OmniFocus Series Part 10: Advanced Tips and Tricks

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Asian Efficiency OmniFocus Series Ninja Edition

Our Omnifocus article series has finally come to an end! This article is going to be the last one of our 10-series where we explored in depth setting up and using Omnifocus. With this last article, I want to show you some cool and advanced features of the best task manager on the Mac. Aaron already covered some cool tips and tricks, so I am not going to repeat the same things. Instead, I will show some more cool and advanced features of Omnifocus. Word of caution, the following tips and tricks were performed by a professional on a Macbook Pro. Please DO try these at home.

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Essential shortcuts

Omnifocus comes with many shortcuts. You can find all them in this official manual (PDF), but let me highlight a couple that you should know and shortcuts that are not in the manual.

Shortcut Effect
CONTROL + OPTION + SPACEBAR Quick entry box (customizable).
command + K Cleanup
SHIFT + COMMAND + I Inspector
OPTION + COMMAND + ; Clippings (customizable)
COMMAND + ’ (single quote) Add notes to tasks.

 

The shortcut for adding notes is very useful whenever you use the quick entry box to capture ideas. Instead of using the mouse and clicking on the paperclip icon, just press COMMAND+’ and you can type in your notes. It’s a lot faster than using the mouse and capturing can be done seamlessly.

Another cool trick with the notes shortcut is that whenever you are looking at a perspective, by pressing the notes shortcut you can either see all tasks’ notes or hide them. This comes very useful whenever you have email conversations in your notes so you can quickly prioritize your email responses. Or when you are in your inbox trying to assign projects/contexts to tasks and you have to look at all the notes first before do the assignments. But of course feel free to play around with this to see how you will use this yourself.

Omnifocus inbox toggle

Here's an example of an inbox where you can see all the notes. You can show/hide all notes with the notes shortcut.

A big set of shortcuts you want to learn is for your most commonly used perspectives. You can assign a shortcut to each perspective, so you can access them by just using your keyboard. Press CONTROL+COMMAND+P (or go to Perspectives > Show Perspectives) to see all your perspectives.

Omnifocus shortcuts

In the above the shortcut of CONTROL + OPTION + I was used for the Inbox.

In the image above you can see how you can assign a shortcut to your perspective(s). For people who are keyboard maestros, this is a great way to shave off extra seconds. I highly suggest you get shortcuts for these perspectives:

  • Inbox
  • Projects
  • Waiting For

Of course everyone has their own list of custom perspectives, but figure out which ones you use the most and get a shortcut for them. Usually the less you use your mouse or trackpad, the faster you are (and the more seconds you save each time you use Omnifocus).

Multiple entries in quick entry

Most people are familiar with the quick entry shortcut and how you can change the shortcut key too. This is a great way to quickly capture an idea and have it in your inbox. Did you know that you can have multiple entries in the quick entry box? All you have to do is press SHIFT+ENTER and you can enter another task in the quick entry box. You can have as many as you want. This is great when you have multiple ideas floating in your head and you need to capture them. Instead of using one quick entry box for each idea or task, you can now capture multiple in one quick entry box.

Omnifocus quick entry

Enter multiple tasks by pressing SHIFT+ENTER.

Perspective links

There are four ways you can view a perspective. The most common ones are by using the Perspective menubar option, using a pre-defined shortcut (like mentioned earlier) and the other one is by clicking on the icon in your toolbar. There is one more way: perspective links.

This is not an official term, it is something I just defined, but it turns out you can access perspectives by crafting a special Omnifocus link. An example of a perspective link looks something like:

omnifocus:///perspective/Inbox
omnifocus:///perspective/Waiting%20For
omnifocus:///perspective/Projects

These will point you to your inbox, Waiting For perspective (if you have one called like that), and Projects. This is great for repeating tasks that instruct you to go to a specific perspective, i.e. you have a task that tells you to clean up your inbox and in the notes of the task you have a perspective link to your inbox.

Perspective links

Examples of usage of perspective links in Omnifocus.

For all perspectives that have a space in the name, make sure you use %20 instead of the spacebar.

What’s great is that this also works on the iPhone and iPad. This will allow you to quickly access your perspectives and necessary information. One thing to keep in mind is that the current Omnifocus iOS version does not support syncing planning perspectives, only context perspectives. That means that these perspective links will only work in iOS for context-based perspectives. Hopefully this will be fixed soon!

Perspective links on iPhone

Perspective links work also on the iPhone and iPad version of Omnifocus.

Advanced notes of tasks

Speaking of the notes of tasks, you can do a lot of cool things with that. You can also drag-and-drop files into the notes section as references. Let’s say you need to review a specific PDF file at some point. You can create a task “Review asianefficiency.pdf for inspiration” but then you would have to search for the file when you get to this task. If a lot of time goes by, you might have even forgotten where this file may be!

Fortunately, you can just attach the file to the task. Make sure the notes section is available (click on the paperclip at the end of the task line, or press COMMAND+’) and then drag the file in there.

Drag-n-drop files into Omnifocus tasks

You can drag-and-drop files into the notes section of your tasks.

While this is a great way to reference files, it’s not just limited to documents. You can also attach applications to it (as you might have seen earlier). Whenever you drag an application (from the Application folder) into a task’s notes, Omnifocus creates a shortcut to the program (not a copy of the binary). You can then click on the icon and it will launch the program. This is awesome if you have repeating tasks that instruct you to look at info in other programs, e.g. reviewing your calendar so you have to launch iCal or Busycal.

Different date formats

The little engine in Omnifocus that handles dates is amazing. Whenever you enter a start or due date, you can enter it in many different formats (including natural language). Instead of using your mouse to click on that tiny calendar icon, you can use your keyboard to quickly enter dates. You can also specifically state it in hours and minutes, but personally I don’t use it that much myself.

Here is a list of examples you can use for inserting dates in Omnifocus:

  • now = the time and day you typed this in
  • tom = tomorrow
  • tod = today
  • yes = yesterday
  • 7d = 7 days from today
  • 3w = 3 weeks from today
  • 5m = 5 months from now
  • 4pm = today at 4pm
  • next saturday = next saturday
  • 5m7d = 5 months and 7 days from today
  • 7/12 = July 12
  • tom @ 4pm = tomorrow at 4pm = tomorrow at 4pm
  • 4/31 = 5/1 = Omnifocus automatically corrects non-existent dates

Remote storage

For some people, the tasks and information in the Omnifocus database is their life. If that sounds like you, you really want to be certain that you never lose that information. The good thing is, is that Omnifocus does make automated backups on your hard drive, but if your hard drive ever fails you still lose all that valuable information. A good practice is to store the backups on a remote server. In case your hard drive crashes or your laptop gets stolen, you still have the information somewhere else.

The easiest way to do this is by storing your backups in a Dropbox folder. That way you will have a secure backup remotely stored. Even when you are offline, as soon as you get back online Dropbox will sync your backups. To change the database storage location, press COMMAND+, (comma, or go to Omnifocus > Preferences) and under the General tab you can change it.

Omnifocus and dropbox

Store your backups on Dropbox.

NOTE: Aside from that, it’s also a good idea to make regular backups from your computer, but that’s a whole another discussion and article.

Applescripts and third-party programs

Omnifocus also supports third-party add-ons, or sometimes called scripts. These can add cool functionalities and if you can script Applescript yourself you can even make some yourself. While we will cover this in the future more in-depth, I still want to introduce you to a couple sites with some great Omnifocus extensions.

Justin at Veritrope has a collection of Applescripts for Omnifocus. Some of them are created by himself, but he also includes works of others. One of them is from Dan Byler who also released his Omnifocus scripts here.

Closing statement

It’s a wrap! This is the last article in our Omnifocus article series. We really hope you enjoyed it and we hope that you got a lot of value out of it. Omnifocus is our favorite task manager, for many others it is too, and we wanted to spread the word on this amazing piece of software that we use every single day. While this series has come to an end, we will definitely not stop writing about Omnifocus. We will keep writing about it so keep an eye out for future articles. If you don’t want to miss out on them, subscribe by RSS or sign up for our email subscription here below.

If you liked this post, you may like our OmniFocus Premium Posts – the simple guide to use OmniFocus the right and effective way. Click here for more information.

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About

I grew up in The Netherlands, went to university in Los Angeles and now I'm living in different places every couple months. When I'm not writing about personal productivity or time management, I'm probably trying out a new restaurant in the city I'm in (I love food!). One of my specialties is time management for organizations, executives and employees. The reason I started this blog with Aaron is that I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them become a better person. This blog is a footprint I want to leave behind and I hope you get a lot of value out of my articles. Feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

19 Comments

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | July 11, 2011 at 7:09PM | Reply

I got Omnifocus on iPad and on Mac, but to be honest, until I get the iPhone I won’t be using it, since smart phone is my power house still, no matter how useful and how much time I spend in front of these devices. Because what’s “on the go” is what counts.

I hope it’s going to be soon enough.

Posted by AE Thanh  | July 13, 2011 at 11:48AM

Once you have it, we will welcome you to the AE club :-)

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | July 13, 2011 at 12:12PM

I am already in AE club ;) Alpha Efficiency ;p

Posted by Clive Malcolm  | July 13, 2011 at 12:32PM | Reply

Great Series on using Omnifocus.

I only have an iPhone and Sync to the Omni Sync Server to safe guard all my important data.

Reading the 10 articles has changed the way I think about using the features in Omnifocus.

I have never really had formal training on how to use Omnifocus, just read the GTD books and was refered to Omnifocus.

So this really helps with ideas and workflow on how to get the most out of this powerful software.

A few of the great tips I picked up were to Group Projects in Folders

Put a Start Date on a Project, so the Project and Tasks disappear till a date in the future, great for when you go on holiday and don’t need to think about work projects.

Stop using Due Dates as reminders for doing tasks.

To Flag Tasks.

It’s also great having iCal to store specifc day / time commitments and an alert to remind me to do things.

The Forecast view in the iPhone also helps as a reminder of upcoming Tasks, so they don’t jump out at you on the day.

Look forward to more Blog posts from Asian Efficiency

Posted by AE Thanh  | July 13, 2011 at 8:44PM

Awesome! That’s great to hear our series has helped you Omnifocus better. We will keep posting article on using Omnifocus, but we also have some other awesome content coming out. Thanks for reading!

Posted by John  | September 12, 2011 at 4:21AM | Reply

Great series guys.  Really, really, really didn’t want this to end. MOAR

Do you guys keep a limit to how many projects you’ll have active at a time? I see that you don’t keep a Someday/Maybe list, but really put projects on hold.  If a project has been on hold for too long without accomplishing anything, do you move it somewhere else?
If your inputting a ton of possible projects and tasks in your quick entry, when your processing, if your not going to work on them that week, where do they go?

Posted by John  | September 12, 2011 at 4:24AM

Woops forgot to mention that this was directed at Aaron’s style of using Omnifocus.  (I did see that Than uses the Someday Maybe Single Action List put on hold).  How does aaron decide how many projects to have, where do the ones hes not working on go?

Posted by AE Aaron  | September 12, 2011 at 5:47AM

Hi John, I most definitely do have a Someday list (basically a single large Single Action List). With my current setup I look at it once a month and pull out projects that I want to work on. At the moment I work on 3 active “projects” (if you can call them that) a month, and a single “general interest” area every month. Not a lot of items that come through my inbox end up as full-fledged projects. Most are bits of information to be filed or ideas that can be implemented immediately – but this may be a function of me actively limiting the number of things I take on at any one time.

Here’s a good rule: if you’ve put something off for 3 months, you’re probably going to keep on putting it off. Think about if you REALLY want to do it (I’m guessing after 3 months on hold it’s not a need-to-do project), and if not, just scrap it. I’m a huge fan of clearing out excess tasks/projects and just focussing on what I want/need to get done.

Posted by Anonymous  | December 10, 2011 at 12:48AM | Reply

Anyone know how to to create perspective links for Flagged and Review views?  Thanks!

Posted by Thanh Pham  | December 11, 2011 at 2:21PM

These should work:

omnifocus:///perspective/Review

omnifocus:///perspective/Flagged

Posted by tim  | September 22, 2012 at 8:19AM | Reply

Dear Thanh,

Do you still use Dropbox folder now Omnifocus offers its own Omni Sync Server?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 22, 2012 at 11:36AM

Hi Tim,

I use Dropbox for storage of my Omnifocus backups and Omni Sync server to store the data needed for all my devices. So I use them both at the same time, and I recommend you do it too.

Posted by tim  | September 22, 2012 at 8:46PM | Reply

Dear Thanh,

Thank you!

Much appreciated

Posted by tim  | September 22, 2012 at 8:47PM | Reply

Dear Thanh,

Thank you!

Do you set the dropbox backup on imac, macbook and iphone or only some devices?

Much appreciated

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 23, 2012 at 3:41PM

Tim, you only need one Dropbox account that you share across your iMac and Macbook. Just make sure both of them have OF set up so that they store back ups in the same Dropbox folder. The actual data in OF that you will use across your devices will be handled via Omni Sync Server. So dropbox is not used for syncing data – just for storing backups. If you data ever becomes corrupts, you can use one of those backups to get back up and running.

Posted by Application Links Browser Start Page  | April 24, 2013 at 5:01AM | Reply

[...] far, I have seen these kinds of links in DEVONthink, OmniFocus (thanks to an Asian Efficiency Posting), and Papers 2 (currently testing it). In [...]

Posted by Eris  | June 19, 2013 at 11:26PM | Reply

Hi guys, huge thanks for these awesome articles! I am very new to task management app & OmniFocus, and these 10 series of articles really helped me to understand it on a complete different level, and I set up my OmniFocus step by step base on your instructions, works like a charm!
I do have a question to ask, right now I haven’t got the app on my iphone yet so mostly I use notes to jog down ideas. But usually I write quite a few on the same page, when it syncs to my email and then I load it into OmniFocus inbox through quick entry, all the ideas on the same note page becomes one entry/task, all listed in the paperclip note instead of being seperated tasks one by one.
Is it possible to turn them into tasks all seperately? (Right now I have to sort them through from notes under one single task, with copy and paste…rather slow and painful if I write quite some stuff on the same page in Notes of Iphone…..)

Big big thanks again!!

Posted by Ken  | July 31, 2013 at 5:06PM | Reply

I love your suggestion on perspective links. It works perfectly on my iphone. However, on the ipad the link does not function as a link like it does on the iphone. first off, unlike in the iphone, on the ipad you have to go into the note field to access the link. then when you hit the link it goes into edit mode (as if I want to edit the note rather than go to the link). By contrast, on the iphone, I don’t have to go to the note field to access the link. I can simply press the link and it takes me directly there. Since you say perspective links work on both iphone and ipad how were you able to make them work on the ipad?
(bye the way, great series of OF articles! Many thanks!!!)

Posted by Kerry  | May 12, 2014 at 7:54PM | Reply

Wow, thank you so much for putting all this information together! I went through all the articles and set myself up quite nicely. Although still a bit shaky on how to use OmniFocus to its full potential I am very excited about having enough of an understanding to use it at a Ninja-in-Training level.

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