I’ve been hesitant to write about my task management system since I’ve built it around my own eccentricities. I’m not using any sort of established methodology like GTD (Getting Things Done) because I’ve found that keeping track of all that adds a whole bunch more work that I do not enjoy, nor find particularly helpful. However, desipite human tendancy to believe the opposite, I am not a special snowflake and maybe my methodology could be useful to other people.
Like many people I have a problem. A productivity problem. It’s not that I’m lazy or uninterested in my work, I just simply lose track of things if left to my own devices. I also have a tendency to get completely overwhelmed when it comes to larger projects. The way my brain organizes data is in complete opposition to what I’m trying to do on a daily basis, and if I didn’t have a system in place I would always have projects hanging over my head that I would neglect or just plain forget about.
I’m not going to get too much into the tools. I personally use Firetask, which I picked over the competition because it has the least offensive visual style. It’s not exactly pretty, but it’s got the functionality I need to make my system work. I was previously using Wunderlist, but it is missing a few of the features I swear by in Firetask. Omnifocus and Things are both really good options, but I just don’t like how they look personally.
Define Your Project
The first step is broadly defining what you’re working on. It can be something like “icon set for Bob”, or “buy a new sketchpad”. Next is deciding if this is a simple task, or a larger project. In Firetask I have a project that’s always going called “Tasks” where all my bite-sized tasks go. If I’m working on a larger project, for example the icon set for Bob, I create an entirely new project.
Next I like to define the context. Because I sync my task lists between my computer and my phone I am able to “task manage” from anywhere, so setting a category is immensly helpful at keeping track of what can be done where. I have categories for “home”, “phone”, “computer”, “office”, “the store”, as well as more abstract things like “questions” and “issues” that I want to address. Categories can be assigned to individual tasks, or entire projects.
Break It Down
For larger projects I need to set milestones. These are smaller tasks that will eventually lead to the finished project. You can break this down in as much detail as you’d like, but at least setting the major milestones. If you’re making that icon set for Bob maybe you want your first task to be “get project details from Bob”, then “submit contract and proposal”, and so on.
One of the great features of Firetask, and most digital task management tools, is setting due dates. I use this for everything, even personal projects, because if I don’t I’ll just keep putting stuff off forever. Oh, and I don’t believe in using task management tools for “someday if I get around to it” tasks. I like to keep those types of goals and aspriations in a notebook.
Setting goals helps maintain accountability. If I see something that needs to be done by this day at this time I can prioritize it better in my head. That’s why I’ve been able to get these posts out every Thursday at 9AM local time. I have an item in Firetask that says to finish and prepare my weekly writing by Wednesday night, and as such I have both the blog post and newsletter scheduled to go out the next morning.
One feature I use a lot when setting goals is the repeat function. Most software will allow you to do this, set a task that repeats every so often. Once a day. Once a week. Once a month. Whatever you need. A lot of software, including Firetask, allows you to create more customized schedules, like every Monday and Thursday.
Regular Check Ins
However, all of this is useless if you don’t actually look at your tasks. Ideally you’d have some sort of regular check-in throughout the day. I however refer to my task list when I’ve finished a task. Honestly, I’m not sure if either way is inherently better, as long as you’re checking in a few times day. Besides being helpful in deciding what you should do next, it’s also motivating to see your list slowly whittle away.