I love visuals… they often help me see obvious things I’m missing. And whenever I’m working on a particularly meaty project, mind maps tend to be my tool of choice for expanding and structuring my ideas. Many of my writing projects start as mind maps in iThoughts HD and eventually work their way into Scrivener (using the OPML dance that David Sparks was kind enough to share with us). If I’m working on a freeform piece, I’ll often break my text up in Scrivener and then do a reverse dance to flesh my thoughts out back in iThoughts HD.
Wasn’t this supposed to be about OmniFocus?
Now, at this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with OmniFocus… Fair question. You see, I’m not the best at reviews. They’re great for eliminating excess, but they’ve never really helped me identify the holes. For some reason, the folder structures in OmniFocus or even something like OmniOutliner just haven’t worked for me. For a while now, I’ve wanted the ability to take my entire OmniFocus library and really look at it in a visual manner. I’ve wanted the same experience I get with my writing projects with my task list. I’ve wanted to take my entire OmniFocus library, folder structure and all, drop it into iThoughts and look at it from 30,000 feet.
I’ve had a pretty good feeling that OPML was going to be the best way possible, but I lack the skills to actually make it happen. Every now and again, I’ll throw the request out on Twitter (and now App.net) and this week, I was finally shown a way.
An Ugly Solution
For those of you who are excited by the prospect, I have to warn you, the process is clunky (stay tuned for a plea for help to make it better). It also requires both OmniFocus and OmniPlanner Pro, so beyond the 14-day free trial, you’re going to have to think long and hard if you will want to spend the additional $70 for the OmniGroup’s outliner program. Last but not least, you have to make sure that you’ve archived all of your old, completed and dropped projects (completed tasks are omitted).
Still with me? Here’s what you do once you have OmniOutliner Pro installed (I’m betting if you’re geeky enough to have read to this point, you can figure this part out on your own):
- Download this script
- Run it
- Take the OPML file off your desktop and send it to your iPad (you can either email it to yourself or just throw it in Dropbox)
- Import the OPML into iThoughts HD
A bit hat tip and thank you to Jason Verly for pointing me in this direction.
The Ugly Means Justify The Beautiful Ends
The end result doesn’t look great when you first import the OPML into iThoughts, but it’s easy enough to clean up. iThoughts makes it very easy to add colors to break up your Library, Folders, Sub-Folders, Projects, Tasks and Single-Action Lists (I used red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple respectively).
From here, I collapse everything and go section by section, expanding everything, looking over my areas of focus, projects and tasks. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I find this style of review fits my mindset. I find far more holes and once everything’s expanded often get a very realistic look at just how much I’m trying to tackle.
Calling All Nerds
I know this can be better, I just don’t know how to get there, so I’m hoping that some mind-map loving, code-slinging member of the OmniFocus community can help improve things. While I’m sure that there’s plenty I’m not thinking of, there are three main things I’m trying to improve:
- How to get around the need for OmniOutliner Pro.
- How to eliminate dropped projects and completed projects without the user having to manually archive first.
- How to get it to look better initially when importing the OPML into iThoughts HD.
For the last one, I’d be great if the Inbox was omitted and that the Library was on the right side rather than the left (the additional OF_ALL node in the center is also superfluous, but easily removed), it would also be amazing if Folders, Projects and Tasks some how imported with different colors for easy identification. Right now that’s a timely, manual process.
In the meantime, I’m really enjoying having this. So much so, that I’m probably going to dive in at some point and pick up a copy of OmniOutliner Pro at some point just so I can have this for my monthly reviews. That is unless one of you smart and lovely folks out there can offer up a better way to make this little bit of OPML magic happen. I’ll be sure to update with any refinements that come my way.
Update: Looks like we have our first suggestion for getting around OmniOutliner Pro from Rhyd Lewis, but you’ll need to be familiar with Ruby.
Update 2: Rob Trew is getting in on the fun. His script already has eliminated the need for OmniOutliner and eliminates completed or dropped projects. I had a few minor requests (i.e. the ability to opt to eliminate projects with no tasks or items with future start dates), but it has already made things far easier.