Beyond the OmniFocus 3 Forecast: OmniFocus 3 + Fantastical

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In this post, I attempt to bring my OmniFocus tasks to the forefront by bringing it over to my calendar app and working from the calendar.

OmniFocus and other task managers can be viewed as a bucket list holding a group of projects and tasks that are unscheduled. Whenever I find a free time block, I’ll look at my task manager for a list of available tasks to work on. An unscheduled task becomes a Most Important Task (MIT) when I move it to my calendar. This converts a task from my task manager into a scheduled task. When I schedule a task, I am intentionally reserving time in my day to get to work on it. If I don’t schedule time, I more likely than not won’t get it done. It is easier to let a task slip into Someday/Maybe if it remains a line item in the task manager. It’s “optional.” I bring my MITs up to the surface by moving the task from my task manager to my calendar.

Adding my calendar to my task manager aids me in making progress towards my goals, projects, and MITs. I work in retail and my schedule can vary from day to day. Some days, I might have a slow day and I can furiously check off tasks like crazy. Other days, I’ll be so busy with daily operations and I can get only one MIT done if I’m lucky. The randomness of my days can alter progress made in my many projects and checklists that I need to maintain.

The calendar shows me the map of my day. There are events that must happen at certain times. In between all the unavoidable events during the day, I can find small blocks of time where I can work on tasks that resides in my task manager. When I move a task from my task manager to the calendar, it becomes part of the hard landscape for the day.

Planning tomorrow

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I become intentional with my time by planning the day before. I want my decisions made ahead of time. At the end of the day, I choose my 3 MITs and slide it into empty time blocks for tomorrow.

I dreaded having a to-do list with a lot of flagged tasks and I never get around to it because Life goes crazy. Life has a way of decimating my perfectly planned schedule and MITs.

When tomorrow comes, I hit the ground running. I already know what I want to do. I work from Fantastical and stay away from my task manager. I get through one appointment and find that my next free time block is already planned. I don’t have to spend time in my task manager looking for the “perfect” next task to work on.

Don’t Overschedule The Day

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I try to be realistic and resist the urge to overschedule by choosing too many MITs. I choose only 3 MITs. Life has a habit of adding to my workload.

I schedule one MIT in the morning (if there is free time) and one MIT in the afternoon (if there is free time here too). If I can get those two MITs done, I’ll consider it a successful day. I keep a third MIT in my back pocket if I can squeeze it in somewhere in the day. The majority of my day might be filled with other daily activities that consumes much of my daily life. I might encounter a situation that requires my immediate attention - a leaky faucet, a broken piece of machinery, the school bus breaks down and I need to pick up the kids. These are things outside of my immediate control. I’ll consider it a personal victory that I am able to one or two of my MITs.

Setting up Fantastical

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Fantastical has been a key ingredient in moving my workflow from my task manager of choice to Fantastical. I still use OmniFocus to do a lot of heavy lifting. When I am in “Planning Mode”, I am deep inside my OmniFocus database. I am reviewing, creating, and curating all of my projects, checklists, and tasks here. But when I need to go into “Action Mode”, I hide OmniFocus from my screen and go to Fantastical.


Why Fantastical? Setting up Fantastical.

Fantastical will recognize an OmniFocus task’s estimated duration.

Fantastical will honor the estimated duration of a task. If I drag a task from OmniFocus to Fantastical, it will set the calendar event to the estimated duration if the information was entered. Here is a 2 hour task that became a 2 hour appointment.

A two hour OmniFocus task is converted into a two hour Calendar appointment

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OmniFocus 3’s Inspector showing estimated duration

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Fantastical’s appointment information showing duration

Apple Calendar will not recognize a task’s estimated duration and will default the appointment length to 1 hour. Try playing with this setting to find your preference. Many of my MITs takes 15-20 minutes to complete. I set my default duration in Fantastical to 30 minutes. Using 30 minute durations encourages me to put in more tasks into my calendar and results in overscheduling. Setting the default duration to 30 minutes hinders me from cramming more than 2 MITs in an hour. When I choose a task to convert to an appointment, I’ll lean more towards picking a task that usually takes more than 15 minutes.

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Fantastical can create a default notification for new tasks

I like to be notified about a new event 5 minutes ahead of time. I can work on a current MIT and hear the next notification ding. The alarm tells me I have 5 minutes to either finish the current MIT and start transitioning to the next MIT. If I want to continue the current MIT, I can go to Fantastical and move the next MIT to a later time today. I don’t do this often but if I’m on a roll, I’ll stick with the current MIT instead of switching to the next MIT.

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Create a Default Calendar for MITs

When I drag a task from OmniFocus to Fantastical, I like to have the task go into a dedicated calendar called “MIT”. This allows me to see my MITs in one group if I need to switch off the other calendars.

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Let’s go into my shutdown routine live in action.

From Unscheduled Task to Scheduled MIT

As part of my shutdown routine at the end of the day, I look at my list of available tasks and choose 3 MITs. I drag each task to an empty time block in the day. Each appointment will have a callback URL that will link back to the original task.

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In this video, I will move a task with no duration into Fantastical. The new appointment will default to 30 minutes. Then I move a task with a 2 hour estimated duration. This new appointment will automatically create a 2 hour appointment in Fantastical. I can click on the callback URL to return to my original OmniFocus task.

Creating a Time Block to work on a Big Rock project

Instead of working on MITs, I might want to focus on a project. I can visit the Projects perspective or my Big Rocks perspective and drag a project over to the calendar. I adjust the new appointment to my liking. In this example, I want to work on a project for the next two hours.

I can also visit my Tags perspective and drag a context tag to Fantastical. In this example, I’ll be dragging my @Office context tag to Fantastical because I want to work on office work for the next 2 hours.

Creating a Time Block to work in a Perspective

There are instances where I might want to work exclusively in an OmniFocus perspective. There is no easy way to create a time block that links to an OmniFocus perspective. I can go to Fantastical and create a new appointment. In the Notes section, I manually type in the callback-URL for my perspective. Make sure to match the letter casing. For example, omnifocus:///perspective/home will not open my Home perspective. I will need to correct it to omnifocus://perspective/Home. If there are spaces in the perspective name, be sure to replace the space with %20.

omnifocus:///perspective/Big%20rocks

To see a list of URL encoded characters, visit this link:

https://www.w3schools.com/tags/ref_urlencode.asp

Moving a Task further down the Day or Tomorrow

I will have days that turn into disasters. I’m so caught up in Life and all of its shenanigans. My schedule abruptly changes when overriding priorities take priority over my MITs, my Big Rocks, and other plans. I won’t beat myself up for not working on an MIT or Big Rock today. I renegotiate with myself and push my MIT appointment to a time slot later in the day. If I really fall behind, I might consider rescheduling it for tomorrow. As long as my MITs are on the schedule, I won’t forget about it.


Action Items

  1. Set up Fantastical by creating an MIT calendar to hold your MITs in one place.
  2. Set up the default duration to 30 minutes or an appropriate unit of time to your liking. Set a desirable time duration that fits most of your MITs. If your tasks are in the one hour range, set the default duration to one hour.
  3. Setup the default notification to 5 minutes. A 5 minute notification will tell you when to close up one task.
  4. Move a task from OmniFocus to Fantastical.
  5. Move a project from OmniFocus to Fantastical.
  6. Move a tag from OmniFocus to Fantastical.
  7. Create a Fantastical appointment with a callback-URL link to am OmniFocus perspective.
  8. Move an MIT calendar appointment to a future time slot.

This is my current experiment. I’ve traditionally been looking at OmniFocus and choosing a handful of tasks and writing into my analog notebook. Then I’d find time in the day to complete and cross off a task from my notebook.

I’ve also tried using the OmniFocus 3 Forecast Tag feature to put my MITs into the schedule. But I couldn’t move my appointments to the future if I fall behind in my current work.

I wanted to see if I can use my under-utilized Fantastical as a day planner. I didn’t want to stay in my task manager because I might be tempted to procrastinate by tinkering with my projects and checklists. I kept OmniFocus as my Planning Tool and started using Fantastical as my Action Tool. I stay focused on my MITs and will only go back to OmniFocus if I need to grab a few more tasks to schedule in.

I’ll be trying this experiment for another month to see how this goes. If anyone has another way to planning out their day to eat their frog or get their MITs, let us know. Share and post your experiment at the Guild!