How to Manage Work on Your iPad with OmniFocus

By Galen Gruman

Omni Group’s $29.99 OmniFocus 2 for iPad is a long-beloved project-management tool — much more than a to-do manager — that continues to set the standard for iPad project-management tools. (There’s a separate, $19.99 iPhone version and a $39.99 Mac version.)

OmniFocus has two basic organizational methods: inboxes and projects. An inbox is what it sounds like: a virtual tray for whatever is due. A project is a set of related tasks (called actions in OmniFocus). A project shows just its tasks. An inbox shows all tasks due that are not in any project — think of it as the stuff you need to do outside your projects. You can have multiple inboxes, and you can have multiple projects.

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Touring OmniFocus’s views

OmniFocus also has multiple views in addition to the Inbox and Projects views (tap Home in the upper left if you don’t see the list of views):

  • Forecast: Shows a timeline for the selected day, with the number of tasks indicated in the next five days. Tap Future to get a list of all tasks due after that five-day period. If you give OmniFocus permission to access your iPad’s calendar, you also see that in the timeline.

    If you didn’t give permission when you first launched OmniFocus, you can do so in the Settings app’s OmniFocus pane, via its Privacy option.

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  • Contexts: Shows your inbox and project tasks organized by categories, which OmniFocus calls contexts. You specify the context when you create or edit an inbox, project, or task.

  • Flagged: This shows any tasks you’ve flagged, using the Flag option when you create or edit an inbox, project, or task.

  • Nearby: Shows any tasks near your current location. OmniFocus compares your current location to the address or map location that you added to a context to determine what is nearby.

  • Review: Lets you review the status of a project on a scheduled basis, such as weekly.

Creating projects, inboxes, and tasks

To create a project in OmniFocus, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Projects in the left pane.

    Make sure that you still see the OmniFocus pane at the left, not the pane that has Home at the upper left.

  2. Tap the Add button (the + icon).

  3. In the pop-over that appears, choose New Project.

    You can also choose New Folder, which creates a folder that can contain tasks or projects. You use folders to organize complex projects by providing subprojects. Any folders appear in the Projects list.

To create a context, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Contexts in the left pane.

    You see all the current contexts.

  2. Tap the Add button (the + icon) and Choose New Context to add a new context at the top level.

    If you want a context to be a subcontext to another, tap that context name before adding the new context.

To delete a context, tap the List button at the top of the Contexts list; then tap the Delete button to the left of any context you want to delete. You’ll also see the Reorder icon (the three lines) to the right of each context name; drag a context’s Reorder handle to move it to a new location within the list.

To create a task, click the Add button (the + icon) at the top right of the screen, and choose New Action or New Inbox Item.

A quick way to create a new inbox task is to tap the New Inbox Item button at the upper right of the screen. Whether you add an inbox item or a task this way, you get the form with these fields in the Info pane:

  • Title: Tap the Untitled Item field and enter the name for the task.

  • Project: In the New Inbox Item pane, be sure that Info is active (boldfaced; tap it if not). Select an existing project by tapping the label None to the right of the Project label. That opens a pop-over listing available projects; tap the project to add the task to. Or leave Project set to None so that it’s not assigned to a project.

    You can add the task to a project later, if that project doesn’t yet exist. Just tap the task in the Inbox or in the Miscellaneous project list to edit it and choose the project to assign it to then.

  • Type: Your choices are Sequential, Parallel, and Single Actions.

  • Context: Choose a context from the pop-over that appears when you tap this field, if desired.

  • Flag: Tap the icon if you want the task to appear in the Flagged list. Tap it again to remove it from that list.

  • Estimated Duration: Tap this field to get a control bar where you choose Minutes or Hours; then use the + and – buttons to increase or decrease the time increments. If you want to remove the duration, tap the X icon.

  • Defer Until: Tap this field to get the standard OS time scroller, where you can set the date and time for this action’s deferral. You can also just tap Clear, Later, +1 Day, +1 Week, +1 Month, and +1 Year. The +1 buttons set the time for that period from the current date, so +1 Week is a week from today, for example.

  • Due: Tap this field to set the due date. It works just like the Defer Until option except that Due has the Today button instead of the Later button.

  • Repeat: Tap this field to set the task as one that repeats.

The Note pane lets you add notes to the task, and the Attachments pane lets you add a photo or voice recording to the task.

Tap Save to save the task and close the form, or tap Save+ to save the task and open a blank form in which you create another new one.