Organizing nested Areas of Responsibility in Omnifocus

Hi everyone,

I’ve been using OF for about half a year, and I’m loving it. However, after this experimental phase, I’m pretty sure I need to re-vamp my Folder/Projects/Contexts system. I’m looking for a bit of advice.

In my work as a manager, I have multiple teams, committees, projects, and routines. My first inclination is to put all my “Areas of Responsibility” as nested folders, and specific goal-oriented groups of tasks as projects. For example, a hierarchy such as this:

Folder: Home
Folder: Personal Development
Folder: Work
Sub-folder: Case Management team
Sub-folder: Client Liaison team
Sub-folder: Management team
Sub-folder: Ongoing Database Development
Project: New Calendar Tool
Task: Send concept to ED for review
Sub-folder: Budget
Sub-folder: Curriculum Development
Sub-folder: Health & Safety Committee
Sub-folder: Reporting
Sub-folder: Staff Development
Sub-folder: Recruiting
Sub-folder: Onboarding

However, I’ve found that any deeper than two levels of folders is too deep, and even two is hard. Things just get convoluted, complicated hard to find. The folder names get too long to see on the iPhone. Etc.

Also, If I have all of these “Areas of Responsibilities” folders, It seems like I have to have a “Single Action List” Project for every separate Area of Responsibility in each level of the hierarchy (e.g., “Work Single Action List”, "Budget Single Action List; Curriculum Single Action List, Health & Safety Single Action List, etc.) for all my actions that fall under a particular responsibility, but don’t have a project. If I just have one Single Action List project, where I dump all of my Single Action Items, then it splits up my tasks. My projects in a certain team/responsbility are under the appropriate folder whereas Single Items in the same area of responsibility are under the one Single Action List project.

Another option would be to keep all of my Work projects on one level of the hierarchy (under Work), and use contexts to identify Area of Responsibility.

Any thoughts on the most effective way to organize when you have dozens of nesting Areas of Responsibility?


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I recently went through this process myself, actually. YMMV, but here were the key things I wanted to solve for:

  1. How might I see what projects/tasks need my attention?
  2. How might I be best triggered, in a Weekly Review, to think of tasks I should be putting in?
  3. How might I simplify things to ensure the organization part of my workflow is thorough enough to catch everything, but generally unencumbered?

I landed on a three folder structure:

  1. Outcomes: these are all the projects, parallel or sequential that have an end state. I did have various sub folders here for work vs. team support vs. home, but found that separating these out afforded me no value; if my list here is too long, it means I need to put more projects on hold (either manually or assigning an on hold context like ‘Someday/Maybe’). I am also brutal with defer times (i.e. things at home are deferred until 4pm but work tasks become available much earlier in the day, for example).
  2. Domains: These are single action projects that do not have an end, and so serve as buckets for areas of responsibility. These, again, include personal and professional lists, from “My Team” to “Kids” to “Home and Household” to “Car”.
  3. Checklists: Similar to domains, this is a collection of single action projects that don’t end, but that serve more specific purposes. They pretty much all represent Someday/Maybe lists for tasks that are likely not actionable when clarified and organized, but will become actionable later. These are, for example, “Books to Read”, “Gift Ideas”, “Things I Want”, “Family Activity Ideas”. These are the seeds of future projects.

Keys to managing this include:

  • ruthless deferral of anything I’m not going to action now to keep the lists in perspectives clean
  • placing all projects not getting my attention in the next week on hold, but keep all domains always active
  • review weekly or daily to flip projects between active and on hold states (I even create tasks like “send email to so-and-so about this project, then place project on hold” to remind myself what should or should not be on my radar)

Thought I’d share in case it provides any inspiration. I used to have many folders, as you have suggested, but found that they didn’t add any value to how I organized, viewed, or reviewed my tasks, and made keyboard completion that much more awkward for organizing or creating new projects via Quick Entry.

Good luck!



FWIW, I use the following sort of structure and very rarely get more than 2 folders deep for anything:

  • Work
    • Work Misc. (single action project)
    • Client A (folder)
      • Client A Misc. (single action project)
      • appeal court’s decision on Client A’s case (project)
    • Client B (folder)
      • Client B Misc (single action project)
      • negotiate operating agreement for Client B (project)
  • Community
    • PTA Misc. (single action project)
    • Neighborhood Association Misc. (single action project)
  • Home
    • (etc.)

Basically, I have folders for broader GTD areas of responsibility populated by folders or projects. If there’s no project (i.e. defined outcome requiring multiple steps), I’ll just collect the miscellaneous tasks in a “Misc.” list for that client/area of responsibility. I don’t create a folder unless there’s more than one project in a given area of responsibility.

It works for me, and the “Misc.” naming convention keeps names short for easier reading.

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On a side note, I’ve adopted the convention of putting the names of Single Action Lists in square brackets to clearly distinguish them from Parallel/Sequential Projects (i.e. what David Allen would call a “project”).

To reference @cpac’s example, the single action list for Client A would be called “[Client A]”, the single action list for the neighbourhood association would be “[Neighborhood Association]”, etc.

It’s a simple convention to adopt and I find it’s one that adds clarity.


Same as @timstringer here, with one addition: my checklists are named with braces.

While I have [Home&Household Activities] and other SALs, I also have {Shopping List} and other checklists (non-actionable SALs, if you like)


Good breakdown of your areas of responsibilities. In practice, I find that these breakdowns serve more as reference. Ask yourself this question: Are you doing “Recruiting” projects all the time? how about “Budget”? If the answer is no, then you could get away by making a mindmap of all your areas of responsibilities and add it to your weekly review. I.E. ask yourself: are there any projects I should add for this area of responsibility?

Also, having the granularity of a single action list for each folder could add TREMENDOUS mental overhead to maintain. Lots of things would just get lost and take a long time to review.

I like to use an Agile Results paradigm where I divide all my life in 10 folders:

Home Projects

I nest Mind/Body/Emotions into a folder called my First Name. The “Career” folder has a “Backlogged Projects” and an “Admin” folders. One with work projects On Hold and another one with Work routines. Also, I keep only 2 single action lists. One for personal and one for work stuff. That’s it.

I have mindmaps that go on great detail on what each Folder/Area of Life encompasses. They look similar to the outline of your folders. As part of my Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly reviews I ask myself a series of questions like “Am I spending enough time on this particular area? Should I spend more/less?”. These work as triggers for new projects that go into their respective Folder for each Area of Life.

I found that creating a folder for each aspect and to make sure that each folder was in the correct folder became cumbersome, even with shortcuts. This setup paired with the correct contexts for me plus a couple special perspectives has helped me immensely to go from spending time tweaking my system to consistently getting things done in a timely fashion.

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Lots of interesting thoughts, here.

Your setup is really interesting, @deturbulence!

Do you think there is a particular advantage in having multiple single action lists instead of one?

When it’s time to work, one can focus on this single action project and switch to context view filtering by available. I think it gives a good view of available one-off tasks and doesn’t add more projects to review. But I will appreciate if you could give me your opinion.

For me, the advantage is in planning vs. doing.

When I review, I like to look at project-based perspectives (as you suggest) to see each discrete list/project as a trigger for a “do I need to add anything new about this?” kind of question.

When I’m doing, I work from a contexts-based perspective, so I do according to the options that my contexts afford me (I don’t have many contexts, but use them to filter out tasks I can’t do based mostly on location, and also one for VPN in to work, since I can’t do such things from, say, my iPad). In this way, it doesn’t matter which list/project the task is on, I just see the tasks, so it becomes a flat list, like you say.

Hope that clarifies!



It clarifies a lot. Very interesting approach. Thank you for the explanation.

  1. How often do you review these kind of single action projects?
  2. Do you have a particular method for the organizing stage?

I ask because I only have one Single Action project. Since I have few contexts and use No Context a lot, it doesn’t take very long to file each one-off task into its appropriate place.

  1. Typically, my Weekly Review covers the frequency. I’d say I review my outcome projects much more frequently, though.
  2. I think the organizing stage and my definition of my lists have a symbiotic relationship. In other words, through organizing what I have for tasks and in mindsweeping additional ones, it becomes clear to me what kinds of lists I must have in order for all my things to find a place, and which then act as placeholders for future reviews.
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I wonder if (hopefully still being developed Tagging might not help with this a lot. I too am drowning in folders and pruning over getting things done and have to make a change to how I run my system.