How can I organize my arbitrarily-sorted "do now" tasks?

I love OmniFocus, but there’s one thing that I’ve struggled with for a long time… and that’s how to organize the tasks that I plan to do right now.

Say I’ve got the following list of tasks (in various projects and contexts):

  • feed dogs
  • bring in trash
  • get mail
  • call Dad
  • (lots of other stuff)

And I want to “sequence” them, so I plan out which ones I’m going to do in order… maybe it looks like:

  1. call Dad
  2. get mail
  3. bring in trash
  4. feed dogs

The way I do it today is to flag the items that I want to work on in the immediate future, select them… and the copy and paste them into TextEdit. From there, I can cut & paste lines pretty easily to organize the tasks in the order I want to do them. Then I click the links to get back to the task in OmniFocus, and do my thing.

It drives me a bit crazy to have to move my stuff out of OmniFocus to get that kind of perspective on them.

I’ve tried using start dates and estimated times to simulate ordering… but those are even more finicky than just dealing with RTF links from TextEdit.

I tried out 2do for a few minutes, and it can do the one thing missing for me from OmniFocus – I can add tasks to the starred list, and then order them the way that I want. But that’s not even close to enough for me to switch from OF to 2do, even if I am incredibly envious of that feature :)

I suspect I’m not the only person who wants to order my tasks my own way, ignoring project and context ordering… what do you folks do to accomplish this?


There isn’t any way to flexibly order tasks in OF2 in the way I think you are describing. In one sense this a cause for annoyance depending on your preferred way of getting things done.

I have struggled with the perfect get things done now aspect you raise.
For years I kept immediate tasks in Due App. Clunky.

Things App can do what you want but thats all it can do. It’s no match for OF2.

2Do is pretty and has some nice features but is a let down with file attachments, reviews and other features like scripting all missing.

Currently for immediate tasks I’m trying Sorted App. It’s flexible one thumb stuff! Move your priorities around with ease.

The downside to all this is you end up with 2 systems. No system is perfect. OF2 is fast heading (in my opinion) in a great new development cycle with tags and other exciting new features. I guess thats why I love this OF2 so much. Always developing, always responsive to issues (though few and far between), can handle anything you throw at it.

It keeps my chaotic life in some degree of order and I’d be lost without it.

Sorry for narking on and on…


Are you handy with AppleScript? You could write a script that takes the selected tasks, allows you order them, and then renames the tasks to prepend an order number. Then your flagged view can be sorted by name.


I did some more research today, and it seems like this is a pretty common problem for OmniFocus users…

The AppleScript approach is interesting. For the time being, I’m going to think a bit more about how I can organize my projects and contexts so OF presents me with useful information at all times, rather than me try to hack around what I think are its limitations…


@patmaddox, an old post of mine might be of interest for you:

Manual sorting is coming

Thanks for linking to that thread… so it’s clearly something people have wanted for a long time :) Ken mentioned manual sorting back in January 2016…

OmniFocus does a fantastic job of helping me narrow down a huge list of possible things I could work on, to a small list of things that I want to work on. But it leaves me hanging when I want to make a single decision about the order in which I’ll do those things.

It seems like that just doesn’t fit with the “OmniFocus way”… which might say something like, “It doesn’t matter which one you pick – just pick one and do it!” Which from a high level is true… but when working, I like to make “game time decisions”. I just get a feeling that if I do these actions next, it’ll give me some momentum, and then I’ll be ready for the bigger one after that.

I think the text file is going to have to do for now, but I’ll keep thinking about this periodically… at least until Omni decides to add that manual sorting 😘

addition: this sort of makes me think of the snowball method of paying off debt: while it is not the mathematically optimal way to pay off debt, it works for a lot of people. Similarly, I’ve got my projects prioritized in OmniFocus… but from a practical standpoint (momentum!), it sometimes makes sense for me to work on tasks out of priority order.

This will not work for all but this is my way of working around not being able to manually sort tasks. I use estimated time as I don’t use it for its intended purpose. I do a quick early review in the morning and flag items to work on today and give them an estimated time to sort them. I’m a GTD user and am aware of “just pick a task” philosophy, but I’ve had better results planning the day. My system is:

Today Perspective shows all tasks due today or flagged, including:

  • MITs (flagged for each day)
  • Reviews (included with due dates)
  • Ticklers (always flagged)

Ordering by est. time:

  • 1m: Task that I set manually to do before any daily tasks
  • 2 - 19m: Regular tasks and ticklers that I do before other tasks to keep sane
  • 10m: Ticklers
  • 20 - 50m: Manual tasks entered
  • 51 - 59m: Tasks to do after kids have gone to bed
  • 60m or later (shown in h): Anything I want to put manually at the end of the day
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I’ve done similar to @gudjkrist with the almost useless estimated time field. I never found a real purpose or need for it until I discovered I could prioritise tasks with it. Not it’s intended purpose I suppose…
I much prefer to organise my today perspective with careful use of start dates & time/Flags. I can control with precision what I see and when although this is not as efficient as some other task managers.
I have recently tried Sorted App which excels in short-term planning with great flexibility and quick input.

This is definitely one of the weakest parts of OmniFocus. One possible work-around: My flagged list appears in context order. If you don’t use contexts for something else, you could create numbered contexts and assign the 1 context to the first items, the 2 context to the second, and so forth. But I do wish the Omni folks would address this for real. I also wish they would allow us to have new items in a list appear by default in first position instead of last, forcing us to go into a project, edit, and drag the new action to the top.


Hopefully, multiple tags should be able to change this. Then we can have a Priority A, Priority B, and Priority C tag. Then sort based on that.


@wilsonng I can’t wait for tags. I often have tasks that cut across several projects depending on where I am at a particular time, or the type of task can be accomplished whilst at work, home, or elsewhere. I can miss tasks currently unless I set up a specialised perspective to find text. I currently have one such perspective at the moment for a series of tasks that need to be accessed across a variety of projects.
Having said that, OF2 is still without a shadow of a doubt the best of the best. I tried the Things beta out of interest-form over substance- would aptly describe it.


Like you, Pat Maddox, I love OmniFocus, but found this essential bit of my weekly planning to be a missing piece. So I’ve created a workaround.

I use ∑ (option-W) to flag tasks I want to achieve this week, and have created a Weekly perspective to list them. You could do a similar thing to flag today’s tasks. And yes, this will be so much easier with Tags; I’m looking forward to them too.

Then I use Fantastical (calendar app) which has some integration with Omnifocus. You can drag and drop tasks from Omnifocus into Fantastical, in the order you want. I find this really helpful because I use the weekly view in Fantastical and can get a visual layout of my plan for the day or the week. I can also move things around easily in Fantastical. I think you would find this much easier and more satisfying than your cutting and pasting.

You should specify the estimated time in Omnifocus, so the task in Fantastical will reflect it.

Be aware, the integration with Fantastical and OF is limited; for example if you change a task in OF, that change won’t be reflected if you’ve already dropped the task in Fantastical. But from Fantastical, you can click on the task link to go back to your Omnifocus entry where you keep your more detailed text.

Thank you so much to everyone who has replied, I’ve gotten a lot of helpful ideas.

Yeah I’m familiar with and have tried that workaround… it’s just a bit too cumbersome for me. Believe it or not, cut & paste ends up working faster for me :)

For me, it’s not really a matter of priority, but of sequencing. My projects are already organized by priority, for the most part. “Take out the trash” is not higher priority than “draft a new article”… but as I’m thinking about “how am I going to spend the next hour” then I very well might take out the trash first. I guess you could argue that I’m prioritizing that task for that particular work session… but it still doesn’t do anything to address sequencing of tasks that are set to the same priority.

I think of this problem pretty simply: I’ve used OmniFocus to identify the tasks that I can reasonably do right now, and then the ones that I intend to do right now… the last piece of the puzzle is deciding which order I want to do them in the immediate future. It’s making my own personal playlists of tasks to do, subject to my human whims of the moment.

I LOVE this idea for big tasks that I want to block out time before. I already do that, I’ve just never thought to drag and drop from OmniFocus to Calendar (which also works).

Here’s what works for me today

Like many people, I flag tasks that I intend to do today. And as mentioned, that’s where I’ve gotten a bit stuck – because I need to then filter it down from “Today” to “right now.”

My flagged perspective gives me the list of possible things I could be working on right now, grouped by context (calls, computer, home, etc) and sorted by due date. For big things, I drag them straight into my calendar. For little things, I drag them into vitamin-r 2’s “later” pad. I just use my cut-and-paste to reorder them there.

The basic workflow for deciding what to do now then looks like:

  1. Check calendar to see if I have something scheduled. If not…
  2. Check Vitamin-R later pad for my immediate next action. If that’s empty…
  3. Check flagged context for possible tasks, and drop them into Calendar / Vitamin-R accordingly. If that’s empty…
  4. Check out context perspective for things to flag

Which is basically what I’d been doing all along :) but now more explicit, and the calendar drag-and-drop is a nice new addition.

I think we all have this same gripe but here is my current solution until OF decides to add drag and drop sorting.
Because I used Sorted for a short bit, I decided to use their methodology but rather inside OF so I wasn’t manually moving tasks or working the same data in two systems:
I made contexts in 15 minute increments. 6am, 6:15am, etc etc.
When creating project I now leave context field blank. When the day comes to do it, flagged or due, I then assign a “time” context.
My today perspective filters by flagged or due on available tasks. It then groups by context to allow for each “time” to be a header.
This set up allows me to work as if its a vertical calendar. It has helped me tremendously prioritize my day! You can see as you starting assiging “time” tasks, when your day begins to fill up and there isn’t enough time to complete the rest of your tasks.
I’m sure you are probably thinking how unwieldy this context list must be. Its really not bad, in the morning I take out my ipad and assign context to all new tasks by scrolling quickly thru the context drop down!
Hope this helps!

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Pretty clever creative thinking-I love the idea behind this @bing098911. I do something similar but far less complicated-an idea I borrowed from the new Things 3 beta. Borrowing on their concept of today & evening headers-I now have @morning, @afternoon & @evening contexts created at the top of my context list.

When my tasks appear as usual in my today list with their varied contexts, I simply drag and drop them on to the appropriate context that I feel I can manage to accomplish them in, be it morning, afternoon or evening.

My today perspective is set so that once I move the tasks to one of these contexts all other contexts disappear and it leaves me with these 3 headings alone. It looks nice & manageable and sets a nice easy view in my today list breaking today’s tasks up nicely.

It’s still experimental. Not sure how I feel ‘re-assigning’ task contexts to suit this method but I think the Things 3 beta has some good ideas.

For this purpose OF2 can’t possibly match Thing 3’s flexibility with their simple drag & drop abilities- which is a huge advantage on iPhone or iPad. I still prefer OF2. Things is no match for OF2 on a vast number of levels.

I was actually quite underwhelmed by their new app. I thought at the very least they would implement a visible drag and drop calendar. Repeat options are excellent but repeat tasks are difficult to manage. OF2 is set to gain better repeats and also tags. If they could manage the finger-sliding abilities of Things on the iPhone/ipad that would be the icing on the cake. Sadly adjusting OF2 on the fly is a little clunky at times.

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My solution has been to use my Today perspective (available, due + flagged) with aggressive defer times. In this way, tasks will only show up at pre-arranged times.

That way, I might have my first thing deferred until 9am, with the next thing deferred until 9:15am, and those things that relate to another thing this afternoon are deferred until 1:10pm (for example).

In this way, I guess I’m not sorting - I’m deliberately hiding all the things I’m not ready for and prescribing when I do want them to show up for me.



I don’t have a suggestion as to how you can get the behavior that you’re looking for, nor do I have a work-around to get something similar.

Instead, I’d like to suggest that OF is designed so that you can get your work done without you having to explicitly order your list.

Omnifocus was not really designed to be a to-do list program, it was designed as a program to help people organize their projects and tasks using the GTD methodology. An important aspect of GTD is “focus”, hence the name itself of the program: Omnifocus. The idea behind GTD in a teeny-tiny nutshell is to organize your material so that any point in time you have a clear overview of what needs to be and can be done right here and right now.

Over the years I have also learned how extremely important it is to cut down on my currently active projects. If I have more on my plate than I can realistically handle, I get frustrated and demotivated because the list of tasks is so long. If there are too many things staring me in the face yelling, “Do me!”, I just feel stressed. If I start out with fewer active projects, once I take care of a few projects I can always add more.

So let’s say I’ve trimmed my focus of active things down to where I have a list of 20 actions that I want to do. — That’s actually a very large number and I hope that I have less than that!

The next thing is to decide what I want to do right now. If I’m lucky, my contexts can help me divvy these 20 things into smaller groups that might give me a better idea where I want to start. — Contexts are really an important tool I learned from the GTD book!

The next step is to select, say, three tasks that I want to do right now. When I see the complete selection in front of me, it shouldn’t be too hard to decide on the spur of the moment what are the most important things to start with. I select these three tasks, hit Shift-CMD-F to focus in on them and I’m left with a super short list. It’s so short that I don’t need to rearrange it because a quick glance at the list is enough to tell me what the next thing is I should do.

I take care of those three things, concentrate on them, complete them or get them to a point where I see, “OK, now I need to move on to something different”. Unfocus the list, take another look at the longer list, redecide what’s most important to be done next, and refocus.

Once things are no longer in focus, I can ignore them while I work, knowing that they’re still there when I need them, and I can trust myself to pick the next few tasks when the time comes.

Another thing I do for urgent things that I really need or want to be sure to do first is set their starting date to today. These tasks show up in my tickler window, reminding me how important they are so I don’t lose track of them.

So that’s the way I work without having to keep a list of things in the order of when I want/need to do them. If I did have a list like that, my guess is that I would wind up reorganizing the list in the course of the day anyway when it turns out that the order I started out with doesn’t work because of the real-life world. With the approach I use, I get the same effect when I refocus.

I can think of two scenarios in which the strategy I describe won’t work:

  • If you print the list out on paper and just work from the printout. You can’t refocus on paper. The way I work, I always have OF open and available to look at when I need it.

  • If you use the iPhone or iPad version of OF. I don’t believe you can focus using the iOS versions of the software.


I guess it depends on situation and personality, but in my case, manually sorted lists (at this time using contexts and flags in my perspectives) actually help me spending less time trimming my focus, deciding on next things and selecting tasks. I work from the top of my list that contain a limited amount of tasks, resting assured that I already have prioritized the tasks. When needed, I make adjustments and add tasks, but to me, it’s very convenient to know that the basic selection already is done.

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@deturbulence agreed. Exact same method I use. I was inspired by the Things beta to try something new. To be honest I may soon revert to the old method of using defer times to hide today items.
I tried new things with OF2 to see if I can create the ‘ultimate’ today perspective!

Here are some discussions about this.

The easiest thing I’ve ever done was to go to whatever task management I have and look at my today list. Then I pick 3-5 tasks and write it down on an index card. Then I hide OmniFocus from view on my Mac (command-H). Then I get to work on my index cards. Perfect focus. I find t too distracting to look at omnifocus whenever I need to make a choice. It tempts me to go tinker even more in omnifocus. Just make my choices and get to work.

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