Book Review – Creating Flow with OmniFocus (Second Edition)

Creating Flow with OmniFocus 2

To date, there have been two books that I can claim, without hesitation, have had a dramatic effect on the way I organise and live my life.

The first is the world-famous Getting Things Done by David Allen. Not too long ago, I was a disorganised mess, lacking even the most basic skills in the art of prioritisation, information management and daily structure. That book saved me and by habitually applying the advice within it, I’ve been able to turn that part of my life around.

The second book, is Creating Flow with OmniFocus (Second Edition), by Kourosh Dini.

I used to consider myself reasonably adept when it came to using OmniFocus, a feature-rich to do list and action management application for OS X and iOS, however that opinion was blown out of the water within a few hours of reading this book.

Before we move on much further with the book’s contents, let’s quickly cover what OmniFocus is. OmniFocus is one of the most detailed task management applications you are likely to come across. It was designed post-GTD so as to really take advantage of the idea of contexts when it comes to prioritising your actions. The debate over what forms the best type of context rages long and hard still and I’m certainly not going to approach it here! However OmniFocus leverages contexts with surprising ease as well as giving you the option of being able to display actions in the form of different perspectives. It’s as customisable as you wish it to be which, for some, is where it’s weakness lies.

It’s just so darned complex! It’s almost a case in point for procrastination itself, in that the fear of getting to know the application is greater than the need to use it.

What Kourosh has been able to do with this publication, however, is nothing short of stunning.  He has been able to take OmniFocus and lay out the different configuration elements into their component parts. As well as this, there is a running narrative which describes the theory behind some of the productivity techniques that OmniFocus was designed to help you implement in considerable detail.

Also, I have to point out that you really can be at ANY skill level to read through this book. It seems daunting when you first look at the Table of Contents because there were subject titles in there that had me scratching my head as to exactly what they were (as I said, I thought I knew a lot about OmniFocus – boy was I wrong!) but the layout has been carefully structured so as to allow anyone who is new to OmniFocus to work their way through and, by the end, will be a master. No question.

The book starts at quite a lively pace and this is maintained all the way through, with the first chapter giving an overview as to how the mind processes information, how trusted systems work, through to demonstrable exercises on how to capture information and actions.  I started reading the book exclusively on my iPad, however this quickly changed when I realised that I really did want to take part in some of the practice exercises that Kourosh has crafted. I therefore switched to reading via iBooks on my Mac.

The practice exercises themselves have been designed perfectly and really fit in with the overall flow of the book. Sometimes, people decide to have a humorous theme running with some of their examples, with joke names and content that is designed to raise more of a laugh than a thought process. However there is a class element to this book that rises above that. OmniFocus is a serious application and this is a serious book.

As you would hope and expect from a book of this size, there is a logical flow (excuse the pun) to the order of the chapters and exercises. Once the interface and action entry is taken care of, you are swiftly moved onto the concept of contexts and why they make a difference in your task management system. As is the pattern for the entire book, you move from concept ideas to practical application seamlessly and it isn’t long at all before you’ve created your contexts and have a completely different outlook on your upcoming timelines.

Deferred vs Due Dates is covered in great detail and there is a lengthy but essential section on the best way to deal with repeating tasks for routine maintenance tasks and habit formation. Indeed, the theory of habits and their importance in your daily life is comprehensively described.

From contexts to projects, perspectives to meta-tasks, I would challenge anyone not to be able to pick up any new tips and tricks from this book. Personally, I can say that the use of meta-tasks has transformed my daily workflows, as well as the creation of many different ‘dashboards’ covering my day, future deferred tasks, a different method for utilising flags, and perspectives for almost any given situation. I’ve even adopted the 30,000 feet view ‘Land and Sea’ perspective to track my three most important tasks at any given time. It’s such a fantastic idea that I would never have been able to come up with on my own. Tomorrow, I’m going to be configuring my Project Management study schedule in OmniFocus with supreme confidence, because I now know how to have confidence in the system I will be adopting. This means that I have no excuse not to pass my certifications and that is a motivational boon all on it’s own.

As if all of that isn’t enough, OmniFocus is not the only application covered.  Kourosh acknowledges that there are certain situations where OmniFocus is not an appropriate tool, giving clear instructions how to use OmniOutliner for creating project templates and checklists for actions. There is also an appendix section that explains how to use third party applications like Keyboard Maestro and TextExpander to make data entry faster and more efficient.

I always refer to Getting Things Done as my productivity bible and I go back to it regularly to ensure that I still follow the sage advice given within. Well, I’ve now got a second book that deserves to sit alongside GTD and I really cannot give it any higher praise than that.

If you are serious about being an OmniFocus Power User, you have to read this book.