~10 years with GTD and OF - my experience distilled into a single post


#1

I have been using OmniFocus now since it first came out on the market and GTD for even longer. This is what I have learned overt the years on how to use OF and GTD. I hope it will save others some time!

  1. Use lot’s of projects
    I suggest being generous with your definition of projects. The beauty of projects is that you can review them individually and you can put them on hold.

  2. Have a flat & simple structure
    Having lots of projects may require somewhat more folder structure but try to keep it as flat as you can. It’s a lot of work moving projects into the correct folders all the time. Instead put projects on hold and your system will still be pretty tidy.

  3. Everything you see is on the weekly horizon
    Create your week plan by putting everything else on-hold so you don’t have to see that. Use the review feature to bring them back to life.

  4. Avoid SAL’s
    Avoid Single Action Lists (SAL) as best you can because they tend to become dumping grounds for tasks that are actually projects. You can cheat and assign individual tasks to an on-hold context but then you loose its real context.

  5. Keep contexts to a minimum
    • Avoid having lots of contexts because you need to remember all your contexts so you know which one to file a new task under. Besides, being granular with contexts will make you run into gray zones - this or that context questions. Have only a few contexts and use the on-hold technique to keep them tidy. This is why tags are useless. If you have 25 tags - how are you going to remember them all - your system will be inconsistent in no time. This is also why allowing only a single context on a task is brilliant - it requires you to have broad contexts and a simple system that is easy to remember.
    • A context must always be useful! Having a “read” and “write” context for example isn’t at all useful, to me at least.
    What if you have a task that requires you to do both? It’s all just “work” to me. I simply need a quite moment to take it on. Don’t use contexts to just divide up large amount of tasks - again, use the on-hold technique.

  6. Flagged = intend to do today
    Everything that isn’t on-hold is on the ”weekly list”. In the morning flag stuff you want to work on today. Use a flagged perspective on the iPhone widget to quickly check important stuff.

  7. Make it easy to capture
    Use the Siri integration to capture open loops into your inbox. It works great (costs little effort) but you need to process that inbox daily because the input is pretty crude.

  8. System drift is normal - learn to deal with it
    If your system is “drifting” - you haven’t had time to organise and clean it. Use flags to pick out the important stuff and work out of a flagged view. Tidy things when you have time.

  9. Review date = tickler
    So daily review of inbox and flagged view. At least weekly review using the OF review system. Use the ”next review” date to get projects to pop up on your radar when you want them to.

  10. Learn you own system and keep it fresh
    If you have a massive amount of inbox items, try to do a proper review first before tending to the inbox. It will remind you of your already existing projects and folder structure and you will file inbox items more correctly after that.

  11. Hard dates = hard
    Events and meetings go into your calendar. Use only due dates for things that have a real deadline - avoid using it for artificial deadlines - ”I would like to get this done by friday”. You will go blind to due dates and pushing due dates around is a lot of work.

  12. Defer = later this week
    Use the ”Defer until” if you have a task that you can’t/won’t do anything about until later in the week. For example, you ask Bob to create a report. You need to remember to follow up in a few days that he actually did: ”Follow up that Bob actually created the report”. Flag and defer that a couple of days and it will popup on your today list.

  13. Use people contexts
    These are my most useful contexts. For example, I have a 1 on 1 meeting with the CEO once a week and I collect all things to discuss with him during the week in his context as they pop up. Then when the time comes I just bring up that context and we deal with all those questions at once. It saves a lot of time. I also have a ”Team” context. I collect things I want to discuss with the whole team there. I also use people contexts for delegation.

I hope this helps!


Hold and Complete Folders?
#2

Thanks! This has pretty much mirrored my own experiences as well.


#3

Thank you @colicoid. This has indeed been very helpful!


#4

I think it’s interesting that we all end up at a pretty similar workflow with OF


#5

+1, that pretty much reflects my experience too. Been using OF since it was first released for iOS.


#6

I agree that many of those points are very useful. I would hold a slightly different view on item 1 and item 5 specifically.

At least in my world if I put everything that I might or could do into OF I’d have over 1500 projects, sure most would be on hold, but it’s still difficult to review them all weekly. So I use OF only for those projects that I have started. Many of my projects can only be done in a specific season (farming is very seasonal, even livestock farming) and may take several years to finally complete because individual actions can take a very long time. I also have long lists of potential future projects for hobbies where I know I won’t start a new one until the current one is finished (spinning, knitting, scrapbook and similar lists) For those it makes sense to store all the really cool ideas somewhere else and when I’ve finished a given project in that area then review the list to pick one out to start. I store those types of someday/maybe items in DEVONThink but you could use text files, evernote or any other tool. I do review them at least quarterly, on the solstices and equinoxes in case I want to change what I am currently working on for some reason. One thing I certainly agree with on lots of projects is avoiding sub-projects. In general for me if a project has action that can really be done in parallel it’s often really 2 or more projects and I will get more done on the overall goal if I split it into it’s parts rather than clump it into one big project.

For item 5 I would agree only have the number of contexts you will use and remember but also be flexible and create, use and delete contexts as appropriate. I have a stable base of 32 contexts that haven’t changed since I settled on them. It’s a simple matter to see where any given item will fit and allows me to effectively manage my time and more projects get done. That seems like a lot but there is basically no overlap in those contexts. At certain times of the year I may create a context to corral some specific sort of task or as an agenda list for a person or group but when that is over delete it. Contexts are the really key feature of GTD and finessing them to your working style is a good idea.


#7

Thank you for your great summary!
At the moment I have choosen to last my projects several (2-6) weeks. Sometimes a bit shorter but a minimum of one week. What is your typical project length and how do you decide to split a project?

And one more thing: How do you deal with ideas for projects or tasks which can only be started after a certain amount of time (1-7 months)? How do you organize them and where do you put them (OF or somewhere else)?


#8

Hi @Eneas. According to GTD a project is anything that require more than one task to perform. I try to live by that. Project length has nothing to do with it. You’ll find that it increases the number of projects you have drastically. It’s not a problem though. Just put them on hold and set the review date accordingly. What you need to ask yourself is if you’re dealing with an “area of responsibility” (folder) rather than a project.

Now, regarding someday/maybe projects/tasks, and this ties into what @OogieM was talking about and why he had so many projects… I’m interested in a lot of things and have plenty of ideas for projects all the time. I might do some of them. Wether I do or not has a lot to do with what I feel like doing. For me there is no point in collecting a massive amount of someday/maybe projects such as “learn knitting”, “travel to country X” etc. One day if I feel strongly enough about it I will have it “top of mind” and naturally do something about it - then it will enter my system. Now, if I get a brilliant idea worth saving, then I will capture it as a project and store it in my someday/maybe folder.

Most of my projects only contain a single action - the next action. Everything will work itself out once I start that action. It’s quite rare that you need to map out all the action steps of a project. The trick to get yourself working on a complex project (that you don’t really want to do) is to have a short and very simple next action. Try to use a single verb to state what you need to do.

If I have a project that can only be started at a specific date, I will defer it and set the review date accordingly. If it must be started at a specific date I will flag it. If it must be completed by a specific date I will also set a due date. If there is some kind of event around it I will put that into the calendar.

@OogieM If the system works for you, it’s the right way to do it. Let me just note that there are many ways to skin a cat. You may not need more contexts just because you have many projects/tasks. If time of year is important that could certainly be a context but it could also be a folder that you could use OF “focus feature” on. You could make all on-hold november projects popup up on your “review radar” by setting their review date as needed. To constantly review- and question your system is a very good recommendation for all of us.


#9

I have a bunch of projects that are seasonally dependent. Many of these projects repeat on a yearly basis, So I created 4 folders for repeating projects that can’t start until X time as Recurring Jan-Mar, Recurring Apr-Jun, Recurring Jul-Sep and Recuring Oct-Dec. I keep those in OF as repeating projects with specified start dates and generally set to Pending status.


#10

First off I’m a she not a he. However, for me, I get frustrated when I think of cool potential projects and don’t capture them somewhere. So for me, and I realize this may not apply to everyone, I need the comfort of knowing that all my potential projects have been captured so I can review them. So I collect a huge number of potential projects that may or may not ever actually get done.

For example, here is my list of Someday Maybe items in the area of knitting projects to do:
Knitted Quilt w/ sheep squares
Helmet hat for K from Rambo’s yarn
Estonian Sheep Puppets - Spin Off Summer 2006
Dr. Who Bigger on the Inside Shawl
Hugo Hat from Kit I bought
Hunter’s Fedora - Folk Hats Book page 65
Gunnister socks from Grey Blend yarn
DNA border for knitted quilt
Grey & Black Sweater - use darker grey blend and our black in patterns
Double Knit purse in Black Welsh to felt down.
Socks - Knits Fall 2000 pg 76-78
Sweater from Historical Sociiety picture 0110.tif has a really nice looking double breasted sweater
Undulating Scarf - Spin Off Summer 2010 pg 50
Cotton beer mats
Market Bag from Knit n Style Aug 2010 pg 32
Monmouth Caps
Thrum Caps
2-sided doubleknit DNA scarf black and white sides
Dragon Scales Shawl Number 3 - Larger yarn and needles Pattern in paper folder Knitting Patterns"
Double knit sheep pattern blocks for a quilt - use yarn from each named sheep for the sheep part and put in name as well
Double Knit potholders in basketweave pattern
Tesselation Knitted afghan
DW Logo quilt Block
Plan an Intarsia knitting project
Measure me for knitted garments
Have K measure me for 18th century stockings - see paper file Knitting Projects
Practice Sock Machine Knitting
Go try the heel crescent and turn heels on sock machine
Update Needle Inventory

Right now I am working on a pair of toe up socks on 2 circular needles, Until I finish those I don’t want to start another knitting project. So the possible next projects will sit in DEVONThink until I finish the current one and then I’ll pick the next to work on.

Another difference for me is that most of my projects ( I was tempted to say all but that is inaccurate) can be well defined at the beginning. The individual next actions will not change if I do my initial project planning correctly and accurately. So while for many people only having a next action is sufficient for me I am further ahead if I plan the entire project at once. It will rarely change.


#11

Thanx for sharing! I like the idea of doing regular review prior inbox processing. I currently often do shortcuts to just get rid of an inbox item to merge / reorganize it later;)

Putting on hold and setting proper review date - will give it a try, but wouldn’t it do the same as having deffered projects not shown in a review perspective? As it sounds one needs to set two things with on hold your way.

Also, I am a bit scared to have too many things on hold as stuff piles there up…


#12

Good list, but I would take issue for me anyway with 4. I found single action lists indispensable and a major part of my OF workflow, especially when it came to rituals. Every morning I go through a review of what to do today, like check mail, allocate calendar items, review collected links, etc etc. I also use a similar system for checking communication, iOS specific rituals etc (for when I am out with iPad in front of me) during the day. These are not projects just related tasks in an SAL

I would also probably question the need to set projects as in the (knitting) post above this, I would just have them as stored tasks (if I had them in OF at all), in a centralised list and expand them into projects once I had the time. That way only the one list needs reviewing. The work involved in documenting steps for so many projects on hold seems a terrible waste of time when they are not even on the radar.

For me an idea is an item not a project at least until its ready to do.


#13

@OogieM Sorry about the gender thing. :) It’s a good idea to capture cool stuff that you come across - takes it off your mind. I used to do it a lot but realized that when I wanted to do something new and cool I didn’t look at all those old captures so much. I just go out and find something that looks interesting to me right now, or stumble over something. My interest/tast etc. changes all the time and the web is just full of interesting things so there isn’t a lack of ideas there. I guess it depends on if you want to have a really structured approach or not. Is it leasure or are you trying to become really good at something and need to work through your weeknesses in a structured manner.

This kind of ties into another thing I don’t do anymore. I don’t enter obvious things into my system. Extreme example: “Go to work”. No need to have that as a repeating task in Omnifocus is it. Pretty self explanatory I know, but where do you draw that line…

@Iljich No it’s not the same as pushing defer dates. If you defer everything you loose the ability have active tasks in your contexts that you may be able to choose from and do, even though they are not on the “today” list. Another downside is that you’ll have to review new stuff that pops up on the radar by itself. With the review feature in Omnifocus you can decide what and when you activate new tasks. I use defer dates to have tasks pop up at my today at specific times. Besides, the review feature is easier/faster to use.

Yes, stuff do pile up. You should delete your bloat during reviews. Learn to let go. :)

@TheOldDesigner True, SAL’s have their usages. It’s perfectly ok to quickly store a task in a SAL and later on convert it to a project if needed - or not if its not needed. Personally I started to abuse them, because specifying the next action is sometimes hard work. When cleaning my inbox I would just throw tasks into SAL’s without actually specify the next action. It turned my system into a mess.


#14

I think the trick is to do some spring cleaning. Once a year, I will go through stale projects and just start deleting projects (active or on hold) that have lingered on too long. It might have been a great and cool idea that I wanted to work on but I may finally decide that the cost-benefit ratio wouldn’t be enough for me to keep the project. I might not want to expend the necessary resources (time, energy, skills. tools) to get a someday/maybe project done.

There might have been projects that were important in the past but no longer relevant today. I often have honey-do items that my wife gives me. But she might change her mind later and decide “what was I thinking?” Then I’ll just delete the project.

I might just delegate a project to someone else who has more time/energy/skills/tools to get the job done. For example, I might not have enough skills to renovate my bathroom. I’ll probably delegate that project to a contractor who has the necessary time/energy/skills/tools to get it done.

Be ruthless when it comes to spring cleaning your projects list. Many ideas are a good idea but not a great idea.


#15

Yes, the list of things like knitting projects/ideas are not in my Omnifocus system. I’ve moved all that sort of someday/maybe out into DEVONThink because it’s faster to review it by reading a single page of text compared to clicking review on 50 projects that won’t even get started until the current one is off the needles/loom/etc.

I actually do look at all those old cool captures at least quarterly and sometimes more often. I do more in depth reviews on the solstices and the equinoxes because that is when the population of possible projects changes due to seasons/weather/time and farm workflow. My mother had projects for the farm effectively in her someday/maybe list that I inherited. I’ve actually moved many of those forward and finished a lot of them. What’s even more fascinating, to me at least, the original planning that went into those projects 30-40-50 or more years ago is still perfectly valid and they can be picked up and worked on with only minor tweaking.


#16

@colicoid, thanks for this. Really helpful. Is there a way to message you privately? I have some follow-up questions about your setup–how you use ticklers, SALs (or don’t use them), your contexts, etc.–and it’d be easier to connect directly.


#17

I would personally appreciate your asking on the forum here rather than privately. I learn a lot from conversations about various people’s specific setups.


#18

Most of your projects have just one action in them? I’m not sure I see the value in that, though it is intriguing. Why is that a good system for you? And what happens when you finish the one action — is the project done?

Good insights. Thanks for sharing.


#19

Mitch yes, GTD is just for triggering you into doing work - not mapping out complex projects. Typically, you know what to do and once you get started and it will work itself out. Getting into the habit of granular project design is very dangerous as it might cause you to love working at the system rather than doing the work that needs to be done. Only use additional tasks that will actually help you do the project or that you need to remember. For details to remember that aren’t tasks, there is always the notes field…

You do what you feel necessary of course but stay on the alert for unecessary “system love” that is a form of procrastination.


#20

Feel free to ask away. I don’t know if there is a message system in here.

I should however tell you that I am currently not using OF or GTD. I switched “Bullet Journaling” about a year ago now. There are drawbacks but also many interesting advantages…