Benefits of Burn & Build

Image of a burning forestWhile forest files are no doubt destructive and painful, they also provide a benefit to the ecosystem. They clear out clutter and open the canopy to allow the sun in which brings new growth to the forest.

Sometimes it’s beneficial to burn a process that’s been around for years to remove the clutter and canopy to see what new ideas sprout up. I’m currently doing this with my task & project management system.

I’m a long time user of OmniFocus (OF) and I have a efficient process that I trust. (The necessity of trust can’t be understated.) It reliably captures everything, and combined with my process, surfaces tasks as I need to work on them.

I like tinkering with other task management apps on occasion, but that’s always been a feature focus comparison that tries to shoehorn the app into my current OF centric process. For example, I love deferred dates in OmniFocus and use them all the time. Very few other apps have deferred dates so I always fail them on that point.

But what surfaced in my burn & build exercise is that it’s not deferred dates that I liked, but that when combined with other OF features, they only surface tasks when I need to work on them. I hate seeing a long list of tasks even if the majority of them are future tasks.

In order to truly burn down my current process I have to avoid a checklist comparison of apps. I also have to realize it’s not the application itself that will make me productive, it’s how it fits into my process. In fact, it doesn’t have to be an application, it could be pen and paper.

So I listed the benefits of my OmniFocus centric system that I want to carry over into the new system:

  1. Easy capture – It’s very easy for me to get a task into the OmniFocus inbox
  2. Easily identify critical tasks, but only when they can be worked on. In OF, I do this with flags and deferred dates. If a task is critical then I flag it and set a deferred date. When that date arrives the task appears in my Hotlist view so it’s easily identified on even a task heavy day.
  3. Easily push off tasks. If an emergency pops up I can quickly moves the days tasks to tomorrow.
  4. Low overhead to maintain. While it did take a lot of work to set up OF, I spend very little time just tinkering with tasks and doing task management.

While there’s a lot to like about OF those four items are the real benefits I get from it. There are some things I don’t like, and these are what a new process should improve:

  1. OmniFocus is an Apple centric application, OS X and iOS only. This is OK now but it’s a lock-in I’m trying to avoid.
  2. I struggle with Big Picture planning in OF. When I’m trying to juggle projects I have a hard time visualizing conflict. I typically work this out using pen and paper (sticky notes or index cards) and then update OmniFocus.
  3. Because I put everything in OF I can sometimes lose track of smaller projects or tasks. There is the review feature which helps surface these but it’s still a minor annoyance.
  4. I often feel like I’m churning through tasks in OF without actually accomplishing anything. Or the opposite, I check off a bunch of minor tasks in OF and take an extended break because I feel like I made progress. I can probably keep OF and address these issues, but now is the time to consider alternatives.

I’ve already gone through and identified some possible OF replacements. I’m not ready to name names since it’s still early, but I’m looking at things that are completely different than OmniFocus. I didn’t really burn anything yet, I’m still running OF in parallel with these other tools. Which is actually quit painful since I hate doing double work. So it’s an incentive to do this quickly.

Even if I don’t pick one of them, they’ve given me changes to consider in my current process. I want to build a process that works for me and then pick the tool to implement it. The last time I did this, years ago, I returned to OF but did burn it down by deleting everything and then starting over. We’ll see what happens this time, even I don’t know yet.