Managing My Dumpster Fires in OmniFocus (An OmniFocus Workflow)

This is the first post in a series of posts about OmniFocus. I hope you enjoy these articles.


Life has been nothing but a series of dumpster fires that comes in waves. Sometimes I succeed in putting out. Other times it gets away from me and burns until I finally have it under control. I’ve seen my life fall into four major circles that are in a constant between each other:

My OmniFocus Circles

I’ll take a quick tour through the four circles that have my attention:


Life - All the distractions and inputs come at me in waves from this crazy little thing called Life. My spouse might need me to get some groceries on my way home. A leak sprung up in the kitchen faucet and I need to pick up some new hardware to fix it. My kids need me to buy a birthday present for a party this weekend. The boss or a client plops a big project folder on to my desk and I have to shove my carefully planned day down the toilet when I have to turn my full attention to the newest dumpster fire. This is an area that I don’t really have control over. Life generates projects and one-off tasks that fill up my queue easily.

Admin - I have a lot of boring tasks that I try to ignore but I can’t. The dirty dishes piling up in the
sink. The pile of dirty laundry gathering up in my laundry baskets. The mold and grime that accumulates in the bathroom. The refrigerator needs to be replenished with new groceries on a weekly basis. The weekly/monthly status reports for my work projects. I can ignore these administrative (or repeating) tasks but there are people in my life who hold me accountable for these various maintenance tasks and projects. It keeps piling up until I roll up my sleeves until I start tackling these small rocks one by one.

Big Rocks - These are my pet projects. They are not administrative in nature. These are a group of tasks that will accomplish a goal to improve my life in one way or another. Maybe it’s a workflow documentation project that will systematize a series of repeatable actions so that I can get consistent results every time I need it. Or it might be building a brand new guest room so I can have a place for my guests whenever they visit my family. I am always looking forward to working on my Big Rocks.

Someday/Maybe - These are all of the pet projects that I am not working on in the next 7 days. Most of the new projects that gets introduced me by “Life” will end up in Someday/Maybe. Very few new projects start as an active project unless it is a goal that needs to be accomplished immediately.


Ignore at your peril.

I needed a way to make sure my dumpster fire doesn’t turn into a FUBAR situation. I’ve been guilty of ignoring one circle and concentrating on other circles many times. I might get so caught up in a pet project in the Big Rock circle that I will basically ignore all of my admin tasks. My maintenance tasks in the Admin circle will start piling up like dirty laundry in the corner and dirty dishes in the sink. I will have days where Life just gets in the way of things and I can’t make any progress with my Big Rock projects or my admin tasks. Oftentimes, I need to put a currently active Big Rock project back into Someday/Maybe so that I can turn my attention back to my admin tasks or Life in general. Or I have a Someday/Maybe project that really needs a kickstart so I can get going on something that has been stewing for a long time. It’s time to manage my dumpster fire!

Workflow Index

I’ll be posting more about managing the different circles of my life and providing links here.

Part 1. Managing my Small Rocks - The Administrative and Routine Tasks

Part 2. Managing My Active Projects (Big Rocks) and On Hold Projects (Someday/Maybe)

Part 3. A different variation of my dashboard or Today perspective (coming soon)

Part 4. Performing a routine review of my projects. - My morning review routine that keeps me informed of my various projects and contexts.

Pitch in and post your task management app workflow. It’s always cool to see systems from you guys and gals. Then we can all learn from each other. One OmniFocus workflow is available in the Pro section of the Guild as @anon66081505 shows you his workflow here

  • Dumpster fire started by @anon53349805 and @anon66081505. Thanks for the opportunity to start my own garbage can fire and fanning it.

I added Part 1. Managing My Small Rocks - The Administrative and Routine Tasks. This post attempts to take care of my routine maintenance tasks and one-off tasks.

Feel free to ask questions about this workflow and change the workflow to fit your system.

One thing that jumped out at me here is this:

I think it’s interesting that you have a date limit on this. I used to do this but stopped for some reason. :confused:

I know that the benefit that comes from this is the limiting of tasks available to work on. If the only projects in play are the ones you’ll work on in the next week it makes it crystal clear where to direct your attention without the extra “want to get to it” projects getting in the way.

How did you land on 7 days as opposed to 14 or 30? I’m considering bringing this concept back into my workflow but I’m not sure 7 days is the right number.

I think we will find our own “right” numbers to use.

I like to sit down on the weekend and try to visualize what goals or big rock projects I want to work on. Did I make enough progess in my current active projects? Did I look at the calendar and remembered that a seasonal project is suppose to start soon or next week? Do I need to put an active project back to on hold status (becoming a Someday/maybe project) and set another on hold project back to active status?

I generally know what the whole month looks like by viewing my calendar and seeing the schedule. But I guess I might have some weeks where everything gets turned into a cluster***k and everything is thrown for a loop. A huge order comes in from a customer and I need to tend to that fire. Or the In-laws decide to come over for the next few weeks and I gotta re-arrange my schedule to accomodate them.

I read a book called Master Your Workday Mow by Michael Linenberger. It offered another variation of a productivity system.

I don’t have the book right now. But I do remember that there is a future timeline. We are mostly concerned about tasks and events that occur in the next 10 days. This is our “area of concern.” Anything past 10 days is considered “over the horizon.” We start getting our butts into gear with things that will occur inside the next 10 days. There is no sense of urgency for tasks and projects that are over the horizon.

I set mine to 7 days because I like to review for the next week on Sunday. I have more control over the next 7 days instead of the next 14 or 30 days.

I’m still playing with the 7 day rule. My Area of Concern will be 7 days for now. My projects tend to be small and can be completed within 1-2 weeks. The weekly review of my projects lets me keep tabs on active projects if I’m moving too slow on them. I can switch projects easily.

If I have to deal with larger projects, I might consider setting the review to every 2 weeks (perhaps the 1st and 15th of the month) or at the end of the month.

This is going to be big for me too. One item I’ve notice tripping me up is too much active work at one time. I want to keep up with it all. Obviously, that stresses me out. So now if I’m not actively working or monitoring a project in the next 7ish days, it goes to someday/maybe or on-hold status. Immediately felt a relief in doing this.

My someday/maybe lists have previously become a dumping ground of the “never-will-I-ever-but-want-to” projects. Feels good to clean that up, too!

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Well, after a few false starts and a busy August, I was able to write up my Big Rocks workflow.

It was an interesting journey trying to figure out how to balance my maintenance tasks and my Big Rock project.

Hope you enjoy. I’m throwing this out there for your review. I’m always interested in feedback to find cracks in the armor to see where I can improve.

This was my fourth attempt at a workflow. It was interesting to see how my workflow has morphed to this current attempt.

Of course, it makes sense to see what you can take from this workflow and adapt the bits that make sense to you.


Another busy month of October passes by and I squeeze out another OmniFocus workflow entry here:

Whew. I’ve always seen the Weekly Review as a breaking point for many folks who can’t squeeze the time to do a weekly review. In this post, I recommend a strategy for breaking it down into manageable chunks:

  1. Do a daily review of active projects
  2. Schedule reviews of each folder depending on the day of the week.

I can imagine doing this on paper as well. In the morning, look over the various paper checklists and project folders that are currently active. Then, on each day of the week, gather up and review the project that belong in a different Area of Responsibility.

As always, I’m always looking for weak spots to try to see if I can improve this workflow.

Hope this help. Now excuse me while I take another break. I’ve got the Holiday Shopping Season coming up soon and preparing for the mad retail rush. I’ll see if I can squeeze another post in November.

drunk toilet


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Added another post about the Review perspective. I was sparked when MacSparky talked about his adventures n revising the way he uses OmniFocus. That led to this post:

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