OmniFocus New User (Newbie) Journey

This post is primarily for those considering OmniFocus 3, and other new users. I am trying to put myself back in my mindset of 20 days ago and hopefully help someone else.

Me: I am a 75-year-old recently retired physician, married with two adult children. I like computers and have built several. I was a Mac user from 1984 to 1992, changed to Windows because it had better availability of educational programs for my young children, have been happy with Windows, but have decided to try the Apple world again as one of my retirement projects. At this point in life I have a completely blank slate with few obligations. (That may sound ideal, but in fact it is the same old organizing and priorities story, unless you are happy vegetating.)

My equipment: Windows 10 PC, older iPad, new MacBook Pro 16, new iPhone 13 Pro.

My OmniFocus account: after a 15 day free trial, four days ago I signed up for the $9.99/month all platform subscription. Expect to use MacBook, iPhone, and web platforms.

My brain: although I have had many successes in life, I continue with what I perceive has been a lifelong challenge of staying organized, executive function, being as productive as possible, and being satisfied with my organization and next plans.

For learning, I prefer to read words and look at pictures on a piece of paper, rather than read on-screen, listen to a voice, or watch a video.

Prior organizing tools: my dad gave me a Day-Timer, his organizer for years, at age 16. I used it successfully until late 1990s. Brief trial with PalmPilot. I used the Microsoft Outlook tasks module from its first release late 1990’s until now. Never got very functional. Created different views for different roles in my life, but took too much time to access, font too small. Left with un-curated task list of about 500 items. Often when I came up with a “new” idea I would discover I had put it on there five or 10 years earlier, (like a time capsule). In 1990 I read and profited from Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. In 2010 I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and attended some local GTD classes. GTD did not stick for me then, but I am hopeful for this time around.

My experience with OmniFocus 3 so far: I have decided to retry the Mac world. As part of that, I have taken a look at organization apps popular with Mac users. I signed up for a 15 day free trial with OmniFocus 3, spent several hours with it. Seemed too complicated. Went to free trial of Todoist. enthusiastic for a day or two, then found it had too many obstacles-difficult to use with Siri, poor integration with Calendar, and, most importantly, a task can only be associated with one project. Back to OmniFocus, increasingly happy since.

  • This forum: when I first registered as a user, a cheery companion named “Discobot” tried to teach me proper use, but seemed to stop receiving my responses after a few interchanges. I’m hoping for more.

  • The whole OmniFocus ecosystem: for an outsider, reviews of OmniFocus are daunting: “steep learning curve”, “pricey”, “not good on collaboration”. On price, I like the 15-day free trial and the $9.99 per month price for multiplatform. I am working solo so cannot speak to collaboration at all. My viewpoint now is that the “steep learning curve” concern is real. This is unimportant to me because my current view is that I am in for the long haul, already have a functional system after 20 days of only occasional development. The most disorienting discovery for me as a new user, one that took me more than a week to realize, is that learning tools provided by Omni Group are minimal. This user group, and a companion group on slack, are helpful but lightly used. Sending an email to support has been uniformly helpful, but may take hours or a day to respond. The in app “manual” may be good for reviewing details, not for first-learning. The “tutorial” is not worthy of the name-simply some tiny-font tasks added to the screen for you to figure out for yourself. My strong recommendation is that you choose one of the third-party resources and start right off the bat with that, don’t waste time trying to figure OmniFocus yourself, using the materials supplied by the company, or the free tutorials on the web (Helpful, but too superficial). All for you is what Mark Karen& always she’s Artie left that would be one is without peer just go for one day here today is visit to our visit doing that would make her feel that you loved her and other members a visit just as is I think you you that you of your conversation you likely have a better position please will probably also is a probably house decision and which ones the a is there some Joe Marion a is a you are on your mom’s complaints is. I have been very happy with Creating Flow with OmniFocus by Kourosh Dini and am now on page 270. I am also rereading Getting Things Done. This page by the OmniFocus team lists other resources that I have no experience with but that others seem enthusiastic about:
    https://inside.omnifocus.com/education. (At least one of these references is obsolete). Also https://rosemaryorchard.com/tag/omnifocus/ gets good reviews.

  • My on path has been along 3 lines at the same time, back and forth as I feel the need at the moment: a) make progress setting up OmniFocus, b) Read Dini-Creating Flow with OmniFocus, c) read David Allen Getting Things Done, 2nd edition, now on p. 99.

  • My biggest hangup was importing 400 old tasks from Outlook Tasks into the OmniFocus and immediately having a non-functional Inbox that was a heavy burden. I foillowed advice here from wilsonng Show Inbox in Assending Order (or by perspective) to set up a project called ”Older Inbox” and park all the old ideas in there for later processing. That was an immediate solution and allows me to see only recent add in the Inbox.

  • If you are either a new user or a passing window-shopper I hope you consider posting anything at all here with the word “New” in the subject line. Questions/ideas from new people are highly valuable to all, simply because that “new” mindset is so fleeting.

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Some good points here, I would recommend you check out some of the excellent resources at

Learn OmniFocus

MacSparky OmniFocus field guide

And my personal favourite “Creating flow with OmniFocus” an ebook by @Kourosh Dini

OmniFocus is a tinkerers wet dream hours of fun tweaking systems and perspectives and to be honest it’s never “finished”

Thank you for reading my very long post! I appreciate hearing from you experienced people!

TBH I skimmed it 😊

Fair enough! Thanks!

Don’t give up. Persevere.

I cam into OmniFocus with a good working understanding of David Allen’s GTD. When I started in OmniFocus, all the pieces just fell together: areas of responsibility, projects, and actions.

Look at the section “Organize” that starts on pages 39-45 (in the updated book). Then look at the section “The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work” starting on page 215. In that section, the levels Horizon 2, Horizon 1, and Ground apply to what you see in OmniFocus. Anything else is cognitive activity that you do outside OmniFocus. Here’s how those horizons correspond to OmniFocus components:

  • Horizon 2 = lists/folders
  • Horizon 1 = projects
  • Ground = actions
  • contexts = tags in projects and actions

OmniFocus is flexible in how you organize your information. Technically, you can get by with no lists or projects. You’d have a long list of actions. Difficult to manage (in any app). Projects organize related actions into a single bucket. When all actions for a bucket have been completed, the project is completed. Projects make actions easier to manage. Areas of responsibilities (lists/folders) organize related project buckets into super-buckets, making projects easier to manage.

I would recommend getting a good handle on GTD—at least as pertains to areas of responsibility, projects, and actions. You should start seeing the parallels between GTD and OmniFocus.

You have the unenviable work of converting a massive number of imported tasks into a system you’re not yet comfortable with and confident in. Do not despair. Chip away at it. Getting everything set up at the first is the hardest part. Once in the system and organized, it’s much easier: using due dates, flags, contexts, and reviews.

When you identify two or more related actions (that together are steps to accomplish an endeavor), create a project and add those actions to the project (the Project property of actions). Do that over and over until all your actions have a parent project.

Then, figure out the areas of responsibility that define your life. All things that you do can be dropped into a list (area of responsibility). Create the folders for your particular areas of responsibility. When that’s done, drop your projects into the applicable list.

Here are some examples of areas of responsibility:

  • Home
  • Financial
  • Family & Friends
  • Transportation
  • Health & Fitness

Above all, persevere. You can always redo your lists if you don’t like what you came up with at first. You have total control. Read all of David Allen’s book to have a firm grounding in GTD, but for now you can focus on the two sections I mentioned to get jump started in OmniFocus. What you come up with will probably be pretty rough. That’s okay. Polish it and refine it as you go. I’ve been using OmniFocus for some 10+ years and I’m still tinkering and reorganizing.

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@koterski, Thank you for the guidance. I used wilson Ng’s advice at Show Inbox in Assending Order (or by perspective). I created an project called Older Inbox, dumped all the old stuff in there, and now I don’t think about any of those tasks/ideas/projects at all anymore. I know they are all there as a complete list whenever I feel like browsing though them.

I like your idea of areas of personal responsibility. I have been strongly influenced throughout like by Stephen Covey, and he likes to call these Roles and Goals. For me, frequent looks from the 50,000 foot level help keep me on track and motivated. So far, I seem able to do this in OmniFocus by creating a hierarchical folder structure that lets me see where any project fits in the big picture of my life. I do most of my work on a big screen and mainly use my iPhone for adding tasks to the inbox and viewing a Today list.

Far from giving up, I am becoming increasingly happy by the day with how much I am getting done and how organized I feel. I am now up to page 147 in GTD 2nd ed and p. 324 in Kourosh Dini Creating Flow 3with OmniFocus, so have absorbed a substantial part of each. At this point, about 23 days in, I think I am already over the hump of initial orientation and have enough of a system to have it be of real value (To other newbies, remember that I have recently retired and have few other responsibilities. In my former working life it might have taken 2-3 months or more). This is where the Persevere is definitely applicable. I do think there is a big, worthwhile payoff.
I haven’t really started yet with grouping related tasks into a project, but that is likely soon.

I do expect this will be a lifelong process, hopefully steadily improving!

Thank you for your comprehensive post!

I am the OP here, learning how to use the forum I note that in my original post there are several lines of complete nonsense-the result of accidentally leaving the microphone on when your wife intetrupts with a question! If you notice it, please disregard!

@Leander, it sounds like you’re getting a handle on this huge effort. Don’t fret. It does get easier once everything is set up and all you’re doing is managing tasks and projects.

You and I have similar histories. My first exposure to productivity tools was Stephen Covey (the book First Things First) and the FranklinCovey planner. That was back in the early 90s. That system was about time management. It taught me a lot, but what I then needed was a framework for managing getting all the things done. Enter David Allen and his book Getting Things Done, and OmniFocus. I feel truly comfortable now.

You should consider later getting David Allen’s second book, Making It All Work. It’s a lot of the things that should have been in the original book. It really helped me to understand GTD more and to dive deeper.

Dini’s book is a good choice that you made. Even though I have used OmniFocus for years, it still taught me a number of useful tricks. One is the “Today” tag, which allows tasks with dates but no times to appear in the Forecast list. Another was learning the keyboard shortcuts. I navigate the application much faster and more efficiently now. And there was making the lists more readable by having fewer columns rather than more. It sounded counterintuitive, but it actually worked well for me.

Keep going getting your GTD/OmniFocus trusted system set up the thriving. Lean on people in this discussion group. Ask questions when you get stuck.

@kotersky Thank you for these additional tips. I had not paid attention to David Allen Making Things Work and I will certainly give it a look down the line a little bit. I am just learning about Kourosh Dini’s use of the “Today” tag and that looks like an easy, attractive workflow, especially for a beginner with both GTD and OmniFocus. I am diligently trying to learn the keyboard shortcuts as Kourosh teaches them, and I have started a little index table of what they are, what page he first mentions them, and when he mentions again to help me with “didn’t I already hear about that before?”.