Understanding OmniFocus: Attention

Last month I made the switch from Things to using OmniFocus (thanks to their great sale) and have spent a lot of time learning how to best use the application. One of the first things I learned to appreciate about OmniFocus was how it hides the things that shouldn’t have your attention.

I thought I was good at GTD. I was organizing my projects and tasks along with my areas of responsibility in a way that made sense and let me get control over my work, so I didn’t expect OmniFocus to have such an impact on my practice. Once I understood its goal of optimizing attention, I realized my GTD could have been better in some places.

I won’t get into explaining how to manage attention use OmniFocus’ features like perspectives, contexts, start dates, and flags, but once you take the plunge and start using OmniFocus, you’ll quickly appreciate its philosophy of hiding what isn’t relevant. Once you do, you’ll be able to start unlocking its power. These features are wonderfully incorporated in many different places in the application and in its iOS siblings.

How I interpret it, OmniFocus is all about making sure you capital-p Process your commitments once, well, and then showing you the work you have to do, when you can do it.

“When you can do it” is really simplifying it though. When you bring together all of OmniFocus’s tools, “When you can do it” really means a lot of different things.

  • When it’s due
  • When it’s available
  • When you’ve decided you should see something
  • When you do your GTD Review
  • When you’re in the right context
  • When you’re mobile

There are so many ways OmniFocus can show you tasks that being comfortable with the application hiding items requires a lot of trust. The user can achieve trust in OmniFocus by:

  1. Collecting your stuff
  2. Processing your inbox
  3. Reviewing your system

That’s nothing new for anybody who’s read Getting Things Done, but what I’ve noticed that’s unique to OmniFocus compared to other systems is that OmniFocus expects you to:

  1. Do the best you can during the Collection phase of GTD
  2. Do the best you can during the Processing phase of GTD
  3. Do the best you can during the Reviewing phase of GTD

After I realized OmniFocus was all about hiding my tasks, I had to ask myself if I was making the right decisions concerning what should be hidden and when. If I was going to feel comfortable not looking at all my commitments across all my projects every time I looked at my GTD system, then my collecting, processing and reviewing had to improve.

Why so much focus on attention?

Attention I put on tasks I can’t do costs time, costs attention, and breaks focus. The same goes for any time and attention spent renegotiating those commitments (processing the same task more than once). In GTD, Processing should happen the first time you process an item in your inbox, and optionally during your Review. You can always decide to renegotiate, put off, or drop commitments during your review process, but in general all of the critical thinking that happens with a task happens on the front end.

OmniFocus gave me the expectation for better processing. It forced me to improve my GTD practice. Like I mentioned earlier, collecting and processing commitments completely is necessary in developing a trusted system, and a trusted system is necessary to get commitments out of your head and to experience the freedom that comes with GTD.






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