OmniPlan for Academics


#1

Hi all,

I downloaded the trial version to see if it will make sense for me to use OmniPlan. I figured out OmniFocus and am very happy with it, so I want to give OmniPlan a try.

From a comment on an academic blog, I read that OP can be too much, but I still wanted to see for myself if it will work for me. As I created the first file in OP, I wanted to be as simple as possible, so I included all my writing projects for the next two years as tasks, and I added due dates and total number of hours. It seemed fine, and I was looking forward to find out how to block my time in order to be sure that these projects get completed on time and even ahead of time. I really liked the visual feature of a deadline and the grayed out bar which appears at the end of the projects (tasks in OP). My question: will this be possible? I am interested in blocks of time per project; the specific tasks are not that important for me at this point.

I used the split feature, but it kept dividing only the last part of the split, which is not what I need. If I know, for instance, that an article will take me 80 hours to write, I need to be able to split the task/project into 2-3 hours (if I am lucky most likely less) per day to work on it. I also need to take into consideration other projects (e.g. a conference that I need to apply for in 2 weeks, which will take time away from my publication work). Then during the school year, I have teaching and prep and committee meetings. These are time away from the article publication time block/task. Is this flexibility possible in OP at the moment?

I am wondering if it will be better if I create new documents for each project and use tasks only to indicate the time block i need for them. I opened the dashboard to see how all projects relate chronologically, but perhaps because I have the trial version, the dashboard does not have much functionality.


#2

Fraser Speirs wrote a great blog post about Using OmniPlan for Teaching that might help. It was written for OmniPlan 2, so the screenshots are outdated, but most of the functionality should be the same. Does that help?


#3

Hi Anne, I was aware of this article and will read it more carefully in the future. It deals with the teaching schedule and with the class syllabus. I am interested in how to use OP outside of the classroom for my writing projects.

I think I made some progress, but here is where I got stuck this morning. I realized that it is crucial to set up the work schedule and block of time during which I cannot work, e.g. meetings or other obligations, and to mark each day accordingly.

I can see also that OP can break down the day per minute, from 10:30 am, the time I can start working on one publication today to 6:30 pm, when I intend to finish, with various interruptions also marked into the calendar.

In OP, for today, I see that I have one main project to work on, but near the end of the day another one starts running parallel to it. Two days later, I have four projects running parallel to each other. Can OP tell me how much time I should spend for each project for the day? This is like the million dollar question for me. Could splitting a task help me get an answer?

Just for clarification: What is a task for OP is a project for me.


#4

Can I suggest a caution here. I have found that, trying to micro-manage my teaching, research, service, and writing schedules in advance in a formal planning tool is nearly always a big frustration. Either I get too involved in managing and not enough involved in doing or I get too bogged down in following what amounts to a death march according to my planner and not enough involved in being immediately productive at what is in front of me right now.

I might recommend taking some time to step back from this and look at it from the big picture down rather than the minutia up. FWIW, while I can see the benefit of OmniPlan to propose a course lesson plan over a semester, I would never see the benefit of it to try to prepare a schedule of what I should do for this week on everything that I must, want, and should do. Also, FWIW, I have Kanban boards and OmniFocus for this stage of planning.

Hope this helps, even when it is not a direct “how do I do this” response.


JJW


#5

I know what you mean by micromanaging projects, overbooking oneself and eventually stressing oneself out. I have been there and want to avoid to go there again. You might have missed my point: I want the big picture from OP. OF is doing a good job with the minutiae.

So far I find so far OP useful because it calculates the available time for writing and research given all my teaching and committee constraints and the time for social and personal life. I want to use OP to block off periods of time (1-2hrs) for my articles, abstracts I need to submit, conferences papers I need to write, and I need its help to help me predict if I can fit it all together, or if I need to be more efficient with some projects and give up on others.

I would rather not be stressing over whether I will have the time to do x, y, z article and conference, but have a trusted time plan that if I dedicate an hour today on project x rather than on project z, I will still have them all completed on time, and a trusted system which can help me decide if I should take on another project.

At this point of using the trial version of OP for a couple of days, if I could recommend a feature, it would be this: I want to be able to plan directly into the OP calendar by blocking off hours per project. In my other planner (google cal), I am specific about my teaching schedule, meetings for work, doctors’ appointments, brunches with friends, etc. I also block off time for research/ writing, but OP (or another system) can help me to decide better for which project I should use the research/ writing time, so I can still meet my deadlines and not start a project too close to the deadline.

I have not used Kanban, but read about it recently. I like some of its approaches, esp. the validation stage, and now I am experimenting with it in OF (I created a context ‘evaluation’… not sure if it will work, but giving it a shot). I think Kanban is for sprint projects not for marathons, and I have both sprint and marathon projects. If you know how to use it for long-term planning, please share an article, so I can look into it.


#6

I appreciate this.

Here we may differ. I still see this as micro-managing, likely for the fact that it involves calculations with time. Extrapolating out, I fear this means, pre-programming specific efforts on specific tasks in specific blocks of time. Given that I do mostly free-ranging in my non-scheduled blocks of time (where scheduled blocks of time are calendar-planned not project-planned), the approach you are taking is somewhat foreign to me. Hence, it seems to be micro-managing.

Admittedly, I will have to think some more about and could probably benefit by adapting some aspects of your approach.

Two insights I might bring here.

  • Kanbans are not for scheduling time blocks in advance. They are for managing the flow of work at any given moment.
  • Kanbans can be for sprints or longer. I review and refresh mine on a weekly basis. They can be adapted for individual tasks or just track projects. I have used both approaches, however in the meantime I just do projects in Kanbans and link to the project with tasks in OmniFocus.

Here is a link to what I use with Curio …

… and what others have done with other tools …


JJW


#7

Excellent sources! I will be reading them soon.

As an aside, I have been tracking how I spend my time with Eternity, one of many apps for this purpose. I generally organize my life in about 10 or so areas and that’s how I log activities in the app. I do not have a separate entries for groceries, laundry, cleaning, etc. All are under the category HOME. The app allows me to see how much time per day, week, and month I spend in each category. It helped me to see how much time I need per task, e.g. I can gauge how much time it will take me to write an abstract on a topic I am familiar with or an article on a topic I am starting from scratch. It also showed me that I can sort of have it all (good progress at work, active social life, plenty of time for recreation)–at least occasionally. My hope is that OP will help me to make smart choices and that I can have it all on a more regular basis.


#8

Vitamin R does this on the Mac, and it interfaces with OmniFocus.

I’ve been trying Hours, but with absolutely no luck to sync with the Web. Thanks for the note on Eternity … I’ll give it a try.

Someone said that my most recent posting of the Kanban boards did not work. Curio is free for a short period. Let me know (at the Curio forums) when any problems arise.


JJW


#9

I think this accomplishes exactly what you’re wanting to do - sync off time from a calendar.