Relative defer/due times within sequential projects?


#1

I just picked up OmniFocus 2 Pro after hearing about it for years and finally getting a phone that can run it
The app seems great so far, but I’m finding some of the defer/due/repeat times confusing.
I’m gradually trying to put everything into it, and eliminating quick ‘to do’ lists in other apps or on scraps of paper so that I can quickly bring up a perspective and see what I can do if I have a spare 5 minutes or 30 minutes etc.
But I’m struggling with what seems like it should be a simple task:

I want to create a sequential project where the defer/due times in it are based on completion of the preceding item in the list. For example:

Project: Laundry
Task 1: Run washing machine
Task 2: Hang up laundry
Task 3: Iron laundry

How would I set it up so that Task 2 is deferred until and then due 90 minutes after Task 1 is completed so that my phone gives me a notification?
And then Task 3 would be deferred until 18:00 the next day.
This is not a project/task where I can set specific dates/times because the day/time it needs to be run always varies.


#2

The level of control you want is not entirely possible in OF, let alone not entirely possible to do automatically, let alone rather difficult to do on iOS, let alone rather cumbersome to do on an iPhone. The best you can do is set all of the due and defer values manually for each Project iteration. The next best is to get a Mac and use AppleScript to automate the Project setup, then sync what is generated to your iPhone.

One note … When a sequential Project has no due date, use this approach. Set the view to show only the first available. Task 2 will then remain hidden until Task 1 is complete.


JJW


#3

Well that’s disappointing. I’ve been hearing about how powerful OmniFocus is for all these years as a non-Apple guy, and that didn’t seem like a very complex task.
Not sure why you think that {start time} +90 minutes a complicated thing to calculate?
It just seems like a limitation of OmniFocus right now.

I don’t have any use for a Mac, nor do I see much value in having a desktop version of OmniFocus. I’m sure that it’s great for people that do though.
The whole point for me is that it’s in my pocket at all times for when I have a spare 5/15/30 minutes etc. and want to see what tasks I can get done, for things like location-based reminders, or being able to quickly check a context and bring up all relevant tasks.

I see that “more flexible repeats and notifications” are on the 2017 roadmap, so hopefully this is something that they can add.


#4

Just to complete this with a note that all is not so gloomy, I would approach your specific case this way …

Laundry (Project, sequential)

  • start laundry
  • iron laundry (defer until next day at 1800)

I would set a 90 minute alarm in my alarms app that says “washing machine done”.


JJW


#5

If I’m having to keep track of things like that and start manual timers, it defeats the purpose of using OmniFocus.
There are at least a dozen ‘projects’ like this which would need separate timers.
iOS doesn’t let you have multiple timers running concurrently, and it presumes that I know how long these things are going to take.
With the laundry example I’d have to look up the manual and see just how long it’s going to take, then start a timer - assuming that I don’t already have one running.
The whole point of switching to OmniFocus was so that I could set up a project once, and then all I need to do is tick a box once to be notified when the next task is ready without having to think about it.


#6

I’ve liberally re-interpreted the premise of your comments. I also find contradictions in the rest of what you say. From this, I’m not sure that I can fully appreciate your struggle. It seems to be heading toward a request to shoe-horn OmniFocus to fit exactly what you (think that you) need, followed by fretful denouncements when it does not comply.

To leave again with a positive tone … OmniFocus is not going to substitute for the “start a timer when I start this task” action requirement in your project plan. It (graciously and rightfully IMHO) presumes that you will use a timer for that. I have an app (Alarmed) that handles multiple timers on my iPhone. I cannot imagine that it is the only one that can do so. The rest of your workflow can certainly be handled in OmniFocus.

Maybe you could also give a real project rather than an example one to help appreciate your situation better, lest I am focusing too literally on washing machines completing in 90 minutes and you are focusing on budget management meetings completing over weekly intervals.


JJW


#7

I often use Workflow (workflow.is) to give me what I need for things like this. I have a household project which would contain the task “do laundry”, and then a link to run my Workflow in the notes. So I click the link and it sets up the project right then (which means you can defer task 2 for 90 mins, though I’d do 100 to give you time to load the machine), and off you go.


#8

I would prefer that you did not, because that was not the intent of my post.
My understanding of the GTD system is that everything goes in your inbox.
No task is too big or small, important or unimportant: the goal is that you get everything out of your head and into a single location so that you’re never left thinking “oh I must remember to do X” or forgetting to do a task that’s on another list or in another app.
Splitting tasks across multiple apps breaks the underlying principles of GTD, which is what I meant about “defeating the purpose of using OmniFocus” by managing certain tasks in different apps.

I’m surprised that you can’t think of any projects - repeating or not - where it might be useful to have the next item in a sequence appear a set time after completing the previous item.
It could be a task where another action needs to be performed after its completion, or as an alert to notify you that you’ve spent X amount of time on a project and should move on to something else.
I chose laundry as my example because it seemed like a nearly ubiquitous task which requires multiple steps, and requires that you wait some period of time in-between those steps; i.e. waiting 90 minutes for them to be washed, and waiting overnight for them to dry before they can be ironed.
It doesn’t matter if the scope of the task is remembering to hang up the laundry or something to do with a budget management meeting.

My question was if OmniFocus could have tasks with defer/due times that were relative to the completion of a previous item in a project - because that seemed like a really basic and obvious requirement which applies to many different tasks for me.

[quote=“rosemaryjayne, post:7, topic:29689, full:true”]
I often use Workflow (workflow.is) to give me what I need for things like this. I have a household project which would contain the task “do laundry”, and then a link to run my Workflow in the notes. So I click the link and it sets up the project right then (which means you can defer task 2 for 90 mins, though I’d do 100 to give you time to load the machine), and off you go.
[/quote]Thank you for the suggestion.
I’ve bought Workflow and while it’s not really a solution to this problem, it does at least simplify the process somewhat.

It still requires that I:

  • Remember to open the task in OmniFocus instead of just checking it off the list in the widget
  • Navigate to the notes tab and click an URL to run the workflow
  • Switch back to OmniFocus after running the workflow and then mark the task as complete

It would be a lot easier if OmniFocus could handle this sort of task so that I only had to check it off the list in the widget as usual, and then be alerted to the next item 90 minutes later automatically.


#9

Glad you clarified this. The intent suggested in my rewording was otherwise bleeding through as I was “reading between the lines”.

When we would be purists, yes it may. The principled issue with this is that pure GTD likely does not say “everything out of your head AND IN TO ONE APP ONLY”. The practical issue with this is that it, taken to extremes, it eventually demands that any one given GTD app must do everything and wash the laundry for you too. Or it must be the everything to everyone app. With these counter arguments, I suggest that you may be going too far on demands to have absolute but potentially misdirected GTD principles put in to perfect but impractical-to-realize use in OmniFocus.

I do think of them, allow that they exist, and have them in my practical work flow. I do not however insist that OmniFocus to be the one and only place that absolutely must exist to handle them.

I agree this is a reasonable feature request.


JJW


#10

My understanding of the GTD system is that everything goes in your inbox.

Actually, it doesn’t. GTD says that everything that has your attention should go into your system. Plenty of things like showering, brushing your teeth, and driving to work, would typically not go into your system. Personally, I would put hanging up laundry when the washing machine buzzer goes off into this same category, but you’re at liberty to do otherwise, of course.

Even if it did, writing your task on a piece of paper would be sufficient to address it. Nothing in GTD requires you to have 90 minute timers for your laundry.

the goal is that you get everything out of your head and into a single location … Splitting tasks across multiple apps breaks the underlying principles of GTD

Since GTD at a minimum requires that you have both lists and a calendar, this argument fails immediately. There are plenty of other canonical examples of items which don’t go in your lists, such as read/review material, paper-based documents such as bills when they can serve as their own reminders, and so on. So the idea that everything should be in a single location is nothing to do with GTD.

No “underlying principles of GTD” are being broken, here.


#11

There are some tasks that fall into the gray area between task and appointment. I could have a task that says “bring out the trash bin to curbside every Wednesday nights.” Some folks might put this in OmniFocus. I’ve eventually settled on putting it into my calendar as an appointment as something that must occur at that specific time (every Wednesday nights).

I would view OmniFocus (and every other task management app) as a big bucket list of projects and tasks that I want to complete. When I have some free time aside from doing my typical duties at the house or office, I’ll check OmniFocus for any available tasks that I can do right now in my current context (running errands, at home, at the office, on my computer, etc.).

If there is something that I want to schedule, I’ll drag and drop a task from OmniFocus to the calendar app and assign a date/time. More often than not, I’ll have a large time block (30 minutes to 3 hours) and select a handful of tasks to work on. I’ll look up OmniFocus and then write down 3-5 tasks from my available task list on to a 3x5 index card to work on.

I’ve found that the less time I spend in OmniFocus, the more work I get done. I only look at OmniFocus when I’m capturing tasks, checking off tasks, or project planning. Think of OmniFocus as a restaurant menu. Look at the choices available to you. Choose the dishes you want. Put the menu away. Enjoy the meal. In the same manner, I look at OmniFocus. Write down 3-5 available tasks I want to work on now. Put away OmniFocus. Get to work. Check off tasks in OmniFocus at the end of the time block.


#12

Wow. That is a neat analogy on a few different levels.

Thanks!!!


JJW


#13

To answer the original question, send an email to omnifocus@omnigroup.com to vote for a feature request to use relative defer and due dates.

Sending email will ensure that the vote gets registered into their database.


#14

Well no, I don’t have basic things like that in my daily routine set up in OmniFocus either.
But I think some of you are getting too caught up on the fact that my example was laundry and not something you personally consider important enough to enter into OmniFocus.

GTD may not require projects which can have defer/due times set relative to the completion of a previous item, but do you not think that would be a useful feature to have?

[quote=“wilsonng, post:11, topic:29689”]
There are some tasks that fall into the gray area between task and appointment. I could have a task that says “bring out the trash bin to curbside every Wednesday nights.” Some folks might put this in OmniFocus. I’ve eventually settled on putting it into my calendar as an appointment as something that must occur at that specific time (every Wednesday nights).
[/quote]The thing that I like about OmniFocus is the ability to defer a task rather than having it visible all the time.
If I have to take out the trash every Wednesday night, I don’t need to see that until I get home from work that day.
So that’s not something that I would put in my calendar.
I use my calendar for events/appointments rather than tasks; i.e. things where I have to be somewhere at a specific time.

[quote=“wilsonng, post:11, topic:29689”]
I’ve found that the less time I spend in OmniFocus, the more work I get done. I only look at OmniFocus when I’m capturing tasks, checking off tasks, or project planning. Think of OmniFocus as a restaurant menu. Look at the choices available to you. Choose the dishes you want. Put the menu away. Enjoy the meal. In the same manner, I look at OmniFocus. Write down 3-5 available tasks I want to work on now. Put away OmniFocus. Get to work. Check off tasks in OmniFocus at the end of the time block.
[/quote]This is how I work too - and it’s exactly why I want to streamline the process to setting up a repeating project once.
I don’t even enter OmniFocus most of the time - the widget is set up to show me all available tasks for today and nothing more.

If I have free time after completing all my tasks for the day I’ll open up OmniFocus to see what else I can work on, or if I have made plans to meet up with someone I’ll check their context to see if there’s anything related to them, but otherwise I want to interact with it as little as possible - and I mean that in a positive way.
OmniFocus is really good for quickly entering tasks and getting out of the way until I need it. I don’t feel like I’m spending more time managing tasks in the app than getting things done, like I have with some other apps.

Setting up scripts in other apps and having to remember to then activate them after completing a task is antithetical to that. It feels like I’m wasting time with something that should be an easy thing for OmniFocus to automate itself.


#15

[quote=“Bob2, post:14, topic:29689, full:true”]
GTD may not require projects which can have defer/due times set relative to the completion of a previous item, but do you not think that would be a useful feature to have?[/quote]

It may be a useful feature to have in some cases, but OmniFocus is not “break[ing] the underlying principles of GTD” by not having it, which was the point.

Personally, no, I don’t think it would be a useful feature for OmniFocus to have. OmniFocus does a good job of being a task list manager. Some people seem to think that you can stuff a million random and optional features into software without doing it harm, because those features are optional and there can be at worst neutral to every user, but I don’t agree with this. Quite apart from making the software more complicated to use, every additional feature has a development cost which takes away focus from improving the core features which I find useful.

So I’m all in favor of Omni not stuffing the software full of any random optional feature that everyone can think of, trying to make it everything to everyone, and instead focusing on its core functionality as a task list manager. There are plenty of other apps which could, and probably do, provide such functionality without being harmful to OmniFocus.


#16

With the release of OmniFocus 3 for iOS and its more flexible support for both repeating tasks and custom inspectors, I thought it might not hurt to revisit this feature request. I’ve wanted to set defer times relative to other tasks for years, and it always seemed odd to me that OmniFocus didn’t provide that functionality. Surely @Bob2 and I can’t be the only ones who feel this way.

As a simple example of how this might work, you could enter a plus sign before any time interval (e.g. “+1h”) to indicate that the current task should be deferred (or due) that amount of time after the previous task has been completed. At the moment, OmniFocus 2 converts both “1h” and “+1h” into a time one hour from now, but it could just as easily interpret the former (“1h”) to be an offset from the current time and the latter ("+1h") to be an offset from the time at which the previous task was completed.

Of course, you wouldn’t want someone to set a relative defer date unintentionally, so care would have to be taken to design an interface that is intuitive for both regular and “power” users. (After all, the behavior of the “+1” buttons for defer and due dates is already a bit confusing…)


#17

I’m missing this feature too. I thought OF3 would have it.


#18

Perfect! I just sent a feature request email asking for just this! I could use this big time!!!


#19

Nice! ✨

You know, as I’ve thought about this feature request over the past year, it occurred to me that a more general solution might be to allow tasks to trigger user scripts when they are completed. A user script could then (for example) update the defer dates of any actions that just became available, but that would honestly just be scratching the surface of what would be possible…