Advanced OmniFocus Tactics: Project Linking – Brett Kelly

Advanced OmniFocus Tactics: Project Linking


Let me tell you a completely made-up story.

I needed a new hedge trimmer last week. Out of nowhere, my old hedge trimmer bought the farm and, instead of just hitting Home Depot and picking up another electric pile of crap, I decided I wanted to buy a really fancy hedge trimmer. So, I found a pretend German company that produces the finest fake hedge trimmers money can buy. These trimmers are made entirely by hand; the engine runs on sunshine and the pullcord is made of unicorn tail hair. They even include an imaginary certificate of authenticty signed by the nonexistent person who builds them.

I placed my order for a fancy pants hedge trimmer yesterday. The problem is that, because this imaginary German company is so weird, I have no clue how long it will take for my hedge trimmer to arrive. Like, zero idea. Could be tomorrow or six months from now. It’s just going to show up at my house one day. And I can’t trim my hedges until the new trimmer arrives.

In OmniFocus, I (rather conveniently) have a project called “Trim the hedges.” This project repeats once per month. Has for years. Daddy can’t abide no overgrown hedges.

Now, I’m in a bit of a pickle, aren’t I? I can’t proceed with my hedge-trimming project without a hedge trimmer — and I don’t have one.

Ok, this is getting tiresome. Cut to the chase, Captain Bloggerpants.

I tell you this stupid story to (poorly) illustrate what might be a common occurence in your life…

You have two projects in OmniFocus: we’ll call them Project A and Project B. You can’t start on Project B until Project A is finished and, as it happens, you don’t know when that will be, for whatever reason.

Easy enough problem to solve, right? You create Project B and mark it as On Hold. Then, during the next weekly review after you finish Project A, you mark Project B as Active and you’re off and running.

Well, in my experience, this poses a couple of problems:

  1. Worst case, you could potentially lose six days between Project A’s completion and Project B’s becoming active.
  2. Most people don’t do a complete review of all of their stuff each week.1

I cooked up a little trick to address this conundrum; I like to call “project linking.” It relies on a relatively little-known—or, at least, rarely-discussed—feature in OmniFocus for Mac: you can right-click just about anything—projects, contexts, tasks, perspectives, even folders—and choose “Copy as Link.” Doing this will your fill your clipboard with a URL that, when clicked from anywhere, will launch OmniFocus and take you directly to that thing. It’s pretty frickin’ useful.2

If we employ project linking in our Project A/Project B scenario, it’d look something like this…

  1. Copy the link to Project B before you mark it as On Hold.
  2. Head over to Project A and add an action to the end of the project: “Mark this project as Active.” In the notes field for this task, paste the link to Project B.
  3. Grab the cocktail shaker because you’re all sorts of done. Now, when Project A is finished, you’ll have an active task telling your efficient keister to activate the next project.
Project Linking Example

How this whole project linking thing might look in real-deal OmniFocus.

Now, instead of having to wait around until your next theoretical review to discover that it’s time for Project B to be roused from sleep, you can do it as soon as Project A is checked off.

I’ll be the first to admit this is kinda 201-level stuff, but don’t miss the coolness here. Being able to link to individual bits of OmniFocus data from anywhere opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, like…

  • When you’re going to meet with the tax guy, stick a link to your Tax Guy context in the calendar event notes.
  • Use Launch Center Pro to launch your Grocery Store context whenever you drive by the grocery store (yes, I’m aware that OmniFocus for iOS can do the same thing using location-based contexts; LCP offers more flexibility in this area, which is something plan on writing about soon).
  • Stick a link to a project in the Evernote note you’re using to keep track of the project reference material and resources.

You get the idea. I haven’t fleshed many of these ideas out too much, but I plan to explore this a bit more and I’ll report back with any nuggets I come across.

(Card trick photo courtesy of Duncan Odds)

  1. Except for you. I know you do. Please don’t email me. ↩

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