OmniFocus is a task manager for Apple devices that’s basically the productivity nerd equivalent of CrossFit, with all the fanaticism that entails. I am such a fanatic, and this is a blog post for my fellow parishioners in the Purple Church of Productivity.
One of the most interesting features of the recently released OmniFocus 3 is the ability to pick one of your tags to show up as a list of tasks at the bottom of the Forecast perspective. Forecast is the date-based view of your tasks, interspersing tasks with due dates with your calendar events, so you can see the landscape of what has to happen when. Selecting this blessed tag in Forecast allows you manually add more tasks to this view, even if they don’t have due dates. They appear below the chronological ones, and you can reorder them in that view however you want. The iOS app even has a handy shortcut for adding or removing the tag by swiping right on a task.
The most interesting thing about the feature is that its use is not prescribed. Its name isn’t even prescribed; you can call the tag whatever you want. The only clue is that its list of tasks shows up at the bottom of Forecast, which means it should probably have something to do with looking at these tasks today.
The thing is, OmniFocus has also long had a concept of flagged tasks. You can even make flagged tasks create a notification badge on the app, a level of urgency otherwise reserved for things that are due soon. You can’t make the blessed tag that shows up in Forecast create a badge, nor can you make flagged tasks show up in Forecast (unless you add the blessed tag to them, too). This creates a quandary: Flagging is better for indicating that a task is important now, but not as good for indicating that it’s important today. Adding a tag to Forecast is great for indicating you should consider a task today — because Forecast is the best place to see what’s going on today — but it can’t do what flags can do to tell you to look at something now.
Okay, fine, so use the tag for things you have to do today, and just toggle the flags when you have to think about them now. Well, not so fast. There is another meaning of “Today” in OmniFocus, which is shared with the rest of the operating system in a useful way. The widgets that show up to the left of the home screen on iOS and in the right sidebar on the Mac are called “Today” widgets, and while that nomenclature isn’t super visible and might go away, that’s still a very useful place to gather information that’s relevant today from all your apps. So you definitely want the tasks in your OmniFocus widget to be the ones you need to know about today — it’s easy to see at a glance on all devices, and it’s also what shows up in the OmniFocus app on Apple Watch.
In the OmniFocus settings, you can define what “today” means — as far as the widget is concerned — in terms of due dates and deferred dates, as well as with the flag. Pro users can also make the Today widget show whatever OmniFocus perspective they want, so you could make one that includes your blessed Forecast tag, but you’d still have the problem where you can’t see flagged tasks in Forecast, so you’d lose the ability to clearly indicate “today” with the flag in all places where you want to think about today.
Okay, fine, so don’t use the flag to indicate “today!” Well, there’s one more problem: the app badge. I know some people hate app badges and never use them, and others just won’t care about this problem, but I care. The red app icon badge is an indication that there are X things in this app you need to know about, and it’s an indication you can see from outside the app. The OmniFocus Today widget can explicitly list the things you need to know about from outside the app. It would drive me crazy if the number on the badge was different from the number of things in Today. With tasks that are due, it’s no problem; those will show up everywhere you’d expect them. But the only way to make a task increment the app badge when it isn’t due soon is to flag it, and that’s also a good way to make the task appear in Today. So, if you’re like me, and you need the app badge and the Today widget to match, you need the flag to mean “today.”
So how the heck is one supposed to use Forecast — which also defaults to a section labeled “today” — if flagged tasks don’t show up there, and what the heck is that blessed tag list in there for?
Well, to be clear, it’s for whatever you want. That’s the cool thing about controlling it with a tag; you get to label it according to your own brain. But I came up with a solution I really like. I figured it out by taking the name of the “Forecast” perspective seriously. It’s not set in stone. It’s the forecast of what could happen today.
So I created my own Today perspective that puts due and flagged tasks into the Today widget everywhere, and the app badge indicates to me that there’s stuff in there. I can view it as a simple list in the widgets, or I can see it grouped by project from inside the app. That’s what should happen today. I am in and out of that perspective all day long.
Forecast, meanwhile, I visit first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. I look at the main section and see my calendar events interleaved with tasks that are due. That’s what has to happen today (or tomorrow, if I’m looking ahead in the evening). A task that’s flagged but not due should happen, but it doesn’t have to happen, so I don’t need to see that yet. Before I go look at those, what else could happen today?
Boom. That’s what the blessed tag is for. I call mine
📡 Radar, as in “it’s on my radar.” (I know that emoji is not a radar, and I, too, would love a radar emoji.) There at the bottom of my Forecast is a list of interesting things that could happen today. If I decide it should happen today, I flag it from there. If I decide it probably won’t happen anytime soon, no big deal, I remove the tag. From that list of a few possibilities, I pick the ones that seem doable given the hard landscape of events and deadlines, and I flag them to send them to Today.
There might be other flagged tasks in Today, but I’ll see those when I get there. It’s not actually a problem if I can’t do them all today, though — they aren’t due, they’re just flagged. That doesn’t exactly mean they’re high priority; it means my past self has signaled to me that I’d like to do this one sooner rather than later. Now I’ve got a list of tasks I’m serious about, and I have to decide how serious, but that’s a much more honest process than trying to cull a huge list of tasks with widely varying levels of emotional investment from me. It takes some guts to take that bright orange flag off of a task, but I’ve also got the app badge bothering me to do it if that task really isn’t going to happen today. And since I can keep it “on my radar,” it really is fine. Maybe I’ll bump it back up tomorrow.
OmniFocus is great about prompting you to review all your tasks regularly, and that’s usually how something in my infinite database of things to do ends up “on my radar.” OmniFocus is true to its name, and the new blessed tag in Forecast really opened up my way of working by adding in
📡 Radar as a middle layer of intention between “omni” and “focus.”
Obviously, I really love OmniFocus, and like any CrossFit fanatic, I want everyone to get into it. If you are daunted, here are some of my favorite resources to help: