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Do OmniFocus Better: 3 Fundamental Tactics

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Of all of the important lessons I learned from my parents as I grew up, few stand out in my mind more clearly than my old man repeatedly instructing me on how scissors were to be held when walking.

“When you’re walking, point the scissors toward the floor so you don’t impale yourself if you fall down.”

If I heard that once, I heard it five hundred times, but my dad’s repeated admonishments about the scissors were enough to produce the intended outcome. Decades later, I still point the scissors toward the floor without thinking about it and I’m happy to say that I have yet to impale myself.

Like so many habits, it became a reflexive move; muscle memory, if you will. I’m a big believer in training my body and brain to do the right thing, especially by repetition.

“That’s super fascinating. What does this have to do with OmniFocus? Get to the point, Internet man.

Right, yes.

Over the seven-or-so years I’ve been using OmniFocus, I’ve developed a few “point the scissors at the floor”-style maneuvers that I consider to be essential to my success with the software. Assuming that everybody would benefit from these tactical tricks might border on hubris, but I’m a white guy with a blog so I’m totally going for it.

The following is just a taste. You can have all of my favorite killer OmniFocus tactics free.

Click here to get them instantly.

Defer projects, not tasks

If you’re anything like me, you have a bunch of fancy pants OmniFocus perspectives that show you only small slices of your larger list of crap to do. Much of the time, these lists don’t include any information about the parent project. If I encounter a task that I know I won’t be able to work on until another day, I’m faced with three choices:

  1. Leave the task un-deferred so I can keep seeing it until I’m ready to work on it and, in the mean time, slowly drive myself crazy.
  2. Ballpark when I’ll be ready to tackle the task and defer it for that number of hours or days.
  3. Defer the parent project for the aforementioned lag period between now and “do this thing” time.

The first option is, obviously, madness. I need my task list to contain only things I can and should do, not a bunch of noise about which I can’t (or won’t) do anything.

Option #2 is more sane, but the problem is that while the action will be hidden until the deferral date, the project will still be visible in your various project lists (or perspectives that contain project lists). This is a subtler version of the noise problem inherent in option #1. If you’re only going to defer the thing for a few hours, then deferring only the task is probably fine. Anything longer than that, though, and you’re going want to defer the project.

“Ok, so how can I quickly defer the project, smart guy? Seems like a ton of clicking and such.

Easy. Highlight the task in question and strike Cmd+Option+R. That will jump you from the current task, no matter where you are, to the parent project. From there, defer like the wind, young squire.

Find everything fast

OmniFocus 1 included a search field that would—donk—let you search your stuff. It worked well, but it always felt a little sluggish to me. And, depending on where you were in the app, sometimes the search would be limited to a subset of your data instead of all of it.

OmniFocus 2 included a really killer new feature called Quick Open. Imagine OS X’s Spotlight for your OmniFocus data and you’ve got the basic idea.

Strike Cmd+O and start typing.1 Project name, perspective name, context name, even tasks. Arrow down to the one you want, hit return, and you’re there. Take the time to install this one in your lizard brain or whatever because spending precious seconds scrolling through huge lists of projects and contexts is for the freaking birds.

OmniFocus speaks your language

I’m not sure about you, but when I think about dates, I think about them relative to today, not in absolute terms. Put another way, I know I need to take the trash out in three days, not on June 14.

When I’m working with dates in OmniFocus, I routinely set defer or due dates relative to the current date using OmniFocus’ super fancy date syntax. It works like this:

  • Want to make a project due in one week? Type “1w” in the due date field.
  • Want to defer it until next Thursday? Type “next Thursday”
  • Want to set a project’s Next Review date to six months from now? Type “6m”

It’s really cool because it means I don’t have to stop what I’m doing, look at a calendar, and start counting days and weeks like an animal.

But wait…

These are just a few of my favorites. Check out the link below for more…


  1. That’s the letter O, not zero. ↩

(Image courtesy of Parker Knight.)

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Carl + AngelaNicolson - August 6, 2015

Glad you have released this OmniFocus training. Just purchased the video tutorial.

We’ve so benefitted from your “Evernote Essentials” book. Keep up the good work!

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Robert - August 7, 2015

I haven’t upgraded to OF2. The deal breaker for me is that I can’t include my inbox in a perspective. Consequently, I forget to process my inbox. Omnigroup recommends you always keep two windows open. Bad idea. Can you think of a better workaround?. Sticking with OF1 till they fix.

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