Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Do You Organize Your To-Do's, Tasks and Work Flow? A Blog Post for Productivity Geeks Only

It is always interesting and fun to swap personal productivity systems tips and techniques with others. How do other professionals organize themselves, their information and workflow? How do they keep their tasks and "to do's" up to date? Do they combine home with work projects?  All great questions that we have all pondered at one time or another.

Today I got to share some of my tools, and a central piece of this is my GTD-inspired notebook that corrals all my work and home processes. For years I have been a devotee of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) and have implemented a number of these techniques over time, and adapted them for my own purposes. The result is not 100% GTD, but warmly inspired by it (See this blog's other tags for GTD to read more about how I use this interesting system). On today's call, I offered to share my Tasks Notebook table of contents, and instead of writing an email I thought I would blog this -  Linda, this is for you!

Getting Started: Hardware

I use an A5 notebook that has removable pages so that when pages get full I can simply replace them.

I have plastified tabs that separate major sections (see first photo). These are labelled as follows:

  1. Next Actions - the immediate next action on a project or task, organized by context
  2. Waiting - Things I am waiting for
  3. Projects - Activities that have more than one task (these can be work or home)
  4. Agendas - Pages for people that I talk to or work with regularly
  5. Someday/Maybe - Things that I don't want to do now, but don't want to forget
  6. Checklists - Lists that I have made once but will use again 
Within each of the tabs there are a number of individual pages, These are described in more detail, tab by tab, below...  

Next Actions Tab: Organized by Context
  • Email Work - Time Sensitive: These are emails that need to be sent quickly, their deadlines also show up on my calendar.
  • Email Work: These are emails that need to be sent, but have more flexibility in terms of time, but are not in the Someday/Maybe category - yet...
  • Computer Work - Time Sensitive: These are things that need to be done on my computer (writing, reading online documents, checking websites, signing up for things online, etc. in a time sensitive manner)
  • Computer Work: Again less time sensitive but still needs my computer, including things I need to do online
  • Office: Things that I can do in my office that don't involve my computer. This can be reading hard copy, scanning a file, finding a business card, practicing my next toastmasters speech, etc.
  • Write Blogs: I have a separate page for this to record my blog ideas, they were clogging up my Computer Work page, so I made a separate page for them. 
  • Email Home - Time Sensitive: Any email I need to write quickly that is home-related - like send an email to an internal listserve to find a pet sitter for my dog for vacation, etc.
  • Email Home: Not time sensitive but again not on the Someday/Maybe list - for example, thank Grandparents for present (this should be on my son's To Do list, but somehow is on mine).
  • Computer Home - Time Sensitive: Fill in that accident form, rent a car for holiday, etc. Things that need to be done on the computer asap.
  • Computer Home: These are online and computer-assisted tasks that are not as time sensitive - such as find the baseball schedule for spring, sign up for half-marathon in October, etc.
  • (Note that when I am travelling I might start a page called Computer Plane/Train - which includes things that I need to do on my computer that I don't need to be online to do)
  • Home - Indoors: Things I need to do in my house (change light bulbs, make a list of household repairs, find the cabin key, organize the loft, etc.)
  • Home - Outdoors: Things I need to do outside the house - like trim branches, put up the hammock, etc. These may be seasonal in which case I might write them on a paper and put them in my tickler file for that month. (My tickler file is a major life-hack for me, couldn't live without it! Google it, there's lots of ways to set it up.)
  • Calls: Phone calls I need to make WITH the telephone numbers (no good just saying 'call the orthodontist' - then you should put it on your "Computer" list as you need to find the number before you call.)
  • Errands: These are things I need to go out to do - buy slippers, turn in something to the lost and found, buy a baseball glove, etc. I organize these by place which can be shop (department store, grocery store, garden store) or the town where I need to go to get them. 

Waiting Tab: Things I'm Waiting For

This tab only has two pages:

  • Waiting for Work - Things I am waiting for comments on, things I asked people to do, things people promised to send me, things I lent that I am waiting to get back, payments for invoices sent, contracts promised, etc. 
  • Waiting for Home - Things I ordered online, money my sons owe me, phone numbers I asked for, dates for weddings, school photos delivery, etc. 
Projects Tab: Current Projects

This tab has a master list of projects first, with little boxes that I can tick when they are finished, and then a list beside it of pending - these are projects that are potential but not yet settled. Once they are settled they go into the master list. I keep this by year, so I am working on my 2015 list now. Once a year passes, I take the list and put it at the back of this tab, so that I can keep in mind the projects that have been completed.

After the master projects list, I have one page for each project, organized alphabetically. They have the next actions listed and create some redundancy with the Next Actions Tab, but give me an overview of the project and its steps and activities.  

Once a project is done, I take out the page and toss it (unless it is useful to keep the steps, then I keep it in the Project file. These are for any physical artifacts - meeting notes taken by hand, printouts, brochures, etc - that I need for my project. They are all kept in pink paper folders (all the same colour and style for added neat factor) and have a label (label maker essential - same reason) and kept in alphabetical order on the side of my desk so when I get a call or go to a meeting, I can grab it easily.

Agendas Tab: For People I Deal With Regularly

This tab has a page for each of the people that I deal with on a regular basis, husband, kids, colleagues, etc. The page has their name at the top, and then anything that I need to talk to them about I write there (from "can you help me find my lost file" - husband being software engineer  - to "you owe me 32 francs" - son (the former might also be on Email Home - Time Sensitive and the latter would also be on Waiting - Home.) I don't think redundancy is a problem, whatever it takes to get it done. With the Agendas lists, when you are sitting down in front of someone, you can just work through it quickly and get answers efficiently. 

Someday/Maybe Tab: For Things I Might Want to Do Someday

This set of lists was very liberating. So many things sat on my To Do lists for ages, I just kept copying them and not doing them for one reason or another. This set of lists - which are Someday/Maybe Work and Someday/Maybe Home include all those things that I don't want or need to do now but that I don't want to forget. There might be a reason why the time is not quite right, so I write them here and I review this regularly and occasionally they move up to the Next Actions Lists because the time is right. Or else they stay there (forever). Sometimes I have wildly ambitious ideas - Write a book, Listen to the Reith lectures, Do a PhD, Buy a trampoline, Take all the photos off my SD cards, Get a dog (well this latter I finally did), etc.  

Checklists Tab: Never Make These Lists Twice

This final tab is a useful one. If there are things you do over and over again, why not make a Checklist and keep it for the next time? For work I have a mobile working checklist - all the things I need to take when I am travelling with work, a venue checklist when I am looking at a workshop venue, a Webinar Facilitator's Checklist that helps me prepare for online webinars, and for home a ski checklist - I don't go often but I always take along the same things, etc. Make these generic and reusable and findable, keep them on the web and/or keep them under this tab. 

At the end of my Notebook I keep some blank pages, so that when I have some time and am doing my review (going through all the tabs and updating, checking off, moving things around etc.) I can rewrite my lists if they are full or mainly completed and pop these pages into the appropriate places. 

You need to review this system regularly (David Allen calls it a "weekly review" but I think I do it with less regularity.) When things are super busy, I set my pomodoro and do it almost daily, and when things are less busy I might do it on my next flight or train trip. Either way it is a pleasure to do. 

And even more fun is talking about and sharing those tips and techniques with others who are also productivity geeks - and you know who you are!

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