Optimizing OmniFocus

GTD with OmniFocus

I recently switched from Wunderlist to OmniFocus as my task manager. OmniFocus is much more powerful, flexible, and customizable, but still maintains a clean design. I love continuously improving my tools and methods, so I quickly switched over.

GTD with OmniFocus

GTD, or Getting Things Done, is a time management methodology first coined by David Allen. GTD is a method for organizing your actions in a way that helps you achieve your long term goals. He thought about what gets us motivated to do the work we have to do. He realized that there were two key elements that made a task list motivating: it needs to be short and relevant. Short as in the task list must be between 4 to 10 tasks, and relevant as in the tasks must be context and time specific.

How I use the GTD methodology:

What are all the things I need to do?

Make it a habit to put in everything on your mind into OmniFocus. Stuff that you need to get done now, stuff part of small projects, stuff part of big projects, and even long-term goals. Get it out of your head, and into your computer. They’re better at remembering things, and it will help you clear your mind.

Is it actionable?

Once or twice a day, go through each task in your inbox and ask yourself if it is actionable.

What’s the next action?

Look at your task list, and determine what is the next action.

Weekly Review

Once a week, check how things are going. OmniFocus makes this much easier with the Review section. Do another brain dump during this time as well.

OmniFocus Tips

Here are some tips for using OmniFocus more effectively for GTD:

  1. Use the keyboard shortcuts: OmniFocus has keyboard shortcuts which can help you save time. Become familiar with the custom key commands. Use relative dates and times when entering defer and due dates: 2d, 1h, 10a, -3w, all expand to the dates and times we expect. Use ^⌥Space for Quick Entry, and set up a Clippings shortcut (mine is ⌘⌥Space). These keyboard shortcuts will help you more quickly get things out of your head and into your computer.

  2. Use Contexts effectively: Contexts allow you to categorize actions by person, tool, or place necessary to carry out that action. I use @!(least important), @!!(semi-important), and @!!!(very important) Contexts to prioritize tasks. If you use OmniFocus for iPhone, you can also create location-based contexts which are extremely helpful. Don’t create too many Contexts that you will never use, though.

  3. Use Perspectives effectively: Perspectives allow you to filter and group your tasks in different ways. This is an extremely powerful.

  4. Use OmniFocus with Fantastical: If you use Fantastical as your calendar application, you’re in luck. You can use Fantastical to schedule tasks from OmniFocus simply by dragging them out of OmniFocus and into Fantastical. Fantastical links back to the OmniFocus application, and even adjusts the length of the event based on the estimated time set in OmniFocus. Try it out!

  5. Use IFTTT or Zapier to automate things: Zapier and IFTTT can be used to automate many things in OmniFocus leveraging OmniFocus Mail Drop. They can connect with Evernote, GitHub, Slack, Trello, Basecamp, Gmail, Twitter, and hundreds more. For example: I use Pocket to bring webpages tagged “read” into OmniFocus.

  6. Use Siri to add items to your Inbox: To enable reminder capture for OmniFocus on iOS:
    • Open OmniFocus.
    • Tap Settings from the bar on top.
    • Tap Reminders in the Capture section.
    • Tap Allow Access to Reminders on prompt.
    • Toggle Reminders Capture on, and pick a list if you have multiple Reminders lists.

    Now, all you need to say is “Siri, Remember to …” and it will automatically be captured in your OmniFocus Inbox.

  7. Use TextExpander with OmniFocus: TextExpander snippets can be used with OmniFocus to save even more time typing.
  8. Use AppleScript for scripting with OmniFocus: AppleScript is a programming language that can be used to manipulate data and interface elements of supported applications on OS X. AppleScript becomes even more useful with a quick launcher like Alfred . Here’s an example of launching a view (Today is a custom Perspective I made):

tell application "OmniFocus"
  tell default document
    make new document window with properties {perspective name:”Today”}
    activate "OmniFocus"
  end tell
end tell

Sources and further reading: