Apps to help train my teen on GTD pre-Omnifocus


I am a multi-year Omnifocus user and manage my life in OF. My 14 year old son has just stated 9th grade and is struggling to manage all of his assignments and dependencies. He needs a GTD app, but he would be overwhelmed by the feature set in Omnifocus. Wondering if any parents out there have a recommendation for something OF-lite that’s great for a 14 year old just trying to stay on top of all of his courses, teachers, assignments, due dates.

Ideally would like an app with DEFER dates (like OF) as this will help him plan his work more effectively.

appreciate any tips! I’m sure I’ll get him into OF by the time he’s off to college :)

I tend to start with a paper planner. I started off with a Franklin Covey day planner and built up the habits of capture organize review and do slowly over time.

I augmented the paper planner with my iPhone Calendar to help with keeping appointments and reminders.

Build the habits and the foundation first. Then let him choose his app. It may be OmniFocus or another app. Everyone thinks differently and needs different approaches. OmniFocus might work for you but it might not work for him.

As long as he can get the core habits down, he can translate to any app. Using a paper planner forced me to simplify my habits. No UI To decipher and nearly zero bugs (except for self inflicted negligence). No app crashes involved.

I haven’t really played with it yet but the new Apple Reminders might be a basic way to start if he doesn’t want to go the analog route.

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I would much rather start with the app, to get the convenience of having it support your needs and to avoid making the planning another burden in addition to the studies. And as a task management app to not be overwhelmed with, I would choose Things. Start dates in Things are similar to defer dates in Omnifocus.

But maybe he needs an app specifically meant for studies, something like Istudiez?

I would start with Things, anyway, to avoid overdoing it. If that turns out to work well, he will have a tool that is very easy to handle and a joy to use.

Perhaps important for somebody (not necessarily a parent ?) to help your child think though exactly which (if any) piece of the challenge feels most difficult or counter-intuitive.

Given the caution that non-technical problems don’t necessarily have technical solutions, I did appreciate a simple Excel spreadsheet which a fellow learner once shared. It simply:

  • Listed all our assignments in order of when they would come due, and
  • applied conditional formatting to adjust the color of each item as a function of how close its due date was getting.

My friend’s approach was to aim to attack things fully a week before they were due, so the coloring heated up fully on items that reached that point.

The three key strengths that I found in it were:

  • All visible on one sheet at a glance,
  • a color-visualisation of how close things were getting,
  • and a good generous margin of a week between full-colour and the deadline.

but GTD collect-it-all information hoarding ? I would give that thumbs down.
More important to learn pruning and reduction – just getting it down to the key stuff.

Over-collection leads to overload at any age, let alone in the full spate of the teens and all that is going on then.

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Things is a very good way to start. It has a particular workflow that the teen can follow instead of trying to create his/her own habits.

I chuckled when I listened to the latest Omni Show podcast episode with Morten Rovik. He said at the 4 minute mark “a fool with a tool is still a fool.” He opines that any tool still needs the methodologies to get the most bang out of the tool.

Mastering Things or Apple Reminders is one way of learning the habits.

IStudiez does sound like it does fit the bill for a teen!

In any case, the secret sauce I’ve used in any task management app is the review process. It becomes the tickler to remind the teen about what deadlines are coming up, what’s going on this week, and what’s going on tomorrow. Then update the next actions if something has changed. My local area is discontinuing face to face instruction and returning back to online learning this week. That means my kid has to check back on the new curriculum schedule all over again. Sigh. But the review should take care of that. Keep the system up to date no matter what app is used. It becomes the Source of Truth because it can be trusted.

For both my 2 teens I started them on a paper planner (Midori planning notebook) and we used the standard iOS/macOS reminders and calendar apps for deadline / time sensitive activity support and shared calendars.

My goal was to get them into the habit of putting their to-do’s on paper, think about what they needed to do, what was needed for it, and how long it would take. This way they would learn to better plan their work and meet deadlines they set.

6 years on they both still work in this way, but my eldest is now starting to look at a transition to Omnifocus.

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Not an app, but David Allen got you covered: Maybe, a more traditional pen-and-paper approach might get him more motivated (e.g., make him build a 43 folders for for deferred stuff).

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ToodleDo was to me very “OF-Lite,” and cross platform. I used it at work many years ago before I made my own multiplatform OF-Lite in Airtable.

Actually, Airtable might be an even better fit than ToodleDo because you can fully customize the scheme and scale it up or down as much as you need. ToodleDo has a pretty rigid GTD schema.

Omnifocus can be as straightforward as you want it to be, just keep it simple :) all the things you say he needs are there in the app. It’ll be even easier to set up if you already know the workings of it and the basics as you’re a user. I’m not sure what you’d gain going elsewhere?

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( Although simply learning and engaging with it entails significant cognitive costs which can only be amortized at all with heavy and protracted use )

(pencil and paper are lighter and more flexible, and perform more reliably during power outages, which will only become longer and more frequent over the life of anyone now in their teens)

If your kid have an iPhone/iPad I would have used Reminders. Even though I am an OF fanboy, and been for years, I would start with that. There are a lot of things and tweaks you can do with Reminders, even for starters. I got many ideas by checking out tips on YouTube… Good luck! :-)

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There’s a good article on all these issues (and the counter-productive effects of all these Inbox Zero, Collect it all, etc etc ‘guru techniques’) in this morning’s Financial Times:

[Endless to-do list? Here’s how not to waste your life | Financial Times](

It’s like getting better at climbing up an infinitely tall ladder.
No matter how fast you go, you’ll never reach the top.

The trick is to train discarding, rather than gathering.

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That’s where the review process is the secret sauce. Use the review as a tickler to review projects and lists on a routine basis. It takes time to train your brain to get ruthless and cut out any tasks that becomes outdated and irrelevant. Reality changes quickly and what was a great idea during the capture stage may turn out to be something that has little bang for the buck.

Once I figured out how to review, my projects and task lists can be trusted. I’d impress on your kid the power of the review. That gets all the crud out of the projects and task lists.

Thanks, interesting article. (I do think that training a 14 year old on what to discard could be a rather interesting challenge. Maybe give it a decade or two.)

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By then they’ll be teaching us things :-)

And perhaps they are already ?

A kid’s sense of where they do and don’t find reward and resonance – productive engagement – is pretty strong.

(The years can easily grind that out of us)

Many good careers are built on childhood enthusiasms which parents found eccentric or irrelevant, and which seemed to be pursued at the expense of other things.

I’d also suggest paper. There is a Full Focus Planner edition for students.

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