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Things user wants to move to OmniFocus but struggles with single contexts. Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hi,

Im a Things user but I did finally buy also a license for OmniFocus because I consider the later is much more powerful, has much more features and has more potential if used the right way.

But: I don’t know how to use it without the feature of assigning multiple contexts/tags to an action. Maybe I am doing it wrong by trying to imitate the way Things works. I understand that contexts are a different concept than tags. A context is a requirement and a tag can be anything. I think that tags are more powerful than contexts. With tags you can achieve more things, they provide more functionality.

No suggested solution to a similar question in this forum solved this problem for me.

An example: Let’s say I have the action „Call Bob about the work report of Tracy“. Which context would be the right one for this action? @Bob, @Phone, @work, or @Tracy. It has to do with Bob. I need my phone to complete the action. It is work related. And it has to do with Tracy.

You could argue to choose @Phone because this is the most basic physical requirement for this action.

But here’s my problem:

Assigning @Phone to the action „Call Bob about the work report of Tracy“ would show this action (in the context view grouped by context) only in one single context „@Phone“. There is no way to see this action from a different point of view. It would appear neither in the context @Bob nor @work nor @Tracy.

How do I set OmniFocus up to show me a list of actions related only to Bob, only actions where I need my phone, only actions that are work related and only actions related to Tracy?

In Things this would be a no brainer: I would assign all four tags (@Bob, @Phone, @work, @Tracy) to the task „Call Bob about the work report of Tracy“. This would allow me to filter my actions as I please. Wanna see all actions related to Tracy? Just filter by @Tracy -> boom its there instantly! Wanna see all the phone call actions that are work related? Just filter by @phone and @work -> boom right there!. You want to see only the spare time actions related to Tracy? No problem, just filter by @sparetime and Tracy -> boom its there!.

Things has its flaws, but you can’t deny that this Tag filtering system is super uber useful. You can filter for any Tag combination you wish and get instant results. Trying to achieve something similar in OmniFocus leads to redundancy:

@work:@Tracy
@sparetime:@Tracy

@Tracy:@work
@Tracy:@sparetime

Perspectives are great, but they do not provide a way to look at actions from different viewpoints (like work related things, spare time things in combination with a particular person etc.).

Some of the solutions to this problem I read in this forum do not solve this for me:

Quote:
„Tags clutter your organization system.“
No they don’t if you keep their amount low and know how to organize them.

Quote:
„Use flags.“
Flags can have several different meanings: „this action is super important“ or „this action is not so important, but I flag it to not forget this today“. I see a danger of semantic confusion.

Quote:
„Use @Tags in the comments field of each action and use the search field.“
This is not a practical solution. I did not buy OmniFocus to have to do that manually. This supports no auto completion, no sorting, no focus view, it is slow, it is unreliable and cumbersome.

Quote:
„Use folders to separate work from spare time actions.“
Then I would have to check every folder separately. This provides not a single view where you can see everything at once filtered the way you want to look at all you actions. In Things the only „folder“ I ever have to check is the „Next“ view: there I can see every task I have - if I like to focus on different aspects I just filter by tags and see instantly only the task that I want to see right now. The next view in Things is dynamic. This is very important. „Next“ is one list that can contain anything you want. For those of you who don’t know: the tasks in „next“ are of course sorted by area/project or they can be sorted by due date. It is not confusing. On the contrary, I find it very intuitive and well organized.

Quote:
„Thou shall not mention tags or multiple contexts, this is evil blasphemy against the will of thy only Lord GTD!“
Well, call me an agnostic atheist :)

The solution could be so simple dear OmniGroup developers:
Provide the option to use tags for those OmniFocus users who aren’t true GTD believers. The GTD rigorous disciples don’t have to use them. Everyone is happy. Group hug time.

Multiple contexts or tag support in OmniFocus would be the coffin nail for Things.

This lack of tags doesn’t allow me to use OmniFocus. It irks me every time I try to work with OmniFocus. Why is such a Imho intuitive and super useful feature not in OmniFocus? Man, GTD is not a religion, or is it? :)

I would appreciate any suggestions from former Things users who, like me, could not live without tags but finally managed to get around this problem in OmniFocus! I really want to move from Things to OmniFocus :)

Thanks in advance.

ps: Just found out that the forum software allows you to add tags to your post. What irony! :)
 
You have some points in your post, but my objection is this:

I use OF as clean as possible. I use Evernote for jotting down thoughts and different angles - not OF. Having tried Things myself, my experience is that I spent far too much time thinking through possible perspectives/tags that could be of use when performing the task. They weren't - not for me anyway. At the end of the day, all I really needed was @Call (not @phone, since my phone can do more than conversations). If need be, I search for the person I'm talking to in Evernote (or even OF - I have contexts for persons where I put issues I need to discuss without knowing if it is going to be in person, phone call or email). You mention an example where your task spells:

Quote:
Call Bob about the work report of Tracy
That is plenty of information for me. I can easily find everything containing "Tracy", "Bob", "report" in all of my "action" perspectives in OF. I did exactly what you did in Things, but it never made me more efficient, nor wiser. There simply wasn't any gain in breaking my task into morphemes. It did not improve my intellect, nor the quality of my work.

I still do appreciate looking at info/data from various points of view though, probably like you. But what it seems you want to achieve with tags is for me more logical to do in a free form database, or a strongly customised relation database. There is dedicated software for that: Evernote, Devonthink, Soho Notes, etc. They offer such "angles" without you needing to apply numerous tags. What these can't offer is good task management - although they do have task options. As you understand, my app for that is Omnifocus.

In the future, it might happen that someone actually integrates these (today) very distinct categories of my workflow into one single UI successfully, but they all have a long way to go for that to happen. And I am not sure I want everything in one interface; too easy to be distracted...
 
I think OmniFocus really isn’t set up for say, finding all of the things you have to do for Carol that are work-related. I think that OmniFocus is more arranged to provide a list of things you could be doing, or at least, that is the approach that I have always taken. If you have a list of tasks in the Calls context, and you’re by a phone, I think OF is set up to push you to just do all of your calls. If you don’t go to the Calls context but instead go to the Agendas group, well, maybe you didn’t call Bob but you did call Alice. I think for some people the tag everything with every relevant keyword is better - i.e. maybe Things fits their expectations better. To me, as long as I fill up my time with things to be done in the rough order of their importance, I don’t really get concerned about whether the next thing that I’m doing is the exact right perfect next thing. Once it is done, whatever tags were attached to it don’t really matter.

If you search around the forums you’ll find a lot more perspectives on this. People who have been around the forum for a while have probably responded to this question a few times before and aren’t going to be excited to rehash their suggestions.
 
Thanks for you reply Arild.

I’m not talking about so called Personal Information Managers (PIM) like Devonthink, Together or CircusPonies Notebook. Those are apps to collect reference material (pdf, images etc.). They are made for different purposes. Their items are not actionable. I’m talking about Tags in gtd like apps.

Quote:
Having tried Things myself, my experience is that I spent far too much time thinking through possible perspectives/tags that could be of use when performing the task.
For me it is the other way around: I have 4-7 tags in Things that are more then sufficient for my needs. Assigning them to tasks is not a big deal because you can assign more than just one. In OmniFocus I do spend far too much time thinking through possible context cascades simply because I can assign one, just one solely context. The decision in which context to put an action has infinitely more weight to it.

Why does someone assign contexts to actions? As I understand it, to see all available actions in the context view according to his current context/situation. E.g. if you are physically at the hardware store you click on your context action list „@hardwarestore“ in order to see which items to buy there.

Here is another simple example. „Buy hardware item xyz for Bob“. Ok that’s goes into the „@Errands:Hardwarestore“ context. When I am at the hardware store I click on this context in action view and know what to buy. So far so good.

But: Let’s say I meet with Bob before I did purchase the item for him. Let’s say I forgot the task to buy item xyz for Bob - it is currently not on my mind (nor in Bobs mind). „Hi Bob, how are you? Let’s check my @Bob context to see what we need to discuss (that is the whole point of an GTD app - your external brain, it reminds you to do things you have/want to do)“. The hardware action is missing from the @Bob context => I did not discus this important task of buying item xyz with Bob. => Bob fires me. :(

This would not happen with Things. :)

Now imagine that the contexts @Hardwarestore and @Bob has 100++ actions. You would never find the action „Buy hardware item xyz for Bob“ in the @ Hardwarestore context view. OmniFocus doesn’t give you any hint, that there lies an action in the @Hardwarestore context list that is related to Bob. Thats my gripe: In OF you have to know where to search something - you would have to actively search for the string „Bob“ in the @Hardwarestore context action list. And when the lists are large you will have a hard time...

In Things you do not have to know or remember anything. All the semantic information for all the view in wich you would like to see the task is stored within the task itself: filtering by the tag @Bob shows „Buy hardware item xyz for Bob“.

Ok the example is overly simple and silly but only for the sake of clarity. It explains my whole point. The context @Hardwarestore is simply nothing more than one way of looking at the action „Buy hardware item xyz for Bob“ among others. The flaw I see in single contexts is that they „hard code“ one particular view of the numerous possible views to an action item and blank out the other views that might have the same information value for you as the @Hardwarestore view. This narrows your awareness. There is no „best“ view, no „best“ context to choose from. All can be equally important (By „all“ I mean 2-4 views that have a practical meaning to you). Tags show you the whole thing and allows you to look at it according to any possible situation (=context) that has a semantic conection (that has a meaining to you) to that action.

The benefits of tags are so obvious to me. I don’t know how to explain this much simpler. I feel that using tags in very intuitive. It just feels right. It is the proper way for me to handle an action.

Quote:
I use OF as clean as possible.
It did not improve my intellect, nor the quality of my work.
Please don’t try to rationalize the lack of tags in OmniFocus. This is really problem, at least for me. In this forum exist many post that ask for tags or multiple contexts. If it works for you, great! Maybe you don’t see the need for tags - other users do.
Thats grandiose GTD ideology mumbo jumbo for me. I see OmniFocus as a useful tool, not as the road to enlightenment. Let’s talk practical. :)
 
Guys,

you are over-complicating something that should be so easy.

What's next?

To go to the bathroom: @bathroom, @Errands:supermarket:buy toilet paper, @toilet paper:hold in hand, @Hand:usage, @Usage:motions, @motions:voluntary, @motions:involuntary, etc.

GTD is not about tags. It's about contexts. Things is of a vertical hierarchy while OF is both vertical and horizontal. Keep the contexts as few and as simple as possible. Errands, Calls, EMails, Next ought to be more than enough.
 
@Lucas
Quote:
I think OmniFocus really isn’t set up for say, finding all of the things you have to do for Carol that are work-related. I think that OmniFocus is more arranged to provide a list of things you could be doing.
You got it right. At least you understand what my point is.

@Mango Himself
Quote:
To go to the bathroom: @bathroom, @Errands:supermarket:buy toilet paper, @toilet paper:hold in hand, @Hand:usage, @Usage:motions, @motions:voluntary, @motions:involuntary, etc.
You’re attacking a straw man that doesn't really exist. Tags, as I use them are few general atoms that don’t go to much into detail. They are meaningful only in combination with the description of the task. I used Things naturally and by intuition from day one. Things never feels complicated. It is OmniFocus thats complicated for me.

No sane person would ever create such a task, but to use your example:
Code:
„To go to the bathroom“ @Home @Urgent
Just two tags are enough. :)

Quote:
GTD is not about tags. It's about contexts. Things is of a vertical hierarchy while OF is both vertical and horizontal. Keep the contexts as few and as simple as possible. Errands, Calls, EMails, Next ought to be more than enough.
Sounds good in theory. Practically the arouses the problem in which of the possible meaningful contexts to actually put the action? What solution do you suggest to avoid the danger of missing an action because it has, by bad luck or chance, a context assigned to it that does not match your current situation? Assigning it back to the @Bob context only postpones the problem: When you are at the hardware store you will miss the action in the contexts action list @Hardwarestore

Quote:
But: Let’s say I meet with Bob before I did purchase the item for him. Let’s say I forgot the task to buy item xyz for Bob - it is currently not on my mind (nor in Bobs mind). „Hi Bob, how are you? Let’s check my @Bob context to see what we need to discuss (that is the whole point of an GTD app - your external brain, it reminds you to do things you have/want to do)“. The hardware action is missing from the @Bob context => I did not discus this important task of buying item xyz with Bob. => Bob fires me. :(
Please use my concrete example. How to avoid missing the „Buy hardware item xyz for Bob“ action when looking at the @Bob context when nothing hints/reminds me that there is an very important action that is related to Bob waiting in the @Hardwarestore context?


Quote:
Guys,

you are over-complicating something that should be so easy.
In Things that problem is super simple solved with tags.

Ok Mango Himself.
Please suggest a not „over-complicated" and easy solution to that problem in OmniFocus. :)

Last edited by zoisite; 2010-04-20 at 08:58 AM..
 
Yes, OF is not going to remind you when you’re talking with Bob that when you are at the hardware store, you are going to buy something for Bob. I think the uncomplicated OF view is that either the task is to ask Bob about something that you are going to buy for him (in which case, the Bob context, obv.) or the task is that you are buying something that you have no further need to discuss at the hardware store (errands context).

But it is entirely possible that that doesn’t make sense for you, in which case, maybe Things is better. I’m personally much more of a fan of forums where, if I’ve responded to people’s requests for help, that they just say thank you and either try it or don’t try it, but don’t then argue about how I’m wrong.
 
Just a couple of thought because, as Lucas offered, the subject of tags (and task priorities) has been beaten to death. Tagging offers some interesting options to add rich meta-data to your tasks, and I can understand how it is/can be beneficial. Things has tags, OmniFocus currently does not. The OmniGroup has indicated that they will be looking at adding the ability to input user meta-data in OmniFocus 2.0, but for now it is what it is.

Bottom line is that Things also has a Today view that is nice, while by default OmniFocus does not (a perspective can get similar functionality). Many people believe that Things has a more attractive UI, but as the OmniFocus UI has themes, many people prefer to customize the UI of OmniFocus. Many people believe that Things has an advantage due to its simplicity, while OmniFocus can be just about as simple or as in-depth as the user wants to make it. Things Touch does have the ability to email tasks while OmniFocus iPhone does not.

On the flip side, OmniFocus has parallel and sequential tasks, sub-projects, cloud syncing, project review functionality, custom perspectives, custom toolbar with built-in commands and scripts, scheduled tasks on the Mac and the iPhone with start times, due dates with due times, alarms through Growl/Prowl, and iCal, bookmarklet to add tasks from Safari, the iPhone has Locations Services customized to contexts, imbedded browser, photo support, voice note support, repeat task support, and a completely customizable interface through the use of synced perspectives and icons while Things Mac and Things Touch... do not.



In the end, it all comes down to what features are most important to the user. If tags are essential to your workflow, then I doubt any of the solutions that the OmniFocus users have will make a difference in your decision. However, if the areas where OmniFocus really excels are important, then there are other ways to get much, if not all, of the functionality of tagging.

Using the Bob/hardware example, let me share a few ways that I might handle this:

1) Due Date: If Bob is going to fire me if I forget to buy xyz at the hardware store, then I'm going to assign a due date to complete the task. If I am running errands and I see the task a week early when I check my @errands context, then I go ahead and complete the task. If I have not run errands in a while, the due date arrives, and I have not yet bought the item, then I'm on notice from the due date that I'll be making a special trip to the hardware store.

2) Daily Review: I examine my projects to see where I am with my active projects and what I need to focus on today. If I were to see that the hardware item must be purchased in the next 4 days and I'll only have the time to run the errand today, then I'm going to block the time on my calendar to do it today.

Personally I find that the daily review, judicious use of start and due dates, and flags in addition to contexts gives me everything I need to keep tasks from falling through the cracks.

Last edited by Greg Jones; 2010-04-20 at 11:24 AM..
 
@Lucas
Quote:
I’m personally much more of a fan of forums where, if I’ve responded to people’s requests for help, that they just say thank you and either try it or don’t try it, but don’t then argue about how I’m wrong.
Sorry, my english is obviously not so good. You did misunderstand my comment to you. I meant it 100% positive. You got hold of the wrong end of the stick (hope that saying is grammatically correct).
With „At least you understand what my point is“ I wanted to express that you are the only one who replied and who understood my point and gave constructive feedback instead of criticizing the Tags concept. „At least someone got it right“.

@Greg Jones
Thanks for the very useful info.

Its great to see users replying with the intention of the thread creator in mind, instead of writing Tags are a bad concept.

I guess I have to accept that OmniFocus has its own ways. Or I continue using Things at least till OmniFocus 2.0 is released.

Last edited by zoisite; 2010-04-20 at 12:48 PM..
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zoisite View Post
Its great to see users replying with the intention of the thread creator in mind, instead of writing Tags are a bad concept.
For the most part, I think you'll find the community surrounding OmniFocus to be really supportive and well-intentioned. There are many enthusiastic users here that selflessly volunteer an immense amount of time in helping others. It's really quite amazing and a huge benefit to the "platform" as a whole.

The Omni Group themselves have been instrumental in fostering this kind of community. They've repeatedly demonstrated a sincere interest in their customers. They want you to buy their apps, of course, but even more important than that is that you're satisfied, even if that means refunding your money and seeing you switch to a competitor's product. It's got to be some of the best customer service in the industry.

-Dennis
 
 


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