Have you read David Allen’s Getting Things Done? OF isn’t intended only for users of the GTD method, but its basic framework evolved out of Kinkless GTD, an OmniOutliner implementation of GTD, and I find that it works best for me if I approach it within the GTD mindset.
This GTD white paper from Omni dates back to an earlier era, when tags were contexts (following GTD) and you could assign only one context to any given task. But it’s a useful overview. Still, I recommend the book. It has relatively little fluff for a business book.
A few key ideas that help me:
Use due dates only for things that have a real deadline. That can be hard (my car inspection must be renewed by Nov. 30) or soft (I promised that report to my boss by Nov. 5, but I can renegotiate if needed), but it should be something where missing the date has a consequence (even if it’s just the embarrassment of missing a promised delivery). Assigning due dates that are promises to yourself is OK if done sparingly, and noted as such, but if you do it for everything, then due dates begin to lose meaning.
Use defer dates when appropriate. I use them for three things: (1) Things that cannot be started until a given date; (2) things that it doesn’t make sense to start now; and (3) things that, realistically speaking, I won’t have time to get to for a while. I can’t get my car inspected before Nov. 1, it doesn’t make sense to start my taxes before Feb. 1 when most of the documents will have arrived, and the revisions to my current book MS will have to wait until Thanksgiving break. So I deferred them all appropriately.
Review regularly. The way to avoid feeling as if you might miss something is to work a daily and weekly review into your routine. (And if you don’t empty your inbox daily, make that part of the review.) By default, OF sets project reviews to a 1-week interval, but I often change that. If something is important, I might review it every 2-3 days, or even daily. If it’s less important now, but I want to check in from time to time, it might be every 2-4 weeks. If a weekly review is appropriate but only after a defer date, or only when the deadline is looming, I’ll change the next review date to some future point when I think I need to resume the review. That keeps reviews manageable.
Consider setting the Tags perspective to show only next actions. If you tend to do a lot of planning, or you work from project templates, parallel projects can have a frustrating number of available actions. It might help to show only the next available one. You could also create a Projects-based perspective that shows only next available if you tend to work out of that perspective.
Use flags consistently. I use flags to indicate things that need attention, if not completion, within 4 weeks. I change them during my reviews. So my Flagged perspective is where I go when the fires are put out and I need to choose what to prioritize.
Use a someday/maybe list. And make it “on hold,” so items in it don’t appear in your to-do list. If something has been languishing on your list for a while, it might be because you aren’t committed to doing it now. So put it on a list where you won’t see it in active tasks but you can always remind yourself in your review that it’s there should you want it. I tend to review that list once a month.
Admit that you have too much work. If you implement these strategies and your list is still too long, that might be a sign that you’ve simply got more to do than you can accomplish. In that case, the solution lies outside of OmniFocus. Either you stop taking on new projects, or if you don’t have a choice in what you take on, you go to your supervisor, set out your list of open projects, and explain that you can’t do a good job on all of them. Get help prioritizing—or explain how you are prioritizing—and then ask whether the things you can’t tackle should be dropped or assigned to someone else, or whether you should have an assistant.
Those are my thoughts—more verbose than intended. And now I have to get back to making sure my lecture notes for tomorrow are in order…