~What To Do With All That Information?

Part VI of An Advanced GTD User’s Paradise involves a discussion about what to do with all the information that, while related to a GTD project or task,  really doesn’t qualify as a task or project.

The first thing I do is ask the question, “do I really need to keep this”.  If the answer is yes, or maybe – it might be needed for later reference, then I’ll store the information with the project in my GTD.  If the answer is no, then I throw it out or delete it.

Choices

Its all about choices isn’t it, and there are certainly a variety of methods that can be employed to handle the information we receive about our projects and tasks.  Here are some common methods for storing all that project related information that you might want to keep handy for later reference.

  • Use email features such as categories, tags or folders to identify the information as belonging to a specific project.
  • Save a scanned document or other electronic file in a folder on your computer, naming the folder with the project name or identifier.
  • Print out the information and store it in a manila folder with other project related information, in classic  GTD fashion.
  • Store the information in the project notes or task notes within the GTD application itself, if your GTD supports this function.
  • Use another application like Circus Ponies Notebook or Evernote to organize project related information and clippings.

All of these choices are certainly valid and I’ve tried them all.  In fact, for major projects I still save project information in electronic and physical folders.  And I love Evernote for clippings –  you can see how I use it in an earlier post entitled Clip and Save with Evernote.

But since moving to OmniFocus, I have developed an altogether different workflow for reference information related to a project.  I have come to realize that I can store information in my GTD just like a task, but with a special context, that makes locating and retrieving the information quick and easy.

Setting Up The Mail Rule

Most of the information (non-tasks) that I receive about a project arrives via my email inbox, so I will be describing how I apply a workflow to get information from my email application into the Omnifocus inbox.

This process makes use of the OmniFocus Mail Rule and Apple Mail, which will have to be setup by selecting OmniFocus | Preferences from the main menu, and following the  steps in the image below.  Setting an archive location is optional, but I use it so I have a backup copy of all information sent to my GTD in one location.

mailrule.jpg

Forwarding Information to OmniFocus

Once the mail rule has been setup, you can forward messages from any mail application to OmniFocus by simply forwarding the message to an address that is received on your Mac (Mail app), and adding the mail rule prefix at the beginning of the subject line.  In this post we’re discussing forwarding messages containing reference information, however, I use the same technique to turn an email message into a task or project.

Here is an example.  Note that I use “– ” as my mail rule prefix, as its unique, quick and easy to type.

forwardmail.jpg

When the message arrives in Mail, assuming its running, the message is immediately placed into your OmniFocus inbox with the subject as the task line and the rest of the message in the task notes.  Then the message is automatically moved from your mail inbox into the designated archive folder.  No action on your part is required and you won’t even see it happening.

Storing Information as a Task

At least once a day I process the tasks and information waiting in my OmniFocus inbox.  I use the following steps to process this information into the appropriate project and context.

  1. Switch to the OmniFocus Inbox.
  2. Enter or select the project for which the information is needed.
  3. Select “Information” as the context.  (If this context doesn’t already exist, click CMD+Enter to create it.)
  4. Check the project as completed.  Note that I will leave  information that I believe will be needed imminently unchecked (incomplete), but for the most part project information is checked complete at the time it is entered.
  5. Click the CleanUp button in the toolbar to move the information from the inbox to its project.

gtdinbox

Now that you have the information safely tucked away with the appropriate project, its time to consider how we can quickly retrieve the information when we need it.

Creating an Information Perspective

Getting project information into your GTD is only half the battle, and of little benefit if you cannot quickly locate that information.  OmniFocus comes to the rescue once again with its wonderful perspectives feature.

I use a perspective called, you guessed it,  “Information”.  To create this perspective, switch to context mode, set up the view bar as shown below, and save the perspective.  Note that most of my information has been completed, hence the completed status filter.

infoviewbar

Locating Project Information

Now that we have an Information perspective, whenever we need to locate information for a project, we simply select the perspective, and voila, the information for your projects is on screen organized by project name.  Instead of scrolling through many projects to find the information, you can use another great feature of OmniFocus – the Search Box.  Just type part of the project name into the search box and the display will be limited to showing information for only that project.

When you find the note you’re looking for, just click the note button to open the message.  Here’s an example.

infoview.jpg

So there you have it – a great way to save and quickly retrieve project information stored right alongside the tasks for a project in your OmniFocus GTD.  You might be asking, what if I don’t remember the project name, or what about locating notes in completed projects.  We’ll leave those questions for the next post when we’ll discuss some powerful search routines built into the OmniFocus application.  Thanks for reading, John.

10 thoughts on “~What To Do With All That Information?

  1. Roger Wikström says:

    Thanks for all the wonderful tidbits on GTD and OmniFocus, for me it is very helpful.
    This last tip on “information context” was fantastic.

    RogerW
    Sweden

    1. Thank you for your very kind comments Roger. I hope the information can help you be more productive – these posts are my way of saying thanks for all that GTD has taught me over the past couple of years. Take care, John

  2. I really enjoy your OF series.

    While I don’t use all of your workflow tips and don’t have the need for all of them, some were really inspiring and changed the way I look at OmniFocus.

    Thanks for this John. And keep the great posts coming!

  3. John Schafer says:

    Good Morning John, and thank you so much for these wonderful posts. I’m very new to Omnifocus and have found your posts invaluable for helping me get more mileage out of the program quickly.
    I am a little confused on the archiving of the processed messages. Specifically, is that “omnifocus” folder shown there in mail application or omnifocus? Can’t seem to get the one I’ve set-up in mail to appear as an option in the “Archive processed messages in” menu. Probably very basic, but there you go.

    Thanks again for these posts. By reading and re-reading them I’m finding myself able to take advantage of the program that I never would have thought of on my own. Thanks again, John.

    1. @John Schafer – thanks for the kind encouragement and glad the posts are helping. I was a newbie to OF not too long ago, so I know how useful the experiences from others can be. You should also check out the OF forum as it has a lot of great information and insights, especially in the Applying OmniFocus section. Now to your question. The folder is in mail and needs to be set up before turning on the mail rule and designating the folder. The folder name must of course match what you put into the mail settings in OmniFocus. It can use any name, but it made sense to me to call it OmniFocus.

      Also, if you are using another machine or iPhone to read your mail, don’t open messages designated with your OF prefix on those other devices before the mail application on the client has a chance to process the mail rule. This can happen if mail is not running on the client and you access, read, delete or move the message from another device, e.g. iPhone.

  4. JMTee says:

    Thanks for great articles. One questio: what is the advantage of using mail rules instead of clippings for transferring messages from Mail to OF? I personally use clipping exlusively (with the Clip-o-tron 3000 enabled).

    1. Hi JMTee. Thanks for your comment. The main reason I use rules is that at work, where most of my tasks originate, we use GroupWise. So when I receive a message that should go into OF as a task I forward it to my MobileMe account so the rule will put it into my inbox. If I was using apple mail as my primary email client at work, I’m sure I would use Clip-O-Tron instead. John

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