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Feature Request: task prioritization! Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Originally Posted by Lucas View Post
Would those who are interested in such a priority field be interested in some sort of short video about how people have used OF to handle priority information? I'd be willing to work with a couple of people on that if folks would be interested.
I'd definitely be interested in seeing how others go about working with priority information.

Originally Posted by abates17 View Post
Your belief about which are “unnecessary fields” does not match the belief of a large number of users.
And yours don't match those of an equally large number. Why does that make you right? Would you also complain to Apple that Keynote needs more word processing features, or to a sports car manufacturer that their roadster should be better offroad?

Originally Posted by Flexattend View Post
OK: all those in favor of prioritization, line up over here. How dare you? Haven't you read and understood or, if not, at the very least, memorized, Mr. David Allen's book? Line up and get ready for your spankings, to be followed by tar and feathering, excommunication and being cast into outer darkness. By the numbers, march......
Ah, an absurdist. Welcome to our fish.

A priority field in Omnifocus isn't the same until we can see how it is implemented. Given that the current field that is closest to a priority field (the flag) cannot be hidden, I feel more than justified in voicing my concerns over how future fields may be implemented.

Just because something purportedly works for you doesn't provide a end-all justification. Are you here to discuss the topics, or just further your personal agenda? We can agree to disagree, or we can provide some substance for this discussion. Thus far, all I am getting from you is a claim that priorities work for you. Exactly how would a priority field improve your process? Have you tried the ideas that have been presented? How do they compare to your current system? Save any time? Make you more efficient? Cause you grief? How exactly did it help or hinder your decision process? Have you read the articles that I've referenced and really thought about them? Instead of dismissing them, absorb them, find flaws, gather data, bring some vibrant insights and lets have a productive discussion.
After struggling with priorities in previous systems such as my old beloved Franklin-Covery planner, I've found that priorities hinders me.

I used to think that priorities would help me "determine" or "wisely" choose the best next action for me to do. Anything that has a High ranking should be screaming at me to do it.

Yet, I decided that a C1 task is better suited for me. This was based on intuition, current energy levels, my time available, or location.

I remembered reviewing Chapter 9 of David Allen's "Getting Things Done." It's the chapter titled "Doing: Making the Best Action Choices." This should explain to you how to choose your best next action.

David Allen expands further on why priority labels just doesn't seem to really help you choose the best next action. Read his other book "Making It All Work." Pages 189 to 192 has a section labelled "The Priority Challenge." It is a more revealing statement.

Only "you" know what your priorities are at any given time. Not a computer. Often times, your priorities will change day to day or hour to hour. What happens if your A1 project gets cancelled by your boss? Then you'd have to take the time to resort all your priority labels on your task list or OmniFocus database. Sometimes you'll have to bump up a task/project to A1 status and essentially move everything else down one notch.

What David Allen is trying to say is that it is futile to try to track down something so superfluous and can change at any moment's notice.

Instead of choosing your best next action based on "priority" labels, choose the best next action based on:

Time Available
Energy Available

I can have an A1 project screaming at me on my task list but if I have a 15 minute time window between appointments, I'll go ahead and do something small like a series of phone calls that I can wrap up quickly before the next appointment arrives.

Or I may have just finished a huge mind-draining task, I'll choose a lightweight task to do until I can recharge my mental batteries.

Or I might be at the grocery mart and my A1 project can only be done in the office. I'll go ahead and look at my task list to see if there is any tasks I can eliminate while I'm at the grocery mart.

I've been ignoring priority labels for quite a while now and I certainly don't miss it.

WIth that being said, I'd say go ahead and put a priority column in OmniFocus. I will surely hide it from view and never even touch it. That'll keep those priority folks happy. I wish them all the best of luck trying to track their "priorities."

I certainly am on the "priority-less" fence and I'm loving it on this side.
I understand your concern with priorities being a fluid concept and I agree that it would be far too cumbersome to track and change these every time your world changes - which would be constantly.

However we're not talking about a cascading priritization where you have 1000 tasks and 1000 priorities. You want 3 groups: 1) High priority 2) Medium priority 3) Low priority [in a beautifully removable column - tags would do too, lets hope for them in OF 2.0]

Of course you don't always do high priority tasks when you are in a hurry and have little energy etc., but at least they don't slip off your radar. It wouldn't matter if a low priority task slipped away - oh you forgot the milk, guess we'll have toast tomorrow morning... but WOW would it be terrible if you forgot to buy your wife that anniversary present! - I bet you're wishing this task was in your high priority group now...

In a way it's like out of sight - out of mind. Oh gosh, but that's a good thing you may think, that's just what GTD wants to do right? Clear your mind, so you become creative and can think of other things! Ok, fair enough, lovely theory, but now tell me how your mind, which is much better at setting priorities compared to a computer, is going to assign importance to tasks that are 'out of your mind'.

To me GTD is about freeing your mind, knowing you have it all 'right there' if you're looking for it. But you still want to be thinking about these things - they do after all in a big part compose your life. And you want to think more about the more important tasks than the low priority ones, right?

Yes you have reviews, but they are only daily or weekly and are also fairly rigid if you predicted yourself to be in another scenario for the week/day. Sometimes things happen that no review can predict. Suddenly you have a task that comes from nowhere and BAM is there, with the highest priority you can imagine.

Keep your eye on the ball! This is where priorities come in: you can instantly see what you assigned as a 'high priority' in your life if you group them.

It would be lovely to be "priority-less", but I'm sure you are then one of the people who tries to milk the 'dogs' and not the 'cash cows'.

I'm not for rigid prioritization, but priority groupings and aims for the day are a useful structure - that's why so many people desire this feature.

A Priority Grouping and a Today List - I'm not saying they are a pure alternative - but they are a GREAT addition to what we already have. Omnifocus is incredibly versatile, that's why so many love it. Just extend that versatility a wee bit further and you have a dream piece of software!

Last edited by Robbie1702; 2009-08-05 at 03:14 PM..
Yes, I understand that and completely agreed with the idea of just putting a priorities column and let each user deal with OmniFocus as they wish.

Priorities for me is much simpler.

"Low" priority projects/tasks are placed in my Someday/Maybe folder. It has an "on hold" status and incubates in the Someday/Maybe folder in OmniFocus. I can review it at any time. If I want to "upgrade the priority", I put the project/task in active status and move it out of my Someday/Maybe folder. This will show up in my contexts. Otherwise I can let it sit in Someday/Maybe and evaluate it at a later time to determine if this low priority project/task is worth doing at all (my goals/objectives/priorities may change).

When I change a project/task's status from "On Hold" to "Active" and move it out of the Someday/Maybe folder, this becomes a medium priority project/task. It is important but not urgent.

If there is something I really need to get done (buy anniversary present for my wife), I flag this project/task. This project/task is in the high priority status for me.

I've also created different perspectives to handle high, medium, and low priorities.

The High Priority (Urgent and Important) perspective shows all contexts with the flagged status on. All of my high priority tasks/projects are grouped here. This includes buying that anniversary present for my wife.

The Medium Priority (Not Urgent but Important) perspective shows all contexts with available actions. All of my medium priority tasks/projects are grouped here. This includes buying milk.

The Low Priority (Not Urgent and Not Important) perspectives shows all projects in the Someday/Maybe folder. All of my low priority tasks/projects are grouped here. This includes those little tasks that my wife keeps bugging me to do. Low priority items have the "On Hold" status to prevent it from showing up in my context list. No need to clutter up my context view with low priority items. But it does show up in project view for me to review.

That's just me. I'm just showing how I handle "priorities" in my life. So I can neatly see all of my high, medium, and low priorities without needing the priorities column.

Eagerly awaiting OF 2.0 and seeing if this does show up and we can end this thread.

Last edited by wilsonng; 2009-08-05 at 06:25 PM..
My system works similarly to wilsonng's, so I don't have much use for a priorities column either. That's why I still think Omni's proposed metadata column is the best implementation for the priorities request. It sounds versatile enough that people who really want a priority column can use it for that, and the rest of us still gain something of value as well (use it for tagging, people, locations, weather, moon phase, or whatever you want). Presumably, you could just turn it off and not use it at all too. Everbody wins and we can finally let this thread die in peace.


Last edited by Toadling; 2009-08-05 at 07:00 PM..
Originally Posted by Toadling View Post
Everbody wins and we can finally let this thread die in peace.

Hear that, Omni Folks? Bring on the sneaky peek with the metadata column! :-)
Originally Posted by wilsonng View Post
When I change a project/task's status from "On Hold" to "Active" and move it out of the Someday/Maybe folder, this becomes a medium priority project/task. It is important but not urgent.
I do priorities somewhat similarly to Wilsong and somewhat differently. I do put things on hold that I don't intend to do anytime soon, kind of highly de-prioritizing them, but I don't really use flags to highlight priority items. For me, using flags actually makes it harder to prioritize things.

I really rely on the order of my projects and contexts to indicate priority, though. My projects are ordered from the top down in declining priority. In my contexts, I have one context group of things that really require focus and attention, which I keep near the top. Under that, I have a context group of things that requires less focused attention. After that, I have my calls context. Then I have some other contexts that are really low priority, like things to read and webcasts to watch or listen to, which I de-prioritize because I could really do them at any time.

This arrangement really helps me stay focused on priority tasks with the context view: I select my high-attention context when it's time to focus and group by project; the most important projects are at the top of the list. The best part, is its generally only two to five items in each project. If I knock out only those handful of tasks that require the most work on the project, then it is much easier to follow through and eliminate the project entirely. It's also really important not to neglect your out-of-the-office contexts, but having those important projects at the top really makes it easy for me to judge how important it is to leave and get that stuff done.

The one thing that I would say about this arrangement versus setting numbered priorities is that it seems just as or more accurate and takes less time. For example, if you're like me and you have more than ten projects, and none of them are the same amount as important as the others, even if you weren't distinguishing between the individual tasks, you would run out of numbers. You would be saying that some things are the same importance as other things, which aren't. Then, it seems like you would have to just remember which are more important, despite having the same numerical importance setting.

Said another way, I feel like there isn't anything in priority that isn't because of where its project is situated and what context you have to do it in. Oh, of course, if it has a deadline. I cannot distinguish for myself, though, the difference in information that's going into project, context, and deadline (if dated), and which is going into priority. Furthermore, you have a choice of as many projects and contexts as you like, while on the choices of explicit priorities are one to ten or "unimportant" to "really super important!", which doesn't seem like the same amount of space.

I'm not trying to say people shouldn't have something and I know that people are comfortable with what they're comfortable with. But my view is, I really think you're missing out if you don't give one of the other methods included in this forum a try.
Originally Posted by Ken Case View Post
OmniFocus has a notion of priority already: it's the order in which you arrange your items. If you want something to have a higher priority, simply move it up in the list.

This gives you much finer-grained control than a typical priority system, which typically only has a few levels of priority: OmniFocus effectively has as many priorities as you have items.

Does that make sense?
Prioritising is an interesting process in GTD.

Ken Case's point that OmniFocus has its inherent prioritising system built-in invisibly by the order in which the user can arrange their Projects and Tasks works - if the user alone can decide what job is worth doing first. It would still be good if OmniFocus could tell us what to do next, prioritising tasks for us. The question is, how? Without purporting to be prescriptive, the posting below (i) identifies factors involved in prioritising, (ii) proposes a way to set them up in OmniOutliner (until OmniFocus can do this) and (iii) enables the reader to generate a list of tasks in 'what-to-do-next' order.

On the surface (sic.), it would seem that prioritising is a question of balancing just two factors: urgency and priority. Urgency is the apparent immediate importance of a task. E.g. if you have run out of milk for breakfast the following day, it may be 'urgent' for you to buy some now, though you could perfectly well survive without it and it's certainly not going to help you reach your life goals. Urgency is usually seen in terms of deadline, but ignores priority. 'Priority' is the place that task has in the scheme of things to help you to reach your previously-identified life goals. Priorities define your epitaph!

Above, I say 'on the surface', because of course there are several other factors in play in prioritising. They include when the task is due to be done by, how long it takes to do the task, which project the task belongs to and what Timothy Ferriss in his book 'The Four Hour Work Week' (2008) has called 'Eliminate, Automate, Streamline, Delegate' - EASD. This latter is a process for getting rid of activities you'd rather avoid in your life.

• 'eliminate' means 'don't bother';
• 'automate' means find a way for technology to do this for you, e.g. make an FAQ and an autoresponder email, and ask people to read that rather than to bother you for a repeated answer;
• 'streamline' means find a way to do this yourself, but quickly, and in a way that you set up mechanisms for yourself to be able to do that task more quickly and easily in the future;
• 'delegate' means just that: find someone more specialised and pay them to do this for you.

Below is an approach I have found for prioritising tasks and automatically organising them into 'what-to-do-next' order. Effectively it seems to order tasks automatically so that urgent, important (priority) things are done first, in duration order (i.e. the tasks that can be done quickly are listed first, so that you can get them out of the way and thus become more effective). Lastly, tasks that are in line with your life goals are put first. If this does not make sense, read the final sections of this posting.

To start with, set up seven columns in OmniOutliner left-to-right as follows:

Task, Due, Priority, Duration, Job, EASD, Delegatee.

Next, set up Pop-Up Lists, in the order given top to bottom, in OmniOutliner's 'Column Type' inspector for the following columns only, viz:

1. Due (15 items in pop-up list)
• Today
• Tomorrow
• This Week
• Next Week
• This Month
• 6 Weeks
• Next Month
• 2 months
• 3 months
• 4 months
• 5 months
• This Year
• Next Year
• -ongoing-
• Whenever

2. Priority (4 items in pop-up list)
• Urgent (= do now)
• Must do
• Should do
• Could do

3. Duration (open)
Set this solumn type to 'duration' in the 'Column Type' inspector. The column will take imput such as '1d' (= 1 day), '6h' (= 6 hours), '1w' (= 1 week), '7m' (= 7 months) etc.
4. Job (custom)
In the 'Column Type' inspector, make a pop-up list of your fixed life goals (1-2 words per goal). Put your most important life goals at the top of the list and least important ones at the bottom. Remember, this is about what you want to achieve in your life, not necessarily about what you feel you ought to do. - The two may be the same though. You should be very general about these life goals (not too much detail). Have a maximum of 3-5. The job here is a 'category of life goal', e.g. 'Forest' for forest building, and 'Supermarket' for making money for a supermarket corporate account - one of these will take precedence over the other for you.

5. EASD (4 items in pop-up list. These will not affect 'what to do next' order)
In the 'Column Type' inspector, make a pop-up list of Eliminate, Automate, Streamline, Delegate. In that order, 'Eliminate' at the top.

Finally, go to the Reorganize menu and select 'Keep Sorted'. Set it up as follows:

• Check (tick) Due, First to Last
• Check (tick) Priority, First to Last
• Check (tick) Duration, Lowest to Highest
• Check (tick) Job, First to Last

* * *

If one completes this file with a list of basic tasks (they could even be general projects but listed as tasks), without making sub-lists of tasks, the list automatically sorts itself conveniently into 'what to do next' order. Yes, urgency is taken into account, so those daft, short, urgent (due soon) things can get done, - but these are tempered by the task's priority. Quick-to-do tasks are presented first so that you become effective.

Once the list is sorted, it's important to know how to read the list. You will find that, say, a third of the way up the list from the bottom, are tasks that take more time and that are important, while above those will be less important tasks that can be done more quickly. At this point in the list, the user may wish to prioritize higher-priority tasks that take longer, over those that have lower priority but are quicker to do. The clinch factor here is this: how long does a task have to take, before its priority means that you have to prioritise it over a less important task. The system I have proposed, puts important stuff that can wait, lower down in the list of what to do next. Swapping the 'Due' and the 'Priority' columns around provides an interesting perspective, but presents what I would call an artificially 'selfish' work mode. Priority goals take precedence over everything and important tasks which are less in line with what you want to achieve, get pushed dangerously down the list. I still think that sorting by urgency (due date) and then priority, works better. It's important not to allow into your 'to do' system, tasks which are not in line with your self-tempered responsibilities.

In judging priorities (what to do next) we thus become aware of the truth that life inevitably involves compromise, as we juggle things we have to do, with the things we want to do.

It would be possible to experiment with including a column called 'Acceptability'. This being a column which allows tasks to be ordered according to how much you felt like doing that task! While this may be a revelation to the user, explaining why we procrastinate, it helps one to understand why we often avoid important tasks: simply because we do not fancy doing them. Ultimately, self-discipline comes into play and the 'Acceptability' column can be banished so that one can 'forget oneself' and focus instead on what needs to be done.

It might be good if the OmniFocus team could contemplate the above techniques and consider making them implementable by users of OmniFocus. It can be seen that prioritising is more than a matter of one level of importance. To recap, at least five factors come into play when one is prioritising tasks: 'urgency', 'priority', 'completion time' and 'life goal alignment'. I have deliberately not included the OmniFocus' 'context' parameter in this list as I am writing about priorities. Clearly, if one has a high priority task and a low priority task to complete when out at the post office (say), then OmniFocus' 'context few' comes into useful play to allow tasks appropriately to be grouped and dealt with.

Finally, it's important to state the obvious: that no to-do list is ever definitive; it is always a living, changing work in progress. - All part of the rich tapestry of life.

I would welcome readers' thoughts on the above and hope that these ideas are useful.

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