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Help a one-man-show computer service guy get started with OF Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hi -

The other day I installed the trial version of OmniFocus. I'm hoping I can get some guidance with getting the proper structures set up for using this fine-looking program. I hope you don't mind a long first post, but I think it might be helpful to explain what I do.

I'm a one-man-show computer service business. I go to people's homes and offices to help them with their computer needs: wireless networks, virus removal, tune ups, teach 'em how to do things, fix broken computers, help them buy new ones, etc. I position myself as a consultant and charge for my time only. If a client needs something I'll often buy it for them and charge my cost, so I don't have a lot of inventory or spend time bidding systems.

A look at my to do list shows several key areas. The most important, and fluid is the list of what I need to do for what customers. I've got my customers separated into two groups (Projects): "Customers A" and "Customers". "Customers A" are my most valued, repeat customers. "Customers" is everyone else - the 80/20 rule so to speak.

Customers and Contexts

My "Customers A" presently has about 20 items on the list - many of them single actions, others are small projects. The contexts fit mostly with OFs predefined contexts, but I've added "Onsite" for work I need to do at their home or office and "Remote" for things I can do via remote control.

Under the "Customers A" project I have listed individual client or business names and below that the unique to-do items or small projects for that client.

Customers A
- Jane Doe
- - research best DVD recorder
- - order RAM upgrade
- - fix problem emailing from Jane to Joan

- John Smith
- - order wiring parts for farmhouse
- - talk to hosting provider about forwarding email

The first problem I run into is when I view my "Mac:Online" context it lists all the things I need to do but next to each item it just says "Customers A", not "Customers A:Jane Doe" or something that identifies the customer.

Finding the most value for my time

Of all the little to-dos I have, I'd like to be able to sift through and find the highest value. It would be nice to assign a dollar value to each project or to-do for a customer. This could be done with just assigning the amount of time it might take since I charge by the hour for just about everything I do.

All the other little areas of responsibility

If just taking care of customers was all I had to do it would be great. But, I also have to bill them, collect the money, deposit it, make appointments, return phone calls and emails, file taxes and every other little detail of running a small business. Plus, we've moved within the last year and will be finishing the basement in our new home (my office is down there). Not to mention all the personal responsibilities and commitments.


I've watched several of the readily available videos including the intro Screencast and a few videos through I've been plugging in items into the system from my Things program (been using minimally effectively for almost a year). I've been trying to follow David Allen's GTD philosophy for about two years (again with limited success) and have read his book, audiobook, etc. about 1 1/2 times.

I use a new MacBook Air that I just purchased. Have a desktop Mac at home office as well as an iPhone and iPad (I know, I'm sick :) ) I'll probably wait on the iOS apps until I master the regular Mac app.

I'm hoping that if I can create the right system with OF I can really get down to business.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice in this matter!
Welcome aboard! Happy to help.

One recommendation would be to create folders to organize projects by customer, rather than try to treat the customers as items within a project. So, you could create a "Customers A" folder, then put a "Jane Doe" folder in there, and finally put any projects you need to do for that customer in that folder.

(Opening up OmniFocus' preferences and enabling the "Show Full Hierarchy" setting may help fill out the project and context cells, though you'll still want to try and keep the action names somewhat identifiable on an individual basis.)

In general, a project has some sort of outcome; it might make sense to make a Single Action list for the various one-off items for a customer, but I wouldn't try to lump everything under one project.

Another thing I would do, at least for the A-list customers, would be to create a context for them. That's where the "Bill them" and "Collect the money" actions go - stuff that can't be done without contacting the customer. For the non-repeat stuff, I'd probably use the action title and the note field to ensure you have enough info to do the action.

Re: money for time - it's not shown by default, but OmniFocus does support a "how much time will this take" attribute for items. Select View -> Columns -> Estimate to make it visible in either view.

Hopefully that helps get you started - keep the questions coming and we can lend a hand. :-)
I'd rework the structure a little bit. Instead of a Customers A project and a Customers project, I'd go with a Customers A folder and a Customers folder (probably would name them differently, too!), and populate them with a project per customer. Now when you look at your context lists, you're going to see individual customer names as the projects next to those actions (assuming you've got the Project column turned on, or are grouping by project). Better yet, you can focus on an individual customer, group of customers, or class of customers and see only the tasks relating to them. You do this by selecting project(s) or folder(s) in the sidebar and clicking the Focus button. You can put individual customers on hold or postpone their work until a future date. You get to use the Review functionality to look after the customer projects on an individual basis to make sure they are progressing satisfactorily; you could review your meal-ticket customers' projects every day, and the others every few days, etc. In general, you have the most flexibility and control with individual projects.

As for spotting the "high value" items, there are a couple of approaches you could take here. One is to subvert the Duration field if you don't need it, and just use it as a numeric value, with smaller numbers being higher value. Then you could set the View Bar to show you the tasks with a duration estimate of 5 minutes or less to show you only the tasks you had marked with the highest values (= shortest time), 15 minutes or less to show you the top two tiers, etc. The filter is set up to allow you to find the most tasks you could do in a given amount of time, not show you those which you couldn't do, so it wouldn't work so conveniently to use the actual time you would spend as an indication of value.

Another approach you could use is to just flag the high value items, though you wouldn't be able to differentiate between the various high value items. Or you could "tag" them in the notes with a fixed set of tokens like "@500", "@300", "@100" so that you could set up perspectives showing you all of the items in the "@500" bucket, etc.

Finally, a completely different approach is to take advantage of how OmniFocus uses the ordering in the sidebar to display actions. Move the important customers' projects up in the order, and their actions appear earlier in the lists. If you are in context mode, grouping by project will show you the most important customer's actions first in the list of projects so you can remind yourself what is important. Switching to grouping by context, sorted by project you can look at the contexts you could work immediately, with the actions sorted by relative importance of the customer. You can combine this with other approaches as well, because you are just taking advantage of the fact that OmniFocus attempts to put things in sidebar order unless you tell it to do otherwise.

Make another folder and put your personal projects inside it and you can work them independent of your business tasks if you like.
And today Brian wins the race :-)
Thanks for the fast, detailed replies. I need a little while to experiment with the new ideas and learn some more.
I'm not sure if you have had a chance yet - but I found the two online Screencast Tutorials to be absolutely fantastic in getting started.

Two things I did find useful:
1) create folders to store Projects into (as suggested above)
2) indent sub-actions under actions

I'm in the same business as you are (and I also teach), so I will often have an "Area" of responsibility (which I use a Folder for), then multiple Projects within that area of responsibility (Projects), Actions to be completed for each Project, and finally sub-Actions to be completed to for Actions that aren't projects in themselves (indenting)
Want to see who to call next. I have a single-action list called Miscellaneous under my Library. I click the Contexts icon and scroll down to the Phone filter. I can't sort and drag those items. I'd like to drag my more important calls to the top of the list. I put flags on the important ones and click the flag header sort the six or so important ones. But I want to prioritize the order I call them. I try to drag and drop and it acts like it will do it, but doesn't.
The settings you choose under the View menu determine what order the items in Context view appear in; we've got a feature request open on the ability to do a "manual" sort in that view, but it's not currently supported.

(If you email the support ninjas, we can attach your email to that feature request; ones with more customer interest get higher priority, all other things being equal.)

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