Man­age Your Life with Om­niFo­cus

iPhone Life Magazine - - Productivity - By Daniel W. Ras­mus

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 dwras­mus@daniel­wras­mus.com

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