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New to OF and GTD, looking for Projects/Context Tips & Feedback Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hey all,

So this year I've decided to get my act together and get organized to I can really start getting things done. A friend of mine suggest I check out GTD and Omnifocus to help me along the way. I recently finished reading GTD and many of the concepts presented made a lot of sense to me and I was thrilled to see that Omnifocus is completely built around the GTD system. Today I spent some time doing my first inbox mindsweep and processing everything into different projects.

It was a little daunting and intimidating at first but I finally finished it. I'm in the process of just giving everything I've processed a quick once over and I have a few comments and concerns that are beginning to pop up. I know that at it's core, working with any system is all about making it work for you on a personal level and there's a good chance many of these questions will get worked out as I start to implement OF into my daily routine. Still, I figured it wouldn't hurt to ping some of the more experienced folks here in hopes of maybe getting some early tips or feedback that can help me avoid potential pitfalls along the way. Any help you guys and gals can provide is greatly appreciated.

Just a little background on myself and my approach to setting up OF, I'm a mobile game developer and I generally spend all of my free time sitting in front of a computer at work. I also heavily relied on the screencasts provided by the Mac Power Users in order to setup OF on my Mac.

Projects - One of my initial concerns is regarding my organization of projects and project folders in OF. I'm having a difficult time figuring what should be a folder and what should be the actual project. In my first pass of Organization, I noticed that I had a lot of folders with projects underneath them, that had the exact same name as the folder itself. While the organization of it all seemed decent, the project itself didn't seem like an actual project. I think one of the issues is that (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) OF doesn't allow you to place individual tasks under a folder in the project list. For example, I have a bunch of random tasks that I'd like to accomplish around the house. These tasks aren't really related in any certain way other than they're things that I need to get done outside of work. All don't together, they don't really serve any single project that needs to be done. However, if I'd like them to be organized in the folder hierarchy under the "Home" folder, I have to add them to some basic project, a "To Do" list of sorts. This seems to fly in the face of what GTD is all about. It seems like what constitutes a project in GTD isn't the same as in OF. OF really seems to want you to make everything into some sort of project for the sake of organization. Should I be using Miscellaneous more than I am? In short, I'm having a hard time effectively breaking down my tasks into appropriately organized projects in OF.

Contexts - As if the above wasn't throwing me for enough of a loop, Contexts also seem to have their own particular set of issues (as noted by various threads I've read through on this forum already). There seems to be a lot of crossover in several places. For example, the classic categorization is Home and Work. This seems simple enough, but where is starts to get tricky is when you throw in something like Mac or Computer. Well, I have a Computer at work and I have a Computer at home. The Computer context seems to bleed over into other contexts. This makes it a little difficult to determine what stuff really goes where.

I also created a context called "Personal Time" for all the things I'd like to get done whenever I have my own free time outside of my work and home responsibilities. However, this seems to encompass a pretty major list of items and sort of seems like a potential issue down the road if I have difficulty delegating my "personal time". Then there are other things like Exercising and Working Out. I have various fitness activities that I like to partake in, some involve classes and regular schedules while others are somewhat random activities that are done once in awhile. I created a context called "Working Out" but this doesn't seem very useful at the moment. Generally the act of working out is something that is determined beforehand, before the context is actually a thing or active. I'm just curious if there are any tips you all might have for contexts. I'm somewhat torn as to whether these are things that should focus what I do or just tell me when I'm actually can do something and leave the "whether or not" up to me.
 
Two excellent blogs with amazing products are here:

http://www.usingomnifocus.com

A lot of free OmniFocus articles to sharpen your blade. There is a link to purchase the eBook "Creating Flow with OmniFocus". Well worth the price of admission.



http://www.asianefficiency.com/omnifocus/

Many free OmniFocus articles are collected here as well. There is an excellent OmniFocus theme for you to download and try out as a different skin for your OmniFocus setup.

You'll have the opportunity to get their new eBook for OmniFocus on January 15th. Here's the announcement.

http://www.asianefficiency.com/annou...focus-product/






I'm going to say right now that it is well worth the price of the eBooks. If you want to master OmniFocus, these are the two resources to look at. The free articles on both web sites are great but the eBooks flow smoothly. You can see how every chapter flows together. You'll see every piece of puzzle fitting into the overall picture. You'll get a chance to try out some real world workflows and develop your own GTD setup.

No two GTD setups are alike. My workflow and demands will be much different from yours and will require different philosophies. I've spent years searching for different blog posts and OmniFocus forums for tips and tricks to help me with OmniFocus. I wished I could have all that time back because everything was located in these two books alone.

I know you hesitant about parting with some coin for the books but it is well worth it. I'll give you an example. If you are learning to ride a bike, you'll want to start off slowly (possibly with training wheels). You're not the good. You wobble a little bit but you're slowly getting the hang of it. Then you'll take off the training wheels and learn to bike on your own. Eventually, you get hooked on bicycling. You'll want to learn more. So you start visiting forums on bicycling and soaking up everything about bicycling. You'll learn about brakes, frames, pedals, gears, and all that good old biker porn. You start visiting your local cycling club and hang out with experienced riders and learn about how to advance your game. Then you actually start spending a little bit more money buying cycling magazines or membership fees to get better and better.

That's the same effect you'll get with these books. I've gotten my money's worth out of the books. If you spend $30 to help you make $300, I'd say it's worth the price of admission. HTH.
 
I can't comment on the books suggested above, but I'll try to tackle a few of your specific queries.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
Projects - One of my initial concerns is regarding my organization of projects and project folders in OF. I'm having a difficult time figuring what should be a folder and what should be the actual project. In my first pass of Organization, I noticed that I had a lot of folders with projects underneath them, that had the exact same name as the folder itself. While the organization of it all seemed decent, the project itself didn't seem like an actual project.
I think the key you're looking for is the "single action list" type for projects.
Here's a structure a lot of people seem to use:


[Folder] My House
[Project] Repaint Basement
[Action] Pick up paint chips --> context: home repair store
[Action] Bribe kids to pick up their toys
[Action] Find the drop cloths (in the garage?)
[Project] Get Roof Replaced
...(some actions go here)
[Single Action List] Maintain My House
[Action] Buy 40w bulb for guest room --> context: home repair store
[Action] Fix the back gate
These actions in "maintain my house" are independent things, but they're towards a loose shared goal of "don't let the house fall down around my ears".

Quote:
Contexts - This makes it a little difficult to determine what stuff really goes where.
I think it takes a little trial & error to find out what your most useful contexts are. A lot of things that might have been a "Computer" action for me 5 years ago (when OmniFocus started) are now "Anywhere" because I have a computer (iPhone) always at hand. I actually have separate contexts named "Work" and "Omni". The latter is for things which can only be done when I am at the office. But the "Work" context includes things which can be done from my home computer (like answering this forum post).

Quote:
I'm just curious if there are any tips you all might have for contexts. I'm somewhat torn as to whether these are things that should focus what I do or just tell me when I'm actually can do something and leave the "whether or not" up to me.
I find contexts most useful:
- When you look at an action, quickly noticing where you need to go physically to get it done. (Eg Go to the home repair store to get the light bulb.)
- When you are going to or already in a place (or state of mind) and think "what should I get done while I'm here?" (Eg Since I'm already going to the home repair store for light bulbs, I should also pick up paint samples for repainting the basement.)

For each context, consider whether it meets one of these needs. How do you decide what to do for your workout? If having a single list of workouts you'd like to do soon will help you decide what to do next time you lace up your sneakers, put them all in your workout context. If you do better pre-committing to your workouts (or have workout classes), maybe they should be recorded as Calendar events?

Contexts and Projects are not locked in. Make an appointment with yourself perhaps once a month (at first) to review your organization, and think about what's not working, and how you can improve it. (I say an appointment, because I have a nasty habit of deferring these sorts of "to do" items if I don't pre-schedule a specific time.)

Hope that helps.

Last edited by Lizard; 2013-01-13 at 11:45 PM.. Reason: formatting for clarity
 
@wilsonng - I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I'll look into the sources you've provided but right now I'm a bit hesitant to read more books that are supposed to show me how everything should be done. I'm sort of trying to avoid this becoming an endless reading task (where I put things off until I feel like I've formed enough information) and instead just dive right in. Hence, the request for some general use tips and feedback. Thank you again for the information.

@lizard - Ya know, I guess that's what I get for not reading enough of the manual. I completely missed that you could turn projects into single action lists and nest them under a folder! That's exactly the feature I was looking for, thank you for pointing this out to me.

I also appreciate the feedback regarding contexts. I have the workout classes scheduled out with dates but I hadn't thought of creating a separate "Calendar Event" context (if that's what your suggesting). That might be the way to go.

I'm still having a bit of an internal struggle regarding my project distribution and structure. I'm probably over-thinking it a bit but I desperately want to get things dialed in "perfectly" so I have a smooth start to the process. I do like the idea of a monthly review and figuring out what does and does not work.

Some of the items I'm struggling right now deal with categorization of certain tasks/projects. For example, I have a goal to work on some personal game dev projects. Part of me feels that this should just go under a "personal" folder that encompasses all of the things that I, myself want to do or accomplish. However another part of me feels that maybe it doesn't make sense to mix things like this with other personal passions like general hobbies (gaming, photography, etc). The same could be said for another project I have about "Learning the Guitar". These currently feel more like work that I need to do, time I need to put in, before I can accomplish anything. Of course it is interesting to step back and question "If you don't consider these hobbies, then why are they important to you?" I've wondered about maybe just creating a "Goals" folder and shuffling all of the things I'd like to accomplish there while keeping the personal folder specific only to my "hobbies", however I tend to notice that lots of these bleed over onto one another (Photography is a hobby of mine, but I have a goal to get better with Lightroom. Gaming is a passion of mine, but I have a goal to play certain games for design research in my career. There are articles and books I'd like to read for entertainment and articles and books I need to read for work, continuing education) I'm curious how others have handled things when your projects blend between multiple areas of focus. Perhaps it would be better to start a different thread specific to this question...
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
... I'm probably over-thinking it a bit but I desperately want to get things dialed in "perfectly" so I have a smooth start ...
Why the urgency? My process of discovering how to use OmniFocus in the best way possible for me took a few months to settle. Many excellent (longer term) plans are destroyed in the pursuit of perfection (in the immediate time frame).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
Some of the items I'm struggling right now deal with categorization of certain tasks/projects. ... I'm curious how others have handled things when your projects blend between multiple areas of focus ...
My first thoughts are ... Are you depending too much on projects to define your areas of focus? What would happen if you set up your areas of focus absent any considerations about the projects you have? IOW, what would happen if you first defined fully the areas of your life that provide you with fulfillment (and what that means in each case), and then defined in each area the projects that are necessary to achieve that fulfillment in that area only.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
... I've wondered about maybe just creating a "Goals" folder and shuffling all of the things I'd like to accomplish there while keeping the personal folder specific only to my "hobbies"
Are you mixing up the sense of Goals and Projects? To me, a Goal is the driving force behind setting up Projects. I put my "goals" as general statements in a Someday "project" (example: Someday: Action Statement -> learn to play the classical guitar for personal enjoyment). When I review, I can decide whether to establish a project that will help me meet that goal.

--
JJW
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
I also appreciate the feedback regarding contexts. I have the workout classes scheduled out with dates but I hadn't thought of creating a separate "Calendar Event" context (if that's what your suggesting). That might be the way to go.
Actually, I meant literal calendar events, in the Calendar app (or on a paper calendar if you prefer), not OmniFocus actions at all. Most GTD advice advocates not jumbling your actions and scheduled events all together in one list.

If you create events in the Calendar app, you can then opt to show them directly in the Forecast view in OmniFocus for iPhone or iPad.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
Generally the act of working out is something that is determined beforehand, before the context is actually a thing or active.
Right, so this is like an appointment you've decided that Thursday morning you will hit the gym on the way to work. Because that's an action that needs to be performed at a certain time, rather than at any time, or by a specific time, it should move out of your GTD system and onto your calendar. OF/GTD will help you decide what to do with the time that isn't spoken for in advance on your calendar.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
@wilsonng - I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I'll look into the sources you've provided but right now I'm a bit hesitant to read more books that are supposed to show me how everything should be done. I'm sort of trying to avoid this becoming an endless reading task (where I put things off until I feel like I've formed enough information) and instead just dive right in. Hence, the request for some general use tips and feedback. Thank you again for the information.
You're welcome. But let me share my experience. I had to search the web high and low for OmniFocus tips and tricks. I spent a lot of time looking for this stuff. I would scour these OmniFocus forums, ask questions, gather up more intel. This is what I call "endless reading."

These books will definitely save you time. They're very easy to read and everything flows smoothly. You'll see some examples of real world workflows. From those examples, you'll be able to create your own workflow. You will see a lot of different forum posts about different parts of OmniFocus. You'll see a lot of blogs that have many unique articles. But it takes time and sometimes "thinking outside of the box" to tie all the pieces together.

These books will start putting everything together so that you can see how all the parts fit into the whole picture. You don't have to finish reading the books. Just go along with the book and you'll be able to fine-tune your setup.

I wished that I had read these books earlier. They would've saved me a lot of time and effort. I read Creating Flow with OmniFocus in a couple of days and was able to get almost instant results. I also read the Asian Efficiency OmniFocus eBook and was able to adjust my OmniFocus workflow even more.


If you're looking for "general use tips and feedback", it's all right there in the ebooks. Otherwise, happy hunting when you have to perform some Google Fu and spend hours with an endless reading task searching for tips in the forums and on the blog sites.

As DrJJWMac stated, it will take you a few months to finally figure out your workflow. It's impossible to just ask for general feedback and expect OmniFocus to click and hum like a jet... You'll eventually experiment with different workflows and then you'll find your own setup. Why not see what other people have written about already and try them out?


I'm here on the forums because I'm just giving back to the community. Pay it forward.

Last edited by wilsonng; 2013-01-15 at 12:26 AM..
 
First of all, thank you all again so much for the input. I know a lot of this is learning what works for you but I find that I work much better when I'm able to bounce ideas off people and get input along the way. This is all very helpful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrJJWMac View Post
Why the urgency? My process of discovering how
to use OmniFocus in the best way possible for me took a few months to settle. Many excellent (longer term) plans are destroyed in the pursuit of perfection (in the immediate time frame).JJW
That's good to know. I guess my initial concern was just waiting around too long to start taking action. It seemed better to sort of jump into it and figure it out as I go along.



Quote:
Originally Posted by DrJJWMac View Post
My first thoughts are ... Are you depending too much on projects to define your areas of focus? What would happen if you set up your areas of focus absent any considerations about the projects you have? IOW, what would happen if you first defined fully the areas of your life that provide you with fulfillment (and what that means in each case), and then defined in each area the projects that are necessary to achieve that fulfillment in that area only.JJW
That's a really profound and interesting question that I hadn't really thought too much about. Up until this point, I've just had a lot of "things" that I wanted to get done, for one reason or another. I want to learn Guitar because, well...I want to learn guitar. I want to improve my skills at Lightroom because I like taking pictures with my DSLR and want to take better pictures. I want to learn C# because I think it will help me in my career. When I started out setting up Omnifocus I basically was able to break up my life into three major categories that consume my time, Home (stuff I do around the house or projects involving my wife and kids), Work (anything relating to the things I need to get done at my job) and Personal Time (all of the stuff that interests me or that I want to do with my free time including hobbies, things I'd like to improve on or things I'd like to get better at). Maybe this is the wrong approach. I've seen some Project setups based around the "20,000 Ft" concept of GTD but on paper these just seemed a little odd to me for defining projects from that point. I find it a little odd to think of things in terms of "fulfillment" since there are some responsibilities that I have which frankly don't necessarily give me much fulfillment (other than actually completing them) but still need to be done, Finances, Travel Plans, some Work related tasks, etc.


Quote:
Originally Posted by DrJJWMac View Post
Are you mixing up the sense of Goals and Projects? To me, a Goal is the driving force behind setting up Projects. I put my "goals" as general statements in a Someday "project" (example: Someday: Action Statement -> learn to play the classical guitar for personal enjoyment). When I review, I can decide whether to establish a project that will help me meet that goal.JJW
Again, this sort of ties into the above but maybe this is my problem. This is the setup I've gone with thus far.

Home (Upkeep, Vehicles, Home Misc, Home Ideas)
Work (Projects, One Pagers, Work Misc, Work Ideas)
Finances (Budget, Bills, Retirement, Insurance, Taxes, Future Purchases, Finance Misc, Finance Ideas)
Travel (Travel Misc, Travel Ideas)
Relationships (Wife, Kids, Family, Friends, Pets, Professional)
Personal (Health, Photography, Brewing, Cooking, Reading, Fitness, Gaming, Game Dev, Creative Writing, Guitar, Productivity, Education)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lizard View Post
Actually, I meant literal calendar events, in the Calendar app (or on a paper calendar if you prefer), not OmniFocus actions at all. Most GTD advice advocates not jumbling your actions and scheduled events all together in one list.

If you create events in the Calendar app, you can then opt to show them directly in the Forecast view in OmniFocus for iPhone or iPad.
Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. I know that they suggested using a calendar to give you a hard landscape of the things that needed to be done for that day so I assumed it made sense to put in things like Workout Class schedules and Appointments (doctors, dentists, etc). Perhaps this isn't the way to go.

Quote:
Originally Posted by whpalmer4 View Post
Right, so this is like an appointment you've decided that Thursday morning you will hit the gym on the way to work. Because that's an action that needs to be performed at a certain time, rather than at any time, or by a specific time, it should move out of your GTD system and onto your calendar. OF/GTD will help you decide what to do with the time that isn't spoken for in advance on your calendar.
This does make a lot more sense and probably is a lot less of a hassle than "completing" a bunch of obvious tasks that I know I'm going to do anyways while dodging any guilt that might come up if I have to miss a class for some reason...
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jables View Post
... This is the setup I've gone with thus far.

Home (Upkeep, Vehicles, Home Misc, Home Ideas)
...
FWIW, my "Areas of Responsibility" (top level folders) are as follows:

(work related)
.. Research
.. Anthologies
.. Teach
.. Supervise
.. Service
(personal related)
.. Well-Being
.. Career
.. Hobbies
(others)
.. Family
.. Social
.. Surroundings
.. GTD

I derived these from a top-level looking out review of what encompasses my life's efforts and/or what gives significant meaning to my life. I fit folders in to each area with more specific applications, for example ...

.. Research
--> Initiatives
--> Proposals
--> Reports

Some folders from this level have other folders, and some contain projects. So, your Home folder is found in my Surroundings folder, and the Surroundings folder also includes a folder called Office (with occasional projects to clean it up as an example).

--
JJW
 
 


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