Tips for tracking action history on an item in Omnifocus 3 Mac

Over the past 6 months I have been migrating from Wunderlist to Omnifocus 3 Mac. I’m confident OF is a better place for my GTD workflow.

However, I find myself missing one critical feature of Wunderlist, which is the ability to track a history of (timestamped) comments on an item that allow me to take notes on work performed to date.

e.g. I have a simple item “plan June vacation”. And then a tracked history of comments “3/13/19 researched destinations, decided to focus on Maui and Hawaii” and then “3/19/19 researched airfares, United looks like best bet” and then “3/21/19 booked airfares on united from JFK” etc. In Wunderlist I simply type each update in the Comments field and it gets automatically appended to the task record and timestamped

How do folks do this in Omnifocus? The best option I’ve found so far is to do this manually in the Notes field (with no time stamping and in its tiny UI in the bottom right corner) but it’s much less elegant and less readable

thanks in advance for any tips!

Welcome to Omnifocus! I have used Wunderlist myself and liked it, but it soon became too limited. You will not have that problem in Omnifocus, I can assure you.

It’s elegant if every comment in Wunderlist gets its own comment. As every task in Omnifocus only has one note field, it would be hard for Omnifocus to know when to set time stamps. You could of course do it manually, either by using the menu command Edit/Insert Time Stamp or by using a utility such as Keyboard Maestro. That’s what I do. On the other hand, if you settle with one note per task (and for example putting related tasks together in action lists), there are time stamps for Added and Changed in each task shown in the inspector. I would be careful with using those for tracking comments, though, as any other change in the task, not related to the comment, will update the date for Changed.

The best option I’ve found so far is to do this manually in the Notes field (with no time stamping and in its tiny UI in the bottom right corner) but it’s much less elegant and less readable

I have lots of manual, messy, misordered notes from doing this in OF notes. It’s the simplest solution if you can tolerate the clutter.

Generally speaking, I find it works best to keep detailed notes/logs about a project or action outside of OmniFocus. There are a few advantages:

  • You can use a note-taking app that supports formatting and rich media (e.g. photos, videos).
  • These notes can be shared (e.g. with other people going on a vacation), assuming the notes app you’re using supports it.
  • These notes may be useful again in the future (e.g. when planning next year’s vacation) and it’s not always very convenient to get to complete things in OmniFocus, especially if they’ve been archived.

The notes field is still useful for information that you want to have at your fingertips when you’re stepping into action. And, you could include links to notes with more information, assuming this is something that your note-taking app supports. You can also link to OmniFocus actions and projects, so could include a link back to the OmniFocus action/project within the note to create an easy way to jump between the two apps.

p.s. If you do any up logging any info in OmniFocus itself, there are some Insert Time Stamp commands in the Edit menu may be helpful. You could assign a keyboard shortcut (using System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts) to those that you use frequently.

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Thanks Tim these are helpful tips. I’d prefer not to toggle between two apps for managing my to-dos, so tracking status within the Tasks themselves is ideal. Your Insert Time Stamp find and recommendation on keyboard shortcut is a big help - thanks. I’ll work with that for a while. Still a bit bummed that Omnifocus doesn’t have a native activity tracking option (or attachments) like Wunderlist, but I understand we can’t have everything :)

Good to hear this was helpful, @ek7832!

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to email your feedback/request to the Omni Group by choosing Contact Omni from the Help menu in OmniFocus.

I have a TextExpander shortcut set up so that when I type “qq” I get output like “2019-03-26 15:15:01”.

Not sure why I chose “qq” but it has stuck.

In TextExpander, it’s set up like
%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S

So, I can quickly type that shortcut and get a timestamp anywhere. I agree, though, it would be great to have a history of task comments automatically created.

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I have a similar text expander snippet, but because I change time zones frequently, I include the time zone:

%Y-%m-%d %H:%M (UTC%z)

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This is exactly the kind of thing I suggested should not be stored in OmniFocus in my Inside OmniFocus story: somewhat cheekily titled Outside OmniFocus.

There are a bazillion tools for revision tracking—why use a hammer to push your needs into OmniFocus? The article suggests a few ways of making sure that OF has all the data you need to stay organized, but doesn’t make you jump through hoops using a poor tool for your needs.

Jeff Porten
Author, Take Control of Your Productivity

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