the candler blog

Packing My Apartment with OmniFocus


In Which I Write A Blog Post About Packing My Apartment with OmniFocus Instead of Actually Packing My Apartment

Moving sucks, but we all have to do it at some point. As you may have heard, I’m moving to Texas soon. Which means about a decade’s worth of detritus needs to be packed or purged. And well, I’m not so good at getting rid of stuff. But I’m not moving across town anymore; I need to go through every corner of my apartment and weed out the wheat from the chaff.

In an effort to get myself to finally dive into the more disorganized nooks of my place, I turned to OmniFocus, the GTD app I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with for some three years.1 My initial plan was to pack things up by type, as in, “Today, I shall pack books. Tomorrow I shall pack magazines,” and so on. The trouble is that I’ve got stuff just about everywhere. Most of the books live on bookshelves, but certainly not all of them. There are probably DVDs in the couch cushions. And clothes? You don’t want to know.

So then I decided I should work on one room at a time, but that got convoluted fast as well. After all, each room has its own unique spaces that require a different set of parameters. For example, clearing the bookshelf basically gets me into the same problem as before, because I get the urge to pack all the books in the apartment. Plus, it takes so long to pack a room that I would never feel a sense of accomplishment2 until the whole room was done.

So finally I hatched a little method that has so far worked, so I decided to expand it out to the whole apartment and see if I can start checking items off left and right. In short, each room in my apartment is a folder in OmniFocus, and each area in each room is a project. Then I get more granular by making each aspect of each area an action. Let me show it to you before I go into any more detail.

In the office (where I was supposed to be cleaning before I went off on this tear) I broke the room up into seven distinct areas, starting with my desk. My desk, in turn, has five basic areas that need cleaning, the surface and four overloaded drawers. Of course, I can make things a bit easier by focusing only on the desk in OmniFocus.

It looks overwhelming, but that’s why I set each project up to be sequential. In OmniFocus, projects can be organized so that you can only see what the next action is, which is helpful for projects where you can’t move on to step two without completing step one. In general, I never ever use sequential projects because most things in my life don’t operate that way. However, by making each area a sequential project, I can force myself (or at least gently prod myself) to finish each small area before moving on to the next one. Switching OmniFocus to view only the next available actions makes my goals feel much more attainable.

OmniFocus’s mobile apps deal with sequential projects marvelously. As I tear through little areas within my apartment I can tick them off on my iPhone or iPad, and the next area I need to focus on pops up instantaneously. I get the gratifying sense of accomplishment I had hoped for, and it helps push me to get the next little bit done. Plus, seeing what I have in store is only two taps away by switching the view from “Available” (left) to “Remaining” (right).

It’s not the most thorough OmniFocus workflow (I don’t even make use of Contexts and Perspectives for this, though I have some ideas how I could), but so far its proven quite effective. My dry run for this was with the dresser in my bedroom earlier today. Even if I weren’t moving, that thing had gotten out of control. I felt like a dope, but I fired up OmniFocus and made a new action for each drawer. Of course this feels like overkill, but “clean your goddam room” doesn’t get through to me any better today than it did in junior high school. Now, my drawers are cleaned out and I’ve got a stack of clothes ready to donate. Extending this to the rest of the apartment only seems natural.

Back to packing, though. I’ve got a lot of next actions to tear through.

  1. Maybe longer? Who can keep track?

  2. Which I need in order to feel like I can go grab a beer and watch Netflix.