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I risk asking a variant of a question asked a billion times, but I can't seem to get my head around my experimenting w/ OF. That leads me to ask, am I just not getting it cause i've got a bad habit way of thinking about to-dos, or I've just not figured out how to tweak OF enough.

I think tagging of sorts will be coming but some don't believe in it. So that aside for now. I have this conceptual problem:

I get the inbox and I get putting things nicely away into different projects, etc. Now that's done and the questions start. I have tons of things to do and on hold, some things on hold, but one thing I could do in it because an opp. came up, I have things I really need to get done soon, and things I need to do ASAP, and things to do today, which may not be that important, but I'd like to get milk and send an email, etc.

I thought of moving the most important projects away from their hierarchies to an eat frog kind of folder, but then i lost my structure, and if it's a single item from a project and not the entire project, that would really confuse things. If I change a context to "urgent" or "do now" then I lose my "online" or "Mr. Smith" contexts. If I flag, then there's just too many things flagged, and then my daily needs... If I could use multiple contexts then I could solve this, or tagging... There are lots of ways to slice it and I've tried a bunch, but none are elegant and things slip through.

Basically there are different levels of priorities. I could have 5 things that rise to the top from the 20. 3 of those really need to get done very soon, 1 needs to get done immediately, and then there are those daily things that aren't urgent, but I want to do them today.

Just point me to the threads and such if this has been answered. I've read a few, but just thick headed and can't get clear for every scenario i have that comes up.


One thing I've seen fairly commonly from folks new to OmniFocus or GTD is there's a lot of pent-up demand to get everything figured out and be more productive. This leads to a desire to figure everything out all at once, which very quickly becomes overwhelming and discouraging.

You're not alone, in other words. ;-)

The first step I usually recommend is to get used to capturing stuff - it's a manageable task, and the "oh man, I'm not forgetting stuff any more" provides some encouraging feedback. Sounds like you've got that part down.

Next, I usually recommend folks work on getting used to reviewing and picking a manageable number of tasks to work on for the next day/week/whatever. Sounds like you're at that stage.

It's not super-easy at first, partially because of the stage I just mentioned. Previously, you'd idly think about doing something, work on something more important/immediate... and painlessly forget about the other thing you wanted to do if it didn't really matter. Now you've got this app reminding you "oh, I wanted to do this!" So, again - you're not alone in feeling a little overwhelmed. :-)

Thing to remember: it's really and truly okay to defer actions and projects. In fact, it's pretty much necessary - we all aspire to a lot of things. In my experience, we all almost always want to do more stuff than we'll actually be able to get done.

If flagging the 20 items you mentioned wanting to get done is overwhelming, unflag stuff until you feel like you can actually do everything that day. If you get them done early, flag a few more and work on them. If not, re-evaluate the next day and flag a few less next time until you hit the right balance.

Eventually, you realize that you're probably still not getting all 20 things done in one day, but realistically, that was never going to actually happen. In the meantime, you're getting the most important stuff done and getting better at predicting what you can do in a day, which also feels better. It's a win-win. :-)

Hope this helps!

Last edited by Brian; 2013-03-07 at 04:05 PM.. Reason: "want to more" --> "want to do more" & "few less times" --> "few less next time"
Are you lost in the forest for looking too long at the leaves on the trees? IOW, have you worked your life's plan from the top down well enough so that you know what well enough what your "big picture" is all about? Where do your individual tasks fit in that big picture?

Are you playing too much with the tool that you have blunted your use of it? IOW, are you looking too much for tweaks and hacks and tags and multiple contexts and scripts and ... whatever else relative to just using OmniFocus? How do you foresee the search for something better in OmniFocus will help you actually achieve something significant in your big picture or even do something important on a project?

These are questions to try to break you out of where you are by having you look at what you are doing from the outside, rather than having you work (harder, faster, better, cleaner, more efficiently ...) at the same things.

I was a bit nervous about what replies i might get as I'm guessing it's a fairly common question, though the implementation is very idiosyncratic and therefore prob. frustration to try and solve when someone is looking for that "answer" or "key" that will fix it all...

To my surprise both of these answers are very sincere and understanding of what's really behind the software itself, the user, and the user's desire to reign in the chaos with some magic wand. I can use these cogent insights and let me workflow evolve (i mean it has been, just maybe i'm getting impatient to get a system down that covers all bases)...

I'll keep at it, on and off OF, and try to be as zen (for lack of a better word) as these responders have been.


Originally Posted by rdbot View Post
"the user's desire to reign in the chaos with some magic wand"
While that actually does make sense, it doesn't mean what you think it does :-)
Originally Posted by Brian View Post
I usually recommend folks work on getting used to reviewing and picking a manageable number of tasks to work on for the next day/week/whatever.
Out of curiosity, how are u personally doing this? Flagging items, setting due dates, setting things in the future, helpful contexts, folder structures, all of the above, etc. I guess that's where I start to get off track, I have too many possible ways to say this is I important, and too many levels of importance. Are there any simple workflows you like on the web i can read/watch? I've researched many, but none (yet) working for me. Asian Efficiency for instance very thorough but overkill for me, others too simple for my kind of freelance work with many possible things but I never know which might take off.

Also whpalmer4, can you expound? :)
Originally Posted by rdbot View Post
... Are there any simple workflows ... for my kind of freelance work with many possible things but I never know which might take off.
Some tips that may help ...

* A template can be useful to define the structure of a recurring project ... define the template, put it as Inactive, and then duplicate and activate it a new need arises.
* Projects that start off with no known direction or outcome can (and should) be put On Hold until they get an outcome (something defined that will happen at the end) and a direction (a path to make that outcome happen) ... i.e. until they "take off".
* Separate your daily reviews in to two distinct parts. First clear out clutter in ongoing projects and decide whether or not to activate projects that are currently On Hold. Then, set up your plan to handle tasks that are due for the day and tasks that you otherwise propose to do on that day.
* As needed, you can also set up a single, recurring, "in your face" reminder-type action to manually tell you to review your On Hold projects.

Originally Posted by rdbot View Post
Out of curiosity, how are u personally doing this?
I don't know that my workflow is all that ritualized to the point where I could explain it. It's a collection of habits I've picked up over the years that seem to work for me.

I have two big folders at the top of my project tree - "Work" and "Home". All projects go into one of them. I have a perspective that hides my home projects at work, and similarly, one that hides my work projects when I'm at home.

During particularly busy times, I'll do daily reviews, but mostly I try to handle the big planning on the weekend. I sit down with my iPad and spend some time getting all my projects in order. Activate some, deactivate some, flag a few actions here and there if they won't otherwise be visible.

If I try to optimize on a day-by-day basis I find it eats a whole lot more time than it saves and stresses me out. If I can get the week pointed in the right direction and then do a little bit of steering as needed, it works better for me. I can't articulate how many actions is "enough" to have on my plate - it's just a gut feeling I've developed through years of repetition.

That said, when in doubt, err on the side of too few rather than too many. Keeping stress levels low is the single best thing you can get from this.

On the context side, I have a hierarchy that roughly duplicates the org chart of the company. The vast majority of my work actions go in one of those contexts - it's either the person I need to get something from, or the person I need to give something to when it's done.

(A recent addition to this setup was a "Meetings" category, describing the ones I go to regularly. Actions that fall into the "everyone at the meeting needs to hear this" category go there, rather than being assigned to any given person.)

I mostly defer actions by setting/updating a start date on them. If I'm talking with someone and they need more time, I open the action on my phone and use the "+1 day/week/month" buttons to get it out of my face until the appropriate time.

Other than that, it's mostly just bouncing back and forth between Forecast and Flagged view in the iPad app - I have it propped up on my desk next to my keyboard.

Stuff gets *entered* on all three devices, and gets checked off /deferred on the phone, because it's always in my pocket. But the weekly planning and daily tracking of that plan all happens in the iPad.

Like I said, not super-well organized, but I hope it's helpful. The single most important tip, though, is to remember that GTD-style productivity is a skill, and just like any other skill, it takes practice and patience to develop it. You'll get there, though. :-)
Thanks Brian, it's great when people are so generous and not territorial with their processes. Your tone and outlook especially makes this whole process so much less intimidating. :) This was really helpful and much appreciated!


If you are using OF on a desktop mac, this applescript can really make templates work a lot more smoothly for you:

It is an update/extension of Curt Clifton's templates script, which I had been using for a few years before this newer script came along.

I agree with JJW about the value of breaking recurring tasks down into templates. This can significantly reduce the friction involved in capturing certain kinds of stuff.

For example, I review a lot of documents. So I have a template that relates to that, because the workflow around that review is generally pretty consistent. The templates script makes is really easy to drop the work flow around document review into any project that requires it. So I don't have to type all that stuff in each time. It also keeps those actions pretty consistent.

I also have templates for opening different kinds of matters (projects), because there are a bunch of little admin steps I need to do every time (e.g., create client file, send fee letter, etc). The template creates a nice check list for me with very little work. Then, I can fill in the other specifics of the substantive work I'm going to need to do.

With very little effort, I've created a pretty comprehensive framework for capturing and managing the information I'll need to work on that project. If I had to do that manually each time I started a new project, I wouldn't do it. And things would feel even more chaotic.

The act of creating the template is also a really great opportunity to think about your workflow and to distill the important parts into something that does recur.

The templates script also has a bunch of date logic you can build into the template. I'm only beginning to explore using that. So I can't speak intelligently to it yet.

But my assumption is that if I want to build some standard tickling dates into my template, I can do that (e.g., if I know that I want to set a due date on the third step of the workflow that is 7 days after the date I created the workflow, this applescript can do it.

Beyond that, take heart, I've been using OF since it was Kinkless GTD. I feel like I'm still learning new stuff and refining how I use it. It's like playing an instrument. I've been playing guitar for 35 years. While my learning curve is a lot flatter today than it was in the first few years, there are still plenty of things to learn and refine.

Some of the stuff Brian is saying about using the tool to hide as much stuff as possible is really only starting to sink in for me after all this time.

It's similar to the Inbox Zero thing with e-mail. I didn't think that doing it in Gmail would make that big of a difference. I'd gotten along fine keeping a large portion of my e-mail in my inbox. It was not big deal, right? But Inbox Zero really has made a difference for me. Only seeing a few things in the inbox that are important now, really makes it easier to focus on those things.

You don't realize the degree to which having a list of even 15 things in front of you can subtly start to overwhelm you brain. But when you start to use some tools to boil that list down 1-5 things your going to do that day, it's surprising how it helps with focus and flow.

The beauty of OF is that if you finish the things on your list, it's easy to reload it with new stuff. But until you are ready to do that, it stays out of your way.


Last edited by kingsinger; 2013-03-20 at 11:06 PM..

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