In all fairness, many of us who have been following the more “canon” GTD methodologies for a while have adopted the concept of “hard landscape” takes, and if you read through the forums @DOm you’ll probably discover a number of posts like that. A lot of what is on here is as much about philosophy as it is about technical issues, and I know that I’ve personally benefited greatly from some of the alternative ways of thinking and looking at things that folks like @DrJJWMac have provided over the years. There’s a lot of proselytizing that goes on, and if you’re happy with the system you’ve got, you can safely ignore it, but again many folks, myself included, really do appreciate the alternative viewpoints.
So on the basis of that, I offer the following… as I said above, feel free to stop reading if you’re happy with your system, but if you’re curious about some of the other ways of thinking and some of the different ways that OmniFocus can handle things compared to traditional systems, it’s worth at least reading on. To be clear, this system is what works for me, and you’ll find a couple of dozen other opinions around these boards easily. What works for me may not work for you, or anybody else, but many of our systems are a hodge-podge of ideas and influences we’ve gathered from each other over the years.
One of those “GTD philosophies” is the idea of “hard landscapes” – the principle that one should not assign ‘artificial’ due dates to things because that defeats the ‘mind like water’ concept that GTD espouses and creates artificial stress. After ten years in project management and about 15 years of playing with different task management systems, I’ve definitely found this to be true in my own case – add “due dates” to too many things, and ultimately you begin to ignore them completely and the really important things end up getting lost in the shuffle.
This is why I appreciate OmniFocus’ use of Defer Dates. Almost everything I put into OmniFocus uses Defer Dates and Flags, and Due Dates are used only for those “hard landscape” tasks that must be done by a certain date or time. These are tasks that usually involve tangible consequences, whether they be personal or professional.
Of course, when getting started in OmniFocus, it’s easy to miss some of the more powerful flexibility in there and just treat everything as a calendar-style to-do list. This is especially true if you’ve come from about 90% of the other task management systems out there, which pretty much force you into that.
For me, the real power of OmniFocus, however, is in its ability to work with custom perspectives, defer dates, flags, and more in order to fine-tune your views so that you end up with lists of things that need to be done, without creating an inappropriate sense of urgency. For example, my tasks generally fit into one of four broad categories:
High Priority “Hard Landscape” Tasks — These get a flag AND a due date. They may also get a defer date if I can’t start them until a certain point in the future.
Normal “Hard Landscape” Tasks — These simply get a due date. I usually don’t bother with defer dates, as my set of perspectives will result in them not showing up until they’re “due soon” (24 hours in
High Priority Tasks — These get a flag. No due date.
Normal Priority Tasks — No flag, no due date.
In any of the above four cases, I may set a defer date for tasks that I can’t do anything with until a certain time. This is especially true for “flagged” tasks, as I generally work from a perspective that includes all available flagged tasks. Repeating tasks almost always get defer dates and “defer another” repeats. For example, most of my household chores, like “Clean Bathroom” don’t get Due Dates. They get repeating defer dates, with “Defer Another” as the repeat. Some will be flagged as they’re higher priority, others don’t get a flag as they’re “when I get around to them” types of tasks. In either case, they’re never “due” but rather simply appear on my list when they’re available – usually “x” number of days after the last time I did them.
In terms of my daily routine, I end up in a situation where my Forecast View is only used for stuff that is critically important. Stuff that has to be done on that date, or else something bad will happen. Some household chores have ended up there in the past – I used to have a cat that would start relieving herself elsewhere if her highness’ litter box wasn’t changed every second day. As crazy as it sounds, that was a “hard landscape” for me, despite that it might be a routine chore for others. Cleaning the bathroom is considerably less important – I usually like to get to it on the weekend, so it gets a flag, and I try to get to it when I can. For me, however, putting a due date on it results in a sense of urgency that really isn’t appropriate… I may have more important things to do on a given weekend, and don’t need to be nagged or feel like a failure if I didn’t happen to get around to my cleaning.
Beyond Forecast View, I have a key perspective called “Hotlist” that shows me all available tasks that are Due or Flagged, sorted by Due Dates. So the important stuff goes up top, the semi-important stuff is on there. I rarely have more than about a dozen tasks on that list at any given time, and everything there is stuff I expect to get to within the next couple of days, but the beauty of it is that stuff “floats” on that list until I actually get around to it. However, it’s still there nagging me every day, so I don’t forget about it.
The non-flagged tasks only appear in contexts or perspectives that I visit when I’m specifically in those modes. Household chores are the best example of this… Most of these aren’t flagged at all, but when I decide to roll up my sleeves and do some cleaning on Saturday morning, I’ll pull up my “Home” context and see everything that’s available in there. Many of these are still repeating tasks with “defer another” on them, so I may need to wash the bedding every two weeks, and it will therefore only appear on my list if it hasn’t already been done in the past two weeks.
Of course, as OmniFocus uses the GTD methodology, a bit key to this process is the Review section… The system is designed to let you go through your projects on a regular basis to brainstorm and see what you should be doing with them. Each project can even have a different review cycle, so things that rarely need to be revisited can be reviewed every couple of months, while things that are more changeable can be reviewed on a weekly basis.
As one final note, I find there’s a temptation – especially now that forecast mode is in the mix – to try and use OmniFocus as a Calendar. I don’t think it’s well designed to work that way, and there are still things that a traditional Calendar is far better suited to. OmniFocus’ Forecast view even has the benefit of showing you your calendar appointments in the Forecast view, so clearly even Omni recognizes this approach to some degree. Things like TV shows wouldn’t ever go into OmniFocus for me if they’re scheduled items – they’d go into my calendar, with normal calendar alarms if necessary. Similarly, I’ll often block out a couple of hours on a Saturday morning to do “Weekly Cleaning” – that’s not a task in OmniFocus, but rather an appointment for myself. The tasks in OmniFocus are what I do during that timeframe. I don’t need to check off “Weekly Cleaning” but rather the individual things I do during that time.
Anyway, sorry if this is a little long-winded. Take it for whatever it’s worth, and again, feel free to completely ignore it if you’re happy with the system you have and it works for you. I only share for you and others because I know that I’ve gained so much over the years from other people’s perspectives on how to approach things, and I find that even now I’m always rethinking my approach every few months and finding better ways to do things. In fact, life is fluid, and the system that works for you now may not work from you six months or two years from now.