In this ever-changing world, with shifting demands and responsibilities, I have experimented through multiple task management strategies. E.g: Zettelkasten (much more than task management, but still), Eisenhower matrix, Getting things done (GTD) method, Agile/Kanban, ABCDE method, Franklin planner method, etc.
Finally, I’ve settled on a system that works for me (in most cases). It’s most likely a mash-up of various methods recommended from books, blog posts, conversations with experienced folks, etc. It may not be perfect and might even change in the future with changing roles and responsibilities, but it has served me well since quite some time.
I mostly deal with unit items of tasks which are neither too small, nor too large.
“Steps” to complete one item are not included (Not Too Small).
Projects or ideas that might span a long time (months to years) are excluded (Not Too Large). These items and associated brainstorming don’t come into the task list. Parts of it only come here once these things materialize and are broken down into smaller units. Deliberation on a project, visions, designs, breakdowns into smaller items, are outside of task list.
- P-0: A very short list of things I would do “immediately”.
- Items that someone has told you to do immediately, but which you practically won’t be able to accomplish, should not be included (i.e. give me yesterday things).
- Stress Indicator: A large P-0 list means very high level of stress and is a sign of a problem that you need to address.
- P-1: Slightly larger list that contains the items that I need to address “sooner than later”.
- Many tasks enter directly into P-1.
- During peaceful times, P-0 is mostly populated from P-1.
- Although direct entries into P-0 can still happen, I prefer to avoid this as much as possible
- P-2: A large list of various obligations and tasks.
- These may be things I think I have to do, but they have no associated urgency and questionable motivation.
- This is an often neglected list. It turns out to be a “write and forget” list, with a hope attached that it “may” be used someday.
- General preference is to move things from here to associated project/ideas pages and reevaluate at that level rather than in task list.
- P-X: A short list of things that excite me.
- Keeping it short is crucial.
- If this grows, that means you I am not really excited by all of them and most probably few items need to be in P2.
Every day come up with tasks in two categories (~5/10 minutes daily time spend):
- These are the tasks I have planned for the day, primarily a subset from P-0.
- Meetings are excluded from this for now. They tend to be obligatory and preplanned most of the time. I don’t see a lot of value in adding them as tasks.
- Look forward to:
- Items that excite me. Generally items come from P-0 or P-X here.
- If there are days when this list is empty, it’s a sign of a problem that I need to address.
- Good days are when there are more than 1 item here.
- Tried and discarded:
- Google keep:
- It served well enough in very early stages.
- Somehow the “features” added increased and its usefulness decreased.
- I still use it for lists or things I need to refer to once in a while, but not for tasks.
- Roam research/Notion:
- Tried them for a very short time and most probably very early in their lifecycle.
- Never got over the initial barrier.
- Editor plugins
- Was interested in this as my writing in Markdown increased over time.
- Multi device availability and less suitability for projects/ideas deliberation were a problem.
- Kanban boards
- Tried it out just for the heck of it at some point.
- Looking at a board at the start of the day was a very bad feeling generally.
- Google keep:
- Microsoft OneNote
- Got introduced to it via a colleague when I shifted to Mac from Linux.
- I can easily keep most things in one “Page”.
- Daily “Do/Look forward to” list can be created in minimal time.
- Moving around tasks is very easy.
- Project/ideas/Meeting notes pages can be kept in same place.
- Sync is available across my devices (Mac/Android).
- There are a lot of features there that I have almost never used. Hope is that the primary workflow and UX for note-taking remains more or less same.
- Microsoft OneNote
Interestingly, this model doesn’t apply to my family life at all. But, I find myself following it about 80% of the time in my work/career life. It’s a delicate balance between the immediate necessities and the sparks of excitement that keep me going.
The red flags, the problems, the overwhelming moments — all find their reflection in this system. It is not necessary that this model reduces stress per se. Depending on the way my career was going the P-0 list was very overwhelming at some points. And even though I was aware of the red flags, I couldn’t do much about it.
I hope sharing this provides a window into my thoughts and methods, but it’s essential to remember that this is purely my experience. What works for me might not be applicable to anyone else, as it’s a product of my unique journey and professional life.