Omnifocus and task management bankruptcy

So I’m a long time “user” of OmniFocus. I say “user” because I’ve yet to master it. I try to put stuff in the inbox and then later on do something with it like move it into a project or create a project from it, etc. What actually happens is that I enter stuff into the inbox, forget about it until a few days later when it doesn’t matter, or I do the task and check it off. Sometimes I manage to create projects, but they sit there and languish.

So I’m using OmniFocus as a glorified reminder list rather than what it was meant for, i.e. GTD. I understand the basics of GTD but I have never really caught on with it in practice. I’m on the beta of the OmniFocus for iOS 3 and am on the list for the Mac, thinking that the tags might help me actually do something useful.

An issue right now is that there is no Mac version with tags, so I can’t quite take advantage of them just yet. But I believe my overall issue is that I just need to start over with my database of tasks but I’m not sure where to start and how to do it.

I just feel like I’m missing the OmniFocus basics and never took the time to learn them properly. Or is GTD just not for me and I should find something else? Oh Task Management Gods and Goddesses please help me!

In order to make the GTD system work, you really need to process your inbox every day and review on a regular basis (default is once a week, but that can vary depending on the pace of your life and tasks). If you get everything out of the inbox and assign it a project and review on a regular basis, I think the system would work a lot better for you.

That said, not everyone needs a GTD level system. For some folks a simple to-do list would work just fine. Is the to-do approach working for you? Do you really need a more powerful system? Don’t feel obligated to use GTD just because you think you “should”. Use it because you need that level of task management.

Have you read David Allen’s book? If you do decide that you need to do GTD I’d highly recommend reading the book. I think the system will be a lot clearer once you’ve read it.


I read the book a long time ago and probably need to revisit it to get grounded. I think I need a complex system because I’m tracking both work and home tasking. But maybe I don’t. I just feel like any system is better than what I’ve done in the past as I tend to forget to do things if I’m not reviewing my lists regularly. I will go read the GTD book again now, thanks for the idea!

I don’t know that having both home/work tasks necessarily requires GTD, but if stuff is slipping through the cracks then you would probably benefit from a heavier-duty system.

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No system is going to work well without a commitment to a daily check of the inbox and a weekly review. Don’t worry about the Mac version or tagging at this point - get those basics ingrained first.


I’ve circled around GTD many times and have never made it ‘fit’ with the way I think - perhaps because as a complex ICT project manager, I have a very different view of what a project actually is - in my mind, they are highly complex, span an extended period (sometimes years) and require a complexity of management far beyond something like OmniFocus. Everything outside this construct is, to me, a task or series of tasks.

Once I realised this, I stopped trying to force myself to think in terms of Projects and instead started to group “like activities”. For example - I have a Work area in my task app. Underneath Work, I have sub-areas for General (day to day activities) and specific activities I might be working on (eg, Document XYZ). I don’t try and link related activities, I don’t try to organise things in a hierarchy, I just dump everything into its relevant group. If I try to do anything more complex, I end up wasting a lot of time trying to get it “just right”.

I use tags/context to organise inside this construct - eg, I have a tag for my boss. Everything I need to talk to her about across all the relevant groups is tagged with her name, so that I can bring up one long list when we meet rather than having to remember everything by project.

In terms of review, I have my task app open most of the day (I record issues, progress etc in the task notes). I spend fifteen minutes at the end of the day updating things and closing them out, then fifteen minutes at the start of each day reviewing and planning for the day ahead.


Perhaps you would be better suited to a simpler task manager.

Try the Things 3 trial or Todoist.

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Meredith, which task manager do you use?

Since you’re using OF as a glorified reminders app, why not just use the Reminders app?
Have a list for Home, and one for Work.
Try that for a while, and if you need more functionality, find an app that provides it.

I agree with @Beresford_Salmon’s implication, simpler is better. I currently use #NotePlan, and am looking at #Agenda, as I like the way it keeps notes in a timeline, and linked to calendar events. For one-off things, or low priority (cleaning the cat box), I use Reminders.

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“Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” - Albert Einstein

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Many good suggestions in this thread.

Just a few reminders about the GTD system. The method is itself tool agnostic, and can be managed with pen and paper. Of course, software is nice for us who like that, but the underlying methods can be adapted and executed with whatever tools suits you the best. Make it as simple as you can, while ensuring you cover the basics of what you need.

One key principle of GTD is to use “a trusted system” where you collect and process everything on your mind. As mr. Allen says: “Your mind is great for having ideas, not for holding them.” We all forget. If we can remember one thing, to check our trusted system, that should give us a good idea about what needs to be done next. The message here is to use ONE system for task management because otherwise, things will get lost.

GTD uses the term “Project” liberally, as in anything that requires more than a single action step. This is just semantics, so don’t get hung up on that.

If you are interested in brushing up your skills on GTD, re-reading the book is always good. The web is also full of resources just a Google search away. The David Allen Company has an official podcast channel which I follow, and there is a new version of the book out: GTD for Teens, primarily geared towards a younger audience. It uses the approach of encouraging you to try parts of the system, see what works for you, then try the next thing. I hear it also includes many fresh examples and plenty of graphics to convey the method by more visual means than earlier materials. You should not find any references to the @Telephone context in there either :slight_smile:

Good luck!


I tried to use OmniFocus for years but moved to ToDoist last year and have found it to work well for what I need. I’ve tinkered a bit with OmniFocus 3 on iOS but it may be a bit too expensive for my needs.


I strongly urge you to read the newer version of the book. The re-write made a lot more sense and really clarified many things. I also suggest taking a look at “Ready for Anything”. For me that really bumped my GTD practice to the next level.


Interesting. I’m an outlier in GTD terms in that many of my “simple” projects actually do span years due to the constraints of weather, season and other farming things. So while the GTD system considers a project to be something you complete within a year I have GTD projects that have taken 6 years to complete one single action and some projects that took decades to complete. They were started by my mother and were bequeathed to me when she passed on. It took a while but they did eventually get done.

Critical to me are my someday/maybe lists, and a procedure for moving things in and out of Omnifocus as the season for working for them passes.


hmmm… maybe instead of declaring bankruptcy, do a review of your tasks. If you don’t trust your task manager, you’ll want to declare bankruptcy and start all over again. But then you’re headed back to the same situation.

Review your tasks consistently and you’ll trust your system. Then you’ll actually like your task manager instead of switching between apps.

App switching will just disguise the problem - not reviewing enough to update your projects and tasks.


I literally just wrote about this a couple days ago on my blog.

My productivity review July 2018

I think everyone here has valid points and I wanted to emphasize the importance of a review of your actions. Without it you’re just pushing tasks around like a kid pushes food around on her/his plate.

It took me a while to realize that it’s not the software that’s going to make you better, it’s you who makes you better. Once you get your process down, whether it’s omnifocus, todoist, omniplan, or whatever the new hotness is, you’ll be better for it.


That’s what I ended up doing a couple weeks ago. it cleared out a bunch of unneeded tasks or tasks that didn’t either need due dates or could go in one project. I also had tons of tasks that were just reference files that I put elsewhere (mostly into DevonThink).

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I’ve been using a GTD system for about 15 years now. I’ve used Omnifocus in the past, but currently use Things 3. What I’ve realized over the years is to keep things simple. The idea of context might have been good in 2001, when you weren’t always in front of a computer or a phone was something tied to a desk. But now they are meaningless because the iPhone is always in my pocket and is a mini-computer. I now use tags, mainly for Errands, so when I leave my home or office, I can quickly see what things I need to buy. Otherwise I work in projects or areas of focus.

The main point is to get things done and spending less time organizing your tasks and doing them is the key. To keep this system working, a weekly review is important and a daily review of the inbox is too. Otherwise, don’t sweat it. Make the system work for you and don’t worry about what the right way is to do it.


I have created an Outbox project in OmniFocus for stuff like this - not terribly important but I’d probably like to keep it but I can’t be bothered to figure out where to put it at the moment.

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Contexts are not QUITE meaningless but they are far less meaningful then there were in 2001.

Still, I find that there are some things I can do better at my desk, on my MacBook Air, than I can do on either the iPhone or iPad. And some things do require physical presence somewhere.