Remember the Milk – the most powerful features

Remember the Milk has been my task manager of choice for over two years now. Although I have tried couple other task manager in that period I always came back to RTM as my preferred solution. As any application it has a strong points (you can read about some below) and has a weak points too (mainly the offline capabilities).Since it’s always easier to pick hole sin things rather than look for positives I decided to look at some of the best features of Remember the Milk that keep me organised and help me get things done. This post may appear a bit geeky as I go into the details of things like input syntax and smart lists but believe me it’s actually very simple. This is what makes this tool so powerful and effective.
It also goes in line with the notion that knowing the tools you use makes you more effective and lets you focus on what’s important.

Smart add

This is one of the most powerful and useful feature of the application. Very often people point out that applications like RTM provide so many options that deciding on each of them becomes a task in itself. In my view you can use the application the way you prefer if simplicity is your thing then you simply ingore the features but if you look for a more options to slice and dice tasks than RTM lets you do that.

When inputting a new task aside from the description you can set following attributes for each task: due date, list, context, priority, duration, repeat cycle, URL and location. As you can see it’s a lot of additioal information to input. To make it simpler few years ago the guys at RTM inctroduced a set of characters which allow you to select desired feature using keyboard while entering the task. Here is the list of special characters you can use:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

^ – date

# – list and context

! – priority

= – duration

@ – location

* – repeat

URL – simply paste it in[/colored_box]

So here, how this works. Lets say you want to “buy a milk” and you want to have it on your personal or errands list and location is your local shop. Obviously you will buy a milk every week so you want that as a continuous reminder.

Normally you would input the task in to the input panel and then assign relevant attributes manually in the panel on the right. However using the syntax your input would look as follows:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”] buy milk #personal @shop *weekly [/colored_box]

That’s it, no fiddling with settings or navigating with mouse, simple input and a task is properly categorised and assigned.

Two points worth noting here. You can use the same principles when entering tasks on your iPhone/iPad or Androind devices. Also existing categories will auto populate as you type which makes entering even easier.

Smart lists

You may be wondering what is the purpose of entering all those additional details tags, priorities, locations etc. The answer is simple with these attributes set you can slice you tasks in any way you want. This is where the smart list comes into play. This feature allows you to simply create a list of tasks based on a very specific criteria or a combination of such. In my view It’s the second most powerful feature of RTM application and I’m using it quite a lot.
Aside from the standard Inbox list I have only two basic lists Personal and Blog to manage all of my tasks. The rest is done through a set of smart list that display relevant tasks. These include following:

  • Project list – a list of personal and blog projects that I currently work on.
  • Next Action list – task due today or those I decided to complete in a given week. I highlight those by assigning a priority 1 to them.
  • @Computer and @Home, a list for two of my basic contexts.
  • @Waiting for – a list of things I’m waiting for from other people.
  • No tag – task which are missing a tag.
  • Smellers – picked it up form this post and essentially it’s a lists of task that were inputted over 6 months ago.

At first setting up a smart list might be a little bit overwhelming but the learning curve is not very steep. Remember the Milk forum has some great examples of those. You can also check out the support page which includes a list of relevant fields.

Auto tagging

Next very useful feature is auto tagging of tasks. In essence when you are looking at a smart list and add a new task, RTM will automatically append a tag related to that list. This comes very handy when outlining project plans. It works very easy, I select the project tag, I use “p_xxx” to indicate project, then I start typing. Each new item will have a tag “p_xxx” assigned by default. Why this is helpful? Simple when I want to review all tasks associated with a specific project I can click on the tag and simply review them all. This helps me make sure that tasks are in their right place and I can access them when needed.

Email import

Last feature that I wanted this share is the email import. Perhaps it doesn’t sound all exciting as almost every online task manager provides this functionality, nonetheless it proves very useful. The reason it so beneficial is that it greatly fits into my project workflow. What I usually do is get a mind map or a Evernote note to outline the structure and elements of the project. Once this is done I would email the list of tasks into RTM. In addition I would include relevant syntax items so the tasks would fall into right categories or lists. Here is an example for buying a car:

[colored_box variation=”pearl”]

buy a new car #Personal #p_car #project
research car models online #Personal #p_car #computer
call bank and check loans #Personal #p_car #calls
book a test drive with the dealer #Personal #p_car #calls @dealer

[/colored_box]

Once sent to your RTM email address (you got one during the sign up, see settings) all these lines will be converted into individual task and tags. All is left is to start reviewing your lists and tick off items.

 

Are you a Remember the Milk user? I would love to know how you use it. Please share in the comments section.

 

Note of disclosure: I’m not affiliated with Remember The Milk nor received any compensation for this post. I’m recommending it to anyone as a powerful tool to get things done and organise their tasks.

Weekly Links for 30th of May

A weekly collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

 

  1. Druckversion – SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco: ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’
  2. Top 10 Characteristics of GREAT Project Managers :: Tips :: The 99 Percent
  3. How To Encrypt Evernote Notes/Files | Password Protect Evernote Notes
  4. Death, taxes, and now, lack of privacy
  5. Daniel H Pink: employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems
  6. Techno Life Skills

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Key Lists

Here's my new Behance stickers in action - freeform notes on the tight, tasks on the left.

 

If you’re into productivity you most likely have a list, probably there is more than one list. You may have action lists, things to do at some point, lists of ideas for holidays, books, movies, music. But with setting up dozens and dozens of list it comes a cost of maintaining them, keeping up to date and relevant.

At some point you realise that there is only a handful of list that you use always.

For me there are three lists like that:

  • @projects – to keep a record of my open projects.
  • @actions – to stay on top of my task and to-do.
  • @waiting – to keep track of things I should receive or people to get back to me.

There are times when I consider dividing these lists and expanding in subset but that never works out very well.

Focusing on keeping these lists in check provides me with biggest payoff so making any changes is like fixing something that’s not broken.

Do you have any key list? Are there any that you can’t live with out?

 

photo Flickr by Al Abut

Holidays,lists and smooth transitions

Recently I came back from my two weeks of holidays so I’m still in the holiday mood. Although it’s been almost two weeks I still feel the holiday buzz simply because I’ve been using lists
Now this may sound totally simplistic but making lists, maintaining them can really help you have great time,not worry about work and have smooth return to work.
Here’s how you could do that.

Before holidays

Most people before they go on holidays want to close out on as many projects and tasks as possible. There is that frantic rush to complete as much as possible so things don’t look as bad when you come back. However in most cases you really can’t finish it all in one day. If you haven’t done something for three weeks you wouldn’t do it simply because you go on holidays. But to the point. Since you can’t and won’t finish it all before holidays you need to pass things to your co workers. If you follow the GTD system or maintain list of your commitments then it’s easy:

  • pass your project list – review the list and check for projects that need to be moving while you’re away. Pass the next actions or any  follow ups that need to happen. This way you can ensure the things move at least a little bit and don’t die or alternatively blow up once you’re back.
  • pass you action list – review the list and check for any tasks that need to be done while you’re away. Perhaps there are some repeating items that only you do, or maybe certain reports need to delivered in that time. By passing those action again you keep things moving and leave a great impression that things get then even when you’re not in the office.
  • pass your waiting for list – review the list for any item that will need a follow up during your absence. When people know you’re off they tend to push thing away knowing things can wait. In the end upon our return we discover that nothing got done as things went where not chased.
    this is what’s going on at work.

On Holidays

At home you can still benefit from list. Hours before the holidays are usually rushed, lot of things to do. It’s easy to miss something like forget the extra pet food, water the plants, turn of the heating or all the electric devices. Packing stuff for two weeks of traveling means there is a lot to take. Clothes, toiletries, documents, money, cameras, charges, batteries, memory cards, mobile phones etc. It’s easy to loose track of what’s in, what’s still needed and what’s not worth taking as you ran out of space.

An easier solution to that is to use checklist. Having one or more will allow to make sure you’ve packed everything, made necessary arrangement for your house, plants and pet.
Some people prefer to sit on the beach, sip drinks and do nothing, some like to see as much as possible and run like crazy from one place to another. Others are somewhere in the middle they like to hang out around the pool for while but also want to experience local culture, food, architecture. For those two type having some sort of list will help to make sure you make the most out of your holidays. Perhaps you could list all the places and attractions you would like to see during your stay.     

Returning to work

Coming back to work is never a very pleasant experience. Although you might enjoy coming back to the day to day routine of tasks and activities the work it self may be less appealing. To make the transition smoother and less haphazard you can refer to your list. And if things have been completed as you would hope than all you have to is get an update on the events that concern you and and update your lists. Once you catch up on things you can get into work mode.
This way you can avoid having this in between time when you are at work but not fully settled, when you are at work and try to focus but can’t do that because of to many things pilling up on the desk and not being sure where to start.

Whether you follow GTD principles or other self management methods having set of list which  clearly describe your commitments and actions is undoubtedly useful at work but it can also positively impact your holidays and way you spend them.