OmniFocus3 - Save Our Contexts

I’m a long time Omni* user and am very excited to hear about the changes coming in OmniFocus3. However, I am disappointed to hear about the plans to remove the concept of contexts altogether.

Contexts are a sacred concept to GTD and I am sure that GTD proponents still make up a large percentage of your user base. I don’t think it makes sense to make it less useful to us in order to simplify the system for those who do not use GTD.

I believe contexts should still be a first-class citizen (albeit an optional one to accommodate new users). I love the idea of tags but I think they should be there to augment contexts, not to replace them. With the ability to assign multiple to each task, tags are very powerful, but they are going to get used to represent all sorts of different information across tasks like:

  • energy level: #highenergy

  • priority: #urgent

  • who’s involved: #john

  • tie in to goals: #exercisemore

This is all useful information that I may want to use to slice and dice my tasks. However, context still makes sense as it’s own field because in GTD, I’m going to assign one and only one to every task. I’m also going to be looking at my tasks often by context and don’t want to see all those other tags with other information in the list. This is the way that I have seen several other todo lists do things: context + tags.

Now, I can definitely understand why contexts are confusing to non-GTD users and I fully support making OmniFocus flexible enough to support different methodologies. I, however, don’t think you need to make OF less usable to the GTD aficionados to do that. You can make contexts optional. If they are disable, you hide the context view and don’t require them for clean up.

You can make the on-boarding process easy for new users by having an initial setup wizard prompt them if they want to use GTD or a simplified methodology, which would then automatically drive this configuration option.

So, I think it is indeed possible to get the best of both worlds: continue to make OF powerful for GTD or whatever other methodology people want to use.




This doesn’t make any sense, you can use tags just as you use context, you are not losing anything.


It’s mostly a change in terminology. Instead of using the label “context”, switch to the label “tags.”

From the Omni Roadmap 2018, it looks like tags will retain all the properties of tags (active, on hold, dropped). But now we can have multiple tags. We can still use just one tag or multiple tags on a task.

I think this was the same type of friction that we had when we switched from OF1 to OF2. OF1 used the term “Start Date.” In OF2, that label was changed to “Defer Date.” It’s mostly psychological when we’re re-adjusting to a new label but it works just the same.


I agree, Daryl.

I see where Daryl is coming from, but I am cautiously optimistic this will work.

It would be nice to be able to mark a tree of tags as only allowing one from that tree. That would allow a Contexts tree of tags that behaved the classic way and also allow new tags from other fields. If that tree could be color-coded, then the Context could be visually distinctive. Interested to see how the final implementation looks.

Couldn’t agree more strongly. Keep contexts and add tags.

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You are correct, I don’t lose anything, but I also don’t gain anything. If I just use tags just for contexts, then I still have a nice organized list of my contexts under tags. However, if I start taking advantage of the fact that I can assign multiple tags to a task (which I want to do) and use them for other things, I get one big cluttered list of tags that could represent things from people to energy level to priority. There is no place I can go to just see my list of contexts anymore. That’s why I think it makes sense to have both.

Yes, your message really gets to the heart of my concern. Really what I’m asking for is the ability to group tags, so I can filter/organize my tasks by a subset of them. I could have one group for Context, one for Energy Level, one for Priority, one for Area of Responsibility, etc… Even if they just kept context around, I would still have the issue with cluttered tags for these other groupings – I’d just be more apt to accept it since I most commonly filter things by context.

If my memory serves me correctly, the GTD book does not ever actually say “one and only one context [per task]”. It might be more appropriate to realize that GTD has not aged with the times (i.e. it was cultivated prior to the information technology age and was geared more towards paper-based systems). Tags are the natural evolution after contexts. The terminology change is irrelevant to the actual functionality (they could be called contexts, tags, labels, categories, classifications, etc. but they are all the exact same thing).

GTD aficionados, as you call them, are not the only user group Omni has in regards to their sales mix. Omni needs to care about all of their user groups and make sure their application stays relevant considering that a lot of other task management software programs have a feature similar to (or exactly called) tags while Omni has consistently failed to deliver such a feature for years to their paying customers who have repeatedly asked for the feature.

I am on the side of Omni needs to step away of being a pure GTD program and come into the next generation of task management with other systems that are as good or better compared to GTD. Also, they need to make a profit and GTD is not that popular anymore nor is it a “buzzword” for productivity anymore.

Just my thoughts on this. I cannot wait for OmniFocus 3 as I (and many other users) have completely disregarded OmniFocus 2 as being all but irrelevant for effective modern day productivity. Hopefully, OmniFocus 3 changes my perspective (pun intended).


Multiple tags (or contexts) add functionality, and also complexity. Both things come together. You could create a tag as a different category as contexts, or make tags a subcategoty whithin each context, but again this is more complexity. I suppose you could have a parameter in preferences to opt in or out of multiple tags feature, though I don’t see much gain from it.

What I’m trying to say is that I think we ‘lose’ simplicity to be able to gain flexibility. It will take us some time to adjust, but in my opinion we gain more than we loose.

Lets wait to see how this is finally implemented and hope for the best

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I agree. I was in favor of keeping Contexts and adding Tags as a field. I would plan to use them differently. It’s more than just a terminology change, it’s a philosophy change. I will probably adjust to it fine, but my vast preference would be just to add tags as an additional field.

You’ll be able to do this because Tags will have hierarchy just as Contexts do now. You can create a top-level for Context, another for Goals, etc.


Cool, that works for me! Will I be able to assign a color to each tag hierarchy to make it easy to identify when looking at the task?

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This is exactly how I hoped it would work. After several false starts over the years (yes, that long), I found Context structure that has lasted me almost a year and it is heavily hierarchical. Happy that I can continue in this way, or try out what I suspected I’d like and go with a much flatter list.

Colors and other customization aren’t in the app currently (we never had anything like this for Contexts); we’ll be watching customer feedback closely during TestFlight.


Emoji has made ALL the difference in making my contexts useful.


I am really looking forward to multi-tag fuctionality, and I am very pleased to hear that hierarchies will be preserved. Bravo! I echo daryl’s call for colors, although I would prefer them to be free-form (manual and scripted) settings rather than being tied to levels of hierarchy.

To me, the success of multi-tag will depend on how they can be used in searching, filtering, reminders, and perspectives. I do have confidence in this Omnigroup team!

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I argue that contexts didn’t need color before because they represented a single dimension. The context always appeared in the same place on the task and you knew it was a context, since that is the only “tag” that was supported.

With support for multiple hierarchies of tags that can each represent different dimensions, ideally I would have some way of quickly identifying what tag type I’m looking at when scanning a list. It doesn’t have to be colors, it could be a custom icon or some other way to differentiate – but ideally it would be easy to differentiate between tag types.

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I could love color in the form of conditional background highlighting of task items!

So, for example, if you had a #high_priority tag, the background could be shaded automatically. This would mean that instead of having #high_priority items requiring its own list or group, #high_priority items could be highlighted in every group it’s in. It would provide an immediate visual cue that an item in any list needs special attention.

However, I think it should extend to projects as well, or other criteria, e.g., I want every task in my home remodeling project to have a yellow background; or I want all tasks that are less than ten minutes in duration to be highlighted with a blue background; all tasks associated with cost of some sort should be green; etc.

Juts returned here after flirting with ToDoist for a year (back on OF now) Tags are powerful and with anything powerful comes the option to abuse and misuse.

For me I will stick with one tag initially I think, to keep my system working, but I am sure I will expand the system as cleverer people than me come up with good systems.

Let me say I have never read GTD or really have any plan to, from seeing a lot of people have an almost religious zeal for it( that alone would put me off) it appears that it has not as someone stated above worn that well in terms of technology moving on, I will now duck and await the flack.

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