OmniFocus is better than iced coffee

I gotta say that I love OmniFocus.  What’s that?  You don’t know what OmniFocus is?  Well, first question I must ask is…

Do you own a Mac?  NO?  Then do not read any more.  You’ll just get depressed.

If you do have a Mac, then you are going to dig this.

OmniFocus is a to-do app that works great with David Allen’s Get Things Done (GTD) system.  If you are like me you used to drool over the various things in the Franklin Covey stores, and read all of the books by Stephen Covey.  Heck, I was a member of the 7 Habits cult (as we referred to ourselves).  Truth be told, I was a MUCH bigger fan before the merger with Franklin.  After Franklin the company turned into ‘let’s sell as much fancy binders as we can’ instead of focusing on productivity.  They lost their way.  The first edition 7 Habits book was better (IMO) than the latter editions.

But something wasn’t working for me.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying.  I read all the books.  A treasured book of mine was a ‘textbook’ that the UAM Ambassadors used in weekly meetings called Og Mandino’s ‘University of Success’.  My copy, filled with notes from my fellow ambassador friends, was loaned to someone in need of positive influence, and he moved off with it.  I read several other books, Flight of the Buffalo,  The Road Less Travelled, The Three Meter Zone, The Oz Principle, Principle Centered Leadership, First Things First, Pour Your Heart Into It, Today Matters, Walking in This World, The Artist’s Way, and many more.  Some made me feel great, some helped a little, but still nothing seemed to ‘work’ for me.  Until I came upon Getting Things Done.  Seriously, read this book.

So, what is this all about?  Well, I’m not going to go through a step by step.  Read the book.  But I will say that it emphasizes that you need a system of capturing your tasks and a system of storing information.  I use, for a lot of things, Evernote to store information and for other things they are nested in file systems on my Mac.  I’ve used Remember the MilkThings, and several other to-do apps.   However, for my capture I use OmniFocus. 

I’m not going to go into why one is better than the other here as there are a variety of things that come into play, such as ease of use, being on all my devices, aesthetics, and so forth.  What I like about the GTD system working on OmniFocus is that is operates in two modes.

Projects View

This is an image of my sidebar for my desktop OmniFocus with my folders.  Inside I have a projects, being something defined as “2 or more tasks”.

I’ve played with many folder systems on this, trying to find a good balance.  Too few folders and everything is either ‘personal’ or ‘work’ and with several hundred tasks I cannot find anything at all.  With too many folders I can’t keep track of where a task is at or lose myself in the details.

This set up has the following folders as they are all separate (ish) areas of my life.  I expanded the Personal folder to show what I’ve got things broken down into.

Ritual: are things that I do pretty regularly and for which I wanted separate.  I get up in the morning, grab my coffee, and head to this folder and start checking off items (check ‘waiting for folder’, ‘check tickler file’, ‘review calendar’, ‘take fish oil’, ‘meditate’, etc…).

Home: I have ‘money’, ‘upkeep’, and others in this.

and so on.  Writing  could be its own folder, but I keep it here.  I’m always trying to find that balance.  I have a variety of spheres and jobs that I’ve separated.  I am a psychologist in training and I treat that as a full time job, I work as Resiliency Coordinator (R3SP), I am an Infantry and TCC Instructor (RTI), as well as a co-facilitator for a veteran’s domestic violence BIP (CADRE), get asked to be a motivational speaker from time to time (speaker), and I keep some templates for future use.

In the others I have basically the following:

Academic: Where I do research on the material, read articles, write reports, etc…

Administrative: Things that require maintenance, punch cards, counseling, pay, travel plans, etc…

Outreach: Projects that deal with reaching out to people, such as establish a website, creating forms, conferences, etc..

Presentations: I give a lot of presentations. This could be its own folder all by itself, but I keep a separate presentation folder in each separate job.



Everyone uses projects but it is contexts that make GTD shine.  What good is reviewing a to-do list that has ‘mow the yard’ when you are in a plane up in the air?

Why bother with contexts anyway?  Well if I have one job or only one thing to do then I might not really need to worry about it.  I used to work at a cabinet manufacturer and there were no to-do lists necessary.  Show up on time, nail nail nail, and punch out and go home.  But just one of my jobs above has multiple projects with different time lines, start dates, people involved, due-outs, and so forth.  That I have a couple of jobs like this and something like OmniFocus with its  contexts huge!

I’ve played around with contexts a LOT.  Holy cow, seriously.  I admit that for some reason the difference between the two wasn’t entirely cemented in my mind and this caused a lot of confusion.

Silence: those times when I am in deep chill mode.  This happens in my apartment, at a park, in a tent… and it is a particular state of mind.  Not too many things in this, but they fit this context.

Agenda: For dealing directly with some people.  For people that I deal with a lot they get their own context, but me being an introvert I don’t have too many “go find so and so” moments.

Computer: This one has a lot of blurs as I can do more and more on my iOS devices and need to rely on my Mac less and less.  Still, there are high-end presentations that MUST be done on my MBP and cannot be done on my iPad.  I also must work on an abhorrent computer system on a military network.  It is down often, the software is subpar, connectivity is lousy, sharing is hit and miss, and I use it only when I absolutely must.  There are a few tasks that I must do on this.  Unfortunately.

Office: I have a couple of locations that are offices and, as well as the Home context, they all have geofences on them.  There are somethings that I can only do at a particular office.  Not many (have iPad, MBP, iPhone, iMac will travel).

Out and About: If I am driving around I’ll look at this to see what I can pick up or such.  I’ve narrowed this down based on things I do, such as grocery store, which has a search geofence on it, which is a pretty slick thing.  When I am driving around it will look for the nearest grocery store and let me know if I have some tasks for it.

Waiting: When I am waiting for someone to return an email, mail me something, submit a report, or the like.  I like that I can set the start/end dates and forget about it.  So if I am waiting for Bob to return my goldfish but I gave him the first week of December to do it, I’ll set the start/end dates for that time frame and then forget about it.  It won’t show up on my OmniFocus until that date and remind me to start looking for it.

This is a map view on the iPhone app.  You’ll see that I have four contexts shown.  Mildep, Home, RTI, and a Grocery Store.  (I am at the blue dot… home).


Zooming into my Home context you’ll see that I have 10 available actions.  I’ve also got it set up to notify me of these tasks when I drive up to a location.  Pretty nifty.

Review: Last but not least is the review mode, an essential part of GTD.  This is a breeze on the iPad application.  You can see in the image that along the bottom left is the review timeframe.  For this particular one I’ve se for every week because there are always things changing (particularly with funding and rosters) and I like to be on top of it.

Along the bottom are some icons to allow me to set something to a complete, delete, on hold, or in progress status.  I can work on a project, tweeking its dates and tasks and when I am done I hit the review button.  If I do this every day I find that I am up on all of my many projects and things that I’ve forgotten about will rise back up to the top from time to time.  For example there is a book project I want to start and I have this on a 2 month review cycle.  Some things, if particularly hot and heavy, will be on a daily review cycle.

So there you go… how I use OmniFocus.  I hope this helps.




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