Being BAD at task management

I have co-authored a paper with a colleague, David Jones which was published at the ASCILITE2014 conference being held in Dunedin New Zealand.  The paper was titled Breaking BAD to bridge the reality/rhetoric chasm.  The reality/rhetoric chasm is best expressed through the following metaphor, in the words of Professor Mark Brown:

E-learning’s a bit like teenage sex.  Everyone says they’re doing it but not many people really are and those that are doing it are doing it very poorly. (Laxon, 2013, n.p).

A central tenet of the paper is the following argument about this chasm:

Our argument is that the set of implicit assumptions that underpin the practice of institutional e-learning within universities (which we’ll summarise under the acronym SET) leads to a digital and material environment that contributes significantly to the reality/rhetoric chasm. The argument is that while this mindset underpins how universities go about the task of institutional e-learning, they won’t be able to bridge the chasm.

Instead, we argue that another mindset needs to play a larger role in institutional practice. How much we don’t know. We’ll summarise this mindset under the acronym “BAD”.

A comparison of SET and BAD is provided in the following table:

Component SET  BAD
What work gets done? Strategy – following a global plan intended to achieve a pre-identified desired future state Bricolage – local piecemeal action responding to emerging contingencies
How ICT is perceived? Established – ICT is a hard technology and cannot be changed. People and their practices must be modified to fit the fixed functionality of the technology. Affordances – ICT is a soft technology that can be modified to meet the needs of its users, their context, and what they would like to achieve.
How you see the world? Tree-like – the world is relatively stable and predictable. It can be understood through logical decomposition into a hierarchy of distinct black boxes. Distributed – the world is complex, dynamic, and consists of interdependent assemblages of diverse actors (human and not) connected via complex networks.

The paper uses the establishment of the Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV) at my institution as an example of using BAD principles to improve e-learning.  However, this is not the focus of this blog post.  As a means of improving my own conceptions of BAD, SET and their interplay, I have begun reflecting on how I have unwittingly applied BAD principles to my other endeavours.  A recent example relates to my use of task management software which is detailed in a recent post, but for which I’ll summarise here for brevity.

I recently switched to a new task management system called Omnifocus.  Omnifocus provides the ability to select what it calls perspectives to show your tasks in different ways according to your workflows and context.  One such perspective new to their recently released OSX version is called the Forecast Perspective.  This perspective for the coming days, shows what tasks are due to be started (deferred to a later date when entered) and what tasks are due to be completed.  This information is then augmented with appointments found in your OSX calendar application.  Its a lovely way to see what you need to do, along side what existing time-based commitments you have to help plan to get things done.  But there was a problem.  Any deferred tasks that were not completed on the date they were deferred to, would not shift to the next day in the Forecast perspective.  Instead, they simply disappear from the perspective entirely until their due date.  Through an online search to see if I had mis-configured my database or if anyone else was as baffled as I was, I came across the following entry on the Omnifocus discussion boards:

I’m going to submit this as a feature as well, but I figure I’ll post it here to see whether it can get more traction. My issue is this:

If I have Deferred something to a start date in the future, odds are I probably think it’s pretty important that it starts on that day.

However, what happens if that day comes and goes and I didn’t start the item? In Forecast, the item disappears. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Forecast shouldn’t only be showing me the “past due” things I assigned dates to, but things I didn’t touch that I was supposed to.

Seems I was not alone in my frustration.  The forum continued with discussion of various work-arounds, none of which I found particularly suitable to my context.  So I sought other possibilities to resolve my problem.

Omnifocus makes use of the OSX Applescript frameworks which provide a high-level scripting language that can be used to customise behaviour and automate tasks to make things work in ways not originally conceived by software creators.  A handful of applescript contributors exist that have created some very useful Applescripts for Omnifocus.  One such contributor Curt Clifton has created a script that identifies projects where there is no next action to perform, suggesting that the project may have stalled.

The significance of this script is that I have been able to adapt it to solve my problem with deferred tasks disappearing from the Forecast view when they are not completed on the defer date.

Returning to the principles of BAD, there are some alignments undertaken by the Omnigroup company to allow customers to ‘break bad’ by customising their Omnifocus product to yield to their ends.  In the absence of the Applescript integration in Omnifocus, there would be little hope other than waiting for Omnigroup to implement a feature to address the limitation.

The integration of the Applescript framework into Omnifocus allows Bricolage to occur.  It offers Affordances such that I and others are able to solve problems locally and contextually according to our own specific needs and wants.  The creation and use of this bricolage is distributed – Omnifocus do not have direct control or management over the extensions that can be applied.  Things can be developed and/or shared in a Distributed fashion according to the needs of individuals.

While the use of the Applescript framework won’t solve everyone’s issues and challenges, like many products that do integrate an Applescript Dictionary, it does shift away from the traditional SET mindset of software development.


2 thoughts on “Being BAD at task management

  1. I wonder if the inclusion of the Applescript capability was explicitly intended to enable bricolage by others, or due to an unconsidered ramification of some decision made for other reasons?

    Also begging the question, what would be the equivalent in LMS terms?

    • There are some default ‘System’ based Applescript functions that can be performed by most apps without having to do anything special. This includes things such as sending keystrokes, selecting menus etc. However, Omnifocus has its own ‘dictionary’ of integrated functions within the application.

      Take a look at my source code to see what I mean.

      On this basis, I believe allowing bricolage was intentional.

      The equivalent in LMS terms isn’t quite as easy to answer. Will think about this.


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