Moving from Outlook to OmniFocus

As I mentioned in another post, I had all my productivity systems for calendar, tasks, contacts, projects built around my company’s in-house Microsoft Outlook platform (with the addition of the Getting Things Done add-on from the David Allen Company).  In the process of moving my entire system (feels like my entire life) onto another platform, I tried several project/task managers and settled on OmniFocus.  One main reason is that OmniFocus has a suite of tools that seamless integrate across the Apple world.  I use it on my desktop, iPad and iPhone.  It links to my Google Calendar and has nifty integration with SIRI for voice activated capture of tasks when I’m on the go.

While all of that sounds great, the hard part was getting myself ported from the old platform the new one with a minimum of redundant data entry.  Here were the steps I took

  1. I output my Outlook data through the native export command that you can find in the Outlook File Menu.  Mail archives went to something called a Personal Storage or .pst file.  You can get more information from the Microsoft Support website.  I output my calendar, contacts and tasks into three simple flat files known as Comma Delimited or .csv files.  This is important, because while the mail files I created can only be opened back up in MS Outlook, the flat files I created for my productivity systems are generic and could be opened up in many if not most programs on the market.  Calendar was easily imported into Google.  Contacts went the same place with a little bit of doctoring the headings to ensure my contact names, numbers etc appeared where I wanted them.  Since I have my iPhone and iPad linked up to GMail, my calendar and contacts appeared immediately on both devices.
    Tasks are a little tougher for me, because I need more from my system than what is offered in the native tasks app in the Mac world.  
  2. Make sure that when you output your data from Outlook, you click the box that creates a header row for your data.  This inserts column headings or what could be called field names.  You’ll need that so the task names line up in the same column, the Completed y/n indicator, the Start Date, Due Date, Categories, Task Notes and so on all line up.  My task list was about 50 items long and I wanted my task attributes to flow to the new system without have to retype,  The task archive I created in Outlook need some massaging before I could import into OmniFocus and I needed a specific format.  For that purpose I downloaded a trial copy of OmniOutliner.  It was a relatively easy to open the .csv file right in OmniOutline.  From there I could get my data line up (a minimal amount of drag and drop), delete artificial fields created by Outlook and not needed in the future by eliminating entire columns in one pass and then I exported a native OmniOutliner file which was then imported directly to OmniFocus
  3. The piece I had to recreate from scratch was the Project Focus. Let me say a bit about this because it is core to my personal productivity systems.  I advocate a multi-dimensional view of the tasks or actions that I track.  I have a project focus, a context focus and a people focus.  One limit of task lists in Outlook or iCal/iTask is that they are one-dimensional.  I can assign a category but nothing more.  The value of OmniFocus or the Getting Things Done add-in is that they enable the three-dimensional view.  How does this work?  I created a set of context in which I do work, @home, @computer, @phone, @iPad,@followup as well as contexts like waiting for, errands.  I have sub contexts under @computer such as online, email.  I even have a context called @guitar.  This way, I only look at the actions that can be completed in that context or with access to that tool.  I can’t make calls on the commuter train (I could but it would be rude) or learn My Favorite Things on guitar, but I could send and email or catch up on reference material I have downloaded.
  4. Once the system was rebuilt and up and running, I found that there is excellent integration between OmniFocus and GMail, Apple devices (including using Siri to capture new tasks) and browsers that allow me to grab ideas, actions, etc and quickly move them to the OmniFocus inbox for processing.


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