One of the most advanced features of OmniFocus are Perspectives, which, in short, allow you to view your actions applying different filters. While Perspectives unleash the true potential of OmniFocus they are equally complex to master. It is one of the aspects where many people that are actually looking for a simple list manager give up on OmniFocus. This series of posts is aimed to help exploring the power of Perspectives and how to make them useful and valuable to your workflow.
In the introduction to Perspectives we will focus on the true basics: Creating, accessing and modifying Perspectives in OmniFocus for Mac. With each post we will also create a new, in some cases modify an existing, Perspective. At the end of this series you should have some key Perspectives available that should help you focus on your work since that is what Perspectives are all about.
What's on for Today - Due or Flagged Tasks
The first perspective you may find useful is a 'Today'-view which should list all actions that are either due today (need to be done) or that you'd like to devote time to today (should be done). Tasks that are due are easy to retrieve as we will use the 'Due Date' field of the task to filter them. Those tasks you wish to do today will be filtered using the 'Flagged' state. Consequently all tasks you wish to do need to be flagged before. You can have general flags on repetitive, routine tasks or projects as well as skim through your 'Next Actions' list and flag those you deem important for today. There is a whole philosophy on which and how many tasks to flag and plan for the day, but we will investigate that another time.
Just a couple tips on flagging:
- Quick flagging: When browsing through your task list, activate the tasks you like to flag and just press Command-Shift-L (same to un-flag)
- Flags are inherited in projects and task groups: If you flag a project or a group of tasks, all children will be flagged as well
Please don't go overboard with flagging tasks. If your 'Today' list ends up being nearly as long as your 'Next Actions' list, something went wrong. Next to routine tasks (e.g. Daily Review/Check eMail reminders) I typically only flag a maximum of three tasks that I'd like to get done that day.
Filtering on Due and Flagged
Now that we know what we' like to show in our 'Today' Perspective, we need to filter all our tasks accordingly. Change into the 'Context' view in OmniFocus by either selecting 'View > Context Mode' from the menu or by pressing Command-2. The sidebar should now show you all of your contexts and the main content area all your actions grouped by context.
In order to apply the desired filter we need to active the 'View Bar' in OmniFocus. You can do this by either selecting 'View > Show View Bar' from the menu or press Command-Shift-V. The same actions can be used to hide it again. You now see a toolbar appear on top of the main panels in the OmniFocus window. It allows you to apply different filter, grouping and sorting mechanisms.
- Context Filter allows you to filter the context to which tasks have been assigned as shown in the left sidebar. You can choose between Remaining and Dropped contexts, where in Remaining you can further distinguish between 'Active' (contains actions), 'Stalled' (currently doesn't contain any actions) and 'On Hold' (set on hold by yourself, e.g. for 'Waiting-For'-like contexts)
- Grouping allows you to show tasks grouped in various different ways. Either by the context or the project they belong to, by their status (e.g. flagged) or by a lot of different time stamps (start date, due date, date added, date last changed or even date completed)
- Sorting provides more or less the same options, but this time for sorting your actions accordingly. The only additional option you have is to sort by the name of the task. Unluckily the sort direction is hard-wired in OmniFocus and always is ascending
- Availability Filter is a key filter as it, together with the Context Filter, really determines which tasks are displayed. You can chose either 'Next Actions' under 'Remaining', which gives you all first and available (not blocked) actions of all your active projects. Alternatively you can choose 'Available' which gives you all non-blocked actions, also the ones after the first action of your projects. Choosing 'Any Status' obviously gives you every single action completed or not, blocked or not across your entire library. Finally you can also chose 'Completed', which is nice for views that allow you to look back at what you have already achieved.
- Status Filter is the one which is most important to the Today Perspective as described above. It allows you to filter by various status combinations, e.g. flagged or not, due soon, due and not flagged, due and flagged and finally due or flagged, which will be our setting for the perspective we are building
- Estimated Time Filter allows you to further narrow down the actions displayed by the amount of time you have assigned to each of them. I typically do not consistently apply time estimates to my actions, but it comes in handy if you have 40 minutes at hand and want to see which things you can possibly completed in that time. Only issue with time estimates typically is that you always misjudge the amount required to complete a certain action (typically you need 2.5 times more than you think)
For our 'Today' Perspective, please apply the following filter settings:
- Context Filter = 'Active'
- Grouping = 'Context'
- Sorting = 'Due'
- Availability Filter = 'Available'
- Status Filter = 'Due or Flagged'
- Estimated Time Filter = 'Any Duration'
Tip: Once you have the 'View Bar' activated, it also allows you to change the width of the columns in OmniFocus and OmniFocus has it's very own logic of doing this. Furthermore, by right clicking the column headers, you can also add or remove columns from the display. This is particular useful as perspectives, as one example, are able to remember the columns displayed as well as their width.
Creating your 'Today'-Perspective
It couldn't be any easier to create your own Perspective, but before we do this, we need to 'clean-up' a bit by hiding the View Bar again ('View > Hide View Bar' from the menu or Command-Shift-V'). All you now need to do is bring up the Perspective Window by either hitting Command-Control-P or selecting 'Perspectives > Show Perspectives' from the menu.
This window shows you all your Perspectives, or just the standard ones that come with OmniFocus in case you haven't created any just yet. You can select them form this window, manipulated or delete them. But you can also add new ones, which is what we are going to do now.
Select the small gear wheel icon from the bottom bar of the window and choose 'Save Window As > New Perspective'. OmniFocus now takes an exact snapshot of your window and the filter, group and sorting options applied and saves it as an accessible perspective. You can now enter a name for the perspective and I would recommend to choose 'Today'.
You can ignore most of the options you have on the right-hand side of the Perspective window for now as I will explain them in future posts. The only two we want to look at is the ability to assign a different icon to your new perspective and the option to assign a keyboard short-cut to it.
Since the standard perspective icon of OmniFocus is not necessarily a beauty, you can click on the small little triangle bottom left of the icon to select one of the OmniFocus icons or simply drop any image on the icon box to use whatever you like. I love and use the WooIcons for my Perspective icons.
Recording a short-cut allows you to quickly access your perspective in the future using the keyboard. Simply click into the 'Record a short-cut' field and hit the keyboard combination of your choice. OmniFocus will automatically block keyboard combos already used inside the application from being recorded, but watch out you don't chose any global keyboard short-cut. I settled with Control-0 to 9 to access my perspectives plus some Control and character combos.
Simplifying the Interface
At times you also want to use Perspectives in OmniFocus to hide things from the user interface you don't need in a particular situation. For example when you are simply doing the things you are meant or want to do, you don't need a lot of options to manipulate actions, projects or contexts. If you decided to batch process a few tasks belonging to one contexts, you don't need the ability to navigate other contexts at that time and so on and so forth. Perspectives in OmniFocus luckily also restore the layout of the user interface if they are configured to do so. Don't worry about this at the moment as it works by default, I'll explain more about this in a later post.
For our 'Today'-Perspective, we want this to be as simple as possible to get us really focussed on what's on today's menu and not start wandering around the task list and procrastinating on the actions at hand. The first thing we don't need is the list of context in the left sidebar. The Perspective already shows us today's actions grouped by contexts, so the panel on the left is somewhat redundant. Click the divider between the context list in the sidebar and the main context area and drag it all the way to the far left to make the list disappear.
The second step is to hide the toolbar, which you can either achieve using the top right button in the window, selecting 'View > Hide Toolbar' from the menu or by pressing Command-Option-T.
Now that we have changed the layout, we'd like to save these changes to the perspective we have created and that we are currently in. The good folks from OmniGroup have made this a straight forward activity by allowing you to take a snapshot of the current perspective, which automatically updates it's settings. Simply select 'Perspectives > Take Snapshot of Today' from the menu and you have saved the simplistic layout of your 'Today'-Perspective back to OmniFocus.
Now Perspectives would be as helpful as they are if you couldn't access and switch between them very fast. OmniFocus gives you a fair amount of options to access the Perspective of your choice. Here are most of them:
- Select them from the 'Perspective' menu in OmniFocus
- Use any keyboard shortcut you have previously assigned to your perspective to access it
- Open the 'Perspective' window and double-click the perspectives to change amongst them
- Create a URL to call the desired perspective
While the first one should be straight forward and the second one has been described earlier already, I'd like to focus on the latter two options.
The Perspective window can be used to navigate Perspectives and by clicking the small 'panel slider'-icon in the bottom window bar, you can reduce the size the Perspective window takes if you only need it to provide that browsing functionality.
Creating URLs inside OmniFocus (or other documents that support URLs) to access perspectives isn't particular difficult either. The URL scheme implemented by OmniFocus consists of three simple elements:
- 'omnifocus:///' (Yes, three slashes) to call OmniFocus and tell it we want something from it
- 'perspective/' to access a perspective
- 'Today' as the name of the perspective we'd like to access. If the name of the perspective contains a space, use '%20' to replace it in the URL
So to access our 'Today' perspective your would use the URL 'omnifocus:///perspective/Today'. These URLs come in handy if you like to reference perspectives in other actions inside OmniFocus using the note field. My Daily Review as an example makes use of these URLs so I can quickly access the view in OmniFocus I need to look at. But even in other documents, say notes or mind maps, assuming the support URLs, you can make references to OmniFocus Perspectives in a fairly effortless way.
Let's Button It Up
(Need to credit Merlin Mann, Dan Benjamin and the 'Back to Work'-Podcast for the term used in the heading.) We should have captured all the basics of OmniFocus Perspectives in this post and you can go and create those perspectives you find useful for your workflow. Again, keep it down to those you really need. If you do not access a Perspective at least once a week, likeliness of you don't really needing it is damn high. In the next posts we'll have a look at further useful aspects of Perspectives, like grouping, filtering, focus, expansions, …
Meanwhile feel free to share how you use Perspectives in OmniFocus and what your favourite one is.