Get Started With Start Dates in OmniFocus

From Shawn Blanc:

I virtually never use Start Dates, and so my daily to-do list is usually filled with a dozen items which I want to do that day, but perhaps only one or two of them need to be done.

David Sparks recommends using Start Dates to populate your future-to-do list, and use Due Dates only for those items which have consequence if they are not done by the day they’re due.

Over the past week, I’ve been talking a lot about OmniFocus, but I haven’t really focused in on the biggest change that came from adopting this system and watching David’s excellent walkthrough1. When using Things, everything had or didn’t have a Due Date. OmniFocus, on the other hand, introduced the idea of Start Dates.

I used to use Due Dates to remind me to start tasks. Now I only use them to remind me when they are due. This way when I see yellow (OmniFocus’ default color for items that are looming) or red (items that are due or past due) I know I need to focus and get them done. Using Due Dates in this way alongside Start Dates gave me a clear way to separate the “want-to-do” items on my list from those I “need-to-do”.

At first, like Shawn, I never used Start Dates, but over time, they have become the best way to focus in on my day. Sure, I could use flag the tasks I want to accomplish and leave everything on the list, but using Start Dates to either defer tasks until a specific date or even push something forward a day or two gets unnecessary information temporarily off my screen and out of my head. More than anything else, this has helped me to better plan my days and balance the work I want to do with the things that need to get done in a given day.

If you haven’t experimented with Start Dates, give them a try. While your mileage will certainly vary, this subtle shift was game changing for me.


  1. I know I sound like a broken record, if you want to use this app, watch these videos.  

7 Responses to Get Started With Start Dates in OmniFocus

  1. I like the idea of start dates – would very much help with that feeling you described of needing to get something out of your head that isn’t necessarily an urgent to-do. The relief I feel with having organized lists of tasks – particularly ones I can delegate – is the precursor to a huge uptick in productivity for me. It’s as if real estate in my mind is occupied by the space that to-do takes up, and those bytes of memory can’t be shared with any other task.

      • Why is everyone under the impression that start dates are in OmniFocus but not in Things? Things has always had scheduled status which is exactly equivalent to start dates, (or, as they are now called in OmniFocus, “defer” dates).

  2. I’m only using OmniFocus for iPad right now. Do you know of a way to show start dates more prominently, for example as a badge? Thx!

    • I don’t use badges, but my perspectives are set to take advantage of start dates (my primary perspectives hide anything that has a future start date). This keeps my eye on what’s important and lets me ignore things until they are needed.

  3. I have used Omnifocus daily for 3 years on Mac and iPhone. Historically I’ve used “Due Date” rather than “Start Date” because of the latter’s “issues”. I just re-tried to use “Start Date” (called “Defer Until” in Omnifocus 2) and have concluded it is a broken concept in the way I use Omnifocus (including the new Omnifocus 2 on iPhone).

    Briefly, if you use StartDate (to alert you as to when to start working on an action):

    — FORECAST view is unusable (on iphone). Any action with a start date in the “past” disappears from the “past” screen of Forecast. (This is so bad I’d class it as a “bug”.) And that’s even when you’ve set it to show Start Dates).

    — I have a “ABC” Perspective set to show actions grouped by start date. Most users of Start Dates would. OK on Mac. Totally unusable on iPhone as 100’s of StartDate=(not set/blank) actions have to be scrolled down to get to the real action list. [***see below] OK on both Mac and iPhone if you use DueDate instead.

    — If you give a PROJECT a StartDate that becomes “available” it will drag ALL of its actions into this ABC Perspective [*** see above]. Thoroughly cluttering it. [you also can’t filter to just see ACTIONS not PROJECTS in the Perspective.]

    — You can’t (safely) set your projects to DEFER UNTIL or ON HOLD if you use StartDates. If you do ALL actions will be made “unavailable” (you won’t see them) irrespective of the StartDate. (If you use DUE DATES this works fine.)

    — Following on from this issue. Omnifocus just doesn’t seem to understand the following concept (illustrated with my example). ** I have a project called “Mac Stuff” It’s continuous/never ending and normally “On Hold” I’m not focused on it. ** But I do want all my Mac actions in here. Not scattered across multiple other projects/single action lists that need reviewing/managing – as I’m NOT focused on this. ** I get an email e.g. for FREE version of Software-X next month only – I create an action for the same. ** That action needs a START DATE = Nov 1 and a DUE DATE = Nov 30. ** I will LOSE visibility on this action from FORECAST view and my START DATE ABC-perspective [*** see above] ** My “Work from list” (Hit List / Punch List) is the ABC-Perspective. But my action has been buried by Omnifcous and I now have an untrusted system. Again not a problem by just using DUE DATE.

    Regrettably I’ve switched back to using Due Dates. Clearly there’s a definite NEED for a working “START DATE” (DEFER UNTIL) feature. But I can’t use it the way it’s been implemented in Omnifocus v1 and the new v2 (iPhone).

    Would welcome comments – perhaps I’m missing something.

  4. Can you filter by start date < today or due date=soon ? In the first view, I will see things that I can do because their start date is past, and the other is things I had better do because their due date is coming up quick!!!

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