Managing Projects in OmniFocus

In the lead-up to my Learn OmniFocus workflow session, I wanted to share some of the nitty-gritty details of how I manage my tasks with OmniFocus. That session will focus on the magic of Omni Automation (✨!). So, over this week, I’m concentrating on the more foundational, structural side of things, like projects, tags, and perspectives.

At this point, we’ve covered:

There’s one obvious part of the OmniFocus workflow that we’re missing, and that’s projects. So today, a quick look at how I’ve set up my project list.

Personal v Work

I have three top-level folders in OmniFocus:

  • ✨ Personal,
  • 💼 Briefcase, and
  • 🏢 Accountant.

The first and last of these are probably relatively self-explanatory.

The ‘💼’, is the overlap between these two areas of focus. If there is work I am bringing home to complete at my discretion, I might move it to my briefcase so that when I am planning the rest of my day, I can be aware of it: in these cases I don’t want it hidden from sight. Equally, there are a few work things I want to make sure I don’t want to miss: submitting timesheets, leave requests etc, and these go here too.

On the other hand, there might also be a few ‘personal’ things that I might ‘take to work’ with me. This is pretty rare, but for example my reminder to ‘drink water’ pops up here, so that it’s available in both places.

Folders

For a long time, I used folders for each area of responsibility within the top-level folders above. However, this lengthened my project list and cluttered things up (especially by the time I added a SAL for each one, plus any actual projects).

So then I tried no folders but then I felt like I had a single, long, overwhelming list.

The current approach that I’ve settled on is three main folders within my Personal folder that are based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  • 1️⃣ Physiological / 2️⃣ Safety & Security (contains housework, exercise, finances, etc)
  • 3️⃣ Love & Belonging (contains anything to do with friends, family, acquaintances or even just being a good citizen of my community or the world)
  • 4️⃣ Esteem & Self-Actualisation (contains all the other fun stuff, like automation, travel, and learning)

I’ve found that this works well for me. I am mainly thinking about my project structure as part of a review, and I think it’s beneficial for me to try be mindful of maintaining a balance between these areas when I’m planning.

I don’t typically nest folders any deeper than this, though there are some exceptions: for example, my university degree has a folder of its own (with folders for each subject, each containing a folder for content and one for each assessment task, just because this is a bigger project:

University projects in OmniFocus

My Work folder contains just one additional folder, which is ‘Client Work’. Keeping this separate helps to drive some of my custom perspectives.

Naming Projects

Here are some example project names:

Example project names

I have a few conventions when naming projects:

  • Wherever possible, I frame the project as an action (starting with a verb) and, for anything that’s not an action list, try to make it clear from the name at what point the project will be complete. That said, I’m also not afraid to rename projects if the goalposts shift! (This is not true of client work, covered below.)
  • Each project name starts with an emoji. This usually represents an area of responsibility or role, but is a little bit discretionary. I add these using Rocket so I don’t find them particularly onerous to maintain. As with the emoji I use in my tags: I like having them there and I think they improve scannability. This has helped me to get rid of the folders I had previously, because everything still feels ‘grouped’ appropriately.
  • Client work is named by convention. For example, a job I am reviewing would be titled ‘🔍 (Preparer): Job Type Year [Partner]’ (and we use initials to represent people). My Templates Plug-In does most of the heavy lifting here, and this helps with creating custom perspectives based on this information.
  • I have a single action list for each area of responsibility that contains miscellaneous tasks. These are denoted with a ‘∞’ at the end of the project name.
  • 2-4 projects at a given time will be marked with ‘🌟’ at the end of the name. These are the projects I’d like to focus on at the moment, and available tasks from these projects always show on the ‘Starred’ perspective of my dashboard.

Action Groups

Within projects, I use action groups to group together:

  • Habits ✯ – things I want to make sure I’m doing consistently and on a regular timeframe (drink water, exercise, clean the shower), and
  • Routine ↻ – routine tasks that need to be done somewhat on a schedule, or once they are available as soon as I get a chance, but are not ‘habits’ as such (book dentist appointments, renew passport, take a computer backup).

My ‘Move To Action Group’ plug-in can be useful for this.

These symbols are then used within a “search results contain” rule to populate the Habits and Routine perspectives on my dashboard.

Tomorrow, we’ll step back and take a look at the bigger picture. I’ll wax philosophical on what drives my current approach to task management in OmniFocus—though of course this is always subject to change as I learn and grow.

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