Folder hierarchy and project hierarchy - optimal use?

One thing I love is the folder hierarchy, where I can show/hide all my areas of responsibility with great ease.
What is harder is to show/hide projects within folders in the same way. Nesting projects seems to mean you only see the top one in the sidebar and have to click into it to see its structure, thereby losing the big picture. Not nesting means you get a long unwieldy list of projects.
Is there a way to see nested projects? Or am i supposed to do this via perspectives (which takes the effort of setting up)?
Help either with managing OF2 or managing my own lack of focus (legendary) would be very welcome.
PS And of course there is no way to add tasks to folders as areas of responsibility, right? Except by first creating a project, even if only a dummy ‘single tasks’ one. Must admit I find that a bit frustrating - but I guess it is just the way things are.

If you have anything selected in the sidebar, you can use View → Expand All to open all of the folders. Does that make it make it more convenient?

A project inside another project is referred to as an action group, and those only live in the main outline view, not the sidebar.

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Thanks very much to both responders. I must admit I would like a way of seeing a project hierarchy in the side bar, but at least it is good to confirm that this is not presently possible.

You’re running up against the limit of OF, but that limit was (probably) set for a reason. While nesting is great, it can become excessive. And with that excess comes confusion.

Sure, if you’re a project manager working on a complex project, you’ll need lots of layers because you have lots of dependencies. But that’s not OmniFocus—that’s a project management system.

Are you sure you couldn’t flatten your structure a bit, allowing you to see the big picture more easily without getting lost in the weeds?

For example, in my Work folder (top level) I have a folder for named Web Site. In there, I could have projects for redesigning the site, revising the content, and the blog. Within the blog I could have a project for redesigning the blog and another project with a list of articles, each one of which is its own project.

While that is perfectly logical and makes my organizational brain happy, it’s insane. Too complex, and I’m burying important things (writing new articles for the blog).

So, instead, in the top-level Work folder I have a web site folder with two projects: redesign (which includes the blog) and revising content.

And in the top level folder I also have two projects, one for each upcoming article for the blog. Once an article is done, the project disappears (and a new one may take its place).

I don’t know if this would work for you, but I urge you to try it for a while. I’m sure it will feel weird, but consider: is your perceived lack of focus really the problem? Maybe you’re like me and using obsessive organizing to procrastinate, allowing yourself to avoid doing the scary work?

Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by the quantity of work and are trying to calm yourself by giving it a deep structure? That never worked for me, btw. The only thing that helped me was to give OF enough structure so I could turn off entire “to do” lists—get them out of my face so I could only see what was achievable at the moment. (Putting projects On Hold is great for this, as is using Focus mode.)

OK, enough philosophy! Maybe OF just doesn’t give you the structure your brain needs. That’s fine; you just might need a different tool (like OmniOutliner).

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Thanks Margaret I appreciate your advice - and your taking the time to write it.
I know what you mean about spending more time categorising your projects than completing them.
And it is true that I often have trouble deciding if my frustrations with OF comes from its limitations or from my not using it as intended.
My system wasn’t quite as you suggested - I was trying to use folders for high level goals e.g. STAY FIT (to help me stay on track with the real aim of my to-do list) and then put projects inside. I just find that listing all the projects as a flat list gets unwieldy quickly (esp when following the advice to turn all big tasks into projects).
I guess the idea is to use the DEFER and other options to hide projects not currently being acted on. I am currently trying that - but must admit I find it a bit unnerving to have important things out of view. I guess I have to set up and use more perspectives (a time-consuming process in itself).
(Maybe I should add I am a self-employed person with lots of goals and projects but very few external drivers - meetings, outside tasks, etc) to give structure and due dates. So I want a task organiser that really helps me plan my work then keep on track with working my plan. Sometimes I feel OF is more geared towards executives and team workers. But I am still learning and maybe will end up loving it as much as others appear to.)
Thanks again for your time and care in replying to my earlier msg.

I, too, am a freelancer. Unlike many project management tools I’ve tried, I don’t feel OmniFocus is geared toward people who work with/in teams. It doesn’t have all the fancy bits that allow sharing and commenting, though it can help you track things that are waiting upon others. (Which is actually quite helpful as a freelancer, as I’m often waiting for clients to send me stuff and make decisions.) But that’s really neither here nor there!

My OF is not “flat”. But I don’t put many projects within projects—projects that belong together are in a folder. That keeps the metaphors straight; a folder is for grouping similar objects. If I have one-off items that also belong in that folder, then a project of single-action items also resides in the folder. My “Creative” folder works like this. I have seven sequential projects in there, including three that are currently “on hold”. And I have one single-action list called, boringly “Creative list”.

This gives me enough structure so I can see all seven projects at a glance and which ones are active and which ones are not. I find that I am happiest when I have a limited number of projects to work on; 4 seems to be a good number. But I like to be able to add tasks as I think of them to the projects I’m not currently working on, so “on hold” works well for that.

I also don’t put too many projects within projects. Sometimes I need the extra structure—mostly when I’m working on a type of thing that’s new to me but is a small enough project that it doesn’t need it’s own top-level standing. Or, perhaps it’s a project that I plan to do in very small steps; then it can be nice to write down all the steps so they can be individually scheduled.

I do not write out all the steps for every project. I used to do this, thinking I was being a good little planner. But in reality, it was just a way to waste time. I’m experienced enough to know how to do my job, so I frequently just put down the end state. For example, “finish first draft”. I don’t have a multi-step project: “gather notes, brainstorm, write, revise, etc.”.

But for totally new projects, I need to do some planning. And I don’t think OF is good for this (mostly because you cannot see relationships or multiple dependencies, and there’s no good visualization of time). I tend to use paper/pencil, or make a text outline, or do a mind map (depending on the nature of the work). These notes form the game plan, and as the work develops, the actual tasks get added to OF. I’ve tried to find a tool that will work with OF for this, but, alas, there don’t seem to be any. Or, they’re OF replacements and heavily laden with team-based features that just get in the way. Many times I’ve wished that OmniOutliner could be linked to OF so I could plan the complex projects there and have stuff automatically dumped into OF.

I agree about deferring projects—it does seem a bit scary. But if you can’t work on it right now, even if it’s important, no good can come of having it pushed in front of your face every time you look at your list. In fact, just the opposite! I think it’s stress-inducing to be constantly reminded of “important!” projects that, for whatever reason, cannot be acted upon.

And deferring things is very important to those of us who mostly set their own schedules. (Or, I should say, it’s very important to me!) If I’ve got a bunch of boring but necessary tasks that absolutely must be done by tomorrow, but I also know there is a big, important project that has looser dates, it does me no good to be constantly reminded of the big, important project. If I can hide the big, important project, I’m forced to face the reality that I must do those required tasks before tomorrow. And if I trust the “defer” system (and trust is the key), then OF provides a simple way to ensure that the big, important project pops back up on my radar the day after tomorrow.

I think the key thing with deferring is learning to trust the system. If you don’t trust that OF will put it back in front of your face, and if you aren’t doing regular reviews of ALL your projects, then you will constantly be wondering what you’re missing.

There’s a big learning curve with OmniFocus. In fact, every 8 months or so, I find myself re-reading parts of the manual or other guides. It’s just too much to take in all at once, and there are so many tweaks to one’s organizing style that can be made. Some of those tweaks really allow you to get more out of OF. But I think it’s impossible to do them all at once.

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