I gave up on Getting Things Done methodologies when I realized that, by saying no to urgent but ultimately unimportant tasks, I could keep all my “to dos” in my head.
Or so I thought. I’ve discovered that I have a lot more “to do” lists than I realized. Here are some of them:
- My work “to do” list, which I keep in a Lotus Notes task list because it replicates to my Blackberry (though it often seems to be out of sync). Each item in this list has a clipped-together set of papers supporting it, which I carry around in my computer back-pack.
- My personal “to do” list, which I keep in various formats, including scraps of paper and the new Google task list which integrates with GMail.
- My blog “to do” list, which I keep in a separate GMail e-mail folder, because most of these “to dos” originate from e-mails (e.g. updates to blogroll and e-mail address book).
- My GMail personal e-mail inbox, which consists of (a) e-mails to which I have yet to respond and (b) e-mails which are actually “to dos”, and which should probably be with list 3, except that they are more urgent so I want to keep them in front of me.
- My “books to buy” list (handwritten, for when I’m in the bookstore).
- My “music to buy or download” list (handwritten, for when I’m in a CD store).
- My work Lotus Notes e-mail inbox, which consists of (a) e-mails to which I have yet to respond and (b) e-mails which are actually “to dos”, and which should probably be with list 1, except that the e-mail provides a lot of detail on what needs to be done, so I can’t be bothered to transcribe it to a “to do” list).
- My work Lotus Notes Calendar, which consists of both (a) scheduled work and (b) personal appointments (I gave up keeping two separate calendars, even though people at work now know when I’m playing poker and where I go on vacation), and occasionally (c) times I’ve “blocked out” for certain urgent or time-consuming “to dos”.
- Gmark Google Bookmark “to dos”consisting of (a) links to include in my next Links of Week, (b) links to pages I intend to read “when I have time” (i.e. never get around to these), (c) links to pages to add to my blogroll (actually belongs in list 3), and (d-e) links to books to buy and music to download (actually belong to lists 5 & 6).
- My blog post ideas “to do” list, which I usually keep in (a) Nvu (html) files with notes for future articles, but which sometimes I also keep in (b) a GMail e-mail folder if there’s an essential link or notes from a reader that provoked the idea.
- My “to read” hard copy piles, which consist of (a) one pile of articles and magazines in my computer backback (which I take to work), and (b) one stack of books and personal papers by my bed.
- My voice mail “inboxes”, for my work and home numbers.
Because my Lotus Notes stuff is behind the corporate firewall (and because this stuff replicates to my Blackberry, which my employer pays for), I continue to use Lotus Notes applications stuff (lists 1, 7 and 8) separate from my Gmail applications stuff (lists 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10b). I could manually forward all my Lotus Notes e-mails to my Gmail account (my employer won’t allow this automatically, for security reasons), and copy everything in my Lotus Notes Calendar to a Google Calendar that everyone could see, but this would probably take more time than it would save.
Looking at these 12 “to do” lists, they fall into five main content categories: messages to process (list 3, 4ab, 7ab, 10b, 12), tasks (list 1, 2, 5, 6, 8c, 9cde), appointments (list 8ab), drafts to write (list 9a, 10a), and readings (list 9b, 11). Is there some way to combine these into a single list where everything is visible in one place at one glance? Is this more trouble than it’s worth? What is/are the best application(s) to use to achieve this?
I keep procrastinating on doing anything about this, because when I was sick and not working 2 1/2 years ago, the problem disappeared, so I figured that, when I retire (in the not too distant future) I won’t have to worry about it as much. But I’ve decided that a bit of time management now could save me some anxiety and time in the future, so here are my thoughts on this so far:
- Google now allows you to recharacterize an e-mail (list 3, 4ab, 10b) as a task (i.e. move it into list 2, with a link retained to the archived e-mail that you can refer to as necessary). GMail now also allows you to work offline (i.e. it keeps a sync’d copy of your last three months’ messages, and your task list, on your ‘home’ computer), though this is still in beta. And I can, awkwardly, access my GTasks from my Blackberry. So theoretically I could close lists 1, 3, 4ab and 10b into list 2. But, alas, GTasks cannot be tagged like GMails — all tasks show up in one huge unsortable, unindexable list. This isn’t going to help. Yes, I know there are add-ons to Gmail and other Task apps (I’ve tried Remember the Milk) but they don’t allow you to recharacterize an e-mail as a task, don’t work offline and aren’t accessible from my Blackberry.
- I’ve considered using my Calendar as my all-in-one “to do” list, by slotting all my tasks, messages to process, drafts to write, and readings into open time slots on the Calendar. This has the additional advantage of actually forcing me to prioritize and set deadlines for these things. Unfortunately, as we all know, other (usually urgent unimportant) things come along that get done instead, so I would be spending hours rescheduling a lot of these “to dos” again and again. This already happens with my list 1 items, which have a scheduling option that appears on my Calendar and my Blackberry.
- What I do right now is print out lists 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 and keep them in a stack on top of list 11a. Each morning I scan these lists and asterisk which ones I intend to do that day. List 4 is constantly front-and-centre when I’m online, day and night. Lists 3, 9bc, 10b, and 11b, to be honest, almost never get looked at. Lists 9a and 10a get attention in the evening when I work on my blog. List 12 generally gets merged into list 1 regularly.
- So it seems to me that what I’m looking for is something that integrates task lists (lists 1, 2, 5, 6, 8c, 9cde) together into one robust list, enables (but doesn’t mandate) calendaring of tasks, and allows messages (lists 3, 4ab, 7ab, 10b) to be recharacterized as tasks in this integrated list, with a link back to the pertinent message, which can then be removed from the inbox and archived. Tasks that are calendared (list 8c) would be highlighted in the task list. Net result — an empty inbox at the end of each day, and one integrated task list that, alongside your calendar, shows everything you have to do.
- Getting Things Done application developer Eric Mack has developed such a tool, called eproductivity, but only for the Lotus Notes environment. It’s illustrated at the top of this post. Each message in your inbox can be moved to an existing project or action folder (task list entry) by dragging it to that folder in the right sidebar, or used to create a new project or action (task list entry) by dragging it to the appropriate icon in the left sidebar. Actions (one-off, or part of projects) in the task list that are assigned to specific dates and times are displayed in the Lotus Notes Calendar. Some of the eproductivity functionality is accessible on my Blackberry, though it’s not clear which parts. I suppose I could redirect all my GMail to Lotus Notes Mail to use this, but it seems a rather convoluted solution.
So that’s where I stand now. I’m going to try out eproductivity. And I’m going to keep looking for something equivalent that works in the GMail environment. I’m stuck with Lotus Notes at work and I like GMail (because I can access it from any computer, and because it works with GTalk IM and other applications that I find much more useful than e-mail), so I’m not inclined to look at any applications that don’t build on one or the other. But I’m open-minded about it.
What works for you? Shouldn’t unanswered e-mails, “to dos” and calendar entries all be handled the same way, with a single application? How do you ‘work around’ the fact that they aren’t?