Without much bravado, I’d like to tell you a bit about how I manage my tasks. There’s absolutely nothing original here, yet I still feel the need to share it because I believe many people are still not doing very well at task organization, and perhaps this short account might encourage them to become more organized.
If you know me at all, you should know I’m a very messy person. I suck at remembering stuff, tasks, details. Luckily, we have the cloud to remember stuff for me nowadays. This is what I do:
Step 1 – Clear your inbox
An inbox is not an efficient storage for neither tasks nor knowledge. Its true purpose is to be a “waiting room”, somewhere where messages that arrive wait until you look at them. Listen to this great Zero Inbox Google Tech Talk to get some techniques to help you keep your inbox size to zero.
Step 2 – Pick good services to maintain your bits of knowledge
Regarding “knowledge bits”, there are a number of solutions here. Specifically I’m using Evernote for “private stuff I need to remember”, my blog for “stuff I need to remember that might interest others as well”, and Stack Exchange / Quora for “stuff I don’t know, but want to know about” (= questions). If you file all your bits of knowledge instead of just keeping them lying around in your email, you’ll have a much easier time retrieving them.
What’s great about Everote (and recently also Google Docs) is mobile access to your knowledge – everything you store on these services is easily accessible and searchable on your smartphone. For me, this is the killer app in my Android.
Step 3 – Pick good services to maintain your tasks
A few months ago I found Producteev, and my life hasn’t been the same since. Prodcteev is one of many task management system. What’s unique about it that it’s simple yet full featured, works well, and has good integration with my Android via Astrid. Are you carrying your tasks around in your head? We all get these kinds of feelings. When you have something important you need to do, but can’t do it right away, this feeling will loiter in your head all the time. In meetings, you will be thinking “What was it I planned to do on Tuesday … ah yes, submit my tax report”. No more.
With Producteev (also with the cool alias http://pdtv.me), you can immediately transfer any task that pops into your head to your mobile, synchronized to the web. Believe me, once you start doing this, you’ll be amazed at how many such tasks you offload from your busy brain, and how good will that make you feel.
There are a few advantages I’ve found that Producteev has over its alternatives (specifically I’ve tried Google Tasks and Remember The Milk):
- It’s dead simple.
- It has due dates. I usually do a daily or bi-daily scrub of my task list, and make sure every task has a due date. I have no qualms about postponing due dates – if I see I don’t have time for something today, and I know I won’t have time for it in the next few days, I simply postpone its due date. Still, the mere fact of having due dates help me organize and answer the simple question “What should I do today?”
- You can add comments to tasks. This is very useful for those complex tasks that involve contacting some people, writing down some info, and then doing followups. The best approach is simply keep all the task-related information together, and Producteev does a good job at this.
When I used Outlook in the office, that was also an excellent choice for a task management tool. The real answer if “pick whatever solution works for you”. Any solution that you actually use is better than not doing anything and just keeping tasks in your inbox.
Step 4 – Stick to it!
Organization is hard. You will find yourself tempted not to use whatever system you’ve designed. However, you should stick with it (and adjust the rough edges). Remember, if you’re not using an organization method, you’re simply cheating. You are effectively ditching work, and your future self will be mad at you for causing him this extra mess.
Remember that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of organization methods there (the most popular I’ve heard of is Getting Things Done. If you’re interested you can learn a lot from other people’s experience – just remember not to obsess about it. Pick something that works for you, and don’t over-optimize.