Note-taking in OmniFocus

OmniFocus is probably the best note-taking app I’ve ever found.

In fact, my OmniFocus inbox, not Simplenote, has become my preferred place for taking general notes, especially any circumstance where I’m likely to record a combination of thoughts and actions, which happens to be every circumstance these days.

The OmniFocus inbox just seems like the best “don’t think about where to put it, just get it down” place.

If a non-actionable thought is truly worth saving, you can always move it to a better saving place later. There should be no rules around what you write to your inbox, only rules about what stays in OmniFocus.

iOS quick entry FTW

Normally, my note taking happens on an iOS device because I’m more likely to have an iPhone or iPad in my hands during the day than my Mac.

The quick entry button on both the iPhone and iPad version of OmniFocus lets me get things down instantly in situations where I might only have seconds to capture a piece of information. The quick entry button is even faster than Simplenote (in my experience).

Some specific examples:

Constructive calendar procrastination. Sometimes I make notes to schedule something on my calendar when I don't have time to schedule it right away. "Call Joe tue 2p re project Qs" can be captured much faster than it can be entered onto a calendar—correctly with invitation, call-in number, full description, etc. And it doesn't have to be entered now; it just needs to be entered before Tuesday at 2:00 pm.

Capturing new contacts. I've never owned a mobile device, including the iPhone, that made it easy to create a new contact entry in a social situation. Getting into the Contacts app and navigating fields as someone dictates information to you is always an awkward, error-prone process. It's much easier to use the OmniFocus quick entry button to tap out "Sarah 555 555 1234 sarah@domain.com". You can easily add her to your address book later.

Conference call notes. When I'm on a conference call, I usually create a single action with a brief description of the call. During the call, I record notes in the note field. Now that the note field in the iPad version is ginormous, filling the entire screen, this is super practical. The entire call gets encapsulated in a single inbox item that I can process later.

"Distraction-free" mobile writing. I’ve even written full articles within the note field of OmniFocus tasks while they sat in my inbox—and I sat in a waiting room.

Forced filtering

The biggest advantage of putting note-ish things into a regularly-reviewed inbox of any kind is that the notes always get a second look. I process my inbox nearly every day.

As I process inbox notes, actionable items are parsed from note fields into true OmniFocus tasks, while reference material is sent to nvALT (Simplenote), mind maps, Google Docs, or other appropriate places. And honestly, a lot of it just gets deleted.

This kind of filtering leads to a higher ratio of information to trash in my searchable repositories (e.g. Simplenote). Repositories don't get reviewed; my inboxes do.

I normally do the heaviest inbox processing on my Mac at the end of the day, but given that my OmniFocus data file is in sync across all my iOS devices, I can just as easily do it there.

The practicality of unification

This is really a message about the power of inbox unification. I’ve always been a believer in minimizing the number of inboxes I have to juggle. The inbox in OmniFocus is one of the best all-purpose inboxes I’ve ever had the pleasure of juggling.

It’s become an efficient single point of entry for nearly everything in my electronic information ecosystem that doesn’t come from email. Even if you don’t use OmniFocus, you might want to think about how you can create a common funnel for the mixed bag of information you invite into your ecosystem.