How to Set Up ABC Planning in OmniFocus 3


by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

Ever since I went digital, my white whale has been a great workflow for ABC task prioritization.

I’ve tried every major task manager and several all-purpose tools like OmniOutliner, Evernote, and plain text files. I’ve tried encoding the ABCs and 123s in every one of OmniFocus’s fields. Every time, it was soon apparent I was trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

I wanted a solution that was available where I needed it. Something reliable. Something that integrated with the rest of my system. And looked good, too.

The wait is over. You can finally do a proper ABC-prioritized workflow in OmniFocus.

ABC planning was popularized by the Franklin Planner. The concept is older than that, but Hyrum W. Smith brought it into the modern productivity zeitgeist.

It’s a powerful planning method. You assign each of your tasks into one of three buckets:

  1. Critical. Tasks you will stay up late for to make sure it gets done today.
  2. Expected. You anticipate getting the task done today. If it slips, there are no major consequences.
  3. Maybe. It’s on your list. If you get to it, great. If not, nobody is going to notice.

How to Set It Up

Here’s how you set it up.

  1. Create three tags. Create a Today tag with three child tags: A—Critical, B—Expected, and C—Maybe. Here, they integrate very nicely with other temporal tags you may be using.
  2. Add the Critical tag to the Forecast view. Tap or click on the view options. Under “Today Includes:”, select your Today : Critical tag. Your critical tasks will be included in the Forecast view. This puts your Quadrant 2 goals, dreams, and personal development on equal footing with the urgent tasks from Quadrant 1.
  3. Create a custom perspective. You want remaining tasks which are tagged with Today, grouped by tag, and sorted by tag order. Pin it someplace prominent on your sidebar or start screen.

How to Work It

When you select your tasks for the day, give them one of the A, B, or C tags. Then drag the tasks to arrange them in the order you want them within each group. The first tag is B1, the second is B2, etc.

Your big rocks may or may not be your A—Critical tasks for the day. Start your day with three smaller tasks to build up some momentum, then take on A1 and work your way down. If you have any tasks left over, make another conscious decision about when to do them at the end of the day.

Now, when it’s time to shift from boss mode to worker mode, you have a clean, clear list of your priorities for the day. Having your today list broken up into A, B, and C sections lets you know just how hard you need to push. A simple ordered list is a good start, but it doesn’t highlight the tasks that you really do need to get done today.

Still have OmniFocus 2 in the mix? Not a problem. The first tag you assign to a task will be its assigned Context, so assign the Today tag first. The tag order won’t be honored, but you’ll still be able to see whether the task is an A, B, or C.

One improvement I would like to see OmniFocus gain is the ability to designate any of a tag’s children as mutually exclusive. Any temporal tags—including A, B, and C—would work better. You can drag a task to another tag (say, from B to A to promote it); this adds the A—Critical tag, but it leaves B—Expected on it, too.

Because OmniFocus 3 supports Tags instead of Contexts, you can use these Today or Priority tags along with any other tags you want to. Want to use location- or resource-based tags? Person-based tags? It mixes right in, helping you work through your tasks your way.

Question: Do you use ABC-priority planning? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.