OmniFocus 4 Reference Manual

Getting Started

OmniFocus allows you to capture the sometimes endless series of ideas, action items, and projects that come to mind as you wander through the world… and then provides you with the tools to Accomplish more every day — anywhere you go!

If you have used earlier versions of OmniFocus, you may want to watch What’s New in OmniFocus 4, or read the New in OmniFocus 4 section of Welcome to OmniFocus, and then start exploring… for everybody else, let’s get to know OmniFocus!

Before we dive in, please feel free to watch Getting Started in OmniFocus 4, and then come on back.

This documentation can certainly be read from start to finish, but it is intended to serve as a reference manual, allowing you to learn more about topics that catch your interest, when needed. If you find there’s something you’d like to know more about, that isn’t covered here, or that just isn’t clear, please let us know.

OmniFocus 4 for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch documentation is in the process of being rewritten into a single, unified reference manual. Significant portions of work are still in progress, with several chapters and sections being actively updated and re-written for this version. You can expect to see ongoing updates; please see the reference manual section for information about updates and changes as they are released. Thank you for your patience, and for using OmniFocus 4!

A Trusted System

Life is complicated. We each have a mix of plans, commitments, goals, priorities, and ideas jumbled up in our heads, all competing for time and attention. Sometimes these ideas push to the forefront unbidden, or fall out of our mind just when we need them most.

Many of us are pretty good at managing our lives in our heads most of the time. But what if we didn’t have to?

What if we had a trusted system where we could capture flashes of inspiration, sketch out long term goals, build healthy habits, and house a literally photographic memory?

OmniFocus is that trusted system: a “second brain” that is as powerful as you choose to make it. It’s designed to rapidly capture ideas on the fly, then help you organize and connect them, building multistep projects or grouping common themes using tags.

OmniFocus can let you know when you’re near the grocery store, and remind you of your party plans and all the ingredients that go into that cake. Or prompt you to check the weather and get out the telescope for next month’s full moon viewing. Or if you’re feeling creative, suggest a list of tasks that require your artistic attention.

Whether you’re most comfortable with an unsorted checklist, a complex set of nested steps that are part of a multistep project, or somewhere in the middle, OmniFocus is there to support the way you think. It sticks with the pieces you need to help you get stuff done, unfolding new functions along with your changing workflows — all with powerful, end-to-end encrypted data syncing to help you keep trust in the system.

Before we look at the road ahead, it’s sometimes useful to glance behind us, to see where we’ve come from.

OmniFocus started life as a series of OmniOutliner scripts, before becoming a native Mac application, and then making its way to the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even the Web. Though the original inspiration was David Allen’s Getting Things Done®, OmniFocus has since evolved into a system with a tremendous amount of flexibility, able to adapt to a wide variety of productivity approaches… while still feeling familiar to long-term customers.

Capturing Ideas

OmniFocus 4 is intentionally built for you to be able to move easily between devices, so your data is ready for you wherever you are. When you sync your data with the Omni Sync Server (or another WebDAV-enabled server), the latest changes you make are available on all of your devices. Start capturing a thought on an iPhone, flesh it out on an iPad, and really get into the details of organizing on your Mac… then get reminders on your Apple Watch!

For OmniFocus to effectively serve as a trusted system for your plans, first you’ll need to get that knowledge out of your head and into the app. OmniFocus makes this as straightforward as possible by presenting an intuitive interface with just the things you need to get started. Would you like a quick orientation? When you first install OmniFocus, you will be given the option of adding a tutorial project, which will help acquaint you with the current version of OmniFocus. There are slightly different versions for Mac, iPhone, and iPad — we encourage you to install each version, and begin exploring!

Items in OmniFocus represent things that you’d like to do, pieces of larger plans, or really any sort of data that’s actionable in some way. It can be helpful to use a consistent syntax in naming your items, but don’t let that get in your way — for now, the goal is to get as many ideas, plans, and to-dos out of your head and captured in OmniFocus as you can.

You’ll notice as you add items to the Inbox that there are additional details you can set, such as due date, note, and flag, that can provide more information about the work that each item represents. These bits of additional information are purely optional; don’t feel like you have to fill them all out for every item you add. (In the future, you’ll be able to experiment with even more rich data associated with your tasks, but for now we’re keeping it simple.)

After you’ve spent some time capturing items in the Inbox, you’ll probably find yourself coming to a natural pause, as you run out of quick ideas to capture. That’s okay! You can return to the Inbox to add more items, or add more ideas later, using Quick Entry.

Organizing Your Thoughts

You will likely discover that some of the ideas you have captured are quick and straightforward (“make lunch for tomorrow”), and some are more complex (“budget for next year”). You can choose to leave some of these in the Inbox and treat them like a simple checklist, tapping the status circle to mark them complete when they’re finished… or you could venture out of the Inbox, and see what OmniFocus holds in store.

  • Organize your ideas further in the Projects perspective, and start adding all the related actions and projects.
  • Easily see all related actions or projects in the Tags perspective, so that you can see all actions that need to be completed in a specific place, agenda meeting topics that require a certain person to attend, or projects you should only tackle when you’re feeling high energy.
  • Plan the days and weeks ahead using Forecast, so that you’re never surprised, or forget something on your schedule.
  • And so much more… welcome to your new trusted system!

Before You Go

With all of OmniFocus’s features, we recommend giving yourself a chance to get used to this new system. Start simple, use the features that add value to your task management, and feel free to ignore the rest… until more is needed. We wish you the best on your productivity journey, and we’re here whenever you need us — alongside a vibrant community of your fellow OmniFocus users. Good luck, and happy OmniFocusing!