Revisiting Context Organization in Omnifocus

Contexts seem to be a point of contention when it comes to any GTD system. How many should you have? What should they be? How many is too many? A quick look at the countless methods being discussed in the Omnifocus Forums show that there is no single right way for picking contexts, and when you consider the possibility of a task having multiple contexts (not currently possible in Omnifocus), it gets more complicated. The age old answer of “It depends” truly applies here. That being said, a few things stand out for me when I look at those long lists of contexts that people have.

Don’t try to do too much with Contexts

In its purest form, a context is a tool or location. II need to be at home in order to clean the shower in my bathroom, so “home” is a great example of a context. No matter how much I wish it were true, there’s simply no way I could get my shower cleaned while I’m at work. The problems tend to creep in when you start to factor in other things like energy levels, time available, or urgency.

On paper it makes sense to define these various lists to drill down to what you can work on at any given moment, but if you use something as powerful as Omnifocus, there are more options available to you for this than just contexts. There are due dates and flags to indicate urgency or importance and durations to indicate quick wins or when you’re looking for something to do during a set period of time. Prefixing tasks with a “mindset” such as “READ:” or “WATCH:” can also help you define your tasks by mode as well.

Don’t think to Granularly

When I first started implementing GTD, I thought I needed an incredibly complex list of contexts. I had geo-tagged sub-contexts for each of the stores I visited, contexts for every person I regularly talked to, and even contexts for every room in my house. Much like the trend towards fewer folders when managing email, I quickly learned that the cost of managing a lot of sub-contexts can be* far greater than the benefits especially if the contexts only contain a small handful of tasks.

*Notice I said can be. Sometimes granularity does help as is the case with my Grocery Store context discussed later.

Adding a prefix to a task can also really come in handy here. Instead of having a sub-context for a friend, consider putting their name before the task (e.g. Boss’s Name: Discuss Office Layout). You can still easily drill down to all tasks involving your boss by searching his or her name, but you won’t need to worry about a lengthy list of contexts. I do this with stores now as well.

Regularly Review and Adjust

In the paper planning world, reconfiguring your system is seen as “Planner Fail”. It’s frowned upon, probably because it takes so long to recopy everything. The beauty of software like Omnifocus is that there’s no need to recopy everything over if you need to make a change. Contexts and projects can be created, removed, or rearranged just as quickly as your life changes. While I’ve distilled my contexts lists down over the years, I still regularly consider making changes. In fact, I just got rid of two contexts today that were being used sparingly.

My Contexts

  • Do – Some tasks can truly be done anywhere
  • Campus – For work or graduate school related tasks that require me to be on campus
  • Home – For things that need to be done at home
    • Arriving – This is a geotagged context to alert me of anything I need to be reminded of when getting home (e.g. bring that item that’s been sitting in my trunk in with me)
  • People – Anything I need to discuss with a person at a later date.
  • Errands – All things I need to do when I’m out and about.
    • Shopping – Anything I need to buy.
      • Grocery Store – Anything I need to buy specifically at the grocery store.
        • Sub-contexts for each aisles – Subcontexts, in this case, allow me to keep my custom grocery perspective organized based on the layout of the store I shop at. For a more detailed explanation, I wrote about it here: Creating a Smart Grocery List in Omnifocus
  • Waiting – Any tasks that are part of active projects but are waiting on something or someone else before they can be completed.

Revisiting Project Organization in Omnifocus

A lot has changed in the 2 years since I last wrote about how I organize my projects in Omnifocus. I actually had to chuckle a bit when I looked at the projects I used to have. Things look so much simpler when you compare that list with my list of projects today. Now that I’ve been using Omnifocus consistently for over two years now, and one of the biggest takeaways I’ve learned is that how you organize your projects and contexts can make or break how well perspectives can work for you. I now pay close attention to how my projects are listed so that the most important ones show up first.

2016-04-14 screenshot-2

At the very top of my projects is my Daily Routines list. This is a single action list for all the little things I want to make sure I’m doing every day to keep my life on track. This includes things like checking my calendar, flagging tasks I want to accomplish for the day, and reviewing emails. It lives at the top of my projects and stays flagged so that it shows up front and center when I’m working from my perspectives.

The next section of my project lists is my Areas of Responsibility, which haven’t really changed that much. You’ll still find Work, School, and Personal as before. However, you’ll now also find an area called Home. Turns out being a homeowner is almost a full time job in itself, so it quickly earned its own section. Again, the areas, as with everything in my projects list, are listed in order of priority so that they show up in order of importance in my perspectives.

2016-04-14 screenshot-3

Each area of responsibility is organized in a similar way – each having its own single actions list for any miscellaneous tasks followed by single action lists for sub-areas of responsiblity. These are areas like personal development for work, finance under personal, and cleaning under home. After the sub-responsibilities, you’ll find sequential or parallel projects for any current projects I’m working on.

Following the areas of responsibilities, you’ll find a single actions list for my shopping list. I’ve written a couple fairly detailed posts on how I use Omnifocus in conjunction with my recipe manager, Paprika, and my Amazon Echo along with a custom perspective to manage grocery shopping, but this list also includes anything else I need/want to buy that isn’t tied to a particular project.

2016-04-14 screenshot-4

Next up is the Someday/Maybe folder. For those of you familiar with GTD, this is self explanatory. For those of you who aren’t, anything I might want to do or haven’t committed to doing currently lives here. This also includes a sub-folder containing any stalled projects (prefixed with their area of responsibility) so that they don’t clutter up my lists of active projects. Another thing you’ll find in this folder are various lists of things to do or check out and places visit. I’d been keeping these lists in various locations over the years but recently decided they were better stored here in Omnifocus where I could regularly review them.

Last but not least, you’ll find a folder for templates. There aren’t any real changes here. I use it to hold lists for things that happen over and over again but don’t repeat on a regular basis (e.g. hiring a new employee or packing for a trip).

Note: I used to keep separate Someday/Maybe and Templates folders inside of each area of responsibility. Not only did it make my list incredibly long, it was a pain to browse through on my phone too. I consolidated these into single folders and haven’t looked back.

Using Omnifocus 2 – My Workflow

It’s been a bit since my last Omnifocus posts, and I’ve been asked some questions about my general workflow which I seemed to have miseed in my previous posts that went over more of the structure and why I use Omnifocus.

Background about life: I’m the coordinator for a university help desk. I manage around 10-15 students as well as a full-time employee each semester, and that means I’m responsible for everything from hiring them, scheduling them, training them, and answering their day to day questions. I’m also one of two full time employees in the office, so I’m responsible for triaging nearly all of the support requests coming through our office for the entire university. Outside of work, I’m also getting my Masters in Human-Centered Computing, and for those of you who’ve been following along with my Condo Project, I just bought my first condo, which I’ve been renovating for the last 3 months, and recently moved into. I also take care of three demanding cats, and I try to have a social life if there’s time left over.

So let’s dive in with how I use Omnifocus (or better put, what earned a spot in my sidebar/home screen).

Note: I have the Pro version of Omnifocus. The ability to create custom perspectives like the ones below is not available in the standard version.

screenshot-1Most of my time is spent at work, so let’s start there. When I’m at my office, I use Omnifocus on my Mac, and it’s usually open to my @Work perspective. This shows anything available that has to or can be done while I’m at work (based on context) grouped by project. These are things like discussing something with a coworker or cleaning up my desk, but can also include things I can do in the background like updating my operating system because the download speeds are much faster. Phone calls I need to make during business hours also fit into this category just so that I can remember to call during my lunch break.

Outside of the office, I primarily work with Omnifocus on my iPhone, and bounce between two perspectives:

Like my @Work perspective, my @Home perspective shows anything available that has to or can be done while I’m at home (based on context), but this time grouped by context (primarily where I’m at in the house, but my Mac/Phone are also included). By having things grouped by room, I’m not constantly running back and forth between rooms.

The other perspective I use outside of the office is my Errands perspective, which shows the available tasks I need to do when I’m out and about also grouped by context. These are things like getting my car washed, picking up something from the store, etc.

@Work, @Home, and Errands are enough to cover all my tasks in Omnifocus, and give me the ability to see everything I can do at any given time depending on where I’m at. I also use the Defer feature heavily, so the number of tasks that appear in each of these perspectives is usually not too high. If the lists do get long, I usually go through and defer any tasks that I can that I can so that it’s clear what I need to focus on for that day.

When defer dates aren’t enough and I’m feeling overwhelmed, however, I have my Available perspective, which shows all available tasks regardless of context or project. This perspective doesn’t have any sort of grouping, so it’s literally just one big list of everything currently available sorted by anything that has a due date. I don’t normally use flags, but it’s from this perspective that I usually flag things, but only as a last resort when I’m feeling frazzled.

The very last perspective in my sidebar is Waiting which holds any tasks that have been assigned the “Waiting for…” context grouped by when they were added to Omnifocus. This lets me see everything I’m waiting on others for in order of newest (at the top) to oldest. I try to periodically check into this perspective just to make sure I’ve not missed any tasks that I’m no longer waiting on that might be holding up a project.

For those of you who hate reading, or maybe just wanted a summary:
– If I’m at work, I open up the @Work perspective on my Mac which shows anything I can do while I’m at work grouped by project.
– If I’m at home, I open up the @Home perspective on my iPhone which shows, you guessed it, anything I can do while I’m at home grouped by context.
– When I’m running errands, I have an Errands perspective that shows me all the things I need to do while I’m out grouped by context.
– My Available perspective shows *everything* currently available in Omnifocus sorted only by due date.
– And the Waiting perspective shows everything I’m waiting on others for.

Omnifocus is an incredibly powerful tool, and figuring out how to best set it up for your own use is an ever-changing process. Hopefully, this has given you some ideas into setting up your own perspectives in Omnifocus.

Signature Update

Creating Checklist Templates in Omnifocus

As a planner person, I LOVE checklists. I enjoy checking things off, but I really enjoy the feeling of knowing I haven’t forgotten anything. I’m also an efficiency junky, and I try to streamline things wherever possible which is probably why I like checklists even more. As David Allen says in his book Getting Things Done, “There is no reason ever to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.” There are very few things I enjoy thinking about over and over again, and checklists mean I don’t need to waste my time and energy thinking about planning things I do regularly more than once.

Most of my checklists are for things that repeat regularly like finalizing the schedule for my student employees which happens every Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter or getting new pay rates approved twice a year. These happen pretty regularly, but there are a lot of moving pieces involving different people, so if I don’t get moving on them by a certain time, I run risk of having an office without employees scheduled to work. I don’t want that, nor do I want the stress of missing something in the process that looming over me especially when these things all happen at the most chaotic times of the year. These checklists are set as repeating list in Omnifocus and help to make my life *slightly* less stressful.

Much to my dismay, some things in life happen over and over again but not regularly. Having the checklist saves me time, but having it repeat regularly wouldn’t work. These are things like a preparing for trip or bringing a new employee on board. The process is pretty much the same every time, I just don’t necessarily go on a vacation every 6 months {although I may try…} or bring a new employee on board exactly every 3 months.

In the past, I saved these lists randomly with no rhyme or reason. I had checklists saved as a Google documents, others in Microsoft Word, and some in Evernote. Trying to remember where one might be was a task in itself. Having to create a task to find a check list was silly, so in an effort to simplify, I wanted to have them in one place, and since Omnifocus is my place for tasks, it made sense to keep these checklists of tasks there as well.

In my last Omnifocus post, I went over my project hierarchy in detail, but I skipped over the “Templates” sections promising to go over them later. My templates folders are where I keep my randomly recurring checklists. I have separate template folders for both work and personal tasks, but you could also keep them all together in one folder. Each template checklist is saved as its own project, and I set the status to “On Hold” since I’m not actually working on them which prevents them from showing as available tasks.

To illustrate how I use them, let’s consider the following scenario of hiring a new student. After I’ve decided to hire a new student, I simply go to my “New Employee Checklist” template, right click it in the sidebar and select Copy to make a copy of it, and paste the copy into my Student Management single action list. From there, the only change I make is to add the new employee’s name in parentheses to the end of the checklist title. Once I’ve done that, I have a ready made list of everything I need to do from getting that new employee’s payroll paperwork submitted all the way up to making sure they’ve got all the required accesses for their first day on the job within just a few clicks.

I use a similar process when taking a trip, but this checklist is a bit more detailed. My “Taking a Trip” template includes sections for preparations, packing (broken down into categories), and things to do when I get back like unpack. The packing section includes the standard items I normally take with me on every trip, but also includes placeholders so I can list clothes for each day of the trip, and placeholders to remind me of extras I might forget like a bikini and flip flops for a hotel’s indoor pool or gear for snowboarding. The beauty of this is I get a generic list of everything I need to do before and after I leave that I can add to as I see fit. It’s also a place to keep all those things I always forget to do like turn the alarm clock off before I leave.

My use of templates is fairly straight forward and simple – just a project on hold that I copy and paste as necessary. They are there to serve mainly as reminders that I don’t mind tweaking here and there. For uber power users of Omnifocus that are really interested in the idea of templates, I’d recommend checking out Chris Suave’s Templates.scpt which lets you set variables and all sorts of crazy fun things that show you the power Omnifocus has. (Note: These were made for Omnifocus 1. I’m not sure if they will work with Omnifocus 2.)

Signature Update

Omnifocus 2 is Out Today!

In honor of Omnifocus 2 being released today, I’ve decided to post a quick summary of all my Omnifocus posts so far:

If you’re interested in trying out Omnifocus 2, head over to Omnigroup’s site for a free trial. They also have a wonderful Inside Omnifocus series featuring some of my favorite Omnifocus power users that’s definitely worth checking out.

Happy organizing!

Signature Update

Organizing Projects in Omnifocus

Today’s post is going to be all about projects in Omnifocus. Here’s where I probably deviate a bit from GTD mainly because I haven’t really gotten a good grasp on David Allen’s “altitudes” concept. I’m currently reviewing his book so that I can hopefully get a clearer understanding, but for now, what I have works.

Omnifocus is great in that it lets you put projects in folders and even nest sub-projects inside projects {something Things surely lacked}. Even better it has different types of projects and lists.

  • Single-action lists are great for those collections of things you have that don’t have a clear end like a shopping list {because let’s be real, when is a girl ever done shopping?}
  • Parallel projects are good for projects with a clear end in mind that don’t need to be completed in a specific order.
  • Sequential projects on the other hand do have an order. For instance you can’t complete turn in a paper if you haven’t even written a first draft.

Now onto the fun part – how I’m actually using projects and organizing them.

For an updated look at how I’m now using projects see my new post.


I’ve broken things down into my three main areas of responsibility. I tend to see my life in terms of being a graduate student, employee, and everything else so my three categories are Work, School, and Personal – listed in order of importance. I do this so that they show up in my perspectives in order of importance automatically.

It’s also worth noting, I try to arrange my projects and lists so that general single action lists are at the top, followed by specific projects, then Someday/Maybe lists and templates. Having things in this order pleases my OCD tendencies. The one exception to this arrangement is my folder for personal 2014 Goals which I have above my routine tasks purely because I like seeing them before my mundane tasks like clean the bathroom floor.

So let’s look at how I have my Work section organized.


  • Single Action Lists:
    • General Work Tasks – This list is for miscellaneous tasks that don’t have a specific project. Things like turning in my timesheet, re-charge my mouse, or wipe down my desk periodically would go here.
    • Student Management – This is where I keep all my supervisory tasks to keep me on track for semesterly performance and pay rate evaluations, scheduling, tracking the hiring processes of new employees, and fun things like bringing in treats for special occasions too.
    • Agendas –  I’m a big believer in saving up my miniscule thoughts and questions until I meet with someone or have enough to make sending an email worthwhile, so I keep track of those things here if they don’t fit in a specific project below.
  • Projects
    • User Support Meetings is a sequential project to track a new departmental bi-weekly meeting I’m chairing. Realistically speaking, once this gets going it will become a single action list as these will hopefully not end.
    • Remote Support Solution is also a sequential project to track the work I’m doing to research a new remote support solution for our department. Tasks here involve working with the vendor as well as members of our department to find something that works best for all of us.
  • Someday/Maybe is simply a list for things I want to do at some point, just not now.
  • I’m going to save discussing Templates for a separate post.


Moving down to School, I honestly don’t have much to say about this one right now as I’m currently taking a break from school. I was planning on applying to a new program for the Fall, but there were complications in getting my third recommendation letter submitted and I’ve missed the Fall deadline. Even though school is technically on hold,  I’m still tracking my application process for the Spring so I’ve left it active. When I’m taking classes, you’d find a project for each class. Within each project, I break down the semester into sub-projects by week and list any assignments within that.

Personal is undoubtedly my largest area, so let’s break it down:


  • General Tasks is a single action list for one-off tasks that don’t fit anywhere else.
  • Shopping List is another single action list where I track things I want to buy. (Items on my wishlist also go here but with a “Someday/Maybe” context.)
  • Next I have a folder for 2014 Goals. Inside you’ll find:
    • Run a 5K, a parallel project that contains a sequential project I’m using to track my training progress.
    • Read 52 books in 2014 is a sequential project where I’m checking off my reading progress. {I’m also tracking this in Goodreads, but I like checking things off.}
    • Room remodel is a parallel project where I’m tracking all things room remodel related.
  • My next folder is Routine for things I do on a regular basis broken down further into:
    • Cleaning
    • Computer Tasks
    • Finances
    • and Personal Care
  • Up next is Blog which I’ve broken down into
    • General Blog Tasks (things like reminders to post on a regular basis
    • Post Ideas
  • And of course these are followed by Someday/Maybe and Templates as with the Work section.

So there’s my Omnifocus Project set up. What I love most about writing these set up posts is that they give me a chance to be really critical about how I organize things. Certain projects or contexts seem to make perfect sense, but when you try to explain them to someone else, you realize they really fit better in another project or context. For instance, I had a single-action list for tracking what I set my DVR to record in my personal routine tasks section, but there’s nothing routine about recording a movie once, nor do I do this enough for it to need it’s own list.

Up next I’m going to discuss templates as promised, and then to the fun part, perspectives.

Until next time,

Signature Update

How I’m Using Contexts in Omnifocus

I’m going to preface this post, by saying that this is by no means how someone has to use contexts nor is it a permanent set up of contexts for my system. In the world of paper planners, a lot of people refer to the idea of radically changing your set up as “planner fail.” In the world of Omnifocus, I find that many people feel that tinkering with their setup is the norm. It’s not seen as failure but as improvement. Some even have dedicated Omnifocus “maintenance” or “ideas” projects and/or contexts. {I have to say, the idea that making changes isn’t because I failed, but instead learning how to make my system better has been a nice change of thinking for me.}

Today I’m going to give you an overview of how I’m using contexts in Omnifocus.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with David Allen’s GTD, the way I perceive contexts is that they basically define a certain location or thing you need to have in order for you to complete a task. For instance, if you need to call someone, you need to have access to a phone.

Now needing a phone to make a phone call seems pretty obvious, but when you add up all the things we do on a regular basis, it can get a bit more complicated. I find contexts extremely helpful for 2 reasons:

  1. Contexts help identify what I can do at any given moment. For example, it’d be pointless to try and complete a phone call if I don’t have access to a phone or I’m out at a concert late at night.
  2. Contexts help to batch tasks together. If you have 5 items to pick up at IKEA, it makes more sense to pick them up in one trip than to go five separate times. This also works for batching other tasks like phone calls or emails.

This is my current list of contexts in Omnifocus.

OF Contexts

  • House – This context is for any task that requires me to be at home to complete. I’ve broken it down further to categorize tasks that can be done in a particular place in the home
    • Outside – These are garage-related tasks or things like taking the trash out.
    • Basement – My basement is 3 floors away. I typically try and tackle as many basement tasks in one trip as possible.
    • Bedroom – Given that my bedroom functions primarily as a studio apartment, this is where the majority of my tasks happen.
  • [Campus]* – These are either work or school-related tasks that require me to be on campus. *For privacy reasons, I’ve chosen to rename this context and edited the screenshot above accordinly.
    • If I have more than a couple tasks that involve a particular colleague, I’ll add them as a sub-context. When I’m meeting with that particular person, I can quickly go to their context and see any agenda items I need to discuss.
  • Errands – This context is for tasks that require me to be out and about.
    • Shopping – This context is specifically for items on my shopping list which I’ve broken down further into:
      • IKEA – Gotta love IKEA right?
      • Online – Many of my online purchases can also be made in a store, so I’ve kept this context under Errands so that if I’m out, I can pick up items on my list rather than buying them online. {This will come in handy when I describe my Perspectives in a later post.}
  • Devices – It’s been said many times over, the idea of “email” or “internet” contexts have become somewhat obsolete with the myriad of internet connected devices we all carry around. This context is for tasks that require some sort of digital device but not necessarily a specific one. For tasks that do require a specific device I’ve added sub-contexts:
    • Phone – Phone calls do require a phone {and a reasonably quiet environment}, so does installing an iPhone app, so these get their own context.
    • Mac – While I can do most of my “digital” tasks on any device, there are some that do require a computer or I prefer to do on a computer. These tasks get assigned a Mac context.

My last two contexts are maintenance contexts. I’ve put both of these contexts on hold so that they do not show up in my active tasks:

  • Waiting for… holds my tasks that I’m waiting on someone else for. For instance, if I’m waiting for a product to come in the mail or I’m waiting for someone to reply to an email.
  • Someday/Maybe holds my tasks that I don’t plan on doing right away but may like to do in the future.

So there you have it, my Omnifocus contexts. As I said in the beginning, this list isn’t set in stone. I see my contexts as dynamic, and they constantly change. I do, however, have one rule – If I find that a context has only 1 task, I heavily consider whether it really needs to be in it’s own context. More often than not, it fits better in one of my other contexts.

If you’re struggling with contexts in GTD or how to set up Omnifocus, I hope this has helped. I’d be happy to elaborate a bit more on any of the contexts above if they weren’t clear, and while I’m not an “expert” at Omnifocus, I’m also happy to take a stab at trying to answer any questions you might have.

In my next Omnifocus post, I’ll be going over how I’ve decided to organize my projects.

Signature Update

Growing Pains with Things

Hi everyone, I’m back from a nice little 4 day vacation in Atlantic City with another post about Omnifocus vs. Things. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve outgrown Things. So what specifically started bugging me?

Things is loosely based off of GTD. This is both a blessing and a curse. It did mean I got right into using it because there was no learning curve. It’s also meant it failed pretty quickly because I didn’t think of how I should set it up.

My first struggle was with Things’ Areas of Responsibility. Because it’s loosely based off GTD, Things doesn’t have traditional “contexts.” Instead, it has Areas of Responsibility which according to Cultured Code, “allow you to group both projects and to-dos according to your responsibilities.” Areas of Responsibility to me meant things like Personal, Work, School, etc. which is how I initially set everything up. The problem is, when I’m deciding what to do, I don’t necessarily care what area of my life it’s for. I’m more worried about whether or not I have the resources to do it. In some cases, personal tasks do mix in to my work day and vice versa. For instance, if I put off calling my doctor until after I get home, they’ll probably be closed. So, using Areas of Responsibility as I initially had gave me lists of tasks categorized based on parts of my life, but with no particular regard to what I needed to actually do those things.

I took a second go at Things, and redid my Areas with more traditional “contexts” in mind. I ended up with Work, Computer, Errands, and Home. After all, I have certain tasks I have to do when I’m either at work or at home, things that I need my computer for, and things I need to do when I’m out and about. This was better, but my Today view still showed me EVERYTHING regardless of whether I could actually do those things. If I’ve learned anything from all my planning OCD, it’s that having a task in your face nagging you that you can’t do is draining. For me, sitting at work seeing that I needed to clean 6 things at home distracted me from the 2 things I needed to make sure I did while I was working.

Contexts, or Areas, weren’t my only issue though. Things seemed to lack organization in general. Again, this is makes Things incredibly simple to start using, but the more I used it, the more I struggled with it. Active projects are all kept together. My school projects with hard deadlines were mixed in with remodeling my room which is just something I’m tackling on the side. Moreover, when it came time to my class which I broke down into a project for each week, I either needed to manually schedule every one to appear x days before a certain day, or choose to make the projects inactive and manually activate the next one as I finished each week.

The issue I had with scheduling my projects leads me to my last gripe. Tasks can only be assigned a date not a time meaning, if I had to do something by the end of the day but couldn’t start it until 3PM, I still had to stare at it all day (again nagging me making me resent it). This created constant friction in deciding whether to put time-sensitive tasks without due dates on my calendar which I try to avoid, in a separate app which I also try to avoid, or just live with it.

All in all, my struggles led me to Omnifocus which has solved all of the issues I had with Things. It’s not perfect, and I’m still tinkering, but my next Omnifocus post will be about how I’ve organized my projects and contexts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and thank you for stopping by.

Signature Update

Switching from Things to Omnifocus

I’ve been using Omnifocus for a little over 2 months now I believe, so I think it’s time for some details about my journey from Things to Omnifocus.

Let me start off by saying I tried both Things and Omnifocus at some point in the past and both got either uninstalled or stored away in the depths of the Applications folder for quite some time before I ever really used them. Omnifocus has a high initial learning curve which puts off many users including myself initially and truthfully I hadn’t gotten into task management enough to need it’s features or use it to it’s full potential. Things, on the other hand, is much simpler, loosely based on GTD, and looks pretty good too. As a newbie to GTD and a fan of well-designed apps, it’s no surprise that I found myself using Things.

Things is a beautiful app on the Mac {a bit dated on iOS right now until they release version 3 though.} I didn’t jump right into using Things. Instead I found myself gradually putting more and more into it – chores, tasks that repeated at intervals I was bound to forget, school assignments, etc. – until eventually it became habit for me to put everything into Things. You can read more about my early set up of Things here. As I began to use Things more, I began to readjust my system. Then came the day that I realized I trusted Things and Google Calendar enough to abandon my Filofax all together.

Sadly there came a time where no amount of readjustment to things would have solved my gripes with the app. I simply wanted more than it offered. Around that time, I discovered Mac Power Users, an amazing podcast that I listen to regularly each week. David Sparks, one of it’s co-hosts, is a huge Omnifocus advocate, and the more I listened to the MPU podcast, the more interested I got in revisiting Omnifocus.

Off I went to redownload the trial, but once again, I was immediately put off by the complicated interface. This time I perservered though. I knew Omnifocus had features I wanted that Things didn’t have like time-based or even location based tasks, and if “Mac Power Users” could figure it out, so could I. I watched a bunch of videos, read a ton of blog posts, and even read a few books, and Omnifocus finally clicked.

It took some time, and as with most Omnifocus users, I’m still tinkering {us digital planner people mess with our set ups as much as paper planner folks do if not more!}, but I couldn’t be happier I switched to Omnifocus. I’m currently in the test group for Omnifocus 2 which I’m incredibly excited about. Omnigroup plans to release version 2 in June.

I couldn’t possibly cover everything Omnifocus in one post, so I’m going to be breaking my Omnifocus journey up into a few posts that will hopefully include what I like about Things vs. Omnifocus, how I’m using Omnifocus {contexts, projects, and perspectives}, and some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about my journey from Things to Omnifocus.

Signature Update

Rethinking Things

Over 6 months ago I first posted about using Things for Mac/iOS to manage my tasks. For those of you who don’t know, Things, is a beautifully designed task manager loosely based of the GTD system available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. For me, it’s been one of the few constants in my planning set up, but it took a really long time for it to get there. {I actually hated it at first. True story.}

The Things app for Mac is set up with 4 main areas {The iOS apps don’t actually label these.}:

  • Collect – for your Inbox
  • Focus – for Today, Next, Scheduled, Someday, or Projects
  • Active Projects
  • Areas – Contexts in GTD

Now Things is designed with GTD in mind, but I never actually used it that way.  I set up my areas based on “areas of my life”, like my Google Calendars are set up, not based on actual physical areas. These were the areas I was using: Blog, Work, Personal, Cleaning, Pets, Media, and Shopping.


The more I started using Things, the more I realized that these “areas” really didn’t work that well. When I opened Things to the Today view, my first thought was “I am at this location. What can I do right now?” I wasn’t concerned with what kind of task it was. I just wanted to see what I could do based on where I was quickly, so I changed my areas to reflect actual physical areas:


  • Home – Personal things, pet things, cleaning, and anything else I need to be at home to do all go here.
  • Work – Work-related tasks go here. {A lot of these tasks are technically computer related tasks, but I really prefer to keep my work tasks at work, so computer-related or not, they go into work.}
  • Computer – These are things I need a computer to do like watching a video, buying something online, filling out a form, etc.
  • Errands – And this list is for things I need to leave the house to do like pick up something from the store.

Things also has tags. Using the 4 areasalong with tags gives me a really great set up. Cleaning tasks in the Home area have a cleaning tag, so I know I have to be at home to do them, but if I want to see all my cleaning tasks, I can view just that tag. Tags really shine in terms of shopping. Whether I want to buy something online {in the Computer area} or in a store {Errands}, I can filter by the shopping tag and see everything on my shopping list. Even better, I can add a tag for a specific store, so the next time I decide to go to Target or Walmart, I can filter by the store name and see everything I need to get while I’m there.

When I first installed Things and started playing around with it, I never imagined it’d be such a huge part of my daily routine. I also never imagined, my set up would evolve to where it is now, but through a lot of trial and error, I’ve been able to get Things set up in a way that really works wonders for me. {I’m talking my daily to do list is now 2-3 things vs. 20 things I put off doing for the past week.}

By the way, please check out the wonderful campaign going on for the BlueFit bottle over at Indiegogo. This awesome bottle reminds you to drink water throughout the day and links to your smart phone to track your drinking habits over time. They have 14 days left to raise another $84,000, so please consider contributing if you can.  They’ve been running quite a few referral promotions over the past couple weeks with great prizes so pass along the campaign and you might just be able to score some free prizes as well.

Signature Update