Revamping My OmniFocus Structure

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I had previously tried to keep an up-to-date document for every topic but found this too tedious and too often falling out of date.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:
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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.

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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.
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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?

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I think I’m trying to simplify my perspectives. I eliminated the Admin perspective to see only routine tasks and single action tasks.

I still have my Big Rocks perspective when I am focused on a Big Rock project.

But I see a mix of admin tasks and Big rock tasks in my “single context” perspectives.

I have single perspectives for:


These are basically perspectives that focus on a perspective. When I am working on a pomodoro (25 minutes or 50 minutes), I work in batches in a single context. I might work exclusively on my Mac, Office work that doesn’t require a Mac, or House work. I don’t switch contexts/modes. When I’m in computer mode, I stay in computer mode. When I’m in office mode, I stay in office mode.

The only time I need to possibly switch contexts is when I’m focused on a Big Rock project. One task might be to call someone to ask for information. The next task would be entering in the information into the computer. The third task might be to go to the office photocopier and make paper copies, etc. Big Rock mode might mean switching contexts depending on the next action to take.

It’s interesting to see our experiments at work. What might work two months ago might not work today. It depends on the situation. Always stay flexible. But certain routines will stay rock solid and firmly entrenched in your workflow.

Try out your new theory and see what happens! You can always revert back if needed. If the “This Week” tag works for you, I’d say go for it!

I do have a perspective called “Menu” which shows all my available tasks sorted by due date.

My Dashboard shows all due soon and flagged. When I want an available action with no due date to show up, I’ll flag it. You might also have a perspective that will also include your “This Week” tag together with due soon and flagged.

Take a look at @timstringer’s excellent article in custom perspectives. See if there’s something there for you!

I’d suggest trying out a perspective one at a time. Then you can figure out where it fits in your system. Then delete it or keep it. Next, try another perspective.

If I tried to add all of these perspectives, I’ll forget why I have them in the first place. Then I won’t trust my perspective because I can’t remember why I’m using them!

I do recall one of @timstringer’s today perspective having it show all due soon, all flagged, and any task with a defer date. I like this twist with including tasks that have a defer date.

I might have a backup my computer deferred to every 4 weeks. I don’t want to flag it or make it due. But it will automatically be included in something that I really should get to work on.

Try aggregating perspectives to some extent. By that I mean, just have a handful of perspectives:

  1. Next Actions: Literal next physical tasks you could do and then just “Focus” mode on the one you’re committed to doing at that very moment.

  2. Planner: All of the potential next actions you could be doing and the upcoming next actions of your system. The ones you want/need to do you either flag, tag, or adjust dates appropriately to make them prominent in your system.

  3. Exceptions: Everything and anything that doesn’t conform to your system’s rules (This would be all untagged, missing duration, missing either defer or due date(s), etc.) that need to be “fixed”.

  4. Deadlines: Top priority, cannot be missed, world will come to a screeching halt if these don’t get done and/or are missed.

  5. Waiting For: Self-explanatory (I use a tag for this type of task/project, but you could include on-hold items as well, if you so desire or have your system setup that way).

Simplicity often is what is needed when things go pear-shaped or when one “loses control and perspective” (in GTD-speak). Avoid trying to make and/or transform OmniFocus into an astronomical personal management architecture (AKA becoming an architecture astronaut by making a mountain out of a ant-hill).

When in doubt, following software design principles: KISS, YAGNI, and DRY:

K.I.S.S. = Keep It Super Simple (clean version) [Focus on what’s important and not so much urgent or noisy both in terms of creating perspectives as well as in life, in general]
Y.A.G.N.I. = You Aren’t Gonna Need It [Making unneeded perspectives or very niche perspectives “in advance”]
D.R.Y. = Don’t Repeat Yourself [Make a perspective for every tag or very very similar perspectives]

At least that is my two cents. Very interesting discussion, I have put it in my “To-Read/Review” pile-list.

P.S. The “Exceptions” and “Planner” perspectives’ rules still get tweaked from time-to-time as I am still working through some of OmniFocus 3’s quirks to figure how they’re doing the underlying filtering and working around some of the bugs/limitations of the software.


Really well spelled out! I’ll take a look at my perspectives myself. I find myself using the tag “This Week” for stuff I want to work on this week though this doesn’t take into account routines and such. I’ll add in that tag.

Noticed yesterday that OmniFocus on the Apple Watch shows red if tasks are overdue and orange or yellow if they are due but not overdue. Cool detail I didn’t notice.

Currently frustrated as my system is failing a bit. So the summary is that before I used Due Dates sparingly. That said I put all my tasks from my class I’m taking into Ominfocus. That’s fine. The problem lies in my strategy of tagging items I want to complete this week without Due Dates using the tag “This Week”. I found myself this weekend overwhelmed (honestly due to attending Halloween parties Friday and Saturday and being up too late each night). I was able to barely get done what I needed to by my deadline on Sunday night (last night). Then I was trying to make a perspective that encompassed both my tag of “This Week” with my items that had set Due Dates for this week as Due Soon. This failed and it’s frustrating. If anyone has any tips let me know. Maybe instead I’ll go back to using tags for stuff I want to complete this week along with my Due tasks. I feel like stuff I should be doing but don’t have a specific due date for are slipping through the cracks. I ended up putting all my “This Week” tagged items as due tasks to see them. Had to do a bunch of cleaning as well this weekend which didn’t allow me to work on my other stuff.

Something like this?
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That worked!!! Thanks so much!!!

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Glad to hear that!

I’ve always thought of using OmniFocus as my bucket of tasks. Then I printed out a weekly calendar and just drew in when I was going to get certain tasks done. If I don’t reserve time and make an appointment for a task, it won’t get done. I also try to honor those commitments.

Sorry guys, I’d love to play for the Beer Pong World Championship Belt but I gotta study for the mid-terms. So not tonight, dudes! Laters.

I’ve been experimenting with doing an all digital setup with OmniFocus on one side of the screen and Apple Calendar or Fantastical (in day or week view) on the other side. Then I drag and drop tasks and block out times as commitments for me to work on.

Good luck to you for the semester!

I’ve done this in the past and will do that as a trial this week. Useful too as I have a lot I need to/want to get done in the coming weeks.

Haha true. I’m out of college just taking a class to advance my degree. I suppose as such I’ll hold off for the most part going out on weeknights and only stay out late one night on the weekend.

My advice would be to refrain from using tags to accomplish date & time based filtering/classification; you could do so but I would see that as trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Tags should be specific static metadata that could apply to items without being time sensitive otherwise you would have to constantly update and refresh all of your tasks, projects, and events each day/period as the time sensitivity changed. Clearly that would be immensely unsuccessful and inefficient to do.

I would say to keep things as simple as possible by using the Defer Date to plan things out (to the best of your ability) along the Forecast view to see how each day is going in terms of volume and effort involved from both Deferred tasks and Due tasks. For example, a day with 15 low level tasks (define that anyway you want) is about the same as a day with 8 medium level tasks as is a day with 3 ~ 4 high level tasks (again, interpret the levels any way you wish or that suits your world).

I would recommend to use the Due Date in the following types of ways (use the fewest you possibly can because mixing can be highly risky and would require further things to be utilized to “correct"):

  1. Due Date = Actual date & time the task, project, and/or event is actually due (e.g. Submit Chapter 4 Case Study Analysis and Report — Due: by Sunday (AA/BB/CCCC) at 11:59 PM). This the most obvious and the most effective but the hardest to actually follow in terms of habit and discipline as well as planning.
  2. Due Date = An internal date & time the task, project, and/or event is scheduled to be completed by (similar to what traditional project management considers the earliest a project could be complete before buffer time is utilized) and then set the real deadline either in the Note field or your calendar application of choice so that it is not forgotten/missed. This is often very helpful if you’re a proactive person or have the ability to be proactive in your projects but could easily go astray if not diligently managed and reviewed. (e.g. Complete Chapter 4 Case Study Analysis and Report — Due: by Friday (AA/BB/CCCC) at 11:59 PM — Put the real deadline in the Note field/Calendar app of choice).
  3. Due Date = An internal aggressive date & time the task, project, and/or event could be completed by but at least should be propagated up by the system when the date & time arrives with time enough to complete the said project by the actual deadline (similar to using the Due Date as a planning-like date). This solves the previous scenario’s problem of “forgetting about the project near the time it is actually due" but can seem to make everything due as soon as possible (which could be overwhelming) which may not be ideal. It also has the problem of requiring it to be diligently managed and reviewed fore the date & time it is actually due. (e.g. Start/Complete Chapter 4 Case Study Analysis and Report — Due: by Wednesday (AA/BB/CCCC) at 11:59 PM — Put the real deadline in the Note field/Calendar app of choice).

Essentially, use the various tools in OmniFocus where they fit appropriately into your world and don’t try to force something to work. Sometimes a hammer just cannot work where a saw is needed.

For some inspiration, here is the current version of my Next Actions perspective which shows me any and all of the following (if any occur):
- All “Due Soon” Items (Anything that OF determines as Due Soon - 1 Week)
- All “Flagged” Items (Anything that I want to appear on my radar regardless of all other factors (essentially, my master override switch) in OF)
- All “Available” Items (Available in the sense of anything that is/was scheduled on or before right now that is not on-hold)

P. S.

The “19 Selections” for “Contained within project or folder” are specific routines / projects that occur daily / weekly that I don’t want to show up here. This little footnote of an exclusion probably won’t apply for many others, but I just wanted to be clear.

Best of luck! :)

This is an interesting thought. So it seems your getting at that I’m doing unnecessary work by tagging to signify due dates or in this case of stuff I want to complete this week without a due date. I suppose I could replace it with flags.

This explanation is fantastic and honestly should be required reading for people on these forums and other users of OmniFocus. Now relevant to my own needs, as much as I’d like to use #3 but it would stress me out. I’d imagine that number 2 would be the best for me. Seems similar to how @wilsonng utilizes his tasks.

In looking at your perspective, interesting that it’s grouped by project. I might consider that but will have to look at it. See if I can apply it to my situation or not.