David Allen recently released his view of an ultimate GTD app. Implied is that no current app has quite hit the mark.

After a recent post I did about creating a menus of useful lists, two commenters described their own systems. In either case, they take the process considerably further. One in particual shows directly how he can perform the functions of Allen’s desired GTD app using the sketches that Allen recently released. Here are links from their comments:

In a similar fashion, I’ve gone through the PDF that Allen released to the public at the link above to see if and how the system I’ve created in Creating Flow with OmniFocus might represent the vision, and where I would need to adapt it.

But before I do, I wonder, do we need a single application? The Mac eco-system allows for linking between items. In this way, I could link to a task from a calendar event. As a result, whoever is designing calendars can focus on making better calendars while whoever is designing task managers could improve those. Perhaps I’m being naive, or at the very least, set in my ways, with a smidge of the ornery and cantankerous.

Page 1

Starting with the first page:

Here, Allen appears to be laying out his overview of a solid system. These are the main points he would like a system to address. Addressing the points individually and broadly:

“Default de-briefing process weekly (can customize) keeps life current and head clear”

Personally, I feel that this a weekly review system is fairly well settled in OmniFocus. However, the “head clear” aspect is not necessarily about any software. Getting to a clear mind is about feeling that the things that are important to you will be where you need them, where you need them, and useful when encountered (i.e. you won’t be swamped by other tasks or notifications at that time). In this way, it is important that you have an overall system you can trust. In other words, trust is more about self-reflection than it is about any particular software. Of course, some software may lend itself to be more trustworthy in its ability and reliability than others.

Customize list sorting (due date, priority, project, age, size, personal vs professional, et.c)

OmniFocus can certainly prioritize by due date, project, (age) (date added or changed), size (time estimates), personal vs professional (via folder structure). It does not always allow direct manual prioritization, but one be created using a tags system. I personally avoid direct prioritization as I find that reality changes too quickly for me to reliably decide on more than a next action. Instead, I’ll orchestrate a limited number of habits that I feel I can reasonably accomplish and focus on them one at a time.

Cross reference projects to related actions with waiting for, reference, people, dates, meetings, etc.

Tags and Projects are already nicely connected. Using the “Copy as Link” function, one can readily connect between most any parts of the system, both inside and outside of OmniFocus. For example, one can link to an OmniFocus project from a calendar item. Further, invoking the Hook application, one can connect even more reliably to reference items, applications, and more.

Decision-making and Drawing? Expert System Assistance Built-in

I imagine what Allen is referring to is a sort of guidance by the computer. For example, later he describes prompting through the decision tree of sorting at the Inbox.

Decisions can be assisted with questions and checklists, depending upon the types of decisions being made.

This is one place where my system falls short. Personally, however, I’m happy without prompts, but I can see one being useful, particularly in the learning stages.

Global Search

A global search function is definitely already present for OmniFocus with (Option-Command-f). As far as the system is concerned for reference items and the like, one can use Spotlight or something that combs even deeper such as Houdahspot.

Gateway to all other software

I’m unclear as to what this means. However, one can link to any application in the mac ecosystem. Plus, with the addition of a web based interface, OmniFocus can now exist, at least in a limited form, on a Windows or Linux computer.

Allows free-flowing thinking while tracking toward closure

This would depend on how free-form we’re talking. Ben Elijah, in The Productivity Habits p21, argues that different tools have different strengths. The more free-form the thought, the less structured the system needs to be. Simple pen and paper affords the best free-form system. In this way, software is automatically removed from consideration.

However, one can always draft on paper, then secondarily consider the tasks and reference items inherent to the sketches, and transfer them to OmniFocus and files to which OmniFocus may link.

Perhaps another approach would be using software such as Scapple or MindNode to draft initial thoughts and then have a way to transform them into tasks. MindNode does, in fact, have a way to do this.

Regardless, the point is why force a singular application to do something that would inherently require multiple tools?

Rules-based customizing (e.g. every AA flight scheduled, schedule 72 hr upgrade).

I’m not clear about this one. Perhaps this is about having an If-This-Then-That (IFTTT) or Zapier functionality?

Prints any views in any hard-copy format (e.g. by meeting, person, dates, project).

The ability to print any list exists in OmniFocus. One can print by project, tag, perspective, or otherwise, each of which could model any of the above.

Generates complete hard-copy systems with up-to-the-second lists and data

I’m unclear as to what this is referring to. Does this refer to being able to create a backup? If so, this exists.

Tag any file/location/activities → in-basket to ensure later closure (or make any note)

I believe what this refers to is the ability to take any aspect of your systems and create a reference to it from the Inbox. This can readily be done using a Copy as Link process:

  • Select whatever you’d like added to the Inbox.
  • Use the contextual menu to select “Copy as Link”
  • Create a Quick Entry task such as “Process this task”
  • Paste the link in the note field.


Notifications exist as related to due/defer/time estimates. I tend to use the Due app quite a lot, too.

Page 2-3

Pages 2 and 3 begin a more in depth view of the system Allen envisions. Here we see a series of what seem to be buttons across the top. Perhaps each can be selected to have those aspects of the system quickly accessible. Below I’ve written the button name followed by a shorthand method of accessing them:

  • Inbox (Command-1)
  • Projects (Command-2)
  • Next Actions (Command-3 → view at next available)
  • Calendar (separate app)
  • Communications (Use a tag or a Communications perspective)
  • Meetings (Use a tag, e.g. Agenda “@2019-07-23 meeting”)
  • Someday/Maybe’s (Use a tag set On Hold)
  • Focus Areas (Command-2 – use folders)
  • Checklists (Create OmniOutliner template files – link as needed from OmniFocus)
  • Reference (Finder and DEVONthink files)
  • Coaching (is this similar to meetings?)
  • Find (Option-Command-f)

Alternatively, most of these can be rigged to work through a Keyboard Maestro palette.

  • You have X items to process in your in-basket (shown in iOS)
  • You have X projects with no next actions defined (custom perspective)
  • Previous calendar items not completed (Forecast and Overdue items)

Page 4 – Inbox

Page 4 displays the Inbox. The trigger lists are ways of triggering what open loops you might not have addressed. If desired, these may be created using something like an OmniOutliner template:

  • Quick Trigger list – create an OmniOutliner template
  • Full Trigger list – create an OmniOutliner template

Further, one could create a Keyboard Maestro macro to open the Inbox alongside one of these trigger lists.

Page 5 – Inbox Processing

Page 5 shows the Inbox processing decision tree. I suppose you could create a Keyboard Maestro tree of decisions, but I’ve found it quite useful to simply learn the habit.

Something interesting in this image is the idea of an alarm for doing 2 minute actions. Quite often, while processing and doing a 2 minute or less item, I can find myself doing that task for more than 2 minutes. Such an alarm would say – “Hey! you’re taking too long. Why not store that?”

One can create a Keyboard Maestro action to do this, for example:

The only issue is that once it’s started, I don’t know how to stop it. I’m certain there are better ways of doing this. Maybe create a simple iOS Shortcut?

Page 6-7 Project Input and Project

“Project Input”. One can easily create to do items of course using the project system in OmniFocus. Notes can go in the note field to accommodate much of the rest. Links to individual resources located in the finder or DEVONthink would take care of the rest. Tags could be used to differentiate successful outcomes, waiting for’s, and “maybes and options”.

Again, Allen points out a coaching process that he’d like integrated into the software. For example, he shows a button for “Want project-thought coaching?”. Along these lines, one could create templates for certain types of projects. Several methods might be creating a template project set on hold or using Editorial (Creating Flow with OmniFocus p775-815).

This, however, does not really present the coaching process that Allen would like.

Page 8 – Next Actions

Next actions are already nicely presented using OmniFocus’s “First Available” option while in the Tag perspective (Command-3).

  • “Auto-dated entries” – tasks automatically have a Date Added date listed in the inspector.
  • Next Actions – already noted above.
  • Can only do on (date) – set the same defer and due date on a task
  • Need to do by (date) – set a due date
  • Need to start by (date) – more complex – use the Navigation- planning system described in Creating Flow
  • Do as soon as appropriate – “Appropriate” is far too fuzzy of a word – it needs to be defined.

Page 9 – Persons

Persons shows discussion agendas, waiting for’s and outstandings divided between me and the other, resources for related projects, on-going interest points, special dates, notes, and path to the Inbox.

  • Have a tag and/or a project for a person
  • “Waiting for” could be integrated into a Communications Perspective (See Creating Flow, p727)
  • “Print prior to meeting” – create a task that appears with an alert to do so if needed
  • Resource for projects (use “show in project”) and link to resources as necessary using either the built-in OmniFocus functionality or something like Hook.
  • On-going interest points – not sure what this is. Perhaps these can be static notes in a project field.
  • A path to the Inbox is always available with Quick Entry.

Page 10 – Someday/Maybe

To create a Someday/Maybe list:

  • Create a tag set on hold
  • Or create a task with a future defer date
  • Or set a repeating task
  • Or set the frequency of an On Hold project’s review
  • Or use a Considered tag
  • Or use some combination of the above

Beyond this, I’m not sure how Allen is approaching his someday/maybe list. It seems that he tries to regularly connect it to some ideal vision, which I imagine is a useful exercise.

Page 11 – Tickler

  • Use defer dates and repeats on a task. Link the task to whatever is needed.

Burt’s method includes DEVONthink and an automated process to advance a digital 43 folders structure.

Page 12 – Meetings

As a therapist, my meetings tend to be quite different than the usual business style ones. I use a series of TextExpander snippets to document them in a manner that works for me. Burt describes using an automated process originated by Rosemary Orchard.

Page 13 – Communication

  • See the Communication perspective in Creating Flow (p727) which connects what needs to be done with agenda items, projects, deferrals, notes about when things were discussed and more into a smooth system.

Page 14 – Areas of Focus

Areas of Focus listed are Active Projects, next actions, Someday/Maybe’s, routines and reminders, and references.

  • We can see active projects using (Command-2) and setting the view to “Available”. Or you could be more surgical and create a custom perspective.
  • Next Actions are consider First Available
  • Someday/Maybe’s can be tags
  • Routines can be repeating tasks in a dedicated “Routine” project.
  • References would be throughout the mac os ecosystem
  • Each of these, in turn, can be orchestrated with a Keyboard Maestro palette.

Page 15 – an overview

Page 15 appears to be an overview of sorts, where you can see what projects are going, when they might be due, when they should be started and the like.

The Navigation perspective aligns most of these quite well. (See Creating Flow with OmniFocus p568), while integrating the major projects into the regular day to day.

Page 16 – Reference lists

I don’t know what to make of this page.

Page 17 – Weekly De-briefing

The weekly de-briefing appears to be a weekly review checklist if I’m reading it correctly. We can readily create a systematic prompt of questions for reviewing the system and build it into OmniFocus itself:

  • Create a repeating weekly review checklist – see Creating Flow, p818.

Page 18 – Coaching Messages

Here we see the idea of a coaching app again. It’s a neat idea. Here, it would take a calendar item that is not done and move it to a list.

The phrase “Calendar items are for items that expire only” is new to me, but it makes total sense. Usually I’ll hear the phrase “hard landscape”. But tasks-that-expire works nicely. Regardless, using OmniFocus, this is already taken care of by creating a task with defer and due dates as desired. Rescheduling is readily done through the inspector. We can assign repeats to tasks that are worked on, then continued at some set frequencies later.

Page 19 – Coaching Models

Here again we see the coaching process, which I believe is a repeat of the Inbox clearing process.

In Conclusion

I think that OmniFocus provides a solid system. My own adaptation, with the Navigation and Communication perspectives for instance, seems to come pretty close to Allen’s view. Where it doesn’t, things are more in line with my own desires of a system. 

Whether or not Allen’s dream app is realized, I think there is something to be said for creating and adapting your system. After all, the primary component is trust. Trust is built over time. And, if you have a sense that you can build your own system as you need it, you are building trust in yourself (aka “confidence”) to create the structures that will get you towards the places you want.