3 Handy OmniFocus Tips and Tricks

When it comes to apps in the getting things done (GTD) realm, OmniFocus stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s powerful, it’s flexible and it can sync with the iPad and iPhone versions as well. But as great as it is — and we’ve already told you that it’s pretty cool — it can still use a few tweaks here and there to make it a bit more workable.

So with that it mind, let’s take a few moments to share a few tips and tricks for OmniFocus. You may not need all of them, but if just one tip makes you more productive, then it’s worth it, right?

Creating Templates

I’m a writer and photographer for a few different custom car magazines, and I used to find myself forgetting to do one thing or another to complete each article. After digging around in OmniFocus for a bit, I thought that creating a standard template would make my life easier. Here’s how it works:

First, I made a folder named “Templates.” In there I made my first project, called “Feature Article Template.” In the project I put down every step to my process for a feature article, from getting the tech sheet to depositing the check and everywhere in between. The result looked like this:

The template in its raw form.

The template in its raw form.

I needed to add a new feature article to my projects list, so the first thing to do was highlight the Feature Article Template project and copy it to the clipboard. I then highlighted my “Magazine Work” folder, then pasted it in the folder. Since I wanted the template to sit in a specific project file for a magazine, I simply dragged the template into the new project — in this case, “Classic Trucks,” and I dropped it there.

The template project is now a subproject in the Classic Trucks project file.

The template project is now a subproject in the Classic Trucks project file.

Now I had to plug in the information for the feature, namely what the name was of the owner of the feature vehicle, and the name of the project. This could be tedious, and it wouldn’t save much time if I had to rewrite each line for each new owner, but don’t worry, that’s an easy fix.

I replaced “Feature Article Template” with the name of the owner and the vehicle, which in this case was “Dino’s Panel.” I then highlighted the title, and copied it to the clipboard. Here’s where it gets cool.

If you look at the screenshot, you’ll notice that each task for the project in the template has the word “feature” in it. In some cases, it doesn’t make grammatical sense either, but that doesn’t matter — it’s just a placeholder. To replace the placeholder, I double clicked on the word “feature” in each line, then hit command-v to paste “Dino’s Panel” over feature. I did this to each line, and this is the result:

Cutting and pasting the new title was quick.

Cutting and pasting the new title was quick.

So what’s the advantage? I had an entirely new project setup in under a minute with the help of the template. By making it as plug-and-play as possible, customizing it for each purpose is fast and easy. Plus, because the title of the project is in each task, if the task pops up on my “Due” menu, I know what project it’s for, and I don’t see a generic title.

Now this is just how I use the template system, but feel free to get creative. Make a template for any task that’s repeatable, but needs to be customized  and you’ll save yourself time and headaches.

Mailing It In

Here’s the scenario: You’re out on the road, with your computer sleeping comfortably at home. You need to make a new task in OmniFocus, but you don’t have the OmniFocus app on your iPhone. For this one, mail it in.

Email yourself notes.

Email yourself notes.

Pull up the Preferences pane for OmniFocus, then pull up Mail. It used to be that you’d just clip out text from Mail and send it your way, but now it’s a lot simpler.

There are two options for how to send your email, but for me, only one makes much sense. Send an email to yourself, or any account that’s linked with your computer’s Apple Mail system. Type your task in the subject line, but start it with any symbol or character you designate. For my purposes, I use two hyphens as a prefix.

Just compose an email - it's that simple.

Just compose an email - it's that simple.

That’s it. Nothing in the body, nothing fancy, just put whatever you need in the subject line. Send off the email, and the next time Mail is opened, it will check the mail, apply the OmniFocus rule, and away it goes to your Inbox.



Now some of you may think that this wouldn’t work for the way you use OmniFocus, and normally I’d agree with you. I mean, I have OmniFocus on my iPad and my iPhone, so why wouldn’t I just use the app when I’m mobile?

Easy answer: Syncing. My laptop stays powered on most of the time, but I don’t always sync OmniFocus to the server. If I put in a new task on the iPhone, I might overlap myself and cause a syncing issue. Instead, I send myself an email and I know that it’s always correct, because it’s working with the master program.

Putting Things Off

It’s a Tuesday, and you’ve prepared for a big meeting with the boss in an hour. He pops into your office and exclaims, “We can’t do this today, I’m much too busy. Let’s reschedule for a week from now.”

Now you could just type in the date into your OmniFocus system, but there’s a cooler way to do it as well.

Check out the image below, which shows three versions of the same line entry in OmniFocus. The first line is how it was originally entered. The second is with a shortcut phrase – 2w for 2 weeks – and the third is the new date, which OmniFocus automatically calculates out for you.

OmniFocus is smart enough to recognize time changes.

OmniFocus is smart enough to recognize time changes.

This trick works for all sorts of words and phrases. Type in “Thu” to put it off until next Thursday, or “1h” if you just need an extra hour from your scheduled time. This comes in handy when you just want to delay a task for week, month or just a few days, but don’t want to check a calendar to find the specific date. Plus, it saves you time in the process.

Further Reading & Viewing

There’s a wealth of other fantastic features in OmniFocus, and if you liked this version of Tips and Tricks, let us know in the comments and we’ll start working on a part two!

Want more info, tips and tricks? Check out some other resources to see what works for you:

  • Screencasts Online: Walkthroughs of OmniFocus, showing some of the basics, as well as more advanced features.
  • OmniFocus Ninja Tricks: A recent video highlighting some cool tips for OmniFocus junkies. It’s also the source for some of our tricks shown here.
  • Omni Group’s Vimeo: More highlights from various OmniFocus talks.


Add Yours
  • Yeah Omnifocus is great. That’s a nifty trick you have with the templates.

    For dates, Omnifocus’ little engine can accept a lot of different forms of dates. It’s so smart that when you type in 6/31 it will automatically make that 7/1 for you :)

    Examples of dates:
    7d (7 days from today)
    3h (3 hours from now)
    2d @ 5pm (2 days from today at 5pm)
    next sat (if today is Tuesday, it’s not the saturday coming up but the week after that. Like 11d.)
    next tue (if today is Tuesday, then it’s like 7d)
    next wed (if today is Tuesday, next wednesday is like 8d)
    thu (first Thursday coming up)
    2wk thu (2 weeks from today, first thursday coming)

    And there are many more variances. Just play around with it and you’ll discover some cool syntax.

  • For your templates you might check out http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clifton/software.html#PopTemp Curt has a really cool template filling script that makes this even nicer, also check out some of his other scripts.

    Sam D