Do you use deferred tasks? If so how? If not why?

Curious about whether or not people use deferred tasks. Personally, I used to use a ton of deferred tasks but now find myself not using them. I’m considering having them a bit to hide certain tasks until later in the day to not overwhelm my task list.

In this post from David Sparks, he writes that

So I decided to a little experiment where I’d stop using defer dates for awhile. Over the last few weeks, my list of available tasks in OmniFocus has swelled to hundreds of items. For this experiment, I’m accepting that I’m not going to finish that long list any particular day. Instead, I’m simply flagging the priority items as they show up. (I’m trying to keep that to 3-5 tasks a day.) Once I knock out the flagged tasks – hopefully before lunch – I’m then just working contexts, projects and the other ways OmniFocus can slice and dice my task list until the end of the day.

Then Brett Kelly says to defer projects not tasks

Defer projects, not tasks
If you’re anything like me, you have a bunch of fancy pants OmniFocus perspectives that show you only small slices of your larger list of crap to do. Much of the time, these lists don’t include any information about the parent project. If I encounter a task that I know I won’t be able to work on until another day, I’m faced with three choices:

Leave the task un-deferred so I can keep seeing it until I’m ready to work on it and, in the mean time, slowly drive myself crazy.
Ballpark when I’ll be ready to tackle the task and defer it for that number of hours or days.
Defer the parent project for the aforementioned lag period between now and “do this thing” time.
The first option is, obviously, madness. I need my task list to contain only things I can and should do, not a bunch of noise about which I can’t (or won’t) do anything.

Option #2 is more sane, but the problem is that while the action will be hidden until the deferral date, the project will still be visible in your various project lists (or perspectives that contain project lists). This is a subtler version of the noise problem inherent in option #1. If you’re only going to defer the thing for a few hours, then deferring only the task is probably fine. Anything longer than that, though, and you’re going want to defer the project.

“Ok, so how can I quickly defer the project, smart guy? Seems like a ton of clicking and such.

Easy. Highlight the task in question and strike Cmd+Option+R. That will jump you from the current task, no matter where you are, to the parent project. From there, defer like the wind, young squire.

So given those curious about a discussion about whether or not you defer tasks or if that purpose might even change for you with the release of OmniFocus 3.

1 Like

I use deferred tasks in a simple and straightforward way: I defer a task until the time when it’s possible or reasonable to start working on it.

My work involves a significant amount of travel to conferences. I add conferences to my calendar 6-12 months in advance. I’ll also add a task to my calendar with a defer date six weeks before the conference starts, “Consider attending BlergCon, Nov. 13-15, Puxsatawney, Pa.”

I don’t have to start the task on the defer date, but it makes no sense to start it before that date.

I do not use defer dates to postpone working on a task. I just use flags to designate which tasks I should prioritize. And I usually have far too many flagged tasks.


I defer a ton of things. My goal in my weekly review is to bring my available actions list to a minimum, so that I can focus on real options of available tasks, without seeing/reconsidering things I can’t do or have already decided I won’t do (you can read more about my workflow here, if you like).

To me, OF’s ability to hide things is one of my favourite parts about it, as I can keep my list of options around what I might do next to a manageable minimum without having too many things to scroll through.




I think what’s confusing to me is the difference between Due Dates and Defer Dates. If I’m thinking correctly, Due Dates are kinda hard set dates of “I have to get x task done on this date”. Defer Dates can be thought of as both “I want to start this on x date” or/and “not a hard due date but would like to work on this but not as urgent”. I think the problem lies for me in that I have for example in my “to read” project items that I put as wanting to be due this weekend. That said the world won’t blow up if I don’t do these things, in this case read the various articles. So instead should these be deferred to this weekend instead?

I remember reading your post, actually I think @wilsonng might have mentioned to look at it in my post about revamping my Omnifocus projects and such.

As I mentioned to @MitchWagner, I think I have trouble deciding what should have a due date vs. what should have a defer date. Maybe my admin/maintenance tasks should have defer dates instead. I envision looking at my list and flagging what I must need to complete, whether it has a Due Date or has a defer date. What I have done is say I plan on completing these 4 tasks now, I’ll set the due date to 10 minutes from now or something to then have it at the top.

Additionally I think my task list can get overwhelming with all those Due Dates. See the following screenshots as what I mean. 58

I think the key is defining what these things mean to you.

For me, due dates are only assigned to things that must be done by a certain time, or else there is a real penalty. Court filings, taxes, library books, and my boss’ expectations are examples of this. They show up in yellow (due soon, get on it) or red (uh oh, better start renegotiating something).

Flagged things are things I could do (assuming I’m in the right context), and have high value/importance to me. They show up in orange.

Available things are all the things I could do now (again, assuming context). These are tasks that, if I did them now, there would be meaningful progress and are choices I’d be comfortable about having made when looking back on having done them. They show up in black.

Deferred things are thing I can’t or won’t work on. They are non-options when it comes to thinking about what I should do today. When they become available is immaterial. I care only if things are available or not. They show up in grey.

So the order of action is really:

  1. Red
  2. Yellow
  3. Orange
  4. Black

Forecast really only shows the first of those. In OF3 for iOS, it can be more utile for adding other things to, but for Mac, it’s only the real emergency stuff. For anything else, looking at the contexts view and filtering on available is, I think, the better way to work. Better still are custom perspectives if you have Pro.

Mostly, though, I think it’s worthwhile to reconsider how much of what you want to do is driven by the Forecast perspective alone.

Just some thoughts,



I try not to “schedule” or defer tasks if I can unless I know that it’s the best time to make it available.

I will defer “look for birthday gift for wife” 7 days before her birthday. But I won’t defer tasks because I think I can do it on a certain day (next Wednesday). I have two Single Action Lists (SALs) for myself:

Office Single Actions (SAL with status set to active)
Office Actions On Hold (SAL with status set to on hold)

I have the same two SALs for Personal, House, and any other Areas of Responsibilities of my life.

Most of my SALs are elective. I get to dictate the date and time to start working on a single task. If it is something I have to do today (as requested by the boss or the supervisor), I’ll automatically put it in the Office Single Actions. If it is something I know I want to do but I don’t have a due date or actual start time (start it anytime I feel like), I’ll put it in the Office Actions On Hold SAL.

I set the Office Single Actions SAL’s review interval to daily. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll check the review perspective and remind myself of what needs to be done.

My Office Actions On Hold SAL’s review is set to every 3 days. I’m busy working on Office Single Actions and I will move tasks from Office Actions On Hold to Office Single Actions.

I hated deferring all of my single actions constantly to some arbitrary date in the future. I just keep moving it forward. I’ll eventually get discouraged because I see myself deferring constantly. If I just put all the single actions I won’t be working on in the On Hold SAL, I don’t have to keep moving tasks forward. I call this fake scheduling. I wanna do 10 tasks on Friday. But Friday comes and an emergency occurs or my boss gives me an urgent project that overrides my deferred tasks.

I’ll just put all of the on hold tasks in the On Hold SAL. It becomes my cookie jar. When I reach into the cookie jar, I’ll grab a slip of paper with the task I want to work on today. Fake scheduling discourages me.

When I review my Office Single Actions (active tasks only), I can look at some tasks and decide “OK, I don’t really want to do this today.” I can defer it to a short time later or just use the inspector to change the task’s Project to Office Actions On Hold SAL.

When I review my Office Actions On Hold (on hold tasks), I can also look at some tasks and use the inspector to change the task’s project to Office Single Actions SAL.

I assign defer dates only if it makes sense (prepare BBQ equipment 2 days before the BBQ day). Otherwise, it all goes to the On Hold SAL.

I do assign defer dates to certain projects. I defer my “Prepare and pay my 1040 taxes” project to January 25 every year. When I complete the project (hopefully before April 15th each year), it auto-repeats and is deferred to next January 25. I don’t worry about this project until next year.

But all the other projects that can be started at any time are set to On Hold. Then I’ll assign it to active when I know I have the capacity to start a new project.


I only defer tasks and projects that I cannot act now because something is not available - other than that I don’t defer projects but I place them on hold - they disappear as well but its a conscious decision that I do not want to act now


Full disclosure, I was really excited to read your reply and read it last night. I then didn’t quite wrap my head around it as I wasn’t the most coherent. This morning I read it over and over three or four times and have finally made sense of it. Not to say it was terribly written, more so wrapping my head around it.

I think both you and Wilson hit a nerve here. As I said I think for me I was being overwhelmed by my Due tasks. I do have Pro so I have custom perspectives. Should I assume you have custom perspectives that allow you to see active or available things you could work on? You’re completely right that my life was/is so driven by the Forecast perspective when it doesn’t need to be.

1 Like

Good point, should I assume you review these projects to see if you need to have them active?

Similarly I had to read this several times. My mind honestly wasn’t awake last night. In reading this over and over, it makes total sense. Seems like I need to make some more Single Actions and Actions On Hold lists for my different Areas of Responsibility.

When I review my Office Single Actions (active tasks only), I can look at some tasks and decide “OK, I don’t really want to do this today.” I can defer it to a short time later or just use the inspector to change the task’s Project to Office Actions On Hold SAL.

I think this is what I’ve been missing. I like this and will try this out later today!

I have a Admin Routines Project folder with one project as “Morning Routine”, another for “Sunday Routine”, then “Monthly Tasks”, etc. Should I assign due dates to these as many are reoccurring? Would I use defer dates? Obviously in reading back at your posts on Admin routines and perspectives, you have an admin perspective. Would I even go as far as selecting “repeat from this item’s completion” on certain repeating admin routines? Also unrelated specifically to this post but worth thinking about how your contexts will change and perspectives given OmniFocus 3 has tagging not contexts.

Usually I can see them in my weekly review and if something comes up I can always go to my project list and check it from there. But at least they don’t appear in my work perspectives

I would use defer dates only if I know it should start on a certain date and time. Otherwise, it goes into my Office Actions On Hold SAL. When I visit the On Hold SAL, I choose at most three tasks that I want to work on today or tomorrow. I will move these chosen tasks over to the Office Single Actions because I fully intend to work on them today. I do not work on anything from the On Hold SAL.

Assign due dates only if there is a penalty if a task is not done by a certain date/time. I have a “mow the lawn” task that is set to defer every 3 weeks. I won’t have any real penalty if I let my grass grow longer. I just cut the grass. I have to pay my home loan one the 25th day of every month. If I pay after the 25th, I incur a late penalty fee that I wish to avoid.

I’m still experimenting with my Admin perspective. I am writing up a follow up that will probably go up next week at the other site. I like it and I also don’t like it. Confusing, yes? I am still trying to discover my way through the Admin perspective workflow.

Some tasks can repeat from this item’s completion. My “mow the grass” task can repeat 21 days after the day I completed this task. You will have different tasks with different repeat conditions.

That is probably something to think about. Tags/contexts work almost the same but I am probably like some people. We are slowly discovering our own ways to use multiple tags. I would use multiple tags only if it makes sense. I also don’t want to over-tag. It becomes too high maintenance. I have just enough contexts to keep my system working. Likewise, my tasks will have just the minimum number of multiple tags in OF3. I’m thinking about it.

:-O Do you really have that many due tasks on those days? Which tasks will really have penalties that you do not want? Or it might be time to renegotiate your commitments? How many tasks can you delegate to others?

Put the due dates only on tasks that need it.

Use OmniFocus as a bucket. The bucket holds a list of all your tasks. You can choose 3 to 5 tasks to work on this morning. If you can finish, then choose 3 to 5 tasks to work on this afternoon.

Don’t penalize yourself if you didn’t finish "coach yourself with a weekly review or clean room for 15 minutes. No need for due dates. I can see “Look at PEL grant” as having a real deadline. If you don’t turn in the PEL grant application, you might miss any opportunity that you really want. I would put a deadline on that.

Most of the others look like “voluntary” tasks that can be done at any time. Of course we want it done but we have to just pick 3-5 tasks in the morning and work on them first. Then pick 3-5 tasks in the afternoon to work on them later today.

lol I think I went off the rails a bit. Maybe I should have said:

For me, defer dates are not to schedule things, it’s a method of removing them from being available options. Defer dates aren’t “start thing on ”, they’re “this thing isn’t an option until ”.

If something really really has to be done on a date, then it must be due. If I just want to do a thing on a date, it’s an available option (maybe flagged).

For context, though, I work and in a role where priorities can and do change daily, and I have three kids, so it is often very hard to commit to tasks on days. Real appointments/events live on my calendar as non-negotiables, but OF tasks might not be as important next Tuesday as I think they are right now.

Okay, I tried to clarify. Hopefully I didn’t superfail. 😂


1 Like

Thanks for clarifying Scotty!

Intersting point about defer dates.

Do you have routines that you do regularly and are listed in OmniFocus? I think that’s where I’d be curious what people do for routines. I totally agree about calendar usage. Also given you have three kids and still can manage it is awesome! Keep rocking it!

Smart, not good to be cluttered up

I do have routines! I have weekdaily ones and monthly ones and some that are every six weeks and some that are quarterly.

Because they are routines, I have gotten in to the habit of reducing many to one repeating task. For example, when I change the water filter in the coffee maker, I have to soak the new one for ten minutes, then rinse it for 2 minutes, then replace the old one with the prepared new one. This was once three actions, but now it’s one:

Replace coffee water filter (soak for 10, rinse for 2, replace)

Additionally, things like doing my weekly review (which I actually do two versions of) are also just single actions.

I find this greatly simplifies my having to manage the wild repeats but also, if these things don’t get done at precision times, there isn’t a penalty, and so they aren’t due (although, I do flag may routinist things to make sure they get my attention, particularly if they are quarterly-type things).

Some of my routines do have due dates (my work quarterly reporting, for example), because I’ll be penalized if I don’t deliver on time. This is actually a repeating project, since there are many steps in it that need discrete action and tracking.

For me, the big opportunity in learning this stuff was:

  1. Getting further away from dates/Forecast (I used to try to pre-paln days for actioning things a lot, but no more)
  2. Simplifying and minimizing available actions
  3. Looking at the shortlist of available actions to decide what to do today/next

Hope that helps!



Good point as otherwise you could have too many. Plus it’s like they are in the batters box (on hold) vs. batting at the plate (action).

Good point. I’ll do this during my review figuring out which ones need due dates and which ones don’t. Also repeating defer dates too.

Absolutely, like everything it takes trial and error. I think personally I’m just needing to spend time with stuff and decide either what makes the most sense for me. Also seeing what others do helps. Looking forward to your post on the other site about your admin perspective. I totally get why it can be good or confusing.

For this I wonder for instance when I have the tasks “clean room 15 min” and “process email from work (in afternoon)” if I have them as repeating deferred I guess that would work though that gets back to the admin perspective and such ensuring that I don’t fall into the trap of neglecting them too much as I could easily mark them as completed when I forget them.

[quote=“wilsonng, post:13, topic:39150”]
Likewise, my tasks will have just the minimum number of multiple tags in OF3. I’m thinking about it.

I too think I’ll simplify tags. Not sure how yet but maybe one for communication and another for review or planning.

You right, I don’t have that many due tasks on those days. They can be deferred or more so things that I can put in the correct action list to do soon or on hold. Unfortunately I can’t delegate the tasks to others as my job doesn’t function like that. Most of the stuff is personal tasks though.

Your right, any tips for that? I alluded to this too above about repeating tasks and stuff…maybe in your upcoming post? If I say complete “clean room 15 minutes” and then it goes to deferred tomorrow and I don’t complete it, should I just mark it complete at the end of the day and not worry/penalize myself? Definitely going to have that PEL grant stuff as a deadline among a couple others.

Really good points! For things that don’t have due dates but are repeating tasks, do you use deferred dates and repeating deferred dates? If I say complete “clean room 15 minutes” and then it goes to deferred tomorrow and I don’t complete it, should I just mark it complete at the end of the day and not worry/penalize myself? Is that what your getting at if you don’t manage to get certain things done?

Yup! Some of my defer dates are set (every month), but a lot are defer again after completion (I wouldn’t want to over-water my plants, for example, by doing it too often).

Defer doesn’t mean “do it on this day”, it means “can’t consider this an option to start on until this date”, so if I don’t do it on the day it becomes available, no big, because it’s on my available actions list, and so maybe I’ll do it tomorrow. I wouldn’t mark it complete until it’s done.


1 Like