One of the most overlooked areas in my GTD workflow is the ability to track future plans and projects. Needing to meet tight deadlines everyday, most of the times its more about when a task needs to be completed than anything else. If you are also looking for a way to organise yourself away from the traditional To-Do item lists, keep on reading.
The Swiss knife of iPad productivity OmniFocus [iTunes Link] incorporates an innovative way to display your due tasks that I haven't seen in any of its competitors. Dubbed "Forecast Mode", it presents you with a timeline of your week where you can drill down all the information that would be otherwise unmanageable.
All the activities are grouped in the familiar expandable modules used in other areas of the application, a great way to hide distracting information and combat procrastination. The beauty of the forecast mode is that it gives you instant ease of mind planning your work, as you can clearly see what's ahead and focus on your priorities instead of struggling to decipher when do they need to be completed.
Planning your workflow with due dates
If you are a deadline oriented person, this part will be natural to you. If you are following the Getting Things Done method, I know the collection stage shouldn't involve much processing, but thanks to apps like this and its add-ons, this mental dumping can be quick and pain free. Don't worry this won't interfere much in the way you do things now.
The trick of using the forecast mode properly is to set due dates in all your tasks. Using OmniFocus, this translates into adding this information to a new item to your inbox to process later. I often add new tasks to OmniFocus directly from my email. Some articles I need to write have to be published on a specific way, and there's no way I'll remember everything. Adding a due date using this technique has helped me to organize myself better, since I can clearly see the workload for the week.
Now to the important part: thanks to the clever new item window, you can set start and due dates really fast. In the default view, the info tab is highlighted every time you enter a new task. This sub-section allows you to add a context (Home, telephone, computer,…), assign it to a project, flag and move.
Here's the trick: to use my effective planning technique I suggest using the second tab called Dates instead. This allows you to enter a due date with a single tap (just a single tap!!!), plus, the next time you enter a new item, OmniFocus will remember you want the Dates section active (one tap less!).
Thanks to some easy colour coding, you can spot those items that have slipped and haven't been completed in the "Past" tab. When projects and tasks are approaching their due date, OmniFocus will highlight them in orange and to red when they're overdue.
You don't need to be a GTD freak to get this right, just forget about categorising and assigning items to a project for now. Think that if you follow the timeframe you have set, you will eventually complete that huge project… on time. The difference lays in breaking down things in small chunks every day without worrying about the final outcome. You will get there!
What we've learned
1. The Quick Entry window allows you to create new tasks AND set due dates.
2. OmniFocus will remember to display the Dates submenu automatically.
3. Forecast view allows you to plan your workload without even categorising items.
While the forecast mode is exclusive to OmniFocus for iPad, I can see in OMNI's forums that users really want to have this feature on their iPhone and Mac OS versions. I also read on AppAdvice that CEO Ken Case tweeted a mockup of this function for the iPhone, so they're definitely working on that.
Forecast view now on OmniFocus for iPhone
I just got an email telling me about the release of the new version of OmniFocus for iPhone (1.10) including this awesome feature. The new forecast view uses a similar UI that allows you to easily tap and see all the tasks for the next seven days. As I highlighted in the previous post, this feature helps you to plan ahead without having to categorise every entry—you just need to enter a due date. The addition of the new Forecast view substitutes the old Overdue and Due Soon lists too.
The new version of OmniFocus for iPhone also comes with other functional changes and user interface enhancements. Now its easier to assign tasks to projects and contexts thanks to new buttons and the search results also display this information accordingly. The update brings a substantial number of tweaks and bug fixes, so make sure you go to the App Store and update.
It's also worth mentioning that OMNI's own sync function now appears on the main Sync view and seems much easier to set up. In previous versions, this sync option was slightly hidden and warned users that it was at a beta stage. I'm glad to see that even if Apple will provide over-the-air solutions in iOS 5, OmniFocus has already its own in-house solution.