Adjustments to Hierarchies

Original Post from Folke

Hi Titus,

First of all let me say I like what I see:

  • generally simple and clean looking
  • hierarchies with no depth limitations: Although I seldom want my hierarchy very deep I have never understood why some people want a limit, and it is sometimes very useful indeed to be able to make it several levels deep
  • I also like the way combinations of areas can be filtered in the Next list
  • and the way areas are automatically inherited by everything underneath
  • and the way I can implement my “groups of AoRs” in two ways, both as top hierarchy folders Business, NonProfit and Private, and as Areas called by those same three names. This makes it neat and tidy, both in the hierarchy tree and if I want to filter my Next list by Area (“group of AoRs”)

I am sure there is much more to like when I look closer.

Here are a few things that seem to be not ready yet:

  • selecting Someday, Waiting and Scheduled for a task seems to only result in the N marker disappearing, but no other marker is shown instead and the tasks do not show up anywhere else.
  • also, it is difficult to see, even in the options panel, which of the alternatives has been selected.

Here is a suggestion - don’t know if it is just “not ready” or “never thought about”:

Right now it seems to be the general principle (which I like) in GTDNext that in a task tree, the lowest level tasks (without children) will go on the next list (if they are active next). In general this is perfect, but two kinds of adjustments would be very, very nice to be able to make when needed for a particular item (but not as a default, only when selected):

  1. Occasionally be able to declare a parent as an “action” even if it has children. This would be useful if you have a task such as “Buy tools” and then minor tasks under it such as “Buy hammer” , “Buy nails”, “Buy saw”. In such cases you typically would not want all the little individual items to crowd your next actions or focus list. You would like to see only “Buy tools”, but be able to expand it. This is also often the case if you have repeating tasks containing checklists (sub-tasks to check off)

  2. Many people, including myself, have a habit of using the hierarchical (project) features not only for proper projects (or for 30 k concrete finite objectives) that will be completed one day, but also as permanent containers (folders) for related projects or tasks, for example AoR folders or “group of AoRs” folders such as Work. In the event that such a folder is empty it would be nice to be able to preclude it from being shown on the Next list by declaring it as “folder”.

In other words, two options in the right pane:

  • “parent” will make a task eligible for being shown on the Next list even if it has children, and will also preclude any of its children from being shown.
  • “folder” will preclude only the item itself from being shown on the Next list even if it has no children, but will have no effect on the visibility of its children - they will show as usual (if there are any)
  • only one of these two options can be chosen for any given item

FolkeFolke commented · May 5, 2014 7:11 PM
James, I normally just add the new task straight to the appropriate “project container”, either from the task entry/edit pane or the full project list in the left menu, and that’s it. How that “container” is linked upwards is already taken care of. No extra clicks needed.

(If you keep areas etc as a totally separate dimension, as FacileThings do, you need to enter both a project and an area for each task, which I find cumbersome. In my life, a project always belongs in a fixed place, and so do all of its tasks.)

The value of having it organized the way I do is mainly to make reviewing easier (and also to find stuff whenever I want to; it is “well organized”, you might say). When I review stuff I can simply go hierarchically “goal” by “goal” and then down. It saves time and increases clarity. For my quick daily reviews I just use the Next and Waiting lists. And as I said, when i create the task, I just assign it to one project container, and that takes care of projects and AoRs and everything.

I guess the difficulty in our case here, in GTDNext, is the fact that hierarchies here can be very deep and detailed, with many subprojects, subsubprojects etc etc, which is a major capability, one of the absolute key features so far of GTDNext, but which also has the downside that it will tend to make the total list of all such “containers” very long no matter what exactly different people use this capability for - even if it just for “true” projects with myriads of subprojects, subsubprojects etc. You probably would not want to have the whole complete “container” list open in your left menu, and maybe not in a regular pop-down either.

How were you intending to solve that? At the momement yo seem to rely on “scroll-dragging” the task in the All Projects view, but that could get troublesome when people have long lists.

I suppose on desktops it would be possible and perhaps even easy in the left menu to auto-expand container items without clicking (just hovering). But I am not sure if this would be possible in a pop-down menu or on a touch screen.

This is something that probably needs to be looked into regardless of the original discussion here.

Anyway, to summarize my original requests:

  • be able to mark a container as an “action” - this would bring the whole container as a one-line item to the Next list (suitable for repeating checklists and other tasks with details that I do not want to clutter my Next/Focus lists)
  • be able to mark a container as a “folder” to prevent it from ever appearing on the Next list even when it is empty. Lots of people use “folders” for all kinds of purposes. I use them strictly for AoRs and such. Others use them for “Books to read”, “Possible vacations”, “Paperwork”, “Garden”, “Calls”, “Errands” etc (i.e. some personal mix of what DA would have called Topics, AoRs and Contexts)

James commented ·
Thanks for providing your outline methodology, it’s great to see how people use different systems and helps us design to something “most” people will want to use.

It’s very interesting how you have implemented your system and I can see how it would be very helpful for retaining the big picture view, your AOR’s and Goals, 30k view.

My question on using that methodology is speed of accessing your projects and tasks using the system as you do. You obviously feel that the extra clicks it takes to get down to the project and task level is worth it. But it must add some overhead to your review process.

I’d like to find a way for people to retain the big picture without having to do those extra clicks. It feels like the 30k level is something people would want to look at often, but not every day, and not when they are organizing their projects and tasks. In those cases it would get in the way for some people, I would think.

Interested if any other people have thoughts on this one.

Folke commented · May 5, 2014 5:01 AM
I personally like blending the goals and AoRs into a unified hierarchical “project” structure, because it provides a clear overview and it reduces the amount of “tagging” I need to do for each new task. I only need to choose the “container”, and that “container” already has its position defined in therms of areas and parent projects etc etc.

You asked me how many projects I have. I will try to answer that, but I am not able to give you a fully relevant answer, because I now use Doit, which has 4 levels called Goal-Project-Task-Subtask (which is quite similar to Nirvana, which has 2-3+, namely AreaTag, Project, Task and checkable comment lines). This means my setup is adapted to fit into a limited hierarchy. Notably, among other things, this means I often avoid defining more projects than necessary, because it would clutter my list. To avoid having too many projects, I often define yet-inactive projects as tasks with subtasks or comments, and I convert them to projects later. And trivial projects I treat as single-line tasks (and just keep tossing them between contexts as they progress). In contrast, with GTDNext, I would expect to set it up correctly straight away and probably keep all such future and trivial projects collapsed. So the numbers I will now give you for “real projects” are probably at least 10 times too low, because I currently only have “big” or “important” projects defined as projects.

So here are my current numbers in Doit:

Top level (called “Goals” in Doit): 5 containers.
Three of these represent “ongoing groups of AoRs” (Business, NonProfit, Private) and two are huge 30k objectives that I hope to complete/stabilize/terminate in a few years time and which are likely to force me to rethink my AoRs if they succeed as planned. (Both of these are new business ventures that I have broken out from the “ongoing Business area”.)
In GTDNext, I would expect to keep this setup.

2nd level (called “Projects” in Doit): About 30 containers
10 of these are permanent AoR single task containers (I currently have 10 AoRs defined), and the rest (averag about 20) are true “biggish” projects. So, for example, in my Private top level container, I have 3 permanent AoR single task containers and usually also about that many real “biggish” projects. (The smaller projects I keep as single tasks with subtasks or comments in the specific AoR single-task container.)
In GTDNext I might be inclined to review this structure and perhaps introduce an intermediate level (pure AoR), but I may probably also decide to keep it as it is in order to avoid making it too deep, and keep the “biggish” projects visible immediately under the top level. But probably I would more often subdivide the smaller projects properly into a complete subtree under the AoR container, and even introduce a sub-project level in some projects.

3rd level (called “Tasks” in Doit). Hundreds all in all.
Well, these are usually actions, but often also “one-line projects” (to avoid clutter) or “repeating checklists”. Some of the “one-line projects” have subtasks (4th level), but many of them don’t, because I avoid writing more than necessary. If I already understand it just as it stands, I keep it simple, otherwise I add subtasks or comments as necessary, especially for checklists.
In GTDNext, since the total depth can vary flexibly, I would expect to introduce sub-projects etc wherever I find that this will simplify the structure of the parent project and make it more readable.

4th level (called “Subtasks” in Doit):
For future or tentative or someday projects that I keep as single actions, I often use subtasks as the preferred tool for remembering individual steps. In Doit I can later convert these “tasks with subtaskls” into “projects with tasks”. For repeating checklists, I use tasks with subtasks, the latter representing the individual check items (e.g. a list of things to check during the weekly review.
In the same vein, in GTDNext, I would expect to be able to schedule (tickle) a particular “task parent” (e.g weekly review) to appear on my Next/Focus list, and then be able to expand the task and see the “children” only when it is time to actually do the “parent task” (unless you guys have a better concept concerning checklists, as you have indicated)

James commented

Thanks for clarifying your thoughts around having “folders”. I see what you mean now. It’s a good use case. We have some ideas about a goals or area of focus level that would sit over the projects, but allow you to see all projects connected to that goal or aoc. That seems to similar in purpose to what you are thinking about. We don’t have that feature designed at all - too much basic stuff to do first, but I like your idea as well so I may come back to you on this as we get to that feature. There certainly is a need to view your work at a higher level. How many projects do you normally have in each “Area” of your life?

Folke commented · May 4, 2014 9:34 AM
Sorry I called it “parent” when I meant “action” (which was the term I had used earlier in the text - with the “Buy tools” example).

Hmm, you asked why I would not want the children on the Next and Focus list. Well, with most “tree nodes” (projects or folders) I would indeed like the children - not the parent - to appear on the Next and Focus lists. Tjhis would be the default, just as it works now, and then I simply would not check this new “action” box. So when would I check the “action” box? It could be almost any kind of situation when I do not want an awful lot of items on my list. For example “Buy tools” with subtasks such as Hammer, Nails, etc. Or a weekly review task, with subtasks such as Calendar 2 months ahead, Someday/Maybe etc.

For me, a checklist is normally the same thing as a “task with subtasks”. If I have a checklist I typically want to go through and do/check the items on it. I often have these scheduled as repeating tasks. I am curious to learn what it is you actually plan to do about checklists. I agree that a checklist could also be such a “task” placed in Someday/Maybe or even in reference somewhere.

Folders, yeah, that is a word that can have many meanings. What I was referring to was the need (or desire) on my part to have tidy hierarchy in my “All projects”. For example, I do not like to have a list of 100 projects at the top level, so I make some “areas” and “goals” my top level elements - whether they can actually be “done” or not. And below my “areas” (groups of areas of responsibility). I have smaller buckets for individual AoRs. These buckets will never be “done”, but they can be empty from time to time. When they are empty - and have no children - I have no need for seeing them on the Next or Focus lists. This is what the “folder” option was all about. (For a real finite project it is best to leave the folder setting in the default off position - if the project name appears on the Next list you know that you must dream up some more next actions for it, so you actually want it to show up on the next list)

Maybe the terms “action” and “folder” were poorly chosen. Perhaps a longer description is better:

  • “in Next/Focus, show this whole subtree compressed as a single line item (that can be expanded as needed)” (i.e. “action”)
  • “in Next/Focus, never show this container (but allow its children to be shown as usual)” (i.e. “folder”)

James commented

Hi Folk - Thanks much for the kind words. I’m glad you are liking what you see so far. We have been working very hard on the project, so it’s great to get some positive feedback already.

You are correct that the scheduled, waiting and someday lists are not yet up and working all the way. Those items along with repeating tasks and due dates are being worked next. Right now we are working on some error handling and integration testing to make sure that new features don’t break existing features.

On the task tree idea. The “parent” idea of having a project be a next action is an interesting one. I can see how this could be useful at times. I notice you said if parent was selected it would “preclude any of its chldren from being shown” Can you expand on that idea? I’m not sure why you won’t want to allow the tasks under the parent to be next actions. Interested to hear what other people have to say on the topic. (join in the discussion everyone!)

Regarding the “folder” idea: That kind of goes along with the checklist feature we are planning. The general idea of check lists is that sometimes people need to follow a procedure (a checklist) or set of how to instructions to do a task. Like going through your weekly review on Friday. You want to go through a checklist to do that, but not really schedule each of those items to check as a next action. Another example would be from the GTD book, where you need to review your job responsibilities on a periodic basis. I’m thinking there will be a repository of these check lists and that you can then associate them with particular projects or tasks. We need to nail the basics first of course.

Great feedback. Keep it coming!

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As the merged post above became very long, I thought I should perhaps summarize the two main ideas:

  • be able to mark a container as an “action”, which (when the time comes) would cause the whole container and its children to be brought as a single one-line item to the Next list. This is suitable for repeating checklists and other tasks with small subtasks that I do not want to clutter my Next/Focus lists.

  • be able to mark a container as a “folder”, which would prevent it from ever appearing on the Next list even when it is empty. Lots of people use “projects” as “folders” for all kinds of purposes. I use them strictly for projects and AoRs and such. Others use them for “Books to read”, “Possible vacations”, “Paperwork”, “Garden”, “Calls”, “Errands” etc (i.e. a mix of what DA would have called Topics, AoRs and Contexts, and what other might call Categories). Just because someone has no more “books to read” they would not want the container “Books to read” to appear on their next list.

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I really like both these ideas. :smile:

Keep them coming!