Struggling with GTD Style Filtering with Context, Energy, and Time

I LOVE Omnifocus better than any other tool I have tried (except for the web version, but that is for another post). I am a GTD’er and one of the fundamental methods to selecting your next actions is the combination of Context (tool available), time available, and energy.

So if I am in my office, fried, and have 30 minutes I want to be able to filter on that criteria. However, I can only filter on a max of two things at a time… Without creating a zillion perspectives.

For example, I have created a perspective for Short Duration Tasks, Normal Duration Tasks, and Long Duration Tasks. Okay that takes care of the time filters… When I click on each of them I can select a tool on the left pane, great that takes care of the tool/context filters. But if I am fried how do I select low energy now? It seems I can only filter by two things at a time.

I could create a perspective for everything combination but I would probably have 100 perspectives.

How do people get around this?

Right now my tags look like this:


I next the tags so that the show what is underneath them. If I have 1 hour I can do long, medium, or quick tasks. If I have 10 minutes I can only do quick etc.

Interested to hear the responses… I am really struggling with this even if after using OF for about 2 years.


First, simplify your labels.

  • Location
    – office
    – home
    – errands
  • Tool
    – phone
    – computer
    – iPad
  • Focus Level
    – sprint
    – marathon

Second, when defining a task, only set labels as they are appropriate to your need to make an executive decision later. For example, with location, if the task can be done anywhere, then no specific label from that category applies. Or for example with focus level, if the task must be done with a high focus in a short time, mark as such. But if the task is possible to do at any focus level, no tag should be applied. Finally, with tool(s), unless you have a specific reason driven by external demands to distinguish Quickbase and Quickbooks when you search for the next available task, do not make this distinction in the labels themselves. A hypothetical fantasy example might be when your boss demands that you spend at least 5 hours per day in Quickbooks and at least 2 hours per day in Quickbase. A similar case applies with home BTW (do you really have someone demanding that you spend home time inside versus outside, or is this a decision that can be made at the point you review the task list searching on -home?).

Third, rather than labels, remember that OF provides an estimated duration setting. Decide on appropriate time settings for long, medium, and short times.

Now, to your need. Search for next actions on Location: Office + Focus Level: (none) + Time < 30 min. Make your decision.


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What I would do is set up perspectives based on duration, using the duration field. Use normal tags for contexts and energy. In the View settings for your perspectives, group actions by Tags (Combined).

Then when you choose your perspective and click on a tag, it will group the results by whatever the other tag is. So if you click an energy level, it will group the results by context. If you click a context, it will group them by energy.

I honestly prefer not to simplify the labels… The reason being is there are certain things I want to batch. For example on my computer Quick Books is a specific tool that takes a bit to open. I want to do all my work in there in one batch. For the home tag if it is raining I do not want to see outside items etc. I can only tackle the inside ones. It helps me filter down the list a bit more. Same with computer, if I leave everything in computer there is just too much to do. And if I am on a plane I cannot work in quick books or quick base, it doesnt work well. But I can do other computer tasks.

This does work and is what I am doing now. But I really prefer to click on that context and energy to filter more but I guess that is just not feasible in the system today

I have some labels that are similarly categorized, but when I try your search it doesn’t yield what I would expect. I do not have the PRO version (using standard). In the OF search bar, I select ‘everything’ and I type priority: critical + next. What am I doing wrong?

As you have described them, the additional factors are akin to external limitations. I might offer a different view on how to handle the factors related to software.

  • Location
    – office
    – home/inside
    – home/outside
    – errands
  • Tool
    – phone
    – computer
    – iPad
  • Software
    – ADP
    – Quickbase
    – Quickbooks
  • Focus
    – sprint
    – marathon

As to adding inside/outside for home, the choice might indicate a difference in your approach versus mine. I prefer to see everything @home (inside and outside) and decide at the time of review whether to work inside or outside. The downside of your approach is that, on sunny days, you may find yourself wanting to toggle between both inside and outside perspectives, e.g. to find the “easier” set of things to do.


As per the help option for the toolbar … Search looks for text matching the keywords in item titles, notes, and tags, and displays results as a list of items in the outline. The search bar does not constrain to tags, priorities, and next actions.

I mean by my example to set up a perspective with filters on tags and next actions.


My understanding was that “priorities” and “next” are just tags. So using a combination of tags certainly works here. But I’m unable to combine queries in the way you describe. Instead I can just use a query like next quick or whatnot. But this does not seem to include duration, which I think is a feature reserved for the pro edition via custom perspectives.

Searching through the search bar looks for matching text in titles, notes, and tags. Even in the pro edition.


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I’ve discarded the notion of using tags for energy since it never really worked for me.

After a few months, I’ve learned when my “golden” hours are. These are the time periods of the day where I have focus and can do certain types of deep work/focus. Our bodies have a natural rhythmic cycle and we learn to pay attention to them. For example, I have the best clarity between 9 am to 11 am and 4 pm to 6:30 pm. Those are my “golden” hours. I’ll try to avoid scheduling meetings during those hours.

I use OmniFocus as my “menu” where I have a selection of available tasks to choice from. I’ll pick one tough task that requires high levels of focus and schedule it for my golden hours. The rest of the day is used for all the other tasks that require less brain power.

I’ve create appointments during those times to share with anyone that I am unavailable during those times. Sometimes my schedule is out of my control but I usually try to reserve my golden hours for those times when I need the most brain power for particular projects or tasks.

I tried to make OmniFocus simpler by not using energy tags and just scheduling to work on a difficult task during my golden hours. In between appointments and my golden hours, I’ll open OmniFocus and look for shallow tasks to work on.


Lately, I just maintain an ultra-priority list (called NOW) that I drive to zero every hour.

I use an ADHD assistive tool to help me avoid distractions along the way. Keeps my mind clear, lists at zero, and lots gets done.

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The OmniFocus UI isn’t really designed for ‘on-the-fly’ filtering based on multiple tags. As suggested above, I’d say the best approach is to use a custom perspective with the ‘Tags (Combined)’ option.

If it’s important to see just the actions filtered on multiple tags, consider creating a custom perspective dedicated to this, which you’ll edit to change the selected tags. Put the tag rules at the top of the list. You can use just one ‘tagged with all of’ rule and rely on the tag picker, or several tag rules inside an ‘all’ group (you can enable each rule individually, which can help when there are tags you frequently want to filter on).

Consider whether you can simplify your time and energy tags into a single branch of mutually exclusive options. Are all nine combinations necessary? I use a ‘quick’ tag on tasks I can perform in a given time regardless of circumstances. Other tags allow me to specify degrees of energy or concentration. Having one dimension instead of two for this means less effort to tag actions correctly and to filter on them. If you have few such tags, you can create a perspective for each. A minimalist approach would be to rely just on ‘quick’, high energy/focus, and untagged. This frees up the tag sidebar for selecting a context, location, etc.

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I have moved now to the idea of tags combined and using that as an option. Not ideal but it works…ish.

I have moved into exactly what you mention in terms of time/duration being combined. To me quick or in between meetings short, independent/non connected tasks with low mental state required. Medium is that middle range where I cannot be brain dead but do not need hours. Long is the longer more focused work I need to do.

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