Things we never include on daily to do list

When we build our daily todo list we pretend to live in a vacuum where:

  • We don’t need to eat
  • We don’t take a (coffee) break
  • Never experience low energy
  • No one ever calls/texts/IMs us and interrupts our current work
  • No manager drops by and puts something new, important and urgent on our pile
  • There are never crisis situations with a customer

Sven from Simplicity is bliss writes about his experiences with daily to do list. He also shares some tips on how to make the daily list a bit better.

In my experience the daily list comes very handy, provided it’s short, which means maximum 5 items.  This is just a base line, things I really have to do. Setting a list with just 5 items helps me make sure I can progress some projects and at the same time gives me enough flexibility to get engaged in other things throughout the day without feeling guilty about my to-do list.

Just this week I took a more conscious look at what I wanted to achieve and the combination of daily to do list and saying “no” to few things yielded great results!

As follow up there is also an interesting HBR post on how you can leverage calendar over the to-do list. “To-Do Lists Don’t Work

CORE of productivity

Last week I looked at three pillars of productivity and what they are. This week I wanted to focus on the CORE of productivity.
GTD is a all encompassing methodology that focuses on wide range of aspects of self- management lists, projects, goals, levels of focus, responsibilities, workflow.
It can be daunting and overwhelming to implement all those elements in an orderly fashion. Also some people will not be interested in everything.

I’ve been looking for a part of the whole GTD methodology which provides a lot if insight into how to deal with incoming information and what to do with it.
The 5 stages of GTD workflow is this element. It shows you how things enter your space and walks you through the steps to successful completion.

This is where the CORE comes in. CORE is a workflow or otherwise a set of steps you can follow.The ideas behind CORE and any workflow for that matter is to provide a step by step path for dealing with work and life events.

As you will see CORE is very much influenced by the Getting Things Done approach by David Allen which I think is one of best approaches for work and life management.

The elements of the CORE system:

Collect – at this stage you gather the information via intentional capture or get it delivered into your inbox(es).

Organise – every once in a while prefferably daily, look at your collection points and then decide where to put the items you have. The basic choice is to delete them or put on one of your lists.

Review – make sure that your lists are current and define what requires your attention at a given moment. This stage focuses on lookning at your calendar, project and action lists.

Execute – Once selected, complete the items on your list one at a time. I like word execute better than simple “do” as it conveys more power and authority.

I have omitted the processing stage as I think it’s not distinct enough. In order to organise your things you need to decide what gets added to your list so by default you need to process them.

This workflow can be used independently of the rest of GTD system and applied as a daily or weekly habit for dealing with on coming items. Although the steps are simple implementing them into daily routines can take some time.
This type of workflow can also work very well for managing project and goals. I hope to cover this in future posts.

3 pillars of productivity

There is a lot productivity advice ranging from simple bite sized tips and tricks to book outlining fully fledged methodologies. I’ve been wondering what it takes to create a good productivity and organisation system regardless if it’s a formal approach like GTD or Autofocus  or simply a set of different practices picked up along the way.

What are the basics?

What are the component of individual and team productivity? One might say that Getting Things Done methodology solves it all but to me this is a workflow that requires two more elements to be complete. Others might say that good task mamanger will do but what good is it if you only dump your to do items.

I think any productivity system, approach you decide to follow requires three elements: Thinking, Tools, Workflow.

Thinking

It’s easy to jump into action and complete as many tasks as possible. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean we get where we want.

We need time to analyze and plan our goals, projects and actions. Then we can start moving into the direction we want.

Thinking and planning is difficult as it takes time and effort. It doesn’t seem like doing and therefore is often dismissed. Yet without even a simple plan we are walking blind and most likely “lean the ladder against a wrong wall”

Design your day, week, month, year in such way that you have time to think, plan, draft.

Tools

You need tools to help you organise your thinking, your actions and projects.

I’m big believer in GTD approach where you divide stuff into different buckets like calendar items, project list, action list, someday maybe etc so I’m using tools that help me support this.

To keep clean (mentally) you need to capture ideas, thoughts. It’s better to have a tool/place where you can gather them and review every once in a while.

Keeping track of commitments was easy fifty years ago but now the complexity or our lives has changed dramatically. There is more information crossing our way that it was in our grandparents time.

Finding the right tools to keep organised is not always easy. Some prefer Swiss army knife approach and look for all in one organisation tool. Others like to have special programs for special tasks. Whatever your choice may be, make sure that your tool helps you get things done.

Workflow

What’s the workflow? Essentially it’s a set of steps which are necessary to make sure you are organised and clear. It helps you move from thinking to the doing phase in an orderly fashion.

GTD provides excellent example of workflow based system, first there is capture, then processing, organisation, review and finally the do.

You may prefer other models, yet you most likely you have something, even if it’s very informal.

Why workflow is necessary? Mainly because it helps organise work and life. It removes randomness and helps to create paths that can be followed. A workflow also relieves brain from constant thinking about what’s next. Instead you can focus on other things.

Lastly workflow allows you to leverage tools and thinking into a single element into a single piece that helps you get things done.

Stale actions, Reduce the pain of email, Productivity Rules

Couple interesting links and quotes that I wanted to share:
Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Finding next actions that you haven’t acted on – Remember The Milk Blog

I have a list named “Failed Next Action” which contains the Next Action tasks I didn’t complete the last two weeks.

How To Lessen The Pain Of E-Mail Twelve

(1)Send less. Every e-mail you send will eventually generate pieces of e-mail for you; it’s a sort of e-mail karma.

My personal productivity rules

The flip side of making a plan is to make one that is small enough to be done.

Stop switching tools

Few weeks ago I decided that Remember the Milk is not sufficient for my needs and Wunderlist would allow me to manage my tasks and projects especially.Then I’ve spend couple hours transferring stuff from one application to another. Since there is no easy import/export option available it took me some time.
As you can imagine after another couple hours I came to conclusion that I’m missing some nice features that Remember the Milk has and in fact it’s actually still serve me my needs well despite with its shortcomings.

Such switching tools is very unproductive and takes a lot of time without providing much value. It would only be justified to spend some time moving playing around with different apps if I were to test them and check their features and options.
To avoid going through this process and subsequent frustration over wasted time and effort I used an approach that I picked up from Jason Womack’s book “Your Best Just Got Better” that I’ve read recently.
I opened a new page in my notebook and spent some time thinking and writing down answers to below questions:

[colored_box variation=”deepblue”]how I work?
what I want to achieve?
what I want from the tool(s)?
what is the purpose that the tool is to serve me?. [/colored_box]
It took me ten minutes to come up with a half a page list of different ideas and observations. As result I came up with a better understanding of the tools and my own needs. Surprisingly it was a very simple and easy thing to do.

Next time when I’ll think of changing tools, I will refer to my notes and see whether anything has changed and makes it valid to look somewhere else.
If the answer is no then I will stick with it what I’m used to and not wast my time anymore.

Projects and Remember the Milk

Managing Tasks in Remember the Milk is easy. You simply input one, add necessary meta data, like context or due date and you’re done. Item will appear on you list waiting for you to do it.However if you’re a practitioner of GTD methodology you know that projects are very important element of it. In fact per GTD any item that takes more than two actions steps is a project. If you follow this definition then you have a lot of projects to work on.
It would be ideal if you could use Remember the Milk to manage this aspect too. Unfortunately that’s not possible out of the box. But don’t loose your hopes! There are two solutions which can help you maintain integrated project and task system within RTM.

Fixed list

Firstly there are lists, with each representing a single project. This way all your specific projects are separated from other tasks thus making it easy to see the full scope.
I don’t recommend this approach as it’s cumbersome and requires setting up list via settings panel. It also makes the page quite crowded with different tabs. Perhaps it’s not a big thing but I prefer to keep things as clean as possible.

Project tags

The second solution, which is my preferred, is to use tags to indicate whether a task is part of a project or simple next action. The way it works is very easy.  When I’m adding a new project I create a tag which looks as follows “p_name” where “p” indicates project and “name” a short name to indicate what’s it about.

The reason I prefer this approach is that the list view remains minimal and clean, letting me keep the key list in front of me. Also having all projects starting with “p” I can clearly see them and access them via the tag cloud on the right side of the screen.
With tags it’s much easier to create a project, as all I need to do is create a new “p_xxx” tag. Adding new task to your project is easy too, thanks to the auto tagging which adds current list’s tag automatically.

Where tags are provide more flexibility over a fixed list view is a creation of different views via smart lists. This way I can create a list based on very specific set of tags and have all relevant tasks displayed there regardless of project they are assigned to. Very handy when looking at context or areas of responsibility across your system.

Project list

In order to see all of my open projects I have a project list which shows any task with a “@project” tag. This way I have a handy reference point to see whether I’m not overburdening myself.

Here it’s how it works. When I’m due to file taxes for 2011 I will open up a new project and add task called “File taxes 2011” and add two tags @project and p_tax11.
Now this task will appear on my project list as an active item then when adding additional task related to this project I will use p_tax11 to keep things organised.

Large projects

For larger projects you may want to organise your tasks in sequences, unfortunately this requires another little hack as RTM can only sort using priority, name or due date.
My suggestion is to use numbering sequence to make task appear in a certain order. You can use various formats for that purpose from simple 1-10 to more complex 1.1.1, 1.1.2. It all depends how you want to organise your projects.

I hope this gives a good overview of how you can manage project using Remember The Milk. If you have any favorite solutions please share them in the comments.