Managing My Small Rocks - The Administrative and Routine Tasks Workflow (OmniFocus)

I have a lot of boring tasks that I try to ignore but I can’t. These tasks fill up my bucket like little rocks until my bucket gets full and I don’t have room to take care of my Big Rocks. The dirty dishes growing in the kitchen 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.

OF Circles-Admin

I’ve been frustrated when I can’t seem to get to my Big Rock projects because Life throws in all of those annoying tasks that interrupts my flow. A client walks into the office and suddenly sucks up my whole morning. One of the kids fell down at school and I need to re-arrange my appointments so I can tend to my child. My Big Rock projects also get interrupted when I see that pile of admin tasks (paperwork, miscellaneous tasks) that scream at me to be taken care of. But that’s OK. OmniFocus is the perfect tool to keep me on track. OmniFocus remembers all of the pending routine tasks and today’s new requests for me so that I can return back and figure out what needs to be done after all the dust settles. When I complete my admin tasks, I can easily return back to my Big Rock projects.

The Admin Routines folder (routine maintenance tasks)

I like to group all my routine tasks into Single Actions Lists (SAL) inside the Admin Routines folder. Grouping all of the routine tasks separates it from the one-off tasks the Life will throw at me every day.

1 Admin Routines folder

Here is a sample of one of my Routine SALs

2 sample of admin routines.

I created an Admin Routines folder in OmniFocus and group my routine tasks according to different Areas of Responsibilities in my life. When my repeating task list gets too long, it might be a worthwhile venture to group them into different SALs. In my example, I keep my House Routine tasks separate from my Office Routine tasks.

I like to add the repeat interval at the end of the task title for tasks in the Admin Routine SALs. For example, I would use the title “take trash can to the curb [Wed]” to remind myself that this task should be done every Wednesday. I also have “lawn mowing [21 days]” to remind myself that task repeats every 21 days. I can see the repeat interval in the task title easily without needing to check the inspector panel.

The Admin Actions folder (single action maintenance tasks)

Life loves introducing those one-off tasks that drops a little rock into our bucket list. These little rocks start weighing down the bucket and accumulates over time until we finally do something about it. My wife might call me to pick up some orange juice, cereal, and some bacon for breakfast tomorrow. I need to put some fresh AA batteries into my remote control but I ran out of stock at the house. I need to replace my coffee maker which broke down yesterday. These single actions tend to float around in my mind and I need to capture it into the appropriate SAL.

3 Admin Single Actions

Most of my Admin Routine SALs are set to be reviewed once every two weeks. They don’t change very often but it is nice to just double check them every couple of weeks to make sure nothing gets missed,

4b active - 2 week review

Separating Admin Tasks from Big Rock Projects

I have a constant struggle between working on my Big Rock projects and my admin work. I want to work on my Big Rocks because that’s where all the fun is! I am working towards a goal that will improve my life in some fashion. But I also need to pay attention to my general housekeeping and maintenance tasks that will ensure my quality of life remains at its current state.

I try to schedule at least one hour each day towards performing admin work. Those are my “frogs” :frog: that I have to eat. I don’t like doing them because they are often boring tasks that keeps the status quo. By devoting at least one hour (typically early morning) daily towards admin work, I can ensure that I am keeping up on this rolling treadmill and I don’t fall too far behind.

The @adMin perspective

When I want to focus on admin work, I go to my @adMin perspective. Here are my settings.

I have this perspective grouped by context because I like to work in batches based on context. Here are the main groups in the OmniFocus main outline that I will be working on today if I wanted to do admin work. This perspective will focus on my Admin Routines folder (repeating tasks lists) and my Admin Actions folder (my one-off miscellaneous tasks).

Today, I might focus on doing work around the office. I can select the @Office context and burn through as many admin tasks while I am at work Tomorrow, I can do admin work that needs my Mac or iOS device. I can look at the @App or @iOS contexts. The next day, I might want to work through my communications tasks. I will focus on working through my @People and @Customers context. When I need to do some research, I can refer to my @AudioBooks or @DevonThink context.

I have my Admin Actions SALS set to be reviewed once a week. This gives me a chance to review the one-off actions and determine its fate (defer, delegate, delete,do). The Admin Actions SALs do change a lot because I add, complete, and delete tasks on a daily basis. The more active the SAL, the shorter my review cycle. More active SALs might get a review interval of 2-3 days to help me monitor the current list. Otherwise, once a week seems to be a nice fit.

4a active - 1 week review


Grouping all of my admin tasks (repeating tasks and one-off tasks) into the Admin folder will help me focus on completing the tasks that seems to come at me like a conveyor belt. Chipping away at the admin tasks for at least one hour a day will eventually bring me up-to-date and give me more time to work on my Big Rock projects. I don’t mix admin work with Big Rock work. This post deals with working on Admin work. I’ll be discussing the Big Rocks perspective in the next post.

This is a slightly different take of @anon66081505’s neutralize workflow. Adapt your own neutralize workflow by following our examples and tweaking to your style. Share with us what you’ve done to clear to neutral and tackle your maintenance tasks!


I haven’t had the chance to reply, but thanks for putting this together @wilsonng. I spent some time implementing the thought processes within my OF system and it seems to be helping with getting some of my Neutralize type tasks done.


I was struggling with my admin tasks vs taking care of my big rocks. It was enlightening.

I was using my journal to figure out what I needed to do to take care of admin tasks. I was the storyteller in my journal describing all the irritation points and then “talked” myself into formulating a strategy. This post was the result of 3 months of journaling. I have the Big Rocks part to work out but I think I’ve got it in the can. I’ll be writing this up in the next few days.

I’m glad you enjoyed it and hopefully you took something here as a trigger to morph it into your own neutralize workflow.

Hopefully others will be taking posts from the Guild and find themselves getting out of similar situations.

I still struggle with neutralizing because of so many garbage can fires that seem to take priority every day. But now I understand that I have to schedule time blocks that must be respected to take care of tasks in the neutralize list. Always protect your scheduled time block for neutralizing. Otherwise these admin tasks will never get done.

Thanks @wilsonng! I’ve been following along, and happy to see the next in your series. Really appreciate you sharing your workflow. Your issues are very similar to my own, and I’m considering implementing at least some of your solutions. :slight_smile:

I have a question, that may just be a clarification of your terminology.

In your Venn Diagram and high-level descriptions, you include a fourth category called “Life”, yet I don’t see it referred to much elsewhere.

In your organization, is this implemented via the “Admin Actions” folder and SALs? Or is there a separate folder and/or perspective for “Life”?

I’m still trying to figure out how to articulate “Life” as a post here.

It was touched upon in Managing My Dumpster Fires in OmniFocus (An OmniFocus Workflow)


Life just happens. I have a lot of projects that are stored in OmniFocus. I also have a lot of repeating tasks that will come up every day, week, or month. I try hard to burn through as many administrative tasks so that I can get to my Big Rock projects. I schedule time blocks to work on my projects. I intend to get to these projects. But then “Life” happens. An emergency where my kid falls down at school. The car breaks down on the way to work. The bathroom is flooding because of a broken pipe. It is Life Events that sometimes introduces new tasks and throws off our schedule.

One major source of new project creation comes from “Life.”

A lot of the one-off tasks that are introduced by Life gets tucked away in my Admin Actions folder (single action lists).

Sometimes Life introduces new repeating projects. A new baby will definitely mean more tasks and responsibilities. Picking up diapers, more frequent laundry to produce fresh, clean clothes for the newborn, restocking baby formula and baby food, etc.

Then sometimes Life will introduce opportunities. A job offering that comes from an unexpected referral, a new client that offers new creative opportunities.

I think I meant to say is Life is the uncontrollable force in the Universe that interacts with us in unforeseen ways. When the s**t hits the fan, we gotta clean up the mess. When blessings rain down upon us, we are grateful and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way. But it’s up to us to grab the reins or let opportunity slip by us and give it to someone else.

So I’ve been using OmniFocus (or whatever task management app) as a way to control the chaos that Life brings us. I can’t possibly remember what I need to do. So I leave it to my task manager to bookmark all the opportunities and responsibilities that come my way. I just have to remember to try to do it in a scheduled and effective manner.


I can’t help but pick up on some of the details here. :wink:

Emojis. I never thought about using them as part of contexts and project titles. That’s really smart and I’m sure it makes it easier to see which one it is that you’re working on. I’m stealing this one.

Your Perspective naming and capitalization seemed a bit strange to me until I noticed the hotkey. That’s clever. :nerd_face:

1 Like

Lol. Thx. Can’t take credit for emojis. Stole that from somewhere else myself. But I do like to use emojis to indicate single action lists for one-off actions and single action lists with repeating actions. I have the frog emoji for single action lists with the most frogs to eat.

Yes, I am always forgetting the hot key for my perspectives. I can’t change the titles of the built in perspectives so I have to work around that.

1 Like

I find myself being torn between organizing my projects/lists at the top level by type, as you’ve done here, or by area of focus. I’ve gone back and forth a couple of times. When my projects/lists are organized by area of focus, my efforts can get diluted by spending too much time on routine and one-off tasks and not enough on my goals. When they’re organized by type, I fear I will lose track of everything I need to do in a particular area – especially work – and I start to feel out of control. Good weekly review and well-designed OF perspectives will help with this, I suppose.

Having looked at Nirvana, I wish that OF didn’t make me choose. (Nirvana has focus as a separate dimension.)

I’ve been trying to balance the Admin/Routine work and Big Rocks by batching time blocks of 30-60 minutes. I’ll try to limit myself and see how many admin tasks I am burn though when I have a self imposed deadline.

Then I also work in 30-60 minute time blocks for work on big rocks.

I try to leave a lot of unscheduled time to take care of the daily distractions. But I must declare at least one hour for admin work and another hour for Big Rocks.

Most of the time, I can get those time blocks for myself. But I will have days (sometimes several days in a row) where I can’t carve out time for the admin and Big Rocks. But I guess that’s a daily struggle we all face in life.

Maybe you can try modeling omnifocus after Nirvana? I haven’t really seen it in action. But I think that might be something for me to look at later today. I’d like to see what they do and see how I can adopt something similar in omnifocus.

Thanks, @wilsonng! Some good insights here.

1 Like

Thanks! Appreciate the feedback. If you (or anyone else) have a workflow that deals with maintenance tasks (separate from Big Rock projects), we’d all love to hear about it. Post when you have some time to write up your own workflows. It’s pretty cool seeing other people’s workflows and seeing what you can add to your own workflow.

I just did a performance review of the Admin perspective I described in the first post. I have some new thoughts about this perspective. I have to gather up my ideas and will post about it in the next few days.

It’s interesting to see a workflow change when I do a performance review.

1 Like

Did you post about your new thoughts about the admin routines and actions? I’m thinking about what role these might play in my own life.

I am a pastor. I became a pastor 13 years ago. I had already read the covey books and Hirum Smith’s book and David Allen’s book. I used paper and pencil until the iPhone came out in 2007. So I started using the reminders app. With the advent of Things and OmniFocus, I just made a huge single list of everything I do every week. Over 60 things are repeated every week. I have worked them into programs and now am using tags. These 60 items are my small rocks and include everything from church maintenance to home chores to person growth. For me, these daily and weekly small rocks are the most important things I do because their focus my compass and help me put the first things first.

1 Like

I’ll copy what I posted in the OF Discourse thread.

I’m finding that I didn’t use the Admin perspective as much. I was drawn more towards the contexts perspective. I have a context perspective that focuses on:


I will spend at least one hour a day focused on a Big Rock project (shown in my Big Rock perspective).

For the rest of the day, I spend time in the different contexts (Mac, Office, House, Errands) and try to stay in those contexts for as long as possible (one or two pomodoros).

In the end, I didn’t care if it was an Administrative task or a Big Rock when I am in a context. I just work until I finish whatever is available. I can still determine easily what’s an admin task (anything that doesn’t move my goals forward but it still needs to get done to maintain my quality of life).

I phased out the Admin perspective when I determined I didn’t have to stay in admin mode all the time. But others might find a use for it. I might still come back to it when I know I should be working on admin tasks. Catching up with all that paperwork is tough! It’s not fun but someone’s gotta do it.

This might be a time to use Admin as a tag. But I’m also trying to minimize the number of tags I’m using.

As always, life changes and we’re all still experimenting.

Hope you (and everyone else) can show what scenarios you’re dealing with and what you’re trying as an experiment.

Thanks for sharing this #wilsonng.
This is a great workaround for a problem that I (and most of the people I know) face on a regular basis. There are some great ideas and I have already mapped out and inserted some of these on the basis of your post.
I really appreciate that you took the time to share such a practical approach.

1 Like

Thanks! I think it’s more about scheduling a time block and just trying to get work done in one area. That one area could be a specific project or a context (tool, place, person). Switching between contexts such as making a phone call right after some spreadsheet work takes precious time. I’d rather stay in “computer” mode and get as much done by batching all computer work together.

I realized I just wasn’t spending enough time on certain projects or modes (admin, inbox zero, etc.). I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you. I didn’t think this post would be impactful but I’m glad I helped you and others out.

If anyone has anything to post, the Productivity Guild is a great place to just throw something out there. Conversations are how we share and learn from each other!

1 Like