Start by looking at what you’re responsible for and focused on in your life and configure OmniFocus to match.
OmniFocus is a very aptly named app. “Omni” (meaning “all”) implies that this a tool that can be used to manage all aspects of your life while giving you the ability to “focus” in on a specific area of your life, or even a specific project or task. With this in mind, the following article introduces one possible approach you could take to structuring OmniFocus, whether you're using OmniFocus for the first time or revamping an existing escatabase.
Gaining Perspective on Your System
Before delving into OmniFocus, I recommend hitting the pause button and taking some time to look at the big picture of your life. Gaining clarity around what you’re responsible for in your life and what’s important to you can help you configure OmniFocus in a way that mirrors your life. If OmniFocus is configured in this fashion and kept up-to-date it can help you make sure that all areas of your life are getting the appropriate amount of attention and provides a convenient and reliable way to gauge your commitment level.
Mind Mapping Your Areas of Responsiblity
David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology introduces the concept of “horizons of focus”, six levels of perspective that range from the “runway” level, where you perform discrete actions such as sending emails and running errands, to the 50,000+ foot view of your life, where the emphasis is on your purpose in life.
For now, we’ll focus on the 20,000 foot perspective, which is also known as “areas of responsibility”. Specifically we’ll look at how to create a mind map that graphically depicts your multifaceted life and all of the responsibilites you’ve assumed and need to track using OmniFocus.
A mind map is essentially a visual outline. You start with a central theme (in this case you and your areas of responsibility) and then add detail as you expand on this central theme. If you're less visually inclined, you could use an outlining tool such as OmniOutliner for this exercise.
To illustrate what this looks like in practice, I’ve created a fictional character called “Robin”. In a nutshell, Robin’s immediate family consists of a spouse, Chris and two children, Fredrick and Heidi. Robin works full-time at ACME Consulting, with responsibilities that include managing three team members (Larry, Mary and Harry) and reporting to ACME’s CEO, John. Robin is also an avid photographer and has a business called “Smile Photography” on the side.
Creating a Basic Mind Map
To begin with, let’s create a mind map that lays out the three main areas of Robin's life: Personal, ACME Consulting and Smile Photography. In this example, I’m creating a mind map using MindNode for Mac. There's also an iOS version of MindNode available that natively supports both the iPhone and the iPad.
Next, let’s take one of the top level items we just created and add another level of detail. We'll get more specific with the Personal responsibilities that Robin has assumed, that includes everything from making sure the family car is well maintained to cultivating and maintaining strong relationships with friends and family.
Each of these areas can be further expanded to add additional detail. For example, “Friends and Family” includes Robin's immediate family as well as some close friends that Robin is committed to staying in touch with, even when life gets busy and hectic. Essentially, this mind map becomes a visual declaration of who and what is most important in your life. Aim to make this mind map as complete as possible and be sure to include even the menial things, such as responsibilities you have around paying bills and taking care of your home. Having a mind map that is all encompassing will help you create a system that is well rounded and complete.
Getting the Complete Picture
You can apply this same approach to other areas of your life as well. In this example, Robin has a range of responsibilities at ACME Consulting. Start by listing the most general areas of responsibility and then delve into the specific responsiblities within these areas.
Similarly, in order for Smile Photography to be successful, there are certain responsibilities that Robin needs to assume, everything from taking care of the finances to honouring promises made to clients. In some cases, other people might be involved in doing the work. For example, Robin has a bookkeeper that takes care of keeping the books in order. Even though someone else is doing some of the actual work, Robin is still responsible for making sure the books are in order. Practically speaking, this might translated into having monthly check-ins with the bookkeeper.
A Living Document
The final mind map can be quite extensive, and even a little daunting. It’s important to treat this as a living document and to review and update it automatically, perhaps as part of a monthly review of your system. As part of this review, identify any areas of responsibilities that aren’t included on the mind map. If you’re overcommitted at the moment, look for responsibilities that could be at least partially delegated and identify things you're committed to that you’d be willing to let go of.
Creating Structure in OmniFocus
The next step is to apply the insights that you've gained through this exercise as you create or revamp your OmniFocus database. This process is covered in a separate article, Creating Structure in OmniFocus.