I’ve made a few attempts at staying “on top of” my workload using tools like the Getting Things Done add-in for Outlook, MindManager, and even tried the ResultsManager add-in for MindManager. Each of them help, but somehow they all seemed a bit too “high maintenance” for my needs — they required a great deal of management of metadata about each project and task, and yet I always found it hard to get a simple “to do list” summary of stuff I need to do.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t get some subset list or grouping of my tasks. I just couldn’t quite make it work for me in a way that made it easy to see what I really needed to work on.
My Woes with the Commercial Alternatives
With the GTD tool, I could see my tasks grouped by Project or by “context” (a GTD-ism for “if I’m near a phone, I should knock off all my calls; if I’m by my computer, I should knock off a bunch of computer-needing tasks all at once”). However, while I was really good about collecting all my tasks, I wasn’t so good about understanding which of them was most urgent — it all just became one big pile and I could never get a “meta-view”. I also could never get the hang of using the Prioritization field that should’ve allowed me to order & re-order all the tasks without regard for their project/context grouping.
Ages ago I’d even tried Taskline, which adds even more metadata to the Tasks in Outlook, but even with the combination of Taskline and GTD, I wasn’t able to make any more sense out of the 200+ tasks that I’d be able to collect, each time I gave these things a try.
With MindManager, I’m able to pull together a random set of ideas, tasks, steps, requirements and issues, and re-group them in ways that make sense once I’ve got them all in the same “place”. However, while it has some integration with Outlook, and I should be able to sync Tasks bidirectionally, I can’t say I’ve ever committed to the notion of marrying the incredible number of Tasks I’ve already got in Outlook to the scattered (and possibly overlapping or conflicting) musings I’ve got in MindManager.
When I added ResultsManager to MindManager, I was blown away by the UI, the great number of useful metadata I could assign to my “project planning” items (though such efforts on my part are a great insult to those skilled/sick individuals who actually know how to manage projects), and the really well-thought-out introduction process they used to familiarize customers and get them up and running quickly. However, I found that once I got all my projects, deliverables and tasks into the environment, I was still struggling to (a) find a ResultsManager template that would give me that “holy crap” daily/weekly view of my critical tasks, and (b) prioritize all my tasks relative to each other when they’re gathered together in one mind map. I’ve even tried discussing this with some of their technical evangelist types, but for all the work they did in trying to explain how to customize the ResultsManager environment, something about it didn’t click for me.
I really like the concepts behind ResultsManager — tagging items that are in multiple maps and gathering them into one “meta-map”, organizing projects into sub-deliverables and tasks, using icons and other visual elements to help annotate the information. I liked the flexibility in the design, and the implicit promise that it’ll help you see the patterns and overall workflow.
However, it doesn’t quite live up to that — at least not for me, with only a moderate amount of time invested in the training they provide for newbies (and poking around their forums and discussions). And frankly, I didn’t like what I saw when I looked under the hood — it’s all written in VBA, and becomes a real hog at any sort of scale. They’re interested in developing in .NET (or VSTA?), but between that and the effort to simplify the usability, I can’t imagine it would be really ready in time to keep me from getting fired. (I’m kidding, mostly.)
Build My Own MindManager add-in
So I’ve decided to explore the effort it would take to do something similar, but aimed at one single goal: produce a ToDo List from the task items scattered throughout my MindManager maps, and be able to prioritize (i.e. re-order) them in a persistent manner.
I know that Mindjet has produced some resources for developers who wish to add functionality to MindManager:
- a Visual Studio template for C#/VB development
- a Primary Interop Assembly (PIA) that installs by default with MindManager Pro 7
- a free community portal where documentation and resources are available for registered developers
Once I downloaded the VS template, installed it, and created a new project from it, I was surprised at how many different files were generated by the wizard: there’s AssemblyInfo.cs, Connect.cs and Utility.cs in the Addin project, then a Common project and an AddinSetup_en project. This made me think there’s probably a tour of the different components in the MindManager add-in project somewhere on the Mindjet developer site, and that I’d probably earn a few shortcuts in my development time if I read up on this first.
Browse over to the Mindjet Devzone. That’s where folks like me (as well as professional development organizations) can get at the really cool developer resources. Once you’re registered, you’ll be able to access resources aimed at MindManager version 6 or version 7 such as “How to Create a MindManager 7 Add-in Using C#” and the “MindManager 7 Object Model Reference“. They even provide a downloadable archive of all their online documentation if you’d rather just dig through the info without having to login each time.
Now, it’s not well-documented where a guy like me should start, but it’s a pretty good guess that “How to Create a MM7 Add-in using C#” is a likely walkthrough for newbie developers. And as it turns out, this is definitely targeted at a C# developer who’s just starting into MindManager development.
You will need to read the guidance with a grain of salt, however; there’s a lot of steps specified in the first few sections that don’t apply if you’re using Visual Studio 2005 + the MM7 addin template (i.e. MM7AddInTemplateSetup2005.msi found in Mm7AddInTemplateSetup.zip).
[Also note: if you’ve got the same setup that I happen to have — which is to say, Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 installed side-by-side — then you’ll probably have to create your MM7 add-in project in VS2005 and then open it in VS2008. I couldn’t find a way to install the MM7 add-in template so that it showed up in the VS2008 “New Project” selection, but that’s probably because I haven’t uninstalled VS2005 yet.]
I don’t know why, but I decided to try building the Solution before I spent too much time writing code. It turns out that there are three errors with this Solution, and I don’t think the minor changes I’ve made could possibly have caused all this damage:
General failure building custom actions C:\personal\VS Projects\MM7TODOList\MM7TODOList\Common\Common.vdproj (Project=)Common
Unrecoverable build error C:\personal\VS Projects\MM7TODOList\MM7TODOList\Common\Common.vdproj (Project=)Common
Unable to import merge module ‘C:\personal\VS Projects\MM7TODOList\MM7TODOList\Common\Debug\Common.msm’ C:\personal\VS Projects\MM7TODOList\MM7TODOList\AddInSetUp\AddInSetupen.vdproj (Project=)AddInSetup_en
I figure I better get these problems resolved before too long, or else I won’t be able to debug this project and even bigger issues will go unnoticed. I’ve posted this issue to the MindManager developer forum, and I hope it gets answered soon. 🙂
Update: For the benefit of everyone who’s waited with baited breath…
Well, even if you just want to know how to deal with this, here’s what Mindjet Developer Support told me:
“The solution on the DevZone is based of VS 2005 that’s why (I am assuming) that you could not get it to compile on VS2008. I have modified your project a little bit (removed custom actions) and it is working fine.”
Couple of Open Questions
- What’s the difference between adding a Reference in the References section of the Solution Explorer, and adding the “using CLASSNAME” statement in each source file?
- If I wanted to rename a namespace after I created the project, can I just right-click on the name of the namespace (e.g. MM7TODOList) and choose Rename? Or do I need to find other dependent code fragments that don’t get updated automatically?