Welcome to installment #5 of An Advanced GTD User’s Paradise. Remember, this series of posts is all about OmniFocus, so if you’re not sure if this is the right system for you, take a look at the qualifications in the first post in this series.
In this post, we’ll discuss a topic that is most likely not at the top of your GTD favorites list – playing the waiting game. In fact, some recent questions directed to this blog make it clear that this part of the Getting Things Done paradigm can cause no small amount of consternation.
Waiting for Others
So how are you supposed to get things done, when you’re always waiting on others to get the ball rolling? There are a variety of reasons why we wait on others. We may need to await a decision or approval, the task may require a skill set or information that we don’t possess, or someone else has to do it because we’re just too busy. The fact is that all of us have to play the waiting game at one time or another. The secret is in how you play the game.
Delegating the Task
The waiting game starts when we decide that someone else needs to be involved in our project. In my GTD, it starts very innocently, when I create a task to contact someone else, and actually begins when I create a task something like this . . .
The first task (displayed above) is the easy part. I now have a task, with a due date, asking that I speak with Randy about training. Now I dutifully make a call to Randy, or send him an email message. The task is complete – or is it? I contacted Randy, but we didn’t discuss training because I didn’t speak to him, or, he hasn’t yet replied to my message. The purpose behind the task is not complete.
The problem is how to document that you contacted Randy, but are awaiting a return. The answer is to mark the first task (Contact Randy) complete, and then create another task that keeps you aware that you are awaiting his response. You can simplify this process in OmniFocus with the following steps.
- Select the first task.
- Press Cmd+D (duplicate command)
- Change the context on the new task to “waiting” or a personal context if desired.
- Adjust the due date as appropriate.
- Check the first task as completed.
After the initial contact, I usually assign the task to the “waiting” context with a due date at the end of the week. My Friday’s are slower, so I can simply check in on my “waiting” context Friday morning and shoot off some quick reminders, or make some calls to those that haven’t gotten back to me.
The Waiting Perspective
Of course OmniFocus can provide a quick view of your “waiting” context, and even group the tasks by due date. To create the “waiting” view, follow these steps.
- Switch to Context mode.
- Select the “Waiting” context.
- Set the view filters as shown below.
- Don’t forget to save this perspective as “Waiting” and assign it to the toolbar for quick access. (We’ll cover customizing the toolbar in a future post.)
Here is an example of what this “Waiting” view reveals.
I know, it seems like a lot of steps, but with OmniFocus there is an easier way, including automation of some additional text to make it clear what we are waiting for. Did you notice the “Reply on:” at the beginning of the tasks in the above screenshot?
Scripting to the Rescue
Since OmniFocus is a client application that resides on your Mac, there are many tasks that can be automated with scripting. Now I don’t write scripts myself, but another great feature of this advanced application is its very active user community (via the user forums), and the willingness of the folks at OmniGroup (we call them Ninjas) to help out. In fact you can contact a Ninja by using the help command right within the application.
One very active user in the forum is Curt Clifton, who has created a script to handle just the challenge we are discussing in this post.
You can obtain the script and directions for its installation on Curt’s website.
Using the Reply Script
So let’s see how the script works in action. Here are the steps.
- Select the first task.
- Click the Reply button.
That’s it. In just two clicks, the first task is completed, a new task is created with the “Reply on:” text added to the beginning of the text entry, and automatically assigned to the context of “waiting”. If desired, just change the due date on the new task and you’re done.
So there you have it, not quite in a nutshell, but a way cool, and smart way to play the waiting game. And thanks again to Curt for offering his scripts to the OmniFocus community, they turn the Cadillac of GTD into a Porsche. Next post we’ll look at “what to do with all that information”. Thanks for reading, John.