Can paper replace OmniFocus?

This is no simple question and my love for analog tools is not letting me let this one go easily. I have found that my creativity goes up and my energy thrives when I’m doing work with pen and paper or even with a whiteboard. If I need to do some brainstorming, analog is easily the first place I turn.

But what about task management? I’ve moved my idea generation to paper with great success, but is there a similar benefit to doing that same move with a task manager like OmniFocus?

I’ve not done any hands-on experimentation with this one… yet. It’s purely a thought experiment right now. But I’ve realized that the simple process of managing projects and contexts is easily done on paper. There are all kinds of systems out there that prove this is possible. The trouble is, I’m coming from OmniFocus. I’m used to my AppleScripts, templated projects, repeating projects/tasks, and recurring checklists.

The hurdles I’m still working out (again, just in my head):

  1. How do I handle templated projects like editing a podcast or setting up a web server?
  2. When a project needs to happen every X days/months/years, how does that work?
  3. What about the simple checklists like a packing list, pre-meeting list, or my Weekly Review?

Isn’t numbers 1-3 mostly checklists that we work from anyways? Maybe we can have a binder full of checklists and refer to those? I imagined that’s how airline pilots would do something similar.

I’ve thought of using a paper calendar to mark down the review or start a project. If something is hard set to start and end at certain dates then I’d probably us a pen. I’d use a pencil if it’s a project that can start and end on my own time schedule.

I think my fundamental issue with these sorts of checklists is the auto-repeating I’ve grown to rely on. I check off the last item and it automatically sets it up for the next round. I could likely work to create the habit of printing off the next checklist when I complete it. Maybe even add an item at the end that says “Print off another packing list” or something along those lines. But that would dictate the need to buy a printer. I don’t currently own one. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

You can’t escape the paper society! When the kids are going to school, they’re gonna eventually need a printer. The Paperless Society is not quite here yet.

I think my interest in using paper was for emergency use. On my little tropical island paradise, I might get a typhoon that knocks out power for several weeks. Then I’ll need to put everything on hold and work on paper as much as possible.

I’ve been looking at paper-based systems such as:

I think the Bullet Journal is the current shiny new object that I’m most interested in if I had to do paper. Haven’t really practiced using it much but it looks like the leading candidate for me if I had to switch to paper.

These were the exact items I ran into when doing paper lists. I tried a Bullet Journal format for a couple of weeks and found myself near constantly frustrated. There’s way too much overhead (i.e. copying and recopying tasks from page to page if you don’t get to them) and organization you have to think through in order to keep it usable. And once you start down a direction, it’s hard to go back and re-think it. I’m too impatient for that :stuck_out_tongue:.

Paper is fantastic, fun, tactile, and easy, but it’s just not as convenient and flexible as tech.

Great list of resources there, @wilsonng. I’ve played with the emergent task planner before with no luck. I have a tendency to go “off-script” throughout my day. So setting the plan and sticking to it is always a challenge.

I’ve been using Bullet Journal as my daily log and moving it over to OmniFocus at the end of the day.

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I’ve always stuck with the simplicity of the Hipster PDA. I carry this darn thing nearly everywhere. A great tool to use when shipping out the iPhone and opening an app is a drag.

For now, I look at OmniFocus and select a handful of tasks. Then I write them down in a daily notebook. I hide OmniFocus on my Mac and get to work. I refer to the notebook and cross off when I complete a task. At end of day, I check them off in OmniFocus.

This trick prevents me from staying in OmniFocus. If I open the app, I might get tempted to fidget in there for longer than I should. Keeping the app hidden has become my lock and key.

That’s probably why I use paper more often now. Get me out of OmniFocus and back to work.

The daily notebook serves as a backup journal of completed tasks as well.

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I’d be really interested to see how you’re using this. I’ve experimented with something like this in the past, but have been unsuccessful in finding an efficient way.

I just recently started using this again, more as a capture device than my task list.

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Since I mix both personal and work stuff, I cannot take a picture but I will do up a mock of it at some point soon. After all the other homework I have for the guild gets done. I will say that I’ve experimented with Mike Rohde daily planning bar.

It works pretty well but I’ve not gotten the habit down of creating it every night before the new day.

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Me too! I’ve used the hPDA for a handful of years at this point. I love having a tried and true way of drawing pictures and website concepts.

This is one thing I don’t struggle with. I think I’m past the fidgeting stage with OmniFocus. I see it purely as a tool to tell me what I can work on and not as a thing to use in itself.

I wish this worked for me. I’ve tried it a number of ways. It just seems that my day fluctuates too much. Things come up and I need to tend to them. The piece that does seem to work is theming my days. Working on admin tasks on Mondays, client projects on Wednesday afternoon, and so on. But the specific task is hard for me to plan the day before or even the morning of.

Me too. I basically need to resort to time blocking on my Outlook calendar to prevent meetings from being scheduled versus actually scheduling my work.

I tried doing this initially, but I don’t think I had a good grasp of my tasks. Now that I do, I think I can revisit this again.

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I learned this trick from a C-suite executive. Always have multiple meetings on your calendar at the same time and don’t go to any of them. When they ask, you can say you were in the other guys meeting.

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I couldn’t schedule a specific task but I do schedule a group of tasks. Monday is my Admin day. I also have A 30-60 minute time block for more admin stuff from Tuesday to Friday. Then I have 1 hour time blocks from Tuesday to Friday for batch work. I might work on either a specific project or in a context such as @sales_floor, @warehouse, @Mac, or @garden. I’ll work on anything related to a particular context as my “theme” for the hour.

I also break up my omnifocus tasks into 1 hour increments. My house lawn takes about 3 hours to finish, so I’ll create 3 separate tasks in case I don’t get to finish it in one half day.

Cut lawn - frontside - 1 hour
Cut lawn - backside - 1 hour
Cut lawn - raking and disposal - 1 hour

Theming in 30-60 minute blocks has helped me chunk time. But I can reschedule a time block for another part of the day as well. My schedule is too fluid when my wife likes to introduce more honey-do items and thinks it should take precedence over my work. Sigh… Half the time, I do her task; halfl the time, I’ll capture it in olmifocus or my hipster pda and continue on with my work.

Having these time blocks will hopefully give me flexibility when I get customers, my wife, or kids barge in with new distractions and tasks.

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Here’s another issue with the paper/OmniFocus question:

When using only paper, how would one associate a task on a context list with a project and vice versa?

I could see keeping a list of projects. That much would be necessary. Reviewing that list would make it easy to put the next action on a context list. But how would you know if a project is stalled? Without duplicating the writing, I can’t say I know of a way around this.

At the same time, this may be an issue I’m trying to solve with the OmniFocus mindset still in place. I’m so used to seeing tasks from those two views that it’s sometimes hard to separate from that mentality.

Maybe we don’t use contexts as much?

I was thinking of creating a “Today” page. Go through the project pages and copy the next one to three actions on to the Today list. Perhaps I’d group the Today page by contexts and a side note about what project the next action belongs to.


[Errands Actions]
Buy laundry soap (Laundry day routine)
Buy animal crackers [Kids’ wish list]

[Bedroom Actions]
Collect all the laundry baskets [Laundry day routine]
Hang clothes in bedroom closets [Laundry day routine]

[Laundry Room Actions]
Sort and hang the clothes [Laundry day routine]
Dry clothes [Laundry day routine]

Maybe this would be all we need? Just a Today page with tasks grouped by context.

You might be on to something there. Instead of working by context, you would have to run through your projects each day and make a list of what to do. There may be some validity to that. That would dovetail nicely with the concept of planning your day ahead of time.

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I still haven’t figured out this question.

Maybe when we complete a task, write down the date completed date next to it. If it’s been awhile since a project has been worked on, the date of the last completed action would indicate that the project hasn’t been worked on in a long time. Then we know it’s time to getting this project page back on track.

My definition of “stalled” is having a project hanging in limbo and not gaining any progress. Then it becomes a someday/maybe project. Or I might have some psychological barrier about the project. Maybe I’m not the right person because I don’t have the skills, time, or energy to continue. Then I’d have to delegate the project or abandon it. Or I may not have clearly defined the correct next action that is within my abilities. I might have to rewrite the next few actions to get the project rolling once again. I’ve been in this stuck mode before and sometimes it takes time and distance to realize that a project has been stalled.

Ah! That makes sense. I’ve been defining it as a project without the next action defined. So the next available task doesn’t exist. In this case, if you run through all projects each day to set up the day, you would see the project that was stalled and be able to define the next action at that point.

But I think this process would require you to be very diligent about never missing a Weekly Review. It would be paramount to go through all projects once a week and determine which ones are “available” each week. Otherwise the daily reviews would get to be too cumbersome and extensive.

And it’s not like you can put a project On Hold on paper. So there would need to be a way to “set aside” a project. Which means each project gets it’s own notepad? I’m having visions of piles and piles of notebooks. And I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. :nerd_face:

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