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Planning Nondeterministic Projects Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
I have many projects for which the content is not completely known at the beginning of the project. I used to try to set them up in terms of a discrete set of actions or tasks, which was frustrating because I knew that this set would get modified as the project went forward. Also, a lot of these "actions" tended to be much too long, I often wouldn't finish one in a single work session. I ended up either ignoring the actions or tasks I had set up, or spending too much time tweeking/fine-tuning the set of actions, sometimes after I'd already done some of them. This was a waste of time.

My current approach which seems to work better for this kind of task is sort of geekish. When I create a new project, I always put in the same single action: "Plan ThisProject" where "ThisProject" is the name of the project. I generally put in a time estimate such as 10m or so for "Plan...". I realize that in most cases, the planning phase is part of creating a new project; this just makes it more explicit.

By the way, I call it "Plan ThisProject" instead of just "Plan" so that in the various reminder utilities like the OF dashbord utility or Anxiety, I can see more clearly what it is that I need to do.

When I first work on the project, there are generally some initial things that are known right away, along the lines of making sure all of the necessary materials are available, and making outlines. So, I put those actions in *before* the "Plan..." action--I do not remove or the Plan action or mark it completed.

As I work on the project, I go through the currently available actions in order, but when they are done, the Plan... action becomes the next available, so I have another brief planning session, resulting in the next few known actions being added, once again before the Plan... action. This continues until the project has been completed.

If it turns out that some non-final task is more complicated than I thought, then I do the same thing: I convert it into an additional "Plan" act specifically for the task. For example, suppose an action is "Write introduction". But, it turns out that there is a whole chunk of literature that I stumble across that needs to be pursued. So, I convert "Write introduction" into "Plan introduction", and I apply the same method recursively until the introduction is complete; then I optionally change the name back and mark it completed; the project now falls through to whatever the next act is, such as "Write first section" or "Plan TheProject". In a sense, the list of actions is being used as a processing stack instead of a simple one-directional list.

So, I never actually have more than a few "next" actions in OF, they are always of fairly short duration, and when they are done, I have an action that basically tells me: figure out the next step(s) and put them into the project. This sounds like I'm spending a lot of time planning what to do next, but really, that's the nature of this kind of project, I think.

This corresponds very well to how I've always done things anyway, but it allows me to use the support of OF & iCal to keep track of where I am in multiple (nondeterministic) projects, instead of always forgetting where I am in some of them, like I used to do.

Greg Shenaut
 
Heh. That may be geekish, but its exactly what I do!
__________________
Cheers,

Curt
 
It's not that geekish really, although the title makes it more so. For the record, I do a similar thing with some projects.

I found when I started using GTD that I'd spend too long dreaming up next actions at the beginning and then I'd stop using OF as the project changed and the NAs became redundant.
 
ahh it's like a placeholder .. good tip , I"ll have to try that , might eliminate having to review the " stuck " perspective so much with projects with no next action ..
 
I know this is a bit of an old "chestnut" but it still seems to me that if OF had a less rigid view of action groups vs actions you'd have a simpler and more elegant solution. I'm thinking of the Life Balance approach where a "parent" action whose child items have all been completed behaves as an ordinary action reappearing on to-do lists. You then are automatically prompted to either mark it as complete or add further subtasks. I make use of Curt's "Missing Actions" AppleScript (http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clifton/software.html) daily but it seems a bit of an indictment of OF that this bolt-on is needed to make it workable. The most elegant way of adding this functionality to OF would in my mind make the switch from action to action group fully and seamlessly reversible
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Forsyth View Post
I know this is a bit of an old "chestnut" but it still seems to me that if OF had a less rigid view of action groups vs actions you'd have a simpler and more elegant solution. I'm thinking of the Life Balance approach where a "parent" action whose child items have all been completed behaves as an ordinary action reappearing on to-do lists. You then are automatically prompted to either mark it as complete or add further subtasks. I make use of Curt's "Missing Actions" AppleScript (http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~clifton/software.html) daily but it seems a bit of an indictment of OF that this bolt-on is needed to make it workable. The most elegant way of adding this functionality to OF would in my mind make the switch from action to action group fully and seamlessly reversible
Yes, exactly. In my view, the biggest problem with OF is the restrictions it places on the way you handle your data.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Forsyth View Post
I know this is a bit of an old "chestnut" but it still seems to me that if OF had a less rigid view of action groups vs actions you'd have a simpler and more elegant solution. I'm thinking of the Life Balance approach where a "parent" action whose child items have all been completed behaves as an ordinary action reappearing on to-do lists. You then are automatically prompted to either mark it as complete or add further subtasks.
Most projects and action groups don't have a context, so the question we always had about this was "where would you see that group in context mode"? (Originally OmniFocus didn't have a "No Context" sidebar section, and later that section wasn't filterable.)

But now that we've made it possible to filter the "No Context" section, I think this is a totally reasonable approach. This change would also give us a good place to list due projects in the Due perspective.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Case View Post
But now that we've made it possible to filter the "No Context" section, I think this is a totally reasonable approach. This change would also give us a good place to list due projects in the Due perspective.
sounds promising!
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Case View Post
Most projects and action groups don't have a context, so the question we always had about this was "where would you see that group in context mode"? (Originally OmniFocus didn't have a "No Context" sidebar section, and later that section wasn't filterable.)

But now that we've made it possible to filter the "No Context" section, I think this is a totally reasonable approach. This change would also give us a good place to list due projects in the Due perspective.
"Most"? Is it possible to assign a context to an action group or project?

If I enter a task and assign it a context, the context goes away and becomes the default context for new items as soon as i add sub-tasks (make it a action group).

This behaviour (projects and action groups not appearing in context-view) is really a show-stopper for me. gshenaut's work-around is only good in sequential structures or if you are only viewing the next action. If the project/action group is parallel and you are looking at any available items the "Plan This ..." Action ist always visible.

Why not just let projects and action groups have a context and bring them up like a task as soon as all sub-tasks are finished. This would really solve a lot of issues at once.

For me nearly all projects are nondeterministic, even simple ones.

Example:

My dishwasher doesn't work any more.

So I make a project or action group: "Repair Dishwasher @home" and the first and only sub-task is "Find Fault @home". When this task is finished I would like "Repair Dishwasher" to appear in context view then I can decide if I (can) do it right away or add new actions "Buy cables and solder @errands" and "Fix powerline @home". Once these are cleared "Repair Dishwasher" comes back up as available (or next) in my @home view and I can tick it off or if it didn't work out add a new sub-task "Call service @phone".

Now I really have to add a "finishing (sub-)task" like gshenaut suggested or hunt after projects/action groups with no next action.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mws View Post
Is it possible to assign a context to an action group or project?
Certainly. See the inspector.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mws View Post
If I enter a task and assign it a context, the context goes away and becomes the default context for new items as soon as i add sub-tasks (make it a action group).
It only goes away from the display. It's still in the database.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mws View Post
This behaviour (projects and action groups not appearing in context-view) is really a show-stopper for me.
Coming from LifeBalance, I thought this was a show stopper also. My work around was to write a Verify Next Actions Exist script; it's on my software page. The script scans all your active projects and action groups looking for ones with no actions remaining. I run this script in my daily review to make sure everything is moving forward.

Another tip until OF 2.0 comes out: you can double click the dot next to an action in context mode to open a new planning mode window showing the action's project. I often use this to crank through several actions in a row on the same project, and to then make sure I have the next action identified for when I return to the project. ("Park on a downhill slope.")

I find that the other powerful features of OF dwarf this minor inconvenience, but of course YMMV.

Cheers,

Curt
__________________
Cheers,

Curt
 
 


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