Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Tasks and the Joy of Lists

In the past I used Microsoft Outlook almost exclusively to organise those things that I had to do. I would load tasks in, and had made an agreement with myself that I could not dismiss a task until it was completed. However, with the added complication of a smartphone, my business version of Outlook, and NMIT's Outlook system, I started running into problems. 

You see, there are three of me: my smartphone Outlook; my NMIT Outlook; and my business Outlook. None of them talked to each other. To get around that, instead of using Outlook's task manager, I made my Google calendar my master organiser, inviting all three of my selves to meetings and tasks (if you are interested, more about my process in getting to this point can be read about in the posts here).

This tripartite focus works well for the structured tasks: the free time shown on my calendar is actually free time. However, as we all know, tasks that are scheduled for certain times don't necessarily get done at the times they are scheduled: priorities change, deadlines change, new and urgent work appears, and very small tasks arise constantly during the day.

In thinking about this find I have four sorts of tasks:

  1. Daily one-off pico-tasks (pencil list). A job of a very few minutes
  2. Daily regular micro-tasks (diaried in Google calendar) and one-off micro-tasks (pencil list). Jobs which might take up to an hour
  3. Medium-sized several day meso-tasks. Middling sized semi-structured tasks with a fuzzy deadline, with a critical path dependent on others' actions and a variety of one-off steps
  4. Large, structured macro-tasks, containing many pico-, micro- or meso-tasks (planned in Google calendar). 

Tasks two (a) and four are easy. Their structure is known and that means I can repeat previous appointments to manage them, and shifting them is easy. There are also some structured meso-tasks which I can treat like task fours. 

But it is to manage tasks one, two (b) and three that I have finally resorted to old school methods, because they seem to be the most efficient (or least effort!). Those one-off pico-, micro- and meso-tasks I keep on paper, destined for the recycle bin so already printed on one side. I write in pencil, each day, jotting down a list of what needs to be done, adding tasks/steps/actions as they arise. 

I think I write in pencil because these are ephemeral tasks: they will not to be carried into tomorrow. 
When working at home, I strike through those items are they are completed. When I go into NMIT, I take a photo of the list with me, to keep track. I draw a line on the image of what things I have covered, or send myself a quick email if I have added new things on. 

However, I would be very interested if any of you have a better way to manage these tasks without adding more complexity to planning and management.

I hope to get an avalanche of ideas!


Sam

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