- What system(s) do you use to keep yourself organized and working toward your goals? I'm interested in technologies, but more interested in what ontology you use to organize your tasks, events, goals, and plans.
- Did you build your system slowly over time, or adopt it all at once?
- What feels most important about your system to you?
I have two task inboxes, one for work and one for personal. At the end of the day for work and sporadically for my personal life, I triage the incoming tasks*. For work this involves assigning between:
- Asana upcoming for smalls or the “Possible Sprint Goals” project for larger tasks
- The correct project backlog, tagged appropriately
- Doing any that are less than 2 minutes
For personal this is a pretty quick:
- Do now if < 2 minutes
- Put in Personal Tasks, possibly tagged with a date and category
I do the work ones at the end of every day. I have some tasks that rely on me doing them at the end of the day that are valuable (I block slack during parts of the day, so sending messages happens at end of day), which keeps me motivated to do the review. It takes 10-40 minutes depending on how many tasks I generated. Most of the time is spent doing the < 2 minute tasks.
I select work tasks to work on at the start of every day from my “Upcoming” section and put them into the “Today” section of Asana.
There are several good environments for me to do personal triage. When I’m resting in between weightlifting sets at the gym, when I’m on public transit, and when I’m taking rideshare. (Aside: these are also good places to do Anki.) Combined, they’re more than enough to finish the triage. I’d say it averages about 5 minutes per day currently, though in the past it was more.
I work on Personal tasks on the weekends, often at a cafe.
* Tasks can range anywhere from “order measuring spoons on amazon”, or “figure out how recommendations should work on the Forum”. I have a bunch of low friction systems for taking notes which I can expand on if people are interested.
- I use Google sheets.
- Rate my progress on key goals (1-5). Add notes justifying the score.
- Note how much time I spent working, review work cycle sheets for trends, insight, and things I'd like to try next week.
- Compare my view of what a successful week looked like with what actually happened.
- Determine what a successful week looks like for the next week.
The ontology is key goals, weekly goals. Each goal is grouped under a broad project. I like flexibility, so the ontology is as general as it sounds.
- I use work cycles to track my work and plan for 50 min sessions during the day. Work cycles have an in built review mechanism which is useful.
- At the beginning of the day, I'll collect my main todos.
- At the end of the day, I'll listen to this reflection or a similar one.
What I could be better at:
- Sometimes my vision of what a successful week looks like slips through the cracks. Not for very important things, but I don't have the best system for reviewing moderately important things. It's not clear to me how bad this is, but there's a class of chore like thing that can take longer me longer to do than I'd often like.
I have compiled all of these pieces rather slowly.
I don't do weekly, or longer-period, reviews any more – or at least I don't commit to doing them on a schedule.
My daily review centers around reviewing all of my 'tasks' in Habitica. I have a daily review task in Habitica that consists of the following steps (and is represented as a checklist):
- Review all tasks
- Review calendar for today*
- Process every unread email
- Review all of my 'to be reviewed' projects
* I've been observing something like a 'secular Sabbath' (roughly) each Friday starting at 6p to Saturday at the same time. On Friday, in the morning or later during the day, I review any calendar items for the next day, Saturday, too. I generally avoid scheduling anything for Saturday, but sometimes I either have to do something that day or want to anyways.
The goal is just to read (or skim) each task and think about them minimally. If one is something I can do in literally 2-5 minutes, sometimes I'll do it right then, but I don't have to actually complete anything during the review.
I'll occasionally delete old tasks that I've given up on ever doing. If I remember that I've already completed a task, I'll mark it completed and, if it's part of a project, update the project info and, usually, flag that project 'to be reviewed'.
Tasks in Habitica can have checklists but I've realized that I'm using them too often and that, instead of having one task with a checklist, I should more often have separate tasks. The key distinction to which is better is whether each step needs to be done together, especially in order, or whether each step can be done independently. Laundry, for me, is a sequence of steps that all need to be done, in order, to result in me having clean clothes and other items. Dusting my house however is something that I really can do room by room.
One reason I really like Habitica is that there are three different types of tasks: 'to-dos', 'dailies', and 'habits'. To-dos are just like tasks in most any other task list system – something that you can mark 'completed' when its done. Dailies are tasks that repeat – I mostly just use a 'weekly' schedule for specific days, e.g. the daily task for my daily review repeats every day except Saturday. Habits are tasks that can be completed, or 'missed', at any time. I've got one now to 'remember to either pump up the tires on your bike before you ride it, or at least check that their pressure is fine'. I only have a handful, or less, at any one time.
Reviewing my calendar
I use Google Calendar – mainly because I can access it from my phone, so most anywhere, and it's free.
I have separate calendars and I use them to categorize items. My main calendar has my reminders and events that I am either planning on attending (e.g. something to which I need to either travel or commute) or in which I am planning on participating (e.g. a phone call). I've got a 'family' calendar for tracking the schedules of family members or friends. I've got a 'maybe' calendar in which I put things like, e.g. fun events I might want to attend or the hours of my local rock climbing gym.
There are two types of items: events and reminders.
For events on my main calendar, there are two broad types: all-day and with-times. All-day events are usually just reminders, e.g. I'm on vacation. For events with times, typically I just need to decide whether I need to set an alarm on my phone, e.g. to get ready to leave to travel or commute to the event.
For reminders, I mostly just copy them to my Habitica to-do list; sometimes I'll just mark a few as completed or delete them. I'm using them much like what the Getting Things Done system terms a 'tickler file'. I generally add tasks that I need to do 'later' or on some kind of schedule as calendar reminders; the idea being that my task ('to-do') list in Habitica can be free of them until they're due.
My goal isn't necessarily to read every email, completely – just process each one (and then mark them as read, until I reach 'inbox zero'). For long emails that I do want to read, I'll either save a web version in a 'read later' app or add a task to Habitica to read or review the email. I'll often add a task in Habitica to respond to someone if I can't do so within a few minutes right away.
I track all of my financial activity in YNAB, a nice budgeting app so any email receipts get entered there immediately.
For some emails, I'll update the info for any related projects, add tasks in Habitica, or add something to my calendar.
Reviewing 'to be reviewed' projects
I'm using GitLab – a free account on the official 'hosted' instance. I've got a lot of 'projects' (GitLab's term), most of them pertaining to code, but several just for maintaining info about various projects. I mostly use a single 'project' named "@misc".
I've been using (software-development-focused) issue trackers for at least a decade now and GitLab's my favorite so far. The main reasons why I like it more than any others I've tried is that it uses Markdown, and its Markdown dialect is fantastic, and that its got a separate description for each issue (whereas some trackers only have comments). Markdown, especially GitLab's dialect, allows me to easily quote emails, link to web pages (and entire sets of them from open tabs with a nice Chrome extension), and maintain check lists of tasks. Having an issue description separate from comments let's me maintain a nice overview of a project and a single list (or tree) of tasks (or, more often, a board outline thereof).
Each ('real world') project gets an 'issue' in the GitLab 'project'. I regularly edit the issue description so that it contains an up-to-date overview and outline of tasks. I add comments with info, quotes, links, and mini sub-projects and their tasks.
I assign an issue to myself to mark it as 'to be reviewed'. During my daily review, my goal for each assigned issue is mainly to review the project for that issue and determine what the next task is to be done. Once I've determined the next task, I make sure I add it to Habitica (and I link the task in Habitica to the issue in GitLab). If I expect to work fairly intensively on a project short-term, I'll leave the issue assigned to me; otherwise, I un-assign it to myself. I also use GitLab, and the same account too, for work, so I'll usually have one or two work issues assigned to me as well and, because I usually focus on a single work project at a time, I'll leave the currently active issue or issues assigned to myself until I'm either finished or stuck waiting for some kind of outside input.
I use the standard Alarm app on my phone (an iPhone) a lot. I've got a few standard, repeating alarms – 'wakeup', review my 'roughly scheduled' tasks – but I also use it liberally for anything I want to remember to do. I'll use the timer feature if I'm doing something like cooking but, because (in the standard app anyways) there's only one timer, I mostly default to using alarms because I can label them, e.g. 'Check the dryer', 'Leave to go _', or 'Get ready for phone call with X in Y minutes'.
I often use email – i.e. I email myself – about new tasks, projects, or 'reference material' I want to be able to quickly find later. (I use Gmail mainly because its search is fantastic.) Sometimes I'll add tasks directly to Habitica or projects directly as an issue in GitLab, but email is much more frictionless and, because I habitually process my unread email every day, I'm confident I'll create tasks or GitLab issues later if I send myself an email.
I've got a couple of 'logs' in separate notes in my phone's standard Notes app. I sometimes think about writing my own little (web) apps but that would be a lot of work and regular text, tho structured fairly regularly, is probably not much worse, and (of course) already possible (and easily too).
Roughly scheduled tasks
In Habitica, I've got three tags for tasks that are 'roughly scheduled': 'morning', 'today', and 'tonight'. I've got alarms on my phone for each tag. I've committed to reviewing any tasks with the relevant tag sometime around when the alarm is scheduled. I don't have to complete all, or even any, of those tasks; just review them. I, of course, try to do any that need to be done.