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Omnifocus as a Tool for Lists, not Tasks

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Posted by Beck
Mar 21, 2019 at 03:35 PM

 

Hi friends,

I’m playing with a shift in how to use Omnifocus and I wanted to run it by the folks here (those that are familiar with it, at least). The shift occurred to me after reading David Allen Co.‘s PDF guide to OF3. In it, they suggest a few different default settings than those set by Omni, namely that “Waiting For” and “Someday/Maybe” lists are not on hold (therefore always viewable), that you create lots of lists in a folder called “Reference,” that not every task needs a project, and also that you operate from the Tags view instead of the Projects view.

I followed these suggestions and immediately my OF became a mess. This was because I’d mostly used OF from the project view, keeping it as tidy as possible, putting every project that wasn’t a priority on hold and being meticulous with my folder structure/project naming/task articulation. While I did have a “Reference” folder with several lists in it, those lists were of tasks. I also required every task to have a project and hardly anything at all had a tag.

Now I am looking at OF as one big list manager, and only some of the items in it are tasks. Furthermore, any item in any list can easily turn into a project with much richness and utility. One of the common critiques of OF is that it becomes overwhelming because there are so many items in it. I felt that way, too: so many items to literally get to “Done” by checking everyone of them off. But could I appreciate OF more because there are so many items in it?

As much as the name implies, GTD isn’t actually about emptying a list, it’s about emptying the head. There will always be more in my head than there is to “do.” To have both goals of emptying head and emptying list is to fundamentally be at odds. I need a tool that can handle everything in my head —  show me things I might like to do at the right time/place/energy level and also capture whatever’s in my head at any time/place/energy level.

It’s still TBD if OF is actually this tool, but looked at in this way, I’m using it differently. I’ve added many reference lists — some whimsical, some purposeful, some ambitious, most without any to do items at all. I’m using the notes feature robustly. For items across lists and and projects that need to be “done,” I’ve added a the proper metadata—a tag and sometimes a date to help me when I’m in the proper space to do them.

—-

Perhaps this new to me understanding is common to most, but I share in case it’s a shift you as well, and as always, to invite your thoughtful reflections.

 


Posted by Hugh
Mar 21, 2019 at 03:55 PM

 

Interesting thoughts, Beck. Before trying to address them as a user of OF, I probably ought to read the David Allen guide to OF3, of which I was previously ignorant. So thanks for letting me know about it.

 


Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Mar 21, 2019 at 05:27 PM

 

Beck,

This sounds like the ideal of having one app to organize both tasks and notes. I like the concept very much. Making it work in the real world, given the tools we have, is the challenge.

I tried OmniFocus recently and I was not satisfied with the notes function. TickTick handles notes better, I think. It has a nice big box for writing notes, which is visible when you select a task. I didn’t stick with TickTick because you can’t nest projects in it, but that sounds like it may be a non-issue with this system.

I will welcome any insights you develop as you explore this paradigm. Good luck.

Steve Z

 


Posted by Dellu
Mar 21, 2019 at 05:52 PM

 

you are right. OF is a list box. The reason is clear: they are trying to follow GTD.

GTD itself is a listing system. It doesn’t have a complete framework that helps you to bring your projects from inception to completion.

It just makes you list stuff.

Beck wrote:

>As much as the name implies, GTD isn’t actually about emptying a list,
>it’s about emptying the head.

That is the most ridiculous thing about GTD. I have heard the David guy (whoever he is) repeatedly claiming that keeping tasks off your brain makes your brain better. This is utterly stupid.

The scientific evidence is on the opposite. Using your brain is makes your brain better. That is why Alzheimer is less prevalent among advanced degree holder; that is why people who are involved a lot of “thinking”  are more likely to have sharper brain.

After trying it for a couple of times, I just hated GTD. It is too shallow.

If you want a system, Agile is one of the best project management systems I have ever tried. It helps you from the beginning to the end.
I had been interested to use Tinderbox for Agile project management. You can search the forums (the old and the new about it).

Nowadays, I just use Tick Tick. I find it enough for running tasks. For the “reflection” part which is the main part of the Agile system, I am using the Note part of Tick Tick.

 


Posted by Alessandro Vernet
Mar 21, 2019 at 10:30 PM

 

Hi Beck,

I hadn’t read what the David Allen Company had to say about OmniFocus, but what you’re describing seems somewhat in line with the way I’ve been using OmniFocus, even all the way back to version 1. For instance, for most projects (i.e. whatever outcome requires more than 1 step to accomplish), I would have (a) links e.g. to specific email threads, (b) my current analysis of the situation, and (c) a log of the actions/communication related to that project. As a result, a project would often have very few actual next actions (most often just 1), but many more other “tasks” used to keep track of (a)+(b)+(c) in an outline manner.

The upside of this approach is that you can keep reference material along your projects/next actions. If you have a large number of projects, lots of churn in your projects (say every day half a dozen of them get completed and another half a dozen are created), you’re saving quite a bit of time compared to an approach where you’re creating one part in OmniFocus and the other part in Bear, Evernote, WorkFlowy, or similar. You don’t have to create for each project something in 2 systems. You don’t have to create for each project 2-way links between the 2 systems. You don’t have to maintain a similar folder hierarchy in 2 systems. When looking for something, you don’t have to do so in 2 systems.

However, the downside is that OmniFocus isn’t designed to be used this way. You’ll have issues with performance. I’ve had in the order of 50,000 tasks stored in OmniFocus, and even with way less than that (around 10,000), certain operations can be completely unusable on the iOS app (like searching), or painfully slow (like navigating in the project view). The app can also change in ways that break your system. For instance, OmniFocus 2 for iPhone was showing only one level of the outline at a time. So if you had a project holding 3 level outline, each level having 10 items, you’d have 10*10*10 = 1000 items in that project (plus 110 grouping items), and could easily navigate through those 1110 items on the iPhone because you would only see 10 at a time. Switch to OmniFocus 3 on your iPhone, and all 1110 are shown in a single list which makes it practically unusable.

So I can’t recommend using OmniFocus this way. Which is too bad, because it is tempting to look at OmniFocus as an outliner in which you can put any type of items (project, reference, next actions, logs…), but with the ability to attach to each item tags, files (images, audio recording), and dates (start date, due date, notifications), and the ability to create views on the content based on search/tags/dates, all this in a tool actively being developed and supported on Apple platforms.

If anyone knows of an alternative software (or approach), please let us know!

‑Alex

 


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