You tried countless well designed todo apps, which look great and are smooth to use. You tried awesome and expensive notebooks, calendars and journals you love to write to, love to feel and to flip through the pages.
But still you never really felt “organized”? The latest and greatest todo app quickly drowns in your notes. Notebooks become a scribbled mess.
All these tools don’t work for you. Here is why — you don’t have a solid system. If there is no system, not even the most expensive task management software can help you.
Productivity tools are designed to complement your brain’s limited storage, so you can use it for stuff it can handle really well — having ideas and thinking with focus through complicated things.
But without a system these tools become a burden and slow you down. You won’t be able to focus on anything, if you don’t trust your system.
So here are the distilled basics:
Write Everything Down
If you write something down, you don’t need to remember it. Keeping stuff in your memory is a waste of your brain time and distracts you from other things. Keep an “inbox” list to dump random stuff quickly, if it doesn’t fit anywhere else.
Break Things up into Projects
Put each project on it’s own list. A project can be anything which can group together some tasks or information. If you plan to move somewhere, it is a project. If you want to buy a car. This is a project. Grouping things together and making separate buckets simplifies things.
You might generate a dozen of projects. To keep an overview create a master list, which bundles up all the projects. Pour all the information into your project lists like reference material, addresses, names, websites, todos, etc. Anything, which might be important.
Don’t make one giant task-list. The bigger a list, the less you want to look at it. So split it up and bundle it.
Make Todos Actionable
Todos are not summaries or reference material. Todos should be one concrete action like “call broker to make an appointment”. If you make todos too general like “finish website”, it can mean anything. It’s impossible to plan your day like this.
Have an Action List
Besides storing your projects on different lists, have one main list for your next actions. This is your stack with well defined and actionable todos. Use it on a daily basis to hustle through your work without getting distracted.
You can keep a separate calendar for time sensitive items, such as appointments, events, etc. They don’t have to be on your action list, if you can’t really “do” them now.
If you got such a list, you don’t need to think a lot about what next to do. At this point you should have noted everything important in your other lists, so that your mind is free to focus on what needs to get done.
If it Takes Only a Few Minutes, Do it Right Away
Some tasks are too small to get real estate on your lists. If you can, do them immediately. Such as looking up something on the internet. For example if you plan an appointment, you can look up some travel info online within 2 minutes and jot down the result into an appropriate list.
Review, Review, Review
One of the most important steps. After you got your setup of lists, you need to keep them fresh through regular review. Once per week, like on every Friday to end your working week. Or on a monday to start your week.
- Trash or archive stuff you don’t need anymore, so it’s not cluttering up your system.
- Update old information.
- Sort out all the new things, which came into your inbox list or into project lists during the week.
In this process you also will fine-tune your existing plans with the new information you received. You might add new tasks to your action list, or remove some old points.
If you don’t do a review to maintain the lists, things will go messy again. You stop trusting your system and the productivity machine comes to a halt. Reviewing and staying on top of things is a great feeling.
These are the rough basics. Everybody is a bit different. You will need to adapt it to your own style and pick the tools you love to use.
Some points were inspired by “Getting Things Done” from David Allen.
You can use NotePlan to manage your “Next Up” and “Inbox” lists by pre-scheduling the things you want to do next and dumping what’s coming at you in the “tomorrow”s note for example. So you remind yourself to manage it the next day and can focus on the planned tasks for the current day. Surely you can also create these two lists as general notes and then schedule tasks from there to specific days. NotePlan’s markdown editor makes it easy to structure and style your notes.
(title image is from image source)