Any advice from self-employed consultants or case workers?

Grateful for advice on how to structure folders, and possibly tags/contexts.

I’m a self-employed management consultant and I’ve been using OF for 4.5 years. My current set-up has worked well up until now, when I have had only one major client, and little bits of other work here and there.

At the moment, I have three clients. All have long-term major projects, and one also has short term time-consuming imperatives. These short term items generate a lot of noise and heat.

Alongside my normal work, I have family and CPD commitments, the usual administrative tasks, and a career as a Reservist.

I have a number of questions:
-Currently I have folders which are broadly areas of focus, and sub-folders for clients projects. Does anyone use folders radically differently?
-When reviewing your projects, what placeholders do you use to ensure that your long term silent imperatives, and your short term noisy needs both get equal attention each week?

Obviously everyone has more projects and tasks than the time to do them. I’m looking for an adjustment that will help me to chip away at big blocks of long-term work consistently.

A couple of thoughts. I hope they help. For context, I’m a freelance project manager, have been for some time. Not the same as consultancy, but a lot of overlap.

  • I make a folder per client, rather than per area of focus. I think that keeps your mind focused on the client which is where I would want it to be. I divide each client assignment into projects to provide some structure (e.g. vision, design, communications/engagement and so on).
  • I’m testing OF3 (which replaces the single context with the option for multiple tags. I’m using tags to identify things like the longer term, do it later staff.
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Hi Nick, useful, thanks. Are you finding that multiple tags are a temptation to overcomplicate your system?

Are you using tags simply to determine the project length (short deadlines, annual projects, etc) and whether it’s “on” or “off” your immediate work horizon

  1. Yes - Ive had some experience in the past with other software, so I’m managing to resist. But it needs thought in advance
  2. Sort of. On or off, yes (active now, to become active later). Urgent/not urgent for deadlines.


I work in consulting and have numerous active client engagements (circa 30) … some of which I need to run as Projects (sequential, dependencies, etc.) and others are just collections of independent Tasks to complete. Client engagements tend to last for years and comprise abroad array of different initiatives. So, not really Projects in the truest sense of the word.

In OF2, I had a folder called “Clients” and a Project within that folder for each client organisation. The Projects were set up as single action lists but, where required, I used grouped Tasks with dependencies.

I then had similar structures with top-level folders for “Non Client Work”, “Personal”, etc.

I didn’t really have a strategy for Contexts as I found them too restrictive.

It worked OK but felt a little to cumbersome and hierarchical.

Now I have OF3 across IOS and Mac I decided to shake things up a little. Its still a work-in-progress but this is what I have…

I now have a far simplified Folder / Project hierarchy which looks something like this:

Folder: “Personal”
Single Action list: “[Personal]”
Project: “Plan holiday”
Project: “Renovate basement”

Folder: Work
Sub-Folder: Clients
Single Action List: “[Clients]”
Project: “Develop new widget strategy for
Project: “Onboard client X”

Sub-Folder: Non Client
Single Action List: “[Non Client]”
Project: “Organise staff party”
Project: “Launch new staff goals”

I only create named Projects where I need a project flow, usually with task dependencies, they have a specific deliverable and I know it will come to an end when delivered. Otherwise, everything goes in one of the single action lists.

The [ ] around the single action list names is a technique I picked up from other users in Learn Omnifocus group. Its simple but very effective. They are just buckets for stuff.

I then use Tags extensively to help me access different ‘lenses’ on this much simplified hierarchy.

I have tags per Client; per Person; per Group / Team I am a member of; per Locations; per specific Technologies; and a special “Today” tag to use in the Forecast View (where I used to use Flags in OF2)

I definitely went over the top initially and started having Tags for complexity, energy, urgency, priority, tools, completion levels, etc … but I found I was tagging for the sake of it and never really using these criteria as a lense / perspective so have gradually stopped being a tag-monster.

It is early days but I am enjoying the idea of turning my system on its heads and using Tags to create a more non-hierarchical view of my (sometimes shambolic) workflow.

Be interested to hear if others are trying something like this and any variants that might have worked for you…

OmniFocus is very flexible but sometimes a real CRM (contacts relationship manager) is needed. I haven’t needed one but maybe Daylite might work for you?

I see BusyContacts as another beefed up contacts app. But I’m not familiar enough with it.

Thanks for your replies. I thought tags would have to be used with discretion!

+1 for a Folder per client. It’s a great way to focus.

As far as finding time for “quiet long-term projects” — the only way is to block a window of time on your calendar to make progress weekly. 2 hours or 4 hours or something. No tagging/prioritization system will make the time on your calendar when louder, busy clients are able to take up 100% of your time.

Good luck.

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Here’s a little about how I do it.

I manage 70+ active clients in OF, domain renewals, hosting invoicing and maintenance tasks. I have a “Current Clients” folder, within that each client has a folder with a SAL for routine tasks like domain renewals or support requests. If I am actively working on a site development or other major work for that client a project is added to that folder.

So all work relating to that client is in one folder, and easy to check back on, Each client SAL is tagged with the clients code which follows through into the contacts app. I have a folder structure on the Macs that mimic this, one folder per client, all notes and material relating to that client stored in sub folders as appropriate. I have used this basic system for years, it seems at least for me, to work.