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Desired Feature: Project Structure

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  • #16
    Originally posted by PeterW View Post
    ... I'd suggest you check out some of the more fully-fledged project management systems in the cloud. These apps will let you define projects with a lot of granularity and linkages.
    Hi PeterW,

    Thanks for the advice, but although that might perhaps sound like a solution, those project apps that I have seen are not only very complicated, they are also almost impossible to produce a Next list with. They are all based on time planning, which is totally natural because they are intended for hard scheduling across an organization or team. What I am looking for is a simple personal tool.

    I believe a source of confusion here might be the terminology. In GTD we talk about projects. That sounds big and organized, but can be very small. And very unpredictable as far as when we will be able to get around to doing it.

    Please, let me avoid the common GTD and project terminology, and express my thought in different language:

    I want a simple tool, even simpler for me to use than those currently being offered. From a pure user perspective I could describe most of the things I am asking for not as new features but as lifting some very unnecessary restrictions. I do not want to have to learn and combine tons of different features. I want to be able to use a few solid existing features but with less restrictions.

    I easily get daunted and blurred and lose perspective when I see long lists, and this hinders me at a practical level. On the one hand I want to break things down to the level where I can "see what doing looks like", and on the other hand I want my lists to be short enough to be reviewable/overviewable/graspable. So what I would like is the ability to simply "group" or "break out" or "collapse" or "relate" things in a way that makes intuitive sense to me and is easy to use. Nothing strange about that, I believe.

    Now the easiest way I can think of - for me as a user, already having the two "features" called tasks and projects in my task app - would be for me to be permitted to use those a bit more freely.

    If I could drag (or create) a project not only to the list in the left menu (which is a common current restriction), but to any existing project, then I do not have to learn any new features to be able to organize my stuff in such a way that I get both the overview and the detail I want. And, mind you, this is not a "new" feature - just an ability to drag projects around a bit more freely. In technical terms, though, this simple capability (more freedom) is often referred to as subprojects and subsubprojects etc, which sounds way more complicated than it is.

    Let me go on. Sometimes I have things (actions, subprojects, whatever) that I could easily classify perfectly correctly as belonging to any one of a number of the larger things on my left menu (projects), because they are fundamental or required for all of these. So I need to decide where to put them. I may be reluctant to put them on the main list (left menu) if that would confuse me - they are perhaps not large or significant enough, and the sheer mass of such items would clutter my left menu, and also they usually do not really relate to the majority of things on the left menu (only to a few), and might therefore confuse me further. I may also be reluctant to put them in any particular one of those projects to which the item could be said to belong - because then I will risk losing sight of this item if that project gets demoted.

    Again, the solution is simple. Lifting restrictions; keeping the familiar. I already have a "move" feature, which allows me to drag things (tasks) from one project to another, i.e to have the item indexed from a different project's index. What I am asking for now is a bit more freedom, to let me index my things from more than just one project (index). This would solve the whole problem, and would not require any difficult new features for me in the UI. The only "new feature" required for this is some simple means, such as shift-drag, to distinguish the regular move (copy pointer; delete original pointer) to this "duplicate move" (copy pointer; keep original pointer). In technical terms, this particular capability (to have even more freedom to drag my projects around) would probably be called "multiple parent projects" or something to that tune.

    Finally, as for sequential/parallel and all that, let me say that automation is not necessary at all. Handy and clever (and even recommended), yes, but not required. What is fundamentally required is that the app provides some convenient means (out-of-the-box; without workarounds) for the user to select which project tasks (often more than one, but usually not all) are to be visible on the active lists (Next etc) and which ones are to be visible only within the project itself.

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    • #17
      Originally posted by Folke View Post
      Interesting thought. But wouldn't that mean, or am I misunderstanding something, that you would have to "artificially" hold on with your context assignations until such time that the task is to become "active"? (It is nice to be able to offload all such facts that you may have about the task already from the outset.)
      No misunderstanding at all. I guess it is a matter of perspective. I've been doing it so long, the idea of assigning a context AND clicking an "active" checkbox just seems like needless friction to me. The best system for me is the one with the least "required fields". I just don't feel any weight from not defining contexts up front... in fact just the opposite. I can brainstorm a project quicker. Many times I work a project in a focused session, so many tasks never even get a context defined before they are completed.

      But one thing I'm certain of: our brains all work differently. I should probably include "YMMV" as my standard signature.

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      • #18
        Originally posted by notmuch View Post
        The best system for me is the one with the least "required fields". I just don't feel any weight from not defining contexts up front... our brains all work differently.
        That's a valid point. A good app probably needs to allow for different kinds of brains.

        One other way to avoid having an "active" checkbox etc is the "parasequential" project, which would kill two birds with one stone - allow you to "inactivate" a task and place it correctly into the sequence with one single drag.

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        • #19
          Originally posted by Folke View Post
          So what I would like is the ability to simply "group" or "break out" or "collapse" or "relate" things in a way that makes intuitive sense to me and is easy to use. Nothing strange about that, I believe.

          If I could drag (or create) a project not only to the list in the left menu (which is a common current restriction), but to any existing project, then I do not have to learn any new features to be able to organize my stuff in such a way that I get both the overview and the detail I want. And, mind you, this is not a "new" feature - just an ability to drag projects around a bit more freely. In technical terms, though, this simple capability (more freedom) is often referred to as subprojects and subsubprojects etc, which sounds way more complicated than it is.
          That makes sense. In the system I use you can change single standalone tasks to projects or checklists although you have to open the edit window and change a field to do it, i.e. it's not a dragging operation. You can drag to reassign tasks into/out of projects but most apps do that too. It sounds like you need more of an outlining-style system. I've seen a few around but can't remember their names.

          Originally posted by Folke View Post
          Let me go on. Sometimes I have things (actions, subprojects, whatever) that I could easily classify perfectly correctly as belonging to any one of a number of the larger things on my left menu (projects), because they are fundamental or required for all of these. So I need to decide where to put them.
          Yes, I saw this earlier in the discussion and think someone else mentioned tags? That might not be exactly what you need but it would give you some free-form linking.

          Originally posted by Folke View Post
          Again, the solution is simple. Lifting restrictions; keeping the familiar. I already have a "move" feature, which allows me to drag things (tasks) from one project to another, i.e to have the item indexed from a different project's index. What I am asking for now is a bit more freedom, to let me index my things from more than just one project (index). This would solve the whole problem, and would not require any difficult new features for me in the UI.
          While it sounds simple, I assume that providing this level of flexibility and power would make the app difficult to use for new users. I could imagine users getting lost because they've created a very tangled web of connections, with tasks appearing in multiple projects, without really knowing what they did or how they did it.

          Anyway, this is an interesting discussion and I guess you have to keep looking to find the system that meets your needs. I've found over time that I am using fewer features than I originally thought I needed in my GTD app and am really trying to make my system as simple and frictionless as possible. In my job I use what I feel is one of the worst-designed ERP systems I've ever had the misfortune to use and am amazed at how complex they have made things that should be straightforward. As a relatively recent convert to the Mac for my home computer (~two years), I am amazed at how far behind many Windows apps are in terms of design and intuitiveness than the Apple ecosystem.
          Last edited by PeterW; 10-01-2013, 07:58 PM. Reason: spelling

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          • #20
            PeterW

            Thanks for your kind advice. Yes, the app I think you are referring to has that extra "List" level, which is very useful - the lists can represent goals or AoRs or whatever you like to put your projects in, and it also has priorities, which is something I appreciate and use to represent review frequency.

            And this really brings me back to my original topic, but from a better angle. I called this thread "Project Structure". I now realize this was a bit narrow. It was influenced by the fact that in my current app the left menu items are called projects. But in fact I do not use these strictly for projects, neither in the GTD sense nor in the regular sense. I do use them for major current projects, but also for goals/visions and for AoR containers for the ongoing stuff (such as smaller projects). So actually a more generic word, such as "List", suits me just fine, but I do not mind at all if it is called "Project", as long as I can use it for whatever I want.

            So, to summarize and actually rephrase my original post, let me try this:

            Desired Feature: Universal Container

            Instead of developing a ton of different features, all having different names and capabilities, develop one "universal container" that can be used for projects or for anything else, and which has these key characteristics:

            - can contain tasks and other "universal containers"
            - has "parasequential" capabilities (or equivalent sequencing/activation functionality)
            - can be put "under" one or more other "universal containers" and/or on the main menu

            Benefits

            All in all, these three simple characteristics of the "universal container" would give the user the means to:

            - have a good total overview (typically in the left panel) of his/her overall situation, with a manageable number of items ("universal containers") that can represent projects, area folders, goals or whatever makes sense to the user, and which, in turn, can contain other "universal containers" and tasks in a hierarchy that can be as flat or as deep as the user wants.

            - have a good overview within each "universal container" (at any and all levels), with a manageable number of tasks and further "universal containers" in it.

            - have a clear record of relationships and dependencies between different parts of this hierarchy, such as certain lower-level things being necessary for several higher-level purposes, or several contextually similar things in different parts of the hierarchy being planned to get done in a coordinated (batched) way.

            - be able to have perfectly clean "active lists" (Next, Waiting list etc), with no not-yet-relevant tasks, and with no now-relevant tasks missing. (There can be more than just one task from each project being concurrently relevant.)

            - conveniently (or even automatically) bringing sequentially dependent tasks to the "active" state (Next; Waiting etc) when the preceding tasks have been completed.

            Proposed name for the "universal container": Project

            Projects is one of the main intended uses of the "universal container". No need to confuse new users with strange names or a multitude of names. Projects can benefit greatly from all the required characteristics of the "universal container", including both the hierarchical/dependency aspects and the sequencing/activation aspects. Goals are no different from projects in these respects, but may stay longer on the list and have a more uncertain final outcome. Folders of various types, such as AoR folders, typically need no sequencing (at that level), but if the "universal container" has the active state as its default (as suggested here) it will serve this purpose as well without the user even lifting a finger.

            I believe it is most intuitive to call it Project, and to describe the other intended (or possible) uses in the user manual.
            Last edited by Folke; 10-01-2013, 06:52 AM.

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            • #21
              Hi Folke,

              The product I use (Appigo Todo Cloud) can do some of that but not all. I have created lists for Next, Waiting-for & Someday. I mostly put single action tasks on these lists but sometimes also smaller multi-step tasks (i.e. created as 'project' or 'checklist' tasks.

              For larger, longer-term multi-step projects, I create a separate list for each one. This puts them in the left-hand menu below my Next, Waiting-for & Someday lists where they are always visible, i.e. my place-markers.

              Todo has lots of neat features but it doesn't do any auto-sequencing/activation. That's a not a problem for me because I tend to not fill up projects with lots of pre-defined future actions. I just put in one or sometimes two steps at a time because things may change in the interim. Being always visible helps me think about what I need to do to progress them.

              I saw your post about start dates over in Appigo but haven't had the time to absorb what you were asking & respond. But in case it helps, there is a general setting "Hide Tasks starting after" which can be set to none, today, tomorrow, next 3 days, one week, two weeks, etc. I use start dates occasionally to force a task that's due in the future onto my list earlier so that it prompts me to start working on it. I don't use the start field to hide tasks.

              Todo has a tags feature that you might be able to bend for use as your universal container. I just have two tags and use them as a switch for my area of focus, i.e. 'business' and 'personal'. Although I've noticed that I rarely use the tag filter anyway so it's probably just another point of friction that I don't need to use.

              I'm doubtful Todo will cut it for you if you're used to some of the deeper Nirvana features, but Todo's simplicity is what I really like about it. It looks clean and is easy to use but is quite powerful underneath. The web interface is better than Toodledo but probably not quite as neat looking as Nirvana.

              However the mobile apps are where Todo really shine - this is where Appigo started and the latest iOS7 versions on the iPhone and iPad are beautiful and a joy to use. In my view they are one of the best iOS developers - they really 'get' good UI design. So I rarely use the web version of Todo anymore - I'd rather pick up my iPhone or iPad to work on my lists.

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              • #22
                PeterW,

                Thanks for the advice .

                I like Todo's extra List level and the fact that it has priorities - and the fact that the iOS app looks great (and I have the impression that are about to revamp their web app accordingly).

                It is not very GTD out of the box, though, so I have struggled to find ways to implement things like Next and Someday lists etc, which I think I might be able to manage (with some difficulty), but the things that I cannot for the life of me find a solution to is how to implement GTD Ticklers without having to go and change my user Settings each time I want to take a look at them, or how to make me notice these ticklers when they appear.

                And a much smaller but irritating thing - I like having a one-click toggle (star etc) to put things on my "white card" (and unclick to remove it if I change my mind or get caught up with something else); in Todo I need to open the task to toggle the star. A truly minor but constant source of irritation.

                Apps for longer-term planning

                Anyway, as discussed earlier in this thread, and in other recent threads, I think each user's requirements depend heavily on whether he/she is just aiming to put the shorter-term activities into the app, or is aiming to put longer-term projects and goals in it, too. I belong to the latter category.

                Most, if not all, of what I have suggested in this thread is aimed primarily at those who want to include the longer-term major projects and goals etc in the app, and therefore have something substantial to gain by being able to organize their tasks such as to minimize unnecessary repetitive "re-connection of the same dots" during each and every review.

                I perfectly understand if those who primarily put short-term actions into their app do not have those needs at all.

                Comment


                • #23
                  Originally posted by Folke View Post
                  It is not very GTD out of the box, though, so I have struggled to find ways to implement things like Next and Someday lists etc, which I think I might be able to manage (with some difficulty)
                  In Todo you just create the lists you want, e.g. Next, Waiting-for & Someday which puts them in the left-hand menu. And I create a list for each project that needs to be visible too.

                  Originally posted by Folke View Post
                  ...but the things that I cannot for the life of me find a solution to is how to implement GTD Ticklers without having to go and change my user Settings each time I want to take a look at them, or how to make me notice these ticklers when they appear.
                  I use Todo's Focus list as my Ticklers file, using start dates or due dates to put tasks in there.

                  Originally posted by Folke View Post
                  And a much smaller but irritating thing - I like having a one-click toggle (star etc) to put things on my "white card" (and unclick to remove it if I change my mind or get caught up with something else); in Todo I need to open the task to toggle the star. A truly minor but constant source of irritation.
                  In developing the current version of Todo online, one of the beta versions was designed like this, i.e. with inline editing of tasks. For some reason they dumped that and went with the edit dialog box version we now have. I agree that this is not efficient and somewhat annoying, and I hope they address this in the future. As mentioned elsewhere, I mostly use Todo on iOS now because the online version creates a bit too much friction.

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Technical issues with this thread?

                    Right now, I can read this thread up until post #30 (my own last post above), and for quite some time it also said on the index page that the last post was written by me. Since then, however, I have noticed that there was a new post by bcmyers, which I could not see, and now the index page says the last post written by PeterW, which I cannot see either.

                    I have tried logging out and then logging in again, and have restarted my browser, but none of this has helped.

                    EDIT: After posting this report, the missing posts became visible.
                    Last edited by Folke; 10-04-2013, 03:02 AM. Reason: Technical problem seems to have disappeared

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Back to the topic again

                      Originally posted by bcmyers2112
                      As long as I review everything at the right intervals, there's no "extensive reconnecting" needed. At least not for me.
                      Now I am beginning to see a new possible answer. It could be a memory problem on my part. The regular intervals certainly are not enough for me. I cannot even remember a phone number when switching from one page to another. I need to "review" constantly in order not to lose my orientation.

                      And I have always had difficulties taking orders, even from myself. I just won't do things just because someone tells me to or "because it says so on the list". I need to see the reason, or I will just sneer.

                      But of course I can (and do) work around these problems to some extent by using careful task descriptions, systematic task prefixes, additional task notes etc., but I prefer to have project name, goal, AoR etc visible on each task line (if that is available in the app).

                      And a comment: No, I do not believe my projects and goals are more complicated than those of others (and I definitely cannot use project software for it; I have checked that out). But I want a simple graspable summary (a list, actually, preferably in the left menu) of the major things I am working on to improve my situation, and those typically take 1-3 years to finish (that would be 20k-40k GTD objectives such as goals or long real projects), and all the ongoing areas I need to manage to stay afloat (by AoR). Then, in all the regular lists, I prefer to be able to see my smaller short-term tasks, micro-projects etc (0-10k ft) in the context of all this. (context in the regular English sense). And actually I do it like this now, but using a lot of workarounds - built-in hierarchies would make it so much smoother.

                      Originally posted by PeterW View Post
                      In Todo you just create the lists you want, e.g. Next, Waiting-for & Someday which puts them in the left-hand menu. And I create a list for each project that needs to be visible too.
                      So you do not get a consolidated Next list, then? Or do you move your Next actions from the project lists to the Next list manually?

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Originally posted by Folke View Post
                        So you do not get a consolidated Next list, then? Or do you move your Next actions from the project lists to the Next list manually?
                        The Focus list provides consolidated next actions from all the other lists. It's a powerful list. I review the other lists as needed, e.g. Someday would be at the weekly review while waiting-for will be looked at every day or two, projects when I want to spend time progressing them. This is where the "connecting the dots" bit comes in... I don't need the system to be auto-promoting tasks.

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                        • #27
                          For Developers and Users

                          When I started this thread I brought together three desirable features that are almost entirely unrelated from a user perspective, but which I believe are closely related from a software engineering point of view. This approach may have been both good and bad - I do not know whether any app developers read these forums.

                          Task hierarchies

                          Hierarchies are very common in software, even in GTD enabling list managers. Those that feature hierarchies typically have at least two levels - project and action. Doit has four (goal, project, task and subtask). Nirvana has 2˝ (project, action and checkable comment lines). Toodledo has three (folder, task, subtask). Appigo has three (list, project, task). And so on.

                          The different levels typically have very different properties and feature sets, which makes it unnecessarily difficult for users. At one level maybe the items inside the container can be sorted manually, whereas at a different level they can only be sorted automatically/alphabetically; or at one level you can apply tags whereas at a different levels you cannot; and so on.

                          My recommendation: Let yourselves be inspired by the likes of Google Drive, Windows and others, who have just two different kinds (files and folders), but let users arrange folders hierarchically as they see fit.

                          The purpose of using hierarchies, for those users who so wish, can be either to break down large objectives into smaller pieces and phases. In GTD terms you can also express this as a means for the user to map more than the 0 k and 10 k level horizons in the task app. I see no reason why a user should not be allowed to group and organize his stuff as high as he or she wants, if that brings clarity for that user.

                          Multiple parents

                          This is a UI solution that happens to be a solution to two entirely different kinds of user situations. And since it is (in my opinion) the best solution to each of these types of situations individually, and therefore kills two birds with one perfect stone, I would strongly recommend that this should be considered and implemented at the same time as the hierarchies. (It would probably be much more expensive to retrofit).

                          Situation 1 - batching: We all have meetings, trips and similar activities during which we intend to do a number of things that belong in various places in our task hierarchy. We normally solve this by tagging these items with special tags such as Agenda or Trip etc, and then we have to remember to filter for this now and then, and if we plan several meetings or trips we may need several different tags to distinguish between them. And when we have agreed with people on a date we cannot put a date on the tag itself, of course, so we have to create a task or project etc anyway, sooner or later. My recommendation: Allow users to create a new "folder" for the particular activity (meeting, trip etc; usually a 10 k ft level item) and to then list within it all the tasks or other folders that should be part of it - without removing these from their original place in the hierarchy. This allows users to see this activity straight in the list itself, just as any other activity, without using workarounds such as defining special tags or having to filter etc. It is simply the most convenient way I can think of. And it allows continued easy review of the original projects, since the items are still visible from there. And it allows the user to add specific setup activities, such as book conference room, to the special project itself, without having it anywhere else.

                          Situation 2 - forking: Some of the things we do are done for more than just one purpose. They are a "platform" for several of the higher level objectives. In GTD we always need to review what we are doing. Reviewing an objective is easier if we can see all that is relevant for it inside it - even if some of those things inside it are also necessary for other purposes as well. My recommendation: Same again. Simply allow tasks and "folders" (e.g. projects) to be indexed from more than just one place.

                          Sequence

                          In a project or higher level objective it is quite common that some of the things must be completed before others can be started. It is essential in GTD that the user can get things off his/her mind and onto a list, but at the same time it is essential that the yet-impossible things do not show up on the "current" lists (Next, Waiting etc). My recommendation: Allow users to manually arrange the items within a folder in a natural sequence, if there is one. This simplifies the user's review and understanding of the list. Also allow the user to somehow indicate or "draw the line" for what should now be shown on the "current" lists and what should not. It is also possible to automate this, such that items automatically become current when previous actions have been completed.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Originally posted by Folke View Post
                            When I started this thread I brought together three desirable features that are almost entirely unrelated from a user perspective, but which I believe are closely related from a software engineering point of view. This approach may have been both good and bad - I do not know whether any app developers read these forums.
                            I hate to tell you this, but there were some old PC outlining programs that could do much of what you want, including the ability for bits of an outline to appear in multiple places. This was not a popular or easy-to-use feature. I understand you want what you want, but you don't really know that a lot of people would find the set of features you advocate useful. I think most people who stick with GTD end up trying to make their systems as simple and robust as possible.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Originally posted by mcogilvie View Post
                              I understand you want what you want, but you don't really know that a lot of people would find the set of features you advocate useful. I think most people who stick with GTD end up trying to make their systems as simple and robust as possible.
                              Very true. Although I do not have any numbers I am fairly certain that the vast majority stick with very simple tools, such as Google Tasks, iOS Reminders or Wunderlist, or even paper.

                              Even I myself use a relatively simple tool, Nirvana, which I believe is quite similar to Things in the Mac world.

                              I have also used and/or tried several more feature-rich apps such as Toodledo, Doit and IQTELL. Although I am not scared off by their relatively huge mass of features that I do not need, I get turned off when I, despite their tons of features, find out that some of the very standard GTD things I want to do are more difficult with those apps than with a simpler app like Nirvana.

                              A common example of strange design, that never ceases to amaze me, is that none of the "GTD apps" I have seen allows you (out of the box; without workarounds) to simply leave tasks behind in the project, invisible on the the Next list. I do not understand why I as a user should have to devise workarounds to use GTD principles when using a "GTD" app.

                              And I have also tried the "simplest" kind of list apps, such as Wunderlist and Appigo, and found that the amount of shoe-horning I need to exercise to do get it to do GTD makes it more complicated for me overall to use these than to use something like Nirvana, which at least has Next, Waiting, Ticklers etc out of the box, along with Projects.

                              Arranging things manually in a logical sequence is is something I find it hard to be without. Being able to hide project tasks from being visible in Next or Waiting is another thing.

                              I would like more than two levels, though. Doit has four, officially, so that would seem good, but it does not really work. I cannot rearrange tasks manually, and on the highest level (goal) it does not even have automatic sorting (e.g. alphabetical or anything). And their lowest level, subtasks cannot have tags. And so on. This is why I would find it simpler and better if developers did like Google Drive and others - a folder is a folder is a folder, always the same capabilities, no matter what level you place it in the hierarchy.

                              The capability to put tasks etc under more than one project (or other such "container"/"folder") is not very common, I admit. Wrike and Producteev have that, if I recall correctly, but those apps also have so many features that I do not like and are difficult to work around. But think about it. Can you personally name a simpler way for you as a user to get a bunch of tasks together for a meeting or errand trip than this. I myself thought about that for a long time, and have had lots of practical experience with "complications due to exaggerated simplicity" before this super simple idea dawned on me as the obvious solution - just drag the ones I want to yet another project. Problem solved. Simple to do. Very visible. No complications.

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