managing a high volume of tasks in omnifocus 2

The first principle of David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ (GTD™) approach to task and project management is that you should capture every task or project that comes into your head in what he calls a trusted system.

For me, Omnifocus has provided  that trusted system since 2009 and the rollout of Omnifocus 2 for iMac in June 2014 has further strengthened what was already a powerful, versatile and reliable app. The two most compelling features of Omnifocus 2 for desktops are the review function and the Forecast view—both adapted from the groundbreaking iPad app.

The downside of following the great GTD™ guru’s advice to the letter is that you end up with a lot of ‘stuff’ in your trusted system. My Omnifocus file typically holds around 700 entries in some 60 projects. Not all of these are to–do items in the narrow sense: some ‘projects’ contain lists of books to read, movies to watch, places I’d like to travel to. Including these makes the file bigger, but also ramps up the fun factor: I do not just fire up Omnifocus when there’s another bill to be paid…

So read on if you are interested in the strategies that I have developed to manage a high volume of tasks in Omnifocus 2.

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ten great apps for getting things done

podium2This is my second attempt at writing this post. The first time, in a quest for ‘objectivity’, I got bogged down in a treacly mix of scoring apps against criteria that were of my own choosing anyway. This time around I am opting for an unashamedly impressionistic approach: these are the task management apps I like best.

They are all compatible with David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology, capable of supporting basic to complex project management and with at least one mobile app (iPhone or iPad, ideally both). Despite meeting those criteria, Things, asana, FacileThings and several other pretty solid apps did not make the grade. Only ten apps will fit into a top–10 after all (I was reasonably good at maths at school).

My ranking is exactly that: a personal top ten, reflecting my preferences (I like a nice UI), my approach to productivity (David Allen’s GTD®), my hardware (I am a Mac user), my needs (as a sole operator I have no need for team collaboration features or enterprise–based software) and my experience (I have tested ~30 task management apps over the past two years).

Granted, my illustration is a bit of a spoiler, but please read on if you want to find out which other apps made it into my top ten. Continue reading

nozbe and zendone revisited


Early in 2012 I reviewed Nozbe and Zendone, two browser–based task management apps that are steeped in David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology. Since that time, both apps have continued to improve. Nozbe has added new functionality and overhauled the user interface of its suite of apps. Just today they rolled out version 1.8. Zendone, which was still in beta at the time of my first review, has gone gold, produced apps for the iPhone and Android and added significant new functionality and polish to what was already an excellent tool.

Nozbe and Zendone are very similar. They are both developed by software developers with a clear commitment to GTD® and to ongoing quality improvement. They lead the field in terms of integration with Evernote. For what it is worth, I have tested 28 task management apps over the past two years and Nozbe and Zendone both figure in my virtual ‘top–five’. This is a gentle review therefore, a comparison of two very capable tools.

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set up a ‘waiting for’ perspective in omnifocus

Your effectiveness in getting things done is not determined solely by your own productivity—it also depends on the work of others and on your ability to manage and track their contribution. Not surprising then, that David Allen’s Getting Things Done™ methodology recognises ‘waiting for’ as a distinct work ‘context’. It is used to flag tasks that you are not able to complete yourself because you lack the technical expertise, the mandate, or simply the time or the interest. Whether your project is planning your gran’s 90th birthday party or delivering a major urban renewal initiative, it is crucial that you have a clear overview of all project tasks that have been delegated to others.

So how can you achieve this in Omnifocus, the legendary desktop–based task management app for Mac? I have been using Omnifocus since 2009 and I keep finding new ways of making the app work better for me. I also know from experience that newcomers can find user–defined views, which Omnifocus calls ‘perspectives’, daunting and hard to set up. This post explains how to set up an Omnifocus perspective that enables you to keep track of the tasks that you have delegated. Continue reading

does your to do list feel bloated and stale?

IMG_0822bLet’s face it: if you follow David Allen’s sensible advice and collect all your tasks, notes and ideas in a single ‘trusted system’, you will be spending a lot of time interacting with that system, whether it be paper–based or centred around a productivity app. Ideally, accessing that system should inspire you to achieve things. It should be a favourite mental hangout, where you catch your breath, regroup and plan how best to spend the next hours or days of your life.

For many of us, the opposite happens: we dread opening up our task manager as we know we will be confronted with a seemingly endless list of tasks. It can be an overwhelming and disheartening experience. Many of the tasks (‘build cubby house’) seemed fun when you first entered them. Months later, here they lie, these bleached and broken dreams, shipwrecked on the cliffs of distraction, washed up on the shores of procrastination. When it gets really bad, it seems as if merely looking at your task list sucks all the life and energy out of you, like a Dementor in the Harry Potter novels.

So what can we do to keep motivated and energised? What can we do to keep our task list lean, informative, stimulating? We cannot complete all tasks quickly, so how do we prevent frequently deferred tasks from going stale? Continue reading

ozengo’s top 10 tips for taming omnifocus

Finding a task management app that appeals and blends in with your working style can take quite some time. At some stage you have to make a choice, stick to it and make it work. Unless, of course, you really enjoy exploring new productivity apps. I find it fascinating that developers come up with so many different approaches to the questions of what do I want/have to do and what is the best way for planning and keeping track of all these activities.

While I have settled upon Omnifocus as my preferred task manager, I am virtually always exploring one or two other apps at the same time. Right now, I am tinkering with asana and Donedesk (if you subscribe to my blog you will be notified by email as soon as the respective reviews  go live). Part of the attraction of entering tasks in a brand new app is the sense of exploration, coupled with a feeling of control: those first fifteen tasks stand there, neatly lined up, tagged and prioritised. They signal the new you, who will wake up clear-headed, have days of stellar achievement and seemingly effortlessly accomplish life goals… Any new app feels sleek and fast, like a regatta boat. By contrast, your trusted old task manager, with its hundreds of tasks collected over the years, can seem like a lumbering nineteenth-century frigate returning from a long ocean voyage, slowed down by the shroud of built-up seaweed on its keel.

It is not a fair comparison of course. Most promising new apps start revealing their flaws or limitations once you have used them for three or four weeks. For me, my ongoing struggle with Omnifocus has been how best to filter the multitude of my tasks in the absence of tags and using only the tools that are provided in the app: perspectives, start dates, due dates and flags. In this post I want to share my learning and workarounds with you in the hope that you will try, or stick with Omnifocus, which I consider the best productivity app around for Mac users. I am not in any way associated with the Omni Group.

If you are not a Mac user, or you want to look further afield, I recommend Priacta’s interactive table comparing productivity apps that are compatible with David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD)® approach. Continue reading

things 2 and omnifocus compared

The choice between Omnifocus and Things has been a matter of discussion in the mac community for a number of years now. Each of these two task management apps has its proponents and detractors. For some, Things embodies elegance and Omnifocus complexity. However, users who have used both often keep shuttling back and forth, seemingly unable to choose between the two. When using Things they miss the hierarchy of subtasks and subfolders available in Omnifocus. After switching back to Omnifocus, they miss the simplicity of Things and the ability to attach multiple tags to a task. They find being restricted to using a single context in Omnifocus frustrating as it means, for example, that allocating a ‘waiting for’ context to a task means that the original context has to be removed first and possibly reinstated later. In Things you just add a ‘waiting for’ tag alongside your original tag(s). But what a pity tasks cannot be indented…

The recent release of Things 2 for Mac, iPad and iPhone makes it worth revisiting this discussion. Things 2 introduces a number of significant improvements, including cloud synching, a daily review system, improved date picking on the iPad and integration with Reminders and Siri. These new features are described clearly on the Things website; my aim in this post is to compare the current functionality and the respective strengths of Omnifocus and Things 2.

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