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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

OmniFocus: My Life Management Software

Background

I wrote this back in September:

At the end of the day, I don’t give a crap about categorizing tasks due to location, topic, tags or what color shirt I’m wearing. All I need is a convenient way to list tasks and their deadlines. Nothing more; nothing less.

Shockingly simple, I know.

For me and my simple needs, Things and OmniFocus are overkill. With systems like this, I spend more time entering tasks than doing them. When I was using Things, by the time I was done going over the day’s to-do list, it was time for lunch. OmniFocus just gives me seizures.

For years, I’ve used Remember the Milk to get things done. It is a relatively flexible system, but I’ve been growing more and more unhappy with it. I think the very option to use of priorities, tags and contexts makes me nervous.

On the analog end of things, I have found that keeping a physical, paper notebook full of tasks to be frustrating. Not only is it another item to carry around everywhere, editing tasks and deadlines on paper is too messy for my tastes.

Starting earlier this week, I’ve been using TeuxDeux for task management. And I love it. It has no lists, no tags and no notes. Just task names, due dates and a place to keep “someday” tasks.

As it turns out, I was a little short-sighted when I wrote this piece. After using TeuxDeux — which is a great app — for several weeks, I discovered that I had moved to a solution that was too simple. My job is comprised of numerous projects, all moving forward at once, but at different speeds. Adding school, freelance and family to the system made it all the more complicated. I need the ability to see my tasks from a 30,000-ft view, or up close and personal, easily.

So, I continued to bounce around, until I finally pulled the trigger and gave OmniFocus a shot.

Lots of people think about OmniFocus as “Things with OTA sync.” Such a statement far understates the strength of this application.

Bandwidth and Life Management

Over the last few months, I have come to understand that I have limited bandwidth in my brain. Just like a computer network, I have a set number of lanes for traffic, and when big things come, smaller issues get pushed to the outside, and eventually, get dropped altogether.

As I’ve come to realize my struggle with depression, this has become an increasingly important issue. I’ve been working to cut unnecessary things out of my life. I can’t afford distractions from my family, my job and getting better. So what does a piece of software have to do with this? A ton, as it turns out.

The more I can off-load onto a system that I trust, the more bandwidth I have available for dealing with the things that matter more deeply than errands or meetings.

Being able to file away tasks in a manageable way helps me think clearer, be a better employee, and a better husband. I’m getting more done, and OmniFocus makes it easy to stay on top of things.

Being productive doesn’t make me a better person, and can’t make me better. But it does help me wring a little more sanity out of my day.

The Nitty Gritty of OmniFocus

OmniFocus can be overwhelming to learn. I — like most people, I imagine — struggled at first to get my head around it. After tweaking for a bit, I’ve settled on a workflow that works for me:

  • I use the Inbox often while away from my desk, and process the Inbox daily at 4:45 PM.
  • I don’t filter what goes into OmniFocus. If I remember it on my own, that’s just a bonus.
  • I use 9:15 AM as the default due time, as it is when I settle in at my desk at work each morning. I set other times throughout the day for tasks, as needed. Push notifications make great reminders.
  • I don’t use Contexts at this point. I have projects nested inside folders, based on area of responsibility. (Here’s a screenshot.)

Am I using OmniFocus to its full potential? Probably not. But in another, very real way, I am, since I’m getting things done with better results than ever before.