Repeating daily tasks?

From reading I think the answer to this question is “OmniFocus doesn’t do that,” but I thought I would ask.

Imagine a project titled “Morning Routine.” Under Morning Routine are some tasks: Exercise, Brush Teeth, Read Email, Clean Up Dog Poop, etc.

The behavior I want:

  • Morning Routine shows up in my Forecast for all future weekdays. (What good is a forecast if it doesn’t show you everything that you will be spending time on a week from Thursday?)

  • Clean Up Dog Poop and other specific actions do NOT show up in Forecast. (All I want in my Forecast is that I’ve got 90 minutes of stuff blocked out to start the day.)

  • During the course of the day I can check off things as I do them. At the end of the day, for example, perhaps I am well exercised and have clean teeth, but when I look at my day in OmniFocus there is that messy back yard, begging for attention.

  • Regardless of how much of that stuff I get done today, tomorrow OmniFocus shows me a clean slate of activities for a new incarnation of Morning Routine.

  • I can go back after the fact and confirm that I made my exercise goals for the last two weeks, but that the neighbors are probably getting tired of the smell.

Is there a straightforward way to accomplish something like that?

I suppose I could set up an automation that runs every day that does something like:

  • Delete all future instances of “Morning Routine”
  • Generate a month’s worth of projects called “Morning Routine” by duplicating “Morning Routine Template” into “Morning Routine”
  • Give each of those projects its own due date
  • At the end of the day shove the contents of the project (information about what has been checked off) into a database of some sort before deleting the project.

I could do that. But it’s a lot of work for what seems like an obvious use case for a powerful, subscription based task manager.

Setting aside the business with Forecast, is there a way to just show me a fresh incarnation of Morning Routine every day without worrying about whether I completed actions on previous days?

Thoughts?

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My advice is just remove them from OF and put them in a single file in another app Omnioutliner, Drafts, DEVONthink etc where you can refer to them if you need to.

Daily repeating tasks like these become habits and clog a system, you know they need doing, they are ingrained in memory or obvious when needed to be done. All you need in OF is a repeating task to review the external list every so often.

OF has done its job it’s trained you to do or consider doing these things, so they can safely be removed, ticking them off every day robotically actual compromises and/or pollutes your system.

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As you surmised, OF doesn’t do that. @TheOldDesigner’s wisdom (which I endorse) aside, OF doesn’t create the next instance of a repeating task (or group of tasks) until this instance is completed. This does mean that in your use case the forecast view a week on Thursday is misleading (although it doesn’t show that you’ll be going to the bathroom either) but recall that repeat intervals can be set relative to this instance’s completion, which means you can’t yet know when the next recurrence will be.

Something approaching your requested behaviour would as you say be achievable in Shortcuts or OmniAutomation

If it’s something you want to see consistently, I’d suggest putting them as an all day event or a scheduled appointment in your calendar app.

I have a “take out the trash” appointment every Wednesday night at 9 pm for the Thursday pickup. It has several notifications to nag me.

I put tasks that can be done at any time into OmniFocus. I use the calendar appointments for tasks that needs to happen at a fixed time (every Wednesday). You won’t get the satisfaction of “marking it off as complete.” But then again, I don’t think I’d congratulate myself for taking out the trash when it’s expected 🤷🏻‍♂️

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Yes, that’s more or less what I understood in terms of OmniFocus’s capabilities. I would argue (strongly) about the rest of the general wisdom. Among the things that I do professionally is work with people on accountability and consistency around behaviors. That is one of the contexts in which I am interested in OmniFocus; is it a tool that I might recommend to clients in that context? Having daily reminders and checking and tracking even minor tasks can be important in both establishing habits and keeping good habits going. Checking off an activity provides more of a dopamine hit than you might imagine. (I could also talk about executive function and the interaction between the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia in reaching the threshold needed to activate the motor cortex… but that would be kind of an over the top gratuitous way of suggesting that I know something of what I speak. ;-). ) A single keystone habit – in this case open up OmniFocus first thing in the morning – could be used to bootstrap a great deal more. That includes setting in motion a day of checking OmniFocus on a regular basis. Putting things into a calendar doesn’t do that. If it did, New Years resolutions would actually work.

I think the “wisdom” in the responses is more rationalization. OmniFocus doesn’t do it so it’s not something that I should want to do in the first place. That’s OK, though. Quoting a line from The Big Chill, “Rationalization is more important than sex. After all, when is the last time you went for a week without a rationalization?!”

But… That is neither here nor there. The purpose of the post was not to discuss the neuroscience of habit formation and maintenance. It was to ask if I was missing something in how to use OmniFocus. That question has been answered to my satisfaction. I will pursue other solutions. A sincere thank you to the responders!

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Why a Calendar would not work for this? It’s just a matter of getting a different habit. I think that what you’re looking after can be easily solved in Calendar.

I am not using a task manager any more (but I’m closely following OF4 as I am a productivity porn addict, that’s why I do the Iurk here), I believe you can also achieve that with Amazing Marvin that is a task manager with calendar capabilities. I can see my future repeating tasks perfectly scheduled on the day they are supposed to happen in the calendar view.

The straightforward way I would use is to create daily reminder tasks in advance, and a repeating checklist project.

The ‘Do the Morning Routine’ daily reminder tasks have a defer date (at 8:00) and a due date (at 22:00) for each day. That way they’ll appear as unavailable tasks in the Forecast on future days. You can easily generate a batch of these in a spreadsheet in TaskPaper format and paste them into OF.

The ‘Morning Routine’ project:

  • contains all the individual ‘checklist’ tasks
  • at the project level, has ‘Complete with last action’ selected
  • has a defer date (today’s date at 8:00)
  • is set to repeat every day, or on specific days of the week.

At the end of the day, you must have marked all the checklist tasks as either completed or dropped, or have dropped (skipped the occurrence of) the entire project.

The checklist tasks can be brought to attention in whatever way you prefer, eg. have the Forecast tag (‘Today’), be flagged, or appear in a ‘Routine’ perspective (a link to which could be included in the note of the daily reminder tasks). The dropped projects serve as the record of what was completed, and they’ll eventually get archived if you run Archive.

This forum is filled with descriptions of custom workflows which should ‘obviously’ be built in to the application. They can usually be implemented with OF’s functionality and some personal conventions; sometimes using Automation can streamline them.

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To be honest even if OF had the capability your seeking I would still say that once a habit has been established it’s not needed in OF. A reminder to check your maintaining them every so often yes, but what point a task you do without thinking then remember to tick off later?

Example, I had a morning routine project to process emails, post to social media (for various clients) update a couple of Shopify feeds again for a client, process any OF reviews, inbox etc. This became available weekdays at 7am.

My habit after a few months was to just fire up the laptop and start doing the above, often not opening OF until after the non OF tasks were done. I would then robotically just tick everything off and often later do the reviews. Ticking tasks off without thought may lead to a “rush” so does heroin at first. The long term effects of not thinking about your system inevitably leads to a system you do not trust and therefore can not rely on. At least in my opinion.

By the way this is not my “wisdom” but.borrowed heavily from the excellent book by @Kourosh Dini a noted psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.

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I’m mostly with you on this, @jeffhester, despite the received wisdom. I have used a mix of Omnifocus (proper projects) and Reminders (brush teeth, dog poop, etc) but it gets annoying having multiple apps to look in.

Here’s what I currently do:

  1. Non-project/repeater things that must happen each day are tagged “Ritual” and can be seen in my “Ritual” Perspective. They all have Notifications. They include: take meds, drink water, check if I need to get anything out of the freezer for dinner, tonight).

  2. Non-project/repeater things that would be good if I did, but nothing that bad would happen if I didn’t do them for few days, if at all. They are all named “Consider…” and have a “Consider” Perspective. None have notifications. They include: guitar practice, exercise, call family, habit things (useful shortcut keys), feed plants, etc. If I’m busy, I check that they have the … ellipsis in the circle, which means it’s a repeater and can be postponed or ticked-off (cheating, I know) and will re-appear when I might have more time.

  3. The rest are proper Omnifocus projects. Once a week I’ll check them, and the Review & Forecast Perspectives, and drag things into my calendar for the following week. I try to leave gaps in my calendar because I will check Forecast Perspective at the end of the day (+ email Inbox/work things) and put those into my calendar, say, for sometime over the next few days. I try to think of the Forecast Perspective as a thing to briefly check—and guide calendar filling—but not something that drives how today’s activities go.

I try to stick to a Pomodoro system and use the things that show up in the Rituals and Consider Perspectives as Pomodoro breaks, and to get up from my work station. I won’t really look at Omnifocus throughout the day, except for that. I’ll check my calendar throughout the day (which has Omnifocus project actions dragged in it from last Friday) in an attempt to get myself to stick to what I’d planned.

I suppose that I have accepted others’ suggestions that Omnifocus is really for planning & prioritising what happens in your calendar, not for ‘live’ do-right-this-minute things. Things like messy back yard is probably not a regular/repeating thing so I would just put this in my calendar and not include it in Omnifocus.

BTW, I find it useful to add (aspirational) Omnifocus project work to a particular calendar and have a separate calendar for meetings & appointments that have hard times. You can look at them on their own in Calendar (⌥ click, I think) and drag (aspirational) Omnifocus project events around if things go awry.

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This seems pretty straightforward and fairly easy to implement.

First, create a tag (named Morning Routine, for example).

Next, set up your morning routine tasks. Make them repeating weekly, but choose only the days M-F. Important: do not give them due dates, only defer dates. Assign to all the tasks the tag Morning routine. Set up one new task (say “Work on Morning Routine”). Weekly repeat, M-F, Morning Routine tag, but give it a due date and not a defer date.

Last, set up a custom perspective with two filter rules. First to show only Available tasks and second to show only tasks tagged with Morning Routine.

How does this all work together? The one task with a due date is the only one that shows up in the forecast. The custom perspective is the checklist of all current undone morning routine tasks (the ones with defer dates). When you check off a task with a defer date, the defer date is set to the next weekday and the task is no longer available. It doesn’t show in the perspective (today).

Flash forward to the next weekday. Morning Routine tasks you didn’t do last weekday carry over automatically and appear in the perspective. Tasks you did do are created anew and appear in the perspective.

Just be sure to mark off the “Work on morning routine” at the end of each day. If you don’t then it shows in the Forecast in the Past Due list instead of for the current day.

Takeaways. A task can be repeatable with a defer date, not just a due date. A task with only a defer date will not show in the Forecast (although there is a way to do that). Tasks with a defer date today or earlier are available; tasks with a defer date tomorrow or later are remaining. Perspectives can filter to exclude tasks that are remaining.

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While I do understand the rationale around the “standard wisdom” of leaving habits outside of OF…

This. A thousand times this!

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It seems to me that this could be handled with a daily recurring task called “Morning routine” along with a soft calendar entry*, repeating daily (or whatever days are relevant) that blocks out the time and thus would appear on your future forecast dates. You get the dopamine hit, if you need that, by clicking the one recurring task.

*I have three calendars. My “hard” calendar includes necessary commitments, like weekly staff meetings. My “firm” calendar is for things that have a set time that I would like to do if my time and energy permit, like lectures, concerts, etc., but that aren’t necessary. My “soft” calendar is where I block out time to work on my areas of responsibility. E.g., I try to block out a few hours a week for writing projects, but I can move them if an essential meeting has to be scheduled during those times.

You just described something like what I put together and am trying out. But I have not played a lot with defer dates… There is much to learn and try, and I will continue to tinker. I’m happy sitting down, opening Script Debugger, and slinging some AppleScript. This might be as good a project as any to learn a bit about scripting OmniFocus.

Again, thanks for comments. Like most such systems, there are probably as many ways to skin a cat as there are people motivated enough to look for a way. There are lots of interesting thoughts here.

Habit modification and maintenance is an interesting conversation in its own right. I don’t know Kourosh Dini’s work, but I do know a lot about approaches to habit formation and change. I recommend Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” as a good introduction to the field. A fact about habits is that even after they have set, the old, efficient, myelinated neural pathways remain, ready to execute again given the correct triggers. To remain in place, new habits need reinforcement. Even small dopamine hits – such as drawing a line through an item on a list or in this case checking something off in an app – are a huge part of the habit loop. (A cool and important fact: As something becomes a habit, the dopamine hit moves from occurring after executing the behavior to BEFORE executing the behavior. You literally get the dopamine hit of getting to cross the item off the list at a time when that hit matters in reaching the threshold needed to pursue the action.) A ton of research indicates that keeping desired habits active requires both monitoring of whether the habit is still being executed (without data it is amazingly easy to slip without realizing it), as well as active reinforcement. I won’t start citing the scientific literature, but will give a few examples. That is why people tend to get out of habits like exercising, and why the three rings on the Apple Watch and iOS are there. Those not only provide the nice little dopamine hit of seeing rings go around and feeling the haptic on your wrist, but they also provide a calendar so that you can tell at a glance how you are doing. That is why people who lose weight tend to regain it, and why the most successful weight loss programs (e.g., Noom) poke you when you fail to weigh in and log your weight at the same time each day. And again, as soon as you log your weight a plot showing the history of your weight appears. That is why addicts talk about being in recovery rather than cured, and why programs like AA are, for many, key to staying clean. The list goes on. Any serious program of habit modification will involve providing dopamine hits for continued execution, no matter how small, along with active monitoring and recording of execution allowing data-driven accountability.

BTW, this seems relevant conversation here because it goes to the usage cases for an app like OmniFocus.

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Calendars don’t work for me personally for a lot of the same basic reasons that overusing due dates in OmniFocus is discouraged. Some of this may be the type of work that I do. I predominately work from home (not only because of COVID), and have a variety of tasks (writing, research, working on group projects, working on presentations, administrative stuff, etc.), but no external drivers on when and how to focus my attention at any given moment. I am finding OmniFocus useful in bringing some structure to that. I am playing with a morning routine of going through and assigning a Forecast Tag (Today) to the activities that I want to tackle that day.

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