Let’s say you need to return a book to the library by Saturday, December 16. If possible, you’d like to return it a few days early while you’re out running errands. Simple, right?
Most task managers can’t handle this. They only have one way to schedule the task: set a due date on it. But which date do you put down? It’s due on December 16—that’s when you’re going to have consequences if you don’t get it done. But you want to do it on Wednesday, December 13.
Most apps can’t handle this simple scenario. You have one field. You need to know the due date to plan properly. You can’t sometimes use that field to schedule tasks or you will never trust your system again.
My two favorite task managers handle this just fine: OmniFocus and my Franklin planner. OmniFocus has a defer date which lets you schedule tasks for a specific date, keeping the due date and the do-it date separate. This is a good start, but it’s limited.
How do you schedule a task for the week of January 8? Or 2018Q3? Or sometime next December (December 2018)?
Here’s how to configure OmniFocus to schedule tasks as powerfully and flexibly as a Franklin planner.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Igor Negovelov
I love completing tasks that I never have to do again. There’s something satisfying about finishing something and knowing that it’s going to stay finished. I can move on and do other things.
For better or for worse, I do a lot of the same things over and over again. Some tasks are weekly, some monthly. Some happen once or twice a year, and some feel like they never end.
Before switching to OmniFocus (née Kinkless GTD), I used paper. Recurring tasks were tedious but easy—you wrote down the task on multiple days, and hoped you didn’t have to shift them around.
When I went digital, the tedium left immediately. It took much longer for it to become easy, though. I felt like I was constantly fighting against my system.
It turns out that not all tasks repeat the same way.
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It’s important to write down everything you need to do. You won’t forget anything, you free your mind to think about other things, and you get to cross things off a list.
There’s something about crossing things off a list that’s very satisfying. It stimulates the reward centers of your brain, releasing a little dopamine for a job well done. You can see your progress as you progress through the day.
When you complete a task in OmniFocus, it might stay visible until the current view refreshes. Then it disappears. For a while, you can adjust the view settings or check a custom perspective (if you have OmniFocus Pro) to see what you’ve done, but eventually, the tasks will be gone for good.
This is good for focus (hide completed tasks so you only see what you still need to do) but it’s bad for tracking what you’ve done. Here’s a TextExpander macro that will help you keep a more permanent record of your accomplishments in an appropriate place.
Photo courtesy of © Adobe Stock / Ralf Geithe
The other day, I was listening to a book on the way home, and the author said something profound I wanted to remember. I was only two blocks away. “I can remember this for two blocks; then I’ll pull out my phone and write the quote in Evernote.”
Then I got stopped at a light. “Perfect! I have a chance to do it now.” I pulled out the phone. Woke it up. Tweetbot was still open. “Oh, right. I wanted to read that article later. Let me add that to Pocket…” Done. Pressed the home button. “When did I get a text message? Maybe it’s from my wife. I’d better check, in case she needs me to swing by the store on my way home…”
You know where this is going. You’ve been there.
Capturing an idea as soon as you have it is key to peaceful productivity. You want to be able to forget everything you need to do and trust that you’ll remember at the right time.
Siri is great at helping you remember what you need to do. Just ask. She’ll remind you.
I stopped wearing a watch years ago. It was a conscious decision. I rarely needed (or wanted) to know exactly what time it was. When I did have someplace specific to be at a certain time, I relied on my computer (and later, my phone) to advise me when it was time to get going.
When Apple announced the Apple Watch, I decided I was going to try shackling my wrist once again. The tan line would be worth it to see if it could help me be more productive with less friction. I’m still getting used to it, but I’ve already noticed that for some things, I do prefer the watch. I can reference, capture, or update without getting distracted by myriad unrelated (hence, unimportant) things.
One of the apps I’m most interested in is OmniFocus. I’ve used OmniFocus for tracking tasks and projects since it was some AppleScripts for OmniOutliner, and I couldn’t wait to see how the watch would affect how I use OmniFocus to get things done.
A hundred years ago, keeping a list of the six most important things you needed to do that day was a revolutionary idea. Then came calendars, diaries, journals, and planners to keep everything in one place. Now, your personal productivity system is a suite of applications and services that work together.
Sometimes, two apps will integrate seamlessly. iOS 8’s share sheets are a huge help here, because you can easily pass information to another app that supports it. Want to clip the selected text to Evernote? Read an article later? Remember to do something later? You’re just a few taps from being done.
Unfortunately, some apps either haven’t been updated to use share sheets, or the app developer wants to keep you in their walled garden. Fortunately, many popular services have an email address you can use to send information to yourself from anywhere you can send an email. If you use any of these services, you should keep these email addresses on hand.
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A common question when getting started with OmniFocus (or GTD) is “is this a task or a project?”.
The short answer is that it doesn’t matter. Either way, you have the idea captured. In OmniFocus, you can convert back and forth at any time. What’s important is that you have it written down and are clear on the next action necessary to move things towards completion.
The long answer is to start with the simplest thing that could possibly work, then let it grow from there as needed.
Evernote is great at taking notes, including notes with information to support projects you are tracking in OmniFocus. Thoughts on the desired outcome, notes on what you’ve accomplished so far, and information you’re going to need.
OmniFocus can add notes to a project, but if the notes are complex or will still be useful after the project is complete, you should consider storing the project support information in Evernote.
When set up properly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in OmniFocus or Evernote, you’re just a click away from the right place in the other app. The best part is, it works on both OS X and iOS.
I started using a Franklin planner when I started junior high. Even when I got a Palm PDA, then an iPhone, I kept using paper for my planning. It wasn’t until the iPad arrived that I finally set that beloved binder aside. Despite the advantages of digital planning tools, a part of me still wants to dust off the binder and go back to paper-based planning.
I used a two-page-per-day format. On the left, you had your tasks and appointments for the day. On the right, blank space for notes. It was everything you needed to plan and execute your day.
When I got the iPad, I started looking for a digital version of that experience. It took me years to realize that to have a great digital planning system, I didn’t need to recreate the everything-in-one-place experience that the Franklin has. Instead of searching for one app that would store tasks, appointments, and notes, choose separate apps that do one thing well and play well with others.
For tasks, I use OmniFocus. I may have written about it once or twice. For appointments, the Calendar app built in to OS X and iOS. Earlier this year, I started systematically using Evernote for notes, and it’s complementing my digital planning very nicely. Here’s how you can use Evernote to complete your digital planning system.
Your plan for the day includes tasks, meetings, and notes. Photo ©2014 Colter Reed.
OmniFocus uses two concepts from David Allen’s Getting Things Done to provide most of the organization for tasks: Projects and Contexts.
A Project is anything you want to do that’s going to take you more than one task to do it. It doesn’t have to be long and complicated, with supporting Gantt charts. It’s just a list of tasks that need to be done in order to achieve a desired outcome.
A Context is the person, place, or thing you need in order to complete a task.
These are both great ways to organize your tasks, but there’s one more that I wish OmniFocus properly supported: Roles. They’re a powerful tool for planning your time and making sure your life is heading in the direction you want it to.
Here’s how to set up OmniFocus to use Roles.