How to deal with tasks taking several days to finish

Hi all!

I have tasks taking more than just a day to finish and which are not so easily “splittable” into subtasks (preparing presentations for lectures for my students). These take typically between 1 and 4 days to finish. Obviously they have due dates: the day on which I have to hold the lecture.

How would you guys deal with a task like this o OmniFocus? How would you set due dates, context, deferred dates (I have dates for all of my lectures several months beforehand) etc.? When would you make OmniFocus remind you of the task, given the fact that it takes more than one day to finish?

I am new to OmniFocus and would be glad to any kind of advice from the more experienced users!


I would set a defer date for putting it off until I actually want to start it. As you say, the due date would be set for when it is absolutely due (for me, that would be the day before I give the presentation - I don’t like developing on the day I actually present).

When it becomes available (a good way to watch for these is in the Forecast perspective, make sure deferred items are included in view), I might flag it to have it appear in my Flagged perspective for my attention. Another trick is to flag it when creating it so that as soon as it becomes available (after defer date), it shows up in Flagged (as long as Flagged shows only available tasks).

From there, it is just flagged until it’s done. Multi-day tasks are not uncommon. In GTD speak, whether something is a project or a task is a matter of personal preference and whether or not you have the right kind of placeholder to drive your own action.



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Easy. A recurring daily task of making progress on the work.

  • Do some work on presentation (repeat every 1 day)

The issue is, you don’t know what the steps are to get it done yet, because you have to dive in and evaluate the landscape, and then everything you think of doing is under the 2 minute rule of “just do it!” so the actual creative work probably won’t hit OF, unless it’s stuff you want to gang doing at a later point (“find examples of X”, “Cite Y”)

For long term slow tasks I try to put in a small daily amount work on new version of site for 5 minutes to give myself permission to be lazy about it (I never am, once I start).

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I can suggest a few different ways to approach this. One question I might ask is whether the lecture prep is completely new or a revision of something already existing? Then, I might also ask is this a topic that will be completed in one lecture or over multiple lectures?

Suppose that you have to cover a topic that will be completed in one lecture. Suppose it is a new-from-scratch lecture. You might make a project for it like this …

Topic XYZ (sequential, due ABC)

  • outline lecture for topic XYZ
  • complete outline details for topic XYZ
  • generate lecture slides for topic XYZ
  • tidy up lecture slides for topic XYZ
  • practice lecture topic XYZ

Suppose you are generating lecture slides on a topic that will take a few lectures. You might modify the above like this …

Topic XYZ (sequential)

  • outline lecture for topic XYZ
  • complete outline details for topic XYZ
  • Lecture Slides Preparation (sequential, repeat after completion, due as needed)
    – generate lecture slides for topic XYZ part
    – tidy up lecture slides for topic XYZ part
    – practice lecture topic XYZ part

… or like this …

Lecture Part on Topic XYZ (sequential, due ABC, repeat as appropriate)

  • outline lecture for topic XYZ part
  • complete outline details for topic XYZ part
  • generate lecture slides for topic XYZ part
  • tidy up lecture slides for topic XYZ part
  • practice lecture topic XYZ part

The two methods each have their own pros and cons.

Finally, suppose you are revising existing lecture notes. In this case, you might use this approach …

Topic XYZ Revision (sequential, due ABC)

  • review lecture slides for topic XYZ
  • markup proposed revisions to lecture slides for topic XYZ
  • incorporate revisions to lecture slides for topic XYZ
  • practice lecture topic XYZ

As to the due date being a few days or more out from when you start, that may require a consideration on your part about your workflow. Are you someone who needs to be reminded along the way to work a bit on a bigger project, or are you focused enough to do a longer project in chunks without loosing track? Do you work best in an all-at-once mode, or do you work best in chunks? Answers to these questions can determine how you decide to set due dates and flags on the tasks in your project. They can for example also help you determine whether to break the lecture preparation project down in to smaller chunks (action groups) with their own due dates.

I admit that I struggle sometimes even now with the same questions as you pose even though I have spent a lot of time trying to sort out what is best.


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Thanks all for your great replies. Lots of good thoughts in them… Especially thanks to DrJJWMac - your tasks seem pretty similar to mine.

Apart from the great task-approach I found it a good idea of using an outliner to outline the lecture and then export it to Keynote. I got a trail version of OmniOutliner and the corresponding export script from, just it won’t work, all I get is an empty presentation. How do you do this?



FWIW, I use Curio to develop all of my lecture slides. I create outlines as mind-maps. I link the outline nodes to specific slides.


I used to like making a mind map beforehand (I use iThoughts), and then export it to Keynote. But that export was working poorly and I went on using either iThoughts during the lecture or making slides in keynote right away.
I thought OmniOutliner would be a great tool to develop content, export it to Keynote and then add images etc. But unfortunately Keynote export is not working for me (my German version of Keynote seems to be the problem). Shame for such an expensive piece of software…
For me curio seems to be so heavily depending on mouse usage and I prefer the keyboard…