in Productivity

OmniFocus Workflow Q&A

One of the cornerstones of Getting Things Done is getting anything on your mind down to a trusted system. While this may sound simple in theory, how to actually handle different scenarios can be quite tricky.

Following the post on The 2016 OmniFocus Setup and Workflow, where I wrote about my GTD setup in OmniFocus as it looked roughly a year ago, I received some questions on how to take advantage of the workflow for certain scenarios. A Reddit user summed up these questions well in a comment, where the person was unsure how to handle the specific scenarios. I would like to answer a couple of them here.

I want to check out that CLI tool fzf and possibly include it in my workflow if I like it

When I stumble on things to research, the first step is usually that a link or similar would end up in my OmniFocus inbox when I first hear of it. In this case, I would use the share sheet in Safari or maybe the clippings shortcut to quickly get a link into my inbox, and then just continue going about my business.

I empty my inbox as part of my daily review, which I do in the morning when I arrive at the office, and sometimes after lunch and it’s finally emptied as my shutdown ritual before I leave the office. For this inbox item, I would name the action “Research fzf dev tool” and keep the link in the notes, and then just add it to my single-actions list1, since I would think that researching the tool would likely mean actually installing and testing it. I would have assigned the context “Hanging Around”, since this is something I want to do when I have some time to spare and my focus isn’t at its peak, such as some time in the afternoon.

I have a new idea to build an app to do X (as in an hobby/idea/”someday”, not a work assignment)

If this is something that I want to move on right now or within the current week or so, I would simply add it to my current projects and add the first2 next action with the relevant context.

If this is something that I will move on in the future, it will instead end up in my Someday/Maybe list. These lists also reside in OmniFocus, but are paused projects and assigned to a context that is on hold. If the project is something I want to move on in the coming weeks or month or two, I will add it as a project under “Someday – Upcoming Projects” folder, which I review as part of my Weekly Review, so I can just activate anything there as appropriate. If the project is something for the distant future, I will add it as an action to the “Someday – Creative – Tech Projects” list. This list will usually also be reviewed weekly, but if I am short on time, I will just focus on the “Upcoming Projects” folder.

I want actually start building that app idea I had the other day (still not “work”, no “due” date)

In this case, I would add the project to OmniFocus under the “Personal” folder. The next step is to add enough information to the project so you get everything out of your head. This can be next actions and support material. I usually try to keep support material in the notes field of the project, but if the project requires a lot of external information, I will instead keep it in Evernote and link back to OmniFocus.

I’ve been needing to backup and reinstall home media server this week (multi-step project, not truly “due” in the “work” sense, since no harm if it never gets done, breaking down into individual steps itself takes at least some effort)

I would handle this in a similar fashion as the previous question, e.g. create the project under the “Personal” folder and create at least one next action. If there’s information that I have already gathered, I would add that to the project support information.

Now, if I want to work on this during the weekend, I would either just book some time in the calendar3, or maybe flag the next action so it would be on top4 of my “home” context. This way I know that I will be reminded of it every time I look at this list.

add a new feature/improvement/bug-fix to some application for work (a task with no defined due date, but not “someday”… project already exists)… details of “feature” yet to be worked out and I’m busy now

This is something that varies depending on how you work and if you work alone or with others, but say I would work for myself and my application needed a new feature, I would create a new project for it. The next action could be as simple as “Research / Look into how to do x for ‘feature'”. When working through my contexts5, I would just treat that action as any other and work on it as I get to it.

buy plane tickets for Christmas (when’s it due? what’s the context? How do I stop it from “slipping through”?)

The project in this case could be “Christmas trip prepared”, and if you already know where to go, a next action could simply be “Book 4 plane tickets on to visit family for Christmas” and the note field can contain related information if that helps you get it out of your head. The context if using the classic contexts would probably be “mac” or similar. In my setup, I would just set the context to “Short dashes”, since this is something that’s fast to do. Maybe even just skip this altogether and just go ahead and book the tickets.

Another scenario could be to find a vacation destination to take your family for Christmas and in that case, the next action could instead be “Research Christmas holiday destinations”, with the context “mac” or “Hanging around” if using my setup.

I would set the due date for the project to the date you want to leave for your trip, but again, if you want to be sure to get something done at a particular time, just schedule some time in the calendar where you will look into this. I usually look at my “Hanging around” list when I’m on my iPad or iPhone6 and have a decent amount of time.

a bill that’s due next week (so important), but there was an error in the bill, so you are “waiting” to hear back from them before you pay… how do I stop this from “slipping through”, or how do I escalate to “time to stop waiting”?

In this case, I would create a project called “Xyz bill paid” with a next action of “Waiting for response from xyz re: bill”. The action would have a due date well in time before the bill is due where I still can do something about it if I don’t hear back, together with the “Waiting for” context. I will set the due date for the project itself to the date the bill must be paid at the latest.

As part of my daily review, which I do every weekday in the morning, is to look at my Waiting For perspective7 in OmniFocus, which is sorted by due date. This means that if I haven’t heard back from the bill collector by the due date set, I can take action.

If they do get back to me before the waiting for is due, I will either just pay the bill directly if I can, or add a new action called “Pay xyz bill” to the project. If I remember that there is a “waiting for” action created, I check that off. Otherwise, it will surface as the due date approaches, and then I can cross it off my list.

  1. I have a single-actions list for “Personal” and for “Work”, where I gather small actions which are not part of a project. 
  2. Not necessarily only the first next action, but as many as I need to get the project out of my head. 
  3. The calendar is a trusted system, meaning that I trust it to notify my of upcoming scheduled time. That means that it’s important to keep the calendar honest and not save things there that don’t belong there. 
  4. I sort my context list by flagged and due, so they will be higher up in the list than the rest of the actions. 
  5. When working on a context, I usually just start at the top and continue down. During my Daily Review, I flag actions that I want to get done before others, and I have sorted the context view in OmniFocus to show me flagged and due actions above everything else. This provides me with the confidence and trust that I will see and get to the most important actions first. 
  6. My larger iPhone 6s Plus really helps here, since it lets me work almost in the same way as if I would be using an iPad. 
  7. Read more about how my perspectives are setup in my 2016 OmniFocus Setup guide.