When I was involved in campus ministry, I used to carry around a notebook and a collapsible pen in my back pocket. Both were very tiny. I would jot down thoughts and people’s contact information, but mostly I used it to make checklists. I would draw a little box to tick and a to-do item next to it.
Another little box and another to-do item.
That’s how I made sure I got everything done that I needed to do. While I actually still use this method once in a while, I’ve switched over to a software solution that saves me a lot of headaches and can store a lot more information than my tiny notepad and tiny pen.
Thankfully, we live in the future
To-do list apps are everywhere, but I prefer ones with a little more power under the hood. I wrote recently about the 10 Best iPhone Apps for Christians, but there was one very important app I forgot to include in that list. I have been using OmniFocus for the past five years and it is one of my secrets to productivity. OmniFocus is similar to other task management programs like Todoist, Wunderlist, or Things. Most of the things I’ll talk about in this article can be done with any decent task manager app.
I use OmniFocus because it helps me in my mission to be more productive—to be a better steward of my time—by helping me to never be forgetting, always be organizing, and to forever be reassessing my priorities. Let me show you how.
Have you ever had someone ask you to do something, you agree, then you immediately forget about it only to have them come back to you weeks later annoyed at your unreliability?
Yeah, that’s the worst.
But you’ve got to stop blaming it on being a “forgetful person.” You need to own up to the fact that your system for remembering is just plain flawed. No need to kick yourself over it, though. Forgetfulness can easily be fixed if you use the right system for managing your tasks.
OmniFocus is based on David Allen’s Get Things Done (GTD) method of productivity. The short version is this: When you think of something that needs to get done, record an actionable task in your “Inbox.” Then, at regularly scheduled intervals, process your inbox, breaking tasks down into actionable steps. The GTD methodology is systems independent (you could do it with a tiny notepad and tiny pen), but OmniFocus fulfills the basic requirements of GTD and even exceeds them. With OmniFocus, you have indispensable features like due dates, alerts, deferrals, tags, projects, and nested projects.
When someone asks me to do something, I immediately put it into my OmniFocus inbox, either using my computer or iPhone (OmniFocus has a great Siri integration). Each morning I process my inbox items to make sure they are categorized properly, have the right due dates attached to them, and add any sub-tasks which are necessary to keep me moving. Then, I use the OmniFocus forecast view to see all my upcoming tasks laid over my calendar. This is mission control for my productivity.
Since I’ve made a habit of checking OmniFocus every day, as long as I put the task into my inbox, the system takes care of the rest. I don’t have to rely on my faulty memory anymore. As long as it goes into the system, I literally cannot forget. I don’t need memory hacks—I have a computer.
The other thing OmniFocus helps me to do is to always be organizing. Our lives are complex, we have so many domains for which we are responsible—work, home, family, church, etc. I need a reliable way to capture everything I want to be doing so I can organize those things in a way that makes sense to me. If I have my tasks well organized, when it comes time to do them, the path is already paved for me. I don’t stew in the stupor of procrastination which is so common to the unorganized worker.
OmniFocus meets this challenge of organization with its projects and tags features.
Projects in OmniFocus allow you to break down lists of tasks in any way you like. Sometimes I treat projects like actual time-bound initiatives, other times I just use them as convenient groupings. This saves me from to-do lists on random scraps of paper spread around my house and wallet, or from just jotting stuff down in the Notes app on my phone. I have all my areas of life in ONE place, but they are organized in ways that are meaningful to me. And I can re-organize them as situations change. This saves me from being overwhelmed by endless disconnected lists. I’ve also taken advantage of the new tags feature in OmniFocus 3. While a task can exist in only one Project, it can have an infinite number of tags. I use these for things like “office” which allows me to filter for everything that I need to be in the office to do. “Boss” is usually questions or things I need to get input from my boss on, so if I catch a meeting with him I can ask a bunch of stuff at once. “Phone” is for calls I need to make. I hate making phone calls so it’s nice to pump myself up and do them all at once.
You get the idea.
All of these features along with the excellent way OmniFocus allows you to subordinate tasks under each other make it super easy for me to stay organized. So, I just open up the software to get to work.
The last way OmniFocus helps me be more productive is by making sure that I am forever reassessing my priorities. OmniFocus has a weekly review section that makes you go through every project, task by task, and clarify, reorganize, or delete it. This means you aren’t letting your system get bogged down with tasks that are too vague, or which are no longer necessary.
Also, we need to recognize that our priorities are constantly changing. Something that you captured a few weeks ago, that was eminently important that it be done, now might not matter at all. You can delete it and move on. Just because it’s in your system doesn’t mean it needs to be done. A system is just a tool.
Every Sunday night or Monday morning I review all of my OmniFocus projects. I take great satisfaction in making my to-do list cleaner and more actionable. So, when I start my week I’m ready to tackle whatever is next.
When I am consistently using OmniFocus, I get much more done. And that means I don’t feel stressed out. I am able to fulfill life’s responsibilities with fewer things slipping through the cracks. I can better be a man of my word before the Lord. And hopefully that also translates to my friends, family, and work associates knowing I can be counted on to do what I say I will do.