Getting Things Done (Chapter 2)

Posted on by Mike Evans

As I said in my previous post, managing tasks is high on my list of priorities. I find that an organised to-do list makes for an uncluttered mind. When you don't have a task manager, however simple, ideas are constantly buzzing around in your head and being swatted away at the slightlest distraction. All those good ideas simply disappear because you have nowhere to record them. Even a simple notebook such as a Moleskine can take a load off your mind. I always keep a Moleskine handy for ad hoc jottings of ideas. But organisation means having somewhere organised to record all these ideas. I mentioned in my last post the use of iCal tasks and, for a more ambitious view, Bento. But now I'd like to talk about another product that has both Mac and iPhone versions which sync together.

OmniFocus is a fully fledged task management system which follows GTD (Getting Things Done) principles. You can shovel in ideas at random and then sort them out into projects, contexts and due dates at your leisure. A context in GTD-speak is the place where you can perform the action. Contexts are usually expressed with the @ sign for obvious reasons. So we can have @Phone, @Errands, @Bank, @Mac, @Home and whatever you feel comfortable with. By assigning all your actions (tasks) to a context you can easily find out what is available to do at the moment. For instance, if you are in the supermarket, all you really want do know is what do in @Errands:Groceries. The other contexts are fairly irrelevant until you get to your computer or your home.

OmniFocus works with the calendards in iCal, so I have changed all my calendars to reflect contexts. Thus, I have @Home, @Errands, @Mac, @People, @Phone, etc, set up as calendars. Most appointments, also, fit into these categories and the system works well with Omni. Synchronisation is conducted via MobileMe or a similar service. So your home/office computers and your iPhone are constantly syncing and anything you enter while on the road will be on your computer when you get back to base.

There isn't enough space in a short blog paragraph to describe the capabilities of OmniFocus, but I would recommend it to anyone who values organisation. The syncing iPhone version (from the Apps Store) is great, so you have all your stuff with you wherever you go. A cool feature of the iPhone application is that it is "context aware". So, for instance, if you set up your local supermarket as a location iPhone will warn you when you are passing that you need to call in for tomatoes, bread and pickled gherkins. How often have you returned home only to remember you meant to call in at the laundry or newsagent?


Although in my working life I attended countless time-management forums and conferences, I got the itch for GTD after reading Andrew Mason's excellent blog, Did I Get Things Done?. There is much more information on this blog than I can fit in here, plus lots of links to other time-management and organisational sites. I'd recommend it to everyone. And try out OmniFocus because I don't think you will regret it. For more reading go to David Allen's page; he's the guru of GTD and has published some excellent books.

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