September 18, 2006

OmniPlan – Gantt Outlining & GTD

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 5:31 pm by a11en

A quick tip of the hat to the OsX software producers OmniGroup for tackling the Gantt chart project planning in their new beta-product OmniPlan. But first, some discussion of one of the difficulties in GTD the way I implement it…

Sibling/Children Tasks in GTD (a difficulty?)
One of the things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which has been slightly off-beat for me, is that it’s somewhat difficult for me to determine related tasks (especially when resorted into context views). Now, don’t get me wrong, GTD is absolutely fantastic, and it’s changing the way I deal with my work and projects. For nuts and bolts of how to organize and think properly about tasks, GTD is where it’s at. Currently I’ve been using Kinkless’s kGTD to do my sorting etc., of my tasks, and printing them out onto 3×5 cards for use in my Levenger‘s Ballistic Shirtpocket Briefcase. I love the flexibility of 3×5’s, and the ability to take my hi-Fi to my lo-Fi world is nice. [Going the other way is a bit more difficult, just to warn you.]

I find that in my simple task or project view, in kGTD and surely other apps- it can be somewhat difficult to understand children/sibling tasks when viewed all in a single context. In other words, in one project I may have @research, @lab work, @analysis on a microscope, and finally @writing in regards to the research done. All these may lay under a project tab- like “Determine 3D plane of grain-boundary 1.” Nice- it’s in a project, so they’re related, and it’s in a subproject (my thesis), etc. Now, the good thing about GTD is having a task list based on context- i.e., @lab-work. So, I page over to my @lab-work task list. All the labwork I need to do is there. BUT- what it doesn’t show me, is the fact that in the real-world, I need to do my @online/library research first before going into the lab. So, technically, that task of “grow bicrystal @lab” shouldn’t be in my task-list yet- as the library research hasn’t been completed. So, when moving between context lists, I tend to loose some serious information- the order and pre-requisites or parent tasks.

I strongly suspect some sort of pending task indication in kGTD or other GTD implementations is needed. Perhaps context lists should be only current actionable items and not include any of these parent-pending tasks. In GTD words, the context lists would include only “next actions”… not all actions, as kGTD currently is setup. This in itself may solve this problem.

I highly value GTD for freeing up my mind (I’ve slacked a bit lately, but I’m getting back on the horse with organization). So, I am grateful to D.Allen [2] [3] for his work. As well, as to S. Covey [2] [3] for his work. I’m just wondering if we’re missing another level of mind-stuffing information here: namely the proper order and relation of tasks. In my current mode of organization, I seem to lose this information, or am required to remember it. In the project view, usually I have things organized in such a way that I can see this natural parent/child relationship, but when contexts are used, my brain must remember these things- which seems to go against the basic tenant of GTD. At least *I think* it does. [Lord knows I’m not an expert here.]

Gantt Charts, Procrastination and Tasks
Back to our discussion of Gantt charts. A long time ago I found Gantt charts. Even though they are painfully structured (not loose in scheduling or linking etc.)- they do allow you to very quickly see the tasks required to complete a project. In some ways, producing even a Gantt-Chart fake (structured todo list with fake times), you can see/walk through a project’s progression to completion more clearly. It’s very easy to see sibling/child/parent relationships in Gantt views. So, it intrigues me that OmniGroup chose a task-list and a Gantt project view for their OmniPlan application. Their app appears to be more focused towards small business or units within an organization, but it may prove to be interesting for personal project planning as well. So, I will begin to play with it a bit and see what can be determined. If I find it good or bad, I’ll let you know!

BTW, the Gantt project view may be useful for those of you working through the Now Habit. The idea of the reverse-schedule works quite well with Gantt planning. Starting with the required completion time, and working backwards through tasks to complete, you get a better feel for how much time is required for a project, its related tasks, and what needs to get done in a timely manner to achieve your goal. I’m not sure OmniPlan is good for GTD. I’m still playing. As I find out more, I’ll be sure to post.

GTD Evangelism (sic)
In describing GTD to my brother (the consummate devil’s advocate at times) he asked me: “Why- how has it helped?” The one comment that gave him pause was when I mentioned the ability to leave a project alone and jump back in right where you left off. It’s true. One of the great things about GTD, is that when you have your tasks and projects all in the system, and all the items are properly filed, you now can flip over to your project list/folder, and see what needs to be done immediately. Even if it’s been a month since you last got to that particular project. This is a serious benefit, as usually project switching requires you to spend quite a bit of downtime determining what needs to be done next. The methodology of filing/processing items from your projects into next actions and reference material means that you have all the necessary tools for completing your project at your finger-tips. Even if you leave it for a short time period to work on another necessary project. So, those of you who find it difficult to flip between various items when left for periods of time (almost a weekly event in grad-school), may find implementing GTD to be helpful.

Fountain-Pen Friendly Notebooks
A quick blurb about fountain-pen friendly notebooks: Barnes and Nobels has spiral bound Miquelrius as well as the faux-leather journals. Miquelrius paper is fantastic with fountain-pens! Love it- love it. My m400 has been writing so well lately, and on Miquelrius paper, it’s a dream. 🙂 (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!



  1. A couple of thoughts

    1) I use My Life Organized ( as my primary organisation/planning tool. This makes it very easy for me to break down the next few steps of a project so that each NA appears in the appropriate context as I check of the previous one (or multiple NAs if they can be done in any order). I tend to update this at individual project planning sessions (something that many people might do as part of the weekly review, but I find it easier to do with a focus on that project). I will also put an NA with the abbreviation “WTNA?” as a placeholder to mean “I need to figure out What’s The Next Action for this project”.

    2) I also like the comment about being able to drop and restart projects easily; that’s one of the benefits for me too, even though I’d not consciously realized that.

  2. a11en said,

    Hey Andy!

    Great to meet you! Very interesting stuff! I’ll go and check out mylifeorganized. Thanks for dropping in and letting me know about it!

    I have to admit, my Bro’ doesn’t seem to be having the same sort of organizational problems- or at least, he deals with his projects as flaming balls of fire that need to get off his desk *now*. But, the concept of swapping between projects with ease perked his ears up. Until he ended up saying: “So what” to all the things I had on my list, did I come up with that one. 😉

    It’s definitely true for me, at least- if I know where all my reference material that is needed for a project is, and I know what each next-action for the project goals are… I can set the project down (if it’s not critical) and come back to it, knowing that I know the next-action on the list… that’s due to the fact it’s no longer held in my head- which surely would go missing within the space of a few days. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts, Andy! Let me know if I can touch on any topics of interest at all in the future!


  3. Christopher said,

    1) In GTD the project plan, that means all the (foreseeable) actions, dependencies, milestones, purpose, outcomes and what have you are stored in what Allen calls ‘project support material.
    2) Only next-actions are stored in context-lists.

    So, GTD deals with those dependencies of tasks, Allen did not oversee it.

  4. a11en said,

    I agree here, Christopher! Thanks for dropping in. I think what is missed (especially in the kGTD approach here) is that our lists aren’t supposed to be every single task from our project plan. They are to be the next-actions, as you suggest in (2). Also agree with you on this. So, no, it’s not an oversight, I agree. I think perhaps it’s a function of a program that isn’t completely fully working right now (kGTD)… and my use of it- meaning that there’s no way to indicate this.

    However- I will say this- I think that there’s not much of a discusison about the sibling tasks in the project plan as far as I can tell. Of course, someone could use Gantt Charts and various project outlines which support sibling/children task lists and dates for execution etc. This may prove useful. But, I feel there should be a mix somehow… a project plan similar to kGTD that allows for proper organization of action relationships and automatically brings the next related action into the next-action lists as they become doable (and their parents/siblings are completed).

    I hope this little comment makes a slight bit of sense. 🙂

    [Thanks for dropping in!]

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