Handling Repeating Tasks and Routines in OmniFocus

After reading my last post about my OmniFocus setup, Evan Lovely asked

Could you talk more about your Routines? What’s in there? Does anything repeat? Do you set defer or due dates on them?

He’s referring to a Single-Action List I have inside my “Personal” folder called “Routines”. Inside this project are actions and checklists that repeat on a regular basis. Here’s a list of the current actions in the project…

  • Weekly Review – Every Monday morning I’m prompted to do a standard GTD review of all my ongoing projects in OmniFocus.
  • Reconcile credit card – We have a credit card that we use entirely in place of our debit cards that gives us a flat percentage back on everything we buy. We use it to pay for everything we can and at the end of the year we usually have around $700 in cash rewards we can claim as a holiday bonus. Every Monday morning I completely pay off the previous week’s charges so we never carry a balance.
  • Tag keeper photos – As explained in my photography book, once a week I look through all of the photos my wife and I have taken and use Finder tags to call out any “keeper” photos we may want to put into a book later.
  • Sort photos into albums – Nearly the same as the previous item, but in this case I’m extracting out any photos that belong in their own dedicated album.
  • Take belly photo – While my wife was pregnant, this reminded us to take one of those cheesy profile belly shots each week.
  • Weigh-in – I’m overweight and trying to do something about it. I weigh myself to track my progress at the same time every week.
  • Sort scanned documents – I run a paperless home office. This reminds me to sort through any recently scanned documents and file them into the appropriate folders in Dropbox.
  • Check that Backblaze backups are working – I manage the backups for all of mine and my extended family’s Macs. I sign into Backblaze once a week to make sure everybody’s backups are still in order.
  • Sign into backup email account – Once a month I sign into the secret Gmail account I use as a recovery account for all of my significant online services. I due this to make sure Gmail knows the account is active and won’t accidentally suspend it.

There are more items in my “Routines” project, but that’s a good sample of what’s in there.

I use it as a dumping ground for all the periodic checkins I have to do to keep my other trusted systems running smoothly. OmniFocus is the central hub that reminds me to keep all of the other systems in my life on track.

Actions that have a hard due date such as my weigh-in and taking my wife’s photo, have a defer and due date on the same day that repeats weekly.

Items that need to be done on a regular basis, but don’t have a strict due date (like sorting my photos) have a repeating defer date. Using a defer date is key as that tells OmniFocus to not bug me about it again until a set time after I’ve actually completed the task.

So, thoughts? How are you dealing with repeating tasks and items that need to happen regularly?

  • Awesome!! Thanks for the quick and very thorough answer Tyler! So are those all assigned Contexts like you’ve outlined in the previous post? Does ‘Weekly Review’ have a Context of ‘Personal : Full Focus’ and a flag so it shows up in your Today perspective?

    Also, is ‘Weekly Review’ an Action Group (i.e. has sub-tasks)? I’ve seen a tip somewhere where someone had the action group set to repeat, but not it’s child action items and it cleaned up the noise a lot.

    I’ve struggled with where to track routines in my system for a long time. Routines and Habits are arguably some of the most important things to get done in your day as what one does with their day and week regularly becomes what one does with ones life.

    > “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
    – Aristotle

    It can be easy to want to put everything in OmniFocus, but sometimes it’s not the best tool. However, once you add another tool, it spreads out the places you need to look, therefore reducing it’s reliability and usefulness. Anyway, thanks for writing this up for me! Cheers!

    • Yeah, the contexts are all what you’d expect – broken down essentially by area of focus and then energy level.

      Of note, I don’t have any “Routines” tasks that repeat on a daily basis. I don’t check OmniFocus enough throughout the day for a daily repeating task to make a difference. My logic is, if I’m committed to doing something every day, I should be self-disciplined enough to remember to do it on my own.

      Also, I do still have repeating tasks in OmniFocus outside of “Routines”. Stuff like “Change the house air filters” or “Get an oil change”. But those tend to have a large window of time between repeating. I also “softly” separate them out of “Routines” because they don’t have anything to do with keep my other systems on track – which is what I tend to make “Routines” for.