Simplified Task Management

Simplified Task Management

3 Comments 🕔16:45, 12.Oct 2009

One great advantage of being a partner in any organization is that you have some say in how the organization is structured and in my particular case, the network, operating equipment/architecture and infrastructure. I was adamant that we as an organization embrace alternative operating platforms; specifically, building out an infrastructure around the Apple platform. From mobile devices to business computers, a single source for equipment, operating systems, software, and support. While I admit, I am extremely partial to Apple and all it’s glory, I am by no means a zealot. I approach each issue with an open mind and find the best solution available based on requirements, process, and need and NOT by emotion or preference. That said, we are a consulting firm. Our clients are our paramount concern, so developing an infrastructure that allowed us to focus more on our clients needs and less on our own internal issues is of utmost importance. Furthermore, Apple products provide the clean lines, simple elegance, and easy of use that more closely represents the culture of our organization.

Being one of those people that need to have numerous projects and endeavors occurring simultaneously just to feel alive, I am often asked how I keep everything straight. One thing is for certain, I have a system and it doesn’t involve me having to remember things… note to everyone, one’s brain is a poor task list keeper, especially a brain like mine. The trick to any system is simplicity: if it is not simple, it will fail in any number of ways. First and foremost, absence of simplicity represents poor planning and design. Even the most complex of tasks or concepts can be broken down into simple equations and talking points. Secondly, a complex system for keeping track of something as simple as a task list or calendar will lead to dismissal on the part of the implementer. If one can’t easily update, review and execute items, the implementer will simply revert back to memory management. Lastly, the system should support, whenever possible, open methods that are easily transferable to other applications or collection tools. I adamantly advise to avoid the use of any proprietary software or collection systems whenever possible. This only locks one into a specific system. Attaining simplicity in any system is an evolutionary process. One should always strive to make a system more user friendly, more cross-compatible, and less complex.

I have reviewed and attempted to implement many of the productivity fads circulating throughout the Internet and came to one conclusion; there is no one-size fits all approach to productivity. While many of these fads also state the same observation, many still attempt to persuade the enduser to implement some form of their miracle system. The biggest culprit of this, and I mean no disrespect, is David Allen with his 43 folders and “Getting Things Done” approach to productivity. In concept and theory, it is a logical design, but the way in which it is implemented leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, it is far from a simple approach to getting things done. Between the contexts, actions, projects, and of course the ubiquitous 43 folders, simply deciding where something falls, and how it will be categorized is a task unto itself.

I am a note taker, some might call me an obsessive note taker, but I prefer passionate as the term obsessive has such negative connotations associated with it. Nevertheless, the only, and I mean only way to prevent forgetting something is to capture it immediately. Whether you use a PDA, an iPhone, or a notepad, the new incoming information must be captured to prevent data loss. So, in my particular case, I prefer to keep a notebook with me at all times. I write all relevant information down and as soon as I am able, input said information in to a capture device on my computer. I ask myself four questions for each task:

(1) Can this task be accomplished in less than 5 minutes (5 minute rule)
(2) Is this a recurring tasks?
(3) Is this a simple one-off task or errand?
(4) Is this task a project or part of a project?

Depending on how I answer the aforementioned questions determine where the task goes within my capture system. Keep in mind, my note book is just that, for notes and nothing more. I do NOT use this for a tasks list or reminders. It is simply short-term task memory until I can transfer the task to a more permanent location.

If the task takes less than 5 minutes to complete, I will just complete the task. I have found that it takes more effort and time to transfer tasks requiring less than 5 minutes than it does to just complete the task and move on. So, I employ the 5 minute rule whenever possible.

If the task is recurring, I add this task to my calendar and setup the recurrence frequency. Unless there is a specific time associated with the task, I assign the task as an all day event. I use iCal, but the same principle applies to Outlook, Entourage, or whatever calendaring system you utilize.

If the task is a one off type task (basically any task that is not a project or part of a project) gets logged into a program from Omni Group called OmniFocus. I know, I know, this is a task manager based on the principles of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, but stay with me. I have modified OmniFocus into three “categories” with almost no contexts. Basing my system off of Leo Babauta’s excellent task management system, I have 3 “categories” setup; (1) Things I Want To Do, (2) Things Others Want Me To Do, and (3) Decide and Complete. The tasks get entered into either option 1 or 2 with a due date if any, and that is all. The “Decide and Complete” category is the place I put tasks I fully intend to complete in any given day. Tasks are manually moved by me each morning into the “Decide and Complete” category and I rarely waiver from my set. These tasks can come from category one or category two, or both, but I never exceed five tasks for any given day. Normally, I only place two or three. The importance is to never loose sight of what you planned for any given day.

If the task is a project or part of a project, I place it in another application from Omni Group called OmniOutliner. OmniOutliner is nothing more than a customized spreadsheet program, so Excel would work as a replacement to OmniOutliner. Project are reviewed on a weekly basis (usually Monday’s) to ensure that I am not missing anything. Since I am an avid iPhone user, and everyone in our organization has an iPhone, the combination of iCal and OmniFocus ensures that I have only one place to look for appointments and one place for tasks. Again, simplicity is the key.

While one might think what I just laid out is complicated, I can assure that put into practice, it is very simple. That said, I am always looking for ways to streamline to process so I am open to any suggestions. Post suggestions on my task management system and what system you employ to manage your day. It is important to note that I do not differentiate between business and personal tasks/calendars. Again, simplicity is the key and maintaing two separate systems (personal and business) is an effort in futility.

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