Managing My Big Rocks (Special Projects) in OmniFocus

Managing My Big Rocks - The Special Projects Workflow (OmniFocus)

Juggling my life with the boring administrative tasks and my Big Rock projects has always been a challenge. I have to juggle between working on administrative tasks (housekeeping, monthly reports, bill payments) and Big Rock projects. There are days when Life interrupts me with emergency tasks and prevents me from working on my Big Rock projects.

A Big Rock is a project that accomplishes a goal. Some of my Big Rock projects will solve a problem or create a desired situation (renovate my house, work on the Christmas advertising campaign). Other projects will create workflows or systems that take care of situations that repeat itself often (Annual workshop behind-the-scene processes, paying my government taxes). Another group of projects will improve my skill base to increase future opportunities (learning Final Cut Pro, get certification as a Life Coach).


I separate my administrative and routine tasks from my special projects. As described in the [Administrative and Routine Tasks Workflow], I placed all of my administrative tasks into an Admin folder such as this:

1 Admin Routines folder

3 Admin Single Actions

This keeps my administrative tasks from interfering with my Big Rock projects.

Next, I want to put all of my special projects in their own folders.

Setting Up The Big Rock Projects

I start creating a series of folders (File > New Folder) that represents the Areas of Responsibilities in my life.

New Folder

Let’s look at a few folders representing some of my Areas of Responsibilities:

Create Projects-areas of responsibilities

In my example, I have folders for the Office, UOG (my side business), the House, and Personal. I create new projects in each folder.

1 show big rocks special projects folder

Now that I’ve populated my folders with projects, I need to create a custom perspective that will let me see my Big Rocks.

Creating The Big Rocks Custom Perspective

I start to create a custom perspective by selecting Perspectives > Add Perspective…

Add perspective

Here are the settings for my Big Rocks perspective:

This is a project-based perspective with projects grouped by folder (Areas of Responsibilities). It shows all remaining tasks for each active project in my folders.

Click on the Focus field to enter folder names or click on the triangle to reveal a dropdown menu that shows a list of all your projects. I selected all of the project folders that I want to appear in the Big Rocks perspective. In my example, I selected Office Projects, UOG Projects, House Projects, and Personal Projects.


Next, I’ll select Active (Big Rocks) projects and On Hold (Someday/Maybe) projects .

Setting Projects To “Active” Status (Big Rocks)

Whenever I make new projects, I automatically set the project status to **On Hold **. I will set the status to Active only if it needs to be done immediately (i.e. my wife wants me to do it now! :grimacing:). This helps with overwhelm when I keep adding new projects while my current projects are still being worked on.

A Big Rock project is an Active project that is geared towards accomplishing a goal that will improve my life. Here is an example of a currently Active Big Rock project:

4 big rocks active

For most active projects, I set the Review interval to 1 week. If a project is under constant change, I set the review interval to every two to three days to help monitor any new adjustments made to a constantly evolving project.

4a active - 1 week review

I switch over to my Big Rock custom perspective and see all of my current Big Rock (active) projects displayed in OmniFocus’ main outline:

2 main outline

Setting Projects to “On Hold” Status (Someday/Maybe)

There will be times when I need to put a project back on the back burner. I might have to set it aside so that I can turn another On Hold project into an Active project.


A Someday/Maybe project is any project that has the project status set to On Hold or deferred to a future date. I will not be working on this project today or in the next 7 days.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

During my weekly review, I visit my Projects perspective and make a decision about project status.

  1. Do I want to make a project a Big Rock?
    Set the project status to Active.
    4 big rocks active

    A project can also show up in the Big Rocks perspective if the defer date is today.
    project deferred to today

  2. Do I need to put a project on the back burner (Someday/Maybe)?
    Set the project status to On Hold.
    5 big rocks on hold

  3. Do I need to start a project at a a later date?
    Set the defer date of a project to start on a future date. I might need to wait on a project until some trigger occurs. it could be seasonal weather, waiting for someone else to return back to work, or other conditional factors that can affect a project’s progress.
    5a big rocks scheduled and deferred

Looking in the Projects perspective to see project status.

In the Projects perspective, I can look at the Projects sidebar and see the status of each project.

I don’t need to have all of my projects Active. If I have all of my projects Active, I’ll probably go crazy. I spread myself too thin if I nibble on all of these projects. I won’t make significant progress in any one project because of the lack of focus. I can focus by choosing just a small handful of projects from each folder. In my screenshot above, I have 2 active projects, 4 deferred projects (set to start at a future date), and 2 On Hold projects. Narrowing my choices down to 2 projects in the Personal folder allows me to wholeheartedly attack these projects and get them completed. I will not be spending energy and focus on the other inactive projects.

When I return back to the Big Rocks perspective, I will see only two projects in the Personal Folder grouping. The Active projects will appear and all On Hold/deferred projects will be hidden.


Setting Review intervals for On Hold projects.

If the project is on hold, I may not need to review on a weekly basis. I like to set my review of On Hold projects to 2 weeks or 1 month as needed. I will still be tickled into reviewing these projects in the Review perspective but not as often as currently Active projects. I can trust OmniFocus to keep my projects until I am ready to re-activate them once again.

Limiting the number of projects to 3 or less for each folder.

Keep the number of Active (Big Rock) projects small. I like to have one to three Active Big Rocks for each folder. This gives me enough variety to work on if I want to switch between projects.

2 main outline

I intentionally keep the number of Big Rocks small because I already have my hands full with the administrative tasks from the Admin perspective.

Sometimes I might have no projects in a folder (Area of Responsibilities) because I want to focus on other areas. For example, my house renovation projects (inside the House folder) will be put on hold during the Christmas season because I will be busy running a Holiday Advertising campaign for most of November and December. My House folder will not have any active projects because I replaced it with more Work projects. After the Christmas season, I can start re-activating some House projects. It’s always a game of give and take. I need to make room to work on one project by putting another project on hold. I don’t overload because I need to be realistic about my capacity to complete multiple projects. If I finish one project in a folder, I can easily revisit the Projects perspective to see if I want to start up another project.

Working in The Big Rocks perspective

Now that I’ve set up the project folders and the Big Rocks custom perspective, it’s time to get to work.

I like to schedule various time blocks of 30-60 minutes throughout the day to handle my administrative tasks. Then I schedule a few 30-60 minute time blocks to dedicate myself to one of the Big Rocks in the Big Rocks perspective. I can easily switch between one of the Big Rocks available to me by clicking on one of the projects in the projects sidebar. The project’s tasks will be shown in the main outline. In this screenshot, I selected the project “R&D FileMaker Pro 16”. I can see all of the remaining actions for the selected project now.

I can work on this project until my time block is up or I can keep working on it for another 30-60 minutes. I can always switch to another project if I wanted.


The Big Rocks perspective allows me to focus on a small group of Active projects and make steady progress in them until completion. I work in project mode, not context mode, when I am in the Big Rocks perspective.

Switching the project status to Active brings a project into the Big Rocks perspective. Changing the project status to On Hold or setting a future defer date will put the project into Someday/Maybe mode and keep it safely tucked away for another day.

I feel much better when I know I am not working on any On Hold (Someday/Maybe) projects. I intentionally set projects to Active when I want to work on them this week.

I love visiting my Big Rocks. This is where I can truly work on meaningful projects that will improve the quality of my life. I already have the boring administrative tasks taken care of in the Administrative and Routine Tasks Workflow. The Big Rocks workflow is where I get closer to accomplishing my dreams and goals. Hopefully you can work on your Big Rocks and make life easier for you.


Interestingly enough, I realized I implemented a system on Friday just like yours without knowing it. I spent probably an hour journaling out problems and solutions and this is very close. The only thing I have different in a way is a “Backlog” folder where I keep my on hold projects. However, I think I’ll move those into the area of focus folder and adjust my perspective to view On Hold projects.

I like it @wilsonng!

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Thanks. Looking back at this, I know that some folks will adopt their own review cycle and can ignore that part as well as other parts don’t work for their setup.

I used to have a backlog folder and put all my On Hold projects in there. But It was a hassle to move a project from the backlog folder to a Big Rocks folder and then set the project status to Active.

I figured I’d eliminate the drag-and-drop from Backlog folder to Big Rock folder. I just focused on all of my folders (Areas of Interest) and excluded the Admin Actions folder (containing all my single actions lists) and my Admin Routines folder (holding all my repeating stuff).

I do drag my newly active projects up to the top of the folder list. This lets me see all active projects at the top when I’m in the Projects perspective. But I think I don’t really have to do this because only active projects will show up in the Big Rock perspective.

I think the main core is to show only active projects in a perspective and work on only those. I put everything else on hold because I can only handle so many projects at one time. Too many gears in motion will distract me. Focus on a handful of projects and complete them.

The difficult part about OmniFocus is that we have to discover for ourselves what works for our own unique situation. Some other apps like Things 3, Pagico, and Firetask have a workflow and guides you through it. I guess that’s why you will find a lot of personalized OmniFocus workflows that are available via a Google search or as a paid product.

We’ll hopefully find something that works for us. Maybe a person needs something like Things 3, Pagico, and Firetask to help us work without opening up the hood. Later, we’ll want to upgrade from that little 4c-cylinder car that struggles to climb a hill and switch to a V6 engine that lets you get on the highway.

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yeah, I think I started seeing a common trend when I was Googling for OmniFocus workflows. Certain workflow patterns started to emerge. It started looking like something that could be also done in 2Do or Things. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we were all starting to use it in very similar ways with personal tweaks based on our own lives.

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