Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
Tasks and calendars are the mainstream of keeping me on track. One tells me where I need to be, the other tells me what I need to do. Most productivity systems seem to focus on the tasks, though, rather than the calendar. Perhaps that is because there is less to quibble about on a calendar entry: each one represents a place you have committed to be. Not much to change about that. But tasks, oh my! Such a lot of methods!
(Note: I prefer the term “task” to “to-do” because I never know what do do with that hyphen. Leave it out? Put it in? Remove the space? And then the plurals! There are almost as many spellings as there are ways to manage them!)
The Different Systems And Tasks
Daytimer and Covey advise putting all on the same list, and differentiating by using a priority system. Assign an ABC according to urgency, and then number the tasks in order of priority, which is how you will do the tasks. They advise writing tasks on the days they need to be completed, but this leaves any prep time/tasks hanging out in the ether.
GTD puts everything on the list and says, “you need to do it all”. I’ve never understood exactly how to handle the stuff that needs to be done today, because if it’s on the next action list, it gets lost, and if it’s on the calendar, it’s away from everything else that is the same (apples in with the oranges).
Do It Tomorrow urges you to only put it on the list if it fits into the amount of work you can get done tomorrow. This ignores the fact that there may be really busy days where you still have to knock out items.
Autofocus has you put everything on a list and use your intuition about when it should be done. This relies on your memory to hope you will get something done on time.
Simplifying My Tasks
I’ve been rethinking my approach to tasks during this switch to my iPod Touch. I’ve realized a few things about my task list, after many years of trying many systems (see The Evolution of My Productivity System). There are three types of tasks for me: things that need to be done today, things that I’d like to do today, and things I’d like to get to, although not necessarily today (this includes things that have upcoming deadlines).
I don’t need contexts: I can figure out on my own what can be done where I am. I don’t need to have every last thing in front of me at all times. It just muddles my thinking. And I don’t need to see future mundane stuff when I am working on today’s tasks. I don’t need to sit down and figure out what order I am going to do the tasks in.
I’ve been working with Remember the Milk (RTM) (see Moving to the iPod Touch: To Dos) because of its various entry points: I can enter on the web, through an Air application, or through my Touch and it all works out. I like the way it handles repeating tasks, so that I don’t see them until I need to.
So I’ve approached my RTM with my simplification strategy. Built in is a list of things that are due today (called “Today”, appropriately). This gives me the list of things that have a due date of today.
As far as the things I’d like to do today, I have two options. I can assign them as today, and differentiate them by priority from the things that have to be done today. Or I can tag them with a tag that differentiates. Right now I am assigning dates for the things I’d like to do today. I am working with a priority 1 of things that have to be done, and no priority for things I’d like to do. RTM also has a postpone feature, so I can see how many times I’ve put things off.
I’ve also abandoned context tagging. I have locations set up for various errands and home, and I use those to direct me when I’m out and about. This saves me from getting home from the grocery and realizing I needed to stop at the library. I use a few tags, just so that I know things have to be done somewhere. My calls are labeled calls, since I generally knock those out at once. Things that have to be done on the computer are labeled so that I can exclude them quickly when I don’t want to be on the computer. I have a waiting for tag, just so I don’t lose sight of things I’m waiting for. Other tags are used to help me find things quickly: household, blog, correspondence.
I am making use of the SmartList technology. This is basically a saved search in RTM. My current two used most often are “MyToday” ((dueWithin:”1 day of today” or dueBefore:”today”) or (due:never) and NOT tag:waitingfor) and Today!Home ((NOT location:Home) AND ((dueWithin:”1 day of today” or dueBefore:”today”) or (due:never) and NOT tag:waitingfor)). These two, with the built-in lists, keep me on track.
One other trick I am using to keep me on track with larger items that need much work: I add the task, make it due today, and have it repeat every day until the real due date. I also put the due date in the task name, so I nothing broadsides me as I ignore tasks.
It’s been an experience doing this. I’ve had to rethink some old habits and really understand what I need to accomplish and see. I’ve had a hard time weaning myself away from contexts, and the locations feature is a new experience. But it is freeing not to be classifying things all the time…I’m actually doing things instead.
Photo by °Florian