OmniFocus as the heart of the enabling system – set up guide

OmniFocus
OmniFocus is essentially an outline of tasks that can be tagged and filtered in different ways. This makes it incredibly flexible—much like paper—which lets it grow with your needs—one of the requirements for my enabling system is simple. OmniFocus can be as straightforward or as complex as you choose to make it. The CEO of the OmniGroup has written an excellent blog about the concept of keeping it simple here.

Below I have described how I have set up OmniFocus. The setup is an evolution of some ten years in which I am working with this wonderful product with excellent support. Because it is reliable and of good quality, it can serve as the “heart of the enabling system” and can be trusted.

💡Tip: If I use a Shortcut or Applescript I have linked it to the text as link, so you can download it, use it and adjust it to your needs.

The content of “the OmniFocus set up” guide is as following (click on the link to go to this paragraph directly):

Areas of Responsibilities
I use folders to map out my area of responsibility. Within the folders, the projects are listed. Projects are the reflection of the goals I want to achieve. (💡the conceptual setup of how to go from goal->project->tasks you can read here).

  • Assignments are commitments I have made to clients to deliver agreed results. Because of confidentially, I cannot show the clients I am working on.
  • Work is the area of responsibilities for own companies or companies I work for
  • Private is the (financial) administration area’s responsibilities, keeping up my knowledge and competencies, maintaining my Cars, things I want to do to maintain and improve my personal HealthMaintenance of my old home. How I keep relaxed. I believe in the concept of lifelong learning, so I also have projects (goals) on Personal development.
  • For me, life is extra enjoyable if I can party with, enjoy and contribute to my friends and family, so it has “earned” a place as a goal.
  • Routines are the tasks I conduct to keep the enabling system trusted.
  • Someday/ maybe are things I probably want to do sometimes. To get it out of my head in a trusted place. I review this section weekly.
  • The checklist contains a professional checklist to increase my output and deliver quality products and services.
  • Templates contains predefined “goals/ projects/ result streams/actions” for “projects set up” so every project (goal) start with an identical setup/ structure, “Travel plans” and “Preparation for meetings”.

💡Tip: The order/ sequence of folders are essential: in views, perspectives, and listing, I mostly use the project order. The most important is on top of the folder list, so I work on the important stuff first.

💡Tip: I try to use as many sequential projects () to work with the first action available and the next actions and not see all actions in available action.

Tags – to sequence what is important for you

Tags can help you quickly and conveniently home in on the projects and actions that are most relevant. A tag can represent a context or an extra bit of “metadata” that makes it easy to locate and create lists of related actions, action groups, and projects.

For example, tagging actions with ☕️ Waiting for makes it easy to identify all of the actions you have delegated to your colleagues across all areas of responsibilities and projects (goals). 

  • Priority. Are the most important and most used tags in my way of working. I am using the Eisenhower Matrix mostly to sort my tasks in Importance and Urgency. The basic principle is that items that consume time, energy, and attention are ordered based on their relative urgency and importance.
  • New Assignments. I use a sales process to sell “new” assignments. I use these tags to build up and follow the sales funnel. An opportunity/ lead is defined as a project.
  • Communication. I try to do communications directly as they come up; however, sometimes I have to follow up or call back later. I use a tag per communication channel.
  • Administration. Owning businesses and private life, I have to make/ send/ collect Invoices and pay Invoices and do accounting. For all significant administrative processes, I have a tag.
  • The Kanban tag is an experiment. If you want to set up OmniFocus as a KanBan board, you can read here how this is possible.
  • Routines are collections of checklists and or rituals. I have written a separate paragraph on Routines here.
  • The tag Agenda I use for collecting meeting topics I want to discuss and hear about. I also use the tags to draft meeting notes before meetings containing the topics I want to discuss. (separate article about Meetings can be found here). I have 1:1 meetings (Bila’s) with people in my team but also chairing Group meetings. Every periodical meeting has his tag within groups. The Meeting prep tag I use to add a meeting topic what I want to achieve with this topic. I need this because I can not always recall what the intention was for a topic.

  • Waiting for is a tag for projects or tasks I have delegated and want to track progress on, most of the time against an agreed due date. Also, mails where I need an answer, are collected with this tag.
  • The Decision tag is used for decision logs on all projects. Taking a decision is one step. Most decisions need to be operationalized to keep track of these items until they are also implemented.
  • The Horizon tag I am using for areas of focus. What and how to use Focus on horizons is explained here.
  • The People tag I am using to add names of people to a task. For example, if a need an answer from John I add the tag Waiting for and the tag Jan stored under People. This is how I can build “meeting cheat sheets” with people to see in a few seconds which commitment somebody has with me.
  • Maybe/ Sometime is being used for ideas/ bucket list stored in Someday/ Maybe folder
  • None, is used in Shortcuts were I want to do something without collecting tags, and “untagged” is not working (f.e. draft meeting minutes without prior tags).

💡Tip: As you can see, the Tags “Routines” to “Maybe sometimes” are “on hold,” meaning that they will not show up in Available/ Remaining actions views: no clutter.

💡Tip: You can use more tags on one project or action. I try to minimize the use of more tags (keep it simple). I only use it for New Assignment (priority and step in sales funnel), Waiting for and people I am waiting for, and Agenda.

Goals represented in projects
Within the folders (=area of responsibility), I set up projects. Sometimes I oversee programs or projects with more than 100 people, but I also have project teams with two people. I still use one template that I strip for the smaller or personal projects to maintain a consistent structure.

I am using a script for copying a template into a new project using <<placeholders>>. You can download the script here. The breakdown/ setup of the project is as follows:

  • The project name is a short description of the expected result.
  • 00. Add to DevonThink reference file is being used to create a reference folder with documents/ presentations that have the same structure as the OmniFocus project structure and are linked together. The set up is described here
  • 01. General information contains subprojects project general information, the project’s purpose, approach, project planning, and milestones.
  • 02. Standard and templates contain a standard for progress reports, decision documents, communication plans, etc.
  • 03. Programme/ project procedure contains procedures for changes, problem reports, management of deliverables, acceptance, onboarding of project members.
  • 04. Communications contains sub projects for a communication plan, external meetings, internal meetings, and correspondence.
  • 05. Reporting and information contain subprojects for progress reporting, evaluation reporting, steering comité, project groups, result teams, and suppliers (contract management).
  • 06. Quality and risk is about risk assessment and managing the mitigation tasks agreed upon.
  • In 07. Registrations, you will find budget vs. actual reporting, time reports, and deliverable status.
  • Every goal has one of more results. To deliver the end-results, I create per end-result a subproject in 08. Result streams

The user interface on MacOs version

I use different devices in my Apple ecosystem. However, every menu structure is the same, no matter which device I use. Furthermore, my way of working is based on the concept of contextual computing to avoid distraction as much as I can. This also means that I am not using OmniFocus’s user interface a lot but instead use KeyBoard Maestro pallets to jump directly to the action I want to do. In a certain routine task, the link to the specific perspective is embedded.

Below I will explain what is on the Sidebar. If you click on the link, you will see the setup and or download the AppleScript. For the Sidebar, I have chosen to put here all important perspectives/ views on my task list.

  • Prepare for flight It contains all the untagged tasks and or have not a project and or have not an estimated duration. It helps with maintaining a trusted new system. Like many of you, I have more work at hand than hours in a day. I use the concept to add to every task the estimated duration (in 5 minutes blocks). In the morning, during the Reveille routine, I can see how much time is remaining (total working time minus meeting duration) for doing specific tasks. In this way, I can plan the remaining time with tasks I can finish, and at the closure of the day, I can be 🥳joyful that I could finish my plan for the day. You can find the setup of this perspective here.
  • Inbox contains all the items which I need to process with a project and tag still. If I did “prepare for flight,” it should be empty. It helps with maintaining a trusted system.
  • Waiting for due. This perspective contains all the tasks I am waiting to complete on or before the agreed due date. The setup of this perspective can be found here.
  • Communications perspective is listing all available communication tasks per communication channel. The setup you can find here.
  • Meeting topics contains all agenda topics per meeting and or people. .
  • Focus areas are the list with current horizons of focus. T. his perspective setup you can find here.
  • Clear is a list of all available tasks per area of responsibility and project. This list is being used to clear out the available tasks to another moment if today’s remaining work time exceeds the sum of all duration times of the available tasks. I do this by deferring the task to another Defer date. Please find here the setup.
  • A weekly debrief a checklist to keep the system trusted. See the paragraph Keep the system trusted for further explanation.


Toolbar
I use the toolbar for contextual computing. Unfortunately, we cannot please the text of an icon under the icon, so I have an overview. Please find below the setup of this toolbar:

Toolbar

From left to right, I will explain every icon’s functionality and, if applicable, attach a link to the setup and or AppleScript.

  • View all project is a standard functionality of OmniFocus and shows all projects, depending on how you adjust your focus
  • Likewise, View all tags.
  • Reveille is a perspective that helps to prepare for the day. I have written a different blog on the Reveille process here. Please find here the perspective.
  • Today’s next actions (used the most) show all the tasks I have decided to work on today during the Reveille process (or added later in the day by a triggering event). It shows me all available tasks plus tasks that are due soon (I have committed to deliver) plus flagged tasks. These tasks should reside in the folders (area of responsibility) Assignments, Work and Private, and Hold tags 📍Priority, 📣Communications and or 📓Administration. The perspective can be found here.
  • The icon Forecast is the standard functionality of OmniFocus. It shows a combination of the calendars and tags you have chosen in the Forecast perspective setup (I use all my calendars combined with the 📍Priority, you can only choose one tag).
  • Inbox is standard functionality, and it shows for me all the tasks with project and or tag.
  • Add to Inbox, do what the title states.
  • Clean up screen, refreshes your views and is standard functionality.
  • Mail tasks link to an AppleScript, which sends the selected task in a mail. Often used by me to inquire about the task per mail communication channel. You can download the script here.
  • Kanban Board is an experiment that I am working on and changes OmniFocus in a Kanban board. You can find the information and scripts here.
  • So today is a script that changes the defer date of selected tasks to today. I use the “start method” by deferring to today. I use it a lot when I am processing the Clear list. The script can be downloaded here.
  • Defer one day does the same as above but moves the defer date to tomorrow. The script can be downloaded here.
  • Defer one week, as above but defers with one week or any other number of days as required from the current date. Here to download.
  • Create a folder in DevonThink creates a reference folder in DevonThink of the selected project. You can find here more information and a download of the script.
  • Complete and waiting for a reply. I am not using it a lot anymore, but it is a script that completes the selected tasks and creates the same tasks with waiting for tag. You can download the script from here.
  • Templates is a script that copies a template project into a new project, using <<placeholders>>, you can download the script here.
  • View options are standard functionality to change the view.
  • Focus removes all the clutter from your screen and gives you focus on the selected view.
  • Inspector shows the project/ task details, which you can change. I have the inspector always open.

8 thoughts on “OmniFocus as the heart of the enabling system – set up guide

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for the great guide. The link to the “Templates” script goes to the DropBox download for the “Complete and Waiting for Reply” script.

    Jeremy

      • Where do you place the items that reflect your higher horizons (>3km)? Do you have a project named “goals” and “purpose” or does every project has its own goal and purpose? In my case, I’ve multiple project that belong to one goal and i’m looking for a way to tie them together. Curious if you are using a similar approach in Omnifocus.

      • Hi Kees,

        Where do you place the items that reflect your higher horizons (>3km)? -> I have a project called [Workflow from purpose to goal] to place these items. However try to limit this because you need to create projects where these items could also be mentioned.

        Do you have a project named “goals” and “purpose” or does every project has its own goal and purpose? In my case, I’ve multiple project that belong to one goal and i’m looking for a way to tie them together. -> in my way of working every project has his goal(s), outcome and result streams. Meaning sometimes in Horizon of Focus perspective you see multiple “double” goals or even result streams.

        Curious if you are using a similar approach in Omnifocus. -> I use the concept to include goals, outcomes on project level as subproject and add the tag “goals” and “resultstream”

      • Thanks for the explanation. Really enjoying your blogposts. Keep up the good work!

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