I recently read Cal Newport’s A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload . One of the things Newport talks about in the book is finding alternatives to email for different kinds of work. He explained that as a college professor, he manages graduate students using a Trello-based Kanban board.
While it has nothing to do with email or collaboration, this got me thinking about how I’m managing my various projects when wearing my lawyer, podcaster, blogger, and field guide producer hats. Traditionally, I keep lists of active projects in a text file (currently in Obsidian). I tag all active projects in OmniFocus as an “Active Project” and then set a custom perspective to surface only active projects.
But I also know that I think visually, and the idea of a Kanban-style status board for my projects does have a certain appeal to me. So over the weekend I went down the rabbit hole of the current crop of Kanban-style apps. There is a lot out there. Trello, monday, and Notion all look like they’re up to the job. But in this case, I’m looking to make something that only I’ll be tracking. (I do my team-based stuff in Basecamp.) Because I don’t need it to collaborate, it doesn’t need to be a web service.
One of the Newport book stories was about the copper works at the Pullman railcar factory and how, in the early 20th century, they made what could be considered a big spreadsheet on the wall of the factory to track projects and labor. Again, because I don’t need to share this with anyone on the Internet, I considered doing something like this with a whiteboard in my studio, but I also wanted to figure out if my solution could show up on mobile devices and link to my projects. Also, I have this gigantic monitor, so I figured I could use all of that screen real estate. I experimented with Pages and Numbers but ultimately built my project status board using OmniGraffle.
OmniGraffle has a great set of alignment tools. I made a standard rounded rectangle box in which I can list the project’s name and, if there is a related OmniFocus project, I included a small OmniFocus icon. Using OmniGraffle’s linking tools (and some contextual-computing-style linking), I added a link directly to the related OmniFocus project on the OmniFocus icon. Then the full project rectangle gets a separate link to the project document in Obsidian. I can re-arrange the blocks as needed and, when done, I put the OmniGraffle document in preview mode (Option-Command-P). This blows the diagram up to full-screen size, and all of the embedded links are live so that I can jump from there to any specific project or OmniFocus document. On the macro level, I’ve also included links to the specific locations in Obsidian, OmniFocus, Basecamp, and Airtable, where appropriate. Here is the final product with a lot of confidential data blurred out. You can still get the idea.
So now I have three screens on my Mac. The left screen is Fantastical in full-screen mode showing the week view with 14 days. This is where I block time and plan future days. The center screen has no full-screen apps. Instead, it has all my windows from my working apps. (How I arrange that is a post for another day.) And the third screen, to the right, is my OmniGraffle generated project status board. I’m only a few days into using this status board, but I can already tell I’ll be keeping it. Another nice benefit of doing this in OmniGraffle and storing it in iCloud is that I’m equally able to view and edit the status board on iPhone and iPad with the mobile version of OmniGraffle.