Dashboard image courtesy of pixabay.com
I’ve been rethinking my Today strategy. I’ve used the traditional Today custom perspective that is seen in many OmniFocus workflow blog posts. I’ve tried for a long time to get my Today view to work. I’ve looked at other task managers to see how they construct their Today view. But I think I’ve settled on a slightly different use of my digital Today list. I’ve decided to rename my Today perspective to Dashboard and use it differently.
The Today view is supposed to answer the question that we all encounter every day: “What do I want to do today?” I’ve been taught to put due dates on all tasks that have a real due date. If a task has some sort of financial penalty (late payment fees) or a personal setback (I forgot to buy my wife’s birthday gift), it will have a due date. I will flag a handful of tasks that don’t have a real due date but I would like to focus on today or in the next few days.
But now that I have a Today view, it’s still too long. There’s the list of overdue tasks, due today tasks, and due soon tasks that are coming up within the next 7 days. I also added a bunch of flagged tasks that I, with every good intentions, want to finish. My Today list just seems to get longer. I thought that if I could create this “magical” Today custom perspective, I would automagically get s**t done. But something always happens. My wife adds more tasks to my Honey Do list. The Boss sends me a request to drop everything and finish this new project that appeared out of thin air. Colleagues or customers pile on top of that with other requests that must be fulfilled. My Today perspective just became longer and more overwhelming.
This was the moment when I realized I had lost focus. I had too many things in my Today view. I needed to find a way to shorten this list to a more manageable length. My current experiment has led me to another revelation.
I renamed my Today custom perspective to Dashboard. This was a better label to use instead of Today. Let’s think of a restaurant menu. I walk into a restaurant and review the menu. There are 50 items to choose from. The menu is broken up into different sections – Meat, Chicken, Seafood, Soups and Salads, Desserts, Appetizers, and Drinks. I won’t be able to eat every item in the menu at lunch. Today, I feel like eating shrimp. I’ll order a shrimp pasta from the Seafood section, a flavorful drink, and a dessert. I put away the menu when I finished my selections. I don’t look at the menu after I’ve made my choices. When my meal arrives, I’ll feast to my heart’s delight. When I work in OmniFocus, I visit my Dashboard and look at my list of tasks that are overdue, due today, due soon, or flagged. I can’t possibly do all of them today. I select a small handful of tasks today and focus on that smaller list. If I can finish the chosen tasks, I can refer back to the OmniFocus Dashboard and choose more tasks.
History of the Today List
A common idea in productivity circles is that the first things we should work on today are all due tasks (overdue, due today, and due soon) and tasks that we have flagged for today. Setting up a Today perspective has been a popular topic in the OmniFocus community. Here are a couple of forum discussions on how some OmniFocus users have set up their Today perspective.
Other names for the Today perspective that I’ve used are MITs (Most Important Things), Focus, or Now! Feel free to use whatever suits you. I’ve settled on using the label Dashboard.
A Today view is a common feature found in many apps nowadays:
Things 3’s Today
Although OmniFocus 2 does not have a default Today view, it is easy enough to create an OmniFocus 2 custom perspective list that will show today’s most important agenda items: Due tasks or flagged tasks.
Setting Up The Dashboard Custom Perspective
The view settings for the Dashboard custom perspective will look like this:
There are 3 ways I like to group my Dashboard.
Dashboard Perspective (Context Oriented)
I like to work in batches by context. In this Dashboard perspective, I grouped my due or flagged tasks by context and sorted by due date within those groups. Due tasks get listed first followed by flagged tasks and then unflagged tasks.
When I want to work in a particular context, I can look at one context grouping. I might want to do work on my Mac. I’ll just visit my @App grouping. I can go to my @House grouping to look for all the due or flagged House tasks. I work better when I can finish a bunch of context-related tasks. When I finish one context, I can go on to the next context grouping.
This is how my Dashboard perspective looks like when I group my due or flagged tasks by Context:
Dashboard Perspective (Due Oriented)
If I am more deadline-oriented instead of context-oriented, I change the grouping to Due.
This is a sample of my Dashboard perspective grouped by Due:
This is similar to 2Do’s Today and Scheduled lists, Thing 3’s Today and Upcoming views, and Todoist’s Today and Next 7 Days views. These Today views are all sorted by date. In OmniFocus, I have it grouped and sorted by Due if I am a deadline-oriented user.
Dashboard perspective (Project-Oriented)
If I am project-oriented, I change the Group setting to Project.
Here is the Dashboard perspective grouped by Projects.
I can choose to look at my Dashboard grouped by context, due, or projects. It’s a great way to see my tasks in different groupings to see what I can plan for today.
Populating The Dashboard Perspective
The default Contexts perspective is set to show all available tasks. The view settings look like this:
If I wanted to use the Contexts perspective for other reasons, I can create an Available Tasks custom perspective with these settings:
Use the Contexts perspective or the Available Tasks perspective to view a list of all available tasks. Select a handful of tasks and flag them to make them appear in the Today perspective. Unflag a flagged task to remove it from the Today perspective.
Assigning due dates to tasks will make a task appear in the Today perspective. Due tasks will show up 1 week before the due date because I changed the preference setting for Due Soon to mean 1 week. Your preferences may vary but I’ve found one week to be a big enough lead time to work on Due Soon tasks. Most of my focus is spent working on anything that is coming up within the next 7 days. Future Due items past 7 days will be lingering at the border of my focus but aren’t quite important enough for me to look at yet. The closer I get to a task’s due date, the more important it becomes.
I do not assign fake due dates to tasks that do not have a real hard deadline. A task with a real deadline should have serious consequences (financial or otherwise) that will occur if a task is not completed by that date.
Using the Dashboard perspective as a Menu
The Today perspective is a great way to start developing a productivity workflow. I stayed in the Today view for most of the day and referred to it when I was working. As a beginner, I worked in the Today view when my list of due and flagged tasks was short. But as I gained more responsibilities (job promotion, getting married, having kids, taking on side jobs and new opportunities), my list of available tasks grew larger and the list became cumbersome. I had more due or flagged tasks than I could reasonably manage. The Today view no longer became manageable. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned to plan my day ahead of time. The Today custom perspective morphed into my Dashboard.
The Dashboard is populated with all the due or flagged tasks that I should be working on. But the list was still too long. I preview my OmniFocus Dashboard and write down 3 - 5 tasks in a physical journal. This becomes my new “Today” list.
I pivoted away from the Today views in my digital task manager because it’s too easy to get distracted. I might want to visit my projects and start tweaking the current next actions. I could go and start brainstorming and add new inbox items in my task manager. Many users will use the Today perspective as a “Doing” or Execution perspective. This will work if the number of tasks in this perspective is small. But when the number of due or flagged tasks grows, I need to change my Dashboard perspective from an Execution perspective to a Planning perspective.
When I write down my next 3 - 5 tasks to work on, I intentionally get out of Planning mode and transition into Execution mode. I start working off my Today page. I am laser-focused on my Today page. I check off the tasks when they are completed. I work on the Today page until I finish all of my assigned tasks. The whole idea of using this new Today page is to stay in Execution mode and never return to Planning mode.
I return to my task manager and mark my current batch of tasks as completed. Then I can return back to Planning mode and select another 3 - 5 tasks to work on. By intentionally separating Planning mode and Execution mode, I can differentiate between when I should be executing and when I should be planning.
This formed the foundation of my hybrid productivity system. Using OmniFocus as my restaurant menu, I can see a wide range of tasks to work on. When I choose my tasks, I put OmniFocus away and start feasting on my tasks. When I finished what was on my plate, I can open up the OmniFocus menu and order a new plate of tasks.
Keeping your list of Today tasks as reasonably small as possible gives more clarity to what we really want to do today. OmniFocus 2’s custom perspectives capabilities are very powerful. I’ve never been comfortable with the Today views found in most digital task manager apps. My list to due or flagged tasks were still too long. Using pen and paper allows me to cut that list even further. I don’t need to apply a tag such as “Today” or “High Priority” to my tasks. I can just look at my Today page and get to work.
If you have a different way of creating your Today list, I’d like to hear from you. Reply to this post or start your own conversation in the Guild with your Today workflow. I’d love to hear from you!