Revamping My OmniFocus Structure

I like this, especially given I’m a teacher my time often is dictated by school breaks when it comes to personal projects.

I need to download OmniFocus 3 for my iPad as I still have 2 on it.

As I said in another forum (cough cough MPU), I have a running document about my light observations with my OmniFocus workflow. I think right now I’m in a sweet-spot. I decided to create two tags in OmniFocus 3. One is 1) Do Now and the other is 2) Can Do. These determine what tasks I need to do vs what tasks I can do. I then have a routines perspective as well and I made due dates to order these by due date. I’ll evaluate as I go but it seems to be working well so far as I’m getting the little tasks (routines) out of the way which makes room for the more important tasks. I’ve honestly stopped using flags much as there’s no way to prioritize flagged items before other due items in OmniFocus’s custom perspectives.

I think I’ll put in a reminder or something about reevaluating my OmniFocus usage during school breaks and summer. Maybe I’ll start compiling my ideas or perspectives I find and throw it into a folder or bin in DevonThink. Where is your “experiments journal” located? I’d imagine it’s digital, not physical correct?

I too am intrigued by @rosemaryjayne’s usage of automation within Workflow and Drafts. Personally, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of those apps though I’d imagine her new podcast with David Sparks will help both bring me up to speed and poke my interest in adapting things as needed.

I think here you brought something up that I needed to be reminded of. One is that often times I found that I downloaded these apps and services without determining what problem they solved in part because they were cool. Right now, for instance, I’m looking into how I can start using Alfred and DevonThink to my benefit. I suppose baby steps as you’ve written about before your routines and systems didn’t develop overnight. I think for this reason reflection especially in regards to workflows and productivity is more important than we sometimes acknowledge. Often in this day and age, we forget to stop and think about why we are doing something or what’s necessary to accomplish a wanted goal. My biggest goal over the past couple of months was to both revamp OmniFocus as well as reduce the projects I have. I’ve been successful in that. Now as my needs change in the short and long term then my usages of both OmniFocus and other apps will change too.

I have a DevonThink database that is full of articles, links, videos about OmniFocus and other workflow ideas. I have a folder that’s called “This Month’s experiments”. It’s usually one to two things in there. July has Workflow and Drafts articles to explore. This month, I’m curious about creating templates. I never needed this before but it looks like I’ll need it now.

I can read and explore the articles. If I master it, I move it into another folder called “Bedrock Workflows”. This holds what I think are the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for me.

If I don’t like it, I can put it into the “Evaluated” folder. I put a note about why I didn’t want this (at least right now). I might save it for the future to revisit but I’m pretty much done with it. I don’t think I’ve really looked back inside this folder in a while. I’ve tried it, read it, and I’m done with it.

The last folder is the Backlog folder. I have it grouped by type of workflow. There are subfolders for Calendar, OmniFocus, Things, Energy, Health, etc. I’ve gotten lazy and haven’t really tagged anything yet. I trust DevonThink’s smart search to link related articles together. My folders structure is organized enough that I haven’t needed tags to organize. When I’m done with this month’s experiments, I’ll look in here and see if there are any new articles to read and try to implement.

I don’t try to tackle too many at one time. There are just too many things to try to adopt at once. There are even some articles I’m not yet ready for. I know that OF3 has a Forecast tag but I haven’t found a use for it. There’s a note that says “look at Forecast tags” in DevonThink. But I usually will skip this one. Maybe I’ll find a use for it in the future and will finally evaluate it. But I’m not in a rush because it doesn’t solve a problem for me today.

I do this DevonThink experiments because I’m at the Productivity Guild thinking about this kinda stuff.

Your experiments might need to have a focus? What issues are you interested in? Currently, I have OF3, Energy, Health, Positive Thinking, Relationships, Food. Trying to work in different areas can get stressful if I have too many experiments going on. I’ll choose two or three to focus on.

There are also many articles in my backlog, I’ll try to quickly scan through these and start deleting like crazy. Sometimes doing a quick read will tell you if you want something from it. You might want to save it and keep it in backlog or just delete it now.

I see a lot of OF3 threads here. If I see a reply that perks my interest, I’ll send a link and copy of the text to DevonThink if I want to explore it further.

Good luck.

Are these things that you use on a regular basis? I like this idea simply because I know some of the things I do on a regular basis but don’t have it held anywhere. Usually strewn about in a few places if any otherwise just solely in my head.

I like your thing about the “evaluated folder”. Kinda like an archived folder of sorts.

This Backlog folder is interesting to me. Is the Backlog folder where things go you want to continue working on and have articles and things stored (such as OmniFocus perspectives you come across) that you think about implementing? I too haven’t tagged much though I also find myself wanting to tag stuff when it’s in the inbox, not once I file it into a folder group in DevonThink.

What’s the difference between your “Experiments” folder and “Backlog”? Is the backlog stuff you just haven’t gotten to try and experiments a on deck circle or things your currently trying. I find myself very easily trying to do or implement too many things at once. I am once again reminded that for instance I don’t need to become a Mac Power User for example overnight. Also the idea of baby steps and not biting off more then I can chew too quick.

Currently I imported my Evernote stuff into my Personal database and I need to sort that out. A good project for the weekend or rest of the month gradually.

Right now I have two databases, one called Teaching and another called Personal. Are your experiments in a separate database? A bit off topic from originally but curious. I think I’ll also look on the DevonThink forums to see what databases people have as well. I have another database that I created on my phone called Apps and Workflows. I think this is where I might keep stuff that I’m either working to implement, implemented, etc. I think part of my struggle or slight dilemma is in my logic in which I clip a article about running for example and want to put that into a Personal or Research database. It would either be something interesting I found about running or something I want to try. Maybe I’m struggling with differentiating between the two.

I do like your idea of focusing on a couple of experiments at a time so as to not get overwhelmed. I love the idea of the backlog and I think I’ll start throwing in my articles I want to read into their and others. Maybe I’ll link up my RSS feeds to DevonThink as well. Email is something else I might want to throw in a database.

Honestly not sure if that was just rambling and coherent enough. Simply put I’d like to compartmentalize stuff so it’s easy to find when for example i want to get more into Drafts or improve on my usage of OmniFocus 3. I also can probably set a reminder to review or pick some area of focus when I have time.

1 Like

Yes, these are the official ones I have adopted. In the beginning, I’ll print it out and refer to it if I’m doing a review, or planning a project.

It’s dangerous to have pieces strewn in different places. Create a binder or text document that you call “Getting Things Done with Jonathan Davis.” This will be your manual. Even I forget why I’m doing something or I might be skipping a step.

It is a folder in DevonThink containing various articles I’ve clipped. It might be a PDF or a Rich Text document. When I have time, I’ll sort through and quickly delete a few things. It might be a duplicate of another workflow. Bloggers sometimes will take another blog post and re-word it with a different perspective. It’s like going to the doctor…

“Hey Doc, just tell me in plain English what do I have? I don’t want 6 syllable Latin words that only a pre-med student knows. Just tell me in plain English. Thanks.”

I might have put in a clipping to read something quickly for review. Then I’ll just erase it or archive it to the “Evaluated” folder.

My “Backlogs” is my Someday/Maybe. It has stuff to read and stuff to see if I want to implement it. If I don’t want to implement it, move it to the Evaluated folder. If I’m thinking of trying something this week, it goes to my Experiment folder. This is the “On Deck” and ready to play with.

Before July, I didn’t the time to tackle the Wprkflow app and Drafts 5. It was in my Backlog. Now that I cleared out last month’s experiment, I’ll move on to automation. this is my experiment to work on in July. There might be a month where I have no experiments going on. November and December are months where I’m just too busy with the Holiday Retail season to deal with experiments. I imagine August/September would be a time to stop the experiments because we might be ramping up for the new school year. Our attention is focused elsewhere.

That’s right! Baby steps! Tackling too many will get you overloaded and frustrated. The Zen-To-Done system emphasizes slowly implementing one or two habits at a time. Otherwise, it’s too difficult. Imagine trying to do a full semester of advanced math in one month. Ain’t gonna happen.

As much as we want the magic pill, habits take time to implement. Our entire productivity system is just a series of habits. Brushing your teeth, flossing, cleaning the kitchen, scrubbing the toilets, paying the bills, etc. are all routines that we need to finish. We just use OmniFocus to help us remember what to do next.

Maybe 60% of my OmniFocus database is built of a bunch of recurring items. The rest are projects or the one-off tasks that I need to remember doing. Your ratio will probably differ.

I like this, I’ll gradually create this, maybe tweaking the names as I see fit.

That’s a great idea, kinda like a personal wiki of sorts. Now to see whether to do a physical binder or something digital.

Now I see what your getting at, makes sense now!

Cool! Thanks for that explanation.

Being able to acknowledge that is key. Similar to how not every day will I be able to tackle Big Projects in OF.

Reminds me to ensure I can easily differentiate between the two in my own OF system. That said it’s been working better so far. Granted I start a one week class next week, that’ll be the real test.

1 Like

Ok so here’s an update of sorts. Nothing really substantial but still.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that I often get overwhelmed when I have too many tasks. I’d imagine this is exceedingly common dependent on the person. I think others can handle having a lot of tasks and plowing through them but given my executive function difficulties and ADHD, I need things broken down and simplified as much as possible. The overwhelm is real and I’ve acknowledged that and have taken steps to reduce this.

One of the biggest things that I’ve done is to utilize tasks that are due versus that are just deferred. I think I often times got really overwhelmed with tons of tasks when really I realized that it didn’t necessarily need a hard due date and that they could just be deferred as if I were to get to them that would be great. I should review our previous conversations in this thread surrounding deferred vs due tasks though I think this might be a way to go. One thing to consider though is I don’t want things to really fall through the cracks terribly and I want to make sure I still get a decent amount of my maintenance tasks done dependent on the day. I like the idea of having my routines tasks but I think sometimes I don’t really put hard limits on how long this will take and then further procrastinate on them versus say “let me take this amount of time to get some of this crap done and see were I get”. Often times the trigger for me to get certain housekeeping tasks done is by listening to music or podcasts. I need to start getting back into this. I’ve also started using flags for things that absolutely need to get done which has helped me with the overwhelm but I’m not sure if this will stick long-term.

As you’ve said many times before, we have to figure out the system for us. I think more so I need to make sure to hide some of the projects that are on hold so that I don’t get as overwhelmed when looking through my OmniFocus projects list and maybe set aside a time once a month or so to look at those projects that are on hold to see if there’s anything I need to get started on. This is something that could be done during a bi-monthly review.

The school year is starting around the corner and I intend to put several of my big rock type projects on momentary hold despite my wishful thinking. I’m still applying for jobs currently but I’m looking for being a aid for special education students as that’s the field that I want to go into and I’m soon to be certified but in the meantime would like to be working with the students before jumping into my own classroom. Sometimes I think that I just want to get everything on my task list done and sometimes that isn’t necessarily the goal and I need to be easier on myself to realize what’s “good enough” to get done versus “I’ve had a perfect day and I’ve gotten everything possible done”. Maybe setting some of those things is nonnegotiable’s to get done to make everyone happy per se given I still live with my parents! Maybe things like chores should take priority instead while I’m home during the day so that I’m keeping them happy and then later on once am done with the chores I can get my own stuff. Like many I sometimes prioritize my own things before those things but I gotta make sure that this household goes round and round without any major disasters.

You’re not the only one struggling so you’re in good company.

I’ve used a pomodoro just to make sure I get in a minimum amount of maintenance work done every day. There will always be maintenance tasks piling up every day. Chipping away at it seems frustrating at first but I do get amazed at how much I did and finally get back up to speed. Sometimes I can get ahead of maintenance tasks and already have things prepared for the next upcoming maintenance task. Chipping away one task at a time is the key.


Most of my dream projects are on hold. I do set two to three Big Rock projects to active to work on. I already have enough work from maintenance tasks and the single one-off actions that Life wants to throw at me. I think two or three is the limit of my personal threshold. There are particular times when I can have only one Big Rock. That usually occurs during the Holiday Shopping Season for me. I’ll be swamped with retail shoppers and the Holiday events that happen. Shipments, order-taking, customer service, and other duties are thrust upon me and my personal Big Rocks will have to wait until after Christmas. Other folks might be able to juggle four or five at a time. You’ll find your balance.

There’s a mantra I’ve heard. It’s not the amount of tasks completed this week. It’s more about the type of tasks completed to move your Big Rocks forward. Get a nice mix of maintenance tasks to maintain your quality of life as well as a few tasks that will help you complete a Big Rock/Goal.

It’s a juggling act, for sure! I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. If you can delegate, that makes life easier. I’m grateful to have people I trust who can help lift my burden. I return the kindness by making sure I am available to carry someone else’s burden when I sense they are in need. It’s karma! It took me a while to figure out the delegating part. I didn’t want to bother anyone. But the close people in my life have seen me sweat the bullets and will be there to pitch in when necessary. In return, I won’t hesitate and roll up my sleeves when my friends needs some assistance.

But of course, deleting a project that no longer carries any value for us is also helpful. What sounds like a great idea last year (or even last week) may have deteriorated in value this week. Either put it on hold or just delete it. How much bang-for-the-buck do you get from completing certain projects?

Thanks for posting your story. Everybody has a story and it helps to know that we’re all in the same boat. That’s pretty much the reason why I’m using OmniFocus. I’ve got a lot of Big Rocs to carry. Good luck!

1 Like

Chipping away is key. I am also going to get back into Pomodoro as I can concentrate for 25 minutes but saying “do this thing for 2 hours” isn’t going to work with me.

I’d like to but delegation at least right now won’t work for being at home. The expectation is that I have all day to clean as I’m not really “working”. That said I have a side gig and other stuff I’m working on.

Can’t imagine my life without GTD or OmniFocus.

I’ve also determined that at the start of the week to work on my contexts of 1) Must Do and 2) Can Do for priority. Then I’ll be all set for the week. Maybe I’ll even move some deferred tasks to 2) Can Do instead. Not sure yet on that.


On a simpler note I’m working with my tasks via Drafts, as checkmarks and adding stuff as needed, deleting when complete. Works for right now and easier to see (simple).

Here’s an example:

I’m sure I’ll go back to Omnifocus though I like this system at the moment as well. Maybe I’ll change my Due Soon to a week to just work in the Due Soon perspective.

Back using Omnifocus now. Changed Due Soon to a week which has helped. Not as stressed about getting everything done each day. Weekends for catching up.

1 Like

I prefer one week myself. Then I try to get ahead of my due dates and try to finish it with st least a one or two day buffer. I actually set my due dates at least 1-2 days ahead of the real due date to get it done early. I get OCD when I see a lot of red overdue tasks.

Oh I’ll have to think about doing that. I remember Cal Newport has on his Study Hacks site to do that to stay ahead of stuff and appear always on top of things.

1 Like

Yes, I hate going right down to the wire and then something interrupts me at the worst possible time.

My wife’s car might break down and I’d have to go pick her up. But that means my carefully scheduled due date gets pushed back or I stay late at the office to catch up. Mini emergencies like this stresses me out. If I can prep as far as possible, I feel in control.

Sometimes last minute urgency can jumpstart a task but that’s a recipe guaranteed to cause self induced stress. I’d rather not go through that crap.

My due soon perspectives shows anything that’s a week out. I’ll be trying to make as much progress as possible to get a task done.

I’ll have most of a quarterly report written up with a few last minute details to be written up. I’ll have the checks already prepared for vendor payments. I’ll get the PDF tax documents already prepared.

I never want to see red overdue tasks if I can help it.

Absolutely and it reduces your own stress knowing things can creep up and not terribly affect what was previously due. Stuff happens and instead of putting out forest fires you have firefighters sitting and waiting for the fire to happen. I started a class for some post graduation work and I’ll check stuff today to ensure my due dates are at least a day ahead to make sure I’m getting ahead. It’ll reduce stress throughout the week.

I’m late to the most interesting parts of the discussion but my system (which I arrived at independently) is quite similar to wilsonng’s.

I also use DEVONthink to keep various documents. I have an “App” database (one of my 24 databases) which has an “OmniFocus” group, and that group is itself divided into the following subgroups:


I keep all of my self-written notes in “Notes” and prefix them with the date (in YYMMDD format, ie. “180921: Note Topic”). I make no attempt to classify these notes differently based on whether I kept the change discussed in that note or not. I just don’t have that many notes (59 for OmniFocus) and often the answer to that question isn’t black or white anyway. I had previously tried to keep an up-to-date document for every topic but found this too tedious and too often falling out of date. So, I just accept these notes for what they are, which is a record of my thinking on that particular date.

As for my OmniFocus system, I divide my top-level folders into two categories:

  1. Folders for “maintenance” projects. These are always active and interrupt-driven - essentially, I work on these actions when life tells me to work on them rather than when I decide to work on them. Most (but not all) of the projects in these folders are single-action lists.
  2. Folders for “real” projects (the big rocks). Usually only one of these is active and the rest are on hold. These are the bigger chunks of work and they are all voluntary - nothing terribly dramatic would happen if any particular big rock wouldn’t get done and in fact many big rocks sit there on hold for years.

My three maintenance top-level folders are:

  1. Records (paperwork, documents, official-type stuff)
  2. Life (right now I have three single-action lists there: Friends, Journal, Wellness)
  3. Equipment (any physical possession which needs maintenance, including house repairs)

Every other top-level folder - everything related to my work and my digital tools - is full of “big rocks” (although I don’t use that word and in fact just came across it today).

I also have six “main” contexts: Do, Clean Up, Improve, Write, Study, Explore. These are in order from most clear-cut and most urgent to most speculative. Every action from every project gets tagged with one of these. “Do” is for actions which are absolutely clear cut and which do not benefit at all from being postponed while “Explore” is for the vaguest of ideas for improving something.

Then, I have eight “main” custom persectives: one for each of my six main contexts for my maintenance projects, one for my current “big rock” (which shows all six contexts and is grouped by context), and one for a few other big rocks which I’ve identified as being close to being activated (although these are still on hold in OmniFocus).

If I could distill my system into two principles, those would be:

  1. Separate maintenance activities from the “big rocks” (the voluntary “real” projects) so that you always know which of the two you are working on and can make that choice deliberately.
  2. Classify actions within both maintenance projects and “big rock” projects based on the type of thing they are. Sometimes I just feel like writing something, or cleaning something, or learning something, and it’s also good to identify those things which don’t benefit at all from being postponed (my Do context).

Ps. For background, I’m in my forties, have 3 kids, and work as an independent programmer (I sell & license software). My work is relatively flexible but with three kids I also have a fair amount of life stuff that just needs to be attended to.


Very similar to @wilsonng!

Especially given your roles I like these maintenance top-level folders.

Love your contexts too. Also, those are now tags in OmniFocus 3.

I like this and something I should look at again. My current top-level folder are the following:
30 PM

I need to take a good hard look at my Goals folder and Someday/Maybe. I’m sure some could be deleted or moved to DevonThink for the time being.

Given your various roles, how do you manage tasks resulting from parenting and such? I commend you for using OmniFocus and having a system in place while also having three kids. My dad has 2 kids (myself and my younger sister) but doesn’t really seem to have a system.

1 Like

Quick update

  1. Loving OmniFocus 3 so far and a nice refresh from OmniFocus 2.
  2. Recently I’ve been working on a project for a class I’m working on for my Special Education Endorsement. The project is to complete a document that’s a behavior plan. I had written “work on behavior plan” and thought about it yesterday thinking it’s not very outlined and specific. I then went into the project and made things more specific and it’s given me a lot of clarity. I will have to remind myself there are multiple steps besides “finish ________”. Works better for my brain too given my ADHD and executive functioning difficulties.
1 Like

Tasks related to kids tend to be interrupt-driven (ie. you do them when you have to do them) rather than “strategic” (ie. you voluntarily pick one out of dozens of possibilities while putting everything else on longer-term hold). Most tasks related to kids end up in single-action lists in my “Records” and “Life” folders.

Aside from that, I don’t think kid-related tasks are really any different than other interrupt-driven tasks.


I’d imagine it’s a careful balance of understanding at times you have to put your kids needs and wants before your own and that things you want to do might have to wait

@wilsonng I’m starting to think even further about my OmniFocus setup and use case. I find for example that there are certain groups of tasks I do every day such as checking email, taking out the trash if needed, clean up my email inbox etc. Those obviously belong in Admin Routines and warrant their own perspective.

I think I’m torn on the whole difference between Admin Actions and projects in my personal folder. I get that Admin Actions are single action projects primarily. I think I struggle with whether certain projects in my personal folder should, in fact, using your system logic be in my Admin Actions folder. In part, I’m trying to dig deeper into your head on your system and obviously adapt it to my own. I feel at times my methods are haphazard and find myself a bit lost. Currently what I’ve been doing is going through my current tasks list and marking those with definite due dates as such. Things that need to get done this week but not by a certain day get a “This Week” tag. Then I have a perspective for “This Week”. Makes sense to me. Might also allow flagged tasks and other Due Tasks into this perspective but maybe just those that are Due Soon. I read your post on Productivity Guild about tagging and like you, I don’t spend time tagging everything and keep my tags to a minimum. That said I wish it was better available a perspective that went in a specific order of tasks color (overdue and due soon) along with flagged though I think it can work by sorting by Due Date (might have answered my own question!). Your dUe perspective is the same as my Due Soon perspective and I toggle between wanting to be grouped by dates or ungrouped by dates but still in date order.

Here is a screenshot of my personal projects folder:


I have hidden projects that are on hold. I’d imagine none of these really constitute as Admin Actions and I might for the time being hide this folder and project altogether. Still a bit undecided. Finally, when going through your available task list do you flag items that you want to work on that don’t warrant a Due Date?

1 Like