Learn how to get into the habit of using OmniFocus with some help from the habit tracking app, Streaks.
Making productive use of OmniFocus and complementary productivity apps requires two key elements.
- System Design – You need a thoughtfully configured system that’s aligned with your life and work. This is something that evolves and changes form as your responsibilities and circumstances change.
- Habits – You need to develop habits around the use of your system. Even the most carefully crafted OmniFocus setup won’t have any significant impact if you’re not in the habit of leaning on it as you go through the day. It’s equally important to develop habits around maintenance so that your OmniFocus setup reflects your current and future priorities.
In this article, we’ll delve into the process of developing productive habits. While we’ll focus on OmniFocus, this same process could be applied to the other apps that make up your overall productivity system. You can also leverage what you learn in this article to promote constructive habits in all areas of your life.
Before we delve into the details, let’s take a moment to explore habits and the role that they serve. For the purposes of this article, we’ll treat a habit as something that you do automatically, often in response to a trigger of some sort.
Some habits might take us down unproductive paths. For example, you might automatically to open the Twitter app when you get stuck on a project. Others can be highly constructive. For example, having a habit of referring to OmniFocus when you wonder what to do next.
The key to developing habits is to repeat the same actions over and over again until they become engrained. It typically works best to repeat these actions daily (or even multiple times a day), though there may be things that you do periodically (e.g., once a week). For this article, we’ll focus on activities that are performed at least once a day.
One way to develop and track habits is to use a habit tracking app. While it isn’t essential to use a habit tracking app to form new habits, a well-designed app can help guide the development of your new habits. Most habit tracking apps also provide helpful metrics so that you can monitor your progress and adjust your behaviour accordingly.
We’ll focus on an excellent app called Streaks that’s available for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Conveniently, Streaks allows you to use iCloud to sync your habits and tracking information across all the supported platforms.
Why not use OmniFocus to develop habits?
You may be wondering, why do I need a habit-tracking app like Streaks? Can’t I just use repeating actions in OmniFocus? While you certainly could use repeating actions in OmniFocus to develop habits, there are advantages to using a habit-tracking app likes Streaks.
OmniFocus is very useful for keeping track of things that you’re committed to doing that you don’t want to or need to remember. For example, you probably don’t need to develop a habit of paying your Visa bill on the first Friday of the month. Instead, if you’re using OmniFocus effectively, it’s sufficient to have a repeating “Pay Visa bill” action in OmniFocus with the appropriate defer and due dates.
Streaks: Training Wheels for Your Habits
Streaks was designed to help you create habits that are destined to become engrained behaviours. As the name implies, Streaks helps you cultivate these habits by encouraging you to do things consistently over and over again without breaking the chain of completion.
As mentioned previously, habits are typically actions that are taken daily, or even multiple times a day. Streaks can also help you develop habits with other cadences. Maybe there are things that you want to get into the habit of doing on weekdays that don’t apply to weekends (e.g., clearing out your paper inbox at work).
You can think of Streaks as the training wheels for your up-and-coming habits. Once you’re satisfied that your habits are well established, you can archive the habit, saving it for posterity, and let the momentum you’ve created carry you forward.
The goal with Streaks is not to do everything perfectly from the beginning. Instead, you can use it to view metrics on your progress and to notice what gets in the way of doing the things that you aim to make habitual. Metrics within the app will allow you to tap into information such as your longest streak and the time of day that you typically mark habits complete.
The Role of Notifications
Streaks can notify you if you haven’t completed a task by a specific time. It’s important not to rely on these notifications. Remember that your goal is to develop engrained behaviours that don’t rely on technology. While it’s ok to make use of notifications at first, strive to complete tasks in Streaks before you’re notified about them so that the notifications become a safety net instead of a call to action.
It can be very helpful to tie these tasks to a habit that you’ve already developed. For example, maybe it’s something that you do right after lunch or just before watching your favourite TV show.
Using Streaks with OmniFocus
As mentioned previously, OmniFocus is only useful if you use it regularly. Practically speaking, this includes developing a habit of turning to OmniFocus when it’s time to get things done. It’s equally important to get into the habit of maintaining your OmniFocus database so that OmniFocus becomes a useful and trusted companion.