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OmniFocus Hocus Pocus and the Problem of “Referential Context” Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
PROBLEM: When “Reference” is both a Folder, Project and a Context"

David Allen, author of GTD, has a paper based filling system for "Reference" materials that I employ at home. This is for stuff you don't want to dump that is currently not “project support” material. He suggests printing out the digital materials you want to keep as well. I CANNOT ACCEPT THAT. There has to be a way to store digital media as part of my "in the cloud" GTD.

Oh Wizards and Ninja of OmniFocus, I beseech you to work some of your Hocus Pocus and solve this dilemma.

In other words, where does one put digital general reference material inside OmniFocus? I believe most of us put it elsewhere for now. I'd like it all in my OmniFocus. If it's digital media that is project support stuff, it can be attached to specific projects but what about general reference materials?

PARTIAL SOLUTION: I made a folder called Reference, in which there are many so-called "Projects" that are just chunks of digital reference material I want to keep in OmniFocus.

This worked until I realized the deeper analytic problem of Context. A simple hack would be to just leave these items with no defined Context. But that lacks flair. More importantly, my firm belief in the OmniFocus Hocus Pocus (i.e., the powerful logic and perspicacity behind you folks) tells me that the logic behind the design should be able to be universally applied to all aspects of incoming data.

For example, where does one put the projects you guys preloaded in there about GTD called "Get started with OmniFocus". I have them in a folder called Reference: a Project called: DGT: and Actions called “Get started with OmniFocus”, etc.. I imagine some people delete them but I found them valuable as review material months after I started using the program.

Before my problematic solution, I therefore had the default Context of @Computer as the Context of most of the reference materials I have gathered (i.e., the so called "Projects" and “Actions” in my Reference Folder). But that meant that my @Computer Context was loaded with a bunch of Reference “Projects” that would never be worked on. This made me never want to look at my @Computer Context, which made me rather unproductive.

My solution was to make a Context caller “Reference”. Now with a “Reference” Context, my @Computer Context is much more approachable.

THE PROBLEM IN NEED OF YOUR GENIUS: I now have both a Project Folder and a Context named Reference and that that is not sound logic. It’s a good enough hack for the time being but I'm sure the clever folks at OmniFocus can do better.

Why do you want OmniFocus to keep track of reference material in the first place? OmniFocus is a tool for organizing projects and actions. It is extremely good at doing that, but it has been optimized for that purpose, which makes it less useful for storing other things.

There are better tools out there for organizing reference material; I use DevonThink Pro Office for some material, Journler for others, and OmniOutliner for still others, but EagleFiler, Mori, CircusPonies' Notebook, Yojimbo, and plenty of other programs are also available. With Spotlight, or one of the Spotlight enhancers if you need more precision, all that material is readily available with a few keystrokes.

I also don't understand why you feel that reference material needs a context in the first place. The point of a context is to specify the place you must be or the resources you must have in order to DO something. Since reference material is not the kind of thing that needs doing, it doesn't need a context. It might be a context itself--for instance, any action I have that requires consulting my DevonThink database needs a context of Computer--but it does not require its own context any more than I need to assign a context to my drill or my reciprocating saw.
I know it is clearly not what you want to hear, but I would highly recommend against that. Besides the technical reasons of clogging up your DB with reference material. I don't know about you but I have hundreds to thousands of MB of digital reference material, PDFs images, diagrams, presentations, etc. This will just serve to slow down OF something you need to work as fast as you can think.

Asside from the obvious a single level hierarchy of folders that you sync using unison, iDisk syncing, or some collection of scripts to an iDisk or other webdav or other kind of server. There are other tools out there designed to handle exactly this DevonThink and Yojimbo and probably others.

I think you need to use the proper medium to store your reference material. If you try and cram it into OF it will just blend in with your tasks. You will need to mentally descriminate between actionable things and reference material. David Allen does a good job describing this type of thing when talking about the email inbox or refridgerator doors. To the extent your OF DB has as many entries as mine does you will need to use searching at times to locate stuff. The lost time and brain cycles to sorting out reference from actionable things is probably not worth having it in one single system.
Thanks mclazarus, you made some very good points. I need to go back to reread about the refridgerator doors - I'm assuming that is in GTD somewhere or is it in the book after that?
I've been using evernote for most of my reference material.
If it is an actionable item as well as a reference item I would do it like this:

Project support materials -> Learn GTD and OF (folders in file system)
Learn GTD and OF (Project in OF)
Study the Get started with OmniFocus document (action in OF)
@read (context in OF)

The pdf called "Getting started with OF" I put inside the folder in the file system. I then create a link between the folder and the OF project so I can access the folder from within OF. I create a new action in the project and give it the context of @read. If I feel particularly anal about it I might establish a link between the actual action and the file as well.

My @read context almost never becomes swamped with things because I put less interesting projects on hold so my @read context is filled with juicy stuff that I want to read (or, sadly, boring important stuff).
Thanks colicoid,
I really like the idea you propose about the "must read" digital stuff staying in OF - That is probubly what I was really talking about (things that ieither need to be read soon or cannot be lost or sensitive stuff I dont want in the cloud.
And Young Daniel, I was thinking of learning more about the evernote account I started for this very reason too.
I'm a big fan of CircusPonies Notebook and really looking forward to v3.0 which is due soon now.
I had ‘zactly the same question about OF earlier this year, and as I kept failing to solve it I eventually realized that it was a non-problem, thanks to Spotlight and LaunchBar, which allow me to find literally anything on my hard drive, fast, period.

I sometimes think I’ve spent most of the last twenty years making folders and “organizing” my digital reference materials. But thanks to new search technologies, it simply does not matter where my reference materials are anymore.

I think, from now on, I’m just going to put absolutely all reference material in one folder called “the folder.” :-)
We're getting way beyond OmniFocus here, but I don't think that Spotlight, Google Desktop, etc., have eliminated the need for some kind of structured classification. There are advantages to controlled vocabularies and other forms of structure. Thomas Mann has a good discussion of keyword vs. subject classification searches in The Oxford Guide to Library Research which is also applicable to filing your own reference material. For instance, let's say you are doing research on buckets, and you save a document that discusses pails. Your spotlight search on "buckets" is not going to turn up that document. Until keyword searches can use an entire semantic field, including in foreign languages, classification systems will remain useful. (That search on "buckets" is not going to turn up "Eimer" either.)

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