Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A rework of Todoist

Since last summer when I wrote about end-of-life'ing MyLifeOrganized, I don't think I ever wrote about my new selection for task management. That ended up being Todoist. Although I generally try to stick to a GTD framework, Todoist is not designed specifically for GTD. That meant I had to do some configuration on my own using the features available in the app to implement GTD, notably Projects and Labels. Fortunately, Todoist is quite active in the development of the app and it has already received a major overhaul since I started using it as well as a slew of small improvements. These helped make the task a bit easier.

During the time I've been using Todoist, I've gone through at least one revision of the Projects setup although I had still been using the initial set of labels that I created. For Projects, I had basically setup those up to correspond to people or other major life "areas". The people were mostly related to work projects, while the other areas corresponded mostly to things like the soccer team I manage, the MINI club, church, and some others. The problem was that didn't leave a lot of room for specific projects, like the 2013 CAFR I am working on for my job. This does tend to be one of the shortcomings of GTD from what I can tell - an explosion of projects to an unwieldy number.

For Labels, these somewhat corresponded to the major areas in GTD like Next Actions, Someday/Maybe stuff, and a few others. In this area, it seemed like everything was consistently getting dumped into the @Action bucket.

Although the system has been working much better than ToodleDo or MyLifeOrganized, I felt like it could still be improved. Late last week I ran across a blog post on SimplicityBliss about using energy and focus levels for contexts. I decided to do a little searching in the Google+ Productivity community and found a few other examples of how folks were addressing the problem of contexts from GTD being geared more toward the pre-"always connected" world. The classic use of contexts in GTD seemed to be focused on the actual tools needed to complete a task. This new way of looking at it focuses more on interpreting tools as "resources" with the primary resource being my state of mind.

I also just picked up What's Best Next, which is an attempt to look at implementing GTD and becoming more productive through the lens of Scripture. I have just started reading it, but I did jump ahead to look at the bit on organizing projects, tasks, and executing the "todo list".

In light of all that, I decided to go ahead and re-work how I had Todoist setup to try to make better use of contexts and projects. I went ahead and setup the following contexts using Labels:

@read - for tasks related to reading on the Kindle, one of my tablets, or a physical book

@recur - for tasks that repeat that are not related to maintaining GTD, like some of the monthly reports I prepare

@zen - for tasks that repeat that are related to maintaining GTD, like my weekly review

@zombie - for tasks that can be done when I am brain dead (or know I'll be distracted)

@zippy - tasks that I think I can crank out in under 10 minutes or so, don't require a lot of concentration

@zone - tasks that require my focus and concentration and during which I will hopefully get into that "zone" where I don't really notice I am working

@backburner - this is basically someday/maybe stuff

@waiting - these are tasks that I've delegated to someone else (the only label to survive)

In addition to those context labels, I also created the following labels/tags:

@!writing - for tasks that involve lots of writing, whether it is a report, a blog entry, whatever

@!video - for tasks involving the editing of video as I will need to use my laptop

@!web_work - for tasks where I need a full browser on a computer to access some computer system, typically when blogging or tweaking web sites, etc., not something I want to attempt on a tablet or my phone

@!maintenance - for tasks like going through my files to clean them, organizing, etc.

@!graphics - for tasks where I will want to be at a PC so I can access GIMP for processing images

@=thmmc - for tasks related to the MINI club (note this was a project before)

@=talkandroid - for tasks related to TalkAndroid (again, a former project)

@=soccer - for tasks related to the soccer team (another former project)

I decided to add these tags to label stuff in addition to the context labels for a couple reasons. First, if I am reviewing my lists of tasks and want to pick something from one of the context lists that requires a specific tool, e.g. my laptop, this would make it easier to identify those tasks. Second, if I ever wanted to do a search in Todoist for say, all tasks related to the soccer team, I could do it using the tags. Since Todoist gives you the ability to use multiple tags, I figured I would try to capitalize on that.

A quick aside - Todoist lets you drag and drop both filters and projects into the order you want, but for some reason this is not enabled for labels. As you might note from my screenshot, the labels are all jumbled up, not something I am particularly liking.

I also reworked all my projects and narrowed them down to the following:

[Standalone] - for tasks not related to a specific project or one of the other areas, this is very much patterned on the Next Actions folder from GTD, although I don't move stuff from major projects over to this area

[Major Projects] - this is really just a placeholder for actual projects so I can keep things organized

[Cindy New Car] - a project I'm working on with several tasks to be completed

[CAFR 2013] - a major project at work

[Job search] - another project with several tasks

[BRP Tour] - a major project for the MINI club

[SONSMAC web site] - a small skunkworks I'm working on

[Blogging] - an area that has regular tasks

[Backburner] - this is the GTD someday/maybe folder

[Delegated] - tasks assigned to others

[Ticklers] - tasks that repeat

You may notice a couple of these are redundant compared to the labels. The organization of these folders was primarily driven by the little bit I read when I skipped ahead in What's Best Next. The idea is to avoid moving next actions between projects and the next actions list. Instead, I rely more on the labels/contexts to identify what tasks to work on. In the book, the recommendation is made to not have more than 5-6 active projects at once, where projects are defined more in the classical sense of having a defined end point unless it is a major area (like blogging in my example). I anticipate the list of projects will change over time, such as when I complete the 2013 CAFR that will be moved off the list and something else will take its place.

I think this new setup for projects is closer to classic GTD in that I have major projects and then the usual "folders" like someday/maybe and ticklers for recurring actions. Then I have all those actions (closest to the concept of Next Actions) that are not part of a project in the Standalone folder. 

One tool that Todoist makes available is the ability to save filtered searches and I have expanded my use of those. The key to that was the recent improvement Todoist made so that Filters propagate to all clients. So I was able to setup filters for things like @zippy so I can get a list of all tasks that can be completed in under 10 minutes. I also built one that combines an element of time (e.g. due yesterday, today or tomorrow) with @zippy to identify tasks that may be more urgent.

When I know I have more time, I can use the @zone filter to identify tasks that need more concentration.

Reworking everything took me about 3 hours total, mostly re-tagging all existing tasks and then moving them into their new projects.

My initial impression is that things are once again much leaner and flatter, which was one of my goals. The real test will come over the upcoming weeks as I see whether items trickle up for attention during my weekly reviews.

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