That’s an option too, but I prefer keeping everything in one place.
I used OmniFocus full-tilt for years. Then I abandoned it for the same reason as the OP: I found I experienced too much cognitive overload in switching app-contexts. I was doing a lot of organizing to keep my projects and tasks aligned with notes and writing, to little benefit. So, I quit task management apps and started using plaintext to keep track of what I had to do.
Task management apps work well when projects and tasks are concrete and well-defined, or are easily decomposed into concrete well-defined structures. Errands and grocery lists fit here. So does event planning. But the more creative/generative a work is, the less it fits with a set of hierarchical todos.
As Ahrens and others write, research work doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of planning.
- [ ] Have world-changing insight is not a task worth putting in a to do list. Neither is
- [ ] Write paper, and we certainly don’t want to add
- [ ] Discover big problem with the approach we've used for the past month. These things are obvious. What’s less obvious is the cost of switching to a task manager to add a todo to
- [ ] Lookup Pangaro's latest paper on cybernetics or
- [ ] Finish that paragraph in the introduction. I have found that, because the task manager is full of other things I’m not currently doing, but are important, switching into it and accidentally seeing many of those can be distracting and cost my train of thought.
So, I too would value a few features in Obsidian to make inline task management easier. I have personally been creating tasks as whole new links from other notes, such that each task is its own note. I think I’ll use a hashtag to track these as well.
I also use DEVONthink, which can add metadata to existing files. I use this metadata to add things like reminders and filters to plaintext task files.
But I’d love to be able to query tasks from within Obsidian. That’s why I created this feature request: Making tasks/todos a first-class citizen
This guy gets it
Interesting. And I get it - particularly because those complex task managers were non-starters for me as well. I find that a task manager to manage weekly and daily reviews of the things I’m going to focus on works well. My career is one of those that doesn’t consist of a bunch of individual tasks (ie call Joe or meet with Bob NEVER show up in my task manager, “what is relation btwn X & Y” or “map characteristics of unit A” often do). I would tend to think of “[ ] Lookup Pangaro’s latest paper on cybernetics” as a bullet point in a note I was keeping in regard to my investigation of a particular issue with cybernetics. So I guess we are actually on a similar path - it’s just that I don’t think of “[ ] Lookup Pangaro’s latest paper on cybernetics” as a task so much as a bullet point on my notes about the problem. I wouldn’t need a complex system to keep track of that task because it’s right there on my notes about the issue. So more a point of view than difference of opinion. Although I don’t see much friction in switching app contexts - Things is open on my ipad and I look at it once a day (or more often if a day has interstices) to make sure I haven’t forgotten to work on something I have going. And sorry @Alem-B I didn’t mean to hijack your thread off into a separate discussion - was just being a [email protected] Hopefully you’ll get some good input
All good points! And a great additional approach to “task” management, to the point of @Alem-B’s original request.
The fact that you use both Things and inline “tasks” (imma keep air-quoting that now) is interesting. I found trouble with OmniFocus because the kinds of tasks you seem to keep in your notes were embedded in a different app I was looking at every 20 minutes. If I was referencing it less often, I would definitely have less of a problem with context-switching.
This is an interesting topic, since it’s making me think about my own strategy. Here’s what I’m thinking, so far:
- Any task that arise out of a train of thought be marked as such e.g.
- [ ] [[ToDo]] do something
- This can be simple, complex, the start of an entire project, or anything in between
- The [[ToDo]] page itself remains blank, but this is where the Backlinks panel is my friend
- I can see all my tasks as backlinks and there shouldn’t be that many because I’ll be triaging them as follows:
- Anything that’s complex or big enough that it warrants significant time and potentially a bunch of sub tasks gets entered into my preferred todo app of the moment - Trello, Planner, ToDo, etc. I’ll then simply delete the task in Obsidian, or at least just remove the [[ToDo]] link - or maybe replace the link with a #ProjectTask and maybe a [[Trello]] or whatever task manager link so I keep a reference if I want to go find something. As I engage in the project, any thoughts and notes that arise along the way will find themselves in Obsidian.
- For anything that’s singular, simple or otherwise fairly quick to execute I’ll keep as a task and use the backlink to go to the originating note, so that I can remind myself of the context within which the task arose and also remove the distractions of other tasks. Again, notes that arise will find themselves in Obsidian and once the task is complete I’ll remove the [[ToDo]] link, but maybe add a #TaskComplete in case I want to reference things that I have done at a later date.
- For me the ToDo page will always be empty and I’ll rely on the back links to manage clutter.
This is almost exactly the approach I designed for my own use. One issue I have is that sorting the backlinks would be very helpful, ideally chronologically, forward or reverse.
Another advantage of your approach is that the todos show up as single lines, or folded sections, in the backlinks - nice and compact. Contrast this with searching for [ ] or [x], which is quite ugly in the search pane.
Here is what I have for my tasks at the moment which has been working so far - however a few things to note -
- I have daily notes enabled with the format YYYY-MM-dd
- I have some Keyboard Maestro text shortcuts for easy date entry like /today /date /tom
- I also have another shortcut for /todo
My approach is to simply have a single todo.md file which has all my todos in it in the following format -
- [ ] [[PROJECT_NAME]] Task to be done [[Date in YYYY-MM-dd]]
a few other parts of this system -
- I have a #month section in this Todo file - (not too sure about this yet)
- I have an “OVERDUE” section in this TODO File - (working through this as well)
- I have a “DONE” section in my daily note template.
How do I use this system?
- My TODO file is always open and is pinned
- My Daily note is open and the backlinks shows me any todos which might be associated for that particular day
- As I get done with my tasks, I start to move them into the Done section on my Daily Note and remove them from the TODO
- At the end of the day, I either move the remaining tasks either to a different date - which I don’t usually like or move them to the top of the TODO file into the OVERDUE section
- If in case I end up writing a task in some other file, I make it a point that I have it linked with [[todo]]
I’ve not found a perfect method yet, and I think I’m going to end up doing ToDo externally to Obsidian. I don’t know if my use case is common or not.
I’ve been using a [[ToDo]] page and modifying it manually. I really like the idea of just tagging the [[ToDo]] page, but I also want a completed record of the things I’ve done, which won’t work well with that method. (May work better when backlinks are sortable.) Granted, my git log will also work as sort of a record, but there are things in my [[ToDo]] that are out of band and would be awkward to make a specific record of in git.
I currently have a directory structure like:
project/notes – Obsidian reads this
Since Obsidian ignores files it doesn’t understand, I’m free to put anything which falls under the semantic umbrella “notes” in the notes subdirectory regardless of whether it’s intended for Obsidian. (The only real downside so far is that ‘empty’ directories appear in File Explorer, which they probably should.)
So adding additional software to manage something like ToDo isn’t a big deal organizationally. Whether the cognitive load of app-switching will become too burdensome, I’m not sure yet; although I feel like some of that can be ameliorated through changes in workflow.
I noticed my checkboxes spawl all over my vault–I’ve taken to
greping for something like “
- [ ] ” to find uncompleted tasks.
I’ve prototyped a little UI to do a projectional edit from the terminal to “check” the box of a task, but I imagine this best serviced as a plugin “task view” living inside Obsidian. I think some richer support for task due dates/times and an agenda view could be very powerful!
But you can query tasks within Obsidian! Enter
- [ ] in the search bar to see all notes with empty checkboxes. Check them off in preview mode. Enter
- [x] to see completed tasks. Much easier than tags, a dummy page, and backlinks, @deftdeg, or am I missing something?
A simple categorization scheme for ToDos is also possible, without any plugins. If you’re trying to avoid context-switching for research and thinking tasks, use the first word after the checkbox to describe the type of activity. i.e. Search for
- [ ] Lookup to find your
- [ ] Lookup Pangaro's latest paper on cybernetics as well as any other notes that you flagged as needing a source consulted. Search for
- [ ] Finish to find
- [ ] Finish that paragraph in the introduction and any other editing tasks you’ve flagged. Alternately, if you’re doing directed research toward a set of classes or deliverables, and are likely to work on one per session, use the first word after the checkbox for the project. i.e. Search
- [ ] Dissertation to find
- [ ] Dissertation: Lookup Pangaro's latest paper on cybernetics.
I can also see checkboxes being an alternative to an inbox folder for processing notes into a Zettelkasten. You might have a template with blank checkboxes for
- [ ] Will make sense to me a year from now
- [ ] Links to related ideas
- [ ] Linked from an index or MOC
Search for unchecked boxes on a weekly basis to find notes you either need to clean up or get rid of.
Haven’t tried this, just thinking out loud. I’m still learning the method and the software!
I’m a little late to this conversation, but ti would seem this doesn’t work. Sounded great when I read your post, but when I actually try to search for
- [ ], nothing. Wonder why that is?
Are you using 0.8.0? There was a bug that’s fixed in the incoming 0.8.1.
Ha! I was literally reading the bug fixes in 0.8.1 when I saw this notification.
So I think one feature that would really make this useful would be only returning one-line in search results. Then you could literally see a list of tasks as search results.
Two other features that would be helpful, but not necessary:
- Editable search results
- Embeddable search queries
See my post here for a regex that works to find unfinished tasks in 0.8.0
I have 0.8.1. Worked for me in an older version, but looks like now you have to put quotes around it.
"- [ ]"
I’m thinking of creating tasks as individual notes, and then using an external Python script to scrub through my vault periodically and search for #task tags, and then add those links with a checkbox to my master task lists. Tasks that get tagged as #done would get a strike-through and moved to the bottom of the list.
I intend to keep a few separate lists pinned, and operate them as if they were a Trello board, except I get to own the data, not some other company. I agree with @ryanjamurphy and the @Alem-B: my productivity system will be more efficient if I’m not having to constantly move data between apps.
Fun idea. Please share if you ever set it up!
I once built something similar to extract tasks from notes and import them into OmniFocus. It worked wonderfully until I got tired of managing so many apps.
Perhaps the nicest thing about the workflow you’re imagining is that a note can be a task - just sub in a link after a
- [ ].
Some day we’ll have transcludable searches built into Obsidian, so you don’t need the extraneous interval scrubbing.
I’m glad it’s planned somewhere in the future. This will allow to make great workflows.
For example, a weekly review:
The weekly review template could have such a transcludable search query that would embed everything under the header # Work Log in all my daily notes of the week.