Breaking Down My OmniFocus Review Into Bite-Sized Reviews

Mag Glass

The Weekly Review is an essential part of any productivity system, GTD or otherwise. But it can also be the scariest. The weekly review is easy to do when I have a small number of projects and checklists (Single Action Lists or SALs in OmniFocus). But when I start adding a large number of projects and checklists, it becomes a challenging experience right up there next to having my teeth pulled out. I can’t imagine doing a weekly review if I had to spend more than one hour in one sitting. That just introduces decision fatigue and frustration. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I didn’t have to review everything once a week! I could break the review workflow down into bite-size reviews.

I have two different types of Single Action Lists (SALs) - the repeating tasks and the one-off tasks, and two different types of projects (Active and On Hold). The type of SAL and the project status dictates to me how frequently I will be reviewing each item.


Setting Up The Review Perspectives

Setting Up The Active Projects Review

review preferences

I visit the OmniFocus Date & Time Preferences and check the default review interval is 1 week. This is the default setting for a newly installed OmniFocus. Next, I go to the Review perspective and change the view settings to show Active projects only. The OmniFocus review perspective will be used to review Active projects only. It will not show On Hold and Deferred projects.

Review settings active

Setting Up The On Hold Projects Review

Now, I’ll create a custom perspective that will be dedicated to reviewing all my On Hold (Someday/Maybe projects). Here are the settings:


Setting Up The OmniFocus Folders

I detailed my OmniFocus folder setup in the Administrative and Routines Task Workflow and the Managing My Big Rocks in OmniFocus Workflow. I’ll provide a quick rehash here.

Administrative Routines - Repeating Maintenance Tasks (review every 1 week)

Admin Routines

I created an Admin Routines workflow that will hold all of my checklists full of repeating tasks that needs to get done. Most of these SALs will get reviewed once every week.

review 1 week

I review my repeating SALs once a week just to make sure I didn’t miss any tasks that should be completed. Some SALs such as Seasonal Routines can be reviewed on a monthly or quarterly basis. Use your judgement to determine the appropriate review interval for each SAL.

Administrative Tasks - One-Off Single Actions (review every 3 days)

Admin Actions

These SALs hold all of my one-off single actions that aren’t big enough to become a project. These single actions are grouped by my Areas of Responsibilities. I have some single tasks that belong in Office Actions. There are single tasks grouped inside House Actions. I set the review cycle for these SALs to every three days.

Review every 3 days

I don’t want to see these SALs every day because it will just annoy the crap out of me and I become numb whenever I see them. I will most likely click Marked as reviewed just to get rid of the nagging. Reviewing these SALs every three days is enough to remind myself of any actions that may have slipped past me. I might get a phone call from my wife to pick up something on the way home. My co-worker sends me a request for a report he needs tomorrow. My kid will call me to get some school supplies for her class project. These small single actions gets added to the various Admin Action SALs on a daily basis. Reviewing these SALs every three days is a good review interval and keeps me aware of any small requests that will pop up in my Admin Tasks SALs. Some SALs might get changed more frequently and I will need to shorten the review interval to two days or even daily. One candidate for a daily review is my Office Actions SAL which gets a lot of new tasks every day.

Folders - Areas of Responsibilities

Projects List

I create folders for each Area of Responsibility in my life. Other areas can include Church Projects, Community Volunteer Projects, Soccer Coach Projects, etc. As detailed in the Managing My Big Rocks in OmniFocus Workflow, I set most of my projects to On Hold and keep only one to three Active projects in each folder. I can’t do everything (as much as I wish I could). Keeping the number of Active projects in each folder is essential in preventing workload. In my example, I have a major House Renovation project and a Poolhouse Renovation project. All of the other projects are set to On Hold for now.

Active inactive projects

I defined a Big Rock project as any project that has an Active project status. I am actively working on these projects today or in the next few days.

Project status active

A Someday/Maybe project is any project that has an On Hold project status.

Project status on hold


Staggering My Review Dates: The Beginning

Now that I have created my Admin Routines folder, Admin Actions folder, and the various Project folders, I’ll start to stagger my review dates. I go to the Projects perspective and click on the first SAL or project. I’ll set the review date to Monday. Then I go down the list and type in Tuesday. The next project/SAL will get Wednesday. I cycle through the days of the week until I have finished all of the SALs and projects. Alternatively, I can set the review dates for certain projects when it makes sense. My Christmas shopping project can get a start review date of November 1st. My Spring Advertising Campaign project has a start review date of January 1st. Some projects and SALs will determine their own starting review date. Otherwise, I’ll just go through the days of the week.

Review Thursday

To make it easier to enter days of the week, I can type mon, tue, wed, thu, fri, sat, and sun.


Starting My Review Process

Here’s where the rubber meet the road. I’ve setup the folders, changed the view settings for the Review perspective, and created a custom perspective for reviewing On Hold projects. Let’s get started with finally reviewing!

Reviewing Active Projects (Big Rocks) and SALs

I wake up in the morning to do a quick daily review. I click on the Review perspective and go through the list of projects and SALs to be reviewed. Some days, I might have only one active project to review. On other days, I might get six projects up for review. I only worry about reviewing my active projects and SALs because my attention should be focused on the workload that is in front of me. I’m not worried about my On Hold projects at all.

I will see my SALs more frequently because I set the review cycle to 3 days. Most of my Active Big Rock projects are set to be seen weekly just to check up on them. I am doing a daily tactical review looking at my workload at the task and project level. In GTD parlance, this is the Runway Horizon of Focus and the 10,000 feet Horizon of Focus.

Reviewing On Hold Projects (Someday/Maybe)

I review On Hold projects by folders on different days of the week. For my current workload, I’ve scheduled:

  1. Mondays - Work projects
  2. Tuesdays - Advertising projects
  3. Wednesdays - House projects
  4. Thursdays - Personal projects
  5. Fridays - UOG projects (my personal side business)
  6. Saturdays (optional) - Overall review of all On Hold projects.

I look at a different folder every day and run through each On Hold project and “touch it.” I review the next actions, revise some next actions, or delete next actions.

I am also looking at the On Hold projects to see if i can activate it or to keep it in On Hold mode for a little longer. Or I might just delete it if the project has -grown stale.

This review is a strategic review of all my On Hold projects. Can I do something with these On Hold projects? Can I delete any dead projects? I don’t need to look at the On Hold projects as intensely as the Active projects and SALs.

Instead of reviewing On Hold projects based on the day of the week, I can choose another schedule. I can review on the first and third Friday of each month to review all my On Hold projects. Or I can schedule it for every Friday afternoon. As long as I schedule a calendar appointment to review my On Hold projects, I’m comfortable trusting my system.


Summary

Breaking up my reviews from a two hour energy draining experience into daily morning reviews of five to fifteen minutes makes a difference. It’s hard to schedule a two hour time block in my life. But I can handle five to 15 minutes minutes every day. I always reserve a time block every day to do the review.

There is an axiom in productivity: If a project or workflow is too difficult, break it down into smaller pieces.

I am always looking for ways to make the review workflow easier. This is my current review workflow. I’m sure there is something I’m gonna miss or a situation that i haven’t encountered yet that will break down the review workflow. I had to break my 2 hour weekly review into smaller daily reviews to make it easier for me. Do any of you have workflows that makes your review easier?

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As a followup, I thought I’d add the day of the week to review each folder (Area of Responsibility). This gives me the necessary visual reminder of when to review each folder.

Review by days of the week

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