As you add folders, projects, and contexts, OmniFocus becomes a mirror reflecting your life. At least, it has mine:

  • Folders are the highest-level compartments of my life. Things like home, work, volunteerism, this website, and a few others.
  • Projects represent current and future goals that I want achieve within those compartments.
  • Contexts are the geographical and cognitive spaces that I occupy when making nicks in my projects.

Together, these three dimensions of OmniFocus show my life at several tens of thousands of feet. It’s good to see my life from way up there. Critical, in fact.

It’s a height anyone can reach, too. Mind sweeps aren’t that hard, and it’s not difficult to label all of your life’s contexts given enough time.

Collecting actions isn’t difficult. But when, where, and how do you start acting on them?

Hopefully not like this

For starters, you could just pick a project and start working on it.

But is it the right project? Are you sure? And if you’re working out of the project planning view, why did you bother setting all those contexts?

Oh yeah – contexts.

You could just flow through your day from context to context and just work on the next thing available in each. But are you working on the right things each time? What if contexts overlap? Are you making progress on the right projects? Are you really using contexts that you can’t see in your sidebar? Are you keeping up with deadlines?

Hmmm, yeah. Deadlines.

Maybe just set a few due dates so that OmniFocus will bother you when you need to do things. Then a few more. Heck, why not create lots of them? That way you’ll get even more done faster. Due dates are awesome!

But how do you decide what to do when 5 tasks are overdue, 14 are due now, and 34 are due in the next 24 hours? What about heart-palpating tasks that come due when there’s nothing you can do about them?

I guess you could use flags instead.

Flags are way less obnoxious than due dates. They don’t buzz in your pocket. But the reality is that some things really are due on specific days and times. What about those? And what if you over-flag? What if you flag everything? What if you want more than one type of flag?

What if OmniFocus starts making life harder than before?

Cold water, this is face; face, cold water

I have a theory. I think one reason that OmniFocus overwhelms some people is that it forces them to confront just how much they have going on. Once you’ve swept your mind of tasks, made a few projects, and concretized the contexts of your life, you feel better. Then your head starts hurting again. There’s just so much.

I hate to be the one telling you this, but here’s the thing: OmniFocus can’t tell you what to do next on its own. It still needs help from you.

The goal, again

OmniFocus is a digital application of GTD. It’s a program; it’s a system. And as Kourosh Dini knows, it works when it all flows.

To me, flowing means being piloted by a mind relieved of anxiety, especially the kind of worry that comes from wondering if what I’m working on right this minute is the right thing.

My main reason for trying OmniFocus wasn’t to increase the complexity of my productivity system. My life is complex enough already. I wanted simplicity instead. I wanted to get more focused in the here and now.

Whatever you do, I strongly recommend making simplicity and focus your goal, too. Good things happen when you find that place. Productive things. Enjoyable things.

This is part 1. In part 2, I talk about how I’m using OmniFocus to simplify my working mind.