How To Eat An Elephant

Sometimes I feel like such a nerd for how excited I get over good software.

I’ve been wanting a software solution, both for work and personal endeavors, for project management. At work it’s hectic to find an email that someone is talking about, a file that they’re referring to and other notes. Utilities like this are essential when working on long term goals. A consultant from work referred to these kinds of projects as elephants. Elephant eating is a task that often appears daunting, especially if there are team members who depend on you to help them eat the elephant. There’s no way we can eat an elephant in a few bites, but we can consume the beast by eating small bits over time.

My Powerbook is over 3 years old now, and for those 3 years I’ve always noticed programs from the OmniGroup, namely OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle, sitting in the Applications folder. I had never really spent time with either of them, but yesterday I figured that I really should. Note that both programs come pre-installed on Powerbooks (and Macbook Pros I assume) and Powermac G5s.

OmniOutliner is a program I could’ve used SO MUCH back during school and college. It’s a lightweight app for creating outlines. It doesn’t sound very exciting and it’s not as feature rich as something like Word or Excel, but it does outlines EXTREMELY well. You could make one for writing a paper, your vacation, your monthly expenses (it can generate sums and balances like a spreadsheet program)…you get the idea.

Check out my “Mission Organization – Music Projects” outline:

Outlines are easy to create and even easier to style. You can customize a style sheet for all levels of the outline – make level 1 headings bold, level 2 headings italicized, color them, change the fonts and sizes, create templates, etc. You can easily move rows, add columns, add alternating row colors and checkboxes…it really is simpler (and more polished with less effort) than something you could do in Office.

I’m definitely going to start using OmniOutliner to help me eat elephants. If you’ve got it on your machine already just take it for a spin. Follow the tutorial available from the Omnigroup’s site – it won’t even take you half hour.

I don’t mean to knock MS Office either, because Office 2004 for OSX has a really great new feature that I want to start using right away. It’s called Project Center.

At work we have an Exchange server. Email is an essential communication tool there; used more than the phone now – at least for me. With Outlook, the only things keeping me organized are a HUGE amount of email folders for each kind of task for communication I encounter and flagged messages. Files on the hard disk are not linked to the emails that they are related to, and since I have to switch between OSX and Windows (on Remote Desktop) it’s not practical to link the work I do on the Mac via network shares to Outlook (imagine how long those file paths would be).

In the Project Center you can create project names and link files, contacts, notes, calendars and due dates, and all sorts of information to each project – making the PROJECT the organizational point. If I’m working on a flyer I can create a project called “New Flyer” and link all the graphics, text documents, and other files to it, making wading through hundreds of emails (yes, hundreds if not more, and that’s probably light) a thing of the past. Going to the project in the Project Center shows me all the relevant information for that task – the way it should be.

So, if you find yourself in the jungle facing an elephant, you should probably start at the tail and save the tusk for last. That’s probably what I would do.