Processing my inbox into nested outlines?

So here’s a daily annoyance. I’m processing my inbox. Most items are new tasks in nested outlines, but only the project name shows up in the droplist and I can’t quickly assign hierarchy. Sometimes, the inbox item is a whole new top-level item requiring subtasks and settings for sequential/parallel/defer/due dates.

I have two choices for doing this:

  1. Assign the project, switch to the project, drag it and brainstorm. The break in the workflow makes it very difficult to finish inbox processing; I am profligate about putting stuff in there.

  2. Just assign the project, which means it’s appended to the end without necessary further processing until my weekly review (which sometimes takes a LOT longer to get to). When I do, the ideas are no longer fresh. And it nags at me that I’ve got projects that I haven’t analyzed, broken down into manageable tasks, and I might miss deadlines. And likewise, this makes it difficult to finish a comprehensive review in a reasonable timeframe.

Is there a more efficient way of doing this? What are your methods? I’m not on Pro. Yet. Eventually I’m going to get sick of not having AppleScript.

Amended to add: I see from other discussions that some people do this with a two-window setup that allows them to see a project outline in one window and the inbox in an overlapping one. I have two problems with this:

  1. OmniFocus gets a full-screen dedicated space, and I have hotkey macros set up for this that relies on it always being in space 5. Switching to two-window on screens 1-4 (my workspaces) is suboptimal, taking a while to set up and a while to restore. I think I’d actually have to write a checklist for this.

  2. The nested outline only shows top-level items; sometimes, I need to immediately check off completed tasks, set new due dates and defers, and flags.

Basically, I think what I want is a hotkey popup window showing the project, or a three-pane view (Inbox, a specific project, Inspector). But I don’t think I can have that until the Omni elves build it.

I’ve come up with two ideas on how to do this.

  1. external monitor and two windows. I use Duet on my iPad to do this. It’s suboptimal; I need to set it up and have enough space to do so (sometimes an issue at Starbucks, my preferred workspace). But might do the trick.

  2. 10.11+ full screen split-view. But the problem: I create two windows, anchor the first one to the left side, and then can’t choose the other one. Apparently, there’s an arbitrary (and weird) restriction on using two windows from the same app.

I could create two different instances of OmniFocus and run them simultaneously, but I’m not going to try that until someone at Omni assures me this won’t break my database.

I suppose that even if I haven’t ponied up for AppleScriptable OmniFocus Pro yet, this might be doable with System Events, as everything I want is window manipulation and menu triggers. If I can do that, then I’m happy switching to two normal side-by-side windows, and switching back, using two scripts. A pain to write and troubleshoot, but a solution.

Wait. I just looked in Script Editor, and the OmniFocus AppleScript dictionary is there. This is available in non-Pro? I thought this was a Pro feature.

There is a toggle in Preferences to allow Inbox to be seen in the Projects perspective. Have you tried that? If I’m following your needs correctly, I feel like that’d help?


Not quite. That lets me get from the inbox to a project, but I want to target it to a task outline within a project. Nearly every project I have has one.

The dual monitor solution is working well for me today, but I’d also like a solution for when I can’t set that up.

Command-clicking the project to show its task outlines in the same view as the inbox, and then dragging?

Ah, I see what you mean, @jeffporten.

For me, I avoid action groups, as I find them problematic for a few reasons. Instead, I have articulated more projects, though about folder structure, and indeed started writing two-part tasks (a simple example being: “Empty the dryer and move clothes from the washer in to the empty dryer”).


I handle this by assigning to a project and flagging the items that need post-processing. Then I can easily find them for the outlining step.

I would also suggest that if you’re building a LOT of very elaborate outlines, it might make sense to promote some levels to full projects and use folders for some of the hierarchy. Also, it goes against some of our instincts sometimes, but there’s such a thing as too much structure.

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