My takeouts from The OmniFocus Setup presentations

Over the last few weeks, I've been going through the presentations from The OmniFocus Setup, the event the Omni Group held on 31 January 2013 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. They managed to get a lot of very smart people I admire to talk about how they use OmniFocus.

I learned a lot from the presentations and thought it'd be valuable to share my notes. The following is what I wrote down while watching the videos, so it's only my main takeout from each. There is much more content and if you use OmniFocus, I urge you to watch them. Your takeouts will be different from mine.

Do Stuff! by David Sparks

Use start dates to manage projects and tasks so they disappear until it's time to work on them. Use due dates only for tasks that are unquestionably due; things of the "the world will explode if I don't complete this by that exact date" type of tasks. If it's an "I'd like to finish it today" kind of task, it shouldn't have a due date.

The trick is to make these decisions up front, so that when the time comes get to work, only what you should do right now is visible. And what's best, the badges in OmniFocus will have an actual meaning. They'll represent tasks about to be or already overdue.

I heard (or read) David explain this some time ago and immediately integrated it into my process. I haven't looked back.

David writes at MacSparky and hosts the podcast Mac Power Users.

A Fresh Take on Contexts by Sven Fechner

Sven suggests a fresh take on contexts based on time and attention instead of tools and locations. Examples are @Routines, @Short Bursts, @Full Focus.

Getting Things Done, the book by David Allen that started the GTD movement and inspired OmniFocus, was published in 2002. A lot has changed since then and the traditional contexts are no longer relevant to most knowledge workers. We're always online now and Dropbox and iCloud allow us to have access to all our documents everywhere and from any device. Grouping actions by the time we have and the attention we can give them based on our brain power at the time make perfect sense.

I'm experimenting with this approach now and I'm liking it so far. If I only have 30 minutes, it really makes a lot of sense to go through all tasks that can be done quickly irrespective of what tool I need.

Sven writes at SimplicityBliss.

The Creative Task Group by Kourosh Dini

Set up repeating tasks for actions you want to become a habit. For example, if I want to write every day, I can set up a task that repeats 1 day after completion. Each day I see it, I write, I check it off. The next day it'll appear again.

I think it's a great way to establish a habit and I'm going to give it a go. Once it has become second nature I'll remove it from OmniFocus.

Kourosh wrote Using OmniFocus.

Say It, Don’t Spray It; Specific Tasks for Specific Outcomes by Merlin Mann

Think in the Inbox so you don't have to think when you're doing.

That line, right there, says a lot. The inbox can be a dumping ground, but once a task gets moved into a project, it should be fully defined so that when you get to work, you can start straight away. For example, "sort out next holiday" is ok to drop in your inbox, but can't go as is into a project. While it's still in the inbox, define what "sort out" means. Research possible destinations? Choose destination? Define dates? Book travel? Hotel? all of the above? We need to be super specific about each task so there's no ambiguity when the rubber hits the road.

This tip seems so obvious in hindsight, doesn't it? It's one of the most valuable concepts I got from the entire series. After going through my OmniFocus library I encountered way too many ambiguous tasks. I moved them all back to the inbox for proper processing.

Merlin hosts the podcast Back to Work amongst many other endeavours.

Engaged Productivity and the Art of Discardia by Dinah Sanders

A "Today" perspective grouped by "due" and showing only today opened up. Quick, easy, and very useful tip. It's sometimes the little things that make a big difference and this one is certainly one of those.

The perspective I created, based on Dinah's suggestion, shows me only today's items opened up with items due in the past (if I didn't get to them the day before) and the future closed, but only a click away. Less clutter. More focus. Quick action.

Dinah Sanders writes at Discardia.

A More Meaningful To Do List by Mike Vardy

Mike suggests using contexts based on asking yourself "why am I doing this?". For example, a "Practice" or "Mastery" context for something I want to get really good at. Or a "Gratitude" context for keeping a journal. It's an interesting approach although I'm not sure it'll work for me.

Mike writes at Productivityist.

Holistic Productivity by Tim Stringer

Structure your OmniFocus library based on the areas of focus in your life. Start with an analysis of what matters to you. Tim suggests creating a mind map with your areas of focus, which I think is a great idea.

I actually use mind maps a lot and did this a few years ago. It's a great exercise to go through as it clarifies your priorities and what are the areas of your life you really care about. Structuring your OmniFocus library based on this makes perfect sense and helps you filter out projects and tasks that don't matter in the long run. If it doesn't fit in one of your folders, it probably shouldn't even make it to your task list.

Tim writes at Technically Simple.

In summary, I found all the OmniFocus Setup talks informative and worth my time. Each talk had more content than what I wrote here. As I mentioned, these are just the things that resonated with me. I'm sure everyone will take out something different from them. If you use OmniFocus (and you probably do if you've read this far), spend some time watching them.

UPDATE (30/4/13): For some weird reason, I missed one by Michael Schechter and Thanh Pham, which I've written about here.