Confession: I usually fail to accomplish what I plan for a day. When the morning begins, big plans are in place… but at the end of the day, a pile of undone tasks lingers in my OmniFocus “Do” perspective.1 More often than not, they just get snoozed for the next day’s action list.
And the process repeats.
It’s demoralizing to watch the Pile of Do grow, and I often feel out of control when looking at what seems like a reasonable list of things to accomplish in a day’s time. Clearly, good intentions need to be tempered by reasonable expectations.
Enter time estimates. Over the years I’ve been using OmniFocus, I’ve never really used its ability to assign a time estimate to projects and tasks. It seemed like a lot of effort for very little benefit: all OmniFocus really does with time estimates is sort/filter.2
But time is a critical dimension of doing: without time, there is no action. It should follow that time estimates are just as important.
So here is my new morning routine:
Collect all actions I want to do today by assigning them a Start Date of today.
In “Do” perspective, assign time estimates to each item.
This routine has several immediate benefits:
Assigning estimates forces you to clarify next actions. In cases where it was difficult to assign a time estimate, I realized I hadn’t clarified the next action well enough. Poorly defined next action → inaction.
Using estimates helps clarify what is feasible for the day. This morning, my first pass included almost 14 hours’ worth of work. Without time estimates, I wouldn’t have known how feasible this plan was.
You can start right now. No need to assign estimates to everything in your OmniFocus database; just estimate what you’re looking at for today.
Having seen how simple this process is, I’m shocked I didn’t do this years ago.
I keep two perspectives side-by-side in my toolbar: “Due” and “Do”. Due shows tasks sorted by due date; these are items that really truly have to get done by the given date. Do shows tasks sorted by start date; these are the items that I plan to do on a given day. This gives me the benefit of some planning flexibility without the problems that come from recklessly using due dates. For more on this method, see this David Sparks post, which inspired me to use it. ↩