Finding focus

I have been trying to become slightly more organised. I don’t know exactly what I’d like to be slightly more organised than. Perhaps an elephant? Yes, I think in a fight to the bitter foolscap hanging file, I would like to be more organised than an elephant but I’m happy to be pipped to the lever arch by an ocelot. Caveat emptor, dear reader. Do not try and out-organise an ocelot*.

I have employed an application called Omnifocus to get things going for me. It is available for the Mac and iPhone only. So IN YOUR FACE BILL GATES, how are you ever going to get organised enough to conquer the world now? Oh… wait… Perhaps he is using an undocumented feature of Outlook?

So I have been using this software on my iPhone. It only costs £10 and it works really well. There is a £70 version for the desktop and so far I haven’t seen the need for it, so there you have my review. It is really really really worth £10 if you have an iPhone and you want to be more organised than an elephant but less organised than an ocelot.

What it does is basically provide you with a task list that you can categorise in two ways. So you can say this thing I have to do is to do with Christmas and to do with Shopping, because it’s buying a Christmas present. But this other thing is to do with Christmas and being at home because it’s writing my christmas cards. The projects are things like Christmas, Contexts are things like Shopping and being at home. It’s very handy because when you are out shopping you can look and find all the things you were supposed to do when you were out shopping.

However there does seem to be one really annoying problem. There are two kinds of tasks in the world***: those which are like publishing an article on gamboling and those which are like making the potato mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lots of people think there is a distinction between tasks that have steps and tasks that don’t but I think that’s a lie. Every task has multiple steps, sometimes it’s not worth breaking them down because you’re only going to do the thing once. Do you think Richard Dreyfus ever planned to make that potato mountain again? No, of course not. That was it. The thing was done. But once he had done it, it was done and he knew it, we knew it, even those aliens knew it. He had it checked off. But even something as simple and crazy as a mashed potato mountain has inner steps:

Step 1 – Wash Potatoes
Step 2 – Peel Potatoes
Step 3 – Boil Potatoes
Step 4 – Drain Potatoes
Step 5 – Mash Potatoes
Step 6 – Sculpt Potatoes

There is, believe it or not, a process for Gamboling articles too. It has far less to do with potatoes and can be described like this:

Step 1 – Ignore Potatoes
Step 2 – Come up with idea for article
Step 3 – Write article
Step 4 – Edit article
Step 5 – Get Katherine to edit article
Step 6 – Publish article

As you can see the concepts have exactly the same number of steps. The difference is that I do the same thing time and again. Over and over. Round and round. For years. And the difficult part is keeping track of which article is at which stage. What I need is to basically be able to add an idea and then have it create all of those steps for me automatically. I guess this would be called something like a template. And then I would be able to tell what is actually going on.

Why is this important? Without templates the software just doesn’t do what I need at all. When I look at my entry which says “Build Mashed Potato Mountain”, I can see that because it’s unchecked it’s not done. And when I start the project, it’s hard not to fall through the sub-steps without ending up with a mashed potato mountain. I mean if you miss out certain steps then you could burn your house down. That sort of thing will tend to focus your attention. But with the gamboling articles there might be weeks between the beginning and the end of each one and more than likely multiple articles being worked on at different times and at different stages. Keeping track is quite a lot more complicated. And at the moment I can’t cross off each bit when it’s done, so I can’t tell at what stage each of the articles is at by looking at it on the list.

So yes, I guess until they get this sorted, Bill Gates can rest easy, which is a shame.

* I did attempt this in the long lazy summer of 2003, by breaking in to his filing cabinet and rearranging everything, much to the ocelot’s chagrin.**

** In fact the only disorganised ocelot I’ve ever met was the one which kept Salvador Dali as a pet.

*** There may be more, let me know.

6 thoughts on “Finding focus

  1. Christine says:

    Firstly, I love, love, love this post.Secondly, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has to edit the other half’s articles.And finally, is it wrong that I had to google Ocelot? Either way, needless to say, now I want one.

  2. Alex Andronov says:

    Christine,Thanks for you kind comment!I do take pleasure in making people look things up on the internet. Especially when it’s so worth it!Also I’ve just realised doesn’t “ocelot’s chagrin” sound like a great name for a pint of bitter?

  3. Nick Ollivère says:

    It’s hard to imagine how this program works without seeing it, but it sounds intriguing. There is a 10 minute Omnifocus basics video on their website but, firstly, ten minutes seems a bit long for ‘basics’, and, secondly, I can’t play sound while I’m in the library. It upsets people.I love the idea of this program though, which proably would’ve helped greatly with my PhD, but might just aid with writing in general, or sorting out my life in particular.I always worry, however, that by buying a piece of technology to organise my life for me, I’m sort of avoiding doing it myself, with good old fashioned pen and paper. Do you get this, or do you feel totally in control with it? I now have an iPod Touch so might get it.

  4. Alex Andronov says:

    There is a danger with this kind of software, or even the pen and paper method that you can easily fall into the “revision timetable” problem. You can spend so much time making the list that you don’t actually get on with anything.My main reason for getting the software was that I needed a place to make real quick one-liner notes for writing and be able to organise them someway so that they didn’t get jumbled up with anything else.A lot of the other lists software want to force you to add deadlines (which doesn’t make sense for a story idea) or they don’t have categories. I need to be able to put ideas into areas. And if I’m at work I need to be able to screen out all of the fiction stuff.The huge advantage that this has over paper is that it’s always with me, and everything goes into one place (but categorised). Rather than having 15 different note books all with the novel ideas in them.

  5. Nick Ollivère says:

    I now own it, and feel more organised already.

  6. kris says:

    Sorry, I seem to have missed something. Apart from the ocelots, which I miss more and more each day, of course. But what does this thing do that is so special?

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