Who has simple but powerful setups?


#1

I’ve seen lots of complex setups and systems. I don’t see a lot of setups that are simple while still being powerful.

Any contestants?


#2

To me my system is simple, but to many people it might not be. What do you consider to be simple and powerful?


#3

Getting to simplicity is not a simple process in itself. I find the aim is more about a simple utility. I want the system to support me where I want it, to stay out of the way otherwise, and to be fairly easy to maintain. The issue is that life is complex. Therefore, getting a system to function simply takes work.

Of course, there are simple principles that can be learned and practiced. Things such as writing effective tasks that are broken down to the point of confidence, curating lists to be engaging rather than overwhelming, easing input and reflecting on processing, cultivating habits, and the like are all useful.


#4

I had the same question: what do you consider simple.

to me my system is extremely simple.
technically it’s just iOS shortcuts adding template projects to OF, and an applescript scraping them and putting them on my calendar if they have a due date, and also sending a daily overview to me via pushover notification at the same time.

On the GTD front it’s just 5 areas of my life (5 folders) with projects and single action lists associated with them, all being managed through 10 fixed and 2 flexible perspectives, with templated projects moving in and out through iOS shortcuts. Loose entry through taskpaper and Drafts is also going on, but i more and more depend on iOS Shortcuts and some applescripts to parse email coming in.

so, as you see, a very simple setup. :-)


#5

Ha! I knew I’d get this question, you bunch of philosophers! My first thought was “if you have to ask, you’re disqualified.” But that’s not fair … So here’s some starter thoughts.

  1. Not dependent on automation/scripting, or other things that may break over time, to make it work.
  2. Not an interconnected system that needs much maintenance beyond the standard weekly review as specified in GTD.
  3. Flexible enough to work in chaotic work/living environments where there aren’t two days in a row that look the same.
  4. Needs to respond to what the user needs at the time rather than serving as a process for the day.
  5. Won’t fill up with clutter from non-essential repeating checklist type tasks when days get crazy and there’s no time to sit down in the office to sharpen pencils or file journal entries.
  6. Works equally well on iOS as it does on MacOS.
  7. Doesn’t require much brainpower to assign tags or projects or otherwise process. (having to make arbitrary choices like whether something is full energy or medium energy, or time intensive or quick wins, or unimportant vs important)

Does that help?


#6

I’ve posted free recordings of in-depth sessions with a variety of OmniFocus workflow guests. These seasoned OmniFocus users showcase their setup and talk about how they use OmniFocus to help navigate their day.

You can watch the recordings here. And I’ll be adding more in the future.

https://learnomnifocus.com/recordings/omnifocus-workflow-guests/

My intention is to have my OmniFocus setup be as simple as possible while also being well equipped to handle the complexities of life.

Also, I’ve found that one of the keys to keeping OmniFocus simple is to be clear on what purpose OmniFocus serves in your overall productivity system and to limit its use to that purpose.

I’ve provided coaching/consulting to many OmniFocus users over the years and a common trend is that people try to use OmniFocus for too many things. Using complementary productivity apps (including collaborative solutions) can take a lot of load off of OmniFocus and ultimately have it be a more useful tool.


#7

I would argue that everything can break over time, trees fall, volcanoes explode, and yes, software becomes deprecated.
My system is highly dependent on scripting and automation, because this way I have much less work to do. Today I added 14 projects to my OmniFocus, that took less than 5 minutes because I have automations for them - adding those projects by hand would have taken at least half an hour and there’s a good chance something would have been messed up along the way ;)


#8

Yeah. No doubt that it’s useful when you know how to do it. Would love to get there, but until then I need things to work without it.


#9

This is probably something that is advanced and is something that I wouldn’t do in the beginning. When I have the other core concepts of GTD down, I’d consider experimenting with automation. In the beginning, I had just two Keyboard Maestro macros that worked well for me. I would add a single macro when I saw the need for automation. Over time, I’ll start adding new macros as needed. Don’t disregard automation just yet.

I have other tools that complement Omnifocus. I have Fantastical working together with OmniFocus to schedule my tasks. I have Devonthink for my file reference. And I have a Bullet Journal for my daily driver.

But echoing the others, everyone has their own definition of simple. I’d say establish your habits for collecting, organizing, doing, and reviewing. Get a daily and weekly routine for your GTD habits working first. OmniFocus is just a tool to help with certain aspects of your workflow.


#10

I think you can probably only get to a simple system by setting up a complex one first, as (I think) Victor Borge said “to play the piano badly you first have to learn how to play it well”

I have used a very complex system based on Kourosh’s book, and while it worked perfectly I have since refined it, and changed it a bit for me, and that I guess is the key, ME! A simple system will be one that I understand and works for me, be it with automation, inter dependent perspectives or multiple tags or none of the these.

However I don’t think any of us could have got to a system that’s “simple” and works for us without having a more complex one (or many) previously that perhaps didn’t.


#11

I’ll bite. A simple system in the context of personal productivity means a very clear mental representation of your life data that is effortless to navigate and update. With one, there is a lot of power in just using OF’s built-in tools.

As a baseline, I would suggest:

  1. Create a clear project hierarchy. Each well-defined outcome/goal is represented by a project. Create one or more buckets for standalone tasks (as projects of type ‘Single Action List’). Create separate projects for routine tasks (it’s then easy to create perspectives that filter out these repeating tasks in order to concentrate on new achievements). Group everything with folders by theme or area of responsibility if it makes sense for your life.
  2. Defer as much as possible. Use the OF ability to put actions or entire projects on hold (so that they are ‘remaining’ but not currently ‘available’). Apply defer dates to every action that you cannot or do not want to start before a particular date. Use ‘sequential’ projects or action groups when it’s clear that actions need to be performed in order.
  3. Create tags for unambiguous locations (home, office, a particular shop, etc) and people. Apply them when it’s obvious that they relate to the action.
  4. Create a ‘Waiting’ tag with on-hold status (for an event or deliverable that is necessary before you can complete other tasks) and an ‘Agenda’ tag (for items you need to discuss with other people).
  5. Maintain a shortlist of actions (using either flags or a specific tag), which you look at and update daily.
  6. Review and update all actions weekly.

Apply this and IMHO you are immediately in the most productive 5% of the population. The number of ‘Available’ actions is minimised; you can view a slice of your database by project, with or without routines, your shortlist, a particular location, …

No automation, lengthy productivity courses, or systems existential crises necessary. You can subsequently create additional layers of sophistication, but for most people these will have diminishing returns. Of course, for some specific types of work the use of automation, complex conventions, or templates in OF may yield big productivity gains.


#12

I don’t have a good response, but just to say I’m eager to hear replies, and I think your criteria make sense. For me I’m trying to restart OF after falling out of using any consistent system for 6 months, so looking forward to ideas for simple systems.


#13

“Seek simplicity but distrust it” , a quote from Alfred North Whitehead. This might sound a little abstract but I believe this reminds us that we shouldn’t stop aiming for the cleanest solution but remind ourselves that we still need the granularity if we look closer.


#14

Is this what it feels like to get “mansplained?”

I never imagined that asking people about their simple setups would turn into an episode of kung fu.

Sheesh…


#15

This is great.


#16

I could be wrong, but I think mine fits all of these criteria save maybe #5.

  1. A single level of folders with projects in each.
  2. No tags at all.
  3. I use defer dates to decide when I’ll do tasks.
  4. Anytime I need to see agendas or waiting tasks, I do a global search.

The catch here is what I put inside the projects. I use a large number of repeating tasks to help build a routine for the day. But it can be skipped if I need. My day job is IT Director. So I have a lot of work that shows up each day as opposed to planning it.

So when I add to and review my system, I simply need to know what project the task belongs to and when I’ll do it this week. If I can’t do it this week, the Defer Date is left empty. The weekly review gives me time to assign Defer Dates for the week ahead.

My plan is to detail this out with Tim Stringer in mid November. Until then, I’m on a mission to simplify even further if I can.


#17

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

In my opinion, OmniFocus is a very good tool for helping us achieve this aim, but we need to be disciplined.

I actively embrace the complexity of: Project Folders, Projects, Tags, “Defer Until” and “Repeat” functionality (in particular) for tasks, and Perspectives. These are the engine that drive the simplicity of just a few very reliable Perspectives. And those very few Perspectives allow my daily execution to be quite simple.

NOW is my perspective for highest priority personal routines that help me structure my days. The NOW perspective shows on my Apple Watch, takes pride of place on my phone, iPad and computers, and audibly notifies me of the ways that I like to chunk my time plus crucial reminders each day. This perspective moves my attention on to where it needs to be.
WORK PRIORITIES shows me everything I’ve marked with the Today tag, along with my highest priority Work Project available tasks – and nothing else.
HOME PRIORITIES shows me all of my high priority administrative and organisational routines that really do have to be done very regularly, but not at particular times.
WORK and HOME perspectives show me options for other things I’d like to do when my priority lists are empty.

And I use a SometimeMaybe tag to keep most of my ideas out of sight (all of my active Perspectives include a “Not the tag SometimeMaybe” condition; SometimeMaybe folders hold ideas and future projects out of my weekly reviews for culling every few months).

I achieve simplicity on the other side of complexity by limiting myself to only using a very few Perspectives on a day-to-day basis, and rejigging my organisation routines to refocus on getting the right things into those few perspectives. It’s a complex system – absolutely limited to the standard OF functions – that delivers simplicity to my days.


#18

I think you’d enjoy this:


#19

I’m not really able to add a simple solution here, but I love the initial idea of this thread and the opennes of that question.

And I can tell why, if you have time for my personal OF-history:
I used Omnifocus 2 for about 2 years or a little longer, (even read the famous book „Creating Flow with OmniFocus“ from @Kourosh who already answered above.) I got a really solid system for myself. It worked pretty well, but it just felt too complex for what I actually needed. I can’t give any good arguments right now (it was some time ago), it just felt like. (Maybe it was even just a ux or design problem. that stuff has a big impact for me, personally)
Because of that I was seeing myself grinding through this forum 3 times a week or even more, just because I felt like I needed something to change. And I was looking for inspiration, ideas, i don’t know.
But – and the following is meant to be a compliment, although it maybe doesn’t sound like in the end – this community is full of heavy power users and OF masterminds, who are able to give valid and detailed answers to any specific problem and who can tell you how to tweak everything to make it work the way you want. and that’s great. The only problem: it’s damn complex. too complex.

So at one point I switched to Things 3 which made everything a little easier. But after a while I started missing OF, because of several functions, like location based tasks and and nesting and some more. OF 3 came out, looked good, I switched back. Same thing started again.
But at least: today I know why the complex configurations that – once they’re set up – should make your life way easier, never really worked for me: because they’re just not flexible enough. When the requirements changed, I had to rethink the system as a whole or change so many parameters, to make it work seamless again. And when it finally worked, the next change of requirements was just around the corner. (I’m working in journalism, pr communication consulting and business development (generalist and holistic thinker), so the character of my projects and tasks differ a lot.

At the moment, I’m back to an analogue notebook, because it’s flexible and it feels good to avoid screen time whenever it’s possible. But hey, I’m still reading the omni-newsletter to see what’s going on here. And this topic is just great! Maybe I just should have asked the same, some time ago.

@Kourosh: Personal Thanks for writing that book! I would recommend it to everyone, who wants to get things done with OF. And it’s teaching things that go way beyond the software itself.

Hopefully I’m not too far away from the topic with this.


#20

I’d look at other systems and pick the tips that applied to my life. Time blocking might work for people who have control over their schedule but it is not effective for others whose job revolves around putting out daily or hourly fires.

Keep the tips that works for you and disregard the rest. OmniFocus is very powerful but we don’t have to use all of the features. I use 2% of Photoshop and maybe 10% of MIcrosoft Word and Excel. And I’m perfectly fine with that,