OmniFocus Workflow Advice

Hi all,

I’ve had iPhones for years and not that long ago got an iPad but I’d say I’ve only recently had my eyes opened to the whole Apple ecosystem. I’m being turned!! I’m also only just getting on board with the world of productivity having read David Allen’s GTD book so needless to say a lot of this is new to me!!

OmniFocus is definitely going to be a significant part of this for me and I want to build my workflow around it. I’ve been consuming a lot of Tim Stringer’s material and I don’t want to clutter up OF. I only want actionable content/commitments for the next 12 months in there so I need some other place to stick the rest of my “stuff”. I’ve been researching quite a bit over the last few weeks/months as to what the components of my workflow are going to be and I’ve arrived at the following:

Drafts - as my main capture tool
OmniFocus - as my task manager
DEVONthink - to store all reference material and lists
OmniOutliner - to use when I really need to flesh out an idea or project
MindNode - mind mapping tool

Evernote is an obvious component instead of DT or even as well as but I just can’t bring myself to spend £30 a year. If it was a big part of my life already then yeah maybe but not when I’m just starting out.

My questions/concerns are

  1. does anybody else use these apps together successfully?
  2. I’m a self confessed nerd and have a pretty techie job but does this sound like overkill for a newbie?
  3. I only have iOS devices at the moment but plan to get a mac when my next windows (sorry to swear) machine dies. Could this workflow still function on iOS only?

Any advice would be hugely welcomed.


@ajm1811 All of the above (except Drafts). I’m a recent convert to Devonthink. So glad I did. It’s really useful. Much better than Evernote which I found unreliable and unwieldy. Nothing against Drafts it is really good but prefer other notetaking options.

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Great selection of apps! Except for Mindnode, where I personally prefer Ithoughts, I use the apps just the way you describes. Devonthink only on my Mac, though. I’m not sure if will work well on IOS only. When I tried it on IOS, it was only meant as a way to read material synchronized from the Mac (as I remember it), but it has been rewritten since then and might work better on IOS now.


Adopt one habit at a time. Don’t try to do everything all at one time. It takes time for habits/rituals/workflows to click altogether.

Once you’ve learned one part and perform it well, tackle another aspect.

For example, I learned to master OmniFocus first. Then I learned how to mind map to help create projects. Then I learned DevonThink and used that for my reference system. Slowly, you’ll add pieces of the puzzle. You might change the tools over time.

I used to use BusyCal as my main calendar. But Fantastical 2 eventually won me over. I used to use MindNode but I’ve eventually settled on iThoughtsX for my mind mapping needs. But MindNode is a great starting point.

Thankfully there are trial periods for many of the software packages. Try them out and see what fits you. After a while, you’ll eventually settle on what works for you. There’s no need to keep trying the newest software app that comes down the road. I used to jump from Things to OmniFocus and back. But I’ve since settled in for the last couple of years with OmniFocus and don’t really have any intentions of looking at Things.


I’m interested in how people use OmniOutliner and OmniFocus if they also have iThoughts or MindNode installed. (I have both but tend to use iThoughts.)

My guess is that there are two main use cases:

  1. People start in the mind mapping tool and then convert to OmniOutliner or OmniFocus when they get serious and detailed or actually want to get tasks nailed in place.

  2. People use OmniOutliner to build a text list with detail and then convert to the mind mapping tool for visualisation (and maybe publishing).

Having said all that I often use iThoughts for working on a podcast outline with my co-host and share Skype screen with her. Not sure I could do that so nicely with OmniOutliner. (She doesn’t happen to use Apple products, a nice dynamic between us.) :-)

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Of those the 2 I use all the time are Omnifocus and DEVONThink. I use them on Mac, iPhone and iPad but I am not sure that iOS only will really be effective. I need the backup and other tools available on the Mac to keep my data secure.

OTOH there are inexpensive macs that can be set up to just be the sync servers and basic stuff if you need one.

My main capture tool is paper and open and a small notepad I carry with me everywhere in a belt pouch. Secondary capture includes my iphone for pictures and occasionally using Siri to send a message to the Omnifocus inbox.

I hate mind mapping, have never really used it much. For the very limited things I need a drawing program for I use Scapple.

For really working on major projects or ideas I use Scrivener most often now. I;ve found I can move sections around and easily compile to a Libre Office document for further refinement if I need it but I’m putting more and more of my stuff into Scrivener as the primary location. One big advantage of Scrivener, it’s possible to set up GitHub to automatically keep the document updated when I edit it.

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@MartinPacker I have a few pillars to my workflow/system:

  1. When I don’t know what’s what, I tend to start with a mind map (and I like MindNode).
  2. If that mind map needs more structure or detail, it moves to OmniOutliner.
  3. As reference material or reasearch or thinking evolves, writing happens in Ulysses.
  4. Along the way, all outcomes and actions are lovingly tracked in OmniFocus.
  5. If it amounts to one, I can also move content to OmniPlan for tracking a multi-person/cross-functional/long term project.

I don’t have a prescribed flow necessarily for how content moves between these apps, but they do have defined roles in my ecosystem so that I know what tools to draw on in what situations.

I don’t know if that’s what you were looking for, but thought I’d share how I approach things.



On my desktop, I use Curio as my go-to app. I work in citation managers (Mendeley or Papers) as my primary databases, and I also use TapForms for some aspects of data management. I use Evernote (free) to store records of meetings, physical or via phone/Skype. I’ve not been able to fit OmniOutliner or DevonThink in to my workflow.

On my iPad, I use ZoomNotes to sketch ideas and Awesome Notes to draft text ideas or keep meeting notes. I integrate back to the desktop (Curio) through Dropbox or Evernote. I also dabble with iThoughts for quick mind maps.

I agree with @wilsonng about adopting the technologies and apps. First, pick a function that you need to accomplish on the desktop and collect apps associated with that function. Be open to testing a few apps. When you find something that seems to work, stick with it to master it.

Finally, with regard to getting a Mac in transition from Windows … Look for a good price point perhaps even on the previous generation machines and get enough memory and hard drive space to run a Windows partition (e.g. using Parallels or a free VM). You’ll be able to transition with a bit more comfort between the two. And Windows is not all that bad.



Thanks for all the advice. Really helpful. I’m basically getting - it’s what works for you and that to get the most out of this I need to get a mac which doesn’t have to be a brand new one. And I know some of these applications are pretty comprehensive so I get the need to take things slowly. Thanks @wilsonng. My only concern with that is that if I stick with OF for the time being what to I do with reference material? If I stick it in OF I know it would niggle away in the back of my mind because ultimately I know it’s not in the right place for me.

Perhaps first read this thread …


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Yes , thanks. I might not copy you but a very good data point nonetheless.

I like what @DrJJWMac said about clarifying the function you need fulfilled, then working from there. Requirements first :)

I think it’s also then important to think about cross-platform needs. I mean, all my app choices are across iOS and macOS, but the reality is that I almost never mindmap on my phone or iPad (for example), so I should really optimize for my MacBook for that. Cloud seems like a sexy feature, but in some cases, it may be more marketing than a needed feature. But where you have to be cross-platform (for me, that’s OF and Ulysses), make damn sure that cross-platform is both possible and good haha.

Lastly, and maybe this sounds silly, but I think the apps should be a joy to use. If you need to look at that same interface many times a day for for hours long stretches, it should be fun and not repelling. This is why faculties like theming can be an important consideration, or at least a UI/UX that resonates.

I am probably wildly off topic now, but I think app selection is a pretty multi-dimensional proposition.


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I particularly like what you said about fun, @deturbulence

As the end user I want to be surprised and delighted by what I can do and the ease with which I can do it.

Which is why I find it harder to relate to the “define requirements first” line of thinking. I’m still discovering what’s possible and taking “this could make my life better” messages from that.

But then I’m a geek, I suppose. But such geekery defines my day job also: Extending the boundaries of my craft.

Putting these two together, stuff I do in Production is a result of sifting through what I discover is possible to find what is actually useful.

MindNode has an interesting export to OmniFocus feature. Create the mind map and export. It dumps into the OmniFocus inbox for you.

I think ithoughts has a similar feature coming soon.

For now, I can create a mind map in ithoughts. I can click on a branch or select the center node. Hit command-c to copy it. Then I go to my OmniFocus inbox and hit command-v to paste into the inbox. From there, I can assign contexts, defer, due dates, etc.

I’m waiting for a more complete ithoughts to OmniFocus export to transfer dates and contexts more easily. But for now, it works.

If you Google for OmniFocus workflows, you will see a wide range of different users explaining their workflow. Take bits and pieces of their examples and see how it fits into your system. But again, don’t try to do everything at one time. Slowly ease it in.

Your needs will change and you will eventually add workflows to suit your needs. Then you can drop some workflows that you no longer need.

One thing I got to work last year was effectively using my calendar as a complement to OmniFocus. Not everything belongs in OmniFocus. But only you can determine what belongs in OmniFocus and what belongs in the calendar,

I just started experimenting in the past few weeks with OmniFocus durations.

If I tried to adopt all of these workflows at the same time, I probably wouldn’t have gotten better at it.

Task management workflow is a journey. You will slowly add new tools to your toolbox. OmniFocus isn’t and shouldn’t be the one and only tool in your arsenal.


Can you share what your evidence is for an iThoughts -> Omnifocus export? And which platform do you expect this on? iOS or Mac OS or both?


@Jan_H posted this in another forum thread about mind mapping and OmniFocus.

You’d probably have to ask @Jan_H if he had further correspondence with Toketaware. For now, copying a branch in iThoughtsX and then pasting it into OmniFocus inbox works on my Mac.

Click on the thread link to read further. I think there was a Python script or Applescript that allowed interaction between OmniFocus and iThoughtsX but I never explored that avenue. You’ll find it in a web search.

That particular feature is fantastic! Being able to flesh out a project in mind node then without any ‘extra’ work simply transferring it into OF2 makes project planning a joy.

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I know that this thread is a few months old, but wanted to chime in on the topic of when to use a mind map vs an outlining tool. For me, there are several use cases that specifically start in one app or the other. I always turn to mind maps when it seems that I’m starting in the “middle” of something. For example, if I’m planning out a website, I’ll start with my home page in the middle and can start adding other features I want as satellites. There’s not really an order in which I think of those things and items get moved around a lot.

I turn to outliners first when I need to take notes (lectures, book notes, and the like) or think about how things will “flow” - this includes timelines/itineraries, documenting procedures, etc. For pure brain dumps, I can start with either method but I tend towards outlining since I generally tend towards the greater organization it provides.

When I’m then ready to capture concrete tasks, I actually rarely do any kind of automatic importing to OF. I find it helps me reevaluate my original thoughts if I go through them and figure out what is doable, what is reference, and what can be discarded. If it was just pure notes, then I skip OF all together and copy the document to either Evernote or DevonThink (that’s where I’m still on the struggle bus!) Anyway, just my two cents!

Oh and also @ajm1811, you might think about SimpleNote since you still use Windows! I have Windows at work and I use an Android - for quick text capture I think it’s great. Not a lot of frills but it’s EVERYWHERE and free, so that’s a win.


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I have to admit the first time I clicked your post I immediately closed it when I saw how long it was and how many apps you listed.

You sound like the past me.

Here’s what I do now:

  • OF2: Main capture tool for actionable items.
  • Microsoft OneNote: lists (books, games, etc), fleshing out ideas (life goals, projects), reference material
  • Paper: Brain dump and mind mapping, only when OneNote doesn’t do. (Sometimes I like to draw arrows). I find I only need this once a month or so.

I always have an iPhone with me, and I can add tasks at work on Windows via email.

OneNote works on iPhone, Mac, and Web (work)

I always have a tiny notebook with me for when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need a brain dump.

When I used so many separate programs I felt fragmented and I could never find anything. At one point I knew it was turning into a rube goldberg machine, but I didn’t care. These days I don’t have any extra time or energy and I just want something simple that works.