~Archive with OmniFocus, or maybe not . . .

As you know if you’ve read any of the posts on this blog for the past six months, I am a fan of OmniFocus, and use it everyday as my primary GTD for my professional life.  I use most of its available features (which are many) and have customized it to provide a very efficient workflow.

There is, however, one feature of OmniFocus that I have had to work around, and that is the archive.  While archiving data can be done at any time, the start of new year is a great time to consider and plan moving old, no longer used tasks and projects from your GTD.  So let’s start with some background on the OmniFocus archive feature, and then I’ll discuss my alternative just in time to implement an archiving strategy at the beginning of a new year.

The OmniFocus Archive

If you’re using OmniFocus on more than one device, and most of us are, as you continue to add and maintain projects, tasks, notes and attachments to your OF Document, the wait while the document loads and synchronizes will inevitably increase.  Syncing all devices on a regular basis can reduce some of the crawl, but moving unnecessary data will decrease the size of the document and provide the greatest increase in speed.

OmniFocus has a very efficient and easy to use archiving feature that can be performed at any time using the following procedure.

  1. Select File | Move Old Data to Archive from the main menu.
  2. Enter a date before which completed and dropped tasks will be moved to the archive.
  3. Click Move to Archive.

Using this procedure the first time creates an archive document and moves the completed and dropped tasks from the main OF document to the archive along with all project information and task notes.  And you can continue to move completed and dropped tasks to the archive on a regular basis.

WARNING – make sure you always use this feature on the same computer.

If you use more than one computer to access your OmniFocus document, (I have my document synced between iMac and MacBook), and don’t heed this warning, you will end up with part of your archive on each machine.

Opening the Archive

Opening the archive for access to completed tasks is very easy.  Just  select File | Open Archive from the main menu, and all of your projects containing archived tasks will be available.

OmniFocus Archives Tasks not Projects

Notice that archiving “moves old items” (tasks) into the archive, and herein is the rub.  Since it is only moving tasks, and not entire projects, searching for, reviewing or printing all tasks within a long-term project will not be easy.  It will require searching, viewing and printing from two different documents.  While this may work for a purely task-focused workflow, it breaks your projects apart into two documents.

Many users can take this approach to archiving and will find it quick and easy.  However, I want a more project-centric focus for my GTD, and have chosen an alternative to the OF archive feature.

Archiving Completed and Dropped Projects

With my project-centric alternative, instead of using the OF archive feature, I started with a copy of my main document, removed all tasks and projects from the copy, and then move entire projects into the copy when completed or dropped.

Creating the OmniFocus Completed Document

Here are the steps I used to create my OmniFocus Completed document.

  1. Make sure you have synced all devices and have an up-to-date backup of your OmniFocus document before  beginning.  (Don’t skip this step!)
  2. Quit OmniFocus on all devices.
  3. Using Finder, open your user account/library/application support/omnifocus folder, on the computer on which you wish to maintain your completed projects.
  4. Copy the OmniFocus.ofocus document within this folder to a new file, e.g. OmniFocusCompleted.ofocus, making sure that you maintain the file extension.
  5. Create an alias on your desktop to the new file, e.g. OmniFocusCompleted.ofocus
  6. Use the alias to open the new file.
  7. Select Perspectives | All Items from the main menu.
  8. Select All projects from the sidebar.
  9. Press the Delete key.

You now have a new empty OmniFocusCompleted document.

Moving Projects to the Completed Document

After creating the new document, periodically review your main document for completed or dropped projects and move them to the OmniFocusCompleted document using these steps.

  1. Make sure you have synced all devices and have an up-to-date backup of your OmniFocus document before  beginning.  (Don’t skip this step!)
  2. Open OmniFocus – the main document will open.
  3. Use the alias on your desktop to open the OmniFocusCompleted document.   You will now have two OmniFocus windows open.
  4. Arrange the two windows so you can drag tasks from the main document to the OmniFocusCompleted document.
  5. From the sidebar in the main document, change the project filter to “Completed”.
  6. Select a project in the sidebar.
  7. Click on the project title in the main outline window and drag it into the sidebar in your completed document.  (It is very important to drag the project from the main outline window and not from the sidebar.)
  8. Verify that the project is present in the completed document.
  9. Select the project in the sidebar in the main document and press Delete.
  10. Change the project filter in the main document sidebar to “Dropped”.
  11. Repeat steps 6-9 above to move dropped projects to the OmniFocusCompleted document.

Yes, I realize this is a lot of steps, and this workaround may not be desired or necessary for most OmniFocus users.  If you fall into this category, just follow the steps at the beginning of this post to use the simple and quick “Move to Archive” feature that the Omni Group has provided in the application.

For those that want to maintain their projects in tact in a single document, this workflow will become very easy once you create the OmniFocusCompleted document and use it a couple of times.  Just remember to verify that you have an updated backup before starting to copy projects, and if anything goes wrong, just click the fabulous “Undo” key, CMD+Z, one of my favorite features of OmniFocus.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!  John

6 thoughts on “~Archive with OmniFocus, or maybe not . . .

  1. Hello John,

    Impressive. I wonder if you still use this system, or has Omnifocus fixed it by now so that you no longer need to do this? I am new to the program and trying to find a way to keep a record of a whole project.

    Thanks for any help, Annie

    1. Hi Annie,

      Well, to be honest I acquiesced to the OF archive. My concerns early on, were that I would often need to review completed actions, and wanted them with the active project, but then I got a lot busier and just dealing with 20 or so active projects at any one time and all the tasks that go with them left no time to look back at what I had completed. About a year ago, I just began using the OF archive, and to be honest I haven’t even had to open it up to look for anything in all that time. I’m sure that there are some that want everything in one place as I was when I created the workaround, but I just don’t see the value of it anymore, and the OF archive routine has been working well for me. Not sure that helps, but thanks for reading. John

  2. Ivan Berka says:

    Hi I found your blog as my workflow suffers from the very same issue. I’ve asked OmniGroup to fix it three times already:

    On June 7th 2011 I’ve asked OmniFocus’ support:

    Recently I discovered a little glitch: from time to time some of my projects spans a few months. At the same time I tend to keep things simple and I use otherwise great – but in this scenario a little bit problematic – „Move data to archive“. Once I complete some tasks from the (still active) project and use „Move data to archive“ the precious bits of information „disapper“ from the project and become virtually inaccessible. It proves problematic when I complete such a project and need that information to recall memory to prepare the billing – then there’s a real chance to omit some work and miss some money.

    I propose and ask you for giving the user option to archive data (tasks) only when the parent project is set to „completed“. I believe it will help others as well. Does it make sense?

    And on October 24th 2011 I repeated:

    I need to solve my issue with „archiving all(!) completed items“. I need the option to exclude (from archiving) those that belong to not-yet-completed projects (complete description and proposal bellow ). Today’s behavior of OmniFocus means that my Completed folder overflows with completed tasks (slowing the app on Mac and iPhone) that I cannot archive (as those that I want to move to archive would pull along those completed that I still need).

    And 3rd time on January 17th 2012:

    Many of my completed project takes place in my Library and due to the fact, that all the tasks from incomplete projects(!) would be dragged along I have the only option to leave them where they are. Beside taking place they are slowing the performance of OmniFocus. I wonder whether this fact is simply ignored by users having same issue or whether this request has too low priority. The same thing experienced on the iPhone is a pure test of patience. I used OmniFocus on iPhone to note down every idea that came to my mind, now it’s impossible and I have to pull out a paper notepad instead.

    Although support guy acknowleged receipt of request, nothing has changed so far.

    To all who cares: please push OmniGroup to fix it. Thanks.

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