My OmniFocus overview list

Managing an overview list in OmniFocus when Due Dates and Next Actions and everything else are just too overwhelming.

Not just for OmniFocus

The thinking in this post concentrates mainly on OmniFocus, because that’s what I use, but the general principle could work for just about any workflow.

OmniFocus and why

I’ve never touched on this subject before, but I’m a long-time OmniFocus customer, and although I’ve dabbled with Things and other GTD list type apps, OmniFocus does everything well. Lets get the facts out of the way: It does as much or as little as you want it to, it’s done over-the-air sync for donkeys and doesn’t crash/lose data. It comes at a price compared to it’s rivals, but you get what you pay for, especially when you consider having all three versions for Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Even with it’s masses of rock solid features, no app ever does exactly what we want, so we’re left to make our own little hacks.

OmniFocus has a feature called Perspectives, which works pretty much like a bookmark to save a bunch of settings you can access with one click. I’m not one to adhere to puritanical Next Action GTD dogma, I get it – but it’s never worked for me overall because I generally need a simple list that I need for that day.

Perspectives can do many things, but you are limited to ordering your list by just about any set criteria – apart from manually dragging the order around.

Paul Boag highlighted on twitter (again?) saying:

really wish @OmniFocus would allow me to just display a manually sorted list of items I have flagged to do today.

It’s something I keep coming back to, and it’s nudged me into sharing my current “work-around” to see if may help or give ideas.

Enter the overview list/project

Each of my ongoing work projects has it’s own folder and/or project that contains all the to-do’s for that particular job; the issue for me, is that what may be the ‘next action’ in that project is too obscure or abstract to appear in any list that I have to do NOW/TODAY.

The overview list is just an unordered project of tasks describing roughly what is going on/needs to be done with particular projects for that day/week. This, for most people, will be a relatively short list – if you are managing 20 projects at once, this may be good, but generally long lists are bad news, so a slightly different system would be in order.

As this list is essentially a project, I can drag items to suit my order quickly and easily, without reviewing larger project lists – I can delve into those for detail and work from there.

OmniFocus Screenshot showing Work:Overview Perspective

Other things to note on this type of list:

  • This list should probably have it’s own Context as well, or at least one that makes sense to your way of working – for some people this may be “office” or “desk”, but I opt for “Job: Now” as it’s not location based… there’s more on this later on.
  • No need to use Start Dates, Due Dates, Flags or anything else that may get in the way.
  • Save Start Dates, Due Dates and Flags for tasks that really need them.
  • Keep it lightweight, hide everything else in a set Perspective.
  • The big drawback is that this all seems to create “more tasks” and feels like a hack.
  • Perspectives on the iPhone version of OmniFocus are currently only context only, so this won’t appear under that section.

A note on using dates and contexts

Adding a date to any task can immediately add urgency to that task, so keep Due Dates to anything that really does have a “Due Date” not just “I should do that today”. I’ve found four Contexts that when used properly, are useable without due dates nicely:

  • Job: Now
  • Job: Later
  • Home: Now
  • Home: Later

So I ALSO have a “Job: Now” Perspective that is ordered by Project and has my Work Overview list – it’s just not possible to order this list as it’s in Context view.


As with the nature of these things, you have to adapt everything to your own workflow and re-assess it every so often, but until there is an OmniFocus “super custom list”, this is my work around.

Notes and further reading: