Many people are overwhelmed by the tasks and information that get on their desk day by day. Despite the variety of methods like e.g. the basic Eisenhower principle for time and task management, Getting things done (GTD) from David Allen and the gazillion electronic task management tools out there, we face a daily battle for our scarce time and limited attention span. I am in the same game as you are and I don’t think that there is a simple solution to that major challenge. Nevertheless, I found the following lean and agile approach and tool support to come in handy.
Basically, I work with three different perspectives: a high level plan (HLP), a mid level plan (MLP) and a low level plan (LLP). In the HLP, I typically capture yearly goals, key milestones and/or tasks. I use a one-pager – paper or powerpoint – to capture the essence of what I plan to do and would like to achieve in the respective year. Any other format will do as well of course (e.g. a drawing in Google or a scetch on paper). This is the master plan, if you like, and rarely gets changed. You should review it monthly and track how you are doing. For the MLP which typically covers the next 4-6 weeks, I use two boards in Trello (by Joel Spolsky). The whole setup is probably best explained with the following arbitrary and illustrative sample:
Boards are like projects. I currently use one for private stuff and one for all my business related stuff (e.g. project 1: stories aka major tasks and related subtasks, project 2: stories and related tasks, etc.). For each week I create a so called list (e.g. 03/12 – 03/18). Lists contain cards (like user stories) and cards can contain tasks embedded in a checklist that belongs to the card. Needless to say that the mid level tasks – cards in Trello speech – should correlate with the big picture in the HLP. This ensures that the HLP and MLP perspectives work hand in hand and do not get misaligned. Some freedom is certainly ok and you should not overmanage of course.
Last but not least, I capture daily tasks and especially the urgent and small tasks either on a post-it to support the visual and haptical experience or in Any.do which additionally supports voice recording and speech-to-task translation.
As many mails contain directly or indirectly tasks, I decided to additionally use ActiveInbox for general mail and mail related task management. It follows the GTD rules and is very effective. I would love to use one tool for the LLP only, but that’s hard to manage currently as you do not want to capture everything artificially in a mail to leverage ActiveInbox. On the other hand, manually transfering mail related tasks to Any.do does not make a lot of sense either. Hence, I live with two tools plus post-its in case I am up for it.
All in all, I am pretty happy with the overall setup and get tasks done in a lean and agile fashion. I still feel like two tools overall should be enough though.
How do you organize your life, time and tasks? What methods or tools do you use? What works for you? What doesn’t? Any feedback is welcome.
Finally, I would like to share my most effective task, time and productivity management tool. It only works at 10pm in the evening. Enjoy a glass of red wine, write your last lines or whatever you just do, realize how tired you get and finally close your laptop. The next day is a new day and life is too short to work only.