Getting in a mess

I’d appreciate everybody’s thoughts on this one. There are several points in the week where things go haywire and I end up not being able to look at OmniFocus for the whole day as I’m in crisis mode.

When I exit crisis mode I see a my usual Perspective in OF overloaded with overdue and flagged items and frankly my attitude is usually to just close OF and pretend it’s not happening.

Obviously the net result is that I’m really unproductive and important things can get missed. How do the rest of you tackle when OF gets “in a mess” and get back on top of things?

I only assign due dates when things are actually due - not for things I want to get done by X. This means that when crisis mode time comes I can look at OF and see what things I have to work on in addition to whatever urgent and import thing has popped up. Flagged items are my “I want to get this done soon” - which is fine, sometimes things stay on there for a while, but when I do my weekly review I look at the flagged items and anything that’s been on there for too long I unflag, and sometimes put on hold.

David Sparks talked about this on the MPU podcast a while ago, but when crazy happens his first stop is OF, he looks at what’s on his list for the immediate future, juggles/defers things so it can all get done, and then he handles the crisis. I’ve based my system on that which is very helpful for me.


I’ve still been contemplating about this as well. What I do know is…

  • Capture everything into the OmniFocus inbox. I want to make sure I unload anything in try head and into OmniFocus.

  • Process the inbox. I can assign items in the inbox into a project or single action list and assign a context. I can assign defer dates and dates only if needed. Sometimes I might have duplicate entries in a project or single action list. I’ll delete those when I’m finish with inbox processing,

  • I visit my custom perspective called Due. This perspective groups all my tasks by due date. I work on all overdue items first, then work my way towards Today’s due items. Hopefully this will help me catch up to today. Then I’ll start working on due soon tasks [due within the next 7 days).

I also try to change up and try to squeeze in some maintenance tasks. These are the annoying tasks that have to be done on a daily or weekly basis to keep my life running smoothly (pay the bills, weekly reports, preparing meeting agendas, etc.). These routine tasks are necessary evils that must be taken care of.

I spelled out a few more things here.

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Yes good point on due dates. I think my problem with due dates being set at their legitimate date is that they don’t show up in most of my perspectives until it’s too late to do anything about them so I tend to heavily rely on Defer Dates + Flags.

If you can point me at any better ways of working I’d be very grateful!

My solution is a simply looking at the “Future” section of the forecast view (and the days in it) during my weekly review. If I see something big coming up I schedule a meeting with myself to work on it - and list it in my focus for the week list.

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That’s a design problem of OF2. For instance, you can only filter due dates up to a week.

First off I hardly ever use any due dates. Only things that are absolutely due by a certain date have them. I do use a lot of defer until dates so they won’t start until some time in the future and I have a lot of repeating tasks for routine items.

Second, even when we’re in the middle of lambing with multiple ewes going at once and some needing assistance I can always find a minute or 2 during the day to read my lists. Here’s where having OF on my phone makes a big difference. Say I’m out in the lambing pasture watching a ewe who has just gone into labor who had problems last year. I can’t leave her but I also don’t know how long I’ll be there or when I might have to glove up and assist in the birth. I can pull out my phone, take a quick look at various custom perspectives and the forecast and see if anything is urgent. I’ll check contexts I cannot be in or go to just to be sure nothing is lurking that will bite me later. It only takes a minute or less to read any given context list and that is when I’v’e got over 200 active projects. I can often make a phone call or 2 while waiting. I can sometimes even do a bit of writing or other similar tasks. I can take notes and I can do some limited project planning if I have a pencil and paper. Before lambing I already know that I may be dealing with emergencies from dawn until dusk so I do a pre-lambing review where everything that is not absolutely necessary gets put on hold. So my context lists during lambing are shorter so even easier to review.

Once it’s dark and we are not out with the sheep I spend the hour or two it takes to fully process all my paper notes and inbox items into either OF or my someday/maybe tool of choice, DEVONThink. I can do a lot of that processing while I’m cooking dinner. Anything I can handle via e-mail gets sent out along with the note that we are lambing so responses will be delayed.


That’s great insight, thank you. I think getting more use out of the iOS version whilst I’m away from my laptop is a fantastic place to start!

What’s your “Due Soon” means: option set to in Dates & Times Preferences? It sounds like setting it to 1 week (if it isn’t already) might help.

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For an item you want to show up in a custom perspective more than a week before its due date you could use Filter by status: Due or Flagged and flag those items.

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Good shout Anne - I’ve just upped it to 1 week and will have a play with the filters in some of my perspectives to see if I can make it work a little better for me.

Thanks again all!