A Time for Being, a Time for Doing, and a Time for Tinkering

One of those nerdy productivity posts that have gone out of fashion

January 16, 2013 | 8 Comments

I’ve been up to my neck in OmniFocus since the earliest betas. Before that, I used the Kinkless GTD system that inspired it. I’ve stuck with the same basic structure of contexts and projects from the start, with a tweak here and there. I wouldn’t call it a rut, but it was a rut.

I have a good handle on how David Allen’s Getting Things Done system works, having first read the book about 8-9 years ago, with another reading a few years later and at least one listen to the abridged audiobook. I don’t think I could balance my two roles as a maker of websites and the pastor of a small church community without it. I wouldn’t say I get it, but I get it.

But last month, GTD’s most hippest adovcate, Merlin Mann, went back and reviewed the Getting Things Done system over the course of 4-5 episodes of Back to Work, so I queued them up and listened my way through them. Hearing Merlin’s revisitation of GTD revealed my rut, and a few weeks ago, I revisited how I do things, refining my OmniFocus to a system that helps me order things much more better. (Other than my grammar.)

I’ve been using Perspectives within OmniFocus as I think they were intended — mostly by ordering a specific view into my tasks in a particular context so I could see what next actions were, especially in my website work. I’ve long used start dates instead of due dates as another way of filtering tasks I didn’t need to see until the time was right. But after reevaluating it all, I’ve ordered my Perspectives so they serve as three meta-contexts: Being, Doing, and Tinkering.

On Being

I have had a context for Writing for years that led to very little writing. I put ideas in there that I thought I should write about, but never wrote, because it was never the right time to look at the context. Sometime last year, I also added a study/reflection context. Again, an important context full of activities that were really important to me, but not one that was regularly visited, because OmniFocus is where I’ve gone when I wanted to Do things.

My Being perspective shows available tasks in both my Writing and my Reflection contexts. And that’s all it shows. I begin most mornings in this context for an hour or two, and spend most of Wednesdays mornings in it. These are tasks I know I need to do for my own sanity. It is time I want to protect, and devoting a Perspective to it has helped me guard this time. And maybe my soul.

On Doing

My Doing perspective really only shows one context called Mac. It’s a horrible name for the context, to be honest, but when I started with OmniFocus, I only saw these tasks in front of my Mac, so it became my default catch all. It’s the place I go when I need to get stuff done.

I rely heavily on start dates here. I know that my first hour or so coming out of my Being Perspective is going to be working off a bunch of the smaller tasks, so I usually set them with a 9am start time on the day I need to tackle them. More intensive tasks, usually related to website work, are scheduled to appear at 10am. Cleaning out the smaller tasks lets me hone attention on the tasks that require more of it.

On Tinkering

I’ve written about my tinkering context before. It’s the actions that I can/need/want to do when my attention and energy levels aren’t as high. They seldom have urgency or timeframes connected to them, so I can get to them whenever. The benefit of creating a Tinkering Perspective is that it places this context alongside my two other perspectives in the sidebar/toolbar. If I have 15 minutes to fill before a conference call, or if I’m wanting to work through a few things while planted on the couch in the evening, this is where I can go.


At the core of it all, the changes described to my previous system are nuanced, but important. The Doing Perspective existed before, by another name, and now has an added emphasis on start times. The benefit, however, has been in elevating Tinkering, and especially Being, to equal visibility. These were buried in my OmniFocus, tasks that had been tucked away with good intentions, but rarely did they traverse the expanse from stored bit to illuminated pixel. Now, if they are overlooked, at least I know I can attribute it to psychosis rather than systems.

  • Mike

    wow. i can confidently say i didn’t understand a single thing you just wrote. sure glad there are people in your tribe who do, because it sounds really important. but you are still one of my favorite people. ever.

    looking forward to a post on what you think about the angel’s new roster or on what you’re currently teaching your small church community. then i might have something intelligent to say. or not.

    it’s about time for another in and out, don’t you think? my best to you and yours. farra

    • Gordon

      Yes I do think u need to be an Omnifocus user to understand most of it. Though the mistypings, grammar mistakes etc do make it harder than normal.

      Like u, I like reading John’s blog, always interesting.

      • byjohnchandler


        That’s almost word for word what my wife said after reading it. 🙂

    • byjohnchandler


      In n Out is opening down here this year, but you are still enough of a reason for a trip to Dallas sometime.

  • This is super helpful to me. I have a love-hate relationship with OmniFocus. I love the *idea* of using it, but I only am able to engage in it for a few days here or there. Partly because I don’t lug my Macbook to my day-job, so I only have the iPhone and iPad versions of the app with me, and it’s a bit of a hassle arranging stuff on those apps. And partly because when I get my Capture done, I find that much of what’s in OF is now stuff that I don’t really care about anymore, but it did get my attention once. Super low energy stuff that I don’t want to lose, but I won’t do anything with anytime soon. AND partly because it’s just not part of my rhythm.

    But I like your focus on perspectives (unintended funny there). I don’t use perspectives well at all. I think that zooming-in will help me to look at things I really *do* care about, and ignore the rest.

    • byjohnchandler

      I think any task manager has to be cared for and nurtured like any valued relationship. I have do at least a quick review each morning and EOD, especially to adjust start times if necessary. (And personally, I think the iPad app is great, and look at it more than any other.)

      The other helpful thing to me, though, is to have a waiting context, which I don’t see anywhere, unless I go look at it. Anything that I find isn’t getting done either gets deleted or tossed in there for review later. I’ve gotten serious about only seeing things I need or want to do now, and hiding other things via start dates, the waiting context, or deleting!

      • Thanks John.

        You use a Waiting context instead of marking those projects to be on-hold? That’s always been a bit confusing to me – how to do either the “paused” work, or the “someday/maybe” list.

        • byjohnchandler

          Mostly single tasks end up in the Waiting Context. I occasionally use the On Hold feature for full projects.