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I've been using Omnifocus for almost a year now, and whenever I find the time I read up on new topics. I have tried most other GTD apps, and for some reason I find Omnifocus the best software to use on a day-to-day basis for my workflow. The only problem I am running into is that I am not happy with my structure, and I decided to ask for some help. Maybe someone here can give me a better idea on how to set up my projects, context, etc....

I run a children's clothing business from home. I manage to sew 1-2 dresses a day, because I am also a mom with two children. My business takes place in the future and I have to be well organized, because I always have at least 25-40 orders sitting on my desk. Each one of these orders has a due date - anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Each order has multiple tasks. I try to somehow streamline my workflow by lumping similiar products into the same context. For instance if I have 3 orders for Dress A, once I pull the fabric and cut one dress out, I like to cut the others out no matter when they are due to help facilitate the future projects. It saves me time.

So thus far, I have set up my Omnifocus to look like this

Work
- Client Name
- Olivia Dress 5
- Cut Olivia Dress 5
- Add Trim, Sash, Flower Olivia 5
- Mail Overnight
- Client Name

I always include a context sewing, cutting, mail, and a start date so I know who to work on next. When I review for the week, I then add due dates. I would prefer to only look at one weeks worth of upcoming projects in case I don't finish everything I have planned.

Here are some of the problems I run into...
- Forecasting: When a customer asks whether I can get a dress done in 5 weeks. I cannot tell. There are so many tasks in my Omnifocus, that I am anxious everytime I look at it. I sometimes get behind schedule, and for some reason I turn to a calendar to try and figure it all out. I guarantee my clients a six week shipping timeframe. So when I get five orders in one day and give them all the same due date, I know there is no way to get all five of these dresses done in one day. That is when I need to reschedule, but I don't like to plan so far ahead, because I know it will change.

- Streamlining tasks. Like I mentioned above, although I really do not have the time slotted for this, it is just easier for me in the long run to at least cut out the same dress multiple times instead of doing it over and over again for 10 days. So it is important for me to sort projects/tasks to know what size I need and what dress I am working on. However I am not sure whether I should be more specific with my contexts or task names

Review Process:
This process takes quite a long time because although Customer A ordered before Customer B, Customer B needs her dress three days before, and customer Z needs it two weeks earlier. So I always have to take a long hard look at my long list of tasks.

I would like to hear your suggestions on what you think of my set up, and if you think there is a better way to organize my tasks/projects, etc. I am definitely one of those people who would love to see a better integration with ICAL.
Jeannine
 
Why don't you use a calendar?

Put 'Work for customer A' from 9 till 12, the B, C etc.

Schedule time for returning calls and emails also.
 
Have you considered stepping outside of OF for a moment, perhaps even in a hypothetical way if not in a real way. Create a set of bins (cardboard boxes) labelled by your contexts ... preparing, cutting, sewing, finalizing, and mailing. Buy a 3x3 "sticky note" type pad (without the sticky stuff). Also buy a calendar.

When you get a phone call, pull a note pad. Put the order information on one side. On the other, in BIG BOLD LETTERS, put the due date. Drop that in to the planning bin. On your calendar, put a hash mark on the due date to indicate that you have an order due on that date.

Now start a review process. Open your planning bin. Order the notes by due date. Decide which to move forward to the cutting bin. Then, open your cutting bin. What particular change would you make here? Perhaps you should further subdivide your cutting bin in to cutting 5, cutting 6, cutting 7 ... ie, by cutting SIZES. Would that help you eliminate a step in sorting (since you would drop the note from planning directly in to its cutting size bin)?

Ooops ... someone just called to see whether a dress can be done in 5 weeks rather than your standard 6 weeks. Check your calendar. How many hash marks to you have on the day 5 weeks from now? Can you really complete 26 dresses on that day as currently required? Would one more dress really make a difference? Does your answer depend on what size the dress is ... better check the proper cutting size bins to see if it is an odd size that has only one by itself (and may therefore take longer) or can be dropped directly in a bin of 10 that are already waiting (and therefore really can be pushed ahead by the one week).

Perhaps, once you either think through or actually do this type of effort across the repeating tasks that you have, you might have a better sense of how to use OF (and iCal or other software) as your substitute set of "hardware" bins and calendar.

Otherwise, my sense is that you have a good start on the framework. I might only suggest that you create a standard template for a "dress" project.

Dress for #NAME [no context, sequential project, with start + due dates]
- cut dress #NAME [context: cutting X]
- sew dress #NAME [context: sewing]
- finalize dress #NAME [context: finalizing]
- package dress #NAME [context: packing]
- mail dress #NAME [context: mailing]

When you are ready to create the project in OF, duplicate the template. Select it and use the find/replace method to change #NAME to the person's name. Viola -- a custom project ready for your workflow. BTW, set the review period on the template project to be something standard like weekly. This way, every days review should bring forward the projects that were started on that time slice in the past.

Others may have some ideas for custom perspectives to help you with the overview.

Hope this gives you some ideas to help.

--
JJW
 
That is such a great idea. I sometimes think I have problems thinking outside the box, since I have been using the same wf for so long. I will let you know how it goes.

"Dress for #NAME [no context, sequential project, with start + due dates]
- cut dress #NAME [context: cutting X]
- sew dress #NAME [context: sewing]
- finalize dress #NAME [context: finalizing]
- package dress #NAME [context: packing]
- mail dress #NAME [context: mailing]"

I like this idea. The people in this group have some great ideas. Thanks for helping a "mommy entrepreneur".
Thank you
Jeannine
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by EugeneB View Post
Why don't you use a calendar?

Put 'Work for customer A' from 9 till 12, the B, C etc.

Schedule time for returning calls and emails also.

The reason I don't use a calendar is because these are not just appointments to me. Every order is full of lots of things to do, and many details. I get measurements, due dates, mailing addresses, and all this information has to go somewhere. OF allows me to use one software, and keep all the information together.

I do use a calendar to keep track of my due dates. I prefer "in one glance" to check out what needs to get done so I use up my free time preparing for the immediate future, but without OF I would be lost.

There are so many people in this forum who have much more experience then I do with OF, I was just hoping for some different opinions.
Thanks
Jeannine
 
My first thought is that you could pre-fill your schedule with _theoretical_ dresses, planning them out at a time when you have plenty of leisure to arrange all the tasks. Then when you have a potential order and someone's asking when a dress can be ready, you could see if you have any unbooked dresses that will be ready in the needed timeframe, and you can commit to that timeframe.

To go into more detail:

You say that you finish 1-2 dresses a day, meaning, presumably, 5-10 a week. Let's start with five. That means that every week you'll need to design/schedule, cut, sew, trim, and mail five dresses. They don't have to be the _same_ five dresses, all started and finished in the same week; you just want to organize your work so that once it's all flowing along, you're completing and shipping five dresses a week.

Or seven, or ten, once you find that the system is working reliably. Or maybe you'll keep it at five, or even take it down to four, to build in some slack so you can take some profitable rush orders.

You could decide that your week will look like:

Monday: Prep, press, and cut fabric, do final pressing of completed dresses.
Tuesday: Office work. (Or morning office work, afternoon sewing.)
Wednesday and Thursday: Sew and trim dresses.
Friday: Unplanned/catchup/rush orders.

Of course, this may be proportioned wrong - it's just an example. But using the example, then before any orders come in, your tasks or work schedule could look like:

Monday:

- Cut Theoretical Dress 1 (TD1)
- Cut TD2.
... and so on up to to TD5.

- Press fabric for TD6. (Fabric that you preshrunk last week.)
- Press fabric for TD7.
... and so on through TD10.

- Preshrink fabric for TD11.
- Preshrink fabric for TD12.
... and so on through TD15.

- Do final pressing of Jones Christening dress. (When first entered, this dress was a numbered "TD" like all of the others.)
... and so on for five dresses that you finished sewing last week.

I'm suggesting a separate line for each task for each dress because as orders come in, those tasks will cease to be theoretical and will be actual orders, like those final pressing tasks are. So we want each task to be for an individual identifiable dress, even though the dress starts out as an unbooked "TD" placeholder.

When you take an order, you change "TD5" to "Williams Play Dress" all the way through the schedule. Or you leave it alone in the schedule and maintain a key of dress numbers and which ones are booked to who. And maybe you keep a binder of "dress worksheets" that have the dress number, the customer, the fabric, and so on.

Tuesday:

- Package and ship Jones Christening dress.
... and so on for five dresses.

Tuesday would have other office tasks - booking meetings, writing ads, ordering supplies, etc.

Wednesday and Thursday:

- Sew and trim TD1
- Sew and trim TD2
... and so on.

Friday:

On Friday, you finish Wednesday and Thursday's sewing, if it didn't get finished. Or do a rush or special order, for which the customer is paying a tidy extra sum, from start to finish. Or preshrink and press thirty yards of cotton batiste, in advance of orders. Or make a hundred fabric flowers to get ahead on the trimming. Or work on a fabulous new design for your website. Or whatever other task is useful.

-------

This preplanning can be done at your leisure, without a customer breathing down your neck. And you can adjust it at your leisure - say you know that you'll be on vacation in September, so that means that fifteen dresses (assuming that raw-fabric-to-cut is a three-week process) will be shifted one week ahead, and you'll know that before you book the dresses - or at least in plenty of time to devote some Fridays to pulling in the schedule slip if you've already booked some.

Once this schedule is done, you _know_ when "TD172" is supposed to be shipped, you can look that date up quickly, and you can book someone for that dress with confidence. Similarly, you'll know if your schedule is fully booked for the next six months, so that you won't take on orders that you don't have time for.

You'll even have a good idea of whether you have enough work to justify hiring someone to help, so that you can take on a few more of those profitable rush orders. (After all, why should you, the high-skilled seamstress, be wasting your skills on pretreating, pressing, and shipping?) You can schedule high-productivity months during which you try to knock off ten dresses a week, so that you're ahead and you can afford to catch the flu without destroying your schedule.

Of course, plugging in your existing workload will make this more complicated, but you could lay out all the "TD" tasks into distant future, start inserting booked dresses into that structure, and see how much trouble you're in. Maybe you'll need to hire that temporary seamstress, or hire a babysitter and work some nights and weekends for a little while. Maybe you'll need to tell the next few dozen customers that new orders will take ten weeks, or just turn down some orders for a while. But it's always better to know the bad news before it bites you, and once the backlog is cleaned up, you'll have a predictable system to go on with.

Gardener
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gardener View Post
My first thought is that you could pre-fill your schedule with _theoretical_ dresses, planning them out at a time when you have plenty of leisure to arrange all the tasks. Then when you have a potential order and someone's asking when a dress can be ready, you could see if you have any unbooked dresses that will be ready in the needed timeframe, and you can commit to that timeframe.

This is another great idea, and so simple yet it would solve (hopefully) a lot of my planning issues. You are absolutely right I tend to get overloaded easily when "things" just don't go as planned. I have to ask if you have experience in this field? It was like you were reading my mind. Thank you.
When you take an order, you change "TD5" to "Williams Play Dress" all the way through the schedule.
I could always set up a group, folder once I plug in the client or Dress that would be applied.



On Friday, you finish Wednesday and Thursday's sewing, if it didn't get finished. Or do a rush or special order, for which the customer is paying a tidy extra sum, from start to finish. Or preshrink and press thirty yards of cotton batiste, in advance of orders. Or make a hundred fabric flowers to get ahead on the trimming. Or work on a fabulous new design for your website. Or whatever other task is useful.

Yes, I also do all the marketing for my website, photography and advertising, so there is always a need for some extra time, and customers are always willing to pay for rush orders. That is fantastic.

-------

But it's always better to know the bad news before it bites you, and once the backlog is cleaned up, you'll have a predictable system to go on with.

Gardener
I could not agree with you more. This is definitely worth considering since pre-planning in my business is a big and important factor. It would definitely help me to allocate my time more wisely. I appreciate your thoughts in this matter.
Jeannine
 
I would use contexts to define which dresses you are cutting. Then, when you start a cutting session, you can pull up the context for, say, "Dress A, size 5", and see all the dresses in your queue that use that same pattern.

(this may or may not have been a simpler version of the wonderfully detailed response above... not quite sure if it's a repeat of the idea or not.)
 
 


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