Two weeks ago one of my readers asked me a question on perspectives:
Is it possible to create a perspective that automatically excludes all repetitive actions/tasks?
This is a particular interesting question since I can see the use case behind it. Your repeating actions are typically maintenance tasks and while you are in “the flow”, being creative and what not, you may not want to be bothered with such a mundane task like “Do Weekly Backup”. But maybe it’s not the repeating tasks or projects you don’t want to see. Some like to keep a Chinese wall between professional and private tasks and while at work don’t want to be distracted by any private things requiring attention. Although I don’t think that that clear division still makes sense in our “Knowledge Worker” age, I understand why people like to do this. At least, and most importantly, they still capture everything that has their attention, be it in the job or at home, consistently in one system.
No filter for everything
First of all my answer might have been disappointing to my reader. OmniFocus simply doesn’t have a filter for everything in it’s View Bar (Menu > View > Show View Bar or Command-Shift-T) and hence you can’t ask it to not show tasks that are repeating ones. And there is nothing wrong with this. OmniFocus is already relative complex and difficult to learn for some users. Adding more possibilities and features may not necessarily improve this situation. And you don’t need to add new features all the time if there is already a suitable solution (call it ‘work around’ if you like). This actually is the case for the above question. Here is the overview of the solution I suggested:
- Move all your repetitive actions into corresponding ‘Single Action Lists’, e.g. Daily, Weekly, Monthly, ..
- Create a top-level folder, e.g. “Routines”, to include all the above lists plus any repeating projects you may have
- In ‘Planning Mode’ select all top-level items from which you’d like to see actions, i.e. with the exception of the “Routines” folder and focus on them
- Switch to ‘Context Mode’ and build your Perspective as usual
- Make sure restoring ‘Focus’ is activated for the Perspective in the Perspective Settings
This example neatly demonstrates the power of OmniFocus ‘Focus’ feature as it also limits the focus when used in ‘Context Mode’. Whatever you’d like to see, or better not see, can be focussed/defocussed if the general structure of your OmniFocus library is designed in the right way. In my post about “Making sense of Single-Action Lists in OmniFocus” I already covered point 1 and 2 of the above list. Consequently I will devote the rest of this post to the remaining three steps.
Focus/Defocus as you like
Once a solid structure of the OmniFocus Library is established you can easily select and deselect those ‘areas’ from which you like or not like to see tasks from. Again you can use this to separate work and fun, maintenance tasks from project tasks or customer A from customer B. We’ll stick with the example of excluding repetitive tasks, which we have previously all gathered in one top level folder, from a context-based Perspective. Initially we need to switch to project view, or how it is called in OmniFocus: ‘Planning Mode’ (Menu > View > Planning Mode or Command-1). You should now see the entire structure of your OmniFocus library in the sidebar. If you don’t, make sure you have removed any Focus you may have applied previously. Now select those top level items, folders and/or projects, from which you do like to see the tasks in your Perspective. You can be more granular and even select individual projects or sub-folders in your structure. However, since this may become inconsistent as you create new subfolders and projects over time, I tend to advise to stick to the top level items. In my case I like to focus on my Single Actions bucket and all projects that are either related to customers, work or home. My other folders contain repeating maintenance tasks, templates for common projects and checklists and of course my not yet actionable Someday/Maybe items. Once completed, focus the selected items (Menu > View > Focus on… or Command-Control-F). All items that weren’t selected should disappear from the sidebar and the window title of OmniFocus should reflect the selected focus.
Build the Perspective of your Choice
Now switch to ‘Context Mode’ (Menu > View > Context Mode or Command-2) since our intention was to create a Perspective in which you execute on actions. This, by Getting Things Done law, typically happens in a context and hence we create supporting Perspectives in OmniFocus’ Context Mode. I am not going to go into any details here in terms of what kind of Perspective you are building. Whether you want to see only the next actions or all available ones, sort by due date or group by start date. If you need some inspiration for possible Perspectives make sure you check out the OmniFocus Perspective Galore post series.
Restoring Focus (again and again and again)
Once you are happy with your Perspective make sure you save it. The last and final step is to make sure the Focus we have previously applied gets restored every time you invoke your new Perspective. In order to do that we need to show and expand the Perspective Settings window of OmniFocus (Menu > Perspectives > Show Perspectives or Command-Control-P). Now select your freshly create Perspective from the list and make sure you set the checkbox under ‘Restore:’ called ‘Focus’. This little setting makes sure that every time you activate the selected Perspective, either through the menu, the Perspective window or the defined keyboard shortcut, the Focus as originally selected when building it is restored in the exact same way.
The Focus functionality of OmniFocus is a very helpful one as it obviously helps removing information which isn’t relevant at the very moment. That’s what it’s all about and that also why you actually find it being part of the application’s name. However, it rarely gets used, at least by most of the OmniFocus practitioners I have been in touch with. It took me personally about 2 years with the application before I started using it with comfort. Initially I kept away from it since it confused me when switching modes and perspectives, looking for tasks that should be there but weren’t since I was still focusing on another project. If it gets used, focus is mainly applied in the ‘Planning Mode’ and onto a single project. Either because you’d like to home in on it, get some brainstorming, planning or re-organisation done or sometimes you may even like to execute tasks in that view. This post should help you also embracing the full power of the ‘Focus’ functionality in Perspectives, particular in context-based Perspectives.