What prioritising techniques do you have?

Hi All,

I’m wondering what prioritisation techniques you use. I have used OF for 6+ years and still struggle how to prioritise work. I’ve used plenty of other task management tools that allow ordering (preferably via drag’n’drop or keyboard shortcuts) which really helps and I constantly go back to them as this is the main shortcoming in OF for me and I hope another tool gives me this ability better. Plenty of good other alternatives, but OF is better than those tools in most other aspects so I keep jumping back and forth.

I have quite a few projects and feed a lot of tasks/ideas etc into omnifocus. Here are some problems I find:

  • I tend to flag things that are important and if I have too many I defer some flagged items. This means I pretty much never look at tasks that aren’t flagged or its hard to ‘bring tasks back to available’ if I finish earlier.
  • When I want to prioritse things I often tend to set fake due dates which annoys me and fudges my system. It also brings undue attention to a task via the phone reminders, etc.
  • I spend a lot of time in project view to try to order projects in the order of importance, but that doesn’t work well if I put projects in different folders as I then have to name folders based on priority rather than ‘finance’ or ‘DIY’ or other…

I feel as if I in flagged and context view could order tasks manually somehow this would overcome my problem, but I’m not sure. Another feature I thought would help would be if flagging projects automatically prioritised flagged tasks in those projects over other tasks in context and flagged view.

What techniques do you use?


Manual sorting is coming:
Sorting context tasks manually

My technique till then is to omit the Flagged perspective and instead having some of my other perspectives sorted by flagged. Then I can flag tasks to move them to the top of my lists (or to the top of each context group in my lists).

I don’t ever use fake due dates. That causes unnecessary noise and renders real due date meaningless. Use due dates sparingly.

I have a custom perspective called Due which shows only due and available tasks.

In the projects perspective, I set due dates only on tasks/projects that need it. A project/task needs a due date if dire consequences occur if something is not completed.

I set flags for tasks or projects that don’t have due dates but I would like to work on in the next 3-7 days.

I always look at the Due perspective first and try to finish as many items as possible in this perspective. All Due and Due soon tasks are high priority. Things such as bills, projects with deadlines belong here.

Then I look at my flagged perspective to look at flagged items. This is medium priority. I want to work on these after after I finish as many of my high priority items from the Due perspective.

I usually go to a custom perspective called “Available” that shows all available tasks. In the Available perspective, I can flag a small handful of tasks (three to five tasks but sometimes as many as seven). All flagged tasks will show up in the flagged perspective and ready for me to work on after I finish the due tasks.

All other available tasks that are not due and/or not flagged are low priority. They are available for me to work. But I want to ignore these items.

Most of my Due items are typically set to a repeat cycle (pay utility bill once a month, pay annual gym membership, etc.). There are some one-time due items also here (finish the Peterson advertising project by November 20th). The due items will usually build itself back up again when I have it set to repeat or when I add due items through the day or week.

When I complete flagged tasks, I can refill the flagged perspective by going back to Available and flagging a small group of tasks. I can un-flag or flag as needed.

You can probably rename these custom perspectives like this:

Due -> Priority A-> Do it Now!
Flagged -> Priority B -> Do this after I finish Priority A
Available -> Priority C -> Flag and un-flag tasks here to move tasks (not due and un-flagged) up to Priority B

To make a task a Priority A, set a due date. I go to preferences window and set due soon to 1 week. When a task is 7 days away, it will pop up in the Due (Priority A) perspective automatically and the status circle changes to Yellow. When it becomes overdue, the status circle changes to red.

This is the order of tasks I work on. Don’t be looking at Priority C items (not due, not flagged) when you have due tasks or flagged tasks available to work on.


Thanks @Jan_H - great that sorting context tasks is coming! Hopefully soon! :)

Thanks also @wilsonng for explaining your flow. I kind of do what you do. What it doesn’t allow is for us to decide what order we want to deal with those flagged or avaiblale tasks (Prio B or C as you call them). For example: I have a lot of important tasks and I don’t want to 1) flag them all and having to skim through them constantly to decide which one to do next. Nor do I 2) want to defer the task (but I tend to do that as a workaround but it doesn’t work well as I have to defer over and over again). Nor 3) do I want to keep them as not flagged and when all flagged tasks are done go through all avaialble tasks to flag the next. That gives me a false sense of thinking I don’t have any important work and makes me nervous and its easy to miss important work. For non flagged tasks that I don’t want to work on now I created projects like ‘misc urgent’ or ‘important’ and put them at the top of the projects list and put tasks there but I of course want to keep tasks in the projects they belong. So that was bad as well :(

For me it becomes too much glossing over the same tasks several times to decide order/do them/decide what to flag next vs just setting an order of tasks once a day or so and then not having to look at the other tasks (further down) until I want to. This makes my idea of ‘touch it once’ to prioritise and really disrupts my flow of getting things done. I easily get distracted to work on not important tasks as I gloss over a lot of tasks.

‘Things’ does this really well, but I have a lot of issues in general otherwise with Things.

Thanks again for your input! Really need that ordering function!! Pleeeease Omni!! :) ;)


You could use the Estimated Time-field (if you don’t already use that) for priorities and have your perspectives sorted by duration. A bit clumsy, but it might serve as a workaround.

I sometimes wish for manual sorting but I think this is a solution that hides an underlying problem. The list is just too long.

We need to sort in order to somehow make sense of an incredibly long list. Psychologically we can’t make sense of long lists. But if the list becomes shorter, it becomes more manageable.

Using fake due dates just makes the Due perspective unnecessarily longer than it should be. Adding too many flagged tasks also makes the Flagged perspective longer.

We must recognize that we have just two hands and a limited capacity. Try doing just a handful. The Due tasks will always keep coming up. Knock those off the un-completed list first. We might have a zillion flagged tasks that we really want to do. Just pick three flagged tasks as the ones that you will focus on first.

If you’re looking at the same task over and over again then either something is not getting done or you just have too much on your plate.

I would use omnifocus as my bucket of stuff to do. At the beginning of each day, I grab an index card and write down all the due soon, due today, and overdue tasks that I want to work on today. Then I’ll choose three flagged tasks.

When I am done with as many due items, I’ll start work on the flagged tasks.

I work from this index card. I don’t work from OmniFocus. I’ll open omnifocus to add new tasks or capture new ideas but not much else. I’m focused on doing. I open OmniFocus only if I’m capturing or if I’m in planning mode.

At the end of the day, I look at the index card and check off the completed tasks in OmniFocus.

The idea is to not stare endlessly at a long list (which is often the wrong list). It’s staring at the right list that makes sense.

This was another forum post where I discussed my ideas about manual sorting.

Even if we had manual sorting or prioritizing, we would probably be wasting more time re-prioritizing endlessly. Things change. Events influence our priorities on an hourly (or even minute by minute) basis. It’s just too cumbersome to re-prioritize that much.

I don’t mind manual sorting. I like having the option but I’ve learned to work around the lack of manual sorting.

I can ‘touch’ my projects and tasks once when I’m doing the review. Some projects are on daily review. Some are on weekly review. Others are on a longer review cycle. I don’t worry about touching the tasks that much because the review process does that for me.


In my prioritizing scheme, all due/overdue/due soon tasks are the most important. That’s what I want to focus on.

I only look at the available tasks perspective once in the morning. That’s when I’m flagging the non-due but also important tasks that i want to work on today. I will never come back to the available tasks perspective unless I have finished my flagged tasks and need to refill the flagged perspective. I am not skimming all the time. I also don’t waste time looking for tasks to flag and unplug overtime. I have already focused on my due and flagged.

Thx @wilsonng. I agree that we usually have too much to do and our lists gets too long. I will try your paper technique to see if that helps. I tend to work out of OF and use it a bit like WorkFlowy, which I think its actually really good at. I put agenda items, notes, etc. as well so I have things synchronised to my phone/ipad in meetings. What’s really helped me is adopting the ‘full focus’, ‘short dashes’, ‘hanging around’ contexts some months ago that I keep under my ‘work’ context.

I can’t get away though from the fact that I feel that I pay for a professional grade task manager to get to grips with that challenge to help me organise and to more easily ‘see’ what I should spend time on . I’m glad you’re not against manual ordering. And I’ve tried Things, 2Do, Wunderlist, WorkFlowy, etc, etc (paid for all of them at one point). Most do have that re-order capability, but OF has soooo much more for it even without re-ordering with perspectives and focus, open in new window shortcuts, nesting tasks via shortcuts (creating children as well as grouping into parents), etc… Omnifocus is just soo good and I want it to become even better.

Here’s a final attempt to say my point :) Even if I had only two tasks in OF and nothing else I’d still like to define what order I want to do them. And I’d like to keep those both as flagged if they are important as well so they stick out as important.

Just some stats for interest: I currently have 59 projects and 397 actions. Probably too much, but I review and keep on top of them (I delete/merge at that point) so I feel pretty good about that amount of projects (I used to have 170+ projects - gaaaah!). I had 5 items due today (usually on Friday I have to do a number of status emails for work, etc), 1 tomorrow (Sat) and one on Sun. Next week I have 2 on Friday - nothing else.

I definitely don’t fudge due dates often. However - for something to pop up higher in visibility/priority (the 2 tasks this weekend for instance) I have to set a due date currently or I won’t see them as important as I have other flagged important things I’d like to do as well. I could potentially do them next weekend, but I really should do them this weekend for the best of my sanity. The other flagged tasks I’d like to get done this weekend I’ll do here and there and pick which ones at the time. I’d prefer if I could just keep them all flagged and in context view put the important tasks at the top.

@Jan_H the estimate time field is not easily accessible if OF2 or the ios App. I often use start/defer dates, but what makes me unhappy is that I sometimes defer a flagged task and they ‘disappear’ from my view whilst having then still a view of visible non flagged tasks that then catches my attention.


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well, I hope we can all find our own methods. Although my workflow is fairly firm, sometimes I’ll find something in these forums to tweak it just a little to take care of one part of my life. :-)

I was Struggling with the prioritising issue. So I have given up on try to create filters and perspectives to match a “automatic Next Action list” and than started to take a more strict GTD way and started to move my Next Actions from the “GTD Projects” straight to a Next Action “omnifocus project”.

Them, I started to use the Contexts as Projects approach. So each Context I have has turned into a “omnifocus project” inside the Next Actions mother project.

I’m now starting to move all my projects to another App and leaving Omnifocus just with Next Actions. It takes a LOT o pressure from the system. And becomes more easy to know what to do first based on the Context you are at the moment.

My first step is to prioritize projects. My priority matrix is akin to the urgent and important matrix from the 7 Habits. I use Demand (someone/something requires me to do the project), Duty (I have obligated myself to do the project), Need (my goals will be advanced by the project), Desire (I want to do the project), and Dream (I hope to do the project). So, by example, regardless of the tasks on my plate, those in a project that is Demanded of me always have higher “priority” than those in one that I Need to do. I track this outside of OF (in Curio).

Second, I prioritize tasks in projects using contexts for problem-solving. Without going in to too much detail (search the forums for the post with the phrase “what do you have in your context list”), I order my contexts from “top to bottom” as close, deliver, tidy up, do, propose, research, brainstorm, and consider. So, by example, my perspective views show all tasks that are to be closed above those that are for brainstorming.

Third, I flag stuff because I intend to work on it in the immediate time period (generally that day). I unflag it if it is not done that day. I make these decisions each day or each time the flagged set of tasks is “empty”. I flag something based on where the project stands in priority or alternatively where I see that an immediate, short-term effort might advance a project even when it is at a lower priority. IOW, I flag to respect the priority of a project and to clean my plate of projects.

My workflow to do stuff is 1) do what is due first, then 2) do what has been flagged next, paying attention to the top to bottom order of the contexts.

As I read the bullet item list in you starting post, I might suggest a few insights in return

  • Stop flagging willy-nilly based on a general filter (this is “important”). Flag selectively what you want on your plate for the immediate time period.
  • In your “flag is important” world, you accumulate flags that never get done. Once you apply the above rule instead, you can unflag something rather than deferring it.
  • As @wilsonng notes, avoid using due dates as fake ways to prioritize.
  • Avoid moving projects around in folders in OF (as a way to prioritize them). Put them in one place. The time you spend to find them from moving them only causes extra anxiety.
  • Use something outside of OF to prioritize your big picture.

Finally, based on your most recent post, I have the feeling that you will still fail in your mission to improve your workflow. You still have some conflicting or confusing ideas in your head …

[quote=“jonolo6, post:8, topic:27854”]
Even if I had only two tasks in OF and nothing else I’d still like to define what order I want to do them.[/quote]

You want to spend “on the spot” time to prioritize two tasks based on when you want to do them??? This is utter nonsense. Wanting to do something is a subjective decision. When you have reached a point where you face two tasks that have otherwise equal priority in your big-picture goals and equal priority in your task-level context flow, flip a coin and move on!!!

You want to make “on the spot” decisions about the importance of a task based on a need to keep it floating around??? Again, this is utter nonsense. Wanting to keep tasks floating around fulfills a subjective desire to “be in control all of the time”. Let go of this need, fix your front-end prioritizing tools, and then get busy at the end doing rather than re-micro-managing.



I understand that it’s hard to break habits and workflows that looks like it makes sense to only you. In my 15 years of marriage, I’ve learned to break some habits, remold habits to accomodate both me and my family, and to learn new habits that didn’t make sense before but eventually gets easier with time.

Many folks can find OmniFocus difficult because it forces them to break away from the old task management methods and learn new workflows. I’ve learned to move away from the ABC priority method which makes sense when I have a small number of items to manage. I’ve also un-learned many time management ideas that worked when I had the old Franklin Covey day planner but is inadequate in today’s fast paced world.

My OmniFocus workflow has drastically changed how I view time, energy, and priorities. It’s a difficult road but oftentimes a necessary journey.


Ok I think I have to think about some of this feedback. I might have to rethink how I used flags. For me I use them as a signal of importance. I’ve tried in the past to flag by WIP (a’a Kanban), but I ended up missing some important work and I got nervous. I tend to not use flags as a WIP indicator for that reason and prefer to defer but still flagged.

Just some further clarification on some comments:

I’m not sure I explained properly. Let me do so and then I’d be interested how you deal with the explained situation. I have about 7 available tasks/calls at the moment mapped against a context ‘phone’. 4 of those are flagged that are 1) we have a boiler problem and I’m requesting a quote to fix, 2) I need to move a medical appointment, 3) I need to call dentist as I have a dental issue and finally 4) to call a builder about some works I’m requesting a quote for. Then I have a few calls to my sister and mother + some friends that are tasks that aren’t flagged. What in my mind I’d like to do is keep the flags for the four important items and then be able to reorder them in the order I want to call: first hospital for instance, then boiler guy, etc. It can be depending on whether I can make the call in the morning or afternoon, etc. or base don importance.

Right now I keep them all as flagged and skim over the list for each call I need to make (I have to ‘touch’ each task multiple times) or defer an hour or so.

I don’t see that as ‘on the spot’ decision - its planning my day a bit and planning the calls I intend to make and the order.

I see the same would be beneficial in my other contexts an the calls was just an example.

@DrJJWMac - would you mind talking me through how you’d deal with that example?


So many good suggestionss.

I simply keep my projects in a flat list. No areas like people so often suggest. OmniFocus for me is about execution. Areas and categorization are often planning. My higher level roadmaps go in another file. That leaves me a list of 4-12 projects in general order of importance. Nothing beats a priority list for me.

I see priority as three big bins: must-should-could / need-ought-want. External commitments and Q1 items rank first. Then Covey Q2 items. Then everything else that could expire without causing significant harm.

I would agree to flag stuff as you have done. But … I would flag during a review at the start of the day. Or, I would flag at the end of having done all other Due and Flagged tasks.

So, my flagged list would not grow and grow and grow and grow … Before I would flag something, I would try hard to be sure that nothing else is still flagged.

So, the statement from you is that you flag something as important. I agree. The statement on my part is that you flag it and then never do it. IOW, you just keep flagging and flagging and flagging and …

Stop flagging new stuff until you have completed stuff that is already flagged. Stop deferring flagged stuff only to give yourself room to flag even more stuff (that you then defer again and again and …).

Is that a clearer picture?




I’ve been experimenting with a new system for about three months now and it’s working out okay, better than I anticipated. Omnifocus has played an important role in my work life for the past several years but I’m not quite at that point where there’s an easy fluidity (maybe “confluence” is the word) between me and the way I organize and plan things, and the software. A piece of that has to do with Omnifocus and prioritizing. Probably a lot of it has to do with me;-) Recently, I decided to make a few tweaks to change things up a bit.

Omnifocus’ use of “Contexts” is interesting and important, but I’ve found that I just haven’t been using them. There are many reasons for this, I suppose, but since I haven’t been able to capitalize on this part of Omnifocus, I decided to stop using them. What I do now (and what many others do) is use that same software mechanism for priority labels.

I decided to try a number system, 7-1, that categorizes everything I choose to work on for any one day. A #7 Priority is the highest, while a #1 Priority is the lowest. Naturally, I tend to work on 7s, 6s, and 5s toward the beginning of the day, while the rest fall toward the end. These priorities are completely fluid and I often change them on the fly. I sometimes have 3 or 4 of the same priority, say #5 Priority, and then have nothing for others, say #3 or #2.

All the other Omnifocus projects and tasks (and there are many) get labeled with one of two category labels, Next, and Neutral. As I go through Omnifocus during the week, I try to move things that are coming up into the “Next” category. Everything else is labeled “Neutral.” I have Perspectives for all of these so that I can quickly see, for instance, what’s in the “Next” group and grab from there and then give it a number label. I usually pick the number seven to start out with and then when I get to my Perspective showing all my numbered priorities in descending order, I change that number to something that fits the flow of my day.

So to summarize, I have three key Perspectives that process everything, Neutral, Next, and Priorities. The last one is what I look at for my daily list of what to do today. If I don’t get everything done then those things get re-prioritized the following day. I’m thinking I may still need to tweak this to bring in some aspect of goal planning and/or the weightiness of certain projects over others, but for what its worth (and maybe not a lot) this is the current system that I’m using. - Nate

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wilsonng makes a strong point which is to limit the lists you see in the first place. The same is true in most any organizational structure. The more noise you can remove, the greater the signal.

I have one project with tasks that represent projects with links to those projects embedded in them. That way I can order the larger sessions of work fairly simply, while keeping their individual tasks in their own respective projects. You can always manually rearrange within a project itself and sort by Unsorted or by Project to list them in a context based view… I avoid having more than 3 flagged projects going at a time. Other flagged tasks are links to routine perspectives such as Communications or Office Filing. Usually I have about 4 to 8 flagged tasks total set when the day begins.

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I would look into shifting actions to a Someday-Maybe project Assuming you mean that the 397 actions are all something you can do now, given the right context, you should move about 300 of the tasks to Someday-Maybe and keep them out of view.

Regarding your statement “Even if I had only two tasks in OF and nothing else I’d still like to define what order I want to do them.”, if the second task is dependent on the first, or if you want to do the first task first no matter what the circumstances, then just make the project sequential and you will only see one of those tasks at a time. Otherwise, avoid the temptation to overprioritize. Priorities change a lot, and the priority you set when you create an event isn’t necessarily the one it will need a few days later when you look at it again. It is better to have manageable-sized lists, and then real-time prioritization will be much easier.

I learned the problem of too many tasks when I first started doing GTD. I would be paralyzed looking at my list of next actions, because it was so big and daunting. I eventually paid for a few coaching sessions and the big lesson was to put things I’m not likely to do anytime soon in the Someday Maybe list. After that the system worked much better, whether I’ve used Omnifocus, Life Balance, ThinkingRock, or even plain Outlook (I like Omnifocus the best and use it at home but have to use Outlook at work). There is no point keeping events in front of you if you aren’t going to do them, so the Someday Maybe list cleans things up well.


As Kourosh mentioned about have routine perspectives, many of my flagged tasks come from my Routine/Admin lists. These admin lists are mostly routine/administrative tasks that must be done (take out the trash, file the weekly report, refill the water softener, etc.) that don’t necessarily advance any project but it makes my life run smoother. So I already have many flagged tasks already set for me by defer dates (no due dates). I typically reset every task in my flagged list back to un-flagged. Then I look at my available tasks perspective to either re-flag the lingering flagged tasks or select some new flagged tasks based on what I want to do the next day. I flag only a small handful of tasks (typically 3-5) because I know that I will have flagged tasks automatically added on a daily basis.

I don’t put due dates on these routine tasks. For example, if I don’t cut my lawn, it’s not really gonna have any adverse effects but I would really like to get it done in the next few days. It stays in my flagged perspective because I know I have to do my due tasks first before I can work on flagged tasks.

Using the defer dates helps to automatically populate my flagged perspective without me having to figure out what to flag. I do a weekly review on my routine/admin lists just to make sure things are running smoothly. Otherwise, I’ll never flag directly from my routine/admin lists.

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I don’t use fake due dates, if there is a due date it’s real.

I don’t use flags either except in very rare circumstances.

I’ve tried but can’t make the estimated time work for me either.

I always work out of OF and never put things on a card or other location although I do have OF on my phone, iPad and both computers, main and laptop and make sure it’s all synced so that whatever device I have with me I can work from/within.

My way to deal with prioritization underwent a change last month. Now in the morning just after checking my calendar and the weather I take a quick look at all my OF contexts. I can easily read the items in those contexts and that will give me a sense of what contexts I need to move to during the day to handle critical things. I do this after I’ve looked at the calendar for all the scheduled items. I currently have 35 standard contexts I use all the time and will occasionally create, use then delete additional ones as needed.