Thomas Gamstaetter offers another creative take on Contexts and introduces a little bit of gamification in his blog post titled "Stars: An Energy- and Yield-based System for Processing Tasks in OmniFocus".
He illustrates how you can use the 'Find text' filter in custom OmniFocus Perspective to batch similar tasks together which obviously ticks the box for personal productivity best practices.
The truly creative touch comes with Thomas' approach to introduce some fun to checking off tasks: Using the common ★ to ★★★★★ stars system to rate the impact of a task he introduces the concept of gamification to OmniFocus. At the end of each day you can just add up the number of stars associated with your completed tasks and get your score. Now you can chase your own high score every day.
The only improvement I would suggest is to use the stars as real Contexts instead of pseudo tags and then create a "Today's Score" Perspective that filters for 'Completed' tasks, groups by 'Completed' and sorts by Context. The missing scoreboard to complement the gamification of your daily fight against procrastination.
OmniFocus 2 on the Mac comes with a gorgeous design with lots of whitespace. For some, however, this is simply a waste of screen estate.
Luckily, and unknown to many, OmniFocus 2 has a hidden setting that allows you to change to a more dense layout. Simply copy and paste the URL
omnifocus:///change-preference?ContentLayout=compact into a browser, OmniFocus will confirm the change with a pop-up message and once you restart the application your layout looks like this:
If the text in the compact layout is too small for you, remember that you can change the font size in the OmniFocus Preferences under General.
Reverting back to the standard layout works the exact same way, only this time you will use the URL
omnifocus:///change-preference?ContentLayout — do not forget to relaunch OmniFocus to see the change.
The art of managing Perspectives in OmniFocus is the art to keep their count low. There are many Perspectives you can create, but soon you'll find out that they largely become variations of each other and that you do not use most of them regularly.
One way to keep the number of Perspectives low is to design them in such way that you can further narrow the scope of the data displayed by either changing the Sidebar selection or by applying Focus on a certain part of your OmniFocus data. This way you can easily have one Perspective dynamically transforming into half a dozen.
Note: Both dynamically selecting items in the sidebar and applying focus to one or more items in the project hierarchy is limited to the Mac version of OmniFocus. The user interface on the iPhone and iPad version do not allow the same or similar filtering.
Using Focus and Sidebar Selection wisely
You can preconfigure a certain Focus and Sidebar selection in Perspective settings directly. While sometimes this makes a lot of sense, it often proves to be too static and changing focus and selection on the fly makes your Perspectives a lot more versatile. Here are a couple of simple examples based on Perspectives we created in previous parts of this series.
The 'Planning' Perspective we created in the second part of this series for example shows all 'Available' Actions grouped by Context across all your Folders and Projects.
Let's say you have one of these rare days in front of you where there is no meeting scheduled and no other distraction in sight. Time to do some serious work. Consequently you want to dive into Actions that you have associated with the "Focus" Context. Make your planning easy and select just the "Focus" Context in the Perspectives sidebar and pick (flag) your Actions for the day from there.
Of course, on your regular days with plenty of meetings, conference calls and other commitments, you can do the opposite and just select those Contexts that contain simple and quick Actions (hold the ⌘-key to select multiple Contexts).
After this simple example with Sidebar Selection, we'll use the same Perspective, "Planning", to illustrate how you can use OmniFocus' Focus feature to further narrow down the data you are looking at.
Sometimes you have these days where you know: "Today I really need to move my strategy projects forward, no matter what."
When you plan such day, you want to only look at available Actions from all Projects that sit inside your "Strategy" Folder. Instead of creating a new Perspective to do this, you can simply
- Go into the standard Project Perspective (⌘2)
- Navigate to your "Strategy" Folder
- Focus it by either pressing ⇧⌘F or by selecting Menu > View > Focus on "Strategy"
- Change back to your "Planning" Perspective by using your assigned shortcut, e.g. ^P
Et volià, you now only see available Actions from your "Strategy" Projects in your "Planning" Perspective. You will notice the additional bar below the OmniFocus' Toolbar which is a visual reminder for you that you are in Focus mode as well as providing you with 'Unfocus' button to leave it. Pressing ⇧⌘F again, however, will also end the Focus mode.
Note that Focus only works inside the project hierarchy and not for Contexts. In the latter case you use the Sidebar Selection as illustrated in the first example.
You can use the Focus approach with the "Planning" Perspective as shown, but also with the "Today" Perspective (e.g. to look at today's work tasks while at work and personal tasks while at home) and of course the project-centric Perspective introduced in part III of the series. For the latter there is already a pre-defined Focus in the Perspective settings, but you can adapt it according to your needs.
The Sidebar Selection is only applicable to Perspectives where the sidebar actually displays Contexts. This applies to the "Today" and "Planning" Perspectives.
Keep the number of Perspective you built low, use them flexibly and wisely — to repeat the introduction to this last post in the OmniFocus Redux series. That said, here are a couple more (and different) Perspectives that you might find useful.
Never Miss The Next Action
As you rush through your day, or even your week, you are — and you should be — focussed on completing Actions. Checking one off, moving on to the next one. Just like you should. While you are in the "zone" there is a certain risk of accidentally stalling a Project. A Project is "stalled" if no Next Action is defined, it is practically empty. Since you spend most of the time in "Doing" mode and hence likely in context-centric Perspectives, you may actually not notice when you stalled a Project by checking off its last defined Action.
This can, at times, create issues where you get frustrated about the missed opportunity you had to further progress a particular Project just because you lost sight of the fact that there was no Next Action defined. The latest you should be noticing this is when you next review the Project itself, e.g. during your Weekly Review, but that may just be too late.
A simple solution to this is the following "Stalled" Perspective which you can integrate in either your morning or wrap-up routine. With one click it shows you any Projects that have no Next Action define.
"Stalled" uses the project hierarchy to group the Projects by their respective Folder. You can leave Sorting to 'Unsorted' since it does not add a lot of extra value here.
Instead the magic is, again, in the Filtering section: While Status, Availability and Duration do not play a role this time, the Project filter takes the center stage: It needs to be set to, you guessed it, 'Stalled'.
Leaving the rest of the settings untouched — with the exception of the Perspective name, keyboard shortcut and icon, of course — finishes off another useful Perspective which you'll likely use daily.
Due to a bug in the current OmniFocus 2 Pro for Mac version you need to apply a small work-around when using the "Stalled" Perspective: Normally you would navigate straight to the stalled Project displayed in the outline and press ⌘N to define the missing Next Action. Currently OmniFocus immediately removes the Project from the Perspective when a new Action is created without providing the user the opportunity to actually enter the Next Action. Until this is fixed it is recommended to use ⌥⌘R or Menu > View > Show in Projects to switch into the stalled Project and add the Next Action there. Afterwards just switch back to the "Stalled" Perspective to do the same with the next Project.
Identifying Dust Collecting Projects
Everyone does it and it is perfectly okay: Creating projects we do not get to work on or that get stuck halfway. You cannot avoid this from happening, so you better accept and deal with it. Sometimes these projects get less attractive or relevant as time passes. Other times they are ideas or wishes which you either just consider or have not really defined into a clear goal or outcome yet, making any existing Next Action as vague as the Project itself.
And then they sit there in your OmniFocus. Very often they are setup perfectly fine: A Project with at least one Next Action. They will pop up during your Weekly Review and you will mentally pass over them not realising how long you are already doing this. Other Perspectives like "Stalled" will not show these Projects because they have what is need from "technical" point of view, sadly OmniFocus cannot evaluate the quality of the Project or Next Action definitions (yet).
This is where the "Dust Collection" Perspective helps since it brings Projects that exist for a very long time right into your conciseness so you are confronted with them and need to make a decision about them. Typically the decision needed is one of the following three:
- No idea what this is or it is no longer interesting/relevant → delete the Project
- Desired outcome or Next Action is not well defined → Define it
- Not sure or need to ponder a little more about it → Move it as an entry to your "Someday/Maybe" list
The "Dust Collection" Perspective uses the project hierarchy and groups your Projects by the date they have been added to OmniFocus. The other two settings you need to watch for are part of the 'Filtering' section: Both Filter by availability and Filter projects need to be set to 'Remaining'.
Compared to most other Perspectives introduced in this series there is a little bit of work required once you view "Dust Collection". With OmniFocus 2 for Mac the application lost the ability to remember any layout related information such as which groups or Folders are expanded or collapsed. The OmniGroup may bring this functionality back in a future update, but for now you need to either press ^⌘0 or select Menu > View > Collapse All. You should now see the top level which groups your projects by their age starting with those you created today, if any.
From here it is very easy to identify your old, and potentially dusty Projects: They'll be part of the last group which you should expand and examine every Project contained in it applying one of the three decisions covered earlier. Of course, there will also be valid, current and long running Projects in this group which you can simply skip.
Looking at your "Dust Collection" could become an Action reoccurring once a month.
With this post the OmniFocus Perspective Redux series comes to an end. The small set of custom Perspectives introduces hopefully provides you with a some workflow support and enabled you to build additional ones as needed.
The series enjoys a great deal of response from the readership and across the web. This has inspired me to produce a larger piece on the subject which is currently already in the works and about which I hope to share more in the not too distant future.
Other Parts of the OmniFocus Perspective Redux series
David Sparks, aka MacSparky, master of many trades and well respected inside the OmniFocus community sat himself down for many hours to record his OmniFocus wisdom in form of a 2.5 hours screencast or Video Field Guide as he would call it.
The screencast is neatly broken down into chapters that are easy to navigate, consume and follow. David takes you through the typical GTD® workflow of capturing, processing and doing and reviewing. At the end you'll also find a nice collecting of various tips, tricks and additional resources.
The Video Field Guide is available for purchase via David's website, comes for $9.99 and covers Mac OS X and iOS. A lot of value for money which you should go and grab!