Getting It Done With Focus! (Part 3)


I first bought OmniFocus 6 years ago when the OmniGroup first created it. I worked through all the Betas and bought it when it was released. I even got it for my iPhone. But the lack of syncing made it really hard to use. And Man… it was COMPLICATED!

But now… I believed I could make it work. First, OmniGroup had introduced their outstanding free sync service. What’s more, my weeks of using RTM had given me a system. Something to implement. I didn’t want ALL the bells and whistles of OmniFocus. Just one. Folders. I needed to start grouping my projects in a way that I could handle them.

As the scope of my planning grew from a few dozen tasks, to a few hundred, RTM got me over that hump. But when my planning threatened to jump to a few thousand tasks (seriously), I needed more. But why a few thousand?

I’m 45 years old. As much as I’ve tried to pair down, it is unbelievable how many projects I have accumulated. I don’t know what your house is like, but as I walk through mine, I see video games I haven’t finished. Books I mean to read. Pictures that need hanging. DVD’s I’d like to watch. And those are just my personal projects. Then there’s the house stuff, the family stuff – and I haven’t even scratched the surface of work yet.

If you really go through 10 years of accumulated “stuff”, you might be surprised how many “projects” you’ve accumulated. Once I had success managing a few projects, I wanted to do more. And I still have not captured everything weighing on me. My life is fenced in by guilt. I see it in every corner of the house. The storage closet that’s full of broken head phones and cast off sun glasses. Boxes of pictures that need organizing. The Laptops under my desk that – well hell, they should be worth something right? Oh yeah and Linux is cool. I should be able to do something with that.

It’s simply overwhelming… and it’s there. Where I can see it. A daily reminder of failure. A pile of incompetence. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Get to me, get to me, get to me. Argh!

No wonder my brain feels overloaded. How can it possibly remember all this stuff? The answer is it can’t. And it shouldn’t try. But I need a system that CAN hold it all, so I can systematically, relentlessly, progressively plow through all this crap and weed out what I AM going to do and what I am NEVER going to do. Enough waiting. As Yoda said, “Do. Or Do not.” He’s right. There is no try.

OmniFocus Ninja

So once I made the decision to work with OmniFocus, I sought out people who really had used OmniFocus to see if I could learn anything. And what I came across was gold by David Sparks, the genius behind David created a series of 3 videos called being an OmniFocus Ninja. The direct link to the three articles are:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

David pointed out some REALLY useful tricks. Among them…

  • Don’t use Due Dates! Use Start Dates to move tasks into the future.
  • Use perspectives to create reports and views to really focus
  • Use Dragon Diction on the iPhone to dictate todo’s
  • Use MailPlane for gmail integration. There’s a brilliant clipping plugin and suddenly my gmail acts like my Mac Mail.

That last tip was HUGE for me. Why? Because it finally allowed me to get my inboxes at home and work to ZERO. How did I do that?

Step 1: Create filters for all the automated emails you get.

I mean, this is stuff I’m interested in or care about. But it hijacks my attention every time I go into my email. So I want those things to go into folders where I can view them at my discretion. Much to my chagrin, my supposedly 7 automated emails… turned into nearly 70 categories of newsletters, notifications, and ads. This doesn’t even include receipts (I want to see those. If I spend money I figure I better pay attention).
Guess what. My work email was the same! So a HUGE chunk of my inboxes got cleared out, and stayed cleared out.

Step 2: Start clipping into OF

The key here is that if an email requires an action, then I can clip a link to the email into OmniFocus for follow up. And sure enough, many email relate to projects I’m working on. This handily little thing really dramatically changed how I viewed my inbox. Suddenly I wasn’t relying on my inbox to remind me of things I needed to do, or remember (like the piles of unfinished detritus scattered about my home). Things I need to remember are in OmniFocus. Things I need to FILE go into Evernote.

Step 3: File Emails into their proper Folders

Once I’ve touched an email, I file it. Or Delete it. But there’s NO REASON to leave it in my inbox. It’s either something I need to do, file, or delete. Those are the only options. At home it took me about a day to get to Zero because for the most part I was on top of everything, I just needed to pair down the inbox of read but un-acted on emails.

Work was a lot harder, because I got in the habit of ignoring it. I had 800 unread emails in my inbox. Well after running 70 odd filters to get rid of the automated mails, and then dumping anything and everything more than 60 days old – I mean really, what the heck do you say to someone you haven’t talked to in two months? – I got down to 50. Then a few days later 40, then back up to 60, then down to 30, and finally by Monday I got down to zero.

Step 4: The Daily Battle

Some days I get 20 emails or more in each email box! That’s when plowing through stuff is hard. But I can use my GTD rules. Send to my Task Manager (OmniFocus), File it, Delete it. That’s it. Of course, I can choose to act on an email with a reply, or some other quick action and then just get rid of it. But on the whole, I try to stick to the discipline of not leaving things lurking around.

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