While in the last three posts we have looked at ways you can use Perspectives to focus on actions which you want to do today, are on your next action list or are simply due, this time around we want to look at actions you track which concern other people. Unless you are living under a rock in the industrial age (which means your Mosaic browser can’t display this site anyway) your work is very likely project-driven and you are collaborating with a larger set of people on a daily basis. Whether these are constantly changing or you more or less always deal with the same folks doesn’t really make a difference. It’s also irrelevant whether you track actions or items for customers, co-workers, your manager or other freelancers you are collaborating with on a project. The idea is that you have one consistent view on who is responsible to deliver on which action and what topics need to be raised with the team or individuals.
Agenda & Waiting For contexts
Before we can create useful Perspectives, we need to understand how you implement the corresponding contexts we will use. Although I have previously described how I define and manage contexts, I’d like to use the opportunity to discuss two different schools of thought on tracking agenda items and ‘waiting fors’.
Option 1: People-centric contexts
This approach is relative logical and and has two different variations. The idea is whenever you meet or get on the phone withe someone, you can simply pull up the context for this individual and see all actions that you are either waiting for and topics you noted to discuss. Simply taking the persons name as one flat context is the simplest of all setups. So no matter whether you need to ‘discuss preparation of planning meeting’ with Andrea or you are waiting for him to ‘send new Excel template’, you simply assign both actions to the ‘Andrea’ context. Now this variation has the down-side that those tasks that you are ‘waiting for’ to be completed by Andrea still show up in many of your other views and perspectives as they are treated as regular, i.e. actionable tasks. Typically you’d like them to be unavailable since you can’t do much about them throughout the day with the exception of when you review them or meet the owner of the task. This is why the second variation of the People-centric approach is a bit more granular: Under the context named after the person you would create two sub-contexts, one for agenda items that need discussion and one for ‘waiting for’ items you’d like to track.
Option 2: Type-centric contexts
It is certainly not advisable to drop the name of people altogether since you want to track things related to individuals. However, you can of course change the hierarchal order of your contexts by creating a general ‘Agendas’ context at the top level of your contexts list as well as a ‘Waiting For’ context at the same level. Within these contexts you can now create contexts for individuals, teams or even for regular meetings/calls (like a ‘Monday Forecast Call’ or a ‘Friday Metric Review’). You can even use a hierarchy when doing so. I, for example, have a context for my team under ‘Agendas’ and below the team context one for each of the members of my team. Stuff I like to discuss on our team call or during our team meeting gets assigned to the team’s context, the topics only relevant to individuals end up in one of the below contexts. The downside of this approach certainly is that you have basically two contexts, one agenda and one ‘waiting for’ per person sitting in somewhat separate branches of your context tree. Although this isn’t ideal either it is my preferred option as I like to distinguish between things I need to talk about and things I have delegated and am waiting for completion/response. One of my Twitter followers highlighted the difference of delegated and ‘waiting for’ to me while I was working on this post. Quiet honestly: I don’t distinguish at that level of granularity as it would make my system too complex really. If I have delegated something I typically wait for a result or a response — that’s it.
My job is all about working with people. As a typical knowledge worker I don’t produce “real” things, I try hard to create value by establishing human connections and a network of knowledge. While this sounds as exciting and strange as it is, the challenge is in the word ‘people’. Luckily people come in all forms and shapes and demonstrate very different behaviours. You may have one team member who always delivers (on time) and you could even stop tracking anything she owes you, but then there is this peer of you who requires you to even track the promise he gave you about returning your call. Some of your co-workers or buddies may be GTD’lers, some may even use OmniFocus, others may only live of post-its or are just a complete chaos. I’ve learned some time ago that it doesn’t work to impose a system or methodology on other people, even if they are your direct reports and you technically could. Offer help and advise on personal productivity and time & attention management where it is requested, but stop evangelising others or force them into the system that works conveniently for you. On the other hand, it would drive you mad if you would align with every single behaviour you experience at work as well as in your private sphere. Instead you need to find the right system and associated effort that works for you. OmniFocus offers some good ways to track topics and open items you have with individuals, but doesn’t offer all desirable functionality. Something which may improve with OmniFocus 2.0, which is likely to include more “collaboration” features. I personally wish I could associate a specific action with a person in addition to a context like ‘waiting’ or ‘agenda’ - this would make lots of things described later in this post significantly easier. In essence your people-related perspectives should do a couple of things:
- Allow you to see everything you are waiting for other people/teams/organisations to complete/respond to
- Offer you a handy list of topics you wanted to raise with an individual or at a specific meeting/conference call (incl. things you are waiting for)
The below two Perspectives of mine do exactly this and I use them on a regular basis. I review the ‘Waiting For’ Perspective as part of my Daily Review every morning to see whether I need to send gentle reminders to some individuals. When I meet or get on a call with someone, I bring up my ‘People’ Perspective which shows me ‘Waiting For’ and agenda items for all key individuals and the same for regular, standing calls with teams or virtual teams huddling for a specific topic. Needless to say that I also review ‘Waiting Fors’ as part of my Weekly Review every Friday afternoon.
My ‘Waiting For’ Perspective only displays, as you would expect, items I am waiting for. I employ a few tricks to make it as useful as possible to me. First of all I focus only on folders of my OmniFocus library which contain active items, basically ignoring Someday/Maybe and Project Templates. I make sure I filter for all ‘Remaining’ outstanding actions in the View Bar (Command-Shift-V) so I get the full picture. Grouping them by context helps to keep all outstanding actions under one person, team or event. Those actions due soon or, god forbid, overdue should show up first under each person and hence I sort by ‘Due’.
Another helpful setting is to also restore layout and expansion with this Perspective. I am basically hiding the context sidebar to get a more minimalistic view of my ‘Waiting For’-window, but you could even go as far as also hiding the toolbar (Control-Option-T). Restoring expansion makes sure that all actions are visible under the contexts by which they are grouped.
You need to have your top-level ‘Waiting For’ context selected in the context sidebar (before hiding it) and restore this selection to really make this Perspective work. Finally pick a nice icon for the Perspective and add a rememberable keyboard shortcut. Control-W works great for me.
My Agendas Perspective isn’t much different to my ‘Waiting For’ one. Basically I select next to the ‘Waiting For’ top-level context also the ‘Agendas’ top-level context. The remaining settings are pretty much the same.
Loading Context and Planning Mode Perspectives simultaneously
Now there is one additional trick I use for my People Perspective. Using the ‘Settings from a Project mode perspective’ option in the Perspective window (Command-Control-P) I make sure OmniFocus loads my plain simple Inbox view as the Perspective for the Planning Mode view (Command-1). This is very handy in a meeting or call as you go through the items and outstanding actions as well as discussing new things. Whenever something comes up in the discussion that I like to capture — be it an action on me, some term I need research, … — I use Command-1 to quickly switch to my Inbox and simple hit enter to capture a new item and then use Command-2 to go back to the Context Mode view that still has my ‘People’ Perspective loaded in order to discuss remaining points of the list.
The resulting view is again fairly similar to the ‘Waiting For’ view. So why to I even bother to have two Perspectives if they are so similar. It just better fits my workflow and increases focus in that very moment when I need this information. During my Daily Review every morning I only want to see ‘Waiting For’s’ to decide whether I need to follow-up with someone today. When in a meeting/call with someone, I need to see all topics to be discussed as well as open actions I am waiting for to review status and progress.
Limitations & Improvements
This is as best as it gets, at least as good as I have been able to set it up. The limitation you will be facing with this setup is the scrolling you need to do when looking at agenda items as well as waiting for items when being in a meeting with someone. It’s a minor limitation, but still annoying. Hence my earlier wish to get ‘People’ as an extra entity into OmniFocus (2.0 maybe, Ken, what do you think?) so you can use it as another filtering/selection criterion which should deliver even more power to OmniFocus magical Perspective feature. While you could think it may add to complexity as well I think it can actually reduce it. If you feel I have rushed through some steps in the post or didn’t explain enough on some details of how to make certain settings please read the other posts of the OmniFocus Perspectives Galore series, particular the first 'Basics' post, which provides all details you need. You are likely to find additional inspiration in these posts as well.