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Productivity

Forget about the Ultimate GTD App; Create Your Ultimate GTD Workflow

It’s not about the apps. It’s about the workflow.

Freedom is a debilitating condition that affects me as a Remote Worker. I’m crippled with the freedom to do anything I want. I could ignore the phone calls and binge on my Netflix queue. I can put up the “Gone Fishing” sign on the front door and take my kids out to the beach. I need to have structure in my life to ensure that I can keep my business running. The first step was to find a productivity system that provides structure. The first productivity system I truly looked into was GTD. It’s been a lifesaver for me. I found OmniFocus as the app to use to implement my GTD workflow. It wasn’t pretty in the beginning but I eventually got OmniFocus clicking after two years. I didn’t have all the workflows clicking quite yet but I eventually got there.

I was intrigued when I heard that David Allen released his vision of the ultimate GTD app at the 2019 GTD summit:

Easiest Hard Rule to Follow

Despite valiant efforts, Allen reports that he got close but the technology and user awareness about GTD wasn’t ready yet. Here’s a quote from a January 2019 Medium blog post:

"I spent 3 years looking at intentional software with Charles Simonyi and his team. These are the people that built Office, Excel…they were looking at whether or not our technology can actually build something that wasn’t out there yet. The answer is no. The technology might be there already, but there’s no market for it. Most people don’t even keep stuff in their head, why do you think they’ll need it."

David Allen admits that GTD can take up to two years to truly understand and master.

"What they don’t realize is that it is a methodology, and not a technology. It’s a thought process.” That thought process takes some time to master, around two years according to Allen."

I’m not a mindreader but Allen probably thought that if there was one GTD app that incorporates AI (Artificial Intelligence) and coach me through the GTD workflow.

This isn’t a quest to look for the perfect GTD app. This is a journey to get new GTD practitioners a way adopt a GTD workflow.

I don’t know if one single GTD app will be able to do everything. Everyone’s needs will be different. I am an advocate of implementing the GTD system with tools I am comfortable with. I implement GTD concepts with apps that facilitates my workflow.

I took a look at David Allen’s 19 page proposal of his dream GTD app. I realized that it looks more like a series of habits, workflows, and checklists. Instead of requesting my favorite task manager app developer to include Features X, Y, and Z, I should look at collecting the various tools and apps that will help me create my own workflow. The technology is available to everybody but it takes some elbow grease to glue it all together.

I sat down with pen and paper and walked my way through Allen’s dream GTD features. I’ll be looking at different pages over the next few weeks in an attempt to decipher what Allen wanted.


1. Features

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Default Debriefing process

This is the habit of checking my checklists weekly to keep my life current. I schedule a time block to review next week’s commitments, appointments, active projects, administrative tasks, and routine tasks to stay current.

The Weekly Review is an essential building block to keep my checklists, projects, and task up-to-date.


Customize List Sorting

I need to have an app that will keep my projects and tasks sorted. I need an app capable of sorting my tasks and projects into bite-sized views. I might have a saved search list for a variety of contexts:

  1. Home tasks

  2. Office Tasks

  3. All phone calls

  4. A due soon list that shows any upcoming tasks that will be due in the next 7 days.

  5. Errands

  6. Agenda items to talk about with my wife and kids

Using tags can help with grouping similar tasks for me to work on. A task manager should have the ability to create saved searches to show a list of commonly reviewed search criteria.


Cross Reference Projects to related actions, waiting for’s, reference, people, dates, meetings, etc.

The introduction of URL schemes can help link tasks in my task manager to calendar events or notes in my notebook can facilitate this need. Here are two examples of URL schemes to go to a specific view in my task manager:

omnifocus:///inbox

omnifocus:///perspective/Bills


Decision-Making and Organizing Expert System built in

Allen might be thinking about creating a digital assistant that will be able to automatically categorize our tasks into different Areas of Focus (House, Work, Personal, Family) or checklists (packing list for trips, birthday presents list). Or is he thinking about a digital assistant that can prioritize and help us with making decisions about what is the perfect next action I could work on right now?


Global Search

MacOS’s Spotlight feature allows me to search my computer for nearly everything I need. My internet search engine is just one tap away from accessing the world’s archives of blog posts, articles, and reference material. My task manager’s search feature is also capable to grouping a variety of tasks together for my review. Everything (or almost everything) is just a few keystrokes away.


Gateway to all other software (while processing)

I’m not sure what Allen means by this? I can switch between apps easily. My iPad has split-screen capabilities to let me look at two apps side-by-side.

Many apps are now capable of “talking” to each other with internal APIs such as URL schemes and AppleScript dictionaries. They send information between each other and scripts can be written to speed up a repeated process.


Allow free-flowing thinking while tracking toward closure

This feature sounds like the perfect spot for apps such as an outliner or mind mapper to come into play. Use free form thinking to brainstorm goals and projects. These can be translated into real projects inside the task manager app.


Rules-based customizing (eg. Every AA flight scheduled, schedule 72 hour upgrade)

It is possible to use tools such Zapier or IFTTT.com (If-This-Then-That) to create rules-based customizing. If I get an email from my airline company about an upcoming flight, it should be possible to have Zapier or IFTTT automatically schedule a flight upgrade. This all depends on whether the web site has the necessary APIs to facilitate communication.

Maybe one day, we’ll see our Apple HomePod, Google Assistant, or Amazon Echo get close to assisting us with this feature. For now, tools such as Siri Shortcuts, AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, IFTTT, and Zapier are at the forefront of giving us rules-based customizing.


Print any views in any hard-copy format (by meeting, person, dates, project, etc.) / Generates complete hard-copy systems with up-to-the-second lists + data

I love printing hard copies of my projects and tasks. I put my printouts on my clipboard and get ready to work without returning back to my iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Printing is not a strength of many task managers. OmniFocus doesn’t have great print formatting capabilities but I can export my tasks out as a TaskPaper text document and then run an AppleScript to format it for my needs and insert it into Apple Pages.


Tag any file/location/activities -> in-basket to ensure later closure [or make any note]

The wording isn’t very clear. I suspect this feature requires a quick entry screen or capturing method to easily enter in tasks for later inbox processing.

Siri has been a very capable capturing mechanism to record any new ideas that may pop into my head at any time. Drafts is another capable app that can send text to my task manager as well. Another popular feature would be an e-mail address to send any task or file attachment to my inbox. Apps such a Evernote, Things, and OmniFocus have this feature now.


Alarm

Notifications are an important part of many tasks and projects. I have notifications set for my Start/Defer date/time and another notification for the due date/time.


That was just the first page of David Allen’s mockup! Next week, I’ll dive deeper into some of his GTD app wish list. Here’s what’s coming next:

  1. Initial/Current View

  2. Initial App Screen

  3. Inbox Processing

  4. Project Creation

  5. Project Engagement

  6. Next Actions

  7. Persons

  8. Someday/Maybe

  9. Tickler

  10. Meetings

  11. Communication

  12. Areas of Focus

  13. Reference Lists

  14. Weekly Debriefing

  15. Coaching Messages

  16. Coaching Models

If we break down his feature wishlist, we could review what we want from our digital devices. Then find the tools to fill out our GTD repertoire.


Do you have a productivity system or workflow that can handle most (if not all) of these GTD building blocks?

It’s not the app that we should be chasing. It’s the workflows that we should be building. The apps are tools that will help us create the workflows that remote workers (and non-remote workers) use in our daily lives❗️

(Part 2 continues this conversation)

Categories
Productivity

The Best 2 Minutes Of My Life

It takes just 2 minutes to get supercharged. I’ve been looking for the magic sauce that will do three things:

  1. Get started building a habit.

  2. Start a Big Rock project I’ve been resisting.

  3. Clear away those small annoying tasks that clutters my task list.

All I needed was just 2 minutes.


Clearing my inbox with the 2-minute rule

GTD’s 2-minute rule has been a tricky beast for me to master. If I am processing my inbox and encounter a task that takes two minutes or less to do, I should just do it. Entering it into my task manager may add overhead and friction when my task list slowly grows heavy with a long list of 2-minute tasks. But I think I’m OK with that.

I get distracted when I stop my inbox processing and proceed to do this “small” task. If I encounter a 2-minute task like "collect all the coins from between the sofa cushions,” I walk over to my sofa and collect all the coins. But then I realize that the magazines on the coffee table are outdated and I should toss them out. Next, I see dust bunnies under the coffee table and I run over to the kitchen to grab a rag to eliminate the dust bunnies. Then I see a whole list of other 2-minute tasks that starts rolling in. In the heat of the moment, I’ll completely forget about processing my inbox.

I do get a long list of 2-minute tasks that starts to clutter up my daily action list but I have an idea to combat that. But first, I’ll look at how I view inbox processing and clearing out my 2-minute tasks.

Planning Mode vs Action Mode

One of my main tenets in my productivity system is to either go into Planning Mode or into Action Mode.

Planning Mode is a mindset where I do nothing but plan. I go into my Mad Scientist phase and start reviewing my projects. I brainstorm new ideas into projects as well as delegate, delete, or defer existing projects. I don’t do anything with them but planning. I do my daily review and weekly review to set the next day’s MITs (Most Important Tasks) and Big Rock to focus on.

Action Mode is where the real work happens. I stay out of my task manager and just work on my short list of tasks I chose the day before. I am cranking away at my tasks and projects. I don’t get distracted back into doing more planning and dreaming up new projects. Going into Planning Mode does not help me complete my projects. Staying in Action Mode does.

Inbox processing is part of my Planning Process. The 2-minute rule is an Action Process. Clearing out my inbox requires me to stay in Planning Mode. If I do encounter a 2-minute task, I can assign a tag such as 2min or set the estimated duration of my task.

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I don’t work on any 2-minute tasks while I am still processing my inbox. I just keep going to the next inbox item. After I finish my inbox processing, I can exit Planning Mode and enter into Action Mode. I start a new time block of 10-30 minutes and knock out as many 2-minute tasks that I have assigned. Batching all of my 2-minute tasks allows me to stay in Action Mode. I’ve never liked working on a 2-minute task while I am still processing my inbox.

Batching My 2-Minute Tasks

I love working on my Big Rock projects but I also need to spend time working on all those annoying 2-minute tasks that clutters up my task list. I can’t ignore them but I can set aside time to work on them. I devote a time block that will chip away at these 2-minute tasks so I can get back to working on my Big Rocks.

When I finish processing my inbox, I schedule a time block to work on a whole batch of 2-minute tasks. I create a smart list or custom perspective that look for any task that is less than 5 minutes long:

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Or I can look for any tasks that have the 2min tag assigned:

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I schedule a time block in my calendar and work on a batch of 2-minute tasks:

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I visit my smart list with all my 2-minute tasks and just churn away until the time block finishes or I finish my last 2-minute task.

These 2-minute tasks start to clutter my task list. They’re small but annoying. I don’t like to do a series of 2-minute tasks sprinkled throughout the day. Completing a time block that holds all of my 2-minute tasks lets me run the table and get back to doing the Deep Work as Charles Duuhig likes to call it. Working on a Big Rock project (or Deep Work) and then switching to a 2-minute gets me out of my flow. Dedicate 15-60 minutes every day to work on 2-minute tasks will clear the day for me to get back into meaningful work in my Big Rocks.


Two Minutes To Start A Habit

James Clear’s Atomic Habits uses the 2-minute rule to help create new habits. Sometimes starting a habit is the hardest thing to do. One way to start habit is to commit 2 minutes to the first step. Perhaps it’s 2 minutes to start a run on the stationary bike or the treadmill. Or it’s 2 minutes to just organize my desk at the end of the day. If I start the first 2-minute task, I get on a roll and decide to just keep going. It all starts in the first two minutes.


Two Minutes To Start A Project

There are times when I am faced with a project that intimidates me. I procrastinate and try to save it for later. Many times, I didn’t break down the next action into something that is manageable. If I’m stuck on a Big Rock’s next action, break it down so that it takes only 2 minutes. This is the same idea with the 2-minute habit rule. If my next action is Write up big essay about macroeconomics in the 21st century, that would be a vaguely written task. Instead, I can retitle the next action to Create first topic sentence for macronomics essay in the 21st century. This retitled task should take approximately 2 minutes and is much easier to accomplish.


Break The 2-Minute Rule

I don’t always need to set a 2-minute rule guideline. I can be flexible and change a task to 5 minutes in length. Not all small tasks are 2 minutes or less. I can batch together a series of 5-minute tasks to work on. Or I work on a series of tasks that will take 10 minutes. The number of minutes is up to you. Be flexible and decide what your threshold is.


Getting To The Finish Line 2 Minutes At A Time

My ambitious Big Rock projects, life-improving habits, and the small mountain of micro tasks in my task manager can be whittled away starting with just two minutes. Do you have a bunch of stuck projects, an avalanche of micro tasks, or habits that you want to make progress on? Two minutes is all you need.

What have you done to get your projects, habits, and micro tasks moving towards completion? Reply in this post or create a new post!

Categories
Productivity

Don’t Wait Until The Weekly Review. Just Review Now!

Pivoting from the Weekly Review to Multiple Reviews

The classic GTD Weekly Review has been a cornerstone of the GTD system. But it’s been a troublesome beast for many practitioners. When I started GTD and attempted to do the weekly review, I set aside a Sunday afternoon to do it. Three hours later, I was spent. It was not something I looked forward to do every Sunday afternoon. I started loathing the weekly review. Here is a short podcast from the official GTD podcast regarding the weekly review:

The Power of the GTD Weekly Review

The weekly review is a popular subject. Here are some Guild topics that dealt with the weekly review:

Weekly Review on the Community

The main purpose of the weekly review is to get your task manager up-to-date. Trust is important and if I can’t trust my task manager, I won’t look at it. So much can change in just one day. New events occur and renders a task obsolete or change the direction of a current project. Performing a review will bring my database back to reality and regain my trust. My anxiety drops and I can get back to focusing on my current work.

I sensed a lot of anxiety building up throughout the week because I couldn’t wait for my weekly review to come every Sunday afternoon. Breaking up the weekly review into multiple reviews with different levels of focus gives me a sense of calm. Every project, task list, or checklist needs to be reviewed at different frequency cycles. Instead of one big three hour weekly review on Sunday afternoons, I’ll break that three hours into digestible chunks of 15 minutes throughout the week.


When Do I Need To Review?

I review as often as I need to.

The General Rule: The more frequently a checklist or project changes, the more frequently I should review it.

If a checklist is fairly dormant (packing checklist, spring cleaning), I can review it on an infrequent basis such as once a month, once every quarter, or longer.


Schedule the review

Reserving a time block into my schedule ensures that I’m going to get to it. The [Due app] has been my go-to app to remind me to work on a daily review. It prompts me once every 30 minutes until I eventually mark it as done.

Time flies and I don’t realize it’s 4:30 pm until the Due app notifies me from my iPhone and Apple Watch. When I hear the familiar Due chime, it’s time to start wrapping up today’s work and go into my daily shutdown routine. You’ll find your own suitable time for shutdown. Some folks might be too exhausted at the end of the day to think clearly. Perhaps a small 15 minute time block right before dinner or after dinner would be better. I’ve learned to pace myself (especially late in the afternoon) and try to get ready for my review time.

At my local bank, the bank closes its doors at 4:00 pm. This gives the bank employees one hour to go through their shutdown routine. They review their work and reconcile anything that happened today. This is an example of reserving time at the end of the day to get some quality review at time.

The Due app has reinforced my daily review. At US$4.99, this app has paid itself over many times. There are other options including your smartphone’s built-in alarm app or other apps available at your favorite online app store.


Just 15 minutes a day

Depending on the number of projects and list to review, my typical review period takes 15-30 minutes. I found myself disgruntled if I have to spend more than an hour doing a review. Trying to do one weekly review for 3 hours was soul crushing and not something I looked forward to.

If I schedule a 15 minute time block to work on a different part of the review, I’ll eventually catch up with my backlog. Not everything has to be reviewed every week. It’s not about getting to Inbox Zero or doing a full review. It’s about chipping away at the review process and get up-to-date on the important stuff. Keeping my system at manageable size and knowing that the most important projects, tasks, and checklists are up-to-date is enough for me to trust my system.


Create A Review Checklist

One way to keep track of everything is to create a checklist of everything that needs to be reviewed. Create a schedule for every line item that is up for review.

Projects that I am actively engaged in right now (usually a Big Rock project that has a due date in the very near future) or checklists that changes daily or semi-daily will need to be reviewed once a day or every 2-4 days. Currently, I have a house renovation project that’s been keeping me busy. I have to check with the contractor every day to see if I need to buy new construction materials. If this project was dormant, I would have checked on it once a month to see if I want to start it. But now that it’s started, my review cycle becomes daily because there’s always something going that changes the project scope.

Here is a list of general review cycles I might look at:

  1. Currently active projects (Big Rocks) (every 1-3 days)
  2. On Hold projects (Someday/Maybe) (once a week to once every month)
  3. Inboxes from e-mail, social media, apps (Drafts, Ulysses, Bear) (daily)
  4. Deadlines (Due projects and tasks) (once a day to once a week)
  5. Calendar (daily)
  6. Action Lists for different Areas of Focus (home, work, church, community) (every 1-7 days)

If you need to be kept aware of anything in your life, it should belong in your review checklist. Then review each list as needed.


Daily

Planning for tomorrow is an essential part of my plan to start off the next day with a running start. I usually spend 10-15 minutes at the end of each day doing an end-of-day review. When the morning comes, I am already in action mode and don’t need to drag out my daily planning. I can get immediately start on my daily frog to eat. I look at my Action Lists and my currently active projects for tasks to work on.

I look at my Action Lists quite frequently. I have my Office Action List which contains single one-off tasks that gets updated daily. I need to review the Office Action List more frequently than something like my Homeowners Association Action List. The Homeowners Association list doesn’t get updated frequently but I do peek at it once a week to see if I want to start work on something in that list.

In addition to my single one-off tasks from the Action Lists, I’ll schedule a 60-90 minute time block to make progress in a currently active project. If I can complete at least 2-3 tasks from a project each day, I can make significant progress until the end of the week.


Weekly

I look at my projects list to see what I need to focus on next week and what to put on the backburner. I have a handful of projects that I am working on each week. The Someday/Maybe projects are not considered when I go to the daily review. I look at currently active projects and see if I need to put it on hold for a while or consider revising the next actions within. Sometimes the next actions may not be inline with reality. Perhaps I need to break it down into small next actions or I can delegate them to someone else who can more capably complete the next action?

After choosing my 3-5 Big Rocks, I’ll print them out and place them next to my desk calendar. I have the active projects I want to work on and the next group of actions to work on.


Monthly, Quarterly, Annually

This is where I reach for my goals. I look for any quarterly goals or long-term plans that I want to make progress on. I also go back to my Someday/Maybe projects to see if there is anything in there that can help get me closer to my goals.

I also review my currently active Big Rock projects and see if I need to course-correct myself to get closer to my goals. In these long-range plans, I’ve found that I can set sail in a general direction and then course-correct over time. I might drift off-course by a degree or two but then incrementally get back going in the right direction. Experience has taught me that I can get a sense of where I’m going and if I’m hitting my monthly or quarterly targets. I often revisit projects and goals with my wife and work partners when I feel like I am going off course.

I have a mind map to keep me on my flight plan. My Vision mind map holds the various projects that will contribute to creating projects that will get me to the next milestone.


Do you do your weekly review? Or even a daily review? What does look like? Do you like to do one big weekly review or do you break it up into mini reviews throughout the week and month? Share your thoughts by commenting below or create your own post at the Productivity Guild!

Categories
Productivity

Planning my week with the Bullet Journal

Planning my week with the BuJo

In my latest experiment, I’ve been trying to use the Bullet Journal (BuJo) to plan my entire week. I wanted to balance time spent between different groups of tasks. Here are the three groups that I wanted to spend time in:

  1. Urgent Items – I have a wave of urgent tasks that come up in life. They typically have due dates assigned. These are the high priority tasks that I need to work on before I can start working on the other two groups.
  2. Big Rock projects – A group of tasks that are geared towards achieving a final goal. They are not as urgent as the Urgent Items but they are an important part of improving
  3. Small Rocks – Single next actions that appears throughout the week. It is a constant surge of incoming tasks that is generated from daily life. They aren’t as important as the urgent items in the first group but I do need to take care of them. If possible I try to delegate or automate as many of these small rocks as possible.

My first attempt at the BuJo started here.

This layout idea worked for a while but it didn’t cover everything I needed to work in throughout my day. I’ve found that my layout has changed over time to reflect my current demands. Everyone will have a layout that works for them. It will take time to figure out what works. Weeks of field testing a new layout will tweak your two-page spread to fit your needs.

I wanted to take a group of Big Rock projects and single actions from my massive list in my task manager and schedule them for the next week. When I look at my task manager, I am swimming (or almost drowning) in a sea of possible projects and tasks to work on. If I can narrow down my list of projects and tasks to a select few, I reduce my resistance to my task manager backlog and redirect my focus back to projects and tasks that will take care of the immediate needs (urgent and due) and make systematic improvement for a future "me" with Big Rock projects.


Daily Pages vs. Weekly Pages

Daily Two-Page Spread

I’ve gone back and forth between a daily two-page spread and a weekly two-page spread. There are adbantages to both layouts. Here is a popular daily layout that I found many moons ago:

Emergent Task Planner

There are many different types of planner pages available for sale. Find one that is predesigned for you or design your own. It’s your choice! I did use a Franklin-Covey Planner setup during my college years and it fit me perfectly for that period. Fast forward decades later and I’ve moved on to a custom BuJo setup. Many of the day planners I’ve tried had a daily two-page spread like this:

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The daily page spread allowed me to focus on each day. I had a column of today’s tasks, a day schedule to fill in my day with the day’s classes, appointments, and party times. There’s also a large notes page for me to capture anything that catches my eye. This two-page spread focused on one day but it lacked a higher horizon of control for me. Looking at this layout, I can see today’s landscape but I couldn’t see anything that would come up in the next seven days.

Weekly Two-Page Spread

I am always trying to stay ahead of the Game of Life. I am concerned about today’s work but I also have to look ahead to urgent tasks that will be arriving at my office door in the next few days. I needed to plot my game plan for the week in my BuJo. After much experimentation, I’ve updated my BuJo layout to include my calendar appointments, Due Tasks, MITs (Most Important Tasks for today), Big Rocks, and Small Rocks (maintenance tasks). I took my inspiration from the weekly two-page spread from my old Franklin-Covey Planner:

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Preparing My BuJo Weekly Two-Page Spread

After much thought and re-organization, my BuJo layout evolved to what I have here:

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I love the A5-sized notebooks. It’s big enough to hold my two-page spread but compact enough to toss into my messenger bag or backpack when I am on-the-go.

The left page has a seven day block which will contain my due tasks, appointments, and MITs. I’m not a micro-manager and need to account for every minute of every day. But if I needed to do fine-grained recording of my time spent, I’d just use a digital calendar or go to a larger-sized notebook to give me more room to create a fully day calendar similar to the Franklin-Covey Weekly Planner page. For my daily work driver, day blocks with my tasks for the day are sufficient.

The right page is split into two halves. The first half holds the Big Rock projects and the first 3-5 next actions. The second half will hold any one-off tasks or maintenance tasks that aren’t scheduled in yet but are available to me. I called this section my "Menu."


Creating My Menu For Next Week

I use my digital task manager as my second brain to store all of my projects and tasks. I have a mixture of Big Rock projects, Someday/Maybe, repeating maintenance tasks, single one-off tasks, and checklists. I don’t need to refer to many of these items daily but I do need a place to park them. The task manager serves this purpose well. I’ve tried many times to work exclusively from my task manager but I just couldn’t do it. I get enough screen time and sometimes I’m away from my computer or iPad. Carrying a notebook was much easier and more carefree for me. Who knows? I might just return back to my iPhone or iPad but I’m still in love with my BuJo.

I have so many tasks stored inside my task manager. It’s time to figure out what I am not doing and focus on what I intend to do next week. Using my task manager, I can say “no” to many tasks and projects and say “yes” to the right ones. I will choose my two to three Big Rocks and find a handful of other tasks to focus on next week.

Choosing the Big Rocks

I want to include my Big Rock projects in my weekly plan. At the end of the week, I look for two to three Big Rock projects to focus on for the next week. I’ll write them down in my Big Rocks section. I write down the next 3-5 next actions for each Big Rock. If I have three Big Rocks with three next actions, that’s already a minimum of nine next actions to work on for the next week.

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Designing My Menu of Next Actions

I have a variety of single one-off tasks and repeating maintenance tasks that I want to include in next week’s game plan. After choosing the 3 Big Rocks, I start adding the Small Rocks to work on next week. I refer to my task manager and write down 10 or more tasks to work on next week. These are tasks that I should be doing but are not scheduled into my day calendar yet.

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I still have room for more tasks that inevitably needs to be added throughout the week. If I get a new request/order today and it needs to be done this week, I will write it down here. If the request/order can be done later (hopefully next week), I will just enter it into my task manager.

In the picture above, I have 13 single actions in the Menu section and 11 actions in the Big Rock section. I have decided to work on these group of tasks in between my appointments (the hard landscape). I’ll be adding more throughout the week. Keep the number of tasks fairly low. For me, 24 tasks will probably take me the whole week to finish. This is on top of any incoming tasks that will eventually arrive on my desk throughout the week.

I have finished designing my group of tasks for next week. It’s time to fastforward through the weekend to the beginning of the next workweek.

The right page spread shows my list of tasks that I want to work on next week. The left side page shows my calendar and what I will work on each day.


Planning My Dashboard

Now it’s time to start filling out my week’s work agenda with:

  1. Appointments
  2. Due (urgent) tasks
  3. Big Rocks
  4. Small Rocks

Planning My Dashboard (Appointments)

I fill in each day block in the Dashboard with major appointments that will be happening. These are the first items that I must respect because it represents my hard landscape. I look at my digital calendar and transfer major events and appointments into the BuJo. In the next photo, I see that I have some early appointments on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. The rest of my week looks clear for me. I can plant tasks around days that are not full of appointments. I’ll look at my digital calendar and record any major appointments that must happen on my day blocks.

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For the moment, I don’t necessarily need an 8 am to 5 pm day block. My schedule tends to be chaotic because I might have walk-in customers and requests that pour in throughout the day. I have tried hyper-scheduling and planning time blocks throughout each day but I get frustrated when I want to do something at 10 am but I get called in to put out a fire at that time.

I keep my digital calendar events so that I can get alarm notifications on my smartphone and my computer when the time comes. But I also record it in my BuJo to get an idea of my busy days and my quiet days.

Adding Due Items (Urgent) To The Dashboard

There will be many tasks that must be done by a certain date. This also becomes a part of my hard landscape along with appointments. I’ll look at my Due tasks from my task manager or from the Menu column and put them into my day block. I will list these tasks immediately after my appointments.

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Planning For Tomorrow

I plan to work on at least one Big Rock project and at least three MITs. I’ll consider the day a success if I can complete them by the end of the day.

Planning My Dashboard (The Big Rocks)

I most likely won’t work on a Big Rock project if I don’t schedule it. I look into my weekly schedule and look for possible days to work on a specific Big Rock. I’ll schedule one Big Rock a day. If I’m feeling brave or if the Big Rock projects have a lot of quick tasks, I might schedule one for the morning and one for the afternoon.

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Sometimes I won’t plan a Big Rock until the day before. It depends on the progress of the current Big Rock I’m working on. I am free to move Big Rocks around but I would like to stay on track. The Big Rock goes immediately after appointments and due tasks.

Planning My Dashboard (The 3 MITs)

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At the end of each day, I will take a look at my Menu on the far right column. I choose 3 MITs for tomorrow and write them into the day block. The MITs are the single one-off actions or repeating single actions that I need to get done but aren’t urgent.


The Weekly Gameplan Is Complete

Planning my week ahead of time reduces the need to think of the next project or task to work on in the heat of the moment. I get decision fatigue if I have to choose a random task or project in my task manager. This BuJo layout assists me by reducing all the distraction that a task manager provides. I would endlessly scroll through lists of tasks and projects and feel that there is probably something easier or more attractive to work on. I might get back into planning mode and create new plans for world domination when I should really get back to work on what’s on today’s agenda.

At the end of each day, I pick at least one Big Rock project and 3 MITs to work on. If I can complete these items, I can always continue working on the Big Rock or choose a few more MITs from my menu.

I’ve been tweaking my BuJo and OmniFocus workflow to its current layout. As I encounter more friction or face a new situation, I’ll be looking at ways to acommodate the new demands. I’ve realized that my digital task manager isn’t the tool to help me with the day-to-day workflow. Its place for me is to store all of my projects and tasks. I’ve further entrenched myself in the hybrid task management system for the moment. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to all-digital one day.

Have you been planning your week or are you flying by the seat of your pants? How are you designing your week or day schedule? I’m curious to see what everyone has here. Create a new post here at the Productivity Guild and take a snapshot with your BuJo layout! It’s a great way to get inspired by other people’s layouts.

Categories
Productivity

My Journey with the Agenda App

A Different Approach to Note Taking

It takes time for an app to find its place in one’s life. That’s what happened with my flirtation with the Agenda app. When I first downloaded Agenda, I didn’t understand it because I didn’t have a place for it in my life. Little did I know, my life changed and my current note-taking setup didn’t feel like it was more streamlined to fit my new needs.

I was using OmniOutliner as a note-taking app for my parents’ medical history. I can collapse or expand each outline item or focus on a particular section. But it becomes a mess when I try to hunt down to-do items that may have been forgotten and buried in a nested outline. I needed a better way to take notes and to be able to present a history for my parents to read easily. Giving them a printed report with a long outline didn’t jive well with them. Neither did a mind map that I attempted earlier. I tried to give project notes using a mind map but I got a groan and roll of the eyes. My parents just wanted a simple, easy to read list instead of a beautiful mind map that I spent hours on 😢. It was time to try Agenda once again and I was very pleased with what I was able to do.


An Elegant New Take On Notes

Agenda uses a timeline approach to notes. Notes are assigned a date and can be individually linked to an event in my Apple Calendar. I needed to make meeting notes that could be easily read by my parents.

Task managers are great for holding tasks but not so good at keeping notes and project history. I can look up a list of completed tasks but sometimes it helps to lay the tasks in the context of events in my life. I can read a story and see how a project unfolds over time. Agenda allows me to record events and tasks in each entry. There are many unique features that makes it stand out from the mind mappers, general file storage, and outliners available.


Surprising Benefits of the Agenda Subscription model

Agenda comes with enough basic features to keep most people happy. The developers have come up with a unique subscription method for Agenda customers. If you buy a one year app subscription, you will get any new features that will be added in the next 12 months. When the 12 months expires, you can elect to keep your subscription and gain new features or cancel and keep the features you’ve acquired since your first purchase. You won’t lose the features you received during the 12 month period. You keep what you have even if you decide to cancel your subscription.

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Here is a link to the Agenda Community which discusses the Agenda Premium features.

This thread is updated when the developers add new features. They’ve been on a very consistent schedule and I look forward to new developments.

I was amazed at how the new features that don’t seem like much really adds to the overall user experience. Pinning notes, integrating my Apple Calendar events with Agenda, and saved searches has been very helpful.


Categories, Projects, and Notes

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Agenda uses “categories” (or folders) to group a series of projects.

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Inside each project, I have notes sorted by date.

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I can connect a note to a calendar event or date.

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I create a note for every meeting I attend.

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Here are some tasks that I entered directly in the body of my meeting note:

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An upcoming premium feature is the ability to link Agenda tasks to Apple Reminders. Check off an Apple Reminder task and it will also be marked as checked in Agenda. That would make Agenda a better task manager with tighter integration with Apple Reminders.


On The Agenda

When I’m juggling with many projects in a wide group of categories, I can narrow my focus to what is on my agenda. My projects will contain all my notes. If I have specific notes that are considered open loops (pending items that I haven’t dealt with yet), I can mark these notes as On the Agenda.

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The On the Agenda view gathers up all notes that I have marked as “On the Agenda.” This is the equivalent of flagging a note and bringing it to my attention when I visit the On the Agenda view. I like to keep some notes on the agenda for future meetings or if there are any pending questions or tasks left to do.

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When I am done with a note, I can remove the note from the On the Agenda view. When a note is removed from the agenda, it remains in its parent project.

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Linking Notes

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Sometimes I need to link one note to another note. Linking a series of notes together helps me follow a chain of events/notes that might be in another note or another project. I can also use URL links to web sites or callback URL to open a link in another app.

Associate a note to a calendar event

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I can link to a note to an existing appointment or create a new Apple Calendar appointment inside the Agenda app. The newly created calendar appointment will have a callback URL to link back to the original note. This is a very handy feature when I have a busy schedule and need to quickly visit a note during an appointment.


Overviews (Saved Searches)

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I can create defined searches based on text, tags, or people. Then I can narrow it down further by searching with a specific time frame such as this week, next week, or last month. Creating commonly used searches allows me to search for specific notes within a certain date range. It’s very handy when I want to see any agenda notes that are coming up in the next month or look for notes about a person within the last few weeks.


Exporting my Agenda Notes

Using a timeline based system, I can go through a project’s history or client notes and see my project evolve over time. It’s a great way to document progress in an easy to read format. My parents didn’t like my mind maps and my outlines just looked like one long blob of text on a page when I printed it out for them. I easily exported my notes into a PDF document, RTF (Rich Text File), or a Markdown file for other users who don’t have the Agenda app. My progress reports were nice and clean.


A Different Note Taking App – Agenda

I’ve been looking for a note taking app that I’ve felt comfortable with. I’ve had DEVONthink, Evernote, mind maps, and outliners but none of them ever stuck with me. Using Agenda has been a pleasant experience for my daily use. I can create beautiful PDF reports or RTF files to document any interactions with my clients ass well as keep track of projects such as my parents’ medical history.

Agenda’s subscription model frees me from worrying about getting locked out of my notes. Any new features I get within my 12 month subscription will remain unlocked even if I don’t re-subscribe. It’s a new business model that helps developers with technical support and promotes new app features. At the same time, I’m not worried about my app going into read-only mode and I won’t be able to make new notes.

I did brush off this app as just another text editor but its approach to note taking has given me a new tool whenever I’m at a meeting or recording project notes with a client.


Note taking is a process that I took for granted. Agenda has helped me streamline my note taking work flowing and produce elegantly designed reports for my clients and projects.

If you have other workflows for note taking, I’d like to hear about how you do it.

Categories
Productivity

Greasing the Wheels of My Life

I’ve been thinking of all the friction points in my life and wondering what could I do to grease the wheels. I’ve been looking at the different areas of resistance I encountered and looked for workflows or systems to handle them.


Routines

Charles Duuhig has mentioned that our life is a series of habits that takes up 40% of our day. That’s a big chunk of tasks to think about! If an event happens at least three times, it’s time to create a checklist to refine the process. The Bookworm podcast discusses the book, The Checklist Manifesto. Eliminate decision-making ahead of time by creating a checklist. I no longer worry about missing a step and creating a mess that I have to clean up later.

Reviewing the checklist gives us a chance to see where we can refine the process even further. I like getting my friends’ input and let them see if there is something else that can be refined and I may have missed it. A fresh set of eyes can reveal other paths that I may not have thought of.

The Annoyance List

I keep an annoyance list with me. It’s a list of all the little things that bothers me. Perhaps it’s a leaking toilet. It might be a loose screw that keeps coming out of a device and I would have to screw it back in every once in a while. I had a friend whose car was always leaking power steering fluid in his junk car. He would buy a box of power steering fluid and keep it in his car trunk. He would occasionally add power steering fluid whenever his dashboard light turned on. I’m sure it irritated him but he didn’t want to take the time out of his busy to get rid of this nuisance. He probably didn’t have an annoyance list and he just lived with this annoyance. Keeping an annoyance list gives me a nice list of things that I should be taking care of. I create new projects and tasks to care of the small friction points in life.

Combining two unrelated tasks

I used to hate mowing my lawn. It was a brain-dead activity for me. But I’m changing my attitude towards brain-dead tasks by combining it with something I like to do.When I’m cutting my grass, I often start listening to podcasts and audiobooks inside my ear mufflers. Other times, I might just put on the ear mufflers and just let my mind wander. Those are the best times for ideas to spring up out of nowhere.

Simplify My Life

I have a lot of duties to take care of. And sometimes it overwhelms me and I bite off more than I can chew. I’ve recently started to simplify my life and dedicate myself towards projects and tasks that align more closely with my personal goals and values.

I automate tasks where I can. Automatic bill paying helps to take reminder tasks out of my task manager. Apps such as Keyboard Maestro, TextExpander, and AppleScript helps reduce time spent on tasks by automating repeated actions. Some of my favorite resources to learn more about automation are:

It is certainly worth the effort to learn a little automation. The initial investment may be heavy and intimidating at first but it can quickly build enough momentum to make the effort worthwhile. I don’t have to learn everything about Keyboard Maestro. When I have a problem that needs a Keyboard Maestro macro, I will find out what commands I need and build a macro that works for me. I can build on the first few simple macros and start creating more complex solutions. I have a nice handful of Keyboard Maestro macros and I’m sure I’ll level up and figure out more complicated scripts.

Letting go of responsibilities is a challenge I still face nowadays. Delegating tasks to others (if possible) also reduces the size of my task manager’s database. The less I need to track in my task manager, the happier I am.

Delegating tasks may also require initial investment and can pay itself back many times in the future. Training another person to take over your duties on an interment or permanent basis relieves me from one duty so that I can concentrate on another duty. It can be frustrating trying to teach someone the ropes but the dividends will pay off in the end.

Delegating even half of a process can shorten the amount of time needed to finish. If you’re a podcaster, delegate postproduction work to someone else. If you’re a manager, you don’t have to be the one that has to count all the coffee beans. Let someone else do that.

Master My Tools

As a beginner, I’m slow as molasses as I try to learn a new workflow or master a new app. I remembered trying to use OmniFocus. It was a monster. Hard to tame but once I got my hooks on it, it became a powerful tool in my fight against un-productivity. I am also interested in other tools of the trade that will make my life easier. Photography, Photoshop, carpentry, and Siri Shortcuts are other subjects that I’m interested in mastering. One way to master a tool quickly is through online tutorials. There are many available for free on YouTube and Vimeo But there are also some worthwhile resources to look into.

They are well worth the price of membership. It’s like having a personal coach who can jumpstart your nascent talents. The initial cost is more than made up when you can reduce the time needed to learn a new skill and get you on your feet and running quickly.

Templates

Keyboard apps such as TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro, and Drafts can create templates at the stroke of a key. I love having automatic responses available at the touch of my hand. I have macros to automatically type today’s date, my address, canned responses, and help me fill in oft-repeated forms. I use Drafts to quickly create OmniFocus projects and fill in details such as name, start date, due date, and a few other details. TextExpander has a nifty little statistic panel that shows you how many hours and keystrokes you’ve saved by using TextExpander.

Document my workflows and create a script

It is easier to follow a script than it is to try to improvise on the spot. Using the Checklist Manifesto idea, I document a lot of my repeating workflows for my co-workers. I have been recording and refining many of my office routines. If I ever get sick and can’t come into the office, I know that I have a prepared work manual for others to follow and the office won’t skip a beat. My co-workers won’t need to guess at what I did because I already have detailed instructions for them.

Every day, I set aside 20 minutes to work on documentation. I write it as if I’m writing for a 6th grader. A typical U.S. newspaper is written at the 7th or 8th grade level. This ensures clear instructions. If a 7th grader can’t read it then I know I have some issues and need to rewrite it.

A call operator at a call center will have an app or binder filled with scripts. When the customer replies to a question, there are detailed scripts that allows the call operator to follow along on multiple branches. When they hit a dead end, they can call a supervisor for further instructions.

When I perform a repeating task, I take notes of possible obstacles and what I did to overcome them. Any possible issues and problems that may be encountered along the way are easily answered. I update my workflow documentation quite frequently because I will always encounter a new situation that requires adaptation.

For more complicated matters, I’ll record a video detailing the steps. You can see many examples on YouTube. You can learn how to change the toilet, how to maintain a bicycle, and even how to efficiently peel a hard boiled egg on YouTube. Everybody has a different learning style. Some people may gain more benefits from watching a video instead of reading an outline of steps.

Planning for tomorrow

I like to do a daily review at the end of day to update my task manager, look at tomorrow’s schedule, and try to schedule a few MITs (Most Important Tasks) and a Big Rock project. Having a game plan for the next day gives me comfort. I know what I want to do tomorrow and I put time blocks into tomorrow’s schedule. Friction comes from trying to decide what to do next. I don’t want to spend any more time trying to figure out what the next "best task" to work on. I don’t worry about it anymore. I hit the ground running tomorrow morning and know what I will be doing. That’s such a breath of relief instead of wasting time trying to figure out the next task to tackle.

Action Points

Trying to grease the Wheels of My Life can be tough to start in the beginning. There is some initial startup costs in terms of money or time spent but they repay dividends easily.

  • Create checklists for routines.

  • Keep an annoyance list of all the things that bug you. Identifying the enemy is the first step in taking action towards defeating it.

  • Combine two unrelated tasks can ease the friction with doing an unpleasant task.

  • Simplify my life with automated actions such as auto bill-pay.

  • Simplify my life with automation apps such as Keyboard Maestro, TextExpander, Siri Shortcuts, and AppleScript to speed up tedious repeating processes.

  • Simplify my life by delegating duties and responsibilities to others. Train others to do some of the work that is your responsibility.

  • Master my tools by using online resources to teach me new workflows and techniques that will improve my final product.

  • Create pre-prepared templates for e-mails, correspondences, or notes. Reduce the time needed to prepare with templates.

  • Creating scripts and workflows. Documenting the steps needed to complete a process opens up the doors to delegate some of your duties to others.

  • Prepare tomorrow’s schedule so that much of the decision-making is taken out of the day.


I’m always looking for ways to make my life easier. If you have any ideas of what you can do to reduce your friction points in life, comment below!

Categories
Productivity

Planning My Week’s Highlight Tasks

In episode 9 of the Process podcast, Justin expands on the question brought up by @BrianP about how to select the highlight task of the day or MIT (Most Important Task).

Justin’s approach encompasses much of what I’ve been trying to tackle for many years now. Sometimes I focus on a Big Rock project and ignore my housekeeping tasks. Other times, I’ll be putting out fires with due items and daily requests and I’ll forget to work on an important Big Rock that I’ve been meaning to work on for weeks. I was looking for a balanced approach to ensure that I give some time and attention to different groups of tasks. I’ll attempt to show my real world approach using Justin’s ideas.

I have been unsuccessful in choosing the 3 MITs to work on a daily basis. At times, I have been successful using a Dashboard or Today list. But it focuses on single actions and doesn’t deal with Big Rocks. I’ve also incorporated a Big Rocks list to make significant progress on my Big Rocks but I sometimes neglect single actions and maintenance tasks. I slowly realized that I couldn’t have one ultimate list that will cover my needs. I actually needed several lists that I will describe soon enough!

I have a lot of things on my plate and I found that I was spreading myself thin on what needs to be done. Here are the five main group of tasks I try to juggle with in my life every day:

  1. Due Tasks – anything that has a definite due date to complete a task. Otherwise, penalties (financial, social, or otherwise) can incur. The majority of my due tasks come from groups 3 and 4.

  2. Big Rocks – any projects that are currently active and actively being worked on right now. I want to dedicate time towards any Big Rocks that will hopefully improve my life.

  3. Repeating Maintenance Tasks – These repeating tasks must be performed on a continuing basis to ensure a certain standard of life. Tasks such as taking out the trash, paying the rent, creating the weekly reports, backing up my computer hard drives, and preparing next week’s meeting agenda are examples of treading water. If I don’t perform these admin tasks, life gets messy. The trash starts to smell, the laundry isn’t getting done, or my wife starts throwing eye daggers at me for some forgotten reason.

  4. Single One-Off Tasks – Life comes at me whether I ignore it or not. I have new tasks created with walk-in customers, daily emergencies, social interactions, and any pre-planned one-off tasks that will eventually need to be taken care of if I can’t delegate or delete it. Oftentimes, this group of tasks will intrude on the first three groups listed above. It pretty much throws my list of pre-planned tasks for the day off track. I never get around to work on the above three groups because I’m entrapped in this group.

  5. Someday – This is a group of projects or one-off tasks that I have intentionally placed on the back burner. It is not part of my MIT group and I won’t think about doing anything that falls into this category. I try to avoid wandering into this group of tasks as much as possible. The only time I will check my Someday/Maybe group is during my weekly review.


Create Saved Searches For Quick Access

In order for me to switch easily from one task group to the next, I’ll need to prepare my lists. In OmniFocus, I can create custom perspectives. The custom perspective is a saved search that groups my tasks using a set of filters and sort order. Other task managers might call it a Smart List, Saved Search, or some other variation. Use the saved search feature to give you quick access to the tasks that you need to work on during a time block.

Here some examples of my OmniFocus custom perspective settings for each of the MIT groups.

Due

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Big Rocks

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Repeating Maintenance Tasks

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Single One-Off Actions

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Most task managers have a built-in Flagged list. I have been using my Flagged as a “Today” list. I flag tasks that have no due date but I would like to work on them this week. If your task manager does not have a Flagged list but it does have tags, you can assign a “Today” tag or “MIT” tag to tasks that you would want to work on today.

Now that I have my saved searches, it’s time to start planning.


The Weekly Review

I am using the weekly review to hit my weekly goals by choosing a handful of tasks (anywhere from 10 to 20) and one to two Big Rock projects to focus on next week. This basket of tasks and Big Rocks are action items that I would like to work on next week. Using the weekly review gives me a strategic plan to ensure that I am taking care of work in all three task groups (due, single actions, Big Rocks).

On the last day of my work week (typically Fridays for most of us), I start planning for next week. I go through the five groups:

  1. Due Tasks – I review my Due Tasks list to look for any missed overdue tasks as well as upcoming due tasks for next week. This gives me a heads-up review of what due items are coming. I print out my due task list and put it in my BuJo.

  2. Big Rocks – I evaluate my progress in my current Big Rocks. I can choose to continue working on them next week. If I didn’t get to work on a Big Rock, I will have to decide if I want to keep it for next week or I should put it back into Someday mode and choose another Big Rock. I choose one or two Big Rocks and print out the project next actions list and put it into my BuJo.

  3. **Repeating Maintenance Tasks ** – Many of my repeating maintenance tasks have due dates and will automatically show in my Due Tasks list. However, there are many maintenance tasks that have no due date. I’ll flag these tasks instead of giving them a false due date. I continue on to the next task group.

  4. Single One-Off Tasks – Some of these one-off tasks will have a due date and will automatically appear in the Due Tasks list. Otherwise, I can flag a small handful of one-off tasks that I want to work on next week. After flagging some repeating maintenance tasks and single one-off tasks, I will visit my Flagged list and print this list to place into my BuJo.

  5. Someday – I look at some tasks and see if I can find time for a few Someday tasks to work into next week’s schedule. I also put some current single one-off tasks into Someday if I would like to consider them for the future.

Life has a funny way of filling up my schedule with requests from my customers, my family, and other social interactions. I try not to flag too many tasks because Life will fill in all the rest of my day if I let it. Saying “no” to new requests has been a struggle but I’m learning to become more judicious in what new work I can turn down. And no, my Honey-Do list from my wife is still mandatory. 🤨


Working On My Pomodoros

Now I have my weekly plan for next week. These are the three pages that I will refer to when I want to work on a pomodoro:

  1. A Due Task list.

  2. One to two Big Rock projects with the associated next actions.

  3. Flagged Single tasks that comes from one-off actions and repeating maintenance tasks.

If I wanted to go all-digital, I would just refer to the three saved search lists throughout the day:

  1. Due

  2. Big Rocks

  3. Flagged list showing one-off actions and repeating maintenance tasks.

My week is spent trying to go from one group of tasks to another. I use the pomodoro technique to limit myself from spending too much time in any one task group. I can elect to keep working on the same task group or switch to another task group when I start another pomodoro. I want to work on at least two different task groups throughout the day. It might be a Big Rock or it might be some single tasks. Or I could just try to burn through all the Due tasks first before getting into the daily requests from my one-off task list. I switch between the three pages I filed into my BuJo.


The Daily Review

At the end of the day, I’ll start working on a daily review. I check off any tasks that I completed in my task manager. I can recalibrate daily to make sure I make progress in my three task groups. I add new inbox items into this week’s plan or just record them into my OmniFocus inbox for later consideration. The daily review recalibrate my direction and I can further refine how my week is going. I choose tomorrow’s tasks by measuring the progress I made in today’s tasks.


This is my attempt at figuring out my highlight tasks for the day. I try to make progress in the three task groups – The Big Rocks, the Single One-Off Actions, and the Repeating Maintenance Tasks. I can’t ignore any one group. Using the saved search feature in my task manager or having the three task group lists in my BuJo allows me to quickly move from one group to the next. I try to spend a fair amount of time in each group. There will be days where I am completely focused on a Big Rock. I will need to catch up on some Due tasks or Repeating Maintenance Tasks later. Each day is unique and I want to switch between my different task groups quickly and easily. Preparing my task group lists during the weekly review allows me to prepare a strategic game plan for the next week. I don’t diddle-daddle in my task manager now that I have a game plan.

How do you choose your highlight tasks? Are you an eat-the-frog kind of person? Do you choose the 3 MITs? Or do you just roll the dice and take on whatever fancies you? I’d love to hear from you!

Categories
Productivity

Stepping Away From My Task Manager

Stepping Away From My Task Manager

As much as I love my task manager, I have arrived at the realization that the less time I spend in it, the better I feel. I get anxiety when I look at all of these checklists and projects. My bucket list of things to do keeps growing and I can’t stop to stop it from growing! I have these great intentions of fixing things up, taking on more responsibilities, and handling more than I could ever reasonably handle. But all of my projects and checklists were giving me a lot of stress with its overwhelming content. Perhaps it’s time to step back?

I started to do a lot of procrastinating and pretended I was doing productive work by visiting my task manager and staying there. I would obsessively stare at my projects and checklists to make sure I’m up-to-date. I would tweak a couple of projects here and there. I dreamt of what “finished” looked like when I checked off the last action item but I wouldn’t take the next step of starting the project. I was stalling for time by starting at my task manager. I would nod approvingly when my MacOS Screen Time stats showed that I spent a lot of time in my task manager. But I actually got nothing done.

I started to analyze where I was spending my time in my task manager. I wanted to eliminate any time that was spent wandering in my task manager.

How To Reduce Screen Time In My Task Manager

Maintain a simple folder and project structure

It is easier to review my projects and checklists when my folder structure is simple. I grouped my project according to my Areas of Responsibilities.

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Keep relevant projects and checklists

It’s easy to start adding projects and checklists. It’s time to start clearing some old cruft out of our task manager. Delete projects that no longer have any meaning or purpose to our lives. Delete or consolidate our checklists. If a checklist has not been used in the past 3 months, consider it as a candidate for deletion. Why have a checklist if we’re not going to visit it and use it?

Each folder has a group of projects related to an Area of Responsibility. All of my Home projects goes into the Home folder. My Work folder holds all of my work-related projects. I have a Maybe folder that holds a variety of ideas or projects that are still in the planning stages.

I keep my folder and project structure as flat as possible. I never like to have sub-projects. If I have a large project, I’ll create a folder and populate it with projects that represent a project stage.

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Sub-projects can group similar tasks together but it just makes my main project longer. It is easier for me to see a large project as a series of smaller projects inside a folder. A huge project with an endless series of sub-projects makes me dizzy when I have to scroll endlessly through it. I can select a project inside a project folder to focus on a particular project stage.

Keep relevant smart lists or custom perspectives

Many task managers such as OmniFocus, 2Do, and Todoist have the ability to create a smart list. It is a saved search that can be easily accessed with the click of a button or a shortcut key. The smart list allows us to quickly create a view that shows the desired tasks at the right time. I don’t need to wade into the deep waters of my Projects view or Tags view to find a group of tasks. I can just jump into the desired smart list and see what I need.

Delete any smart lists that are no longer used. I often take a screenshot of my smart list settings and save it into a folder holding these screenshots. It’s easier to access your smart lists when you have a small handful to choose from. Friction occurs when I have to skip past smart lists that are no longer relevant.

Once a month, I like to update my smart lists. If I haven’t used a smart list in the last 3 months, it might be time to archive it and remove it from my task manager. There are some smart lists that I keep for the summer. When summer season finishes, I archive that smart list. I don’t need it for the rest of year and I don’t want to add more noise to my task manager by keeping it when it’s no longer needed.

Keep My Tags structure simple

Once every three months, I like to go through my tags and consolidate or delete tags when needed. I used to have several tags (contexts) such as:

  • Mac

  • Mac: Online

  • Mac: Offline

  • Mac: Excel

  • Mac: Ulysses

  • Home

  • Home: Desk

  • Home: Backyard

In my Mac tags, I had multiple tags for the various apps that I was using. But I’ve consolidated everything under a single Mac tag. I don’t worry about a specific app or condition when I’m using my Mac. The only time I’ll consider a sub-context such as a specific app or online status is if I need to break down a long Mac list into smaller groups.

In this example, I don’t frequently use Excel a lot. I can delete the Excel context and assign those tasks to my Mac tag. I do use the Ulysses app a lot and have many writing ideas captured in OmniFocus. I’ll assign the Ulysses tag to any tasks that I want to send to Ulysses.

If you haven’t used a tag in a long time, consider deleting it for now. You can always add a tag back in the future when you will be frequently using it more.

Go Analog when I am in “Action Mode”

Action Mode is the time I spend throughout the day getting actual work done. I’m not staring at my task manager during this time. I transferred a handful of tasks from my task manager to the BuJo and work from that list. The only time I actively engage in my task manager is at the end of the day when I do my end of day daily review and plan for the next day. I call this time block my Planning Mode. This is the only time I actively engage in my task manager. I check off completed items, process new inbox items, and update any projects or checklists. When I finish with my Planning Mode, I am confident that I no longer have to look at my task manager until the next Planning Mode time block.

For more discussion about using a BuJo with a task manager, here is a post about that discussion:

The Dynamic Duo: My OmniFocus and Bullet Journal Workflow


Keep It Super Simple (KISS)

My task manager is easier to browse when I do the following things:

  1. Keep a simple project and folder structure.

  2. Maintain a simple tag structure with as many tags as needed and with as few tags as needed.

  3. Update my smart lists (saved searches) by eliminating unused smart lists and keeping the smart lists I will frequently use in the next month or so.

  4. Use my task manager only during my Planning Mode phase when I am performing a daily review at the end of the day.

  5. Use my BuJo as a way to stay out of my digital task manager.

I feel so much better when I’m not spending so much time in it. It means I’m actually working on something instead of planning. My task manager is a planning tool. I understand that there are many users who need to refer to their task manager on their smartphone, tablet, or Mac. But it’s too much of a distraction when I am chasing shiny squirrels in my task manager. Keeping my task manager database super simple allows me to browse effortlessly through.


What makes you stay in your task manager? What do you do to keep you task manager simple? Do you have it open on your desktop all day long? Can you get your work done with all the distractions that a task manager gives you? I’d like to hear about how and when you are using your task manager!!

Categories
Productivity

OmniFocus 3 Tags are Lists

Inspired by Scotty Jackson’s blog

There are some users who haven’t gotten their hand wrapped around the idea of tags in OmniFocus.

Scotty Jackson introduces the idea of using tags as a way to create lists for yourself.

If you can’t create a list from a tag that you created, maybe you don’t really need that tag.

Tags in a task manager becomes powerful when you’re able to create smart lists that you will be frequently using. A smart list could be called a saved search or custom perspective. Look for a task manager that has the ability to create a saved view that you can access easily.

What are your favorite tags and saved searches in your task manager?

Categories
Productivity

Article – Reimagining an App from the Ground Up: Behind the Scenes of Todoist’s Redesign

I’ve never used Todoist but have always been curious about it. I just saw this article about Todoist getting a reimagining

What are some of the things that irks you about Todoist? I think I’ve heard the lack of a start/defer date was something that a lot of OmniFocus users wished that Todoist had.

The karma feature sounds like an interesting way to game-ify your productivity.

I found this statement interesting: "These were already the first steps on this bigger redesign project — internally, we call it Todoist Foundations (TDF) — allowing Todoist to better adapt to the user needs and workflows.

The next TDF project we’re working on is a revamped scheduler interface."

I love using OmniFocus plus Fantastical as a scheduler. This would be interesting for me to see in Todoist.


"During the first two months of Todoist Foundations, we also contacted some of our most active users, both premium and free, scheduling user interviews and sending out surveys. That feedback has given us a better idea of how people actually use Todoist, and what common problems they face. Lastly, we use analytic tools and (completely anonymous) usage data to understand which features are used most, and which are barely used at all"

It’s great to see a company actively interacting with their customer base. Of course, software development doesn’t happen instantly. Changes in user workflow must be studied for user ramifications and choices that may impact that user experience.


"We decided the PR bump we may get from a big release isn’t worth the bad experience for our team and our users. Now we work on steady updates that deliver new features and/or improvements every couple of months. This approach fits our six-week work cycles well, and makes it easier to get early feedback on changes and iterate — or even reconsider their value altogether. It also means our users never have to wait a long time to get new updates."

I’m all for a reiterative approach. Instead of the big upgrade that requires a new version number, just iterate, get feedback, and revise as needed. I like seeing a slow and steady approach to new features. Otherwise, the develops might want to hold back a feature that was finished months ago and wait for the big new version update.


I do like Todoist being available on all platforms and collaboration features. I am curious to see their approach to project/task management. I’m not familiar enough with Todoist. What are your thoughts about the Todoist platform? What did you like and what would you like to see in the Todoist ecosystem?