I have a major problem with managing time

I have a lot going on right now. Recently I decided to do some changes, my current system doesn’t work for me.

I know you can do only as much in a day. I have a problem with:
• estimating how much what will take
• efficiently scheduling - not spending hours on figuring out “what to do”
• efficiently rescheduling tasks, or even dropping some, to meet the most important deadlines

Before I was using iCal, it helped me to visually see everything, however that was a lot of time… In combination with OF2, switching windows back and forth, just didn’t do.

Next, I came back just to OF2 trying to knock out tasks, making plan. However, as much as it’s great to do what we love it for, it’s impossible to see things visually. There is Forecast, but even if you add duration, it doesn’t include that on the Calendar Event timeline.

So I decided to try OmniPlan, to manage personal stuff. Bad idea, at least for me. I love it to track projects and see the progress, but it’s mostly for bigger projects, something which takes days, weeks or months. Not single tasks which will take an hour or 2.

At that moment I’m desperate. I got back to the roots, where I started originally and I started creating a spreadsheet. As much as it’s a lot of work, if I do changes, it updates itself, because of formulas. Either time left, etc. It has conditional formatting, so I can see what will or will not work. I’d used it in the past as a super simple version of OmniPlan.

If there is any app, idea, system, you have in mind I would appreciate sharing. I would save my life, and career.

I can see two possible problems that could be causing your headaches. One is that you are trying to plan tasks that are unstructured in time too much based on fitting to time schedules. An example is trying to plan in one hour to finish thoroughly reading and understanding an instructions manual for a new, complicated machine you buy as part of the project Set up New Machine. A second problem is that you are getting too lost in the forest for looking at the leaves. An example is believing that, in order to accomplish the Set up New Machine Project, you have to you have to plan it all out in relation to everything else first.

In any case, you ask about suggestions for other ways to plan projects. I have two. One is an application called Goalscape. I had some success with it at a point in time nearly equivalent to yours. The eye opener was the visual way that it helped to structure projects and their tasks as ever-widening spokes around a central wheel. Added to this was the manner in which it shows overall progress by shading the spokes proportionately to the relative number off tasks completed. In essence, it started me off of time-based management and on to goal-based management.

I don’t use Goalscape any more. I like its concept very much. I don’t like its dependence on AdobeAir and somewhat clunky almost Java-limited UI. It is not a Mac app.

The second suggestion is Kanban boards. I now depend on them as much if not more than OF. The step here was taken through a paradigm called Personal Kanban (look up the group on Linked In). I have a reference posting on this forum to my application of a personal Kanban board in Curio, which has also in its own right become as important or more important to my workflow management as is OF.

I mention the two other tools because you have already explored outside OF and seem receptive to the notion that your answer will likely be in that direction.

Hope this gives some insights to get you started.

I use OmniFocus more as a bucket list to grab tasks from. I don’t use it as a calendar. In BusyCal, I just create an appointment and block it out as unavailable. I’m busy doing work.

I whip out a small index card and write the words “Today” at the top.

I write the title “Overdue.” Then I write down all the overdue tasks that appear in the Forecast perspective.

Then I draw a line under the last overdue task and write the second title “Due Today.” I write down any tasks that are due today or in the next 3-4 days.

I close OmniFocus and work exclusively off of that index card. Cross off the task when complete. When I’m done with those urgent tasks with due dates, I’ll go back to OmniFocus and then select three available tasks.

In terms of scheduling, I create time blocks of 30 minutes to 1 hour, put up a “do not disturb” sign (put the iPhone and iPad to airplane mode) and try to burn through the tasks on my index card. Messages go to voice mail, e-mails accumulate in the inbox, and I hide away from my colleagues until I can get a full hour in. Then I return back to reality, check to see if a fire erupted while I was in my “bubble.” I’ll look for any “urgent” e-mails or check back with my colleagues. Then I head back to my protective bubble and start working on another 30 minute or 1 hour time block. Of course, this only works if you can determine your own schedule. But you can start setting up boundaries and tell your colleagues about your time-block plan. I’m gonna be unavailable for the next 30 to 6 minutes. Just e-mail me and I’ll check on it later. But don’t expect me to drop everything to handle your 2 minute request until after I finish my current workload. It takes some time to get your colleagues acquainted with your new workflow. If you let them walk all over you, they’ll expect to be able to do it again in the future.

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The problem with Goalscape is that it doesn’t show absolute values, just percentage. So useless for me, as much as I like the idea. I tried it in the past. The developer answered that they don’t plan to implement this feature any soon.

I don’t really have a problem with visualizing, just to schedule efficiently, and being able to reschedule easily.

I looked into Kanban in the past but not very closely enough.
I have Curio though, I haven’t used it in a while. I don’t see how Curio would be better than OmniGraffle.

I feel like I need something where I will be able to plan for the next day and estimate for the next week. What’s important is I would want to be able to move tasks easy, if any urgent appointment pops up.

I would also have to be able to see how much hours is left in that day, so I would know if, and how much I could fit there.

I could use Kanban Technique only for a given day. Sometimes I have to finish a task later, or even just drop it. In that case it’s hard to reschedule in iCal; impossible to plan in Curio or Goalscape.

Interesting. By comparison, I found the concept of showing percentages to be one of the most enlightening parts of the app.

I now appreciate more clearly that you want a gantt-type charting tool that is on a smaller scale than OmniPlan. You said as much as this in your original posting. Guess it took a while to sink in.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any such tool. I imagine they must exist. Perhaps even for the iPad.

After reading again your statements above, I will say almost emphatically that Kanban methods are not for you.

Curio is a feature-rich digital notebook app. OmniGraffle is a feature-rich precision drawing app. By analog, in addition to grabbing a pencil + paper to document the workflow during a project, I would want a well-structured organizer + camera + voice recorder before I would want a protractor + straight-edge + stencil template sheet.

Why is it so important to schedule all tasks? Two of the main benefits of reading “Getting Things Done” and subsequently finding my favourite tool in Omnifocus were:

  • Stop using hardcoded Priorities
  • Stop scheduling tasks that have no real deadline

If you use deadlines only for those tasks that need it - i.e. tasks that have an external deadline and consequences when the deadline is missed - your calendar can be used for those tasks only. All other tasks can be worked on based on situational requirements and preferences. As wilsonng, I also find it much more effective to create blocks of time in your calendar and then use OF to decide what to work on, rather than scheduling individual tasks (which inevitably leads to a lot of rework, as you describe). Why look for ways to “move tasks easy”, just don’t put them in your calendar to begin with. If you have read GTD, remember the “sacred calendar”.

I need something efficient which will show me how much time I have left or over scheduled.

Since Omni threw away the view together with duration, I really struggle to get back on track. I sleep 4-5 h a day and I can’t manage that any more.

I need to know, how much time I have scheduled, or left, so I will know which tasks to drop and where to focus more.

iCal/BusyCal works well, but there no workaround way to speed up a process. Too many tasks to go that way. It doesn’t necessarily calculate but it shows visually, which is the same in that case.

The irony of scheduling tasks is that the task will fill up the time you allotted to it. If you allotted 30 minutes to a task, you’ll not feel the sense of urgency and wait until half-time to really get going on a task. I’ve had times where I finish a task in half the time and “reward” myself by using up the remaining time to screw around.

Sometimes, you never know when a task takes longer or shorter. There was one time where I allotted 20 minutes to fix a leaky faucet. I go under the kitchen cabinets and find even more problems. That 20 minutes suddenly becomes the entire morning. That’s why I rarely put a duration.

If you’re taking about lighting a fire under your butt, maybe you can try Vitamin R2? I guess it uses a pomodoro technique to help you log time slices and motivate you towards trying to finish tasks in a smaller amount of time.

From what I’ve experienced, scheduling only works if you work in a vacuum such as a home office. But if you’re working in an office environment, task scheduling never works. Someone always barges in with the latest fire, someone else tries to “delegate” (pass the buck) a project to you. A client wants something yesterday. These interruptions throws scheduling out the window.

If you feel like you’re being over scheduled, just choose three tasks from OmniFocus and work on those three things. If you finish early, pick another three things. We can only do so much during a workday. Trying to analyse my time has never really worked. There’s just too many interruptions to make task scheduling work effectively.

Perhaps you can tackle it from a different perspective?


I’ve also had the same issues of not seeming to be able to motivate myself during some times of the day. But I’ve found my own biorhythms shows that I tend to be the most creative between 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm. I do most of my work during that time slot. Before 2:30 pm, I’ll do brain-dead work or other maintenance stuff. But 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm seems to be my “hero” mode. I schedule my hardest work during that time block.

Don’t worry about trying to cram as many tasks as possible. Instead, start focusing on achieving tasks that really matter. I could be checking off 10 tasks in an hour and still feel like I didn’t get anything done. But if I can focus my efforts on the 3 Big Rocks of the Day, I’ll feel like I conquered a mountain. It’s all about the quality of the projects/tasks accomplished, not the quantity.

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I know exactly how long my tasks will be. I track my time from over 6 months. I have average, standard deviation, 5 number summary and other statistics, together will scatterplots showing correlation on different variables. I know that if I’m doing X, it will take me on average 3.12 hours. I schedule 3 hours. Let’s say I will finish in 2 hours (unlikely). If I have an hour, I take some unscheduled task and do it immediately. Don’t have to change schedule or anything.

I tried Vitamin R2 in the past. Actually it was distracting for me.

I work with my own schedule. I have the control over most of the things. I just need something which will tell me how much hours is left, so I won’t have to be figuring it out on my own.

I;m not trying to plan weeks ahead. I just have to have a sense of which tasks to drop. without the numbers, it’s impossible to beat that. Unfortunately I don’t set up the deadlines.

Thanks for help. I really appreciate and if you would have something to add, please share.

good luck… wow… you just blew my mind with your scatterplots, correlations, and variables. I don’t know if I even want to go that far in trying to maximise productivity. I would probably feel paralysed by the feeling that I’m not doing enough.

But I think life doesn’t have to be quantified. Just go with the flow. We end up stressing ourselves about “productivity.” We end up with all this productivity porn and try out the latest tricks in this endless quest to try to do so many things. But in the end, all that matters is that you get the important stuff done first. The rest will weed itself out of your OmniFocus list if you let it.

I know. I know. It sounds like a cop-out. If I found myself with “too many things on my plate”, I do a weekly review and just delete anything that sounds nice to do but it isn’t really important or has little bang-for-the-buck. Life is too short to try to analyse it twenty different ways. Go with the flow… Use the force, Luke ;-)


What you outline in your approach is well outside of the norm to GTD, if not outside the norm of how most folks get thru their personal workflows. In essence, you are just about the second person that I have run across in my life who seems to need to schedule their activities to precise levels.

You may therefore have a hard time finding a suitable answer here. I hope this does not leave the impression that no one here cares. Rather it is just that very few people here have your very unique problem and the corresponding answer to it.

You may have better luck asking in the OmniPlan group for recommendations on gantt software for smaller, personal-life style planning. Or do a search for such software.

Otherwise, I emphasize with the difficulties you face because of the loss of something important to you in OF 2 (presumably versus OF 1). I’ve had my own rants about this for other reasons. With the level of anxiety it is causing you, have you considered just to reinstall OF 1?

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Reading between the (well written) lines …

No one is ever given more than 24 hours in a day because they manage time. We get more done in any given time before us because we pro-actively decide what we will do at any given time. The OP is trying to manage time to the level of an obsession. A way out is to let go of this approach and learn how to make pro-active decisions in the moment, ultimately based on the bigger picture of goals, desires, and ambitions.

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I personally find OmniOutliner to be pretty good at this sort of thing: you can add a duration column and set that column’s summary to total up values. One caveat is that you have to delete (or at least move) completed items out of a group if you want that group’s total to reflect the current work remaining rather than an overall total. It’s not a fit for every need, but for simple planning it’s great.


OK … I now have an idea here. Now that you know all your statistics, use them to plan your day.

Suppose you have N tasks of duration dt_j in average time and st_j in standard uncertainty of time. Your expected average time to complete all N tasks will be ta_T = sum dt_j (over N). The 95% confidence level time to complete the tasks will (roughly) be t95%_T = ta_T + 2 sum st_j (over N). Finally, suppose you plan to work for t_w amount of time. You have three numbers, t_w as your work time, ta_T as the average time to do the N tasks, and t95%_T as the 95% confidence level time to do the N tasks. Here are the rules …

  • Always schedule tasks such that t95%_T < t_w. This assures that, in 95/100 cases, you will finish all that you had planned for the day.
  • Recognize that you must always keep t_w > ta_T. This means that, when an additional task X with average time tx gets thrown at you, you absolutely and immediately will have to drop one of the (presumably) as yet uncompleted N tasks that has dt_j >= tx.

In some cases (actually in most cases), you will have an increment of about t95%/2 left over in your day as “free time”. Take a break. Have some coffee. Watch Star Wars Episode IV again ;-)

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To go one up on K Case’s reply, put it in a spreadsheet (free with NeoOffice).

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You may therefore have a hard time finding a suitable answer here. I hope this does not leave the impression that no one here cares. Rather it is just that very few people here have your very unique problem and the corresponding answer to it.

I understand and no hard feelings. I don’t want to move away from GTD, but, I have no means to know hours left in my week, and then knowing how much hours is scheduled, to move thru realistically. So far everything had worked, until not having duration view in OF2 started making it difficult. I know I’m not the only one here with that one.

You may have better luck asking in the OmniPlan

:( Seems like no one answers there

Or do a search for such software.

I feel like I have tested all of it. Omni is the only one which makes sense and gives freedom. Other apps force you to their workflow.

have you considered just to reinstall OF 1

I still do consider to switch back to OF1, back when I think I will loose all the other functionality of OF2, then I’m not so passionate about that.

@kcase - I will try that for sure. The only thing which scares me is constantly switching between windows. The was you’re talking about wouldn’t be an issue if OF2 would have duration view like people are requesting here:


I attach here a link to the spreadsheet in Numbers format. I cannot guarantee that I will keep the Dropbox folder for it active beyond more than a few weeks.


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you can delete it, I got it, thanks!