any combination you like, but I find this very easy to use.

Another preference that is different is that I store my backups in a Dropbox folder. In case my hard drive ever fails, I will still have a backup copy on another server. With a Hazel rule I have all backups deleted that are older than 14 days.

Data Omnifocus preferences

Data Omnifocus preferences

My preferences in the Data tab are a little different. The first thing you will see is that I don’t like to use the item counts in my dock. Personally I don’t see any use for this.

My due dates are all at 11pm. I like working late in the day so my due time is a reflection of that.

By having your due soon as 24 hours you will see orange colored action items that will be due soon and get your attention.

Omnifocus style preferences

Omnifocus style preferences. Click on the gear icon to change the style.


I never liked the default fonts and styling that comes with Omnifocus. This is a theme I actually got from fellow Efficient Asian Aaron, which he covered in his post on Advanced Omnifocus Functionality. You can download the theme here: AE Omnifocus Style

Once downloaded, load it by clicking on the gears icon (as highlighted above). Aaron also made a quick video on how you load up the new theme:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWw9q8xIOFo&w=690]

Omnifocus clippings preferences

Omnifocus clippings preferences

With the Clippings feature of Omnifocus, you can have selected text or images sent to the quick entry box. The selected data will be stored as notes of your action item.

My clippings shortcut is option + command + semicolon. I know, weird combination, but I like it. Get to know this shortcut, whatever yours will be. You will use this one a lot and in the upcoming articles you will see why.

Since I don’t use Apple Mail, I won’t get into those settings. Rather, in another article, I will show you can you can use Omnifocus with Mailplane.

Omnifocus sync preferences

Omnifocus sync preferences

Omnifocus allows you to sync your data with other devices too. Since I have an iPhone and iPad too (like imaginary Tom), this is a must for me. A big reason why a lot of Cultured Code Things users switch to Omnifocus is because their syncing feature is not working or is non-existent. My recommendation is to setup the syncing feature if you have multiple devices or computers. In my case I use MobileMe, but you can also use Bonjour (you sync when you are in the same WiFi network) or Omni Sync (it goes through Omnigroup’s servers).

I also don’t use the iCal feature since I can access all my data on my iPhone and iPad.

So these are all the important settings for Omnifocus. With that out of the way, let’s go over the rest.

Toolbar

The Omnifocus toolbar is where you can store all your access points to different parts of the program. This is where you want to put your most often used perspectives and features. The way I set it up is by putting the commonly used parts of the program on the left, and on the right side I have the features I use the least.

Omnifocus toolbar setup

Omnifocus toolbar setup on the left side.

Omnifocus toolbar setup

Omnifocus toolbar setup on the right side.


Over the course of our Omnifocus article series, we will populate the toolbar with perspectives. For now, the basics will do.

Introducing Tom

Realistically, everything up to this point is good enough to get you started, but I’m far from done. Before we can go forward, I first need to make sure you’ve met (fictional character) Tom. We came up with a fictional person with a list of things to do that most readers can relate to. By using the same bank of information, this allows you to see how Aaron and I use Omnifocus in different ways. One is not necessary better than the other so it’s up to you to see which approach you prefer. Perhaps you use a mix of our approaches sprinkled with your own flavor, which is completely fine. The point is that you get work done.

Aaron introduced Tom in his first article on getting started using Omnifocus. I’ll copy the same info here again.

Tom Jenkins is good-looking bloke in his late 20s, living in Los Angeles. He’s a little rough around the edges, but sports a 5 o’clock shadow and sharp dress sense. Think a younger Bradley Cooper.

He works for a small boutique web design firm, specializing in online marketing management. Tom works the standard office hours of 9-5-sometimes-really-late, and his main role is to bring in new leads through online channels for the company. Tom reports directly to David, the CEO of the company. Mary the content producer extraordinaire, Jenny the social marketing intern from UCLA, and Nick the internet marketer, all work on Tom’s team.

In his spare time, Tom blogs about his personal life (as a single guy in LA), he reads business and self-help books and hangs out with his buddies. Sometime in the next year, Tom wants to buy a condo near his workplace in downtown LA, and he wants travel around the world. In the long term, Tom wants to escape the rat race and live the 4-Hour Work Week lifestyle.

As a trendy up-and-comer Tom has an iPhone, iPad and a Macbook Pro, and is a huge fan of Apple.

Tom, is of course, an entirely fictional character (sorry ladies). We like to think of him as an average real-world OmniFocus user – someone who juggles a job, a busy personal life, some hobbies and multiple dreams and goals.

We’re going to take a snapshot of Tom’s life, and show you how, using OmniFocus, he can organize it to become extremely productive.

So that gives you a good idea what his life is like. To give you a better overview, here is the organization structure and hierarchy.

Organization structure and hierarchy for Tom.

Organization structure and hierarchy for Tom.

Now let’s see what his tasks are (that are not sorted, assigned, or put in Omnifocus yet). This is just the raw data.

  • Check out hootsuite
  • Research Junos Pulse
  • Prepare performance report for Nick
  • summarize the power of full engagement
  • design standardised article template with onpage SEO details
  • Preparing bullet points for sales team meeting
  • prepare management report on online marketing performance for Q1
  • redo long-term goals
  • find a new media platform that integrates twitter and facebook
  • Visit south america family members
  • send mom flowers for Mother’s Day
  • buy a new couch
  • Prepare custom report requested by David
  • Review my books-to-read list
  • buy tickets for Lakers game
  • Write post on “my plan to live the 4hww lifestyle”
  • Prepare performance report for Jenny
  • clear Instapaper articles
  • design systems and processes for clients feedback
  • research GTD
  • read article on SEO metrics from SEOMoz
  • Ask Nick to come up with new ideas to generate more leads
  • update WordPress blog to latest version
  • call new clients and ask to fill in a survey
  • Analyze Q1 metrics
  • Research ways to buy cheap flight tickets
  • Get new markers for whiteboard
  • launch a facebook campaign
  • call Sarah for drinks
  • Compare quotes on condos
  • Summarize eat that frog
  • Prepare performance report for Mary
  • call Susie for date
  • email Asian Efficiency to thank them for the awesome blog
  • Clean office for camera interview
  • Waiting for Mary to finish writing 3 articles
  • Report from Nick on ROI of Google Adwords campaign
  • Pay phone bill
  • Look into getting a new desk
  • Buy the 7 habits of highly effective people
  • Report from Jenny with key metrics on twitter campaign
  • Email David on budgets for PPC campaigns
  • Article idea: becoming more productive
  • suggest to CEO that meetings be time-constrained
  • manage rss subscriptions (too many)

This is also called a “brain dump” and it is the first step to using any task manager. What you do is take all your thoughts and put them on paper, or in this case in Omnifocus’ inbox. Just dump in there whatever you think needs to get done or other random thoughts. Get it in there and don’t worry about when you need to get it done or how you will do it. It’s just there so you clear you head and thus free up resources for your brain to work more effectively.

Now we have a full list of things that need to be done, let’s get this raw data sorted into projects and contexts.

Projects and Sorting

I mentioned before that I’m a strong advocate of categorizing everything. Thus the first step in categorizing this list is to determine which fall under personal and work. Aaron and I have the same opinion on this, so I’m copying his categorization.

Projects categorization

Projects categorization for work and personal.

Now it’s time to setup projects and contexts. To me, this is a trial-and-error approach. You start off with the minimum lists and projects, and you adjust along the way. I will start off with the basic lists that every area of responsibility has:

Omnifocus projects basics

Omnifocus projects basics

The single actions list will have all tasks that have no defined project and can be done in under 50 minutes (remember, earlier I mentioned that only tasks with a duration of 50m or less get defined). I love single action lists and I use them a lot as a collection bucket. The someday/maybe lists will have action items that you might pursue at some point. All these have no start date. If you have an action item that you want to complete someday and you do have a (future) start date, that action items does not belong in the someday/maybe list.

Now the way I use someday/maybe lists and single actions lists is a little different than what most people do. Essentially, I review the someday/maybe list every 2 weeks and for every review I try to move as many items as possible into projects and single actions lists. I kind of see my single actions list as something I want to complete every week so I can fill it up again with things from the someday/maybe list.

Now that we have the basics, you want to fill it up with projects and more lists. An easy way to get started is by writing out the responsibilities you have and then making projects around that. This is what I came up with for Tom. The hierarchies are Personal and Work organized in folders with projects.

Areas of focus

Areas of focus with projects for Tom.

This is how that actually translates into Omnifocus.

Omnifocus projects in detail

Omnifocus projects in detail

As you can see, I like my setup to be flat and with not too many hierarchies. Here are some of my ideas on this setup:

  • Daily – this is where you have action items you have to do every day before you get your day started. They don’t have to be part of your morning ritual, although they definitely can be. Examples include looking at your goals, looking at waiting for perspective, picking your most important tasks for the day, etc. This will be more elaborated over the article series.
  • Rituals – here are your routines that you do weekly or monthly. I like to have this top-level as basic management rituals do not always apply to your personal or professional life.
  • Books folder – Since Tom is an avid reader, it worthwhile to have his book projects grouped under a folder with each book as a project.
  • Reading list – this is a list of books, sorted in order, that Tom wants to purchase and read at some point.
  • Eat That Frog & The Power of Full Engagement – each book gets its own project where action items include summarizing chapters, taking notes, and doing additional research.
  • Performance reports – all action items dealing with performance reports for staff members goes in here.

Most of this is pretty straight forward. The rest are projects with action items in them.

Contexts

A context is a “label” you can give a task that allows you to group tasks based on a tool, location, or people. One context I want to add, that I don’t see a lot among Omnifocus users, is a mood or energy level context. This is where you can see how Tony Schwartz influences my system. The reality is that you will not always be in the right state or mood to get focused work done. While you can then procrastinate, we came up with a solution so you can still be productive.

The energy/mood context is something I got from Aaron, but I have adjusted to my own system. While he has different energy level contexts, I just have one: low energy. I will assign this context to tasks that are non-urgent and have no due date (in other words, low value tasks). We have discussed this briefly at the end of our creative procrastination post, but the idea is that whenever you feel like procrastinating, you do the tasks that have this context assigned.

Another set of contexts worth mentioning is contexts based on roles. If you are someone who has to wear a lot of different hats, this might be something worthwhile to implement. In our example of Tom I won’t be using them, but I will elaborate quickly here what it is. The easiest way to explain role-based contexts is by giving you an example.

Imagine that you are a blogger and that it is your full-time job. While you are just an individual, you can have many different job descriptions. Sometimes you will have to be the CEO, other times you’re the writer, and once a while you might even code something for your blog. If you also do any personal outsourcing for your blog, you might even act like a (people) manager. In other words, you have many different roles within your own company. You can make contexts based on these roles. You can make a Business context that is a parent and as children you have the roles. See this illustration below.

Contexts based on roles.

Contexts based on roles

This would be another good example of categorizing, in this case for contexts. In the case of Tom, since he only acts like a manager, I wouldn’t use these role-based contexts. Let me show you how I have setup the contexts for Tom.

Omnifocus contexts setup

Omnifocus contexts setup for Tom.

This is how these contexts look within Omnifocus.

Omnifocus contexts within Omnifocus

The contexts setup in Omnifocus for Tom.


Let me explain how these contexts work.

  • Do – this is the “go-to” context. Majority of action items will have this context, especially anything that needs to be done on a Mac/iPad/iPhone. While contexts can be used for different devices you might have, I usually avoid that. I’ve tried having a Mac, iPhone and iPad context but I’ve noticed that if you sync your data that it’s not necessary to have those separate contexts. Also, since most of Tom’s work can be done on a computer, there is no need to have a context for that. Rather, there are other contexts that will tell you if you need a computer or not.
  • Low Energy – all low value tasks (no urgency, no due date, but have to get done at some point) get this context. Common examples include cleaning the office, organize music playlists, changing the computer background, etc.
  • Email – any email that needs a response gets labeled with this. Usually these emails require some thought or research.
  • Phone – for calling or texting people. Not only for business contacts, but also Tom’s busy dating life.
  • Home – anything that needs to be done around the apartment/condo gets this context.
  • Office – similar to Home, anything involving the office or during office hours gets this context.
  • Rituals – all rituals get this context.
  • Errands – All errands get this context. If you travel a lot to different but repeating cities, having sub-contexts with city names is a great way to organize your errands. Some people prefer to have sub-contexts with store names too, but Tom doesn’t need this.

You will also see two different setups for how Tom deals with people. The reason I set it up like this is that I want to separate the flow of waiting for someone and other tasks. I have specific routines and workflows for dealing with waiting for things (e.g. I never want the next action of a project to be an action where I’m waiting for someone), so to me it’s important to separate these contexts. The only downside is that you end up with more contexts since every person will be added to the People and Waiting For contexts. To me, that’s not a bad “downside”.

The Waiting For context is, like the name is giving it away, the context you use whenever you have to wait for someone to get back at you. All the other action items dealing with people goes to the People context. Whether that is delegating, discussing, or any activity other than waiting for them, is labeled with the appropriate People context. Since Tom is working with only a few people, this setup works great.

Meta Data

With everything setup for Tom, the only thing missing is the meta data for each project and list. Here is the review cycle I have setup.

Omnifocus metadata

Omnifocus metadata

In my opinion, you need to do a review of your projects at least once a week. If you have demanding projects, every day or every other day is not unusual.

If you want to download this setup for Tom, you can download the Omnifocus database here.

With all this, Tom is ready to get started using Omnifocus. Don’t forget to come back next week to see how you can start using Omnifocus.

Edit: Click here for part 3.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel. May 16, 2011 at 4:26PM

 Thank you for a very comprehensive post.  Where exactly to you place the meta data you are referring to at the bottom of this post?

Thanks.

Reply

AE Thanh May 16, 2011 at 4:32PM

 You can use the inspector to view this meta data of projects and action items within Omnifocus. You can use shortcut shift+command+I or via the menu bar Inspectors > Show Inspectors.

Reply

Daniel. May 16, 2011 at 7:04PM

Thank you very much, AE.  So when you are referring to “meta data” you are talking about the information I could find with the inspector, yep that makes sense. 

Reply

AE Thanh May 17, 2011 at 6:36PM

Ah sorry for the confusion! Yes it’s the information behind the projects and action items (which you can view with the inspector within Omnifocus). 

Reply

Daniel. May 17, 2011 at 7:56PM

 No worries :-)  I am waiting for OF to have user definable meta data, so I thought for a second it became available while I wasn’t looking…

Bojan Djordjevic May 16, 2011 at 5:22PM

 Personally I am not fan of Omnifocus, it’s based on David Allen’s GTD, which is complicated system for individual. Until you see actual results from implementing the system, you already invested a lot of time into the system. Same goes for Omnifocus, it’s not intuitive application, which makes it hard to implement for regular user.

I know it’s easy for productivity enthusiast to get a hold of software like that, but not all people are productivity enthusiast and aren’t interested in investing time to learn.

I am promoting “one click philosophy” software, which will do the thinking instead of us, and not force us, to learn something new at least not in the software department.

Reply

AE Thanh May 17, 2011 at 6:35PM

It’s true that Omnifocus has a steep learning curve. It uses a lot of concepts of GTD and if you’re unaware of GTD, or dislike GTD, Omnifocus is not the greatest program to use. The power of Omnifocus though is that it’s very customizable so you don’t have to follow GTD to the T.

But you still need to learn the program. For some people, this is great. Some people don’t want to do it, and that’s okay. At Asian Efficiency, we are really connecting with the people who want to go further than the surface level of time management and productivity.

Reply

Bojan Djordjevic May 17, 2011 at 6:50PM

I am not convinced that people who don’t use Omnifocus are mandatory on surface levels of time management. After all, we’re not about software, it’s mostly about mindset. Rest of the things are only tools to help us get there… 

Reply

AE Thanh May 17, 2011 at 7:04PM

 I didn’t say that people who don’t use Omnifocus are on the surface level of time management. My bad if I insinuated that. My observation is that people who do use Omnifocus are usually more serious about time management. You can use any other application and still be studious of time management. It’s that both Aaron and I use Omnifocus, are time management geeks, and we want to connect with other people who are like us. And these include a lot of Omnifocus users, but also non-Omnifocus users.

Reply

Bojan Djordjevic May 17, 2011 at 7:14PM

I have a problem, that it’s not supported on Android devices, and I have Android based phone. It’s closed Apple only device, while I do have Mac Book and iPad, I am not intending on changing my phone, still though :)

Russfrench New Zealand June 5, 2011 at 12:01PM

Great post on omnifocus, looking forward to reading the rest. Linked over to you from Macsparky.com.

Reply

AE Thanh June 5, 2011 at 12:31PM

Thanks for reading! I’m glad you liked it. More Omnifocus articles are in production (at the time of writing) so definitely check those out too as they come.

Reply

Dan Sauvé July 15, 2011 at 4:55AM

Great posts guys! I just discovered your site today thanks to the Omnigroup’s tweet about this series of posts, and having read the first 2 parts I’m quite impressed. I’ve started using your stylesheet (nice one), and I’m going to give some of your project hierarchy and context recommendations a go.

One question though for you (apologies if you cover this in a later post) — how do you determine which context is assigned to a project itself? This is something that I struggle with, and at the end of the day it’s as if having contexts assigned to projects themselves don’t matter to my workflow. It bugs me that all of my projects always show up in the ‘No Context’ area though. :)

I’ve tried a couple of things but I still haven’t found my groove. I’ve tried…

1. Setting either ‘Home’ or ‘Office’ contexts to projects. Most of the actions in the projects are assigned ‘Do’, ‘Email’, ‘Phone’, etc. contexts though, so having ‘Home’ or ‘Office’ as the default context for new actions assigned to a project isn’t saving me time.

2. Guessing which context will be used for most actions (Email, Phone, etc) and setting that one, so that when I create new tasks it’s right ~40-50% of the time. In the past has led to me quickly entering tasks and assigning the wrong context though, which is bad.

I’ve currently got my project setup as per #1 above but I’m curious to hear what you think. Thanks!

Reply

AE Thanh July 15, 2011 at 7:02AM

Hey Dan,

Welcome to our site! In general you shouldn’t assign contexts to projects, it really wouldn’t make any sense to do that. If you have a project called “Building House” and assign it one context, ie “Building”, that would mean technically you can’t have tasks that involve contexts such as “Errands” or “Email”. That doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Of course I should be able to have a task such as “Email construction company about XYZ”.

So only assign contexts to tasks. I know what you mean that projects show up in the Context mode. You can disable this: Preferences > Data. At the bottom, uncheck “In Context Mode: Show Projects and Action Groups”. That should fix that.

Also, later on in the series we introduce Perspectives and you will find out that you will barely use the context mode at all. I understand that a lot of people like to look at the context mode to see what they can do, but once you get the hang of perspectives you’ll never look there again :-)

Hope this helps!

Reply

Dan Sauvé July 15, 2011 at 12:59PM

Thanks Thanh, I don’t know how I missed that context option in the prefs all this time. That certainly helps!

Interestingly enough, just last week I had decided that I was giving up assigning contexts (I wasn’t using them and it was just taking extra time/brain cycles to select one), but I like your suggestions for a simpler “Do” context, and the “Low Energy” or “Anti-Procrastination” context is a great idea!

Reply

AE Thanh July 15, 2011 at 1:05PM

Just wait till you read the perspectives articles (5 and 6). Then you’ll see how powerful Omnifocus can be and why having a properly setup context structure is important.

Reply

peter August 30, 2011 at 1:53PM

Hi!

If Tom had to email Jenny about something trivial, in which context would put that action? Email, People or Low Energy?
Also, lets suppose Tom (me, in this case :p) has an ‘online’ context in addition to the others, would that change anything?

Reply

AE Aaron September 2, 2011 at 3:29AM

Thanh might have another answer, but I would put that under Email.

What do you use your Online context for? I used to have one but I got rid of it because 1) I am always connected to the Internet anyway and 2) it was too broad to be useful.

Reply

AE Aaron September 2, 2011 at 3:29AM

Thanh might have another answer, but I would put that under Email.

What do you use your Online context for? I used to have one but I got rid of it because 1) I am always connected to the Internet anyway and 2) it was too broad to be useful.

Reply

peter September 2, 2011 at 1:37PM

Right now I use the Online context mainly for listing stuff I need to download and research for school.

I also have an Offline context which I use for tasks like writing, coding, and whatnot. I think I will ditch those two tough, I can fit pretty much everything under them and, like you said, they become too broad to be useful.

Reply

Thanh Pham September 3, 2011 at 7:57AM

Hi Peter,

In this case, you can assign either Email or People:Jenny as context. Both are good. I would put Email as context in this case, because when I assign People context it’s usually when I 1) have to be physically present with them i.e. same office building or 2) it’s important to do something with that person.

Online and Offline are very vague contexts, which I find doesn’t help you much. If I were you, I would take the route of headspace context, e.g.:
-Writing
-Coding
-Researching
-Downloading

You can also nicely build perspective around those :)

Reply

peter September 5, 2011 at 12:17AM

Hi Thanh,

Thank you for your reply. I think I will follow your advice, I can see those contexts being very useful in my case :)

Jordy May 11, 2012 at 1:53PM

Great article! I’ve been trying to find a way to use OmniFocus that works best for me, and these articles were a great help. I’m still struggling a bit with folders. I have many projects in my work folder, so I decide to organize them in areas of responsibility, but I found that now I’m spending more time organizing projects and find it harder to get a complete overview of all my work commitments and make sure I’ve captured it all. How are you dealing with this? I’m also wondering what kind of projects would be on the Rituals single action list.

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Thanh Pham May 14, 2012 at 7:38AM

I think the missing piece for you might be the Perspective features of Omnifocus. As you go further into our article series you will run into them (hint: they start at article 5).

The Rituals singles action list doesn’t have projects – hence the reason it is a singles action list. However, it does have a set of rituals in there like morning routine, making backups of things, journaling, meditating, etc.

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bemental October 25, 2012 at 2:04AM

Thanh,

I know these articles are a bit dated but I recently revisited them after (finally) reading GTD by D.Allen. I had a stream of consciousness (originally a question, but I worked through it I believe) regarding your rituals, specifically those that are in the future (not daily).

My Rituals (overview): https://dl.dropbox.com/u/417848/Asian%20Efficiency%20Post/Rituals%20%28Overview%29.png

I have my rituals set up in folders, as projects. Some of my rituals are mundane, some are extensive tasks that will require time, but what they all have in common is that they really do not have a due date, AND I may not be around to accomplish them when I’d like (military service, travel a lot). I’ve set them to occur again at X days/months/etc AFTER completion, so when I do get to them they still will repeat at the intervals I require. A few do have set due dates (vehicle registration, etc) but only the items with no kidding due dates currently have them.

My question to you is, what is the best way to have OmniFocus remind me of these rituals, without assigning them due dates? The answer I keep falling back on is the simple answer of that I will catch them during my reviews, but is there a better option?

Sample (actual) Rituals: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/417848/Asian%20Efficiency%20Post/Rituals%20%28Depth%29.png

Sorting/filtering will be difficult because some of my rituals have geo-locations tied to them (ex: take out the trash/recycling – I don’t need my phone reminding me of that if I’m not at home). And I don’t want them to stack or pile up while I’m gone.

Thanks in advance for the responses and thoughts!
Andrew

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Thanh Pham October 27, 2012 at 10:11PM

Hi Andrew,

There are several approaches to this. Like you mentioned, doing a review is the most obvious one. Make sure you stick doing them so you won’t miss out anything.

The other approach is to use a perspective for just rituals. In your case you have a folder for them, so you can just Focus on that folder and make sure to only have Available rituals in your perspective. Stick it up on your toolbar and create the habit to check it every time you use OmniFocus.

Right now it seems like you still need to make that perspective. That second screenshot shows projects and tasks that aren’t even available yet. When you set the filter to only show Available tasks you’ll avoid that overwhelming feeling of all your rituals and only see what’s important.

Another way is to make sure your Rituals folder is on top on the list (on the left sidebar). That way, whenever you go through all your tasks you will see the rituals first.

My preference would be the first option.

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Zozi August 25, 2012 at 8:35AM

Hi!
I started the whole OF article group yesterday, I like it :) I use OF since march, but I want to fully use all of it’s advantages. So your articles help me a lot, and gave new ideas:)
But, I don’t really understand your contexts (or I think different about contexts, generally). For example, please explaine it, if Tom:) has to change the broken mirror in the bathroom (let’s say he buoght that already), it is a “Do”, or a “Home” context? I think the context list is only good, if there aren’t two (or more) comtext which I can assign to the same task. And at the mirror example, this is the situation (maybe thw low energy context could be added too). What do you think about it?
The other, which is in other’s mind too, as i see. That the iPad, Mac,iPhone and Online context could be usefull. (maybe more good with a “iDevices” perspective). For example I’m on a holiday, I’m on a boat at the middle of the sea, I haven’t internet, but I can write blog posts, goal lists etc., but can’t reply to emails. Or if I would like to work in some app, which e.g. only my iPad has, I can use the iPad context. Or maybe, I have a little time, I have only my iPhone at me, so I need tasks that I could complete only eith my iPhone . I could clean the camera roll, or the messages list. I can do it only on my iPhone. Your opinion about this?
Have a nice day, keep up the good work!:)
Zoltán

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Thanh Pham August 25, 2012 at 7:08PM

Hey Zoltan in the mirror example I would use @Home as the context because it has to take place at your…home. Technically @Do would also be possible but those tend to be location independent or things I do on the computer.

I’ve tried the iPhone/iPad/Mac contexts but I found them not so useful for me. That might be different for you. Give it a try and see if it works for you.

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bemental October 25, 2012 at 2:18AM

Zoltán,

The whole idea of contexts really (still) threw me through a loop. GTD traditionally (loosely) defines them as “anything required to get a next action done”, so this could be a tool (phone, email, computer) or a person (boss, coworker, spouse,) etc.

Regarding contexts for places, I never liked the idea of making an “at home” context because it didn’t make sense TO ME. I organize my projects themselves into “Personal” and “Professional” categories, but If I have a task I need to do at a particular place it makes more sense to assign a context ONLY if it has a geolocation attached. Even then, the I’m only using the context for the location data it contains, typically viewing it on my phone in the Map view or allowing my phone to remind me when I’m arriving or leaving that location.

Hope this helps. I’m really looking forward to working with OmniFocus on the new iPad Mini!

Andrew

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bemental October 26, 2012 at 11:22AM

Adding more insight, and a response to my previous post but please feel free to add insight as required.

After getting further into GTD and thinking about the problem before us, I’ve added a “Ritual” perspective to OmniFocus that I’ll check as required.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the most appropriate (instead of looking for the most technically demanding as we geeks are oft to do).

Here’s a link to my current layout if anyone’s interested. I took a bit from Thanh and a bit from Aaron and customized them to my liking (including the AE-OF theme).

https://dl.dropbox.com/u/417848/Asian%20Efficiency%20Post/Perspective.tiff

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Jason Cheshire October 26, 2012 at 12:34AM

Hi Thanh,

I just came across a new app called, Time Optimizer Pro… I currently use Omnifocus and I downloaded the free version of TOO and I wanted to get your thoughts on something. In that app, you first start with your goals and then break down your goals into tasks. I think this is very powerful and it is all about beginning with the end in mind (thanks Covey).

I didn’t like the app because it doesn’t allow multiple projects under one goal. The app itself rocks though except for this one thing. So, I have been wondering how to use Omnifocus in a similar way. I have been reading a lot about the folders in Omnifocus and how people use them to break up areas of their life (Relationships, Work, Personal, etc..) and my thoughts are, it doesn’t really matter if your projects are grouped or not… after all, if I am working on “remodeling my kitchen”, I don’t really care if I know it is under my Home folder. I, of course, know that it is under my Home folder. So, here is a thought I wanted to get your opinion on….

Why not use Folders as Goals. Brian Tracy says in his book, Goals, that we should review our goals every single day. If we use our Omnifocus Folders as goals, we would obviously be looking at our goals every single day and we would be etching them into our minds and beings. Brian Tracy says that we would use the work “I” in our goals.. instead of our goal being ” Make 10K a month”, he says to make our goals say, “I make 10K a month”. Then, under that Goal Folder, we can have a group of projects that all relate to this Goal Folder. Maybe we earn 10K a month with 2 or 3 different projects. This way allows us to always see the Goal behind every project.

I would love to get your thoughts. I just think that using Folders as Goals is so much more useful and valuable than to use Folders as Areas Of Life. Again, we all know that cleaning the house is under our home catagory and changing the oil is under our car catagory. This doesn’t help us in any big way.

Thanks, Thanh.

-Jason Cheshire
Sacramento, CA

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Thanh Pham October 27, 2012 at 10:21PM

Hi Jason,

That’s a great idea. I can see that totally work. I think it really depends on how you think. I’ve read that Goals book by Tracy and I can see the value in that, but I really think it depends how you’re wired to organize and think.

For me, the way I think wouldn’t suit that approach. As you read my articles, you’ll see that I’m very strong at categorizing stuff. So in your example, if I had a goal “Make 10k/month” I would have it under the folder Work but mentally attached to it.

I think it’s because the way I go through my day is in different roles. For example, in the morning when I’m most energized and focused, I’m in “work mode”. So anything work-related will get my focus. So that means certain projects goals, and so on. When I’m in my downtime, then I’ll go into “personal mode”. Then I’ll do my errands, take care of stuff, etc.

Obviously not everyone will like that approach but it works for me – might not work for you or someone else reading. But I really do like your approach and I’d say give it a try. See how it works for you. It seems like you think in that context a lot better.

That’s the beauty of OmniFocus – it’s so flexible.

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Daniel. May 17, 2011 at 7:59PM

Bojan, you are right – OmniFocus is limited to people who use the Mac OS/iOS environments.  It is a conscious choice Omni Group, the company that makes OmniFocus made as far as platform goes.  There are many other choices that are open to you – for instance, you can use Evernote or Tiddlywiki, both of which are cross platform and are available of Linux machines and Android powered devices. 

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Bojan Djordjevic May 17, 2011 at 8:18PM

I am using Evernote for more than half a year and I must admit it’s a tool that I rely on a lot. But it’s GTD system or “tasks” system is rather week.

I am relying on Google Tasks for my daily to do lists and Google Calendar.

I will try Tiddlywiki. 

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