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How do I stay on top of OmniFocus projects when I’m waiting for someone else?

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OmniFocus

One under-utilized aspect of OmniFocus is that it can help you keep track of who you need to follow up with. Most people use OmniFocus to organize tasks and then check things off as they complete them. That’s great but you’re really missing out on a powerful utility of OmniFocus – especially when you’re delegating work, need to wait to hear back from someone or follow up. How do you keep track of this?

I’ll show you how do this.

OmniFocus can be very effective at identifying bottle necks in projects and reminding you where you need to follow up with people to move a project forward.

Let’s look at a typical scenario. Say you just finished a report that needs to be reviewed first before you submit it to a client on Thursday. You emailed Sandy on Monday for her to review the report and now you’re waiting to hear back.

Right now the bottle neck is Sandy. You have to wait for her approval first before you can close out the project. How do you keep track of this in OmniFocus?

There are lots of hacks for this but none of them are as elegant and effective as the usage of contexts that are on hold.

A hack would be something like creating an event on your calendar on Wednesday at 12pm to check if Sandy replied. Another hack could be creating a task in OmniFocus with something along the lines of “Check up with Sandy” with a due date on Wednesday.

They work but are “ugly” and not as effective. Let me show you a solution I recently proposed to someone else (who had a similar challenge). Here’s what one OmniFocus Premium Posts client, Carl M from the USA, emailed us:

I read through Part 1, and setup OmniFocus as you suggested.

I am a software engineer, and at work we use a Bug Tracking system to drive quite a bit of our work. So for every Bug in Bugzilla that is assigned to me, I create a Project in OmniFocus. I also create actions for each Project as needed.

When I finish work on an Action, and request help from someone else, I change the Context of the Action to Waiting.

Then when I switch to the Work:Planning perspective, I see the Project listed, but DO NOT see the Action because it is set to Context Waiting (On Hold).

What I expected was that I wouldn’t see either the Project or the Action in the Work:Planning Perspective, since the Action is currently Waiting.

Do I misunderstand the expected behavior of OmniFocus here? -OR- Did I configure something incorrectly?

Thank you for your help!

P.S. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Premium Posts! They are very clear, well written and answered a number of questions I’ve had the last year as I’ve struggled with trying to use OmniFocus.

A Couple Notes

If you haven’t gotten a copy of OmniFocus Premium Posts, a lot of this will not make much sense. That’s because Carl is referencing specific workflow aspects that are covered in OmniFocus Premium Posts.

The idea is the same though: he assigns something and he needs to hear back from someone before he can move forward. The problem he’s having is that his perspectives aren’t showing the items where he needs to follow up. So he’s potentially letting things slip through the cracks.

On top of that, he’s assigning those “follow-up tasks” with a Waiting context that’s on hold (the elegant solution). This is something we advocate in OmniFocus Premium Posts and my response below will explain why.

My Response

Hi Carl,

What I would recommend is that you create another perspective, “Waiting On”, based on your Waiting contexts. So when you look at this perspective, you can see anything where you need to wait for something.

It’s very simple. Go in Context mode, select all your @Waiting for Contexts and play with the filters depending how you want it. I wrote about this briefly in the post of Perspectives in OmniFocus Premium Posts.

Advantage: what you can do is set a start date to “today” for actions so you know when you initiated it. Then if you want, you can also use a due date on those actions with the @Waiting contexts for when you need a response by.

So with this approach, whenever you fix something and set an action to @Waiting, you want make sure the project is sequential (not parallel) and that the waiting action is at the top of the list. This will make sure that the project doesn’t show up in the Planning perspective (you’ll see it but it’s greyed out with no action available).

When you have your Waiting For perspective, it should show up there.

Basically, your workflow would look something like “Okay let’s open up Planning perspective and select stuff I can work on”. Then you go “Okay now let’s check my Waiting For perspective to see which actions are pending and where I might need to follow up”. Then you get to work.

-Thanh

Elaboration

Using a context that’s on hold has multiple benefits:

  1. You don’t clutter your planning process. When you plan your day, you should focus on your biggest opportunities. Your Quadrant 2 tasks.
  2. You can group all follow-ups in one view. By setting up a perspective that focuses on the Waiting contexts you can group all of them in one view. This allows you to batch follow-ups and efficiently move projects forward as needed.
You can have sub-contexts where you get even more specific. I use Misc for random people/companies I don't deal with on a regular basis.

You can have sub-contexts where you get even more specific. I use Misc for random people/companies I don’t deal with on a regular basis.

You can go even more granular by creating sub-contexts for each person, company or organization. Instead of having a generic “Waiting” contexts, you could have @Waiting:Aaron, @Waiting:Marie, @Waiting:CompanyX, etc. So the next time you see that person or you’re on the phone with a rep of CompanyX, you can pull up all the bottlenecks and elegantly address them by checking the associated context.

For the more intermediate and advanced OmniFocus users, I would add the following tips:

  • Use a TextExpander snippet for naming your tasks where you’re waiting for someone. I use “;wf” (without quotes) that automatically expands to “Waiting for “. Then you simply add a name and a short description.
  • Only put in email follow-ups in OmniFocus if they are very important and time sensitive. Otherwise, your email workflow and system should naturally force you to follow up on people as you process your inbox.
  • Use start dates to indicate when something was assigned.
  • Use due dates if you need a response from someone before a date. I always add one day as a buffer, e.g. something is due Friday, I set it to Thursday.

Hope you find this useful! If you want a workflow and system for OmniFocus, check out OmniFocus Premium Posts where we cover all this and more.

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