An OmniFocus Workflow for 2020

I was contemplating a hole in my system, and thanks to the discussion with @rosemary and @wilsonng during our last office hours session, I made a jump this week: I’m now back using OmniFocus!

My usage is wholly different than before, so let’s take a dive into my OmniFocus workflow for 2020!

Principles

One of my major issues with any task management software has been putting too much into it. To combat that, I’ve created a Notion page called Productivity Rules of Engagement to outline what the acceptable use of my system should be – for me.

Some of those aims include:

  • Nothing goes into OF unless I’m fully committed to doing it.
  • If I’m not working on it in the next 3-6 months, it’s not in OmniFocus; instead, it lands in my project incubation database in Notion.
  • Use other tools for capture (Drafts, Bullet Journal, MindNode); put only processed stuff in OmniFocus unless I absolutely need to capture it there.
  • Deferring tasks I’m not doing right now will only be deferred by 1 day, 1 week (to Sun), or 1 month (first of month).
  • Flags are not used for priority, but to signify work I’m intending to do this week.
  • Priority tasks are tagged with the Priority tag.
  • Review projects are named with a :arrows_counterclockwise: emoji
  • Single action lists are surrounded in []

Structure

I used to have a lot of folders in my setup, but this time around, I’m aiming to keep it super simple.

  • Projects - All projects I’m committed to working on. They are not divided by area of responsibility, but they are ordered by priority from top (highest) to bottom (lowest).
  • Actions - These are single action lists for areas and recurring system management projects.
  • Triage - I place projects that need some massaging or completion here prior to integrating into one of the other folders. Right now my monthly, seasonal, and annual review projects are in this folder until I can build the checklist out further.

Tags

I went hog wild with tags in my last go-around with OmniFocus. Definitely not doing that this time.

My philosophy with tags isn’t to denote context, but to call out special cases.

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  • Priority - Tasks that should take higher priority over others in the system.
  • Agenda - Items I need to bring up with people in the next month.
  • Routine - Routine tasks to help the “world keep turning”.
  • Review - Tasks related to my review process.
  • Waiting - Pretty self explanatory.

Perspectives

As with tags, I went crazy with perspectives last time. This is the part that still needs some refining, but these are mostly what I’ll stick with.

  • Fire - My overdue, due, and flagged tasks. The way I think about this is these are the tasks to move the needle or keep the fire burning, hence the name.
  • Available Work - Once I’m through my ‘Fire’ tasks for the week, I move on to available work. This perspective shows all active projects with available tasks (no empty projects here). Since my list is ordered by priority, I work from top to bottom.
  • Active Reviews - Reviews are what keep the ship in order, so I’m doing daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual reviews. This perspective shows any that are active and in need of completion.
  • Inactive Projects - Simply a quick way to view any projects that are deferred, on hold, or have no remaining actions.
  • Tasks Deferred Now Available - Sometimes I defer tasks to a day if I absolutely have to do it then. This perspective shows any task that is available and has a defer date set, effectively showing any tasks that may need addressing.

As with every productivity system, refinement and iteration is in order. However, after realizing that you don’t need to put everything in a tool like OmniFocus, but instead bring it all into a bigger system of tools and processes, things get much easier to manage.

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I’ve turned away from the idea of having one app that will do everything. It’s time to use the right tool for the right situation.

I think it is a good idea to review our task manager’s folder/list structure to see what needs to be broken down into other lists, regrouped into different folders, and find folders/projects checklists that can be eliminated or combined. We can trust our task manager when the contents more closely reflects the current reality. Our life changes and our task manager folder structure needs to change accordingly.

Yay! I’ve been working at reducing my tags too! Most of my tasks have one primary tag. The only time I add a secondary tag is if it involves a person. I have very few “meta” tags but I’m still playing with that idea. The idea is to keep the number of tags to a minimum. When I went tag crazy, it became difficult to choose what would be a proper tag.

Did anyone else find their task manager workflow change from last year to this year?

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Oh totally. I think reworking my folder structure has been huge for me, as had been my rethinking of tags. I now only tag actions that can’t just be done from mostly wherever. Anything with a tag (or with tags) needs certain conditions in order to occur. So those have been huge changes for me.

I’ve also renamed my Forecast Tag like eight times, and have done a lot with Shortcuts to make OF data more available to others or to be in other places.

But I love that my system can change and evolve, while still staying true to me and carrying forward the fundamentals of supporting the five phases of GTD workflow.

ScottyJ

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Thanks @heyscottyj! Overtagging (or having too many tags) can over-complicate things. Heck, I try to keep my folder structures as shallow as possible. One folder deep is what I strive for.

This has been a key part of my transition back to OmniFocus. Before I tried to ham-fist ever task into some kind of tag that I never used. Now, I have a handful of tags that I’m aiming to use to add meaningful metadata.

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I think metadata presents well as an idea (like, tag everything with all the ways!), but in practical terms, it is only valuable in the quality of lists it provides and how those lists make sense (or not).

Turns out having a list of emails I could send but only those that are high priority and only those that are to a particular recipient… is not a useful list :rofl:.

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Oh dear, I have a lot of tags, one for each of my clients, phone, email, quick, etc. I use these to filter things in perspectives, to show me home, work, Client work, daily communications.

This allows me to batch process work such as writing all emails at one sitting.

What makes this a lot simpler for me is setting a tag on a project/SAL. All my clients get their own SAL tagged with their name. This may contain email tasks, (possible) future work, domain renewals, invoicing etc. Tagging and perspectives allows me to filter what I only need to see, such as all future discussion items across all clients, all invoices I need to issue etc etc.

I do agree though that more than one tag per task is best although sometimes I do use two, more than that and the system is probably getting to complex and needs some reworking somewhere.

Seems I am bucking the trend here… :wink:

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Naw… I wouldn’t worry about it. Our systems adapt with our demands. I wouldn’t dismiss tags altogether. Instead I’d use it when applicable.

It’s interesting to see people going tagless. It might be a reaction to users over-tagging and finally cutting it cold turkey as a new experiment. Later. They might start adding a few tags when they need it.

I’ve subscribed to the idea of having a single primary tag for my tasks. Then I might have a tag indicating a person that is involved with a task. I’ve found that I’ve never used more than 1-2 tags. I’ll add more tags if more people are involved. But that’s rare. I’ll switch to a tag indicating a group of people instead of the person’s name.

Do what works for you!

I easily get frustrated by overcomplication hence my move away from it. Who knows though – I may end up with more tags as we go :man_shrugging:

I bet if you have a huge DB 3 tags might be helpful depending on the metadata provided.

Not at all! The ideal trend is doing what one finds to be effective. What is effective for me and my work doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else.

I think that what does apply broadly is taking the time to consider what is/is not effective, and building workflows around that that are as complex as they need to be, but no more complex than that.

Sounds like you have a great system with established rules around how you use tags! I like the way you can approach that with a consistent lens.

Cheers,

ScottyJ

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