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Due Dates vs Do Date ... and other thoughts Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Dear OmniFocus Devotees:

I've had a few ideas about how OmniFocus might help me and others stay focused and get things done, and thought I might share them with you.

1) "Due Dates" are not the same as "Do Dates", yet no program helps distinguish the two. A due date is firm, fixed, final: miss it, and there is a clear penalty -- you miss the deadline to submit a grant, you arrive to give a talk with no presentation prepared, etc. A do date is a clear aspiration to get something done on a particular day, or during a given week (or some other unit of time). If I fail to get something done on a given do date, then it simply does not get done at all or I must figure out another day or week when I will get it done later on (with little to no penalty, distinguishing it from a due date). Do dates help me to manage myself, and I impose them myself; due dates are typically imposed upon me by the outside world.

I find that I need to be able to see my upcoming Due Date items (grant submissions, talks, teaching sessions, weeks when I am on hospital duty) to make sure that I'm not failing to prepare for something, and then I need to manage my time with Do Dates, marshaling out my workload. If a program treats my self-assigned Do Dates the same as Due Dates, then I can't see the "I better get this done by this date or I'm in big trouble" events in distinction from "I'm setting myself some aggressive daily goals but - hey - I'm human and likely won't get all of this done today."

In other words, it would be neat if OmniFocus could allow 2 different kinds of behaviors for Due Dates and Do Dates. Due Dates could come with "lead time" and associated preparatory or subtasks, just like a project that needs to be managed. One should be able to view all upcoming Due Date items in one view with a count down to how many days remain until that given task's due date. Do Dates, on the other hand, should be able to be specified by a given day or week (ie, do this thing tomorrow, or get this done during this week, with the ability to reassign a week Do Date down to a day Do Date), and if the do date passes, then the program should prompt the user to either let the task go uncompleted (*sigh* ... but such is life) or reassigned to another Do Date window (day or week). One should be able to view all the Do Date items for a given day / week.

Note that this distinction between Due and Do Dates is not simply priority, but rather how one works with the timeliness of these 2 different kinds of tasks. Absent this distinction, this user is reluctant to assign himself dates to do things because the resulting mix of really Due and Do dates is just too confusing.

2) Today. As in, it would be great if I could have a simple view of what I need to focus on and get done today. Not all my tasks and subtasks, but just Today (perhaps with a view of Today on top and This Week on the bottom, so that if I have time I can get something done that needs doing this week). This is where the rubber hits the road. Other users who are more mobile and have less predictable work routines may want the context specific menus of GTD, but for me, Today is what I make of it: I manage the context to make Today happen.

3) Routines. They save me from chaos and confusion. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly: what tasks do I have to contemplate, how do I get them done, and how do I manage my time? Yet I am prone to sloth and disorganization, and lapse from my routines (especially when I'm stressed out and overwhelmed with work). It would be great (as in !!!) if OmniFocus used the power of scripts to automate some typical review work flows: as in, click this icon and you will walk through your Daily Review and get all your tasks in order for the day. Some of the routines would be quite short term in their focus (think GTD here), while others (the monthly or quarterly review) would also link up to long-range goals: are we getting done what matters most? (think Stephen Covey here). This would be gold.

4) Materials. An alternative name to OmniFocus would be OmniDo. I'm not suggesting a name change (OmniFocus is catchy and apt), but rather that the program should aim to improve the quality and efficiency of what users do. Routines would help with that; so too would the ability to have "materials" attached (through a simple procedure) to a given task. By materials, I mean a folder or a specific file on the computer, or even an email message (especially if you could create the capacity to "grab" the text of an email or webpage and import as a task with a brief user-defined title into OmniFocus). I would then look at a task that's next on the Do List and click the alias to get to the materials I need to get that task done. This would move the application towards a program that I would work from within, and not simply reference to stay oriented.

5) Time. Peter Drucker made the point years ago that most of us have no idea how we spend our time each day, and that tracking our time and reviewing how we spend it will boost efficiency and effectiveness. If during a Daily Work Flow Timer routine, OmniFocus had the capacity to turn on a timer, which would time the duration that any given task was highlighted (assuming that the user was working on that task and its associated materials until they clicked on another task or indicated that that task was complete), and that the results of this Daily Time Keeper could be reviewed at a daily or weekly level, that might really help some people identify procrastinating habits. Note that this isn't for keeping track of timing for billing purposes; rather, its helping us see how we spend ourselves during the day.

I hope this is somewhat helpful to you; thanks so much for your other products and your effort on this venture.
Excellent post! I concure.
The way I work, and I could never find an appropriate application for this beside copy pasting between text files or omnioutliner files, is to review on monday morning the items I need to do this week and assign them to different days of the week (do dates) to balance the week's work load while making sure all the due dates are respected. So being able to build a view by dragging items would be great; for example a partial weeks work load would look like:

Monday total time: 8hours 40 minutes
call Jim for blah 30 minutes
write section x 4 hours
Staff meeting 1 hour
book lab time for wednesday 10 minutes
complete feature X 3 hours

Tuesday total time: 0

Wednesday total time: 4 hours 10 minutes
send notification for next weeks review 10 minutes
Lab testing of feature x 4 hours

Thurday total time:2 hours
Write section y 2 hours

Friday total time: 30 mins
Write weekly report 30 mins

Since some of these items always occur on the same week day (since the weekly report can't be written before enough of the week has passed or the staff meeting is every monday morning at 10 AM), being able to have them reschedule automatically would be great. Having a function to automatically make an initial distribution of the items due this week would also help.

The total time on each day would of course be calculated automatically.

Having such a view allows to quickly answer the question "Can you handle this emergency?" since you then know what's on your schedule and can replan quickly around it when an item will be done. It also allows to look a little bit ahead of time and work on an item early that is not necessarly the next "@office" to do item. For example, if its 4h30pm, I am too tired to code, but I could draft that important e-mail I have to send tomorow but might not have the time to write then. It also allows to see whats ahead this week or the next (and all the little work items that are too small to be put on an official project plan but do end up eating time) and say "Oh boy!, my schedule friday is way to busy, maybe I should work an extra half hour this week to be able to leave not too late for that weekend getaway".

I know this is not GTD culture as per say, but it could easily be a third view of the items (by do date). In perspective, Omnifocus should be a tool to make it more easy for the user to keep focussed and remain productive regardeless of events, location or workload while making sure no items fall through the cracks.
Enthusiastic yes to the above. These are things that I have considered essential so to ease my planning (and replanning after interruptions).
I'll add my support.

"I know this is not GTD culture"

I think it is - just a somewhat more complex/flexible way of defining 'next actions' and what is in queue.

Mostly, this is a “me too” post — I think the suggestions are quite good and are worth reinforcing. I’ll try to contribute with some interleaved comments.

Originally Posted by dante
"Due Dates" are not the same as "Do Dates"…
Agreed, but I think both ought to be optional. In fact, for me I would probably use both sporadically. Many of my tasks do not have Due Dates, but a few do. And most of the time, I do not need to manage my tasks down to the level of Do Dates, which I see as hints about when I might be able to accomplish tasks. But again, maybe during a crazy week or something, having Do Dates would be helpful.

I will say, though, that I think Do Dates are probably not as important to me as other features. For now, I could fake it with priorities and Due dates.

Originally Posted by dante
Today. As in, it would be great if I could have a simple view of what I need to focus on and get done today.
Hm, and what defines “Today”? That is, how would OmniFocus know what you think you need to focus on today?

Originally Posted by dante
Routines. They save me from chaos and confusion. Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly: what tasks do I have to contemplate, how do I get them done, and how do I manage my time?
Yes, yes, yes! And in concert with the tickler file, for those things that are not strictly repeating but linger out there in the future. The tickler is one feature that few GTD apps seem to have and that I miss sorely. I’ve sort of wedged a tickler element into my KGTD document, but it’s not integrated at all with anything else. Ticklers and routines should be automated, because they are purely calendar-driven.

Originally Posted by dante
Materials. … so too would the ability to have "materials" attached (through a simple procedure) to a given task.
YES! Please! I think that this functionality would be one of those things that would truly separate one GTD app from others. And let me suggest at least one procedure: drag-and-drop. I want to be able to drag emails, folders, documents, URLs, etc., onto a Project and have them turn into links or something that I can refer to when needed. Not full text or images or anything complicated like that, just clickable links. Plus a formatted text area for notes, for when I don’t have or want to have a distinct file full of project notes.

The “Time” section wasn’t so critical to me, but I might be interested in it at some point.

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