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How to make OmniFocus work for complex projects? Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I'm a journalist, and I work on many projects at the same time so I want to be sure I get the right software. I've been experimenting with OmniFocus and Things, and have questions about if / how I can make OmniFocus work for me.

-My biggest sticking point with OmniFocus is it's inability to assign a value to an item in the way that Things allows one to determine if a task his a high, medium or low priority. I need some way of triaging task in order to determine the order in which to tackle them. Flags just doesn't cut it because it's just one priority. I welcome ideas or suggestions.

-I have a general understanding of Contexts, but I don't understand why OmniFocus only allows a task to have one Context. For example, I might have a task that reads "Email lawyer about apartment matters." This would obviously fall under a Project "Apartment" and a Context "Computer::Email." But the Context for my task could also be Context "Home," among other other categories. I might have a fundamentally different understand of how OmniFocus works and ought to work for my project / task management.

I understand that OmniFocus's view Filters and Perspectives to create and save useful views, but it seems that such views are limited by the inflexibility of assigning new / different values to tasks (or folders, projects, etc.). So far it seems that one can only do this via assigning due dates, but that seems like I'd be assigning an arbitrary date for most of my tasks, so...I'm not sure that would be helpful.

Smaller concerns...

-Is there a way to change styles so that one can have a grid and / or corresponding numbers for tasks?

-I've read how everyone is wild about the syncing between OmniFocus for Mac and the iPhone and iPad. But what does one do when traveling and doesn't have access to a wireless network? (I often travel in such places.) Is there any way to do this via iTunes?

-I like the way in which Things stores old tasks and projects in its Logbook, and keeps track of the result of particular tasks. Sometimes it's necessary for me to log notes about certain tasks. Is there a similar function in OmniFocus in terms of collecting notes related to particular tasks?
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
... I've been experimenting with OmniFocus and Things, and have questions about if / how I can make OmniFocus work for me.
Welcome! The forum has lots of discussion posts from folks who have switched from Things. They may provide a further starting point for collecting information.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
-My biggest sticking point with OmniFocus is it's inability to assign a value to an item in the way that Things allows one to determine if a task his a high, medium or low priority.
This is a design difference based on the philosophy of how the tool is to be used. Priorities on tasks are not part of the OF approach because they are not really supposed to be part of a "true" GTD method. Suggestions are continually being posted on the forum on how to incorporate them in to OF, in addition to requests to include them in OF. In the meantime, with OF, you will either have to change your approach to scheduling based on priorities or make yourself comfortable with one of the alternative methods.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
-I have a general understanding of Contexts, but I don't understand why OmniFocus only allows a task to have one Context.
Again, this is a design choice in OF based on the philosophy of implementation, and a large number of postings are here requesting changes or suggesting alternative ways to handle it. My approach is to consider as a start that a single Context for a task can be set by answering the question: "I absolutely cannot complete this task without being HERE", where HERE is either a location or a frame of mind. Outside of this question, all other "contexts" are supplemental. For example, I carry my cell phone with me all the time, so I have no need for a "cell phone" context (because needing a cell to do a task is not a restrictive issue).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
... I'd be assigning an arbitrary date for most of my tasks, so...I'm not sure that would be helpful.
The general consensus is, DUE dates should be assigned when they are defined by a deadline external to the task. They are not assigned based on when one "wants" to do the task. Start dates are assigned with a bit more flexibility by comparison.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
-I've read how everyone is wild about the syncing between OmniFocus for Mac and the iPhone and iPad. But what does one do when traveling and doesn't have access to a wireless network? (I often travel in such places.) Is there any way to do this via iTunes?
I sync exclusively via WiFi locally between my iPod and Mac. You can set up your Mac to be a WiFi domain, and then set up your iPhone/iPad to sync to that domain.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
-... Is there a similar function in OmniFocus in terms of collecting notes related to particular tasks?
In OF, you can view your Completed tasks / projects to get an equivalent set of information. The Archive feature of OF also allows you to put your completed tasks/projects in storage.

Hope this gives you some useful feedback.

--
JJW
 
Quote:
Welcome! The forum has lots of discussion posts from folks who have switched from Things. They may provide a further starting point for collecting information.
Thanks so much for you reply! It's very helpful, though it leads me to ask follow up questions...

Quote:
This is a design difference based on the philosophy of how the tool is to be used. Priorities on tasks are not part of the OF approach because they are not really supposed to be part of a "true" GTD method. Suggestions are continually being posted on the forum on how to incorporate them in to OF, in addition to requests to include them in OF. In the meantime, with OF, you will either have to change your approach to scheduling based on priorities or make yourself comfortable with one of the alternative methods.
Ok, I'm open to changing my approach, but would am trying to understand how triaging tasks would work. In my work, I have separate Projects, and then I prioritize the tasks, and attack the work in terms of high, medium, and low priority -- obviously focusing on the high priority for the current day. How would OF approach this differently?

Quote:
Again, this is a design choice in OF based on the philosophy of implementation, and a large number of postings are here requesting changes or suggesting alternative ways to handle it. My approach is to consider as a start that a single Context for a task can be set by answering the question: "I absolutely cannot complete this task without being HERE", where HERE is either a location or a frame of mind. Outside of this question, all other "contexts" are supplemental. For example, I carry my cell phone with me all the time, so I have no need for a "cell phone" context (because needing a cell to do a task is not a restrictive issue).
Thanks for the explanation, but I'm still not clear on how best to utilize Contexts. It seems like they help one focus on a particular action (e.g., Email) or place (Office versus Home). That seems like how Things uses Area of Interest. Is there another way in which Contexts should be radically reconsidered? Are there some templates that I should look at to better consider how best to utilizes OF's approach? Thanks!

Quote:
The general consensus is, DUE dates should be assigned when they are defined by a deadline external to the task. They are not assigned based on when one "wants" to do the task. Start dates are assigned with a bit more flexibility by comparison.
Hmmm. Ok, well I'm willing to consider that approach, but it would useful to see some sort of template to see how it could play out in practice. The thing is...sometimes I don't have due dates, but just a sense of the order of projects based on priorities. Take home maintenance: I don't have due dates for all the things I have to do around my home, and to create due dates for my errands would be contrived (and even cumbersome to set up). Setting up priorities for such tasks seems a simpler approach for those tasks. So, how would one approach the organization of those tasks in OF?

Quote:
I sync exclusively via WiFi locally between my iPod and Mac. You can set up your Mac to be a WiFi domain, and then set up your iPhone/iPad to sync to that domain.
But I would still need a WiFi server to do this, correct? I work in remote places where I don't have access to WiFi at times, so is there another solution?

Quote:
In OF, you can view your Completed tasks / projects to get an equivalent set of information. The Archive feature of OF also allows you to put your completed tasks/projects in storage.
Gotcha. Is there a way to mark or view select tasks w/ notes (i.e., notes that log how a task was competed)?

Quote:
Hope this gives you some useful feedback.
It was incredibly helpful, and I thank you very much for all of your valuable input...

--
JJW[/QUOTE]
 
On the sync issue, I routinely sync my iPhone and iPad OF over 3G, no need for wifi. Works great, I don't even think about it anymore.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
But I would still need a WiFi server to do this, correct? I work in remote places where I don't have access to WiFi at times, so is there another solution?
You'll have one with you if you are carrying a Mac. Just select Create Network... under the Airport menu. You use the Bonjour sync option for this approach, no need for any external connectivity. However, note that you can't switch sync methods without potentially losing data unless you sync all your devices before switching. Always a good practice to get your devices synced up whenever you can!
 
I appreciate that!

I'm hoping others can help me with some of the bigger, more complex setup, organization, and triaging queries...

Thanks!
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
... I prioritize the tasks, and attack the work in terms of high, medium, and low priority -- obviously focusing on the high priority for the current day. How would OF approach this differently?
Likely everyone has their own suggestions here. My approach starts by setting up a project and defining the tasks with their contexts. When a task has a defined due date + time, it gets it. When a task cannot start until a certain time, it gets a start date + time. This mostly completes the collection part of the GTD effort.

Next, I process. I review my lists of tasks based on what is DUE. This spans all projects. I flag anything that needs to be done TODAY. I may flag things that need to be done sooner if I suspect that they will need the longer time. After this, I view my next action list. This again spans all projects. I generally flag things according to where I will be in Context for the day or for the given time slot of work (morning or afternoon for example - I find that digesting work loads in chunks can be more satisfying than carrying over work to the next day).

After that, I do. I work to complete the flagged list of actions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
... I'm still not clear on how best to utilize Contexts. It seems like they help one focus on a particular action (e.g., Email) or place (Office versus Home). That seems like how Things uses Area of Interest. Is there another way in which Contexts should be radically reconsidered? Are there some templates that I should look at to better consider how best to utilizes OF's approach?
My first suggestion is to search the forums here for postings about Contexts. There are a lot of good ideas to glean from the many postings. In short, and again for me personally, I use Contexts to denote an action as being tied strongly to one location, an outcome/energy or frame-of-mind, or certain people. A short list might be as

@Location
- Home
- Work
☼Outcome/Energy
- Plan
- Harvest
- Cook
- TidyUp
☺People
- Colleague
- Family
- WaitingFor

I avoid making contexts for "Computer" or "Email" or "Phone" or ... because, should I need these "tools" for a task, I will find and use them rather than let them restrict me from completing a task. My one exception here might help clarify this -- I do have a Context called "Internet" specifically because, where I live at the moment, I have no internet connection. So, all tasks that require me to use the internet require me to be somewhere specific with an internet connection. Once I get to where the internet is always present, that context will become irrelevant.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
...sometimes I don't have due dates, but just a sense of the order of projects based on priorities. Take home maintenance: I don't have due dates for all the things I have to do around my home, and to create due dates for my errands would be contrived (and even cumbersome to set up). Setting up priorities for such tasks seems a simpler approach for those tasks. So, how would one approach the organization of those tasks in OF?
You are right (IMO) to avoid setting due dates on such things you mention above. In a strict sense, unless a task has a deadline imposed from outside of it, it has no due date. However, as an exception (to prove the rule), should your water heater start leaking, I imagine you would certainly put a due date on calling the plumber!

Otherwise, you might consider why installing a new air filter for your AC unit really has a higher priority than getting the groceries. Is it just that you "want" to install the AC filter more than going out for groceries, or is it because your AC filter is clogged beyond recognition and should have been DUE to be replaced three years ago?

Beyond this, the transition away from priorities is one that you have to consider on your own terms. I took a while in my transition from Things to understand that priorities were less important than I initially thought.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
... Is there a way to mark or view select tasks w/ notes (i.e., notes that log how a task was competed)?
You can add copious notes to the note field of a task or project. For example, I sometimes have the Outcomes in a project note field. A few suggestions here for the direction you are heading with regard to summary notes:

* Create a task called something like END OF PROJECT at the end of the project where you store all such notes. This will give you one consistent place to look in each project for its summary. It could also give you a consistent marker "task" that you check off when the project is really completed.
* Be careful if you start using the Archive Data feature of OF. Recognize that it archives completed tasks across all projects and then removes them from your currently active view. You may prefer instead to archive completed projects one-at-a-time. You currently have to do this kind of archiving manually (I and others have a feature request in to allow archiving by project).

--
JJW
 
I think that you're going to want to use the software that makes sense to you. For me, personally, the way that Things worked never, ever made sense to me. OF always seemed faster and lower-maintenance. But if it is the opposite to you and the multiple-context-today-view thing makes more sense to you, then you might always be struggling against OF and it is probably not the best choice.

These are just to-do lists. No matter which you choose, you're still going to be the one doing the work. I recommend just picking the one you're comfortable with and go with it.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
In my work, I have separate Projects, and then I prioritize the tasks, and attack the work in terms of high, medium, and low priority -- obviously focusing on the high priority for the current day. How would OF approach this differently?
It's pretty similar, actually - the assumption is that you're doing regular reviews and looking at your lists frequently. During those reviews, you can either set an appropriate due date (see below) or flag some important things if they don't have due dates.

From there, forecast view keeps the most important stuff in view; I don't sweat the rest. Once that list is clear, just repeat; continual cycles like that help me stay productive and able to be flexible/responsive to changing conditions.

This article by Merlin Mann serves as a good statement of the general philosophy in play in OmniFocus. It states the argument a little more 'my way or the highway' than I probably would have if I were trying to persuade folks, though. :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
Thanks for the explanation, but I'm still not clear on how best to utilize Contexts. It seems like they help one focus on a particular action (e.g., Email) or place (Office versus Home). That seems like how Things uses Area of Interest.
From what I've heard folks say here, it sounds like OmniFocus' folders are conceptually similar to Areas of Interest; they're organizational tools that help you keep various projects grouped together by theme.

Contexts represent an additional organizational tool that cuts across your projects. If I'm in a meeting with Betty, I can look at the context I have set up for her and see that I have five questions I need to ask to move several of my projects forward.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
Is there another way in which Contexts should be radically reconsidered?
In addition to tools, places, and people, the other thing I see folks do with contexts is to classify tasks by whatever headspace they need to be in. As an example, our CEO has one context for his CEO-tasks and another for his programming ones. A lot of that work may happen at his Mac, but very different types of thinking are required.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Indyprint View Post
Are there some templates that I should look at to better consider how best to utilizes OF's approach?
It's not really a template, but if you haven't looked at it yet, our GTD white paper may be helpful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucas View Post
I think that you're going to want to use the software that makes sense to you.
There is much wisdom here. Different strokes, different folks, etc. :-)
 
Quote:
It's pretty similar, actually - the assumption is that you're doing regular reviews and looking at your lists frequently. During those reviews, you can either set an appropriate due date (see below) or flag some important things if they don't have due dates.

From there, forecast view keeps the most important stuff in view; I don't sweat the rest. Once that list is clear, just repeat; continual cycles like that help me stay productive and able to be flexible/responsive to changing conditions.
Ok. But where is this forecast view that you've mentioned? I'm willing to try this, but I'm still skeptical that I'll be able to do a general triage w/o any way of prioritizing the vast number of tasks that I have to sort through and execute. Again, I'll try, and welcome any other methodology that you and anyone else suggests!

Quote:
This article by Merlin Mann serves as a good statement of the general philosophy in play in OmniFocus. It states the argument a little more 'my way or the highway' than I probably would have if I were trying to persuade folks, though. :-)
I appreciate the points that this author made, but I still need to some approach to triaging tasks. Again, I welcome other methodologies.


Quote:
From what I've heard folks say here, it sounds like OmniFocus' folders are conceptually similar to Areas of Interest; they're organizational tools that help you keep various projects grouped together by theme.

Contexts represent an additional organizational tool that cuts across your projects. If I'm in a meeting with Betty, I can look at the context I have set up for her and see that I have five questions I need to ask to move several of my projects forward.

In addition to tools, places, and people, the other thing I see folks do with contexts is to classify tasks by whatever headspace they need to be in. As an example, our CEO has one context for his CEO-tasks and another for his programming ones. A lot of that work may happen at his Mac, but very different types of thinking are required.
I follow you, but have yet conceived of an especially useful way of setting up Contexts to suit my work. Also, while Contexts seems useful in categorizing a type of work (or level of energy for a task or location, etc.), I'm not sure why OmniFocus doesn't also include Tags for further sorting. Is there an organizational logic behind withholding this feature? Or is there another way to compensate for it? Thanks!

Quote:
It's not really a template, but if you haven't looked at it yet, our GTD white paper may be helpful.
Thanks very much for sending that. I'm actually looking for more clear cut examples and templates, e.g., some of the set ups that I've seen on the Asian Efficiency website. I'm sure there are others that would be useful, and give me a clearer sense of how best to set up OmniFocus's Contexts, Perspectives, and other features. Thanks!

Quote:
There is much wisdom here. Different strokes, different folks, etc. :-)
Agreed... Now if I can only sort it out and make it work!
 
 


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