Productivity Late 2014

Richard Anderson wrote about his task management in the post Another Task Management Journey.

Part of his conclusion:

There’s a lesson I’m opting to take away from this experience. It’s never a bad idea to audit yourself. Thinking about the tools I use, and how I use them, gave me insight into where I was falling down, and helped me put together something better suited for what I do and how I think.

I recently did the same thing. I have been using OmniFocus since the beta process and in the past have migrated to TaskPaper, but generally come back, but recently, at work, my tasks have become incredibly fragmented. I had 4 or 5 different task management systems and it was driving me crazy.

  • Trello — works well with the creative process with my colleagues
  • Wunderlist — for specific step-by-step tasks shared with a specific colleague for some specific projects
  • OmniFocus — for the tasks that I generate or need to track
  • Reminders — shared tasks lists with my wife
  • Evernote — some tasks with my wife related to the content
  • Paper — notes with tasks embedded in them from meetings

A little much, right?

Shawn Blanc hit part of my OmniFocus issues with his post Dueing it wrong:

By living in the Forecast View, I’ve slowly developed the habit of setting the items which I want to get done as being due today. Or, if I know I can’t get to it today then I’ll set it to be due tomorrow or the next day. Seems natural and logical when your in the middle of it, but it’s actually not the best way to go about things.

In OmniFocus, I did the “due date dance,” taking everything that was due that I didn’t finish yesterday, and making it due today. A horrible Sisyphean task, that lead me to being burnt out on OmniFocus in somewhat regular cycles. Like Richard, I needed to consolidate where my tasks lived and how I interacted with them and in the same vein, I was influenced by Nick Wynja’s post on using Trello.

I started to evaluate each system and how I used them, and how I enjoyed using them.

Wunderlist was easy to cut, while it is a fine list manager, I didn’t really need to row the boat of my attention out to the island of Wunderlist to check those tasks. A quick discussion with my colleague, and I was done with it.

OmniFocus is a great task management system, and has kept me on track for many years, but recently, I am finding myself fiddling with perspectives, AppleScripts, and doing the “due date dance”. Most of the tasks that lived in there were things that had become fallow, or were contingent on future tasks that I don’t when they would really start. Of course, I can have my future car registration renewal in there and it can work, but when it shows up in many perspectives, it jacks up my flow by adding it back to my cognitive load. I love OmniFocus and I’m sure that I’ll eventually go back to it at some point in the future.

Reminders is relatively easy, a quick chat with my wife and we decided to pare down our shared lists to a single Grocery list. I love being able to use Siri to add items to the Grocery list, sometimes it is just a matter of checking the list when we get to the store.

This leaves three system: Trello, Evernote and good ol’ Paper.

Trello has become my primary collaborative tool. I use the snot out of commenting, to keep my co-workers up to date. I also like the fluid nature of the app, and the Kanban-style setup that allows projects to sit in the states that they are in until things change. I am using Trello to keep track of shared projects and big personal project. I use the comments and attachments liberally and feel no guilt when the project starts to go fallow. With all of the comments, I can pick it up again without much hesitation.

Evernote is now my everything drawer, particularly with the addition of the iOS 8 extension. I put almost every or link of interest in my “.Inbox” notebook. I also have a hierarchy of tags that I use to keep things organized. I use a many-to-one scheme, preferring tags over notebooks, because it allow a single piece of information in Evernote to be associated across unrelated domains of my life. My tag hierarchy looks like this:

  • @bundle — a lot of different tags that are grouped together, @work as an example
  • .person name
  • #project name

Task related tags include:

  • to-read
  • to-watch
  • to-buy

When I have done what needs to be done with the task related tags, I simply remove them from item and add the appropriate tags if I plan on storing it for a while.

I also have started to do a review of the material created in the last year, last 6 months, last 3 months and last month, using the saved searches:

created:month-12

Lastly, I use the to-do check box to keep track of tasks buried in note content. I can search using todo:false and the tag bundles for work or personal projects. If the task grows out of a simple reminder, I will add it to Trello as a project to be tracked. I will add the link to the Trello card, so I can “close the loop” if the note surfaces again.

Paper is the last, best hold out for tasks. While I work primarily in the digital realm, my main way of capturing tasks and making progress on projects is by recording them on paper. I use a Pilot fountain pen and a Moleskine Cahier to quickly capture tasks and meeting notes in the Bullet Journal style. Sometimes those notes get translated back into Evernote, but not always. Depends partly on the significance of the meeting and how likely I am to have to search for it in the future. In the short time I have been using this system, I haven’t been wrong yet, and as a bonus, if I did take paper notes, I can always capture them into Evernote or thumb through my notebook.

Is my as tightly integrated as it was when I was an OmniFocus poster boy? No, but the looseness of the system allows me to both feel in control of my work and not overwhelmed by my work. I’m sure all of my issues can be resolved with more regular GTD-style reviews and getting everyone I know on OmniFocus, but in reality, I can only control half of that equation. For now, the collaborative nature of Trello works great for me and my co-workers, Evernote captures everything I need and old-fashioned paper is enough of a juxtaposition with the digital nature of my work makes me seriously consider what I want to get done each day, as opposed to dumping everything into a box and then feeling bad when I don’t finish everything, every day.