Beyond creating and editing projects in personal project management software like OmniFocus and Things, one needs to know how much time one has sunk into one’s projects. However, a major limitation of those apps is that they do not provide time tracking functions.
Another issue with OmniFocus stems from its over-commitment to David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. As popular and useful as the book is, its ideas were developed in the 1990s. The system deals with piles of paper and projects like cleaning one’s garage. Although many who write about the book have swallowed the claim hook, line and sinker, that Getting Things Done presents a knowledge work system, the fact is that it was clearly not designed specifically for the core functions of knowledge work —e.g., learning and creating new scientific knowledge. Where are the examples in that book about creating new theories, for instance? You will find them in the empty set. Naught. That book is instead a general productivity system. That is not a criticism of the book. It’s just a correction of its common misrepresentation in the blogosphere, and I am sad to say, in some books written by academics on productivity (as I have mentioned elsewhere on this site).
To understand my point it helps to read about knowledge work by cognitive scientists and philosophers. Cognitive science is, after all, quite concerned with the production and usage of personal and objective (public) knowledge. Philosophy of knowledge is one of the cognitive sciences. Essential readings on knowledge work include Karl Popper’s Objective Knowledge and Carl Bereiter’s Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age. My own Cognitive Productivity contains an AI-based extension of Popper’s seminal concepts.
Thus, the notion of context presented in Getting Things Done is archaic and not particularly helpful for knowledge workers. More important than context for modern knowledge workers is the notion of activity. I have argued elsewhere on this web site (and in Cognitive Productivity) that OmniGroup could replace OmniFocus’s notion of context with the notion of activities.
OmniFocus should, in addition, learn to automatically categorize actions. For example, if one of your tasks is to read a paper, OmniFocus should know that this is a reading action. One should not have to classify it as such. Then, OmniFocus should provide a way to filter activities by activity type. Some of the actions that matter most to knowledge workers are described in mySelfQuantifier. (As you would expect, writing, programming, debugging, and reading are important types of activities.)
Aside. In my opinion, the foregoing is not too much to ask of a company like OmniGroup. Its OmniFocus seems to be the most popular personal project management app. OmniFocus is not particularly inexpensive either. Consider also that we are in the era of deep learning. I suspect that a couple of AI graduates would be able to crack this nut relatively quickly. If not, the R&D community would learn from the publication of their results, and no doubt be able to fix the problem in short order.
Whereas OmniFocus does not directly support time-tracking, it has an extensive AppleScript dictionary which could be used by time-tracking software developers. mySelfQuantifier could and I think should leverage it.
With the mySelfQuantifier time-tracking system and example workbook, I’ve tried to address these two OmniFocus gaps. With mySelfQuantifier, you can track the amount of time spent on particular projects and in particular activities.
I’ve recently published a collection of screencasts on the mySelfQuantifier time tracking system.. The screencasts adds to thousands of words on the system, with more to follow. Enjoy.
OmniGroup produces some of the best apps for MacOS®. I am a dedicated user of OmniFocus, OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle. I recommend these apps without hesitation. But every app can be improved. As noted above, OmniFocus has an AppleScript® dictionary. Thus self-quantification apps could integrate with OmniFocus.
mySelfQuantifier is not a complete solution to the problem of tracking one’s time, let alone all self-quantification. It is a free integrative collection of concepts backed by a sample workbook. See my next blog post on the future of self-quantification.
My comments about Getting Things Done are directed exclusively at the book Getting Things Done. I never comment on the brand that goes by that name; nor do I comment on the author of the book. My writing on the subject is for the purposes of advancing knowledge (scholarly purposes.)
2 thoughts on “Time-Tracking and OmniFocus: Screencasts for the mySelfQuantifier System”
Many people discover, is I did, that OmniFocus is not a project management application. Rather, OF is a task management application. In fact, it was born out of users kludging OmniOutliner to manage tasks. As a task manager, it is a great application, but tasks are only part of a project. As you’ve mentioned, there are resource such as time that need to be allocated and tracked for projects. The OmniGroup does have an application for this – OmniPlan. I found OP was overkill for my needs as a third-year PhD student. It falls more into the ‘launch a space shuttle’ category, along with Microsoft Project. On the other end of the spectrum are simplistic project managers designed for things like family vacations. I need something in between, and am trying Aeon Timeline 2 at the moment. I don’t have a need for time tracking, nor resource allocation.
As far as the issue with Contexts (the need for activities), perhaps Perspectives would provide a solution. You could think of looking at your tasks from the Perspective of a reader, with a Perspective named ‘Reader’ that searches for, say, ‘read:’ in your task descriptions. When you select that Perspective, you see, “read: Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head”, “read: Mortimer Adler’s A Guidebook to Learning: For a Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom”, etc.
So, for me, it’s OmniFocus for task management. Aeon Timeline2 for working out timelines. Most planning is done using my Passion Planner (a wonder system). Scapple to map out relationships and ideas. OmniOutliner, Scrivener, DEVONThink Pro Office, Bookends, and I’m getting started with Tinderbox. All highly recommended.
Oh yeah, and I’m enjoying your book. I’m really looking forward to Part III.
Thanks, John. I agree that OmniFocus should not be referred to as project management, at least in an unqualified way; instead I refer to it as _personal_ project management, meaning that an individual can manage their own projects with it, rather than an entire organization’s project (except for some special cases) The three major data structures are folders, projects and tasks.
OmniFocus does of course offer some temporal features, such as estimated time, defer dates, and due dates.
I agree that OP is overkill for managing _personal_ projects . OP would come in handy when you have multiple people contributing to a project, and when you need to deal with critical paths between tasks involving different human resources, and report to management and the team on multiple aspects of those projects, etc.
I agree that Perspectives are relevant to activities.