Please also see this thread
I was inspired to write a bit of a problem/solution brainstorm. I’ve got some feature requests for OF (been using for about 6 months), and I wanted to check Forums first. I’ve read all posts to the two big threads on “time visualization” but by no means have I read every thread, so pardon me please if I’m wasting your time. Also: truly sorry for the length, tried to edit down!
The “problem” here is that we’re all looking for ways to simplify the process of productivity (or completion, or “doing”), whatever that means to each one of us. However we live really complicated, busy, integrated lives, and we’ve all access to an overabundance of “info/choices/projects/tasks” (see!?). IMO when we say simplify we mean “easy and elegant”, because what I’m looking for is a way to manage the way my ideas integrate with so many other parts of my life. Excel is brilliant if all I wanted was to have lists of things (to-do, to-see, to-read, to-think-about, etc); box.net means I can keep them in one place and access them anywhere (a Google Docs solution without the Big Brother!); but that just doesn’t close the book on the issue at all, because I want more.
To address this problem, for me it’s useful to think about how I’d go about being productive if all I had was a pad and a calendar. Let’s say (for example) you have a list of projects; a list of one-off tasks; some life goals (“someday” in GTD); a list of things you’re waiting on; maybe some other “single-action” lists (e.g. movies you’d like to see, restaurants to try, upgrades to your company website); maybe some repetitive actions which you’d like to be reminded of, some of which are time-specific.
That list of projects needs to be broken down – how do I get the project done, when can/should I take time to work on the project? One-off tasks are typically some sort of errand or phone call or reminder, usually with a due date, but not in need of scheduling. Life goals are projects waiting for the greenlight. Single-action lists like “The Movie List” or “Topics to Research” or “Website Ideas” are another form of reminder, typically without time sensitivity until the point when you decide to focus on them. Repetitive actions can carry a hard date (clean apartment), or maybe a hard interval (change filter after 3 months of use).
For projects, Gantting is so useful because it’s about mapping out task durations. Maybe there’s a deadline, but otherwise Gantting is agnostic of dates. You’re not planning out your day-to-day, but rather estimating the timing of tasks given the processes involved vs. what your day-to-day schedule will throw at you in terms of meetings, errands, leisure, etc.
Following along with the situation I posed above, you’re in essence doing 3 interrelated but mutually exclusive things. You’re certainly listing out all the projects and tasks you need to complete. You’re mapping out (on a pad, or maybe some graph paper) the duration of tasks so you can manage the projects from a timing perspective. You’re also scheduling out date-specific tasks and meetings (on your House, MD
wall calendar), which of course gives you the ability to see when you’ll have free time to work on your projects and other things from your lists. Integrated!
OmniFocus lets me list tasks, projects, “single-action” lists, etc. OmniPlan lets me map out my projects. iCal lets me schedule. Each has features and ways that overlap with the others. For me, the simplest solution (also: the only one I can think of that doesn’t run into all of the problems discussed, particularly by Greg Jones) is linking. In the same way that you might have reports/query tables in a database that pull up information in other tables (e.g. a movie title in a movie database will pull up every account that rented that movie, thereby linking to/outputting account information), so would I want to see OF operate.
Given my thesis that tasking, project management and scheduling are distinct-yet-interrelated, and using the example I hypothesized above, it would seem there is a certain amount of information in place in a well-managed OF database that doesn’t need to be recreated in OP or iCal, but there is some information that is missing and needs input
. OF has start and due dates, it’s got durations. But that doesn’t translate to an iCal entry, because you’re not blocking out an entire week for a task with a start-date/end-date delta of one week. Similarly, setting durations in OF can be quite unscientific if you’re trying to map out a complex, multi-step project. The thing we believe in, the reason we’re all on this forum, is that OF is the center, or the “glue,” of this process. If you accept this, then maybe you’re really looking for a way to make this easy and elegant rather than trying to fit it all into one program.
OF is awesome because it’s first and foremost the best task-list. In one place you’ve got everything you want or need to do, sort-able and group-able any which way. And for those tasks you might want to either manage in OP or schedule in iCal, here’s my solution: Have a way to link OF tasks to entries in OP or iCal, such that the info is then reported back in OF.
For example, if I have a task in OF with start and due dates (“scan hard copies of housing data” – something that might take hours and hours over multiple sessions, but doesn’t need to have separate/multiple OF tasks), I might schedule in 90 minutes on Tuesday, two hour-long sessions on Wednesday, and another 2 hours on Friday. OF will tell me that I’ve scheduled in 5-and-a-half hours in iCal when the duration I estimated in OF is 3 hours or 7 hours. It will tell me that Friday is after my OF due date (Thursday). It will physically list out the three iCal times you’ve linked up to the single OF task (in a [day], [date], [starttime]-[endtime] format, e.g.). For the sake of elegance and ease, I can see there being two buttons in the Inspector box of each OF action which will send you to either OP or iCal. Alerts are set in iCal, managing is done in OP, and all you’ve really done is an API data dump in OF.
Another example: I’ve got a project/tasks in OF that are linked to an OP file. Pushing around and tweaking the project in OP will change the “linked” output in OF, alerting me to conflicts. I understand that Omni is looking into OF/OP integration, so making changes in OP might negate actually having to resolve those conflicts manually in OF.
Other examples: You can opportunistically link items from your “single-action” lists; for instance, you’re finally going to see that movie or you’ve finally gotten a reservation at that restaurant. Likewise, repetitive tasks will benefit from having duration (in the form of a calendar entry rather than a to-do item) as well as an iCal alarm.
What is this “linking” besides not having to retype a task/project/context name? Well, it’s the peace of mind (and automatic error checking) that we’re looking for in a system, especially when we’re learning to trust that system. We know that we have to schedule or Gantt manually, but personally I’d be more content if it were linked rather than in many disparate places (sticky note on my computer monitor at home), and I could see that link when I pull up an OF task. Of course I’m surely missing some sort of optimization or some place where data re-entry is unnecessary. Please critique and run with this if useful!