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Integrating OmniFocus into your Life Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hi all,

I have begun to skim the surface of using OmniFocus for the past few months, I have the iPhone client as well as the desktop, but I can't seem to dedicate myself to using it all the time.

I use it every once in awhile then I won't check it for a few days. I don't know exactly how the weekly review function works, and I don't know what best ways to put "projects" into the client and what projects in my life I'd put in it. I guess I'm just suffering from newbie-ness, even though I am familiar with the program, perspectives, and it's general use.

How do you all integrate OmniFocus into your daily lives; what are some examples of projects or areas of responsibility that you place in your OmniFocus client; what advice can you offer to help get me off to being dedicated to OmniFocus?

I am a very detail-oriented person and I would love to be able to dive in and STAY with the OmniFocus experience and life, but I can't help but drift every few days or so only to come back and try to get dedicated to using it again.

P.S. For some background, I originally purchased "Things." After a week of trying it out, it was way too simple - I enjoy nesting and the fact that Things did not support that along with not being able to sync via webDAV ruined any chance the program had with me. Then I discovered OmniFocus.. and it's just a matter of getting dedicated and knowing the best way to utilize it. I know most of you will say it's best to customize it to fit your needs, but I could use some great advice to hear how you all utilize it, how it is setup for you, and how you get yourself to stick to it daily.

Last edited by prominence; 2009-09-17 at 05:48 PM..
 
That's a huge question. I think that if you haven't read much about David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) task management approach, it would be helpful for you to do so.

I have OmniFocus set up with 10 top-level folders representing different areas of my personal and professional responsibilities. Within each, I put projects (anything that takes more than one step to complete), and most have their own list of single actions.

For instance, I'm a history professor, and I have a folder called "Book and manuscript reviews." Each time I review a book or a manuscript, I create a project for it. In the project, I put the first couple of steps that I need to do, often beginning with a "waiting for" item until the publisher sends me the manuscript or the review editor sends me the book. I assign a "waiting" context to those items, so that when I go over my context lists, I can quickly see everything I'm waiting for, and when in planning mode, I know what the status is at a glance.

Once the book arrives, I tick off the waiting for item. Usually I've entered the next task--read the book--and I'll add a time estimate after glancing over the book to see how long and how difficult it will be. Sometimes, though, I won't have entered a next action.

This is where the review feature is great. I use the Inspector to set a review interval for each project (usually every week, but sometimes more often and sometimes less often). Every day, I open the Review perspective and look at every project that's set for review today (and any previous reviews I might have missed--my system isn't perfect). When I review an existing project, I ask myself a series of questions:

--Have I completed the project? If so, I mark it complete.

--Have I defined a next action? If not, I define one.

--Have I been making sufficient progress on this project? If not, I might shorten the review interval. A review is a form of reminding yourself that you've made a commitment to do something.

--Is this still a project I should be working on now? I.e., have my other commitments changed so that this project is less important? Depending on the answers, I might put the project on hold and set a review date in the future when I think I might want to make it active again. If the project is unlikely to ever get my attention, I might drop it.

--Is this project becoming urgent? If so, I'll flag it.

--Is this project's due date (if it has one) still realistic? If not, I'll add an action to renegotiate the due date with whoever needs the results. I don't like doing this, but it's better to do so than to simply miss a deadline.

The great thing about the review process is that it allows you to do minimal planning while still ensuring that you get stuff done. You don't have to plan out a whole project at once (which is a great invitation to procrastinate); instead, you just have to ask yourself, "what is the next concrete step (action) I can take toward finishing this project?" Once you've defined that, you can rest assured that you'll have something in your context lists that will move the project forward. If you review the project frequently enough, you'll be able to add additional steps to keep the project underway without overplanning.

Of course I'll often enter multiple steps, especially for a complicated project like teaching a semester-long course, with action groups to separate different kinds of tasks and to sequence them properly.

When it comes to doing things, my approach varies. Because I took my vacation late this summer, just before the semester started, I'm working a lot from my Due Items perspective, to make sure I don't miss any important deadlines. Otherwise, though, I tend to do two things:

1) In Context mode, select (command-click) the contexts in which I find myself. I'll then look at flagged items in those contexts, do them if I have time and energy, and then move on to non-flagged items.

2) In Planning mode, use the Focus command on a folder, then scan the projects to see if there's something that needs attention in a different context. I'll then switch to Context mode, while keeping the focus, so I can select the contexts I'm in and see only actions that are connected to that area of responsibility. That's how I keep certain administrative jobs from taking up all the time that I really ought to be devoting to working on articles and books--or at least, that's how in theory I do it!

At the beginning and end of the day, I try to quickly scan the Due and Flagged perspectives as a way of ensuring I keep on top of things that are urgent, important, or both. I also borrowed from Curt Clifton the idea of a Tickler perspective that is set to show actions that begin today and tomorrow, so I know what I should start to consider--and, if necessary, push the start date forward when circumstances change.

I hope those examples give some idea of the real-life possibilities of OmniFocus. I've been using it for nearly two and a half years and it's become indispensible; I had used Life Balance before but OF is just so much better for my needs.
 
Thank you so much for the in-depth reply! It is very helpful, but I guess where I get hung-up is when trying to decide what exact folders to make and what constitutes taking the time to put into OmniFocus or if I should just leave it in the back of my head.

I guess my major problem is that I just don't (or feel like I don't) "have enough" to put into OmniFocus to really harness its power.

So it's just a matter of commiting every single thought that comes into your head into OmniFocus? What's the best way of starting out -- thinking of big areas of responsibility like you mentioned before, then digging into them and planning out the goals and actions to reach those goals within those areas of responsibility? It seems like areas of responsibility = folder, goals = project, actions to reach goals = single-action items in projects.

But like I said.. just feels like I don't "have enough" to put into OmniFocus.. any responses/advice to this?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by prominence View Post
But like I said.. just feels like I don't "have enough" to put into OmniFocus.. any responses/advice to this?
Can I send you some of my work?

But seriously, I think you've raised the crucial point here:

Quote:
I guess where I get hung-up is when trying to decide what exact folders to make and what constitutes taking the time to put into OmniFocus or if I should just leave it in the back of my head.
If you can leave stuff in the back of your head and trust that you won't forget it at the opportune moment, then more power to you. I can't trust myself to do that. I could, more or less, when I was in my 20s and early 30s, but either aging or a broader set of responsibilities makes that impossible for me.

These days, if something pops into the front of my head, I have a simple decision tree that I use:

Is this at all potentially important or interesting?
  • NO: Do nothing
  • YES: Can I do it now, ideally in less than two minutes?
    • YES: Do it now
    • NO: Enter it in OmniFocus or in an inbox that will make its way to OmniFocus

Once I know it's in my "trusted system" (as David Allen says), I no longer need to devote any effort to remembering it. That's a liberating feeling for me.

As for your hierarchy, I think you're spot on: folders are areas of responsibility that don't have a clear end (or, if there is an end, it's because you've changed jobs/children are out of the house/whatever), projects are concrete goals that can be completed, and actions are steps toward that goal. For me, "House" is a folder, "Reorganized garage" is a project, and "Install wall hooks for hand tools" is an action. (A purist might make "Install wall hooks" a project, since it might involve buying hooks, getting the tools required to install them, etc. Since I have them on hand, it's effectively a one step action for me.)

In the end, I think OmniFocus or any task manager is most useful if you enter just enough detail to make sure you won't forget anything. If you do something habitually--e.g. a morning stretching routine, brushing your teeth, etc.--it doesn't need to go in OmniFocus. If there is some other prompt that will get you to do something--like a sink full of dirty dishes that prompts you to load the dishwasher--it doesn't need to go into OmniFocus. If it's in your calendar and scanning your calendar will be a good enough reminder, it doesn't need to go into OmniFocus. But if you can't count on a concrete reminder, then it should go into OmniFocus.
 
I got into OmniFocus slowly.....

I intentionally started out with pen and a small binder clip of 3x5 index cards. After I got comfortable with GTD, I eased into OmniFocus (desktop version).

I'd suggest getting comfortable with GTD and pen & paper first. Get the GTD habits down first before trying to push OmniFocus into your life. I adopted this habit first as suggest at zenhabits.net. They suggest keeping GTD simple and adopting one habit at a time until it becomes second nature for you.


I've been using OmniFocus took about a year now. It was fun using OmniFocus during the collection phase. During my weekl review, I'd do my usual brain-dump and go through all my inboxes and put everything into OmniFocus. At least I know it's there.


I think OmniFocus clicked for me when I finally used it for the daily and weekly review.

I use OmniFocus to do a daily review and a weekly review more consistently now. I use OmniFocus' review mode during my weekly review to focus in on a particular project or Area of Responsibility. I would use it to delete projects/tasks that I no longer considered important to me. Of course, I'd block out about 30 minutes to an hour (put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door) for my weekly review.

OmniFocus helps me a lot with my "on hold projects". By default, I put all new projects in the Someday/Maybe folder and set the status to "Inactive". From there, I would "activate" certain projects and move it out of Someday/Maybe and make sure to set the project to active mode. I'd also move some active projects back into Someday/Maybe when I'm not not making progress.

This helps me keep my plate full enough. Just have enough active projects to keep me busy and put all the other projects on the backburner in the Someday/Maybe folder.

The weekly review is where you do your housecleaning. Keep the projects that you think are still important. Then delete all the projects that you no longer consider important to you.


When I first got my iPod touch, the first program I bought was the OmniFocus app. That's a lifesaver for me. If I'm not near my computer, I can have my context list available for me. I'll find myself waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for my wife while she is shopping. I would just whip out my iPod touch and start looking at my current context list and do a mini-review. I'd be able to squeeze in a little bit of my daily and weekly review here and there. When I get back home, I'd sync back to my MacBook.

Having the iPod touch and OmniFocus has finally made it easy for me to integrate OmniFocus into my life. I always keep my iPod touch and a stack of 3x5 index cards within easy reach. I never know when inspiration hits me and I'll want to capture it easily. So I'd write my random idea on an index card or enter it into the OmniFocus ipod inbox.

It's amazing to have my context list at my fingertips. At work I'll use OmniFocus. If I leave the office, I'll just do a quick sync to my iPod touch and have it available for me anywhere....
 
 


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