OmniFocus for Photographers

OmniFocus iconProfessional photography is all about the (work)flow. Marketing activities. Preparations for a photoshoot (both gear and things like invoicing the client). The post-production of images. The delivery of the finished work.

My tool of choice for managing my tasks (photographic and otherwise) is OmniFocus, a suite of Mac, iPad, and iPhone applications[1] from the Omni Group. OmniFocus is based on the principles of David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done (GTD) system, with built-in support for GTD concepts such as contexts, projects, next actions, and the weekly review. You don’t have to use GTD to make OmniFocus useful however.

This article isn’t intending to preach the virtues of GTD (but I do recommend that all professionals ought to read the book – it’s quite affordable). Instead I want to look at how I use OmniFocus as a photographer.

A couple notes about task sequencing/flow: when setting up a project (a set of related tasks) in OmniFocus, one can choose for those tasks to be worked either sequentially (one after another, with only one task potentially being in progress at a time) or in parallel (multiple tasks are eligible for work concurrently).

You’ll see where both of these come into play for specific work items.

Project Organization

I have two types of projects for my photography business: the first consists of projects for specific clients and jobs. The other projects are for ongoing tasks such as business development, marketing, bookkeeping, personal projects, and the like. That organization looks like this:

OmniFocus Photography Projects

New Client / Pre-Shoot Activities

When I acquire a new client, or begin planning for a new job for an existing client, I have a series of tasks to perform. These fall into a few groupings:

  • Preparing, sending, and storing the photography contract
  • Getting the client setup in my bookkeeping system (if they’re new)
  • Generating and sending an invoice for the job
  • Identifying gear needed and making arrangements for any rentals
  • Preparing and packing gear for the photoshoot

Here’s what that looks like in OmniFocus:

Pre-Photography OmniFocus Template

I set these tasks up in a template project (more on that below) and when I book a new gig, this template gets duplicated and customized for the specific client and job. As I mentioned earlier, some of these things can happen in parallel (preparing the contract and invoice) while others need to happen in a specific order (I can’t verify that I receive payment before I send the invoice for example).

After the Shoot

When I wrap up a shoot, I use a similar set of steps to ensure I don’t neglect anything with image processing and delivery. Let’s use a simple business portrait as the example where I’m producing one finished image. I’ll have a set of OmniFocus tasks for processing and delivery. In general, the post-shoot activities run in sequence. We can’t deliver before we retouch, we can’t retouch before we select the photo(s), and so on.

Post-Processing Photography Workflow in OmniFocus

You’ll note in my screenshots that the date columns are empty; these get filled in as appropriate when I set up a specific job. I’ll set start dates for the days I anticipate beginning work on these items, and I use a hard due date when there’s a true deadline based on the contract or other agreement.

Ongoing Business Tasks Not Tied to a Client

While keeping tabs on client tasks is important, I find that OmniFocus really shines when helping with ongoing business, marketing, and networking work. Let me illustrate with a few examples.

Recurring Social Networking Activities

I’m on Twitter, Flickr, Google+, LinkedIn, and a few other places. Despite what some might want to believe, I don’t sit at my computer for twelve hours each day and do nothing but hang out online. Instead I participate in different networks at different times, and I have some reminders in OmniFocus to nag me to participate in places I might otherwise forget. For example:

OmniFocus is very flexible with recurring items. Most productivity systems allow you to set a task to repeat at a given interval (each Monday, every month, etc) but OmniFocus also allows for a task to be setup to start again after a certain interval. If I want to check on Pinterest daily, I could just set a daily reminder. But what happens when I get busy and miss a day? Or two? Now I have three stacked-up tasks for Pinterest. Instead, I can set the item to start again after one day, and I just have one pending Pinterest task When I get a chance to check Pinterest, I mark the task complete, and OmniFocus then triggers a reminder for one day later.

Recurring Business Admin Activities

As a freelance photographer I not only make images, but I also have to manage my business. I have tasks setup to remind me to do things such as:

  • Gather receipts for purchases, tag them with notes if needed, and file them away for tax purposes
  • Record vehicle mileage into a log, again for tax purposes
  • Check in with FreshBooks (my invoicing and expense-tracking system)

OmniFocus as Mini-CRM

One of the features of a “real” CRM (customer relationship management) system is the ability to keep track of the last time you contacted someone and to remind you when it’s time to again reach out. I don’t use a full-fledged CRM, but I replicate this feature in OmniFocus. It’s simple.

Create a project and call it “People” or “Networking.” You might create separate projects for clients vs. industry contacts, but that’s not necessary.

When you work with a client and want to keep in touch, add a new task to the project, just put their name as the description. Give it a Start Date for however long into the future you want to be nagged about reaching out. Perhaps it’s an occasional client so you set a reminder three months out. Set the item to repeat three months after completion. Three months from now, you’ll get a reminder to make contact with this person. When you do, OmniFocus will create a new reminder for three months after that.

I use this same technique for industry contacts (other photographers, vendors, etc.) where I want to maintain a relationship.

Keeping It Together: the Weekly Review

One of the tenets of the GTD system is a weekly review of tasks. OmniFocus makes this easy. The iPad version in particular has a great interface for review. You simply tap each project, review the tasks, and tap a “Mark Reviewed” button.

OmniFocus Review Bar

I’ve found the weekly review to be quite useful in reigning in those work items which made it into the system but might be stalled or forgotten.

How do I remember to do my weekly review? I have a task set up to remind me of course.

By default new projects are marked for a review each week, but you can go into the project properties in OmniFocus for the Mac and change it to be reviewed on a different frequency. My template projects are reviewed far less often.

Beyond the Basics: Templates

There’s no concept of a template project “out of the box” with OmniFocus, but it completely makes sense. Often you have a set of tasks that you perform repeatedly. In the case of a photographer, I have template projects for things like:

  • The aforementioned client job tasks
  • Packing for a trip
  • The steps in preparing a substantial blog post

I’d previously been manually managing templates, setting something up and then duplicating it and renaming as needed. Recently Chris Suave released a nice script that can be used to automate this template management. It allows for variables in template names along with variables in the details for tasks, contexts, and notes. When run, it then generates a new project based on the template. I’m heading to San Francisco later this week and this script meant that I had a packing list created within just a few seconds that reminds me to bring everything from my underwear to my iPad.

Getting Started and Learning OmniFocus

A new release of OmniFocus for the Mac is coming very soon. In the meantime, the Omni Group is allowing folks to use the existing version for free. You have nothing to lose by trying it out. I’d also heartily recommend the iPad version (which isn’t being replaced).

If you’re interested in learning OmniFocus, I’d like to recommend a couple resources. David Sparks produced a series of OmniFocus Screencasts in which he breaks down how to get into, set up, and be productive with the product.

Creating Flow with OmniFocus is an excellent book by Kourosh Dini, a doctor who’s really explored the program, workflows, contexts, actions, and how it all fits together. I’ve read and re-read his book and it’s been fundamental in helping me figure out a good system for my various projects.

Kourosh also has a comprehensive list of resources that’s worth checking out.

A Few Useful Scripts

To harness the power of templates, use the aforementioned template script.

Use a script to send the current URL to OmniFocus as tasks. There are versions for Chrome or Safari. I’ve also set my Chrome clipper up as an Alfred extension.

A Quick Word About Money

Sometimes folks freak out about the fact that OmniFocus isn’t free, nor is it a 99 cent app. As of this writing (January 2013), the OS X version is $80, the iPad version is about $40, and the iPhone app is $20. Let’s look at the most expensive scenario, where you invest in all three programs and spend $140. How does that compare to the cost of your lenses, speedlights, softboxes, batteries, camera bags, post-processing software… you get the idea. It’s not free, but it’s a worthwhile investment in your productivity.

Have you used OmniFocus? Share your favorite tip as a comment below!

  1. The applications can be used individually or together; the OmniGroup runs a (free) synchronization service. You’ll get the most benefit from having all editions so that you always have it handy, but if you don’t spring for the whole suite I would recommend getting the iPad version first, followed by the Mac, followed by the iPhone.  ↩


  1. Ken Rowland says

    Good stuff Aaron. I’m a big user of OmniFocus but I’m not nearly as organized in template form as you are. Thanks for sharing your usage habits.

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