Getting Things Done. We hear so much about tactics and tools to help with this. It seems to be one of those things I’m always working on.
No one method seems to work. I’ve tried many, and they all have their strengths. Life is always flowing and changing, so I think that’s why only having one time-management tactic doesn’t work for very long.
For me, having a “toolbox” of time management strategies is helpful, and I choose to use different ones for different situations. Here’s a few I’ve used in the past:
The Task List App
Really nothing we all haven’t already heard about. We’re all told to “Get yourself a task list app!”
And the options are endless: paper lists, phone apps, desktop apps, back of your hand, etc. There are a TON out there.
I definitely find it helpful to have a single space where you can store all your tasks. As long as you can prioritize them easily, and categorize them to help focus on what’s most important.
But not all task lists are equal. I prefer the GTD approach where you have an “inbox” of sorts and from there you organize them into priority.
Every single task list tool I use eventually gets forgotten, with a graveyard of “once upon a time” tasks that I intended to do but never got around to doing. Then I come back to it one day and see all those seemingly important tasks which are now obsolete ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a few favorites 🙂
Here’s some task list tools I like, and use (I seem to randomly use different ones depending on what mood I’m in).
- We used to use this as a project management tool, but I found it to be lacking in certain features we needed for software project. However, it makes for a great personal task list, and follows the GTD methodologies that I love.
- This is our current task list and project management tool at D3FY. I actually avoid it for personal tasks because their mobile app UI is pretty bad and I want to be able to see my tasks wherever I am. It’s a great project management tool though.
- Gmail (Google) Tasks
- I love how simple this one is. Great for jotting down tasks quickly. But, not great for organizing or categorizing.
- My recently discovered and most favorite app. Workflowy quickly won me over. The ability to abstract information into different layers of detail through simply nesting bullet points is genius. I say genius carefully, because I don’t use that often. It’s so simple, so elegant. And the incorporated search, tags, and quick launch feature are perfect.
- Note: Workflowy is not really a task manager. It’s actually more like a mindmapping and note taking tool. But it allows you to treat bullet points as tasks.
- Google Keep (digital sticky notes)
- I use this for shopping lists, and notes when I’m on the go. I like it, but it does get easily forgotten, and can be difficult to manage once you get a ton of notes.
- This is an old favorite, and one of the first tools I used to manage client tasks when I was a freelancer. It’s like Google Tasks on steroids. I don’t use it today, but I have fond memories of when I did.
Of course, there are hundreds more options out there. I don’t have time to try them all. But what I’m using now seems to work.
My wife keeps all of her tasks on a paper. That’s her jive. I think it definitely keep s things simple, though my preference is an app I can use on my phone and desktop.
The Sticky Note
Sticky notes are classic, and easy. If there’s a very important task to do, just writing it down on a sticky note with stars and exclamations around it and sticking it to your monitor did a great job of reminding you to do it.
I used to be able to do this for important tasks – I would then see it written down with all it’s starred glory, and promptly know that’s what I need to do as they stared back at me from my desk.
But today life is different. I have so many things to do that one more thing written down on a sticky note ends up joining a sea of other sticky notes on my desk. Plus, it starts to make my work space look messy.
So, new tactic?
This approach has proven to be helpful when it seems I don’t have time to do everything and therefore must choose which tasks will get done and which ones won’t – based on how much time I have.
What I do is start with a list of the most important things to do, then turn to my calendar and block out time to accomplish each task.
This is extremely helpful when it feels like there’s too much to do.
Instead of looking a a large list and hoping I can get it all done, I now have quantified each task, and I know how much can get done that day.
This also forces me to acknowledge what can and cannot get done that day. I can be accountable if a task from a client needs to get pushed back (i.e. I can communicate with them in advance that a task will take another day to complete).
But this method had it’s pitfalls. It’s not exactly ideal for lots of tiny tasks that would take less than 30 minutes each to complete.
That’s why sometimes I block out “categories of time” instead of a specific task to do.
For example, sometimes I make a 2-hour block of time for “Admin tasks” which means all the little things I need to do for my business that often fall through the cracks. (i.e. upgrading our platform plugins, fixing that text on our contract template, or checking in on different projects to make sure they are running smoothly).
Overall I really like the calendar method as it seems to help me visualize what can and cannot get done in a specific day, and helps me avoid Delusional Optimism of thinking I can get too much done in one day.
But sometimes even this method isn’t the right choice.
Sometimes all this rigid structure and careful planning just leaves me feeling sick and tired of it all. I just can’t handle seeing another sticky note on my desk, or staring at my calendar to “make a plan”, or creating another category in my task list app.
That’s when the the part of me that only listens to my gut takes over and says:
“It doesn’t matter HOW you do is as long as it gets DONE!”
So I throw out all tactics, and just start with what’s in front of me. By that I mean whatever comes to my mind first. No lists, no calendars, no notes.
So with this tactic, I’m trusting my gut to tell me what work on first.
What’s bugging me the most? I’ll do that first.
What feels important? Do that next.
This tactic is actually really helpful when you just have a plethora of tasks and you are feeling a bit overwhelmed.
It seems to be my “reset” and after a day of operating like this, I’m ready to get back to the usual task list and calendar approach.
I love the feeling of getting things done, and I think using a tool to help is a great idea. But no one tool is right for the job all of the time. It helps to have a toolbox of tactics that can be used to maximize efficiency for each situation. Sometimes you just need to go with your gut, other times, trust the process and tools you’ve put into place.