Fake priorities with OmniFocus

There was no reasonable way to assign priorities in OmniFocus until Version 3. That’s because OmniFocus was initially based on GTD and GTD rejects the idea of priorities.

Now, with Version 3, OmniFocus is designed as a general-purpose task manager, which can be used for GTD or any other system. With tags, you can now create priorities.

I’m no GTD purist, but I reject priorities too. Priorities just seem too fiddly to me. Prioritizing tasks seems to me like one of those activities that has more to do with managing the task list than with actually getting things done.

I feel the same way about assigning energy levels. If I’m low energy, I just move slower, but I do the same things that I do when I’m high energy. On the other hand, sometimes I’ll put off completing a task until I’m fully awake and fresh so maybe I do do energy levels after all. However, I don’t assign a tag to that task – I just put it off to the next day after I’ve had a good night’s sleep.

But I digress.

It occurred to me the other day that OmniFocus does do a kind of prioritization, and has all along:

  • Tasks with the deadline of today are top priority. There will be a penalty if I fail to get them done. Sometimes the penalty is as small as my failing to meet a commitment to someone. It gets tricky because sometimes the commitment is to myself.

  • You can also assign a flag to a task. I’ve been using flags lately to keep top-of-mind the tasks I want to at least consider doing that day. The flagged perspective is the only one I check many times a day; I check other perspectives in the morning and evening and that’s that. I think most people who use flags use them something like that.

  • You can simply have tasks that are available. Many of those will be untagged.

  • This weekend, I started a tag called “waiting” for stuff I know I’m not going to get to this week. I mark the status of that tag as “on hold.” That sounds like a GTD someday/maybe list, but I don’t think of it that way. I think of someday/maybe as more like a bucket list. I’d like to go to China! I’d like to write a novel! Items on my “waiting” list are more commonplace. Like, one of the items on my “waiting” list is reviewing a few 2019 events calendars for every conference I’m going to want to go to next year.

That’s four priority levels right there.

This evening I added a fifth - a tag called “current.” That’s for tasks that I know I don’t want to even think about tomorrow, but which I don’t want to have fall into the available/untagged list, where I won’t see that task until Sunday. Maybe I’ll try to review the “current” tag in the evening. Maybe I should tag it “evening” instead.

Also, I have a tag called “early” for things I want to get to first thing in the morning. I have a reminder in Due to check that every day at 8:30 am. There’s almost never anything in there, but I want to get in the habit of checking that tag because on days when there is something there, I’m disappointed when I don’t get to it.

I’m just thinking out loud here. How do you solve these kinds of problems?


I do not reject priorities. They are essential to resolve conflicts or decision-overload when all else is equal. I assign priorities to Projects not tasks. I assign the priorities outside of OF (in Kanban boards). I use a modification of the Urgent/Important matrix (which I never am able to fully understand).

1 - required (this Project is a demand that must be met above all else)
2 - duty (this Project is a demand by others that should be met with due haste)
3 - need (the Project is a demand by me that must be met with due haste)
4 - desire (this Project should be done)
5 - dream (this Project would be nice to do)

The “first things first” mantra naturally means that tasks with due dates get handled first. I set flags on tasks (or Action Groups) inside Projects that are in an Active lane of my Kanban board. Alternatively, I set flags on tasks that follow an Action Group as “clean up” tasks (so they clean up is not forgotten). After tasks with due dates (of “today”), I work on flagged tasks.

I find that assigning tags in OF should be a “set once and forget it” approach. I make exceptions for one tag: dropped. Now that OF3 supports multiple tags, I will set this as a way to track that a task was set up but not done.



GTD does not reject priorities. In GTD the hierarchy is first the tool or location you must be in to do something, then the time available, then priority and energy needed. Lots of people think that GTD is against priorities and that is not true.

That said, I’ve never really bought into the whole concept of a tagging system for something simple like tasks. Tags to me seem like fiddling with the task manager and not getting things done. I have really struggled to find a reasonable use case for tags in task management in spite of many folks thinking they are the bees knees.

My method of getting around the whole complex system you describe about tagging and flagging and the issues you describe is that every morning, the second thing I check on my computer is to read every context and the actions in it. That way I get a feel for what’s behind, what’s due etc. This took less than 2 minutes this morning and I have over 200 available actions in my OF system right now. The first thing I check is the weather, lots depends on weather and that will affect my entire day. Checking the weather sites actually takes longer than checking my context lists. I need tonot only know what it is now but look at radar and temperature projections for the rest of the day. So I spend about 5 minutes in the morning doing those 2 things and that provides plenty of awareness and structure for the rest of the day.

I also have a much more liberal use of Someday/Maybe than you describe. First off I have many S/M lists. One is labeled bucket list but others are rather loosly based on Areas of Focus. In the natural course of adding things to the lists and reviewing them the more pie in the sky things are lower down in the list and things that are more likely to get done or more important rise to the top. I keep my lists in a text file note in DEVONThink and have over 50 separate lists right now. I also pull projects in and out of OF into DEVONThink regularly.


For your case, a start on using tags would be Fair Weather and Foul Weather. Your tasks could be tagged as such when initially created. Once you check the weather, you can view the appropriate Action List (tag), and there are the tasks you can do, given the weather.
This would seem to be advantageous as it would mean you only have to make the weather decision once for each task, rather than considering all 200 every morning.

Full credit to @Kourosh, whose Being Productive course is teaching me these things.

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Ah but in farming, while weather prevents some tasks from being performed there are others that are difficult to do in certain weather but must happen anyway. Bad weather will change the way a task is performed or might change the time of day.

It only takes 2 minutes to read all my tasks each day vs an extra 10 seconds to add the tag. so I would spend on average half an hour adding tags to every task instead of 2 minutes to read them. And yes, I can easily add several hundred new tasks in a day. Thus tags are inefficient.

Adding tags is a huge time sink and I am yet to be convinced of the usefulness of the system when dealing with actions.

Where tagging shines IMO is in dealing with really large volumes of similar material. As in using keywords in LightRoom to help narrow down photos. But in that case I’m looking at around 50K individual items and the time spent adding tags is repaid vs the time spent searching for a particular image days, months or years in the future or when someone else is searching for the image.

Part of being productive is the tradeoff between time spent maintaining the system vs time spent using the system. If it doesn’t provide a clear advantage why spend the time doing it?

Tags can give you a view of items across projects based on some common attribute, rather than by project.
Not everyone needs that.

Is it possible to set up a perspective that sorts task order manually, by drag-and-drop? If so, what are the criteria for that perspective?

Not that I’m aware. You can sort projects manually and then their next actions are in the same order in perspectives.

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This has been bugging me for a couple of weeks and I think I have it figured out.

I can just add an “important” tag to any items I want to be able to sort manually. Then open that tag view, set view to “available,” and sort manually as desired.

I just tried it and it works. Haven’t tried it with a real to-do list though.