One of the five things that should be kept out of OmniFocus are project plans. There are several good reasons for that. OmniFocus is designed to provide an unambiguous list of concrete things that both should and can be done . In the GTD terminology these are called “next actions”. Contexts, start dates, ‘on hold’ options, perspectives, sequentially organized projects, and other features of OmniFocus help filter out unwanted information and focus your attention on next actions. In contrast, project plans should be systematic and comprehensive, they should not miss certain things just to spare your attention. As a results they may contain a lot of open-ended items possibly only relevant in distant future and which are not necessarily your responsibility. It makes a lot of sense to keep these items separate from your concrete next actions. Where should one keep project plans if not in OmniFocus? There is actually no good answer to this question. My favorite software so far has been OmniOutliner. I have over 50 project plans which is about 1/5th of all my OmniOutliner files. (Another 10–15% are outlines of presentations and talks and the rest are writing outlines; in fact I have OmniOutliner templates: Plan, Presentation and Manuscript). I use OmniOutliner for the events I organize, courses I teach and larger projects that I coordinate. When I encounter an idea or another ‘input’ for future action I choose between OmniFocus and OmniOutliner based on a few criteria:
1) How concrete and actionable is the input? Concrete and actionable things go into OmniFocus (unless they belong to TaskPaper, which is for very simple lists of corrections to a manuscript or things to discuss with the boss). More open-ended ideas go into OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner is for logical thinking through the project. OmniFocus is for recording the results of such thinking so that they pop-up on your lists at the right time.
2) What is the timeframe of action? Something that needs to be clarified and dealt with during the next week or two belongs in OmniFocus. Something that can sit and ‘cook’ for a few weeks or months is an OmniOutliner thing. If in June I see an article which can be used in a course taught in November I will likely drop the reference in the OmniOutliner file for that course. If I need to check the assignments within two weeks – it’s an action for OmniFocus.
3) Who owns the action? OmniFocus is only for the things I do myself whereas OmniOutliner contains all items which may be delegated or even depend on completely external actions. That’s why I often project my OmniOutliner on a screen during brainstorming and planning meetings. This software is great for structuring collective thinking. My colleagues are used to receive pdfs of OmniOutliner outlines both before and after meetings.
And yet OmniOutliner is not a planning software. Recently, I am getting increasingly frustrated that, similarly to OmniFocus, it cannot display a timeline of action, which is absolutely essential for planning. Of course, one can define “Start” and “Due” dates for various activities, but how does it help to decide whether there is time for a certain project in February next year? Academics work on multiple writing and teaching ‘projects’ requiring intricate coordination of time and resources which neither OmniFocus nor OmniOutliner can support. Professional planning software (Miscrosoft Project or OmniPlan) is not only expensive, but also very complex and takes a lot of time to maintain . So I am still waiting to find a software which will help me with personal project plans. Any ideas?