iPhone Life magazine

New Year's Resolution 1: Keeping Focused with OmniFocus

As I reached for my keyboard to write this post, my iPad chimed. This article on OmniFocus was due, at least to me, again, for the third day in a row. Rather than just postpone it again, I decided to write it.

Keeping track of the myriad activities of my life sometimes seems to take more time than doing the things I want to do. If I take the time to write them down, I fear, I will waste time better spent doing something real.

We live in an era of time starvation, and the argument that managing time takes too much time is about as rational as the world ending today (this is being published on 12/21/2012).

I’ve tried mind maps and to-do lists, striking up an affair with Siri and writing myself notes on the palm of my hand with indelible ink. Now I’m trying OmniFocus and it seems to be working. This post is due, and after a few reschedules, here it is.

OmniFocus is different than other approaches because it is designed for managing the entirety of a task, not just a lists of things to do. OmniFocus organizes tasks into projects and context. But you have to be willing to spend the time to create the items and manage them. It is also different because it has grown from its Macintosh roots into a Post-PC tool. I know longer have to think of something, jot it down and then input it next time I’m at the computer. Now I enter the item on my iPad and Synchronize to Omni Group’s WebDav servers and that new item is everywhere I have that account linked. In my case, my Mac and my iPad (you can also sync an iPhone or iPod).

Now, this is by far the most expensive software you may own on an iPad, outside of a game. $80 for the Mac, which is middle-of-the-road, but at $40 for the iPad it is even more expensive than Paper with all the in-app purchases applied. But at $40 there are no hidden purchases. The WebDav synchronization service is included. What the $40 really means is serious. If you are serious, the OmniGroup has written some serious software for you to use.

The OmniFocus iPad interface offers a more elegant and refined view of tasks and projects than the Mac client, and it includes a slightly revised taxonomy.  Hopefully OmniGroup will update the Mac client to be more consistent with the iPad soon. Some items, like publishing tasks to iCal, have been updated for Mountain Lion. OmniFocus works on the Mac, it just needs a facelift.

Using OmniFocus is easy. Put your stuff into the inbox. Assign it a context, a due date and a project, or any or none of those. I personally suggest you get as granular as possible and attempt due dates. Time management gurus have all kinds of classifications for stuff you’ll get to later. Even after it’s captured in OmniFocus, if you don’t assign it a due date, you may forget it’s there, so try to temporally contextualize your work as much as possible.

I like the simple capture of information along with the ability to see it from different perspectives. Rather than just looking at dates, you can look at it from the perspective of where you are or what you are doing (what things can I do from a computer, while I’m out in the car?). For best results, you have to put everything in. Don’t separate work and life. If you are going to manage your time, you need to manage all of it. OmniFocus is time management focused, not work focused, so don’t be afraid to put in a volleyball game or date night. 

I have integrated OmniFocus with my browser, so if I read something I want to take action on, all I have to do is highlight it and invoke the OmniFocus service. Next time I’m in the inbox, the new items are waiting for me to take action. Setting up e-mail is a breeze too. I used the option to put in a rule that looks for subject lines starting with “omni.” Send an e-mail to myself, from any source, and when it’s processed by mail on the Mac, it ends up in the OmniFocus inbox, ready for processing. I’ve also published my calendar via the WebDav server so I can subscribe to it with iCal.

I’m going to be testing OmniFocus during the course of 2013. I find myself already flipping between Twitter, GetGlue and other apps even while watching TV. If something I need to do pops to mind, I jot it down — not on  a note pad, but in OmniFocus. 

Now let me put in a few tasks to make sure I write a monthly update on how well OmniFocus and I are getting along.Ne

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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Daniel W. Rasmus, the author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design, is a strategist, industry analyst, and business correspondent for iPhone Life magazine. Prior to starting his own consulting practice, Rasmus was the Director of Business Insights at Microsoft Corporation, where he helped the company envision how people will work in the future.

Before joining Microsoft, Rasmus was Research Vice President at the Giga Information Group and Forrester Research Inc. Rasmus also is an internationally recognized speaker. He blogs regularly for Fast Company and on his own blog, Your Future in Context. His education-related work can be found at Learning Reimagined.