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Why OmniFocus needs priorities! Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I was a user of LifeBalance, which has been mentioned a number of times here. I am considering buying the new version even though I've already paid for OmniFocus and I find the company that makes LifeBalance kind of jerky.

I'll start by describing a nice feature of LifeBalance. Any context (called Places in LB) can contain any other context. That means Phone can be in Errands, Home, and Work as it is for me. In OF it can only be in one. I make calls on the go all the time. I can respond to email while I'm out as well. This provides a lot more flexibility to organize tasks by granular context and yet not lose the ability to view them together them when you want to.

I would want my contexts to look like this:

- Grocery Store
- Drug Store
- Bank
- Phone
- Email
- Email
- Web
- Skype
- Computer
- Phone
- Drug Store
- Bank

(I can walk to the Grocery store)

See how flexible that is? Ultimately that means I can be much more granular with my contexts instead of tossing everything into general contexts.

I understand some people don't want priorities, but here is why I need them.

In OF, if I put my Phone context inside my Home context as above, then I'm home and view the Home context, the tasks are ordered by context and then project. That is not helpful at all:

1) While project A may be generally more important than project B, certain tasks in project B may be higher priority than the last tasks in project A. Ordering by project makes no sense to me, certainly far less sense than organizing by priority.

2) The tasks are grouped by context first because there is no priority concept that would allow the two contexts to be merged into one task list. This is a severe limitation for me. That means if I put an important Bank task in Errands:Bank then it will show up below all of the much less important tasks in any context before the Bank context. When I go to check what to do on my Errands, it may show up all the way at the bottom. As a result, I have no Bank context and my data is less valuable.

Sequential tasks and next actions are not a good solution either, since they only show the "next" task, when often I need to select one of the top 3 or 5 priority tasks to do next, whether out of preference or necessity. E.g. maybe the guy who I need to speak to in the "next" tasks is out to lunch - what a pain to find another action item! (And no I don't want to create a context for every person in my address book, and that wouldn't help anyway because that context wouldn't be inside my current context)

LifeBalance uses a slider for priority, which gets around the argument that "most systems only have a few priorities anyway."

I definitely do not like the oft suggested idea of dragging the tasks around to order them. That doesn't solve most of the above mentioned problems, and it is too time consuming (especially in OF's interface). I want the priority set at the same time I create the task. Yes, I do have a sense of absolute priority in my life, and I'm happy to go through and reprioritize once a week.

Let's take an example derived from the above:

- Grocery store
-- Get Cherry ice cream
- Drug store
-- Pick up asthma medication
-- Buy massager
- Storage locker
-- Grab old printer
-- Drop off
- Bank
-- Drop off cash to cover negative balance
-- Open account for new business

Ok, I am ready to do errands. I have no idea which errands I should do and I have to prioritize on the fly!

Clearly "Drop off cash to cover negative balance" is important enough that I should go to the bank. The new account though may be something I can do next week or next month, so if it was just that task I could avoid the bank. The printer may be something not too critical. I may not want to spend the money on the massager right now, but I definitely want to pick up my asthma meds. The ice cream can definitely wait, and while groceries are at the top of my errands list usually, it makes no sense that they are there now.

I want this to show up based on my priority like this:

- Pick up asthma medication (Drug Store)
- Drop off cash to cover negative balance (Bank)
- Grab old printer (Storage)
- Open account for new business (Bank)
- Drop off stuff (Storage)
- Buy massager (Drug Store)
- Get Cherry ice cream (Grocery)

I can scan this list and easily see I should go to the Drug Store and the Bank, but I clearly don't need to go to the Grocery. If I have time I could go to the Storage Locker. When I am in the drug store, I can narrow the context down to just Drug Store and make the call at that time whether to complete the low priority tasks (Buy massager).

What this comes down to is that currently tasks are ordered no matter what. They are currently ordered based on the order of your Projects and the order of your Contexts - so essentially you are prioritizing Projects and Contexts. However without an over-arching concept of priority, there is just no way to order an interwoven list of tasks sensibly.

I read somewhere that OmniFocus will have some sort of prioritization scheme. It is absolutely essential as far as I'm concerned. I just haven't been able to make it work without this.

Last edited by mitchm; 2009-03-08 at 02:32 PM..
If you don't make extensive use of the duration column, you can repurpose it to be a numeric priority field. Put in an estimate of 1 for the highest priority items, and sort by duration to get your prioritized view.
Thanks! That's a great suggestion. Just tried it out and it works great! Boy did that show me how much priorties help me!!! I've got really low and really high priority stuff and I'm lost without a way to sort them.

I use 1-5m duration, then in context view selected Grouping > Ungrouped and Sorting > Duration. Then I created a new perspective on that view with Perspectives > Save WIndow...

Then I right clicked on the menu bar and dragged the Prioritized perspective to my menu bar.

It works exactly as expected - selecting Contexts shows all of my items. Selecting a specific context shows prioritized items in that context. THIS is the view I need!

Now if only I didn't have to hack the duration field (which fortunately I don't use)!
I would add that this is not as powerful as LB in some ways, since in LB, the priority of a subtask is *relative* to the priority of the parent task. That means you can have a low priority "Consider career options" task and have the entire spectrum of priorities to prioritize the subtasks relative to each other, but none of them will show up above even medium priority tasks in the overview. When you are really ready to change careers, just up the "Consider career options" priority and all of the subtasks will move up as well.
Question: have you read David Allen's book, GTD?
Originally Posted by filmgeek View Post
Question: have you read David Allen's book, GTD?
I read most of it along time ago. As I understand it, priority is a important part of GTD as described by David Allen.
When you look at a large list of tasks, after narrowing it down by context/effort/duration, you pick one based on priority. Unlike David Allen, I have no problem with prioritizing tasks or using P1-P5 and I find it extremely useful.

Without priorities, the ordering of tasks is random.
It looks like you're aware of this. mitchm, but for posterity, others might be interested in this post on how to use Planning Mode to set relative priorities for projects.

See also the mother of all threads.

I'm not sure I understand the concept of doing errands and not just doing all of my errands.

Originally Posted by mitchm View Post
- Buy massager (Drug Store)
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
It looks like you're aware of this. mitchm, but for posterity, others might be interested in this post on how to use Planning Mode to set relative priorities for projects.
Worth a mention, but it is not generally helpful for me. I don't want to create a task and then go drag it around relative to 20+ other tasks. I just want to set a rough priority so that I know unimportant things will be there, but not at the top of the list.

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