Step into the world of productivity mastery as GTD Focus President, Meg Edwards, returns to talk all things OmniFocus.
This episode sheds light on optimizing your OmniFocus system setup, the art of tag management, and the critical steps after capturing your inbox items. Whether you're looking to streamline your tags or master "clarifying and organizing," Meg's expert advice will set you on the path to efficiency.
Some other people, places, and things mentioned in this episode:
Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to The Omni Show where we connect with the amazing community surrounding The Omni Group's award-winning products. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and today GTD Focus President Meg Edwards returns to talk about OmniFocus. Well, welcome everybody to this episode of The Omni Show. My name's Andrew J. Mason, and so excited to be able to hang out with Meg Edwards again. This is Meg's second time with us. She's the president of GTD Focus. GTD Focus is the only officially licensed partner for one-to-one GTD coaching in the United States and Canada. Meg's had the privilege of working directly with David Allen for years at the David Allen Company, and I find myself with the great fortune and honor to call her friend. Meg, thank you so much for joining us today.
Meg Edwards: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be talking to you again.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, Meg, I would love to start this off for our audience by just reminding them that this is your second appearance with us. So, if you haven't listened to, I believe it's Episode 87, yet, we really take that episode to dive deep into where Meg's journey to a coach, GTD coach has come from, how some of our initial OmniFocus setup looks. It's been a fast two years. My goodness. I'd love it if you would maybe even just catch us up. What's different from your perspective as a coach over the last two years? When you look at how people's workflow has shifted and evolved, there has been more of this embracing of hybrid or remote. Some contexts have gotten squished down to just one context, and work and home are all the same place. Just tell us more about what you see happening out there.
Meg Edwards: Yeah, it's a great question, because when the pandemic hit and just so many overwhelmingly became remote, I said to all my clients, "Welcome to my world," because I have been working from home for 25 years now, and so my world did not change, except that I was off the road doing in-person coaching. So, everything pretty much stayed the same in terms of my work, working remotely. It used to be the phone and the fax machine, and then it was GoToMeeting and Zoom and all of that and Teams. And what I really saw was people were saying, "Well, I'm home, right? My phone is in the same place. Maybe my office is in the same place as my personal office. I don't have that work office and my home office. Home is in the same place. So much of my work is at the computer. I'm always connected to internet." And so I had to deal with that personally a long time ago, which was when all the coaches were on the road, it made a lot of sense to have online, offline, home, phone, all those kind of anywhere. And for a lot of people, even if they are working from home, that still really works for them because that's how they think. So, one of the things that I always am saying to people right off the bat as a GTD coach is, "My job is to figure out how you think, so that when you're going to engage, meaning when you're going to do work personally, professionally, how do you think and then how do you have those lists reflect how you think?"
And even if I was on the road all the time, I don't think that way and I never did, and it was such a disconnect for me. And everybody knows this when I was at the David Allen Company, so it's not new, that I didn't think, "Well, if I'm anywhere, I could do this," because then I was overthinking it. "Well, if I'm anywhere, well, do I have that thing to read? Do I have that journal?" It was like it didn't work for me. Or, "If I'm at my computer, these are things I can do." It was such a disconnect for me, even though David is spot on that it has to do with limiting criterias. If you don't have a phone, you don't have to look at your calls list. If you don't have your computer, you don't have to look at the list. So, it is really spot on that the reason why it's by context is that it's the first limiting criteria.
What did make sense to me was if I had things that I need to talk to you about, it went on my agendas Andrew list, because why would I want to see on my Next Actions list things that I need to talk to you about? So, my Next Actions list are really about when I'm by myself, these are things that I can do, because I'm by myself. So, I always got agendas and waiting-fors, because they involved other people or other companies. So, it really went to, okay, when I'm by myself, how do I think and how do I want my next actions to look like? And so I think differently than David does, and David didn't have any attachments to what lists I had, but I think that so many GTDers have this rule that it has to be by context, and I don't think that's the case and I don't think it ever was the case.
I think that some people like it by topic, they might like it by timeframe. For example, I have a weekend list of things that I only want to see on the weekend. I have an evening list of things that I only want to see in the evening. So, I kind of think by that way. Sometimes when I'm doing a particular area of focus and responsibility, I want to see only those things in that area of focus and responsibility. So, let's say that I'm training a lot of coaches, I might want to see all those next actions to the training, because when I want to work on training, I want to just see those next actions not mixed with anything else. So, the art I think of a GTD coach is to figure that out with the client, because if it is too much of a disconnect, you're not going to look at those lists and you're just going to go back and work out of your mind and your inbox.
Andrew J. Mason: That's right, that's right. It's so easy to blame software, the outside world, weather, just anything that's not us for what we see in front of us, this massive list of things that, in all reality, we're stressing ourselves out by the things that we've created. And once we kind of address it at that level, it's like, "Okay, this isn't anything else's fault except for the speed with which I'm coming up with new ideas. So, I really need to take responsibility for what I'm creating and think more about that."
This leads really well into one of David's quotes about we need to have a system that we can maintain even when we're sick with the flu. So, talk to me a little bit more about how do you handle your system during those periods of high stress, transition, high stress? What do you do, what shows up for you when you're trying to keep the parts of your system moving as frictionless as possible, but it's difficult because of those life circumstances?
Meg Edwards: Yeah. Well, let me back it up just one piece before that, which first of all, once I've established rapport with a client, I have to have that rapport, and then I'll look at the tag section of Omni, and I'm like, "What?" I'll see 25 or 30 tags, and they got really in the weeds. Like, "These are things that I could do in less than 10 minutes, in less than five minutes, in less than 20 minutes, and this is things that I can do on my iPhone, and these are things that I would do..." I mean, they got so granular, and then that's exactly where it goes into they can't maintain that when they have really low energy.
And so the first thing that I always do is I just, either I have them clean it up or I just really strip it to the real essential tags, which is a next action, agendas, and waiting for, and then maybe even someday maybe, because we know in OmniFocus you can have someday maybe in tags or in the project view. But I'll strip it down to those lists and errands, and maybe they might want to have a calls list, but I'll absolutely strip it down. And then we build it back up, because what has to happen is people overwhelmingly make it always more complex than it needs to be. It's stunning. But at the same time, when you're going to do work, you cannot be overwhelmed by the list. So, if you have low energy and you look at a tag that has 40 or 50 or 60 things on it, and if you have high energy, that may not overwhelm you, but if you have low energy or medium energy, you look at that and you're like, "Ugh."
So, this is where I also get into volume and being able to say you've got to be able to look at these lists and focus and see the options you want to see when you're going to do work. So, I'll have a lot of clients, and I think maybe I talked about in the other one when we did a couple of years ago, was the on-holds. These are my actions on hold, and you can have 150 things on hold, but on your Next Actions list, you've only got the number that you need that don't overwhelm you and that you are attracted to go into that list. So, unless I'm starting with somebody from scratch, every single client, and I could probably say almost every client I have said, "We need to simplify this." I don't think I ever had a client who'd been using GTD that I said, "Oh, I don't need to simplify this."
Andrew J. Mason: David always talked about, in the second edition of Getting Things Done, he talked about this worry about over-capture or the black hole of capture that digital has brought to us. The first edition that he wrote the book in, the internet wasn't as pervasive and our opportunities for capture weren't as frictionless. And I know I've bumped into before, man, I've really literally written down every thought in my head. So, just some thoughts surrounding that. Any thoughts you have about this issue of either over-capture or making your systems too complex?
Meg Edwards: Yes, it's interesting when I see electronic inboxes, so when I go in and I see an Omni Inbox, they just have captured and captured, and captured and captured, and captured and captured. And I always say to somebody, "If you know where it goes, bypass the inbox." If I have to email somebody, I'm not going to just stick it in my inbox and then clarify and organize it. I want to put it on a list. And what happens is, because the volume of emails is so tremendous, the people are sending the emails over to the OmniFocus Inbox and they don't then take the next step and clarify it. Is this ringing true at all?
Andrew J. Mason: Yes, yes. Please continue.
Meg Edwards: Right? So, a lot of people have two monitors or they have another monitor, so I'm always saying, if you send something over from email to the OmniFocus Inbox, clarify and organize it, finish it, because then I feel like you're doing double the work. You've moved it over, like an email, oh, over to inbox, inbox, inbox inbox, inbox, inbox. And all of a sudden you go and you look at the OmniFocus Inbox and there's like 25 emails over there, and then you have to look at it again. And that's exhausting, and I never do that. Never. I can't even do that. So, that is one thing that happens electronically, is because you can just shoot it over to the inbox, and because it's email volume. I think sometimes it's not so much the mind sweep of what's on your mind, it's the email volume in the inbox that I see. Does that resonate with you at all, that it's coming from email?
Andrew J. Mason: It does. It is really easy for me to preserve flow by just immediately, there's an integration with Spark, I'll hit a keystroke, and then all of a sudden the email just jumps into Spark and it's out of my head, and I get to keep my flow on something just knowing that I'll deal with it later. But there's a trade-off there. The corollary is, yes, I did get to keep flow in that moment, but now I'm confronted with this wave of inbox items that I hadn't burned the extra three calories in my brain in order to specify what part of a project that email is a part of and just dump it in real quick to the right list.
Meg Edwards: Yes. Well, then this goes back to that concept of the threefold nature of work, which is usually people need about an hour to an hour and a half a day, not in one sitting, but throughout the day, maybe three times a day, you're clarifying and organizing. And I really rarely ever meet somebody that is spending that amount of time clarifying and organizing, and that's why the inbox just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, because they may only clarify and organize one or two hours a week. And so that's where they get bottleneck. So, one of the things that we try to do is to, I never try to minimize capturing. I don't ever try to have anybody stifle that, because I think that then you're choosing, you're picking and choosing.
I did a YouTube video a while ago on our YouTube channel about this, where I grew up with a dad who had a little book in his pocket, and he was always writing things down. I mean, my father never kept anything on his mind, and I always thought that if you captured, you had to do. I don't ever know if my dad wrote things down and didn't do it, like it was just an idea or anything like that. So, I was always censoring myself, "Well, if I capture it, therefore I have to do it." So, I really try to have people say, look, go ahead and capture it, but just be ruthless when you're clarifying and organizing, because not every idea, not every thought, not everything should be tagged or put into a project. It could be an idea, it goes on a Someday Maybe list, or it could be deleted.
And so I find that people aren't ruthless and they don't have the filter that they need when they're clarifying and organizing. So, they may have tremendous volume of capturing, but now they have clarified and organized that volume into these lists, and that's why I come in and I just see these lists that are just huge with options. And time is finite, as you know, right? You can't...
Andrew J. Mason: Unfortunately, yes, yes. But to give myself back some credit, I am actually pretty decent at deleting things out of the inbox. "Hey, that was an idea I had at 2:00 AM. I thought it was awesome at the time. No, done. Out of here." And I do actually do the corollary of that, where David talks about having a bunch of ideas and then labeling it "Stuff I Don't Know What To Do With." I actually have a Stuff I Don't Know What To Do With section in OmniFocus where I just, "Hey, this is an idea. I don't want to lose it, but I know I need to label it something. There it goes." And I feel great. That's perfect for me. I would like to know, though, give me more details about what your capture process looks like specifically. How do you get things into OmniFocus?
Meg Edwards: I still capture on paper. I really do. I capture on paper. I really, I mean, I'm in my office a lot, obviously, and so even though I have OmniFocus up, I still like to capture on paper and then clarify and organize from there. If I'm out and about, I will capture on my phone and I will then get it into the inbox. I'll use Siri and then put it in the inbox and then come back and clarify and organize later. And then I have notepads in my house around, because sometimes I don't have my phone always with me, and so I have a notepad on each floor that if I have something, I'll go ahead and capture. But I generally always capture still on paper. I mean, that's not the case with a lot of people, but I don't like to have too many places to capture, because then it can get in the way with clarifying and organizing. So, for me, less places to capture push me into those capture tools to clarify and organize.
Andrew J. Mason: That's really interesting to me. So, as literal as possible, when they say as few inboxes as you can get away with, you've got that pen and paper just sitting there. And when choosing between to go into a digital inbox or I'm not giving up the pen and paper, so I really am going to take it at its word and say let's have as few inboxes as possible.
Meg Edwards: And I am somebody who can't drive and capture at the same time. I'm the type of person that will pull over. And so we talk about this, you want to have just enough, but if people are too scattered with capturing, then I think it really repels them clarifying and organizing.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, anybody that's listened to the last episode honestly knows that I am an evangelist for the four questions that you gave us during the last call about uncovering additional projects in a role or responsibilities. So, something at the roles and responsibilities level, these four questions you can ask and start to flesh out, "Here are some other projects that maybe I wasn't thinking of as projects." That fourth question, something along the lines of, "Are there any creative opportunities?" I'd love to know, do you have any examples of what has shown up for folks when they've systematically started asking that question? "Are there any creative opportunities in my role as a business owner, a brother, a husband, a father?" Any of those things, and you start to see, just by asking that question somewhere in the weekly review process, it uncovers, "Hey, these are some other things that, yeah, I really do want to be committed to."
Meg Edwards: I think that what happens is that it organically will show up from a mind sweep. So, when I'm clarifying and organizing my mind sweep or somebody else's mind sweep, the four questions that may come up would be, there's a problem or issue that comes up in the mind sweep. And that's one way to be able to turn that into a next action or a project, is to take a problem, an issue, and clarify and organize that. Processes and procedures were the second one, that something may show up in a process or procedure. For example, I'm off to visit my daughter in New York City and I have to come up with a process and procedure for my indoor and outdoor cats, because I'm going to be gone for five days. And so there was enough steps there that it was just like a little mini-project. So, that was a process and procedure that needed to be put into place. And then the other one is any competency building. So, sometimes what has people's attention is that they have a direct report or they have somebody, a kid that they really feel could benefit from getting better at something, and so they don't necessarily think, "Oh, that might be a next action or a project." And then the one that you were referring to was the creative opportunity. That might be when the pandemic hit and all of a sudden everybody wasn't coming into the office. What are the creative projects and opportunities to stay connected? What are the creative opportunities that some people have for earning more money? What are the creative opportunities that people have for holidays or celebrations? It's just another way of looking at something that's been captured and naming it. A problem, an issue, competency building, process and procedures, and, "Oh, we need to come up with a creative way to handle X, Y, and Z." But they don't necessarily think, "Ah, we've got a project here. We have a next action."
Because David, one of the things that really is a big focus is problems and issues and turning them into projects and actions, or actions or projects or someday maybes, whatever that may be, because a lot of people were so used to holding onto it, but somehow that doesn't get into clarifying and organizing. It's almost like those four things stay outside of our OmniFocus system. We don't think about bringing those into our projects and tag Next Actions. So, that's why I think it so resonated with you, because I think those kinds of things were outside. There could be a creative opportunity with the kids. It could be some like, "Wow, what creative way could I be working and spending more time with the kids? What creative opportunity could it be to bring more revenue in with the home?" I mean, it shows up all the time, I find.
Andrew J. Mason: I really do appreciate that level of nuance, because for me, when I'm looking at the trigger list or I'm looking at OmniFocus and I see a blank inbox staring me in the face, sometimes it's hard to know, okay, what really is on my mind? But when you're asking those mind sweep questions and then you go a level further and start asking them for a specific role, it really does unlock, "Oh, I did have attention on this. I need to write it down."
Meg Edwards: Particularly with so many people that have startup companies and entrepreneurs and anybody that's always doing something personally, professionally, that's creative. Again, it will just naturally show up in your mind sweep when you capture, or an email or anything digital, that just like, "Oh, yeah, that's a creative opportunity. Oh, do we want to act on that? Oh, let's turn that into a project or action," or again, it could be just a someday maybe.
Andrew J. Mason: Meg, talk to me, how do you handle Someday Maybe lists in OmniFocus? I know that some people like to have it all in one list. Others like to even nest folders, so, Someday Maybe/Personal, Someday Maybe/Professional. What does that look like for you, and do you have items on Someday Maybe that they are off, but you know what, six months later, this makes sense as a project now, it's back on my mind, let's go?
Meg Edwards: Well, for me personally, I'm going to be 60 next year, and I pretty much know what I want to do and don't want to do personally in my lifetime. So, I really don't have any someday maybes personally, it's very fascinating, and I haven't for a really long time. But professionally, I have a lot of someday maybes because I am always thinking about how can I improve training new coaches? How can I improve making it as easy as possible for people to install and implement and integrate GTD? So, I have very specific ideas lists for that, that I mine as often as I need to so that if I'm in that place where I want to work on something, I'll go into that list and say, "Hmm, which one do I want to move forward?" But personally, I don't really have a someday maybe list. I mean, it's very little.
The reason being is that I have pretty well mapped out my goals, vision, and purpose. And so those things that I want to do are on my Goals and Vision list because for me, someday maybe is not attached to a timeframe. So, a couple of years ago, I took a couple of months off and I really mapped my rest of my 50s, my 60s, 70s, and hopefully I go into my 80s, and all of that is already on my Goals and Vision, and if there's some shifting around, then I shift it around on my Goals and Vision. Therefore, I don't have kind of a someday maybe, like, "Someday maybe, do I want to go to this place or that place?"
Andrew J. Mason: That actually makes me curious. Do you see this inverse correlation between how clear your higher horizons are and how much shows up for you on your Someday Maybe list?
Meg Edwards: It's a great observation. Not that I've really been aware of, because I see people who have pretty well fleshed out goals and vision and their purpose, and they still have a lot of someday maybes that they may want to. Yeah, I mean, tremendous. But I am somebody who is kind of living one life, and the vast majority of my clients are trying to shove three, four, five lives into one.
Andrew J. Mason: Oh my gosh.
Meg Edwards: And so when they're trying to shove two, three, four, five, six lives into one, that's where the Someday Maybe list comes in. And I am such an anomaly that I have always just saw one life. What can I fit in this life?
Andrew J. Mason: All right. Good night, everybody. Thank you so much for joining The Omni Show. This has been awesome.
Meg Edwards: Does that resonate? Does that resonate with you?
Andrew J. Mason: Yeah, yeah. It resonates pretty well. It's so funny, the extrovert slice of me loves talking about new ideas and hearing new things, but every so often there'll just be one nugget somebody will drop and the introvert slice just takes over and I'm like, "I need to just find a cave and think for a half hour or so." Not bad, in a bad way, just like, "Man, you've really given me something to think about. I've got to figure this thing out."
Meg Edwards: Well, it's interesting, because when you have a Someday Maybe list, it has a piece of you that you want to mine as often as you need to, and you want it to have meaning and not just make it a bunch of stuff. And I think one of the things that I always recommend is, look, if you want to have a Someday Maybe list that you look at weekly or every other week in your weekly review, have that Someday Maybe list that you really want right in front. But otherwise, some people look at their Someday Maybe list once a month, some people have Someday Maybe lists that they look at monthly or quarterly or yearly, but it could be by timeframe, it could be by topic. And so if you, quote, unquote, "organize" it in a way that has meaning and clean edges, then you just go into that and see that as often as you need to because that's your external trusted system that you don't have to have it waving around your mind.
Andrew J. Mason: Meg, I've thought about this a lot, and you've coached a lot of people, you've seen a lot of OmniFocus Inboxes. When it comes to everything that's encompassed in Getting Things Done's philosophy, if you could wave that just one magic wand and have everybody practice one behavior, what would that be for you?
Meg Edwards: Without censoring my response, it's that if people thought in terms of what's the next action? I have a 25-year-old, and I said to Annie a couple of years ago, I said, "What do you find is the most powerful part of GTD for you?" And she goes, "It's next-action thinking." And I really was thinking about that, because I think one of the things that happens is we let things drift. There's all these conversations about procrastination, and people are beating themselves up all the time about why they're not getting to something. Why are they not doing what they said that they were going to do? Or whatever it is. I just had the other day with a client where I was talking with him and he had something that had, it was a new client, he was talking and he said, "I've had something that I'm supposed to do back in March, and here we are in September." And I sat there and just let him talk it out, and he landed on the next action. And so what he thought was the next action wasn't the next action. He had a negative outcome. When we talked it out, he's like, "Oh, well, I really need to talk to this person first," and then all of a sudden he got all this energy. He just lit up, which is like, "Oh, that's the next action." Well, what happens if you did that with everything in your life? Which is, okay, so what's the next action? Is there a next action? Because if there's not a next action, do you delete it or trash it? Throw it away? Do you incubate it? Do you put it as a tickler, or a someday maybe? But we're talking about if something is actionable, you have to sometimes slow down if it's not self-evident. And so much of our work as knowledge workers is it's not self-evident, the next action, although we think it should be self-evident. So, it's so common for me when I'm cleaning up OmniFocus for people, I mean, more often than not, they didn't hit the next action. And so I find that, yes, the two-minute rule and capturing and outcome thinking and all that kind of stuff, but what really I think just really moves things forward for people is if you just really stop and say, "Okay, I don't know, but let's just sit here and try to figure out what the heck the next action is."
Andrew J. Mason: Man, not bad. The good that would come out of that behavior. So many people think about what their next actions are, so much that their thinking gets cleared up, and so many good things happening.
Meg Edwards: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Andrew J. Mason: Meg, this interview has been such an honor and a privilege. I'm so grateful to get to spend some more time with you. Speaking of next actions, if folks are interested in finding out more about GTD Focus and what you guys are up to, how can they take those next steps?
Meg Edwards: Yes, they can just visit us on gtdfocus.com. They can also email me directly at email@example.com. Would love to connect with anybody if they have any questions, and it is always so much fun. I can't believe it was two years. I felt like it was just last year.
Andrew J. Mason: Right?
Meg Edwards: It really is so fun talking with you, because you ask such great questions and probing questions, and you are such a GTD champion as well as being, you and I, we were talking earlier before we started recording about how we just love OmniFocus because it's so aesthetically pleasing.
Andrew J. Mason: Yes.
Meg Edwards: As well as the other features that it has. So, I just always appreciate it and hope you invite me back with new questions, other questions.
Andrew J. Mason: Well, I love asking them, so you'll be back.
Meg Edwards: I certainly will.
Andrew J. Mason: Thank you so much, Meg.
Meg Edwards: Thank you.
Andrew J. Mason: Hey, and thank all of you for listening today too. You can find us on Mastodon at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out everything that's happening with The Omni Group at omnigroup.com/blog.