My takeouts from an OmniFocus Setup presentation by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham

A few weeks ago I published an article describing my takeouts from The OmniFocus Setup presentations. However, I missed one video by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham that's a slightly different format than the rest. I found it very interesting as well and thought I'd share my learnings from it, so here it is.

Contexts. A group chat covering oddities and niceties by Michael Schechter & Thanh Pham

Michael and Thanh have a very different approach to contexts. Thanh bases them on energy levels (eg. High Energy vs Low Energy), and assigns the most important tasks for the day to the High Energy context. If he gets through these, the work for the day is done and he can move on to the Low Energy tasks, which are not critical and don't require his full attention. He also mentioned using a Creativity context for tasks that need creative thinking.

In contrast, Michael uses only 2 contexts: Work and Home. These divide the projects/tasks related to his day job and everything else (family, hobbies, his website, etc.).

Initially I thought this would make it hard to find specific tasks, but he clarified by explaining he gives tasks distinct names. For example, tasks that would normally be in an "Email" context, he titles "Email Bill about...", or "Waiting for" tasks he titles "Waiting for Bill to do..." and then just searches for "Email" or "Waiting" to group all similar actions.

I rarely search in OmniFocus, so I found Michael's approach intriguing. I did some searches in my own OmniFocus library and realised 2 things: the search in OmniFocus is amazing and I suck at naming tasks. I ended up spending an hour updating titles to be more descriptive and clearer.

What's clever about Michael's approach is that you can not only search for all emails you have to send or all actions you're waiting for, but also all tasks related to Bill, which would show both in the above example. During the talk, I quickly jotted down this which I think encapsulates it well:

If you're meeting with Bill, search for Bill and all "waiting for" and "to tell him" tasks will come up. If it's something that's going to take about a week, put a start date of about a week so it doesn't show up.

It feels like a good substitute for Agendas. At the moment, I have these tasks separated by an "Agenda : Bill" and a "Waiting For" context.

Interestingly, Thanh has a list of people contexts and list of waiting for contexts that mirror each other (e.g. People>Mom and Waiting>Mom). He created a perspective that shows both People and Waiting to quickly see what you need to talk to them about and remind them you're waiting for.

It's fascinating to listen to 2 very different ways to acheive a similar outcome.

During the Q&A, someone asked about priorities. Their views were also very different. Michael doesn't do priorities (or rather, he uses only one). Something is either a priority or it isn't. If it is, he assigns a due date. If it isn't, he doesn't.

Thanh, on the other hand, follows the ABC style by Brian Tracey, where A-have to get done; B-would be nice to finish, but only after A; C don't need to be finished today.

It's worth watching the video, especially if you're struggling with contexts. And as Michael puts it at the start of the presentation, if you're not, you're lying.

Michael Schechter writes at A Better Mess and Thanh Pham writes at Asian Efficiency.