I advocate a multi-dimensional view of the tasks or actions that I track. I have a project focus, a context focus, a people focus with time and people attributes where appropriate. The genesis of this process and practice comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done (actually from its antecedent call Insight IV A:The Professional Seminar) and I recommend that you start with his excellent seminars, books and web resources at The David Allen Company. The method is independent of the tools you use to implement. I started twenty-three years ago using the Time Design System, I’ve tried every device, from the earliest version of the Palm Pilot, through the Treo and the Blackberry with some degree or another (depending on platform) of integration with Outlook Task/Calendar. Today I use OmniFocus for Mac, iPhone and iPad. As an aside I tried the Apple Newton way back in the day, but unfortunately it was too limited in capability to employ as a productivity system.
One limit of task lists in Outlook or iCal/iTask is that they are one dimensional. I can assign a category but nothing more. The value of OmniFocus or the Getting Things Done add-in is that they enable the three-dimensional view. How does this work? I created a set of contexts in which I do work, @home, @computer, @phone, @iPad,@followup as well as contexts like waiting for, errands. I have sub contexts under @computer such as online, email. I even have a context called @guitar. This way, I only look at the actions that can be completed in that context or with access to that tool. I can’t make calls on the commuter train (I could but it would be rude) or learn My Favorite Things on guitar, but I could send an email or catch up on reference material I have downloaded. I have contexts for locations I visit with tasks that can only be accomplished in those cities. I have contexts for particular people with tasks I can only accomplish with them or need to communicate with them.
I also have a project focus. A project would be a specific goal or outcome that requires a group of tasks that can be executed in parallel or series. The project may have a deadline or not, but it has a definable end or successful completion in mind. For me it makes all the difference in the world that I can tag my tasks by context and project. I can go into “planning mode” where I get my juices flowing, get creative, brainstorm, mind map, define my end game, get a vision of the completed project etc. Project focus also lets me get a snapshot at any point in time; what has been completed, what is left to do, am I missing any tasks that need to be added, do I need input from anyone?
By combining more than one dimension of focus, I insure I have a view of my universe of commitments, goals and options that fits the moment. If I want to go big picture and plan or do an organized review of my projects and open items, I can use a project focus. If I am sitting at my computer and ready to do concentrated work for a period of time I can zoom right in on the current context. If I am in Chicago, visiting my daughter and want a quick list of things I wanted to see or do the next time I was in the city, I have it at my finger tips. And by being integrated across platforms, I always have my information with me so I can access or add to it on the run.
Future posts will contain tips I have found in moving onto and using OmniFocus as well as tailoring it to your needs.