How to Manage both Tasks AND Notes/Reference: Possible Within OF? Or at Least with an Omni Product? Or How?

I have been using OF for a few years and I love it, but it isn’t making me more productive because it’s clogged with all my huge amounts of reference materials, notes that are not tied to tasks and which I never get around to filing since filing them is low-priority-- so I never see my actual tasks. This seems to be a common problem.

I’m wondering if i need a separate place to keep my notes. I considered Devonthink but I didn’t like the interface, and I couldn’t have easily imported my thousands of OF notes into it, and finally it was a real dealbreaker for me that I couldn’t email notes directly into the inbox, a feature i just love in OF. I looked at Centrallo and others, but they just don’t feel good, and I don’t want anything that stores stuff just on the cloud–I lost years worth of notes in Evernote in the cloud once, and I need to feel that my info is on my device.

I love how OF syncs, and I’ve seen no other interface that compares to OF in beauty and simplicity–I just “get” OF. I’ve even considered buying a second copy of OF just for notes, but I don’t want to pay for that, and I think it might get confusing with the syncing. I’ve also thought that maybe I should just dive back into OF itself more deeply and just figure out how to MAKE IT WORK for both my notes and my tasks. Maybe I could figure out how to use the contexts more effectively, creating one huge Reference context that would be super-simple to put things in, blocking it from view, and then searching that context when needed instead of bothering to create multiple tasks and actions within it. Does anyone do that? Or maybe I should commit to becoming more disciplined about doing regular Reviews…though frankly I’m exhausted at the thought of having to file and add contexts and projects to all the notes I’ve been dumping in there. I want to think about urgent tasks, not about random low-priority notes!

I feel like i’m at a crossroads and would love ideas. I hope Omni will make a note-taking app someday that’s designed to supplement OF. But meanwhile, does anyone actually use OF to store large numbers of notes, and still manage to make it work cleanly for task management also? If so, please share how you make it work. Or maybe OO 5 could solve my problem? I thought OO was more for outlining projects than for storing notes, but If anyone uses OO successfully for notes, please share how you do this.

Bottom line: I need a very quick, simple way to store notes that makes it easy to search and retrieve the notes later. I need to be able to email notes to it and I want it to work offline the way OF does. I would love to do this within OF or another Omni product if at all possible because I love the Omni interface and it just keeps things simpler to stick with one product, and if I don’t have to pay more that is good too. But I need to do it in a way is easy and quick and at the same time won’t clog up my tasks.

I feel I am at a crossroads and would love any thoughts.



You could use a second database with your existing Omnifocus license, as discussed here:
Second database in Omnifocus

The second database will not sync, though, so it’s probably a better solution for you to separate the notes in your existing database the ways you are thinking about.

Omnioutliner has become something more than an outliner in version 5. Try the test version and see for yourself. The new filter feature together with the existing possibility to use columns make it possible to use Omnioutliner as a very convenient and easy to use database solution. You cannot sync the Omnifocus way, though, and you can’t send information to an inbox. Omnioutliner is great, but maybe not for your needs.

Jan, This is super helpful. Thank you! You have helped me narrow it down, and I am re-inspired to get a solution going.

Re your comment, " it’s probably a better solution for you to separate the notes in your existing database the ways you are thinking about," if anyone has tried my idea for handling notes in OF (one large, hidden, reference context), or has an opinion whether it sounds feasible or any ideas to improve it, or alternative workflows for this, please speak up. Seems like a lot of folks are grappling with handling notes in OF and it would be nice to tease out some best practices for all of our sakes. Thanks! Annie

I would recommend that you try Evernote if you haven’t already.
I use Omnifocus for tasks and Evernote as a reference system but also as a crm, lead management and much more.
You can easily connect Evernote to Omnifocus.

I might be a little biased ;)

Andrée Starå
Workflow Consultant / Get Done

I help companies work smarter with digital tools
Evernote Certified Consultant / Smartsheet Partner

Thank you Andree…

As I said in my post, I had such a terrible experience with Evernote that I am afraid to ever use it again! I would love to be convinced, but what happend to me was that i was shut out of year’s worth of notes that were inacessible to me on the cloud, and Evernote support couldn’t help me. They were permanently lost. Granted it was a long time ago, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, but it was horrendous.

Even if I could get over it and give Evernote another try, could i export my hundreds of notes easily from OF into Evernote?


Have you considered OmniOutliner? An outliner is generally a much better place to take notes than a task manager.

And it’s also QUITE easy to move tasks from OO to OF. You can copy an outline item and all its sub items and paste it into OF and OF is quite good about doing the “right thing.”

I personally use iCloud sync with OO to sync it. It’s great on macOS; the workflow is a bit clunky on iOS because you have to “import” stuff from external data sources which is still “experimental” (after 2+ years)… but it works. I do wish it were the default instead of Omni’s sync server, but that’s a minor issue.

I keep my notes and reference materials in OF for all of the same reasons you mention. Sync, look, email, and now iOS automation!!!

My notes all have Reference as a context and the Reference context’s status is set to On Hold so all the notes don’t drown out the real tasks.

OF makes it easy to get access to the reference material with the On Hold status by using Perspectives.

Happy to clarify anything.


Sorry Annie!
I missed the part that you tried Evernote.
I would still recommend that you try it again. A lot has happened since then.
Whatever system you choose be sure to have a backup of everything because anything can happen.
I regularly export everything in my and my clients Evernote systems and there is also services that can automate it.

Please tell me if i can help you in any way. I’d be happy to help!

Have a great weekend! / Andrée

Stephen, This is so encouraging. After talking to someone in Omni tech support yesterday, who told me rather dismissively that OF was designed as a task manager and not for organizing notes, I gave in and downloaded Evernote last night and was set to spend the day trying to convert my notes over but was not happy about the hassle, the additional cost, having to learn another program, the interface, the risk of loss, and of course having my info separated, since my reference items often become tasks and vica versa.

So I would far prefer to keep everything in OF for convenience, economy, pleasure, efficiency, and because it will help me understand OF even more thoroughly.

Here’s a question for you. In addition to the Reference context, do you also have a project or folder of projects called Reference? (early on, I followed some advice–maybe David Allen’s–to create multiple projects (books to read, next time in…, ideas for…etc…) as single-item lists in a big reference folder and to keep that folder on hold, but it’s gotten pretty unwieldy with hundreds of lists and thousands of items. Then lately I’ve added a Reference context, thinking that would be simpler, but I haven’t figured out a good relationship between them; it certainly feels redundant and confusing to label a project with both a Reference context and a Reference project.


Dear CatOne,

Yes, I purchased OO for this purpose and I love the Omni interface but I ended up not using it at all, simply because I cant email into it, and I use the email function into OF constantly. That was the dealbreaker for me.

As for the idea that “An outliner is generally a much better place to take notes than a task manager,” in OF, with a folder, subfolders, tasks, and actions, there 4 levels of organization available for notes so it seems it could function in a similar way to an outliner as far as organizing notes goes.

Am I missing something?

Thanks, Annie

I have a Reference Folder with Projects (single action lists) for each of those lists that David recommends and a few others.

Like any reference system, Evernote included, it is important to re-visit it from time to time. For me it is far less frequently than when I review my task projects. Maybe once or twice a year I go through my reference material and see if I still need everything in there. Just a quick walk through.

Reference Folder

  • Vacation ideas <== single action lists. The projects and entries have the Reference context.
  • Books to read
  • Gift ideas
  • etc…

OF allows you to get the URL of any entry and put it in the notes field of an actual task to do. This is an easy way for you to link to reference material inside of the actual entries that are tasks.


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Omnifocus is even more like an outliner than that. As you can move tasks into other tasks, it is possible to have unlimited levels of organization, and to have them work just like in a specialized outlining application. You could also put folders into folders and have unlimited levels that way, somewhat less like an outliner.

Great–i don’t think i’ve put tasks into tasks yet. Thank you!

Again, very helpful, Stephen–thank you–.it sounds like you have the Reference Folder, but you also use the Reference Context for plenty of other things that are not in the Reference Folder. Is that right? And is everything in your Reference Folder also in the Reference Context?

Here’s my update: I am moving forward today reorganizing OF with a Reference context—and it’s going great. I realized i had too many Contexts, many of which were redundant with my Projects, and the length of the list was making it a lot harder for me to process my Inbox. I noticed that OF alphabetizes items within a Context by the name of their Project, and so it iisn’t necessary to break my Contexts into subcontexts; I can just scroll down through the context and see the different projects in order. So with a far shorter and simpler Contexts list including a Reference context, it is all getting easy, and I’m feeling like this is going to work great for organizing my notes as well as tasks.

Also, I learned that I can put an On-Hold single-action list within each of the major folders in my Projects list. This ia a great place to keep lists of referency-items hidden so they won’t clog up tasks.

I tried that for about 3 months and it fell apart for me. I had far too much reference material and often needed to separate it into pieces even for the same project or action. I tried Evernote which ended up in a disaster and then bit the bullet and really dove into DEVONThink. It’s a quirky program to learn and does take a bit but once you finally get it it is the most powerful of the referencing apps around IMO. Syncing is now pretty solid and I’m now running my own sync server for it so I am in total control of my data.

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Dear Oogle,

Interesting! But what about the email issue? I use gmail and have zero interest in using Applemail. Isn’t that the only way to email items into Devonthink–and even then it is a big production to do it?

Hi Annie,

I read your thread and experiences with great interest. I have followed a somewhat opposite path: I am a long-time user of Evernote, but only bought OmniFocus about a month ago. I love Evernote and for a while attempted to use it as my task management system, but eventually it became so bloated and unmanageable that I had to accept that Evernote is just not made for tracking tasks. I now have a clear separation: OmniFocus for my tasks, Evernote for my reference material. Over the years (this is not my first instantiation of GTD) I have realized that, at least for me, tasks and reference are fundamentally different types of information, and it makes sense to keep them separate. Since I decided to stop tracking tasks in Evernote, I’ve been able to clear my EN “Inbox”, and so far I’m keeping up quite nicely with OF. When I need to create cross links, I simply insert an EN note link into OF (to point to the reference material for a task or project, for example) or viceversa. To me this cuts down on the mental friction because I can just “throw stuff” at Evernote that I think I might want to remember sometime, without having to worry about classifying or processing it.

FWIW, I’ve been using Evernote for years now - at the beginning it was quite flaky, but for years now it has been stable and reliable and I have never experienced data loss.

Just some food for thought :)

When I get projects or actions that start as e-mail the e-mail is never a proper project title nor is it a proper next action. So e-mail doesn’t belong in OF at all for me. If I need e-mail as reference in DEVONThink I just drag the message into the appropriate group in DT. I do use AppleMail, I get all my gmail into it as well. I hate web interfaces for e-mail esp. since I never leave e-mail on the server, I always download it to my machine and delete off the server as soon as possible. I also never e-mail items into DT, I always explicitly enter them if I need them there.