Two OF3 Perspectives puzzlers


#1

Hi! I recently upgraded to OF3 Pro, and I’m trying to take advantage of tags and custom perspectives, but I’m having trouble defining two of the perspectives I want. I’m hoping someone here can help me figure them out.

Challenge 1: I’ve created a “This month” tag that I’d like to use to identify projects that I want to work on (but not necessarily finish) this month. I’d like a perspective in which I can see every project with that tag, along with every available action for those projects. That way, at the start of each week, I can look at those projects and tag certain actions with a “This week” tag. But if I say the perspective should include items with the “This month” tag, it shows me those projects, but “No available actions”. The best I’ve come up with as a workaround for this is to navigate to the project in the Projects perspective, and tag some subset of the actions with “This month”, but that doesn’t feel like a clean solution. Similarly, changing every project I don’t intend to work on to “On Hold” is also not great, because I like to reserve that for projects that can’t proceed until some other project is completed.

Challenge 2: I’d like a perspective to show me “Stalled” projects, i.e., Active or On Hold projects that have no available actions. This could be because I finished every action I’d added to a project but didn’t (mark it) complete, or more likely because I didn’t add an action when I created the project. I have no idea how to even approach this one, but I vaguely recall that OF1 had a similar perspective.

Thanks for any suggestions!


#2

I’m not sure there’s a good solution to Challenge 1, but I think Challenge 2 can be done with the following:

Perspective Screenshot

Hope that helps!


#3

That does it, thank you! I didn’t even try this because I assumed the project clause would only apply to completed actions that were not remaining (e.g. completed).

Now I know I should experiment more, but I’m still hoping for a solution for Challenge 1.


#4

I do basically the same as your Challenge 1: I flag some important current projects and look at them in their own perspective. I call it my ‘Top of Mind’ perspective.

I do this by simply adding a particular symbol or character to the project name; I chose a star. The perspective includes a ‘Matches search terms’ rule for this character. This returns the actions, because the actions conveniently include their project name for search purposes. I group by ‘Entire Projects’ which also returns the parent Action Groups, so I see the entire branches of available actions in these projects.

The perspective I actually use has a few more rules; I like to:

  • include remaining items tagged ‘Waiting’ (because I need to know what I’m waiting for to keep the project on track)
  • exclude available actions tagged ‘Agenda’ (because those are for when a meeting with other people actually happens).

#5

That’s a really cool hack! I’ll have to think about it.

Currently, I have a top-level folder called “Focus”, and I always move one project into that folder. This project is then displayed in my “Focus” custom perspective:

Sorting that perspective by tags order allows me to re-arrrange the actions for each tag right within the perspective.

For my other activities, I then I have a “Do” perspective:

Since this perspective mixes projects, I keep it sorted in projects order (technically flagged order, which amounts to the same thing). I don’t want to re-arrange actions across projects, only within projects.

I do some of my work from my Focus perspective and other work from the Do perspective.

Your approach of using ‘*’ to focus on a project has two benefits over mine:

  1. It’s fewer steps.
  2. You keep your natural project hierarchy.

My approach also has some benefits:

  1. Arguably, it makes browsing certain perspectives (such as the built-in Project perspective) a bit more natural. The project order does, to some extent, encode priority, so moving the currently focused project to the top of the project hierarchy does make some sense.
  2. It’s easier to assign new actions to this project on iOS (since the project is right at the top of the list).

Two other comments:

  1. You really cannot (or at least should not) try to use tags for this. Tags apply to actions, not projects. Project tags are not inherited, they’re used to set default tags for new actions. I had earlier asked for a sort of tag inheritance on this forum (Tag inheritance & two icons per custom perspective) but that request goes against OmniFocus’s basic notion of what a tag assigned to a project means.
  2. I think that any project which is on hold, regardless of reason, should be marked “on hold”. The most straightforward mechanism for making sure those projects aren’t forgotten about is review, although I do also have a system for keeping track of specific things I am waiting for.

#6

Thanks for sharing your setup; this is always interesting. Your approach of using a ‘Focus’ project folder is also good and I agree it is a more natural use of the built-in capabilities.

My use of a special marker in project names has been working well for me because:

  • The marker appears next to the project name in all perspectives (either in the project groups or the project name next to the actions). When looking through any list of actions or projects, I see immediately which are part of a marked project.
  • When I mark a project as important, it is sometimes temporary. Adding and removing the marker feels easier than moving the project to a different folder and later putting it back into the right place in the hierarchy.
  • I group projects by theme or area of responsibility, and I’m familiar with the order of my project hierarchy, so I’m more comfortable with keeping everything in its place. Also, I sometimes break down projects into smaller projects, making use of the project hierarchy, when there are clear intermediate outcomes (this enables me to selectively put them on hold, and makes actions in a list clearer when their project name is displayed next to them), so I don’t want to break these project branches.
  • The marker approach also works on Action Groups (it must be that an action’s parent actions are also included in the text search). When I mark a branch of actions, the actions under it appear in my ‘top of mind’ perspective. This is convenient, it means I can mark just a subset of a project if that’s what requires progress. This doesn’t seem to work for project folders however.

You might be wondering: why not just use the built-in flag for all of this? I use flags for items I need or want completed soon, and I try to keep this list short to avoid being overwhelmed. My perspective of marked projects is one of the places I look for actions to flag. It’s making a distinction between importance and urgency, without having to tag large branches of actions (more difficult to toggle on and off). Having tag inheritance, like you mention, would enable my use case without the special marker hack, but that feature would be quite a can of worms.


#7

Yeah, this is quite interesting. Indeed your system can also be applied to action groups, and indeed your system provides some visual distinction in other lists. I am planning to experiment with your system, or perhaps with a hybrid system where my Focus perspective shows both the contents of my Focus folder and any actions which match the star search.

I also agree about not using flags for this. Flags are useful for very urgent things. I flag at most two or three actions at a time.

One difference between our approaches is that I only change my Focus project an average of something like once per week. Anything more transient than that, I would tend to do from my “Do” perspective, where all of my active projects except my current Focus project are mixed together. I only move something to my Focus folder/perspective if I really want to explore it in detail over several days.

There is an interesting issue here about whether it’s better to work by tag or by project. Working by project (ie. from a Focus/Top of Mind perspective) tends to be more appropriate for work which:

  1. is more foundational (ie. other work will build on top of it)
  2. creates more transient context which has to be kept in mind
  3. is more fluid and interrelated

For more straightforward work, I find it better to not focus on a single project, and instead to work from tag-based perspectives which interleave all active projects.


#8

It does seem that I use my marked projects differently to your Focus project folder. It’s for a few projects on which I want to see progress soon. As well as important medium-term projects, this selection could include a significant milestone, getting closure on something that’s near completion, or a critical administrative issue. These might get toggled on/off more than once a week.

I include ‘waiting for’ tasks (which I set to ‘on hold’) in my ‘Top of Mind’ perspective. As a result, important ‘waiting for’ items tend to be visible there, and I need to look at my full ‘Waiting’ perspective less (as part of my full weekly review). I’m looking at the same number of perspectives on a daily basis, but more relevant ones.

Regarding working by tag or by project, I consider my ‘Top of Mind’ perspective to be mainly in the ‘Planning & Review’ category. I go there to check those important projects or Action Groups, and pick actions (flag, tag or add a date) that will show up in my ‘Do’ perspectives which are very much tag-based and slice across projects. Nevertheless, despite best attempts at planning ahead, sometimes circumstances change or there is a renewed urgency, and I can work directly from the curated ‘Top of Mind’ rather than wade into the full project hierarchy (this is similar to using the Focus mode in OF Mac, but with my added customisations).


#9

I have tried out this ★-marking method to implement the “This month” perspective I wanted (Challenge 1), and it seems to work really well for me! It does indeed include all the actions for projects with that symbol, and it has the added benefit that I can put the symbol on single actions or action groups if I want to focus on something smaller than an entire project.

fragar’s use of a Focus folder is interesting, but I think it would conflict with how I use folders. I use them to group projects based on what they are for. E.g., at work my folders are for my team’s projects, cross-team projects, work projects that are individually for me, and personal projects. Meanwhile at home (aside: I have to use two separate installs of OF for work and personal stuff, because we’re not allowed to store any work-related data in the cloud, but I want to sync the personal stuff to my phone) my folders group projects into “House”, “Stuff”, “Money”, “Hacking”, etc. I like these groupings because I find it easier to set the relative priorities of similar projects, so I shift them around within the folder. Then when I’m planning I only need look at the top one or two of each folder to decide which ones I’ll work on next.

Thanks, BTW, to whichever of you it was that reminded me that project tags are still essentially like OF2 Contexts, in that they only provide defaults for contained actions. I’d lost sight of that, and that’s why I initially tried to use them here.

I never spent time on these forums before, but I’ve learned a lot just from this thread. Clearly I need to read more here!


#10

Great, happy that we could find solutions to your challenges!


#11

That makes sense. My Focus perspective is much more for doing than for planning. This goes somewhat against the GTD methodology, which generally advocates planning by project and doing by context. I just find that sometimes I want to really immerse myself in some project, more than working from context/tag would allow for.

For what it’s worth, my “Waiting For” system works as follows:

  1. I have a bunch of “Waiting For” tags, one for each thing I am waiting for. These are placed on hold and assigned to any actions which are waiting for that thing to happen.
  2. I then have a bunch of repeating “Navigate” actions, one for each Waiting For tag. These Navigate actions are shown in my “Do” perspective at appropriate intervals and I immediately mark each of them as complete when I see it. I may then also either activate the corresponding “Waiting For” tag or enter other actions related to that tag into my Inbox. These Navigate actions implement a sort of custom tag-based review.
  3. I also have a “Waiting” perspective which shows all of my “Waiting For” actions, grouped by (Waiting For) tag. I can visit this perspective if I feel like it, but rarely do.

@optimist: Like you and MultiDim, I also have a folder and project hierarchy which helps me a lot. My system would be a mess without it. My “Focus” folder does subvert that hierarchy to some extent, but there are also some benefits to putting my Focus project first. For example, I have a “Study” tag and perspective which I use for reading and study which I do in the evenings. This perspective is grouped and sorted by project and I really like having the study actions from my Focus project listed first there.


#12

So the events you are waiting for are represented only by a tag, not an action? Do you do this because you typically have several actions which are dependant on each event (and spread out in the project, or over multiple projects)?


#13

Thanks for starting this thread, and to everyone who has participated. You’ve helped me clarify my own thinking.

(Perspectives need a “has a parent that is tagged with…” filter. We’re essentially applying unstructured tags with the search filter)

I’ve tried a Focus folder in the past, and I too didn’t like moving projects in and out of it. It felt heavyweight, and it would move projects in and out of their areas of focus folders.

In response to this thread, I made two perspectives – one for the high value Focus projects (searching on ⭐️) and one for everything else (searching on no ⭐️).

My Focus perspective is grouped by project. That’s how I think about projects that require lots of energy. I decide to put some energy into a specific project, then look for an action I can take to move it forward.

My Everything Else perspective is grouped by tags. This is the typical GTD “I can make some phone calls right now” approach.

I really like that breakdown. With high focus things, I’m focused on the project. With low focus things, I’m focused on the context. For me, “brainstorm plans for life changing project” should appear in a different perspective than “pick up dog poop.”

Focus I think is the things that are Important and/or Urgent. So my couple high value projects that I’m working on are in there. “File 2018 Taxes” is currently in the Everything Else perspective, I can move it forward by doing certain tasks alongside other computer-based tasks. But if it’s still active when April moves around, it will probably get moved to Focus.


#14

That’s a tidy personal setup and good explanation of working on projects versus being guided by context.

Very interesting idea. @fragar had made the same proposal: Tag inheritance & two icons per custom perspective This would enable some of the use cases for “inherited tags”, without having to implement the additional complexity of tag inheritance across the whole product. It would be less dynamic and on a per-perspective basis, but could be valuable. At minimum, it would be tidier tagging an action group instead of using a ‘star marker’. I will think about this.


#15

Thanks to all for sharing.

I used to use flags just for high-priority items as several of you describe, but recently I’ve changed my definition of high-priority to be “do this today.” I have an @plan perspective that shows all available items. I go through it in the morning and flag items that I want to work on today. My @today perspective includes flagged items and items in the discuss-with-my-wife project. Thanks to Polina Burkart for suggesting this.


#16

@MultiDim:

That’s right. For each thing which I am waiting for, I have one Waiting For tag. Actions assigned to that Waiting For tag are the things I can’t do until that thing which I am waiting for has happened. Each Waiting For tag also has a single corresponding repeating action reminding me to review the tag - these repeating actions aren’t assigned to the tag, they just link to it in the note field.

This is extremely similar to my setup and thought process. I have two primary working perspectives:

  1. A “Focus” perspective for my currently focused project.
  2. A “Do” perspective, for every other active project.

When I sit down to work in the morning, I first scan my Forecast and Flagged perspectives (which should be and usually are empty), and then I work from either the Focus perspective or the Do perspective. Which of the two I work from at any particular moment is a judgment call and tends to depend on how deeply I am into my current Focus project - sometimes I’ll work heavily on my Focus project for a few days, and sometimes I may ease off a bit and catch up on things from the Do perspective.

Both of these perspectives are grouped by tags or combined tags. My main tags - what I call Category tags - are roughly in priority order (Go, Do, Clean Up, Maintain, Byte, Navigate, Improve, Automate, Experiment, Write, Study), and my projects are also roughly in priority order, so the actions in both perspectives are roughly in priority order. When I work from the Focus perspective I will often re-arrange those actions or cherry-pick them - in that perspective basically any style of work is fair game - whereas when I work from the Do perspective I try to work sequentially. If the first action in my Do perspective is something which I can’t or don’t want to do right now, I re-assign it somewhere else based on my reason for not being able to or not wanting to do it right now (I have seven categories of such reasons).

At least half of my projects are never going to be Focus projects. This includes both single action lists and slower-burning projects with clear goals, and it includes both always-active projects as well as on-hold projects which I will activate later but never focus on. Most of my paperwork-type and life-type projects, some of my digital tool yak-shaving, and a bit of my actual work as a software developer, falls this category. This is the GTD approach to work.

My Focus projects tend to be a few harder or more extensive paperwork/life projects, some of my digital tool yak shaving, and most of my actual work. If I have a project which I want to focus on later, I put it on hold and create a “Rock” action which links to it. I then have a Rocks perspective in which I can plan my intended sequence of upcoming Focus projects.

GTD is brilliant for some kinds of work and just plain wrong for other types of work. One of the most important things for a good task management system is figuring out which is which. Interleaving projects is in some situations extremely beneficial - our high-priority activities do often come at us from different directions, and even with creative activities spacing can be useful since it gives your mind a chance to step back repeatedly. It’s a similar effect to spaced repetition for learning.

In some situations, on the other hand, it’s very useful to keep a ton of context in your mind for a while. A lot of hard and creative work falls in this category. That’s when focus starts to become a better strategy than interleaving.