After a bit of a false start with OmniFocus, I am back on track and using it to manage all of my tasks for work and graduate school. I had originally started using it in January but my task list turned into a jumbled mess as I was trying to learn the ins and outs of the program at the same time. I spent some time a few weeks ago reorganizing things and rewriting my tasks in a more helpful way. This time, I also set a few restrictions on myself.
I stopped flagging things because it made me stress out too much. I stopped assigning due dates to every single item. The only due dates I have now are for tasks that have actual deadlines – a tip I picked up from David Sparks (@macpsarky). I also stopped using so many folders. This saves me a bit of time when navigating through everything on the iPad and iPhone.
One of the most helpful things that I did is to create a project called Planning. In this single-action project, each action represents a project that has not yet been fully planned. In nearly all cases, I have done some thinking about these projects but my thoughts are not yet fully formed. I place my ideas in the notes field of each action. Then, when I have some time, I go through and flesh out the full project and then remove it from the Planning project.
I also have a project called Ideas that include things that I am considering doing, or things that parents or teachers have recommended. In the past, these were scattered all over the place. Now, I have them filed in one location.
When writing tasks, I am also now consciously starting each of them with a verb. I have found this to be very helpful because it gives me more direction. This also allows me to search by verb if I want to. If I am in the mood for writing, I can simply search for that word and I will see all of my tasks that involve writing. The same is true of verbs like call, tweet, read, email, etc.
Finally, I have taken a different approach to contexts. Though many of the OmniFocus power users that write about this stuff swear by contexts, I find adding them to be a source of friction that gets in the way of putting information into the system. Right now I am only using one context, called Waiting. I add this to a task when my portion of a particular action is complete, but I am waiting on another person to do their part. For example, if I assign this context to the task, “Get draft of next year’s budget from Bill,” it means that I have asked Bill to do this, but I am waiting on him to fulfill his part of the bargain by actually giving me the draft of the budget. When Bill provides the information that I have asked for, I will mark the task complete. This context allows me to see, at a glance, everyone I am waiting for. I have also set a few location-based contexts but haven’t really had a chance to utilize them yet.
These changes have been successful, and this whole process is starting to stick. I feel like I have a better handle on my work and I’m juggling all of my responsibilities successfully right now.