Activating individual actions from on-hold projects

I can’t think of a simple feature request for this so I’ll put it as a “wish” (and maybe someone can propose a workaround):

I’d like to be able to set individual actions from on-hold projects to active.

I basically have two types of projects:

  1. Interrupt-driven or maintenance-type projects, which are always active. I do the actions in those projects as they come up.
  2. Long-term improvement projects. I usually keep those projects on-hold until, during a review, I activate one or two of them to work on next.

For example, I have an “OmniFocus” project, where I have all kinds of ideas for improving my use of OmniFocus - read a bunch of articles, write a few notes to myself, experiment with estimated durations, etc. This project is currently on-hold. At some point, probably in a few months, I’ll activate it for a day or two and do all of those things in one batch.

However, every now and then a maintenance-type activity comes up for one of these long-term projects. For example, for my OmniFocus project, I need to pay for OmniFocus 3 and also make one change to my custom perspectives, and I don’t want to wait with these small but more urgent things until my next big OmniFocus detour.

How do people handle this?

For the past week or two I’ve been using a “Now” tag which I attach to such actions. Then, in my custom perspectives, I filter for:

  • All of the following:
    • Availability: Remaining
    • Any of the following:
      • Availability: Available
      • Tagged with any of: Now
      • Status: Due Soon

This isn’t bad, but it has a few drawbacks:

  1. I need to access these actions exclusively through custom perspectives, and not for example through the Tags built-in perspective (which I have set to only show available actions).
  2. Projects with such actions are always collapsed in the custom perspective view.
  3. The action is grayed out.

Another idea is to have two separate projects, for example “OmniFocus” and “OmniFocus Maintenance”, and always keep the “Maintenance” project active. This also has a few drawbacks, though - it adds a layer of hierarchy to my database, and it makes reviews more awkward. Conceptually, these are one project.

Is these another better way to do this?

I would go with your last idea of two projects, one for the long-term ideas (on hold) and one for maintenance tasks (active). If they are kept together in an ‘OmniFocus’ folder, that folder will represent what you refer to as one conceptual project. This would address your 3 drawbacks (only combined review would need reminding in your review checklist). You could create a perspective with a ‘Contained within project or folder’ rule to view all the actions without distinction of the two projects and sort them in the most useful way.

Alternatively, you could have a single project and use a tag to put on hold all the long-term actions (ie. a tag that has the status ‘on hold’). This also solves your 3 drawbacks but is a bit more effort to toggle a bunch of actions between active and on-hold.

OF has a clear mental model about availability of actions: available is the default but any of a number of properties will make an action unavailable (remaining): on-hold because of a tag, on-hold through its project, defer date, sequencing. Introducing an exception to this has the potential to cause confusion IMHO.

Since I wrote that I’ve settled on the following approach for handling this:

  1. I ditched the Now tag and just keep more of my projects, and especially projects with maintenance activities, perpetually active. If any actions from a project should be done now then that project is, by definition, not on hold.
  2. I do have an “On Hold” tag which is placed on hold, and which I can apply to any individual actions in active projects which I don’t want to see until the next review of that project. However, I use this tag sparingly (it is currently applied to 18 actions out of the 490 in my database).
  3. I plan to split projects into active and on-hold project pairs (as per your suggestion) only if the actions which I want to do in a batched way actually start to come up through my system in an interleaved way. This hasn’t happened yet.

For example, if a project has two important maintenance actions which need to be done soon and several dozen less urgent actions which I’d like to do later in a batch, then I will:

  1. Keep the project active.
  2. Assign high-priority tags (Do, Clean Up, and Maintain, in my system) to the urgent actions.
  3. Assign low-priority tags (Improve, Experiment, Automate, and Study, in my system) to the less urgent actions.
  4. The urgent actions will tend to get done quickly through my Do perspective.
  5. The less urgent actions will tend to sit there at the end of my Do perspective, beaten out for my attention by more urgent actions from other active projects as well as by my succession of Focus projects.
  6. At some point I will make this project my Focus project so that I can finally get to all of those less urgent actions and do them together.

If the less urgent actions from this project do ever actually make it to the top of my Do perspective so that I would be interleaving them with similarly non-urgent actions from other projects, then at that point I guess I will choose between:

a. Making that project my Focus project.
b. Splitting out those actions into their own on-hold project.
c. Doing less work from my Do perspective and more work from my Focus perspective for a while.
d. Just doing these actions in an interleaved way from the Do perspective.

(I explained how my Do and Focus perspectives work here: Two OF3 Perspectives puzzlers)

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