Help Needed - OmniFocus Set Up

Hi Omni Users

I am in the process of moving to OF. I am already quite an organised person but my old tool is not powerful enough. I am struggling to determine the best way to set myself up in OF simply because of its power :-)

Can some of you experts help me decide what should be Contexts, Folders, Projects or Perspectives please. Here is how I work:

  1. I set 3 goals for a year, 3 for the current month, 3 for the current week and 3 for today.
  2. The goals in #1 usually, but not always, come from a set of projects that I have running at any given time and these projects can span many weeks, months or years. The goals in #1 could be a project, an action within a project or some miscellaneous task not part of a project.
  3. I like to be able to have ‘at a glance’ views by project and also by goals (meaning I like to see my three year, three month and three week goals under each other as perspective on what’s important).

I’m going round in OF circles, can you help me out?


Welcome to the Omnifocus world. To see your different goals presented together in a meaningful way (a way that separates them and labels them clearly), you need to set your labels somewhere. As you probably would like to have your project structure independent of urgency, I suggest that you create contexts for your different kinds of goals. Then you can make a perspective where you add these contexts to the sidebar selection, don’t use project hierarchy and group actions by context. The downside of these settings is that you only can show actions with the goal contexts, not whole projects (at least not from what I have seen). Another downside could be if you would like to use contexts more for what they are intended, as an action for the moment only may have one context. But if you would like to present your different types of goals without using contexts, I think it would be easier to give each of your goals a separate perspective.


Let’s presume that you know that a Task is a single step action item (call someone, nail a board on the wall, pick up the mail …). In a nutshell:

Contexts -> a category (tag) to tell where (location), with what (tool), or how (energy or focus level) a task is to be done
Folders -> an organizational tool to contain sub-Folders or Projects
Projects -> a collection of Tasks or Action Groups to accomplish a goal in sequential, parallel, or single-list (shopping list) manner
Action Groups -> a collection of Tasks within a Project that themselves have a different processing sequence (sequential or parallel) than the main body of the Project itself
Perspectives -> a (user-defined) way to show specific sets of Tasks or Projects filtered and sorted by different criteria

OmniFocus absolutely does not track Goals. OmniFocus tracks Tasks organized to complete Projects that are contained within Folders. To process Goals, you would probably want something equivalent to GoalScape. That said, you can “trick” OmniFocus to track Goals in different ways. Here are two ideas. Others may have their own suggestions.

  • Set up a Project that is a single-action list of your Goals as Tasks.
  • For any given Project, assign the Goal in the notes field (a method I often use)

FWIW, I track my goals with mind-maps and organizational layouts using other software (Curio). I map the goals back and forth between Curio and OmniFocus with liberal use of URL links.

HTH to get you out of your circle.


Thanks Jan

I am tending towards the context route because I am not a big context user, never have been, more a folders and projects hierarchy person.

I need to do a little more experimentation with Perspectives, I might even run both scenarios for a day or two and see which works best for me.

Thanks for your help. Patricia

Thank you DRJJWMac

I think you can assume I know the basics since I have been using task managers since the mid 1980ies when they were little more than lists.

I have no desire to use multiple apps so I will find a way that works inside OF or revert to the productivity tool I am using (which also allows for a daily journal which I am disappointed OF does not offer).

My goals are actions/tasks that need to be completed (I thought all goals were) and just having them assigned in the notes field is not powerful enough. However your suggestion got me thinking about the review feature in OF and I think I might be able to use that to do some of what I want.

Back to my experiments. Thank you.


Apologies. Mis-presumptions on my part were fully unintended. I read your post as though you were a complete novice at OmniFocus, not a novice at some form of task management.

I have had no success over a decade to find one app will do everything across the spectrum of goal-planning and task management to a level that I would be happy. In the meantime, I work as seamlessly with my two core apps as though with one. YMMV.

The word “goals” means something completely different to me than do the words “actions or tasks”. Goals are achieved, while actions or tasks are accomplished or completed. I would never class a goal as a task/action or vica-versa. I have to admit, in light of how I use OmniFocus, when I substitute “task” for “goal” in your post, I am even more confused how you could really get it all to work. It runs me a bit in circles, so to speak.

In the framework of you just starting with OmniFocus, perhaps my starting sentence was not so wrong after all. Could it be this is why you are also “going round in circles”?

Putting the goals of a project in a note field works for me. YMMV.

The review feature is a core to successfully following the GTD mantra, which itself is the foundation that OmniFocus tries to follow. A host of posts on this forum provide advice, tips, and tricks for of how to use the review feature of OmniFocus.


ps …

Many postings on this forum discuss how to use any number of other apps to store resources that are considered secondary to the core GTD mantra (such as journal or progress reports). Just as I do for my top-level planning outside OmniFocus, I use Curio for this too.


What I’ve done:

  1. Create two 50K ft level folders: Work and Life.
  2. In those, I create folders for areas of responsibility. Ex: Life contains Auto, Finance, House, Lawn & Garden, Health, etc.

I also create a Template folder.

Contexts: Instead of making myself crazy with things like “I need a pencil, and a phone, but also need my desk, a Mac, my editor, and…”

The way I see my setup, I can do tasks either at Home or Away/Errands. That’s it. If I’m at home and need my phone, I just go get it. Getting my phone takes less time than all the time spent sorting actions and projects. Now, true, there might be some that I could do in either place. But I go with the one I know I’m most likely to do the task. I don’t overthink it.

Inside those two contexts, I have three child contexts: low energy, medium energy, high energy.

The only other contexts I have are for things I’m waiting on, templates, and someday. The Waiting and Someday have only two child contexts: Life, Work.

I fell off the wagon far too many times because I tried to make TOO many areas, too many folders, too many contexts.

Again, welcome! Happy organizing!

One thought I could suggest here would lower your number of sub-folders by one. Move everything that is your areas of responsibilities out to a top Library level. Delete those 50k folders. Create a “blank” folder called “—”. Yep, simply three dashes for me. You choose what fits you. Move that folder between the folders that are Work and the folders that are Life. Viola, one less level to dig, yet still keeping your work and life separate.


Hi JustRed

Your approach sounds very like Asian Efficiency’s 'OmniFocus Premium Posts’ approach and I too am using my personalised variation of that. I agree with their view that ‘GTD and all its contexts’ are pretty anal and are the cause of many people ‘falling off the wagon’.

I tend to use the type of system described in Agile Results (partial) or Zen to Done. The Power of Three is what has kept me on the wagon and highly productive for years.

I am now experimenting in OF to see what’s best for this 3 WIN approach. I suspect I will use the parent of an Action List (or an individual Task) as my 3WIN goal and will change the context to be ‘3WIN : Month’ (or year, week, day) so when child tasks are completed the higher level WIN is automatically marked complete.

Right now I am assessing if that will work. If not I simply have to set up a separate folder called 3 WINS with Projects inside it and keep the goals/wins there (separate from my Work and Life projects). This approach might be easier logistically as OFs review feature will remind me to review each at the appropriate time interval (daily, weekly, monthly or annually) but I sort of like the idea of having my WINs be incorporated into my Work and Personal projects/tasks.

I’ll post here to say what I got working in case someone else is trying to use the Zen to Done or Agile Results approaches.



Unfortunately I am not a GTD person. Despite being a computer scientist I was never comfortable with its bottom-up systems approach.

I am from a school of thought where:

  1. I use a top-down approach to planning which ensures I get the few important things done that deliver maximum forward progress in a single direction rather than getting the many things ticked off a list which delivers a little forward progress in a lot of directions.
  2. My time/task management tool is kept really simple, fast to use, and usable by my PA even if that means it is initially difficult to set up, and…
  3. I keep related things together so my tasks, my planning for those tasks, and my journal to record what worked or did not about those plans/tasks, all remains in the same tool. In the case of OF it looks like I will have to keep those notes in a task which I think will work for me although it is not quite as slick as calling up a journal for a specific date.

This approach is what is described in Essentialism, Zen to Done, Agile Results and others. It is a totally different mindset to GTD and works for those of us who are more comfortable with very narrowly focused view on what are often, but not always, ill defined projects by there nature.

So horses for courses I suppose.



Can you explain the last part of this suggestion about the ‘—’ folder please. I follow the first bit and the logic as to why you would do that but I am unclear about the ‘—’ folder - namely what it is used for and why you would want to move it around. Thanks


I think your approach is comparable to mine, although I may lean more on the GTD task-management side than you do. The benefit of OmniFocus is in its ability to do the GTD well. As I noted, I go to mind-maps, project work-sheets, and Kanban boards for the other end of the spectrum.

You certainly have a good background on the methods, and it seems you will find a balance between what you have and what you want. My only caution again is, I have not found one tool that does everything I need (or want) for my project- to task-level management. I also get the distinct impression from reading this forum for a long time that I am more in a majority rather than a minority.

Best in your ongoing efforts. The forums here can be a good resource.


It is just a “dummy” folder. I don’t move it around. I put it in one place, directly in between the set of folders for Work and the set for Life. It stays there forever. It is just a visual break in the list of one set above another, and it keeps me from having to dig yet one folder level lower.

I used to use this trick to separate Professional, Personal, and Social Areas of Responsibility (AoRs). In the meantime, I have eliminated all such separations. I recognize the visual breaks almost intuitively anymore.


Patricia -

I LOVE Asian Efficiency’s posts! But I originally got the energy level idea from Sven Fechner over at Simplicity Bliss. For me, all those extra phone, pencil, etc. items were too fiddly for my tastes.

I am not familiar with Agile Results. I’ll check them out. It has also been a very long time since I read Zen to Done. I’ll go back and take another look, especially at The Power if Three. Thanks for suggestion/reminder!

To keep projects from being orphaned (tasks completed, but the project remains active), I like Sven’s Stalled perspective. I only look at it twice a year. Otherwise, I tend to catch items in my reviews.

The beauty about OF is that it can tailor to each person’s needs and preferences. The downside is that there are so many ways to organize that it can be overwhelming. Like a lot of things in life, I find what works for me is a Keep It Simple approach. Adopted motto: Everything you must have owns you.

You are so right JustRed - simplicity works best.

I think that Power of 3 came from Agile Results but I have seen it in a number of places. BTW - you don’t need to buy the book because all the content is hosted on their website. It also has some overly rigid and fiddly things but that ‘Power of 3’ is the one thing that truly made my work life more enjoyable and in control.

I noticed that about orphaned projects in OF but in the inspector I found a ‘Complete when tasks are complete’ flag and that seems to work for me.

I wonder if OF might get more customers is they had some ‘template’ setups just like accounting software does. I could pick from a set of templates e.g. ‘Pure GTD’, ‘Asian Efficiency’, ‘Zen to Done’. It would allow new users to adopt the approach that is most likely to suit them and then the changes are not such a big deal. I think setting up OF has been one of the biggest hurdles of any software I have configured. At least I know I now have what I need.