omniOutliner + iCal = my wicked work flow.

I’m a recent “GTD”: convert – all in the name of getting more done, and possibly even seeing my kids. I’ve tried a bunch of systems and methods; pretty well everything short of tatooing to-dos on my forehead (hmmm….). I’ve found that “OmniOutliner3”: best suits my ‘brain dump’ approach to managing both workflow and idea generation. I use OO3 in conjunction with “iCal”: to keep track of a) what I’m supposed to be doing, and b) when tasks are due.

I’ve got a couple of OO3 docs open in the background at any one moment:

!/images/56.gif (omniOutliner screen shot)!

*Projects* is a list of all the various things going on. This has columns for status (in progress, pending, finished, invoiced… OO3 allows you to assign predefined phrases to a column that can be chosen from a drop down menu), priority (most important to least important – this column is kept sorted so the hot items appear at the top), and owner (me, a team member, etc).

!/images/55.gif (omniOutliner screen shot)!

[project name] Brain Dump is for the particular project I’m working on at the moment. This contains all my thoughts about the project, from estimate to due dates to brainstorming notes, meeting notes, etc. The expandable/collapsable folders in OO make this doc very easy to manage. OO3 also allows you to link files directly into your document, making the brain dump doc a launcher of sorts as well.

You can see in the screen shot above that I’ve added a column for *hours*. This is how I go about estimating a project and setting milestones and due dates. The key here is knowing how long it will take you to perform a certain task. I’ve learned that I always estimate low, so I’ve gotten into the habit of adding a couple of hours at the bottom as a slush-fund.

My next step is to fire up iCal. I’ve used a bunch of calendar programs to varying degrees of success. I was using the Palm desktop, since I’ve got a palm device, but the program is just so damned ugly, that I didn’t like to even look at it. iCal to the rescue.

The beauty of iCal is its multiple calendar function. With a single click, you can create a new calendar. I use one calendar for each active project. Each calendar uses a specific colour, and can be turned on or off in the main view window by clicking its check box.

!/images/57.jpg (iCal screen shot)!

This allows me to get both a global view of my work week, which is crucial in the next phase. At this point, I’ve got iCal open on half my screen, and OO3 on the other. Going back and forth between the two, I go through my time estimate and set up events on the calendar, setting aside blocks of time for each task. I’m working at max capacity at the moment, so this allows me to make realistic deadlines.

This is an incredibly simple and powerful system. iCal has a handy to-do list feature, and you can assign to-dos to a particluar calendar. OmniOutliner is ridiculously configurable. It feels more like an extension of my brain than a piece of software (not sure if that speaks well for OO, or poorly for me).

You can get a free 30 day demo of OO3, but it’s limited to the number of items you can add to your list. If you bought an apple in the past year, OO2 may have come pre-installed. It’s very handy, but lacks some of the features that make OO3 the killer app that it is.