How I'm Getting Things Done in 2020

I’ve been using OmniFocus for years. It’s outstanding, but I had found in recent years that my projects and todo lists were becoming overwhelming and needed an overhaul. I was spending too much time trying to figure out what to tackle on my list, constantly feeling anxious about prioritization and about properly teeing myself up to be successful and to get things done.

There have been two big changes I’ve made in my systems that have enabled me to be much more productive, but maybe more importantly, less stressed and more focused on longer-term improvements: goals and tags. You may have an idea of what you think either or both of these are, but I’d like to elaborate on what they mean to me and how I’ve used OmniFocus to implement them and make my project and task management much better in 2020.

Goals

The first of the two factors that have played into an overhaul of my organization has been longer-term goals. Similar to my anxiety over prioritization, goals are something that I’ve struggled with for a long time.

I feel like I am very good at tackling tasks in three areas:

But when it comes to longer-term things, I had found them to be a vast and amorphous blob of todos, priorities, dreams, and well-wishes.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m more likely to be reflective at the end of the year and going into the new year, and then incorporate new routines in the first quarter of the year based on those reflections.

I’ve also never been a person to have ten-, five-, or even one-year goals. I move things in a general direction, but I don’t have any larger yardstick to see if I’m making as much progress as I’d like or if I’m trying to take too much on.

This year, I outlined some “first half of year” bigger goals. I did this externally (in Apple Notes, which I am a big fan of—I have 342 notes there currently). Those goals are in three categories: ongoing personal improvement, one-time but important things, and travel-related goals. At the end of the day, though, regardless of category, these are the big things that are most important to me—or that I say are the most important to me (more on that later).

As examples, and for a bit of self-accountability, my ongoing goals for the first half of 2020 are:

The one-time goals are:

And the travel-related goals are:

I came up with these goals in early January and I plan to revisit them in July or so, as well as figure out what other goals I’d like to focus on in the second half of the year.

At their base, goals are about personal improvement and the bigger things that move my personal development, my home life, my career, and my relationships forward.

Tags

Tags are what OmniFocus used to call contexts, with the main difference now being that they’re no longer mutually exclusive. A task doesn’t need just one tag; it can have several.

Previously, I was using tags mostly for physical locations or devices, and a little bit for indicating levels of effort. I revamped that to add a few things that so far are working well for me, so that my complete list of types of tags is:

Together, those two lists look like this:

Something new that I’ve done here is also classify things by motivation or what I call “focus mode”. I have a few focus modes and I typically block them out in either full day or half day chunks.

I tend to get into a Computer Mode where it’s mostly a computer day, a day of high focus, sitting on my butt, in clean and/or house clothes, and sometimes handling long-running tasks in the background because I’ll be there for a while.

I also have a Shop Mode where I am at my shop, on my feet, in rough clothes, usually dirty or tackling dirty tasks, and I have every tool I own at my disposal (be it woodworking, automotive, electronics, power tools, …)

My Home Project Mode is time at home doing DIY-type projects such as yard work, fixing things, or planning or doing home improvements. I try to group these together and make a half day or full day of it, usually on the weekend and with Jessica.

Sometimes things require a Decision, and I don’t like to stack too many of those up on the same day as it is often taxing and paralyzing to do so.

I love doing Research, opening lots of browser tabs and reading longer things, sometimes printing things out for reference, bookmarking resources for later, learning new tools or skills, or just general problem-solving for work or for personal projects.

And one level of effort that I really enjoy is Design, which usually involves creating an API, drawing something in CAD, prototyping something in cardboard, or other things in which I can get wrapped up creatively but still get a job done. I added this one when I realized that these sorts of tasks really give me a boost of energy.

These are how it all fits together. I very rarely have anything Untagged, so this is a place that I can look at during my weekly review of projects and move things out of by being more specific. Things that are tagged with Goals touch my major goals mentioned above. And Next Move is my system for taking things I’ve teed up for this week and trying to do them today. Next Move is today’s todo list.

This might seem like a lot, but the big takeaway here is that I come up with tags that help me filter my master list into what I want to allot to this week and, each day, what I’d like to get done that day.

Filtering and my flow

Things enter my system sometimes haphazardly, right into the inbox, as I think of them so that I can get them off of my mind. My only requirement here is that I try very hard to keep them legible and understandable to future me so that a couple hours or days from now, I’ll know what the hell I meant. This usually works.

On Sundays, I will try (sometimes pushing to Mondays) to Review all projects in OmniFocus using that app’s functionality and get things into the right projects, tagged with the right tags, and, importantly, Flagged if I would like to tackle them this week.

Each morning during the week, I will look at my Active perspective, which brings up things that are either due today or Flagged. I will tag the ones I want to tackle today as Next Move. Then my Next Move perspective can by my focused todo list for the day. If I feel something slipping or plans for the day change, I can take things out of Next Move, or if I get ahead of myself, I can take on a few other things from Active that are on tap this week.

The thing is, I currently have 437 actions across 59 projects in my OmniFocus. The only way I stay sane among all of this is leveraging the two items I talked about previously: Goals and Tags.

As I look over a list of things for consideration, either for the week or the day, I can click around the left panel to filter by certain tags. I’ll usually start with Goals as I ask myself: is there some way that I can move forward just a couple of my goals this week? Did I make any progress on goals (presumably, the most important things to me) yesterday, or should I maybe try one or two today? I don’t beat myself up too much about it, but I do consistently revisit these items to make sure they are getting consideration.

And I can use the other tags to ask myself questions like:

A few other details

My two laptops and my iPad are essentially setup the same when it comes to perspectives with easy access. I use any of these three devices for weekly review and for working through the day’s items. It’s late in the day today, so my Next Move is almost empty!

My phone is a little bit more stripped down and is used mostly for glancing or reminding. I’m most commonly headed to or from my shop or preparing to do errands when I look at my phone and, before COVID-19, I would also like to have handy lists of new places I’d like to try coworking and places I’d like to eat out, easily accessed when I’m out and need ideas.

Conclusion

This is kind of long, and might seem complicated, but:

I hope it’s useful to you, and I’d welcome your feedback or questions. This site supports Webmention and I’m on Micro.blog and Twitter.