Managing GTD "Energy" in OF?

Dave is very clear - proper GTD implementation requires all four variables, yet OF only allows addressing of energy as a context which means the context can’t be anything else.

Context — availability of tools like phone, computer, internet connection, office)
Time — time you have at hand, e.g. before the next meeting starts
Energy — the level of attention you can devote to the task
Priority — if you still need to choose between tasks which one is most important

It’s eminently arguable (and has been by many GTD / OF experts like Sven Fechner and David Sparks already) that today, the most significant limiting factor in getting things done depends more on available energy / focus than other (obvious yet still relevant) contexts like physical locations.

How is this not addressed yet Omni Group?

Might anyone know of a way to shoehorn 3-5 energy level settings into OF now? (Folders and Flags are absolutely not the answer). I have to say, after goin on ten years of using OF, I’m starting to get to the end of my rope waiting for what have felt like essential tools for so long - the lack of which make implementing GTD properly extremely tedious - and costs significant time and efficiency instead of enhancing them.

I remain a fan of OG in general and appreciate the apps speed stability and reliability but know there’s a whole other level of sophistication coming (like AI and advanced GUI) which will make geo-fencing look simple and I sincerely hope OG’s ready to lead the way and risk something good for something great.

Thank you,
Kid Treo

I’ve often avoided the energy context because I can trick myself with low energy and high energy labels.

Whether I have “high” energy or “low” energy, I’ll look at my list and gravitate towards doing easy “low” energy tasks first .

I’m naturally a lazy guy and will choose the easiest tasks first. Sometimes I have to do jumping jacks or jog in place for a few minutes to get some blood going. Then I will attack the due tasks and flagged tasks. Oftentimes, the due tasks and flagged tasks would be high energy or just more important tasks.

Looking for the “low” energy tasks was an easy cop-out. I would check off ten easy (low energy) tasks and leave the difficult (high energy) task for later. I won’t feel good because the more important task should be done first instead of ten tasks that didn’t really move anything forward. The more important tasks will usually be a due task first. Then the flagged tasks will take second priority. All other tasks (not due and not flagged) will take third priority.

I’ve attempted energy tags or contexts in OmniFocus, Things, and 2Do. It just didn’t work for me. But if you do find a way to get it to work, please do share with the rest of us.


Totally valid perspective wilsonng. That said, “energy” is an essential basic tenant of Mr. Allen’s whole deal, and I think it can mean different things to different people. I also feel it’s purpose is to create transparency for the user so they can “know” what to accomplish next. Eschewing functionality to mask human frailty in choosing harder tasks doesn’t seem to make sense lol. If that “input” doesn’t work for someone, they don’t have to use it!

In particular, I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps it’s not necessarily time which is our greatest commodity but indeed focus, or a combination there of. As well, I find that regardless of how much discipline I’m able / willing to muster, I’m noticeably better and more efficient at different kinds of actions at different times of day further influenced by a variety of other uncontrollable variables. “Energy” is certainly one way of trying to define and work with them.

Having stuck with this system and software for 8+ years, I’m committed to practicing GTD as completely as possible, and in fact am going through a whole brush up and revamp of my system right now and am bummed to have to stop exploring this important 4th GTD variable…for now :)

Honestly it would just be another small drop down in the UI (who knows how tough on the back end), but I’m guessing / hoping this will be answered and soon perhaps in the context of a bigger solution like allowing multiple custom contexts. Hilariously the lack of “energy input” strikes me a bigger obvious violation of GTD tenants then allowing multiple contexts which would ironically fix the issue LOL.

Thank you,

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I come at this a little differently. Of the four variables, context and time are pretty easy to determine. I know it’s hard to get right, but a single context for a task seems doable and follows the book. And with experience you can start to estimate time pretty well. So those two are covered and can be entered into OmniFocus. No arguments there, I think.

But the other two are fought over quite a bit. I can see the appeal of entering energy and priority into OmniFocus, but for me, those are always the judgment calls. After filtering by the available context and time, the list is never longer than seven to ten tasks. With a quick glance over them I can usually intuit the task to work on.

If I had entered the other two variables, I would likely spend too much time entering metadata and less time letting my intuition take over and getting work done.


I’ve always had my context list reflect the blend of location, kind of task, and focus/energy.

For most contexts it doesn’t make a difference (i.e. person or errands contexts). But for things like writing, reading, computer, calls, etc. I keep a higher-focus and lower-focus version.

I think it probably saves a lot of time this way because, being familiar with what the different contexts are called, I only have to enter one thing and not two or more.

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Thanks for weighing in lucasburke. While this is certainly a solid work around, 2 or 3 different energy levels would double or triple my contexts complicating things IMO unnecessarily. I guess I feel that “energy” is fairly essential to the GTD system, believe it to be rather significant to my life, and remain surprised it’s been ignored in OF thus far (beyond modifying or giving up contexts to shoe horn it in. It doesn’t help that focus is particularly challenging for me having been diagnosed text book ADHD since I was a young child and it would’t surprise me to find that many other users look to OF as a way of dealing with it.

Again, thanks for the suggestion but I remain hopeful OF will evolve (soon) to allow for another set of (energy) settings as well, a new alternative GUI(s) (or tight integration with OP or OO) that make planning / reviewing more intuitive / fun / efficient. Perhaps multiple contexts with the ability to set one or more of them as “essential” - so if energy isn’t optimal but other context are, the task still shows as potentially actionable?

@joebuhlig I agree - I have no idea how I could systematize “energy”. That’s an in-the-moment call for me.

For example, a documentation task might seem like a low energy required task when I document it, but if I have spent time on three other documentation-related tasks, then my perception of energy required for more of that goes up, even if I’m still feeling really “energetic”. Conversely, a creative design thing might, in advance, seem like something that needs a lot of energy, but if I’m in a creative mood, I might actually be able to do it with seemingly very little energy.

So to me, I absolutely follow the tenets of GTD using OF, but I don’t rely on OF to define and prescribe - the essence of GTD, to me, is about making choices, not about having a system tell me what I need to do next.

This is just how I use it in my life with my kinds of commitments, though, and everyone will have different requirements and ways to best work. I keep hearing a lot about 2Do, so perhaps it has what you need?



Thanks for your input deturbulence. Perhaps it really is just me (though I doubt it), but certain kinds of tasks are significantly more challenging to me mentally than others. Call it energy, focus, whatever the case may be, Dave Allen identifies this as “energy” without ambiguity.

“About the only thing I do consistently is wake up. But one habit I’ve started to install is: The thing that I most hate doing, I do it as early as I can in the day while I’ve got a good bit of fresh energy, so that the rest of my day is more of a reward.”

So for him to Process his tasks (in OF) to easily determine early morning “energy / focus” tasks, he would have to give up or double / triple his contexts. As well…

"Next, reflect on your to-do list by breaking it down into easily digestible steps, and determining which ones you can handle now and which you should delegate. Finally you switch to execution mode—engage—by looking at your next action lists and making an intuitive judgement about what to do now based on your location, energy level, and priorities. Which may mean deciding to do nothing. “A hallmark of how well you can do this methodology is how well you can do nothing. How well can you actually have nothing on your mind?”

If I’m not mistaken then, the only truly “liquid” part of GTD is assessing priorities on the go (although there are many threads here begging for reorderable lists which I’m not necessarily opposed to either).

The essential purpose of GTD is to achieve a “mind like water” state which means all the really tough work - planning (determining next actions, setting contexts, identifying locations, energy levels etc) is done ahead of time so it’s as easy and painless as possible to “Act” efficiently.

Having to constantly assess priorities is plenty, but having to also identify energy levels as well strikes me as not pure GTD and inefficient, manifesting itself in less effectiveness and it just strikes me as very odd that the subject has been entirely ignored in OF for so long. Perhaps OG just needs to go ahead and build multiple context capabilities into OF (via preference pane) so those of us who desire more granularity can have it and those of you happy with the software don’t have to use it?

Again, after much thought, I’m not sure time is (at least my) most limiting factor…focus / energy is, and this idea is echoed by many leading GTD and efficiency gurus / practitioners and so believe it has merit.

Thank you,

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I totally agree with your assessment of the GTD process, @kidtreo. I think the debate is solely around whether it is a system’s job to categorically define the four constraints of context, time available, energy level, and payoff or not.

Keep in mind that David Allen himself used a Palm as his go to system for years, so his system only pre-defined contexts, and the rest of the constraints (time, energy, and payoff) were based on gut judgment in the moment of asking “so what do I do next?”. It is certainly not un-GTD for any system to not pre-define, it would be un-GTD to not think about it.

I would say that if a list of tasks by context is too long to pick from using in the moment judgment, I would:

  • defer more things
  • make more things Someday/Maybe
  • revisit my contexts if these ones are giving me too many choices
  • delete things
  • rethink just how many commitments I am making in my life

According to David Allen, a typical project list is going to have 50-100 things on it. If you take that as wrote and have a next action for each, that’s 50-100 actions. In my experience, between defer dates (based both on actual constraint of “I can’t start yet” and by decision of “I’m not going to start yet”) and contexts (the ultimate constraint, since I still can’t now my lawn from an airplane seat), I can usually keep visible options of next actions below 20-30, where I can intuitively apply the time, energy, and payoff decisions on the fly.

Yes, OF allows for systematizing the time, but I am notoriously bad at estimating time because the nature of my work allows my to define this in many ways (i.e. I could get x done in an hour, get it done with incredible quality in two hours, or make it exemplary in three hours, but I get to decide which degree of quality matters the most based on current factors of relative priority).

Anyway, just my thoughts, but I would object to my system predefining too many elements of a given task. This may be because my work changes very rapidly, though, so of course everyone’s perspectives are unique.



Nailed it. As much as I love systems and enjoy the decisions they can make for me, I still need the flexibility to “go with the flow.”


Well expressed and perfectly valid and useful points deturbulence :)

That said joehuhlig, I beg to differ…the true essence of GTD is to best achieve “mind like water black belt” efficiency, and if you didn’t want a system telling you what to do, you wouldn’t use GTD or OF at all as the whole point of it is to provide insight and clarity so you can know (and not avoid) the most important and useful next actions to accomplish.

While I agree things on the “runway” have complexity and nuance no application can forsee (not yet at least AI has a long way to go) and making choices is necessary and unavoidable, I would love OF to drive my day as much as possible based on the carefully considered meta data I give it.

I’m trying to figure out what your position actually is lol…is it “OF is good enough as is?” Well I don’t think it is if so lol and have high expectations of what technology can evolve into from here including AI (via wizards and other input / output / info push-pull) loops.

The less I have to mentally expend energy figuring this out on the runway - the better as far as I’m concerned :)

Many thanks to everyone chiming in…I find the conversation fascinating.

Thank you,

Totally understand your goal, @kidtreo, but I would caution against confusing the GTD framework with implementation. There are no standards for implementation, just framework, so software is challenged with being able to accommodate multiple implementation methods, depending on what works for a given user.

That or paper, as my second-favourtire GTD system to OF is a paper-based one. :)



Depends on what you mean by “telling you what to do.” Mine tells me what I can do, but doesn’t dictate the exact task. I let my intuition pick the exact task. I want to be able to ebb and flow with my energy levels and the important/urgent sense that comes with each task.

I think this captures the issue with the energy metadata pretty well. There are too many variables at play that affect it and make it difficult to know what the value should be in the first place. I think you ultimately need to figure out how much of your day you want to dictate ahead of time and how many decisions you want to leave for the moment itself. For me, I need OmniFocus to help me see what I can work on, but let me sense how I’m feeling and weigh the external factors of the day to decide which of my options I want or need to engage.


Interesting discussion.

My approach is to consider that energy is not an additional filter to apply in parallel with context and priority. It is rather something that gets applied after priority is handled. It is a filter on actions that have no obligation to them and no importance to them.

A case in point … When a tornado would be on its way here, my response is not to look at my action list to see if I have any lower energy tasks to handle before I run out to the storm shelter. Or how about … “Oh look, I can take my vitamins before I call an ambulance at 911 to report about my chest pains”.

Since energy level needed certainly should not be applied to priority level 1 actions (Urgent + Important … or in my case Obligated + Important), then I don’t care to apply it to any task until that task is NOT.Obligated AND NOT.Important. By that time, I am in free-flow doing mode. I can choose whatever based on energy level, context, or time.

Loading energy level up front to an action would waste my time. It would cause me more distraction than it is worth. Allowing energy level and time needed to remain as unspecified parameters on all tasks allows me to focus on the DUE and 1-3 priority tasks first. Then, I can give myself some much needed self-confidence and a breather to choose the 4 and lower priorities at my own leisure.



Just re-read all of the sections of the 2015 edition regarding context. They’re about what is needed at hand and where it needs to occur (e.g., purchase the right size batteries at the store, not the kitchen junk drawer). OF does this well. I look at context THEN energy: doesn’t matter if I feel like the Energizer bunny if I’m not in the right context. I determine energy in the moment and pick next actions from the correct context that match my energy level AND the time at hand (I don’t use the time field on tasks very often).

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Just use custom perspective, tag every task in notes like #high, #low and use the search bar.

The perspective will Show up all e.g high energy tasks in order to your perspective-set up

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Exactly lol. Energy is not connect - but is a key element of GTD which, 8+ years later, is still not addressed in OF, requiring those of us who wish to utilize it to shoe horn it in through contexts, tagging etc. I don’t understand how so many die hard GTD practitioners are willing to gloss this over lol. To me, (a veteran creative) true black belt harmony is only possible when all the essential elements of GTD work together perfectly - including “energy” which dramatically affects different kinds of work and productivity.

Great idea Flob…may well do this thank you.

Good feedback for sure thank you. That said, I don’t believe the tornado example is particularly helpful as that’s clearly an emergency on the runway level…far beyond what I would even describe as Urgent and Important.

I feel like energy would be best addressed as an additional item like Context, or Est Time to Complete. Simply put, I have wildly varying kinds of work to accomplish - some of which is particularly draining mentally, emotionally or physically - and another category for energy would simply give me (all of us) another way to filter / view tasks and facilitate more efficiency.
E.g. I have many tasks due in a week but am energetically drained from working all day and want to know which of those remaining tasks don’t require maximum focus / energy and so are most suitable for completion.

Full disclosure - I’m a busy film director / entrepreneur with rather severe ADHD…so energy and focus are particularly important resources for me to manage. Again, I’m just unclear why such an integral part of Dave’s system is unaddressed in OF at all after so many years - and further perplexed why so few seem to care that it is so?

Thanks again…

I would say, it is actually immediately in the U + I framework, whether it is on the runway or in the air. ⛈

So, what contexts do you currently use? Can they be modified?

I go back to your original post …

I could propose that you recast your existing contexts to include an energy group …

Location (can ONLY be done at these locations)

  • @home
  • @office

  • Energy (can be done ANYWHERE)
  • focus
  • high intensity
  • relaxed
  • fun stuff

Finally, with regard to this …

It seems that others find energy or focus as less of a necessity in their GTD workflow. It seems that energy or focus is a spur of the moment decision factor rather than a pre-defined control variable. By example for me, once the important and obligated tasks are done, I’m in harmony mode and make free-flow decisions accordingly.

So, for you, where energy and focus level is indeed so important, maybe you really do need to have it as context settings.