OmniFocus Newbie

I have adult ADHD. I have owned OmniFocus 1, 2 and now 3 Pro, hoping it will help organize my life. And I have basically never used it. Because I have adult ADHD.

I decided to upgrade to version 3, telling myself once again that I will learn it. I’m looking for suggestions for a reference to use to learn the program, one will make it easy to learn. If it can teach me GTD at the same time, that would be even better.

I have the iOS app, and I’m ready to incorporate this into my life. I just need an easy way to do it that isn’t going to take me into the weeds.


I can recommend the book Build Your OmniFocus Workflow by Ryan Dotson and Rosemary Orchard ( (@nostodnayr and @RosemaryOrchard on the forum) and the OmniFocus Field Guide screencast course by David Sparks (@MacSparky).

My review of the book

My review of the Field Guide


If you’re truly interested in learning GTD, my advice would be to learn GTD first. Read the book, and, if you think that methodology is right for you, dive in and set up your GTD system the way he advises. Once you’ve done that, most of what OmniFocus is designed to do will become much more obvious to you.

Better yet, at that point you’ll be able to decide if OmniFocus is even the right choice for you or if there’s some other tool or method that works better for you. Maybe Things is better for you. Maybe keeping your system with pen and paper is better. You won’t know until you’re putting your GTD knowledge into practice.


why not start simple? Enter 1 or 2 single action lists and see where that takes you. You can read the books when you have some time, and get some simple use out of OF in the mean time to get your feet wet.


As a person who also has ADHD, this was EXACTLY what I had to do with OmniFocus.

Complexity seems to feel good in the beginning, but starting with simpler uses and expanding upon them gradually is the best recipe for success here. OmniFocus lived as a simple to-do list manager for me for months after purchasing it. But every time I would try to add some fancy set up or try to emulate what a more seasoned user would do, it would quickly get out of control.

My advice (as I’ve seen others suggest) is get to the heart of understanding and implementing the GTD methodology, and as you do so, use OmniFocus as a daily capturing inbox tool and simple to-do list manager. After a period of consistent use and application, then tinker with one new thing and one new thing ONLY for the next few weeks before adding something else.

Be precise with the usage of due dates and use them sparingly. As ADHD people, we live in a constant state of distraction that can give way to feelings of overwhelm. Adding 100+ things all with due dates is a great way to create panic and end in a state of avoidance with the app.


Agreed. In addition something I need to revisit is doing the weekly review. That allows for seeing projects I otherwise might not catch. I also try to not use due dates too much. Some weeks are more productive then others but such is life.


I used Omnifocus for a long time and really leveled up my usage after I read @Kourosh’s book Creating Flow with Omnifocus


If you visit @Kourosh’s blog, you’ll see that he has a series of video screencasts about getting into OmniFocus Basics. It is a seven part series. This is a great way to get better acquainted with OmniFocus.


GTD’s website also offers a set-up guide specifically for OmniFocus and for other tools (like Outlook, the stock reminders app, and many others). The guide for OF was only $10 and I found it interesting to see the recommended way that David Allen’s team would “map” OF to GTD. I didn’t agree with all the ideas, but I found it helpful in correcting some friction points I had created with my own set up. You can find it here: GTD OmniFocus 3 Set Up Guide. [I have no affiliation with the company!]

By the way, the GTD recommended method is probably the most simple and efficient set up I’ve seen. My personal set up is more complex because I use perspectives more than contexts/tags standing alone. But if you decide to implement GTD and are looking for simplicity, this might be to your liking.

Tom — I recently downloaded that guide and found it helpful as well. Do you recall some of the things you found that didn’t agree? Thx, Beck

There are a few of things that I can think of off the top of my head. I did not love the idea of having the “—” non-project (i.e., project for actions that don’t really belong in a GTD-defined project), for two reasons.

First, for some reason OmniFocus wants the non-project to be called miscellaneous and I could rename it on one device (say my Mac), but then (a) if had my inbox set to clean on either context or project, (b) I was working on another device (e.g., my iPad), and © I set an action item to have a context but no project, then OF would create a new miscellaneous project. That would also happen on my iPhone. (That might sound like an intricate set of conditions, but that’s only because it’s clumsy to describe.) I was not sure if I could fix that problem and did not investigate further because of the second and more important reason for my work flow.

Second, I use perspectives and other settings to make sure OF only surfaces tasks that I can work on in the situation I’m in (I want to avoid confusion so I’m not referring to that as context). That means, for example, I don’t want personal tasks showing up when I need to focus on work. But having a single overarching “—” project defeated that goal.

My method is to have a couple of “non-projects” or single action lists so I can segregate tasks by “domain” a little easier.

The second issue I had was with the recommendation to use “clean up immediately.” I’d rather have the control to press the broom icon when I’m ready and leave the tasks in place in case I have further edits.

The third issue was the idea of NOT setting a context (tag) for an action item until you are ready to put it in the queue. I’m actually on the fence about this one. Trying it out did remove a lot of clutter (tasks I couldn’t really get to in a particular situation) but my sense of order feels like this is a sloppy solution and that Omni’s other tools and features could be better used to solve this same problem. I haven’t settled this one in my mind yet.

@beck what were your thoughts about their recommended set up?

(Forgive all the parenthetical explanations. Those were intended for the OP and other readers who may not be familiar with the guide and still want to follow along.)


I would be derelict if I forgot to point you in the direction of @timstringer’s Learn OmniFocus site.

There’s nothing better than having a real-time coach to answer your questions. He regularly has video workflows of other people walking through their OmniFocus workflow. It’s a great way to see how others are using this app. There is a three month membership with regularly scheduled Learn OmniFocus Office Hour sessions where you join an online video chat group session to toss out questions and even help others.

The blog has the schedule of upcoming video sessions:

There are quite a few MPU folks that are on there as well…

Well worth a look-see! Here are some examples of some of the Workflow guests he’s had. You might even recognize a couple of names!

David Sparks
Rose Orchard

The latest workflow guest was posted earlier today.
Brian Renshaw

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I have the guide and also didn’t agree with some stuff. Specifically the idea that the default for projects is parallel. My default is sequential.

I also didn’t like the miscellaneous project so I also created 2 single action lists. My solution was to not have automatic clean-up on the OF inbox unless both a project and a context/tag was defined which solved some of the issues.

Ditto for disliking not setting a tag on an action until it’s ready to go. I found that making double work for me, once to decide what it should be and then again to re-decide what it should be to add it later. I hated it. I set a tag/context for every action I define at the time I enter it into my system.

I also make extensive use of custom perspectives only available in the pro version but the advantages make the extra cost worth it.

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Get and read the 3 GTD books first. The Making it all Work and Ready For Anything ones are IMO better than the GTD one but the latest version of the main GTD none is better than the older version.

Start simple, pick one area to test your Omnifocus system on. Play with it in that area or project until you’ve got it tuned for you.

DO A WEEKLY REVIEW AT LEAST WEEKLY! Yes, I am shouting. That is the critical ingredient that everyone forgets or ignores. The review is more important as you are learning than at any other time.

Make liberal use of a someday/maybe list or lists. For most folks if you can’t get to it in this week then it belongs in someday/maybe. I like long lists of available actions so I prefer things I might or wish to work on in this quarter available to me but I am an outlier in terms of my GTD practice. Try the simple way first. What you will do this week only. If you want split S/M into multiple lists, not now, bucket or by area of focus, whatever works for you. Try one big one until you feel a need to split it up. By way of reference I now have 57 different someday/maybe lists organized by my AOFs and some for subsets of an AOF because I like lists to be not more than about 150 items on it.

Allow PLENTY of time for processing inputs. Plan on and block out at least an hour or better yet 2 hours every single day just to properly process your incoming things in all your inboxes. That’s everything from your ideas, emails, paper, items that need work, everything. It takes at least that much time to get how to process down. Use the flowchart on how to process each time. I’ve been working in Omnifocus and using GTD for 10 years but I still pull out my processing flowchart to review as I process my stuff each day.

Avoid or banish due dates from your vocabulary. The quickest way to madness in Omnifocus is using due dates. Wait until you really see a real need to do that.


Good timing I’ve decided to move my brain into OF due to overwhelm. Any idea if you can automatically add a tag to a project E.g. for any item I add to my LJPUK (my blog) project I want each new item to be tagged with ‘blog post’ without me doing anything.

This will happen if the project has the tag and you create the new task in that project :slight_smile:

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I second this statement:

I have been doing some form of a weekly review relatively consistently for more than 20 years now (although I did it differently pre-GTD). There are lots of great reason for, and benefits from doing the weekly review. Bu there is one reason, for me, that stands above them all.

The weekly review is the most powerful tool in your arsenal to catch gaps in your system and prevent tasks from getting lost. One of the foundational design principles behind GTD is to get everything out of your mind and into a trusted system so that you can focus on what you are doing without getting distracted by other things that you remember you need to do. The weekly review makes sure you can trust your trusted system.

I see all the tasks in my “inventory” at least once a week. So, if I mis-categorized an action, mis-file an action, forget to schedule a due date, or just realize a task is more important than I first realized, it’s never more than a few days before I see it again. That has saved my bacon so many times. More importantly, I almost never feel stress about the work I’ve chosen to do because I know the system is going to enable to get to all of it in time.


I really liked the Making It All Work book. I actually took the plunge and bought GTD for Teens. One of the co-authors is an educator and he broke down GTD into layman’s terms and is probably easier to understand for GTD beginners.

As @OogieM states, try GTD and OF on one small area of your life - your personal life, your professional life, or even just a small project. Don’t try to move your entire life into OF (or another task manager) until you’ve tried it in one Area of Responsibility.

David Allen did say that it takes about two years for anyone to get GTD to click. Be patient.

+1 for me. My default is sequential as well. Every once in a while I will use a parallel project but it has a lot of action groups that are sequential.

I try to apply projects and tags at the beginning too. During a weekly review, I can always change the tags anyways.

And I’m thankful that we can take bits and parts of different workflows and adapt it for our own use. There are many features of OF that I don’t even use. If I need it, I know where it is. Otherwise, I don’t have to use it.

This one feature is what I use the most. It is highly underrated. I’m surprised Things 3 doesn’t have a saved search built-in. We have to create Siri Shortcuts to emulate OF3’s custom perspectives.


I found the recommendations made a mess of my former setup. I was very much organized by projects and had many on hold or someday/maybe’d, which was on hold as well. Making everything active threw a big wrench in my views and I had to take stock of how I was doing everything.

I did take stock, though, and I think I’m moving in a better direction. It’s actually called into question the entire way I was deciding what to do on any given day. I used to plan the week and forecast out things that needed to get done. Now, I chose what to do each day and use tags/contexts more. There’s a larger story here, I will probably post on my blog about it sometime soon.

I’m on the fence about the “—” project, but I’ve kept it for now. It’s currently empty FWIW.

On the whole, I ended up creating a lot more lists of things. I have a “Reference” folder with all sorts of lists in it that I maintain when items I’d like to add come to mind. Some of these lists have tasks that point to Omnioutliner files with more lists. I’m not sure how I like that, but I also realize OF isn’t really made to be a massive list keeper (though I wish it were more inclined to be as much). In general, though, I felt the PDF gave me permission to use lists more liberally and I like that.

I’m a neurally diverse person myself. I recommend @Kourosh 's Being Productive, Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, and Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method.

Also remember this is a journey. I’ve started small with each of these, and revisit them to improve my process.
OmniFocus is too much of a time suck for me, and I feel like despite devoting time to keeping it up, I can’t get a good picture of what’s going on. I’m going to remove it from computers and devices. My Bullet Journal has given me a much better view, and I feel much more informed about all the projects and areas of my life. Again, I’m starting simple, and revising as I go. For tech, Fantastical and Reminders should be all I need.

Good luck on your journey.