As i've mentioned numerous times before, I'm a huge fan of OmniFocus. In my last entry on OmniFocus, I offered a peek into the way I organize my folders. If you haven't read that post, please do so now. In this entry, I’ll answer some of the questions about triaging, prioritizing, and adding time to actions.Weekly ReviewI am not strictly adherent to GTD methodology, but I do use many of the practices. My practice includes both daily and weekly reviews. My weekly review normally takes about an hour. During the hour, I review existing projects and actions, clean up remaining items in my Inbox, and set up new projects. I look at each new and existing project through two main lenses—a hard due date (e.g. tax filing-Covey Quadrant 1-CQ1), and the strategic importance of the project to my personal or professional life (Covey Quadrant 2-CQ2).As you saw in my last entry, all my projects are organized into folders by my personal and professional roles. During my weekly review I decide on the CQ1 and CQ2 projects with greatest strategic value, or with the most urgent deadlines. These are the projects that go into my “Weekly Priorities” Folder. My next most important strategic projects go into my “On-Deck” Folder. I try to have no more than three projects in each the weekly priority and the on deck folders. Those projects that are lower priority at the end of the week, but still active, go back into my personal or professional “Role” Folders.I spend about 80% of my time working on items in my Weekly Priority and On Deck folders. I have a custom perspective that filters all my projects down to my priorities grouped by project or context.Another perspective shows all my flagged or due items even if they are not in my Weekly Priority or On Deck Folder.As I add new projects, or make new projects from items in my Inbox, I am cognizant of any hard EXTERNAL deadline—only items with EXTERNAL deadlines get a due date. I have a custom perspective that shows all due or flagged items regardless of whether they are in my priorities folder. This bubbles up items that are due allows me to stay on top of deadlines regardless of whether the item is strategic or not.The last part of my weekly review strays from GTD methodology—I try to roughly plot out my week, placing actions from my highest priority projects in my calendar. I try to leave free time to allow for interruptions and other inevitable delays.I’ve found time-based perspectives to be helpful in two ways…during my weekly review , when I am trying to sketch out my week, or on-the-fly when I have unexpected time (e.g. a meeting that finished early). When defining the time for actions, I try to keep each to an hour or less. If an action item looks like it will take longer than an hour, I break it down further.My weekly review is complete after I’ve sketched out my week in my calendar. Although having a plan is great, I don’t get stressed when things change. I often need to adjust my plan. This takes place in my Daily Review.Daily ReviewEach day I open OF next to my calendar and review my achievements of the day. I like to record my my major achievements (e.g. completion of a major project) in a journal app (I use Day One). Often, during my daily review, I need to adjust my plans for the upcoming day. I have a perspective actions associated only with my highest priority items. I look at this list first. Next, I look at a complementary perspective that shows me my entire list of actions, grouped by context. Anything that I have not formally placed in my calendar, but want to achieve on a particular day gets flagged in OF. When I get to the office, I use my my “Flagged or Due by Context” Perspective constantly.I hope it's helpful to see how I'm using OF.I'd love to hear what you think...and would love hear the ways you use the software in your life.Addendum:In response to Owen's request....
I am a huge fan of OmniFocus (OF). I am so dependent on the software, I’m not sure I could function without it. Although there has been much written about the use of OmniFocus, I have yet to see anyone else that uses the software quite the way I do. In this entry, I’ll introduce you to my OmniFocus set-up. In future entires I’ll demonstrate how I use this set-up to maximize the impact of my work in my personal and professional life.My set-up is an amalgamation of many different things I’ve read online. I’m sure, after seeing what I do, others will continue to build on my ideas.The struggle to keep on top of one’s commitments is not new. Before Getting Things Done and OmniFocus, the go to resource for productivity was Stephen Covey’s First Things First (amazon link). This book suggested breaking down your personal and professional lives into various roles (e.g. Researcher, Clinician, Mentor). Each week, within each role, you were to decide up to three important tasks to accomplish (based on both urgency and importance). Each task could be added to one of 4 quadrants:The fact that not all urgent tasks are important, nor are all important tasks urgent was a complete revelation for me. Once I understood this, it was much easier to prioritize my personal and professional life. Per Covey, in order to maximize productivity, one is to spend the majority of their time in Quadrant 2 (Not Urgent, Important). Rather than working on projects haphazardly, Covey recommended spending the vast majority of time focused on Quadrant 2 projects. I choose to define Importance as the project’s impact on my long-term goals.I have blended Omnifocus and First Things First (and a little bit of Agile Programming—but that’s an entry for another time) to develop a system that’s truly my own. In the image below, you can see how I organize Omnifocus. I have four high-level folders: Weekly Priorities, Single Tasks, Projects, and Meta.My Weekly Priorities Folder contains three folders: Maintenance, Weekly Priority, and On Deck. The Maintenance Folder contains all the projects to keep my system running—reminders for my daily, weekly, and monthly reviews. The Weekly Priority Folder contains my weekly highest priority level projects (both personal and professional) I chose during my weekly review. The On Deck Folder contains other important projects—if I’m ultra productive and blast through my priority projects, I look in the On Deck Folder for next tasks to accomplish.The Single Tasks High Folder is self-explanatory.The Projects Folder contains two subfolders: Professional and Personal. Within each of these subfolders I have folders that define each of my professional and personal roles. For instance, my Professional Folder contains the following role folders: Administrator, Clinician, Communicator, Consultant, Fundraiser, Innovator/Entrepreneur, Mentor/Teacher, Researcher, Society Member. Each new professional project is placed within the folder of one of my roles.The Meta Folder Contains my Someday/Maybe project folders (things I’m interested in, but have not yet committed to doing). I also store my completed and dropped projects here.After defining a new project, I place the project into one of my personal or professional subfolders. In the Notes Field of OmniFocus, I use Text Expander scripts to label each project by Covey Quadrant. I then may use OmniFocus Perspectives to quickly locate ALL my projects of a particular quadrant.Using these methods, I am able to juggle a huge number of concurrent projects, each week prioritizing those most important to my personal and professional life. In case you’re wondering, I do most of my heavy lifting / organizing on my Mac. I primarily use OF on my iOS device as reference.In a future entry, I’ll explain how I use this set-up in my daily, weekly, monthly, and annual reviews.
I thought I’d kick off my blog with a discussion of one of my most critical pieces of software, Omnifocus by the Omni Group. Although I have modified and tweaked David Allen’s system to work for me (more on this in another entry), the software is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). There are versions for my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone.
In a nutshell, Omnifocus serves as the central hub of organization for my personal and professional life. David Allen’s method depends on getting stuff out of your head and into a holding place called your Inbox. Each time you are confronted with something to do you have three choices: Do it, Delegate it, or Defer it. If you can to do it immediately (in 2 minutes or less), you should do it right away, otherwise, if not delegated, the task should be sent to your Inbox for processing.
Core concepts to understand about OmniFocus:
- Inbox is where you dump (capture) everything for further processing. The Inbox is a temporary holding area to be processed daily.
- Actions are single events. Actions should always start with a verb. An example of a good actionable event would be: “Download my CME certificate from the American Society of Anesthesiologist Meeting.”
- Projects are collections of two or more Actions. Projects can be defined as sequential (each task must be completed in order) or parallel (each task can be completed at any time).
- Contexts are where (or what) you need to complete the Action. My contexts include email, call, errands, Mac:Anywhere, Mac:Online, work, home, etc.
Omnifocus Basics-Items, Projects, Contexts, and the Inbox
Once a day (I typically do it in the evening), I sort through my inbox and assign each item a project (see below) and a context (where the item will be completed). In addition, I typically add a start date and projected time to each item. I only use a due date if the item is important AND has a hard stop.
Sample Project-Renewing my Medical License
I know each year on my birthday I have to renew my medical license and submit it to the Credentialing Office.There are numerous tasks I have to complete to make this happen. I have to submit documentation on my professional education, log the hours into the Medical Board’s web site, pay my annual license fee, download my updated license, and send the license to Credentialing.
Let’s assume I wasn’t vigilant in collecting all my CME certificates, and thus have to contact the organizing body of each meeting to obtain my credit hours.
The items in this hypothetical sequential Project called Annual License Renewal (with context in parenthesis) would be: (1) download CME certificates (Mac: Online) , (2) enter hours and dates into personal spreadsheet (Mac:Anywhere), (3) log on to Medical Board Web site, enter information and pay fee (Mac:Online), (4) Download renewed license (Mac:Online), (5) email license to hospital credentialing (email). The project has a hard stop (my birthday) past which I would not be able to practice.
You’ll notice I used only a few contexts in this example. All in all, I have about fifteen. My personal contexts include: Home, Work, email, phone call, Mac Anywhere, Mac Online, iPad, iPhone, or Tech–for any device.
Why Take the Time?
Once you have your tasks in OmniFocus, the fun begins. Omnifocus lets you sort your lists in really useful ways–called Perspectives. Instead of looking at my projects, I can sort my to-do’s by contexts–having it show me the emails I must send across all my projects, or, in another example, what I need to do on my Mac while online. If I have only a few minutes, I can ask OmniFocus to display items tagged as t 5 minutes or less.
Perspectives are very customizable–the customizbility is where the power of Omnifocus outshines other GTD managers such as Things. I personally have about a dozen different perspectives I use to slice and dice my Omnifocus data. During the day, I refer to my lists dozens of times, usually in a Context mode. At the end of the day, as I’m processing new to-dos, I work primarily in a Project view.
My data backs up to my Dropbox, and syncs to the cloud (there are several different sync methods available). My database is accessible with an iPad and/or iPhone client-always current and always with me. As I add new information in iOS, the item turns up in my Mac-based Omnifocus client. Synchronized, powerful, and simple-very Mac like.
In a single day I’ll usually add information to my Inbox in one of four ways: clipping, direct entry, email, or through Siri. Getting information into OmniFocus will be the topic of my next entry.
In conclusion–OmniFocus is an indispensable tool for personal and productivity. If you aren’t familiar with it you should run, (not walk) to your computer and download it immediately.