For a long time I’ve been an OmniFocus user that drank the coolaid and put everything in to Omnifocus, no matter how small the idea was. Inspired by a Mac Power Users episode with Merlin Mann I’ve recently spent a bunch of time pulling information back out of OmniFocus though because it was just a bad idea to put everything there.

In the episode they talk a bunch about using text files for storage of items and it made me realize (maybe it should have been obvious) that OmniFocus is really only for items that are actionable. Storing random ideas for application reviews, which often only consist of the name of the application, is not a good use of OmniFocus. I can’t do Wunderlist so it’s not an actionable item and why is it in OmniFocus?

I certainly want to capture my idea to review GTD/TODO applications and the titles that I find as I’m reading the web but until I’m actually ready to sit and write the post on an application it’s not an actionable item and should be stored somewhere else.

Enter the Text File

With the above relvelation around I moved all of my ideas for any blog post in to text files with the following format ‘blog-ideax-{blogname}.txt’. Again going back to the MPU episode ending with an x makes sure that any type of searching I do will only result in the 3 blog idea files I have and not random other files with the words blog-idea in them.

I took this further when working with my DVD’s. I’ve been in the process of ripping every physical disc to my computer. I’ve done about 230 and have a few items left like double discs and TV shows. Previously I had a list in OmniFocus that had all of the names of the DVD’s in it. Sure I can ‘rip’ each of these titles but again it just seems like too much overhead to me. All of the titles moved in to ‘todox-dvd-rip.txt’. So when I want to sit down and rip a few new discs I can put in an OmniFocus task to rip some DVD’s and use the list to strike out the ones I’ve already done.

I’ve sat with this new scenario for a few days and I think that I’ve reduced the number of items I need to review/sort in OmniFocus without loosing track of things I want track. Since I’m syncing all of these files with Dropbox (affiliate) I also have the ability to easily add items from my iPhone with any one of the number of text based applications out there. Sure there is an OmniFocus iPhone client but to drill down in to a project then add a new application that I want to review always felt pretty cumbersome from the iPhone and dealing with it a second time from the desktop felt like a waste of time.


I paid for all of the applications myself but most of the links above are affiliate links.

4 responses to “Using Omnifocus Appropriately”

  1. AE Thanh Avatar

    I think that’s a great approach. From my experience too, if your list gets longer than 10 items of things you need to do (like the list of DVDs you want to rip), it’s easier to store that list somewhere else (in your case a text file, in my case Evernote note) and make a task in Omnifocus with a link to the text file / Evernote note.

    The task can be something like “Rip DVDs 19/200” and you update the external file with what you’ve done.

    1. curtismchale Avatar

      I’m not really sure why I didn’t do this before but I think the idea of ‘capture everything’ gets way out of hand with lots of people. They want to be efficient and use OmniFocus and then use it when it’s not the most efficient way to store items. As always optimal workflow is a work in progress.

  2. Bobby Avatar

    I have a tip for you: Instead of a group of text files (which is what I also used in the past) I strongly recommend Notational velocity [] which is a cloud synced, fast search enabled note taking app. It also has an iOS app (simple note) so you can check all your files on the go. With this combo any ideas or scraps of info I have go into a notation doc and then I can pull them up wherever I am. Enjoy!

    1. curtismchale Avatar

      I’m actually using nvALT and WriteRoom for iOS. I’ve never tried Simple Note but it’s on my list to try.