Much of task management is about bringing things to our attention. If I am in the middle of something now, and something else comes to mind, what can I do about it? How could I set my other idea aside so it will come to me later?
A trouble with asking these questions is that we don’t know how things will be later. Will I be tired? Overwhelmed? Interested in something else? Since we don’t know, it would seem useless to make arrangements based on these predictions. Why bother?
While we never truly know where we’ll be, we can still consider how we want our attention called. We can respect what we know of ourselves and the way we’d like to see things.
Here are some ways I’ve developed over the years inside and outside of OmniFocus.
Using a tag such as “Current” or “Today”, we can create a simple list for what we’d like to do today. At any point, I can look at the list for ideas about what to do next. However, I need to be particularly cautious with adding tasks to the Today list.
Adding too much to the Today list is likely one of the top three reasons why a task system fails. Once you add too much, you start to look for other ways to have things grab your attention in ways that are not warranted. For example, if you have too much on the list, you might start setting reminders to see that you have a paper to write. Because a reminder is not suited for this type of work, you’ll start ignoring the reminder. Further, as you are now ignoring that reminder, you’ll likely start ignoring other reminders. Now, you’re out of your depth and “nothing works”.
The Today list is what I consider a “Flow list”. (See Creating Flow with OmniFocus). In other words, it is a carefully cultivated list with well written completable tasks, all well within the bounds of what can be accomplished for the day. So long as I respect its delicate nature, it can be quite powerful.
Flags tend to be useful for focusing in the moment. For instance, I may have a task in my today list that says “Practice piano”. The task is quite general and may be too broad to be useful on a particular day.
The task links to a perspective which lists individual pieces I’m working on. I can:
- Go to the perspective
- Select one or two tasks
- Type Shift-Command-L to flag them
- Type Command-5 to see the flagged perspective.
In this way, I separate the work I intend to do in the current session from the rest.
Just as a side note, in this particular example, I’ve flagged two repeating tasks. If I mark them complete as is, they’ll repeat later still flagged. Since I often would prefer they not be flagged when they appear again, I’d likely select them, type Shift-Command-L again, and then mark them complete. That way, when they appear again, they will be unflagged.
It is a good way to interrupt myself if needed. Similar to the use of the Today list, I try to be judicious when using this method, keeping it to only when it is necessary. If I start using a nagging system too often, I’ll begin to tune it out.
It can be very useful to add a due date to a task. A task that is due soon, for instance, will rise to the top of my Today list based on my perspective settings. As before, it is very important to be cautious with due dates. As a task system relies on our trust of it, if we are not honest about due dates, instead only using them to make them stand out somehow, their utility quickly fades. (See also Creating Flow with OmniFocus.)
Review items are their own lists that I go to. As part of my daily settling routine, I make sure to review what needs to be reviewed. I can always manually adjust either the date of next review for a project or the frequency by which I plan to review a project.
Reviewed projects are particularly useful for those things that I just want to be reminded of. I don’t know when I’ll get to them. However, because I can set the review frequency, I can easily remind myself however often I feel the need to.
Consider, Quick, or Communications tags
I can also also add tags for specific lists I plan to attend to during the day. This way they stay off the Today list, but remain within batches of what I’d like to do.
I go into great detail about Considered, Quick, and Communications lists in Creating Flow with OmniFocus. Also, check out this post on the Considered task.
So, there are multiple ways to bring things to our attention.
Sometimes, we may want an alert to interrupt whatever we’re doing. Sometimes we may want a task to rest on a list, waiting for us to go to it. Sometimes we may want to keep reminding ourselves of an idea, nagging us so we don’t forget. Sometimes, we may want to simply remind ourselves of our current focus.
Each of these are types of attention grabbers and each have their own optimal methods.