A Wood For The Trees Question

After using Omnifocus for 18 months, without being tempted to go elsewhere (I have previously been quite fickle), I am really enjoying my experience.

However, right now I have a huge volume of projects, all sorted into folders which correspond to my areas of responsibility.

As a consultant, I often have to drop what I was planning to do, in favour of another pressing requirement from a client.

At the moment, my key projects (key because they contribute to my professional development, marketing of my business and so on) seem to take second place to the very important stuff my clients want at short notice.

My answer is, I think, to split down my really still important stuff into bite-sized chunks which I can drop onto as I have free half hours.

However, I would like to devise a way in which I can separate all these golden projects within Omnifocus, so I can quickly isolate them and choose which I want to work with.

There are several ways which Omnifocus can do this. I am curious as to what works for others in the community?

I’ve had the same issues. Can’t see the forest when I’m in the trees.

What I’ve done was to put almost every special project to “On Hold” status.

In the weekly review, I will set only a handful of projects to “Active” status. Usually, I will have three to five projects set to active in each of my folders. Currently, I have two active projects in my Home folder, three active projects in my Work folder, and one active project in my Personal Development folder.

My Single Actions Lists will always be active. They tend to be repeated maintenance tasks that are needed to maintain my life. Things like pick up clothes from dry cleaners weekly, buy laundry detergent monthly, Prepare weekly office status reports, etc. needs to be completed to keep life rolling smoothly.

I have a Single Action List called “Customer requests” that contains all the emergency tasks that customers give to me on short notice. If a customer request becomes a project (more than one action is needed to complete the request), I will make a new Active project for that request (Develop marketing PowerPoint presentation for client A).

On a weekly basis, review the current active projects and see what needs to be put back into on hold status. Maybe something is stuck in a project. I will put in a new task titled “Review Project X to see if it needs re-planning.” This is a bookmark to remind me to look at this later. I will put Project X to “On Hold” status until I can review it later.

To help me, I created a project perspective titled “Active projects”.

Use project hierarchy
Group actions by: Folder
Sort actions by: Unsorted
Filter status by: Any Status
Filter by availability: Remaining
Filter by duration: Any Duration
Filter Projects: Active

Use this “Active projects” perspective to view all active projects and see which currently active project can go back to “On Hold” status.

Create another perspective called “On Hold projects.” Use the same settings but change the last setting to “Filter Projects: On Hold”

Look at the On Hold perspective and see which On Hold project can be activated (set status to “Active”). This means that this project is now active and available for me to work on. Make sure to have just a small handful of special projects active. It’s easy to go overboard. We have limited time, energy, and capacity to work with.

Don’t neglect the routine maintenance tasks (kept in your Single Actions lists). The Single Actions Lists will always remain active.

Visit the “Active projects” perspective to see all of the projects that you need to work on. This becomes your focus projects. Everything else is on hold for the moment. Work on projects in this perspective. Don’t worry about your on hold projects.

In your weekly review, you can visit the on hold projects to see which ones get pushed up to the front. As long as you know they are in the On Hold perspective, you won’t have to worry about them.

This is how I keep my focus.

A slight twist to this would be to go to the perspective editor, select the “Active projects” perspective and the “On Hold projects” perspective and set the Focus to just your work folder(s). Then you can see projects that belong to your work area and ignore the other folders (home, family, personal, etc.).

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wilsonng, this is fantastic stuff- thanks so much for taking the time to set out your methodology. I’ll need a little time to review it and apply it to my forest, but it seems as though you have constructed an architecture that will allow me to do what I want to do, and create some distance between busy work and purposeful work.

At first glance, I really like your “customer requests” list… it looks as though you keep that open ended (i.e. you don’t have a list for each customer). I am curious about whether you have a folder for each of your customer projects, or does that just complicate things.

I haven’t really got a handle on perspectives yet, but I think I will set them up as you suggest and see how that works.

How are you using contexts- do you use them in the GTD format, or do you have another approach?

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well, this process was years in the making. I suspect it will still evolve further. I am still tinkering with a customer follow-up/waiting for list.

Yes, the customer requests is basically an inbox for customer actions and open-ended. I might have something like:

“Request: Jack Smith price quotation” - I’ll have notes that hold more descriptive info such as a phone call or conversation notes.

Another task I might have would be:

“Create project: Jane Doe - Fall Marketing 2015 advertising campaign” - This basically becomes a bookmark or reminder for me to create a project based on the notes I recorded.

If the customer request task is a single action, I’ll just leave it in customer requests. I don’t need to create a folder or project. It might described as “Do: check Joe Blow to see if he received my e-mail requests”.

If the customer has one project, I’ll create a single project for that customer. I won’t need a folder. I might label it “John Doe: ABC Agricultural Development corporation - Create warehouse diagram”.

If the customer has more than one project, I’ll create a folder and put the multiple projects in there for that one customer. There is no need for me to have a folder for a customer if its just a single action or a single project. If it is a repeat customer, I’ll definitely create a folder. If it is a one-time customer, I won’t need a folder.

Just remember to keep most of your projects to on-hold and set a small handful of projects that becomes your focus to “Active” status. These are your focus projects. Don’t look at any of the on hold projects.

I do vary my day. I might spend an hour working on one project. Then I might refer to my maintenance lists to do the routine office work (paper shuffling, filing, creating sales reports). I can’t ignore the maintenance tasks. So, I’ll mix the routine stuff with major projects.

Sometimes, I’ll just print out the project actions and just work off that sheet. Sometimes it is too tempting to go back to OmniFocus and then see another project that I’d rather do (easier to accomplish).

Having a sheet of paper with my project tasks prevents me from looking at OmniFocus all the time. I know these print-outs are what I should be working on.

I keep OmniFocus hidden but still running in the background. Then I’ll hit my quick-entry shortcut whenever I need to capture something. I’ll rarely interact with OmniFocus unless I need to capture something (using the quick-entry screen) or I am checking off stuff. I also interact with OmniFocus when I am talking to a customer and need to refer to my project actions while talking to him/her.

I usually do time blocks. I block off one hour and say I’ll work on Project #1. Then for the next 30 minutes, I’ll work on some routine maintenance tasks. Then I’ll block another hour and either continue working on Project #1 or see if I can work on stuff with Project #2.

I’ve found that three active projects is just about the right number. Enough variety of tasks to work on for my currently active projects. Then mix in the routine maintenance stuff to make sure things are running smoothly.

I also have those emergency requests and I will remember that I have to just stop work on some of my pet projects and deal with those.

Keeping my day open-ended helps. I shoot for making significant progress in one project a day. I know that the crazy customer requests and the maintenance tasks will fill in the rest of the day. Life never goes according to plan.

This process is always evolving and I think you’ll find your own mix of dealing with maintenance tasks, customer requests, and pet projects over time.

Good luck.

I have a similar system, keep maintenance projects opened and only a limited number of working projects for life, work, and personal development. the two perspectives are handy, what I was doing is simply putting views to “Remaining” while doing weekly review. Your way is just simpler. But while you having that “Active projects” perspective opened. Do you see a lot of empty folders when everything inside hidden? any idea how to hide those folders?

No, I haven’t been able to hide empty folders.

Before I forget, I have to state that the creation of custom perspectives is possibly only with the Pro upgrade.