14 March 2012
Contexts in OmniFocus (I’m sorry Taskpaper)

I’m back with OmniFocus for my tasks workflow.

For a few months I had returned to my darling of TaskPaper as the main repository of tasks and lists, but synching issues really made it impossible for me.

Taskpaper is like the perky, lovable and carefree girlfriend in sitcoms. It’s clear what it does, and doesn’t hide much complexity —unless you want it too.

But as any season finale cliffhanger proves, it has serious relationship issues. Everything will seem to be going great until you say (write) something and suddenly, plates are flying, errors shouted and you’re left alone in a coffee shop with a blank task list as the camera slowly pulls back.

OmniFocus, on the other hand, is the drama movie wife. Boring, nagging and very complex, but only because it really want the best for you (as you learn 90 minutes into the movie).

All my problems with OmniFocus are because it doesn’t let me do things how I want to. Doesn’t let me express myself and be free. It doesn’t really trust me to manage my productivity.

And this pisses me off, because, well, OmniFocus is right. Left to my own devices I’m not organized. The friction OmniFocus creates when adding tasks generates clarity when it’s time to do them.

Of course, when giving a relationship a second try, some things have to change, and my approach to the OmniFocus fundamentals (GTD, actually) is all new.

New Contexts:

In classic David Allan’s GTD, contexts are related to the availability of tools (email, PC, phone, etc). But as Sven Fechner said:

Contexts became ubiquitous

Clear proof is that I’m writing this on my iPhone as I wait for a doctors appointment.

So I reorganized my contexts looking at the mode I should be in for them to be finished more easily:

  • Pomodoro: this is digital real work. I sit my behind on the chair and for 25 minutes focus on the task. You break for 5 min and then another set. I try to get at least three sets done on a stretch.

  • Melo: usually digital research and constructive browsing or playing around with service/code/idea. The name is my own Pomodoro technique spinoff, it means apple in italian and I also like it sounds like mellow. Timer is set for 10 minutes for these.

  • Errands: real world stuff. Pickup dry cleaning, drop-off documents, anything that is outside and requires interaction with other fellow homo-sapiens. Timing makes no sense for these, but I do try to give them a due date.

  • Calls: feels like an errands light, but I avoid them so much they deserve their own context. Also useful that you can quickly check them of you have some time and don’t want to start a Pomodoro.

  • Tangents: what’s the best way to make iced green tea? should I find an alarm app that uses the sunrise time? can you meditate with your eyes open? My brain throws these questions (and many more) all through the day, rather than stop and procrastinate for hours, just save them for later.

  • Shopping: fun errands. Toothpaste, beer, chocolate, alka seltzer, etc. (hopefully in that order).

  • Not Priority: for everything you should have said: sorry, I don’t have time, but didn’t. Laptop recommendations, helping out with a website, etc.

  • Waiting: tasks where you’re waiting on somebody else for information before you can move on.


The final element in this marvelous new workflow of mine (other than actually doing the task) is writing on a piece of paper.

I use re-print's beautiful monthly calendars, to write the three tasks I will finish today. These are usually a mix of important stuff and smaller fun things.

I do this after looking at an overview of OmniFocus and before doing anything else on the computer. No email, IM or anything else should change the list at this point.

Mind you, I don’t always manage to finish the tasks, but their physical have two benefits:

  1. Crossing off the item with a pen pleases me more than any digital alternative.

  2. After a few days of efficient days, a chain starts, and I try extra hard not to break it.

So this my current workflow, which will likely stand the test of time as all the ones that came before it: badly and sporadically.

Now the real question is, how come someone soooooo organized doesn’t write more often?

Oh, shut up.

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