There are myriad task management apps available for Apple device users but the one that trumps all of them, not only in features but in price, too, is OmniFocus. There isn’t another task management app more filled with features for the power user and simultaneously capable of stark clean simplicity as OmniFocus. While the cost might scare a lot of users away, the ability to create any depth of task and project management possible easily makes the cost a worthy investment.
There’s one mistake I’ve made in the past and I see a lot of users making with OmniFocus (and several other task management apps, for that matter): using false due dates to keep track of tasks they want to complete on a specific day that aren’t necessarily due on that day. Using false due dates creates a system that can add stress (“I didn’t get everything done today”) and confusion (“Do I really need to get that done today or can it wait?”). I made this mistake for a long time and even abandoned OmniFocus for a while because of the overwhelm the building list of overdue tasks created. But, OmniGroup significantly improved the power of tags and perspectives in OmniFocus 3. Now, with the power of tags and custom perspectives… There’s a better way.
In earlier versions of OmniFocus, tags were almost an afterthought and they weren’t very helpful. I suspect this is where the practice of using false due dates came into being; we had to have a way to create a list of tasks to accomplish on a particular day and due dates were how we created that list.
We can now construct a system that keeps us on track with what we need to accomplish today and what we could accomplish if we have enough time. But if we don’t finish what we could accomplish, we won’t be met with a nagging overdue badge or overdue red circle. These tasks will simply show up on our list again tomorrow.1
Believe it or not, the mental friction this eliminates is significant. Imagine not getting to everything you assigned a due date to today and then life happens and you don’t finish everything tomorrow, either, and so on. Overdue tasks which really aren’t overdue stack on top of overdue tasks which really aren’t overdue.
The Better Way
Customize Your Forecast Perspective
- It’s important to understand that Forecast is designed to deal specifically with dates. That’s fine. We can make defer dates work in our favor without using false due dates.
- Create a Today tag by going to File > New Tag. You can add a calendar emoji to make it more visible if you would like (🗓️ Today).
- Set Forecast to show tasks with the 🗓️ Today tag. You’ll also want to make sure “Show deferred items” is checked.
- Clear the due date from every task that doesn’t have a specific and actual due date. For example, your boss asks you to write a report and give it to him by the time you leave Friday; that task gets Friday’s date as a due date.
- During your weekly review, add the 🗓️ Today tag to every task you want to show up in Forecast this week. Tasks tagged with 🗓️ Today will show up on today’s date and on their due date (if they have one) in Forecast. This is part of the beauty of this setup; you see the task today so you can work toward marking it complete. If you don’t mark the task complete, it will simply roll over to tomorrow without fussing at you (unless it’s actually overdue).
- If you tag a task with 🗓️ Today and also give the task a defer date in the future, the task will not show up today in Forecast. It will show up on its defer date, though, in gray text so you can see it coming up in the near future.
Create a Today Custom Perspective
- In OmniFocus, create a custom perspective called Today by going to Perspectives > Add Perspective… This new perspective is going to be your “daily driver” now.
- Set the perspective to show all available tasks that are not projects or groups. (OmniFocus considers projects and groups to be tasks themselves so including them in your Today perspective will add clutter and friction.)
- You can exclude tasks and groups you know will never need to appear on your Today perspective if you would like.2
- I suggest grouping the tasks by their Flagged status. This will allow you to flag your major tasks for today, tasks that “move the needle” on your personal or professional development. Michael Hyatt calls these the “Daily Big 3” in his Full Focus system.3
- If you know you’ll need to complete a task sometime in the future, enter a defer date for the task but leave the due date blank (unless it has an actual due date). The task will not show in your Today perspective today but it will automatically show up on the defer date and it will show in your Forecast perspective on the appropriate day.
1. If you’re not careful, this system could work against you because it will allow you to procrastinate. At some point, though, if you let them fester long enough, these tasks will acquire actual due dates. If they don’t acquire actual due dates, perhaps they belong in a Someday/Maybe checklist rather than in your Today perspective. Either way, you want to avoid as much mental friction as possible. Get them done or move them off your list. ↩
2. I have a rule in my Today perspective that you might not need. I keep a few checklists in OmniFocus but those tasks (e.g., books to read, restaurants to try, meals to cook, etc.) don’t need to appear on my task list for any specific day. These would technically be considered Someday/Maybe tasks in GTD language. If you keep your checklists in another app, you can leave this parameter out of your Today perspective setup. ↩
3. If you’re looking for a hybrid approach to combine technology and a physical planner to manage your productivity system, I can recommend no physical product more highly than Michael’s Full Focus Planner. Like OmniFocus, the FFP is not the cheapest product available, but it is easily the most useful, best-designed paper planner available. ↩