Folders vs Projects vs Groups

In one sense I think these are different names for the same thing: Containers.

But not all tweaks are available for all of these. A project can be put on hold. An action group cannot, and they appear differently.

It also appears that Folders can contain folders or projects, but not actions.

Projects don’t seem to be able to contain folders for projects, but can have action groups.

Action groups don’t seem to be able to contain anything but actions and action groups.


  • Folder::Folder|Project
  • Project::Action|Action group
  • Action group::Action|Action group

So it would seem if life is messy, start out with a couple layers of folders, then put projects inside them.

Now: What are the criteria that people use to decide where to make the break between a folder and a project?

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I would say that for me, everything starts at the project layer. The project is the outcome I want to achieve. It must, therefore, contain actions that will complete it.

There may be action groups within my project sometimes, but I try to avoid them - I once had a nasty habit OF effectively hiding projects in projects, so have found that mostly, I need to define more projects rather than action groups.

Folders, then, become a tool to organize similar, complementary, or related projects.

That is my take on the differentiation, but I treat the project level as king, with the other two there to either support completion or organization of those projects.


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I decide in the order going UP the chain. This is because I see OF better as a task-oriented manager (bottom up) than a big-picture-oriented manager (top down).

  • Tasks - individual atomic units of action
  • Projects - containers for collections of tasks that lead to a common goal
  • Action Groups - sub-divisions to contain collections of tasks that lead to a common objective along the way to reach a project goal
  • Folders (and sub-Folder Hierarchies) - containers for collections of projects that have a common vision, fit a common standard, or meet a common area of responsibility

As for making a break between a folder and a project, the latter has a goal while the former is just a (artificial or arbitrary or “user-defined”) category to collect comparable “things” (projects).

Hope this gives a useful view.


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I started with OF many years ago. I got out of the habit, because I couldn’t make it work. Now I’m trying again, out of desparation as too many things are sliding past undone, or done at the last minute.

My present Treework folder has 419 actions in 4 projects. Obviously I need more projects.

Some of these actions are short: 30 minutes. Lot of few hour ones. Some take a week. Break down more and group. Only thing that does is give me the satisfaction of checking more off.

Of the 419, probably 50 aren’t due this fall, but next spring. I’m in the process of giving them defer dates. Another dozen can be done inside in winter, but some of them are monsters: Redo web page.

Since doing my big walk around a week ago, I’ve gone down from 419 to 387. 32 actions done. I’ve got some 300 left to do nominally before we have snow on the ground, and perhaps a month left to do them. I may get 100 done.

I’m trying to figure out how to focus on what’s important, and am not doing a very good good job of it.

This is a problem that we all face. This forum has a great many tips, tricks, hints, and insights. That is the good news. The bad news is, when you are starting out, this forum may not be the best option to read quickly. I’d suggest in your case to do a search on “new to omnifocus”.

Staying on your main question, my suggestion for a layout for your case might be to set top-level folders based on SEASONS such as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Anytime. As needed, you could define this further with years, such as Spring 2017. Then, create sub-folders for each goal that has to be done in each particular season. For example, you may purchase new seedlings only in the Winter, so create a sub-folder Winter 2016 / Seed Purchases. After that, create your projects that must be meet to complete the folder. One suggestion here is to make your projects “digestible” and “timely”. The first means, make the flow concise and logical so that you appreciate it not only when you create it but also when you go to do it. The second means, make the project have an outcome in a time period that you can appreciate. Open-ended “learn the guitar” projects are bound to be a source of never-ending frustration because they can eventually go nowhere and take forever and ever to get there.

BTW, the “what is important” part should start at the TOP level and percolate down to how you set up OF. Unfortunately, when you try to go the other way, from tasks in OF working up, you will quickly get lost in the forest for the leaves (a pun you might appreciate). Imagine for example that you spend two hours meticulously hand-cleaning bud worms off one apple tree and then realize you have 100 more trees to finish, and you wanted to be done tomorrow. This was rather a bit reversed in thought process to determine what is important, don’t you think? I’d be out on a spray truck with the latest green bud-worm killer already, as an example.

My final thought is, don’t be afraid to iterate in OF on different options as long as you don’t make the iteration a private game. IOW, you won’t get it right with OF the first time, but don’t make a habit of thinking that you should change what you have just because it still seems a bit hard. Settle in to something first, try it out for a few weeks, then re-evaluate.

The forum is a good place to keep asking questions. It’s got a great group of very knowledgable and friendly folks. So, keep plugging at it here as you need.


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I set folders as a related group of other things, in my case (web) development projects as an example. I also had a personal folder, a client work folder, business admin folder etc. That creates a logical (for me) breakdown.

Also folders were a logical part of contexts, I had a context to show all development work due, by setting that to the folder rather than individual projects or lists, it picked up any added projects without error or additional work

Interesting. I can see setting a folder as a default context. I have them as projects instead of folders, but as I said I don’t have enough projects. But right now I have Tree Work, Office Work, Infrastructure

Infrastructure has a group called Mechanical Maintenance. In turn are subgroups for Deutz Tractor, Kubota Tractor, Snowblower, Lawnmower. The structure inside each of these is very similar. Grease, change engine oil, top up hydraulic fluid, check radiator level, top up and stabilize fuel before winter.

But change engine oil has an implied ‘buy oil filter’ which has a different context, as well as a 'take old oil to recycle centre. Then there is a factor for buy hydraulic oil, the appropriate engine oils…

I suppose that I should have a separate Mechanical maintenance project, “Check Supply Levels” – make sure I have one of whatever I need on hand.

Anyway, I like the idea of a set of seasonal folders. I think that will help me maintain focus.

Here are two alternative layouts …

Infrastructure First

  • Top-level folder called Infrastructure (an Area of Responsibility)
  • Sub-folders for Equipment, Tools, and Buildings (categories within Infrastructure)
  • In Equipment, have folders for Deutz Tractor, Kubota Tractor …
  • In the Deutz Tractor folder, have seasonal projects for Maintenance - Spring, Maintenance - Summer
  • Repeat for other folders and sub-folders

Seasonal First

  • Top-level folders called Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall
  • Appropriate sub-folders for Maintenance, Planting, Purchasing, …
  • Inside Maintenance, have folders for tractors …
  • … (continues as above for projects)

I might do this with a single-action project called @Admin > Infrastructure in the top level Infrastructure folder. Put a monthly repeating task to “check inventory levels”