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Howdy all,

I'm reviewing the audio-book, "Getting Things Done" with a real attempt to apply the principles of "Actions and Outcomes" to my graphic art/illustration business.
The first thing I'm confronted with is, "Would it really be effective to capture all the steps of creating a painting"?

For instance, I'm currently in the process of creating a CD cover that contains images of 7 faces.
I usually work intuitively but as an experiement, I'm breaking down my rendering proccess into the following actions.

Action 01 = choose 1st person's face.
Action 02 = scribble rough sketch of face.
Action 03 = using an overlay, sketch skull over rough sketch.
Action 04 = using an overlay, re-sketch face over skull.
Action 05 = refine sketch of face.
Action 06 = scan refined sketch into Photoshop.
Action 07 = crop image, save and import into Corel Painter.
Action 08 = trace face with pen-tool in Painter to transform into line art.
Action 09 = paint water-color on layer beneath line art.
Action 10 = tweak tones with airbrush tool on new layer, above watercolor.
Action 11 = save and import image back into Photoshop.
Action 12 = apply color balance and final tweaks to face.

My first thought was, yikes I didn't realize my process contained so many darn actions!
And I'm not yet sure if it will be effective to input all of those actions into Omni, but I'm giving it a shot.
One thing for sure is if I apply those 12 steps to the 6 remaining faces, I'll have finished CD cover art.
If this example works, I suppose that I'll have to figure out if there's a way to turn it into some sort of template that can be used to repeat the process for similar jobs in the future.

My intention of posting this, is to stimulate and inspire all Omni-Artists to evaluate our working process.
So here's my question to all of the Omni-Artists out there (if there are any).

To what degree are you integrating the Omni system into your work flow?
Can you site examples of how you're using the system, or are you just creating Projects with deadlines and rendering your art process intuitively?

Thanks for considering this inquiry.
Looking forward to your feedback.


Last edited by oloyd; 2008-09-26 at 03:51 PM..
I don't think your question is specific to artists. I'm a historian and college professor, and the issue of how granular to be comes up time and again. For instance, one of my actions recently was "Update, print, and copy paper #1 assignment" for one of my courses. I could have broken that down into several distinct actions (review previous assignment, update due dates, revise prompts, review mechanics...). But I thought I could handle all that when confronted with the document; what was important for getting things done was having a prompt in the system.

I often use a change of context as a reason to add a distinct action. For my example above, if I was working on the revised paper assignment at home, but I had to print and copy it in the office, I might create two distinct actions. In the event I was working on it in the office, so I didn't see a need. In your example, you might make steps 1-5 a single action; steps 6 requires a scanner and a computer, so you might want to make that and some of the subsequent steps into a distinct action.

Basically, use enough granularity that you can efficiently break down your projects into actions that are both (a) small enough not to be daunting and (b) divided up into the places or resources needed to do them (i.e., contexts).

If you've never done a particular project before, you'll probably need a high degree of granularity. If it's something you have done often, you can get by with much less. It's not like programming a simple robot, where each task has to be specified in great detail.
Originally Posted by brianogilvie View Post
Basically, use enough granularity that you can efficiently break down your projects into actions that are both (a) small enough not to be daunting and (b) divided up into the places or resources needed to do them (i.e., contexts).
What's really helpful to me is to 'chunk' projects up into one-short-sitting actions. When I look at the actions that I've been avoiding, I can usually take them apart a bit more and realize that there's SOMETHING I'm willing to do that would qualify as a separate action. And for me, there's something to be said about being able to check something off a list, physically or digitally. So the time spent making things into more actions than I might have otherwise is rewarded by both the increased productivity that it enables and the enjoyment/sense of well being that comes from checking things off.

I am in no way an artist. But I'm curious with the actions that you broke that one face down into...would you do ALL of that on face#1. Then start on #2? Or would you do action 01 on face#1, action 01 on face#2, action 01 on face#3 etc.? Does it depend where you are, meaning what context you're in...what resources you have available at the time? Does it depend on your mood?

Just throwing out what came into my mind when reading.
Hi oloyd,

I am an artist (designer and illustrator among other things), and I agree with both Brian and Malisa, it's not necessarily each tiny step = a separate action, group steps into actions that seem right, balanced and intuitive to you. A good rule of thumb for me is when I can STOP an action. When I look at your list, I think, "when would I stop and be able to come back to it later?" This is especially important during the creative process lol :)

When I look at your list, here are my "artist" thoughts: You probably decide who to sketch first when you sit down to do the rough. So when I look at your actions, I see (1) select face and complete rough sketch, (2) refine with overlays, (3) scan and crop (4) import into Corel (5) Trace to transform into line art (6) Paint watercolor layer (7) Tweak tones with airbrush (8) save and import into Photoshop (9) balance colors & tweak

I find that I use OmniFocus for everything I do really - both for projects with deadlines and general workflow (and my personal life too). I have found that setting up good contexts is vital for my own workflow; if I am having a "good creative day" I can see what type of creative work I need to do at once. If it's a "bad creative day," I can easily see through my contexts some left-brained work I need to get done. And then I can always see an overview of both deadlines and creative process in Project view.

I hope this helps! :)

Originally Posted by CorgiGirl View Post
A good rule of thumb for me is when I can STOP an action. When I look at your list, I think, "when would I stop and be able to come back to it later?"
That's good advice from Carolyn, and exactly how I break up my tasks. I ask myself, "Where's a potentially good place to stop and where would I want to resume?" That way I can knock off any one or more of these "bite-sized chunks" at any time and always know where I left off when I come back to the project.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to make each action doable in about 20 minutes or less. But that's only a very general rule and is often broken. :)

A bit of an artist (audio, video, web) - confirmed time management system junkie!

After the multi year walkabout thru getting things done, AnthonyRobbins Time of your life, 4 hour work week, Stephen Covey material, ET's one observation related to your question.

At one point, I had my entire world completely broken down in OmniOutliner using major header items followed by their subsequent multi tiered 'sub projects' and action items. Using the collapsed view, I could see a zen like state of what I wanted the focus of my time (and life) to be about from an easy to consume vantage point displaying a balance that made great sense; +/-3 individually listed major projects I was working on, family and friends, athletic training, life maintenance (catch all for random daily repetitive stuff), Me (a section to cover my personal work and growth-including time management related activities). As I expanded each of the headers, revealing multiple tiers of sub projects related to the category, I made my way closer to single action items (as described by getting things done). I noticed a visceral effect on my body when toggling between the collapsed view and the fully expanded view. It was a 300mph race from tranquility to vapor lock/blood pressure spiking. open-close-open-close. One felt peaceful, one was overload and insanity. One was clean and neat-spanning one page, the other was 23+ pages of micro jibbersish.

IMHO, trying to consume a monster to do list is overwhelming. It seems as though breaking things down to their lowest action creates such a list if you have any level of dimension to your life/activities. Getting things done has some great qualities to it but it short changes the importance of "outcome based thinking". He plugs it a little bit but circumvents it by basically instructing you to react anytime an incoming event occurs and to go hyper micro on detailing action items. It ignores the principals of results based thinking, selective ignorance, and "information dieting". That said, I use 3 tools. The first is OmniOutliner. This covers the master overview. It includes my life's core focus items (as described above) and no more than 1-2 sub tiers which serve as the major projects related to the parent category. The sub projects generally span 1-3 months. Next up, I use OmniFocus to take over for building block details of the sub projects. OmniFocus's highest level of projects mirror OmniOutliner's lowest project tier (make sense?). Under each of these, I have one tier of projects which generally span 1-6 days to complete and an additional tier as necessary to chunk important sub aspects to the project. This is as far as I break it down and is generally a few steps above single action items. I stop here on the electronic front and let my brain do the final walking. David Allen would call this a recipe for "an amorphous blob of undoability" but I've found it to work well by incentivizing my brain with the question, "what do I have to do to EARN checking this box off?". I might then make a quick paper list of to do items or write them on my dry erase board, etc to organize the coming 4-6 hours. It keeps me out of the trap of 'majoring in the minors' by not logging minutia. Rather, it keeps me focused on reasonable next levels of elevation related to project completion. At the end of the day, I usually find that I have created more value out of my time. As well, I don't burn out my creative energy on the administrative duties of maintaining a micromanaged list of single action items. I do "groom" my apps nightly/weekly to make sure they stay tight and focused. One caveat....I do have a single action items list in OF to handle small ticket 'one offs' that need to get handled but are basically irrelevant to anything important. I generally apply contexts to these.

Hope this isn't too ADD for the thread. Different styles for different people!


"...circumvents it by basically instructing you to react anytime an incoming event occurs..."

I'm confused by this. My impression is that you make a note of those incoming events and drop that note in the inbox, in order to _keep_ you from reacting to those events and distracting yourself from what you're working on. At least, that's what I do - when a thought comes up, I hit the quick-entry, type in just enough to let me remember that task, and I go back to what I was doing.

Or are you referring to the two-minute rule? Even in that case, I didn't have the impression that you're supposed to do two-minute actions the instant that they come in, but that instead when you pluck them out of the inbox during the time that you've chosen to process your inbox, you do them instead of processing them into the depths of the system. Do I have that wrong?

Gardener, I second your statement!
To clarify my idea....GTD processes all incoming events immediately and calls for some sort of action on your part; evaluate, process, categorize, trash, etc. It starts at the bottom and works its way up with the goal being having your inbox empty and thus freeing up mental space. This goes for external incoming events as well as your own random or focused ideas that spring up and need to be logged.

Depending on your level of incoming messages/ideas/requests, etc - an administrative workload of time and mental space is required to manage this process. Though GTD is a hyper efficient way of minimizing that workload by not letting things get bogged down, there still is a good amount of admin to the system depending on your level of incoming messages.

I find that if I don't put a gatekeeper on the front of my inbox, I get slammed spending too much time and focus energy processing incoming events. The worst offender is probably my own brain's multiple random ideas that show up and need to be dealt with.

As it relates to this thread, the question on the table is "what is the lowest practical form to which a project should be broken down". I say, whatever works for you. I would just add that if you have experienced the sensation of "my to do list of action items is totally overwhelming to look at and manage, even when I have them dialed into a slick system like OF powered GTD" then perhaps a system that slightly modifies GTD by NOT breaking things all the way down will help keep your brain tuned to the big ticket, important aspects of your life.

As I said, I do have a single action list I keep that pretty much follows the letter of the GTD law. I try not to let the content of it take over more than 5% of my total focus energy.

> To clarify my idea....GTD processes all incoming events
> immediately and calls for some sort of action on your part;
> evaluate, process, categorize, trash, etc.

This is where I think that I'm not with you. As I understand it, GTD only requires you to _collect_ the event immediately, not to process it. The collected events pile up, and the processing happens at a time chosen by you.

So as I see it, if I'm working on something and I'm distracted by the thought "I need sesame seeds for the breaded chicken for the potluck!" I hit the quick entry key, I type "Sesame seeds; potluck", I hit Return, and I turn back to what I was working on. (Or if I weren't near my computer, I'd send myself an email with my phone, which will be auto-processed into my Inbox.) I don't process this action yet - I only do the absolute minimum required to assure my brain that I won't forget the action, so that my brain will shut up about the sesame seeds.

If my SO called me to tell me that I need sesame seeds, I'd do the same. Or, if I'm focused on work and not expecting any emergency calls, I won't even answer the call - I'll let it go to voicemail and I'll process my voicemail inbox at a chosen time.

Similarly, if my SO sends me an email telling me that I need sesame seeds, I'll ignore that email totally until I reach my chosen time to process my email inbox.

In my case, I don't even fully "process" my voicemail or email inboxes when I do choose to empty them. I just convert actions implied by the email or voicemail messages into OmniFocus Inbox actions, with the same quick entry. When I'm done, the email and voicemail boxes are empty, but the actions are still in my OmniFocus inbox, awaiting processing.

So no true processing - in the sense of evaluationg, categorizing, trashing, etc. - happens until I'm good and ready to process. All actions generally get dumped unprocessed into the OmniFocus inbox before I process them, just because I like it that way.

> It starts at the
> bottom and works its way up with the goal being having your inbox
> empty and thus freeing up mental space. This goes for external
> incoming events as well as your own random or focused ideas
> spring up and need to be logged.

But as I understand it, GTD doesn't require that those inboxes be _constantly_ empty. You don't have to deal with each message the moment it comes in. I think that GTD just wants your inboxes to be frequently empty. They should certainly be empty once a week at the weekly review; I don't know if there's any firm guidance on how often they should be emptied beyond that.


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