Best Practice: Make OmniFocus a Sacred Space

Be mindful of what you’re using OmniFocus for and make sure it doesn’t become a dumping ground.

When people contact me for OmniFocus coaching and consulting, a common refrain is that they don’t feel that they’re using OmniFocus to its full potential. They’re getting some value from using the software, but sometimes feel stressed when they look at their long list of projects and their overflowing inbox. In many cases, a core issue is that people are putting things into OmniFocus that don’t really belong in OmniFocus.

What goes into OmniFocus?

It may be tempting to put everything under the sun into OmniFocus, including lists of books that you might read one day and movies that have been recommended by friends. While it’s certainly technically possible to store all of this information in OmniFocus, it may make more sense to store this information elsewhere, reserving OmniFocus for all the projects and tasks that you intend to complete.

Generally speaking, I recommend using OmniFocus exclusively for outcomes you’re working towards and actionable tasks. Make sure that you’re naming projects in a way that accurately defines their objective and, when creating actions, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that they’re actionable tasks, and not incomplete thoughts.

If you choose to store non-actionable items in OmniFocus, make sure they’re separate from actionable content. This might include, for example, having a separate Someday/Maybe folder that contains projects and single action lists that are on hold.

A place for everything…

Project support material and things that you may do at some point are generally best stored elsewhere. In doing so, you’re helping ensure that your OmniFocus database is an up-to-date and accurate reflection of what you’re committed to in your life and not an potpourri of possible routes you could take.

Here are some specific suggestions of places to store things that you might be tempted to dump into OmniFocus:

  • OmniOutliner — Another product from the Omni Group, OmniOutliner, is an excellent tool for planning projects at the conceptual level and maintaining project details. You can even link your OmniOutliner documents to your OmniFocus projects and actions for easy access.
  • Evernote — Use Evernote to capture a variety of information that you may want to refer back to in the future. All of this information is easily accessible when you need it and doesn’t add clutter to OmniFocus. For added convenience, it’s possible to reference Evernote notes from OmniFocus projects and actions.
  • Movies — Create a free IMDB (Internet Movie Database) account and add movies that you’d like to watch to either the Watchlist or one or more lists that you create yourself. If you install the free IMDB iOS app on your iPhone and iPad, you’ll have convenient mobile access to your lists. And when it’s time to pick a movie you’ll have all of the relevant information, including a synopsis and a movie trailer, at your fingertips.
  • Books — Do you often get recommendations for books to read? Create a free GoodReads account and store them there. If you install the free GoodReads iPhone app you can even add books by your list by scanning the books’ covers or barcodes.

Recommended Reading

If you haven’t already, I recommend reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book and putting the best practices he recommends into action. Check out the Getting Things Done (GTD) page for resources to help to get you up to speed with GTD.

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