Thoughts on task management

Last week I started doing a “week in review” in my Day One journal. The idea being to put down some of the things I’ve done or was thinking about the previous week. One of the things I wrote about in that first review were thoughts about task management because I’ve been struggling as of late trying to really keep things moving forward. I talked about several things I might try because a Kanban board seemed like a really good way to get a handle on everything going on. Trello is a fantastic product for that but I have little desire to add yet another application on to the list of things I need to check on a given day.

Looking back over that review this morning I came to the conclusion that my ideas about task management were short lived. I have been using Things 3 for years for task management. In my journal entry I noted that I was going to start by sticking with Things because it still is the best fit for me but that I was going to drop using Areas because I was having issues keeping a grip on what is happening/what needs to happen. Tasks and projects seem to get hidden too easily and I lose track of them. The idea behind getting rid of Areas was to have all active projects in one list that was viewable in its entirety.

Change of plans; I’m back to Areas/Projects as I was before. This is due to having come across a very good article by Tiago Forte about a system he calls PARA:

  • Projects 
  • Areas 
  • Resources 
  • Archives

Right now I’m just worried about projects and areas but his distinction about the two was very interesting:

A project has a goal to be achieved — a discrete event that will happen, allowing this item to be completely checked off and struck from the list. And this goal is supposed to take place by a specific moment in time. It has a deadline or timeframe, whether externally or self-imposed.

An area of responsibility, by contrast, has a standard to be maintained. And there is no end date or final outcome. Your performance in this area may wax and wane over time, but the standard continues indefinitely and requires a certain level of attention at all times.

A good example of project vs. area where I have been making a mistake is my gardening tasks for this year. I’ve had this as a project where I keep adding/removing tasks but it’s not really a project because there really is no defined outcome or deadline save for some time in the Fall when it all wraps up for the year. It really is an area of concern, separate from my “Home” area.

The article was good food for thought that I’ve been grazing on and made me think more about intentionality and thoughtfulness about what I’m doing. For instance the weekly review in my journal. It’s not just about getting it done and checking off some item on a list. I need to be more thoughtful about what I’m writing to get a really good overview of what is going on week to week in my life. This needs to extend to everything else. The goal here is to be more thoughtful (in other words, take more time to think, don’t just do!) about any of the tasks I’m doing and taking the time to get them done with purpose and conviction, not just check an item off a list.

Another problem is that I’ve not been doing a proper weekly review of everything at hand. I have items in my “weekly review” project for things like “Review Someday list” but again I haven’t been really thoughtful and deliberate about it. I’ve just been doing a quick look at things and checking off items. This was never the intent for the weekly review process. The result is I have a mess that needs to be fixed.

The initial step was to put all projects on my “Someday” list. The next step was deliberately going through each one looking at the real priority which resulted in me picking a few projects off and assigning to Areas once again. But that list of active projects won’t grow until something has been completed. It’s now a much shorter list that doesn’t feel overwhelming and won’t feel overwhelming because it won’t keep growing.

Tiago wrote:

Now, imagine the psychological effect of waking up to the list on the left day after day, week after week, month after month, even year after year. Areas of Responsibility rarely if ever change, remember? No matter how hard you work, how many years of service you put in, the list of never-changing obligations only gets heavier and longer.

I couldn’t design a better method of killing personal motivation if I tried.

That fits my situation perfectly. The solution is breaking things down more effectively into shorter projects that have defined outcomes with a definite end in mind. This is where I’ve been having problems and now it’s causing a larger issue with motivation.

Intention. Thoughtfulness. New ideas to apply to my life. But they sound a lot better than chaos and anxiety. And in the end I was doing this before and somehow got off track. It’s just time to get back on.

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