Manage Your Life with OmniFocus
We're all familiar with the concept of time management, yet few of us actually commit to learning effective methods to put the practice to use. This tutorial aims to change that, offering practical advice about how to use the triedand-true OmniFocus software, a sophisticated yet easy-to-use task management system bent on boosting your efficiency.
The Omni Group, a Seattle-based app development company, built OmniFocus around the popular “Getting Things Done” (GTD) method coined by productivity consultant David Allen. GTD is based on Allen's philosophy that you accomplish more when you bring everything stored in your brain—from mundane to-dos to work projects to larger life dreams—out into an organized system of actionable items. This tutorial is designed to offer guidance that will help you customize and find your own path toward a more effective use of your time.
Step 1: Commit to One Tool
The most important step in using technology to manage your tasks (and your life) is to accept a single tool. If you start trying a number of tools, all of them will fail because your stuff won't be in one place. OmniFocus is designed to capture all your to-dos and make you aware of what you need to accomplish.
Cost is another incentive to commit to OmniFocus from the start. The iPad app requires an investment of $29.99; it's $19.99 for the iPhone app. To get it on your Mac, you can pay $39.99 for the Standard version or $79.99 to go Pro with extra features and customization options.
Step 2: Tell OmniFocus Everything
Mastering OmniFocus begins with the inbox, the nonjudgmental repository of everything you need to accomplish. It can take some time to get everything in initially. Some methods suggest a 30-minute brain dump, but I recommend taking whatever time you need and adding as you go. Task management shouldn't be about arbitrary deadlines and beating your- self up about missing things. You will spend less time in the inbox as your process matures.
Step 3: Add Dates, Projects & Contexts
Once you have a big list of items, you need to begin sorting them, assigning each one a date, aligning it with a project, or associating it with a context. Due dates, projects, and contexts aren't mutually exclusive, and none are required. In order to make decisions about assignments, though, you need to be able to think in projects and contexts. Projects are containers for tasks. For example, if you want to hold a garage sale, you need to think about the tasks required in order for the sale to be successful. The garage sale is the project, and all of the action steps involved are the tasks. Like everything else in OmniFocus, you can add projects on the fly.
While most task managers just display a list of dates, OmniFocus supports sequential tasks (those that start only after
you complete a previous task), using dates generated by dependencies rather than entered directly.
The most complex and powerful feature of OmniFocus is Contexts. A context is a situation in which a task can be accomplished. Think about questions you want to ask a therapist or the list of things you want to buy at Costco. The therapist and Costco become contexts. Because the iOS versions of OmniFocus are GPS enabled, they will inform you of tasks you can complete when near a relevant location. Create a context for your local Costco. As you create shopping lists for parties or office supplies, assign those tasks to the Costco context. When you are at Costco, tap the context, and all of the items you need will appear, regardless of the project they are assigned to. Common contexts include computer, office, garage, yard, or client location.
For tasks that recur, set up rules for that task. “Update your Constant Contact contacts from LinkedIn,” for instance, can be set as a monthly reminder fixed to the second Tuesday of each month.
This all presupposes work you need to get done in the future. Time management techniques make this sound so easy, but a brain dump may yield so many things you should have already done that you have to go through the process of prioritizing them and assigning dates. Just because you can do something right now doesn't mean you have time or, to be honest, the inclination to do so. But with OmniFocus, if you put if off, at least it will be documented and not just some nagging thought in the back of your mind.
Step 4: Manage Day-to-Day Tasks
Managing your tasks needs to become a ritual. Start your day with the Forecast. The Forecast reveals today's tasks and makes you aware of past-due and future tasks as well.
OmniFocus and its day view of the Forecast keeps tasks aligned, and its integration with the Calendar puts tasks there as well. OmniFocus keeps you aware of your tasks, regardless of the way you want to view them. It is up to you, however, to make OmniFocus a part of your routine.
The first rule is to always keep your work ahead of you, even if it is late. To fix a past-due item, locate its Due Date, and change it to today or some future date. Leaving things past due isn't helpful, as you can't travel back in time to complete them.
Then start picking off your items one by one. How you work is up to you. I tend to skip around so I don't get bored. I tackle things with hard dates first, or those that someone else is depending on to work.
The GTD method breaks down, however, when too many things become immediate. This is where personal discipline must step in. Don't try to micro-schedule the day, because days full of interruptions and conflicting priorities don't lend themselves to minute-to-minute schedules. Create half-day or even full-day tasks, ending a group of tasks before lunch or before the end of the day, for instance. Yes, that creates what appears to be a mound of work due at a certain time, but part of managing time means managing reality. If the work is due, the work is due (if you are feeling burdened, however, do check to make sure the list of today's items really need to be done today). By creating these larger boundaries, you can feel good about accomplishing work at a natural pace.
Step 5: Manage your Future
There will be inbox leftovers, ideas, and tasks for which you don't have a commitment, perhaps even from yourself. There will be wishes and plans: going to the moon, getting married, taking a trip to Yellowstone. OmniFocus accommodates these future to-dos as well. Simply create a placeholder project, like hopes and dreams, and put those items in there. Be sure to check back regularly to see if you can make one into a project of its own. Perhaps you'll find that once you make tangible action steps, you'll find they lead you to realizing that hope or dream.
Daniel W. Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design, is a strategist and industry analyst who helps clients put their future in context. Rasmus was the Director of Business Insights at Microsoft Corporation, and today is a consultant and internationally recognized speaker. He blogs for Fast Company and iphonelife. com. You can reach him at email@example.com