Scheduling time to work on things

(apologies for cross posting, this is getting crickets on the OF forum)

In OF tasks/projects we have Estimated Duration, Defer Until, and Due. These fields don’t address the crucial part of allocating and scheduling time to make the things happen.

I’m sitting here with OF open, and my planner, and am somewhat lost. I feel like I don’t have a good overall view of what is needed so I can juggle them around. If I write them in the planner as I review them, I anticipate that will turn into a mess, as I’ll want to group like tasks, context sensitive tasks, etc. At that point, the days will be full, and I won’t be able to insert things between and move them around.

How do you (personally) schedule time to make things happen?
Paper calendar? macOS Calendar? Aeon Timeline? Tinderbox?


I block from 6:30 to 9:30 on my calendar Monday through Friday for project work/deep work.


Thanks for the reply!

Hm. Okay, so at 6:30, you open OF and go looking for tasks/projects you can work on, or do you have them tagged deep work, or some other scheme?

How do you know you’ll be finished before your deadlines?

It all seems very open ended… (not yours specifically, just in general).

As Kourosh Dini wrote, “Most of mastering the advanced is mastering the basics.”

Yes, make perspectives and schedule time to work in those perspectives. Or maybe schedule time for projects and focus on those projects in OF during those. Or just burn through available tasks at random as I’ve been known to do. :wink: Once you get going, you can adjust.

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Many of my tasks/projects require a ramp-up time to load info into my brain to work with, and a bit of ramp-down time as well to leave a crumb trail for next time. Maybe I need to divide those out with tags and perspectives, then have a perspective for “shallow” tasks too.

I’d still like a timeline of some sort (without entering everything again in some other program). Like many people, time is difficult for me.

My day is normally filled with hardscape obligations – all of which are on the calendar. I have numerous calendars for various purposes – meetings, scheduled work sessions for projects, events shared with my wife, personal, theatre/concerts, religious and civil holidays, etc. – so I can tell at a glance and by color what kind of day is coming. And I do this electronically so I can see the events on my Mac (Fantastical) and iOS devices (Readle 5). So, this is the landscape.

In OmniFocus, I life in the Forecast perspective, which I have configured to show calendar events, and to show deferred items. The Forecast is grouped by date and sorted by Due, so it is like looking at an overlay of tasks on top of events. In my regular daily Review sessions (6 PM) in OF I will set “deferred” dates for tasks so I estimate when to start them. These will show up in the “Deferred” section of each day’s Forecast view, and if I want to schedule the task then I’ll give it a Due date for that day. Otherwise, if the task is small and doesn’t need a fixed block of time, I’ll leave it in Deferred.

I think OmniFocus has a flaw in that once the deferred date passes, the task is not carried forward. I have to catch these in my daily Review.

I am also using DropTask more and more for scheduling the hardscape on the calendar. DropTask has numerous views that are helpful for planning purposes, and integrates very well with Google Calendar. Most of my operative calendars are in Google, synced to Apple, so this integration is good and flows thru to OmniFocus of course. When I have a work task that involves specific documents, I forward the task to DropTask’s email inbox so the data is captured in the DT client where I needed it.


At the end of the day, I look at my calendar to get a feel for what sort of time I’ll have the following day to work on things. Then I look at OmniFocus and decide what my most important “deep work” type tasks for the following day are. I’ll make a list of those tasks and block out specific periods of time to do them.

I do the task list and time blocking in a Moleskine notebook, but you can also do them in a calendar app (@macsparky does it that way, for instance). I wrote a blog post with more detail on how I do it.

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I do my weekly review on Friday morning during the scheduled project time. As I review I add the tag “this week”, which shows up in a custom perspective. I then allocate those actions/projects to a given day’s project time for the upcoming week. When Monday arrives, I open OF to the perspective and get to work.


Calendar. I use Google Calendar but Apple Calendar is fine too. You might find this article useful:

One nice feature in GC comes from their acquisition of Dan Ariely’s Timeful app/technology in 2015, now transformed into ‘Google Goals’ in the calendar. As you use GC you can set up wishes to do some tasks, and GC will suggest times to do it based on openings in your schedule. You can accept or veto and its AI will learn and customize new suggestions based on that and on whether you do the items or defer them.


(The other main reason I use it is because years ago I had a massive calendaring failure with Apple Calendars. Those days appear to be behind it, but I’ve found GC to just be so stable (and Apple Calendar can subscribe to all my GC calendars anyway) that I’ve stuck with it.)

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Hmm, this seems to me like a solution looking for a problem. From my POV the benefit of OF and GTD in general is NOT to schedule time unless it’s really critical.

I only put in my calendar (Mac iCal) the items that really truly have to happen at a specific time. If they are optional they may appear with a ? in the description but otherwise the calendar looking forward is only what GTD calls hard landscape.

On 4 Jan at 6:00 pm is an item “?Music at Louie’s” There is a local restaurant that has live music on Fridays and that one is a person I want to see if we are well enough to go down and also if we get the driveway plowed so we CAN drive down.
On 7 Jan in the all day portion is a hard ladscape item “Take Primary rams out of breeding pens” Now it doesn’t have to happen at any specific time but it absolutely MUST happen that day.

So to answer your specific questions:

I schedule time to make things happen by not scheduling time at all. Instead I look at the llistit of items daily, after Ii look at the weather and my calendar for hard landscape items. I generally have about 5 hours a day for what I would call pre-planned work (my lists). My first segment this time of year happens after I’m done with my morning routine and before it gets warm enough to go outside to do chores. That’s typically from about 7:30 am until 9 am. When I review my OF lists early in the morning I look for thigs that are are inside items that are high priority and work on those then. Chores usually take about an hour. Then I have another chunk of time between 10-12. If I have any outside things to do this is the time to get them done as it’s likely to be the warmest it is going to be all day. Again I decide by just looking at my lists and listening to my gut feel about what makes most sense. Just after lunch I am toast, so I try to handle paperwork, process e-mail and other low brainpower things then. I get a bump in ability again starting about 1:30 until 3 and again, I decide what to do based on my morning review of what’s important. Afternoon chores take half an hour, then it’s time to head into town for any errands if we have any. Otherwise I usually do desk work. Dinner and then final clean-up. Like this, when I’m answering messages because I’m not interested in listening to the news and hubby is watching it on TV. Once the news is over we’ll probably watch a movie or something and then I do my evening routine before bed.

For question 2 I only use iCal abut not in the way you describe. I don’t schedule blocks of time as my tasks are far too fluid to lend themselves to such a straitjacket.

Key points, a daily quick review of my current OF lists by context after a review of weather and the iCal hard landscape items.

Hope that helps.

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I think this aspect of GTD is one of its shortcomings. Underlying GTD is the assumption that (context permitting) time is pretty much fungible. @OogieM described the process pretty well: have time to work, look at the list of next actions, do things from the list.

One of the things reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work helped me realize is that, for me at least, many of the tasks that lay at the heart of what I do don’t really work like that. They require fairly large, uninterrupted blocks of time where I can devote as much mental energy as possible. I’m able to produce more of these uninterrupted blocks of concentrated effort if I plan for them rather than leave them to chance.

The other advantage I find from time blocking is that the decision process in picking an item to work on from my task list in OmniFocus is itself something that can sap my mental energy. It’s one more piece of friction that makes it difficult to get going and concentrate on a challenging task (some of Shawn Blanc’s writing was very helpful with this).


I greatly appreciate you all taking the time to answer my questions. Based on your advice, and a well timed email from @MacSparky that linked to a blog post showing how many perspectives he uses, I created a few custom perspectives and changed my tag structure. (You all will no doubt see elements of your own workflows in the following.)

First, all tasks are in a Project, and have at least one Tag.
Tags may be arranged into a Deep hierarchy, a Shallow hierarchy, an Analysis hierarchy, or none of these master Tags. These represent my three predominant modes of thought:

  • deep work reading, writing, thinking, that require large blocks of uninterrupted time
  • shallow work, doing paperwork, emailing people, etc.
  • analysis, which is kind of deep work (writing code and the like), but done in the lab and subject to interruptions
  • finally, the rest fall into none of the above - taking the dog to get her teeth cleaned, and the like

I think my workflow will be as such:

  • each week (perhaps daily), Review projects
  • things that need my attention this week will be flagged
  • during daily review, tasks that need to be worked on the next day will get a Today tag

In my Passion Planner, I’m blocking off Deep time in the morning, and Shallow time in the afternoon (I’ll have to work Analysis in there too). Things not in a hierarchy happen at home (as does some Deep work, etc.).

I’ve created a few Perspectives: Today Deep, Today Shallow, and Today Analysis. There’s also one for the miscellaneous tasks. (Thanks to @RosemaryOrchard , I remembered that you can Option+Click in the filter criteria to add a “none of these” section to the filters.)

In the morning when my Deep block begins, I’ll check Today Deep and jump in. After lunch, Today Shallow, etc.

At the end of the day, Flagged tasks (again, flagged meaning work on them this week) are reviewed and some may be tagged as Today tasks to be done the next day.

Meetings and such go in the Passion Planner, and in Fantastical.

Sounds complex when all written out, but I think it is sustainable, and will keep everything periodically in view.

Again, thanks everyone!

I think you misunderstand a bit. I do schedule blocks of time, as described. But exactly what I will do in those blocks depends on what is on the plate so to speak. If it’s really important that I block time say to prepare a report for the Federal Vet then I’ll add that to my calendar, because it has a deadline and is also something that takes a long time.

I do use a number of perspectives too, but I find that in my world planning big significant time blocks that are not flexible for a specific project is waving a red flag in front of Murphy and I’ll end up doing a PM on a sheep or something else totally unplanned. Call me superstitious but farming doesn’t work that way. So things, like programming, that I need high energy time to work on, both the ramp up to get back in the groove and the ramp down to document what got done and where to pick up again must be ready to go at any time so that I can just block the time out on the fly so to speak.

Take today, nothing urgent with the flock so I picked a task from my lists that was going to take significant time to get going and done. I did it in the 2 big time blocks before lunch and after.

There is nothing in GTD that says time blocking is bad. Far from it, the books often mention making appointments or setting time for tasks by blocking time in your calendar, but in my world that is the exception not the rule.

So for me unless it’s critical I don’t schedule time.

Actually, David Allen argues against it quite explicitly in a couple of places.

He says if it doesn’t have to get done that day then don’t put it on your calendar - however like with every system it’s what works for you that makes it work. If you won’t get something done if you don’t schedule it then schedule it, and for those people in meetings all the time this might be the only way to get actual work done.

Yes, for those of us with large teams and large constituencies to serve which require lots of meetings, it is absolutely imperative to block time for the deep work and projects that have to get done. Otherwise the urgent will always crowd out the importance. “Do you have a minute” turns into an hour. That is why based on my use case needs I always block out 6:30 to 9:30 for my project work. I’ve instructed my assistant that I am not to have meetings during those times without my explicit agreement to do so. This is working well for me.

As Kourosh Dini wrote, “Most of mastering the advanced is mastering the basics.”

So. Very. True.

While I love OmniFocus (finally upgraded to OF3 Pro this weekend), I still end up going with the basic approach of timeblocking in iCal. No complex workflows, I just put work in certain blocks and get moving!

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Time blcoking as the only way to handle commitments, yes. Time blocking to accomplish some special project as the only way you do it, no. It in both “Making it All Work” and both old and new versions of “getting Things Done” books under setting time aside for yourself for meetings, or to work on specific projects and protecting that time in your calendar. But he also cautions against using that exclusively because life changes and priorities change and the first sort criteria is context.

Another place he explicitly says to block time is for weekly review.

It’s a common misconception that GTD is totally against time blocking, it’s not. It is however a tool that works well either with or without it. There are huge sometimes rather heated discussions about time blocking on the DavidCo GTD forums. David himself has weighed in and come down on the side of it depends on the nature of your primary work.

I’m a poster child for the time blocking rarely really works side and Longstreet is a poster child for time blocking is necessary side over in those forums. It’s a function of the nature of our respective work that makes those 2 extremes best fits for us.

The OP wa asking how we schedule time for getting things done and I explained why I really don’t nt in the sense of using a calendar or other scheduling tool. That doesn’t mean that I don’t follow major time blocking as evidenced by my rather detailed schedule of what I dow when. My schedule varies by season, that is the mid winter one. The whole thing changes during lambing and yet again in summer and again in fall.