David Allen recommends that your system be no more complex than you can manage when you have a heavy cold. GTD Areas of Focus are intended to help you plan the next few months, not organise day-to-day activity. Just because OmniFocus allows you to set up nested folders, doesn’t mean you should.
I have only three folders: Personal, Professional, and Someday/Maybe (which contains ‘on hold’ ‘single action lists’ for each Area of Focus & Responsibility). The Personal and Professional folders each contain a ‘single action list’ named “—“.
For each item in my inbox, the decision process is this:
- does this fall within my Areas of Focus & Responsibility? If not, delete.
- is this something I’m committed to doing anytime soon? If not, move to the appropriate list in Someday/Maybe.
- is this work-related? if yes, move to the Professional folder; if no, move to the Personal folder.
- is this a one-off Action? if yes, move it to the “— “ list; if no, add a Next Action to what is now a Project.
- assign the appropriate Context to the Action.
- can the Action or Project be started today? if not, add a Defer date to when the Project or Action can be started.
- must the Action or Project be completed by a particular date? if so, add a Due date. (Actions inherit the Project’s Due date by default, but can have their own e.g. “this article is due next week, but I only have access to the library today”: Project’s due date is next week but my “hit the library” Action’s due date is today)
[NB: the above is a much smoother process when you’re dragging items from your Inbox to your Project list, a process made much more difficult in OmniFocus 2. Simplest fix is having two windows, one showing your Inbox, the other your Projects list.]
I then have a list of Projects, all of which are relevant to my Areas of Focus (if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be on the list), and lists of Actions, all of which I can do when I’m in the relevant Context.
My Contexts are
- Agendas (with a subcontext for each regular meeting or interaction)
- Anywhere (anything for which I need at most my iPhone)
- Calls (if I need to talk aloud on a phone)
- Computer (work PC or my MacBook)
- Errands (including home visits)
- Hospital (wards and outpatients)
- Office (my workspace at the hospital)
- Study (my workspace at my house)
- Waiting for
My Contexts are set to show Available Actions, sorted by Due Date & Flagged, so that more urgent Actions appear first. Because the ‘single action lists’ are named “—“, it’s easy to scan for one-off Actions when I need a quick success.
Every morning, I scan my Projects list: I check for Projects without a Next Action. If there’s a Project or Action without a due date I want to prioritise that day, I Flag it: Actions related to the Flagged Project will also sort to the top of their Context. Best to be sparing with the flags.
At my Weekly Review, with an eye on my calendar, any Project on which I can’t work in the coming week is put on hold, so that related Actions don’t appear in my Contexts. My Projects list is set to show Remaining Projects, so I don’t forget about suspended Projects and so I have a better idea of my overall commitments.
Every month I scan my Someday/Maybe folder for Actions and Projects to move to Personal or Professional (or delete entirely). Because they’re sorted by Areas of Focus, it’s easy to compare with my active Projects and spot Areas which need attention.
At work, I can Focus on the Professional folder and only work-related tasks show up in my Contexts. In my own time, I can Focus on the Personal folder and see only non-work tasks. For fast filtering on the iPhone, I have created ‘At work’ and ‘My time’ Perspectives but I don’t think it’s possible to sort by Due date and Flagged in custom Perspectives; I’ve settled for sorting by Due Date, as Flagged Actions are coloured so stand out anyway, assuming the Context list isn’t too long.
In this way, so long as I think each item through when clearing my Inbox, and take care to do a daily scan and a Weekly Review, OmniFocus automatically highlights the urgent and important Actions in my current Context(s).
I’m spread across four wards, two outpatient clinics and both institutional and individual homes. It’s all the same service, though, so the only meaningful distinctions for me are ‘out of the hospital’, ‘in the hospital’, and ‘at my own desk’. If you’re working in distinct services or have multiple roles (e.g. clinician and manager), extra contexts might add clarity (e.g. ‘Surgical ward’, Rehab ward’, etc).
Hope that helps.