OmniFocus 3 - My Pitch for Duration Estimate Totals


#1

Details of OmniFocus 3 have been revealed at last and the plans for the new version are amazing. The ability to associate multiple tags with a given task item is huge, as well as the ability of reorder items in a list of tags.

The ability to reorder tasks means something else: We’ll be able to use the Estimated Duration field the way it was intended, rather than as a proxy for a customized sort order.

That brings me to the functionality for which I am still lobbying: The ability to view Estimated Duration and Estimated Duration totals in an easy way.

Something like this (click graphic to see full-size image):

Since Estimated Duration is already a field in the database, and there is already the function to count the number of task items in a list, this would seem mostly a matter of design. But the potential boost in productivity could be enormous.

Example 1 (Location):

Let’s say you have a location tag of “Twin Pines Mall.” In this scenario, you’re there on your lunch hour, so you have sixty minutes to complete tasks. Let’s also assume all task items are of equal importance.

OmniFocus 2: You would arrive at the location and see a list of items to complete. You might start on the first task item, which will take about 45 minutes, taking up most of your lunch hour.

OmniFocus 3 (where Est. Dur. is displayed): You would arrive at the location and see a list of six items, but at the top of the list the summary displays a total duration of 1 hour and 45 minutes. So, instantly you know that you don’t have time to accomplish everything in your list; you’ll have to prioritize. Because each task item displays the associated Estimated Duration, you can see the first item on the list will take about 45 minutes, while the remainder of the items are 5 min., 10 min., 10 min., 15 min., 20 min. Instead of doing the first item on the list, you can do everything else and leave the 45-minute item for another day.

Example 2 (Tag):

You have a Today tag that is segmented in to time slots: Morning, Lunch, Afternoon, Evening.

OmniFocus 2: You would create tasks and drag them into the time slot in which you would like to accomplish them and hope for the best.

OmniFocus 3 (where Est. Dur. is displayed): Since you see a summary of Estimated Duration at each tag level, you immediately see that your task totals for Today equal 28 hours. Okay. You’ve over planned. So, you move several tasks out to have a more reasonable list. The new total duration is 8 hours now. You arrange them into their time slots and see you have 3 hours in the Morning tag, 3 hours in the Lunch tag, 1 hour in the Afternoon tag, and 1 hour in the Evening tag. All at once you know you’ve over planned your morning and lunch and under planned your afternoon and evening, so you rearrange task items accordingly.

Example 3 (Project):

You have a folder in Projects labeled “Yard”. You have a bunch of weekend projects with multiple task items beneath them. The upcoming Saturday morning you can devote to one of these projects.

OmniFocus 2: You can manually add up the Estimated Duration for each task, but most likely you’ll guess at how long each project will take.

OmniFocus 3 (where Est. Dur. is displayed): At the project level, you see a summary of Estimated Duration. You have four projects which will take 3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours, and 7 hours, respectively. Since you know you’ll have about four hours to work on the yard, you know you’ll be able to finish one of the first two projects in the given timeframe.

So much planning potential in this one, underutilized field!


#2

I think I would actually start to use estimated durations if this became a thing - at the moment I don’t even use them but if I could get an estimated total time then I think that would help me plan better.


#3

The only use I have for durations is to create two views: “Under 15 minutes” and “Under 5”. The idea was to tick off things when I have what I call “interstitial times”, like waiting for the family to get ready to go out. :-) Less contentiously, when I need a small task to just get me going.

But being able to aggregate might well make me use them more. Having said that, I generally don’t roll tasks up into real projects.


#4

Hi
I already use a variation of 2011 Dan Byler’s applescript (“total time”) to have estimated duration of manually selected tasks and can add a few details based on my experience. The only difference is this program does not insert duration on top.

the most basic calculation needed is an automated calculation done bottom to top just before syncing, what is missing here is just a clear way to add applescripts before standard processes start automatically.

I use this calculation to estimate total project workloads, which I organise in OF2 in waterfall form.

The core complication as defined by BriMercer is that we need a separate setup for time slot definitions.
For example I do not calculate total hours, I calculate mandays effort, where days are made of slots of 8 hours.
in BriMercer’s example we have even more, but it is still possible to modify the script to account for that.

the second complication is missing values treatment. Should we indicate total time if a dependent task has no total time indicated?

BriMercer’s request is even more valuable if you can’t move tasks because you are filtering on some tags and sorting on due dates (I use kanban-style statuses for my tasks to track whether it is me the owner of an active task or someone else)
It would be awesome if omni could provide a new script for pro users that performs a breakdown on those dimensions in a simple dialog. It would become a general purpose intra-day planner tool and certainly a powerful way to do some breakdown analysis for bottlenecks, helping us to kickstart busy days


#5

I wholeheartedly agree with @BriMercer on this! With the introduction of manual task reordering in OmniFocus 3, I think many of us will find ourselves rethinking the way we use the app and rediscovering old features the way they were intended.

Estimated Duration is just one example used for proxy sorting; my other crutch during extra busy seasons has been to use the Due Date for proxy sorting, which comes with a whole host of other problems (e.g., not really knowing which due dates are for sorting and which are hard-stop due dates).

I also use Dan Byler’s “Total Time” applescript on the Mac, but its usefulness to me is limited simply because it is not an automatic calculation. Because it requires me to manually select a group of tasks and run the script to calculate, I find that I quickly bypass the tool or forget about it altogether whenever things get chaotic in life.

In some ways, OmniOutliner actually beats out OmniFocus in this category, with its ability to automatically sum totals of numbers within an outline group. I understand OmniFocus was initially inspired by OmniOutliner, and I would love for it to continue drawing inspiration from its older sibling.

One last point from me in support of @BriMercer’s idea. Having estimated time total calculated automatically for each view would transform OmniFocus from an already very powerful task planner to a very powerful time planner. And as those familiar with the GTD methodology already know, we care a lot more about our time than we do our tasks!!


#6

I am also in favor of support of task duration totals as my experience has shown that many people have the issue of scheduling too many tasks. Anything that helps with load balancing would be extremely beneficial.


#7

I’ve been advocating for this functionality since I first started using OmniFocus.


#8

I was having a discussion this week with coworkers about causes of stress in people’s lives. I was surprised at the similarities in everyone’s answers. Their answers mostly amounted to this:

People get stressed when they have a list of things to get done in a given time period and they are unable to get what they planned to get done in the allotted time.

Part of that, of course, is due to the unexpected tasks arising that need immediate attention. Also, part of it is a result of people underestimated the time it takes to complete a given task. A majority of it, I think, is simply people over-planning their time, trying to squeeze too much in too small a time period.

I’m convinced the power of estimated time totals in OF3 could solve much of his, how much it could help people make realistic planning decisions before they even start their days.


OmniFocus 3 - Top feature requests
#9

YES! And for me, planning tasks is really just the necessary precursor to planning my time.


#10

We really need this feature would be very helpful for increased productivity.


#11

YES! This would be amazing for me too. I love that Forecast exist - but a total duration would be an amazing game changer for me. We seem so close to have this since we already have individual durations.


#12

I use OmniPlan duration aggregation. But it’s annoying, error prone, fiddley and time consuming to copy my OmniOutliner and OmniFocus projects into OmniPlan for duration analysis.

I upvote this idea wholeheartedly. Note that adding such a powerful feature to OmniFocus might cannibalize OmniPlan sales, so such a move could be viewed as outstandingly generous and noble on the part of Omnigroup.