Get things done with Omnifocus

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This blog is aimed primarily at people that have at least a basic understanding of the GTD® methodology (Getting Things Done), and would like to know more about how to actually implement the process in OmniFocus 1 or OmniFocus 2. If you do not know what GTD® is, but find it remotely interesting, you can read some of my other blogs on the subject (starting with this one), or simply google GTD. You will find lots of information about it. The official website is www.davidco.com..

Most people that know me are aware of my passion for the GTD® methodology. I’ve been following it since 2008, and it completely transformed my life.

I would like to take this opportunity to communicate that I am not licensed, certified, approved, or endorsed by or otherwise affiliated with David Allen or the David Allen Company which is the creator of the Getting Things Done® system for personal productivity. GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. For more information on the David Allen Company’s products, please visit their website: www.davidco.com.

I’ve been using OmniFocus since 2008. I’ve tried many other tools, but Omnifocus in my opinion is the most complete one. The only other tool that I liked which has a really good GTD® workflow is DoIt. I was using it for about 3 months but found the lack of attachment support (true as of Oct 2014) too annoying (although the tool itself has a really good GTD® workflow, and it supports all major operating systems for both desktop and mobile).

This blog outlines the way I use OmniFocus. There are literally unlimited ways to use this tool. I do not suggest that this is the best way, it is simply the best way for my needs. I usually find myself adjusting my workflows at least once a year. I believe that there is always room for improvement, so I am always questioning my own workflows.

There are many good resources to learn about Omnifocus. I will not cover the basics here. You can always google that. A VERY good overview of both the GTD® process and the usage of Omnifocus was created by David Sparks. The screencasts in the link are for OmniFocus 1, but the principles are the same (OmniFocus 2 is mostly a UI face lift in my opinion).

So how do I use OmniFocus to implement GTD® ?

Omnifocus has two main views: Projects and Contexts (you should look at the screencasts I referred to if you are not sure about what they mean).

Projects View:

My projects view is broken down by folders to include my areas of focus in my life. Which currently include the following areas:

Screenshot 2014-10-11 13.27.19

Those are implemented as folders and sub folders in Omnifocus. Each folder has projects that are part of that area of my life.

Context View:

Screenshot_2014-10-11_13_34_27

A context is applied to anything that needs to get done.

The project view is used as part of planning (while I do reviews, to ensure that all projects have next action items). Contexts views are used while actually performing work during the day.

Usage Example for projects & contexts:

If I have a project named “Replace light bulb in the kitchen” under the “Home Maintenance” area of focus (folder), it may have those steps:

– Buy a new 23W fluorescent lightbulb from an electronics store (context: Out & About)
– Replace lightbulb in the kitchen (context: Home -> Me)

Next time when I am “out & about”, and I review my out & about list, I will be reminded that I need to buy the lightbulb. Once that’s complete, the next time I review my lists while at home, I will replace the lightbulb (assuming I already purchased the lightbulb). The next time I review my projects lists (happens on a weekly basis), I will complete the project (because it will have no more steps to complete).

Flags and start dates:

One of the challenges when using  GTD®, is that there are usually around 200 items that we would like to complete, but we cannot complete all of them at once. This can make for very long and daunting list of things to do. To get over those obstacles, Omnifocus provides a few tools:

  1. Flag -> The flag allows you to simply set a flag on an item. I use it to mark an item that requires my attention, that flag makes it “more important” than other things.
  2. Start Date -> Omnifocus allows you to setup a start date on any item or project. Any item that has a start date that is more than today is considered “not available”.

Usage Example for flags and start dates:

If I have a new employee joining the function point team for example, and I want to be reminded to perform a 3 months evaluation at the end of the probation period, I would create a new item as such:

– Review {staff name} performance at the end of the 3 months probation period

The context will be Work->Staff -> {staff name} , I will flag it to make it important, and I will give it a starting date of 3 months from today.

The steps above will make this item disappear from my “needs attention list” (I will cover it in the next section) until the time arrives for the review. This means that it is out of sight and out of mind until it is actually needed to be performed. When it is needed to be performed, it will automatically “show itself” as an item that needs immediate attention.

Getting a list of what’s important:

In omnifocus 1 or omnifocus 2 pro, you can create custom views for your items (called perspectives). This allows you to filter the information and view only the important things to work on.

These are my settings for the “Needs Attention” list. It is a list of items by context.

Screenshot_2014-10-11_14_15_26

this is how the list looks like in Omnifocus:

Screenshot_2014-10-11_14_25_37
To provide a list of things that are less important (backlog items), I use the following perspective:

Screenshot 2014-10-11 14.33.54If you notice, the only difference is the “Filter by status” parameter, that now has “Unflagged”. By definition, anything that is not flagged, is something that I would like to do “next”.

If something is REALLY not important (a sometimes / maybe item), and I don’t want to see it for a while, I will not flag it, and I will also give it a start date in the future (3 / 6 months from today), that will make it show in the “next” list after a long period of time. At that point I can decide if it is worth keeping, or simply delete it.

Recurring items:

If you notice in my above screenshot,  I have some items that are marked with “(delete when complete)” ending. These are items that are recurring (for example having a hair cut every 6 weeks -> Yes, I need to be reminded about that). 

Below is an example for a recurring item. Every month I need to fill my expenses at the beginning of the month (expenses incurred during the previous month). I set the flag on the item to make it important, I give it a start date, so the item does not show in my “needs attention” list until the time passes. I set it to repeat every month.

When I check the item as completed, Omnifocus automatically creates a new item with a start date the is a month after the current item. This item is not due by a particular day, but it is recommended to do towards the beginning of the month (or our controller will give me a VERY hard time about it).

If someday I will not need to do anymore expenses, I will simply delete the item from my Omnifocus.

Screenshot_2014-10-11_14_45_16

Omnifocus 2 hidden adjustments

Since Omnifocus 2 is still quite new (at the time of writing this blog), there are some configuration options that are available without a user interface. Those configuration options are listed in this website http://braintags.com/blog/2014/05/omnifocus-2-configuration

Personally, I use two of the items namely:

Alternate Layout – This provides a more compact view of the items, closer to version 1 of the software.

Hide empty contexts in the main outlet – Some filters may result in listing contexts that have no values in them. This hidden preference cleans those view.

Closing remarks

GTD® is a way to help you manage your life, and keep you sane ! Omnifocus is the tool (for me) to implement that system. I’ve spent years perfecting my processes to match my needs, but I am sure that others can find this information useful.

Hopefully this blog will help SOMEONE have a better experience while cruising on the space ship we call earth.

Drop me a line if you have any questions !