So I have been trying to plan my work life better. That has turned into planning my life better because as I capture what I must do, I realize that if I only record a fragment of my life’s tasks digitally, the other activities impinge and interfere. You need one central place to negotiate priorities.
So as I set out to once again move things forward that didn’t get done today (though this was on the list and it has, or will have, a big fat check mark next to it shortly) here are some of my lessons so far.
- Put in everything. You can’t separate work and life in the tool that manages tasks. Things to do are things to do, and if you separate them into different tools, or ignore one area completely, you will find it hard to reconcile priorities or integrate your life. OmniFocus offers contexts that help you create views that can include anything you like. So if you have a “context” for “living room” when you are in your living room, tap on it and see what you thought you could accomplish from the comfy chair. One thing you can do in the comfy chair is look over all the things you haven’t assigned to projects, contexts or provided date for, and do just that.
- Create projects at a granular level. Don’t create projects like “writing.” If you write for several places, each of those destinations requires its own agenda. Tools like OmniFocus will use time to bring things together, so don’t get hung up about losing because you have too many categories. Make commitments and let time drive the display (called a Forecast in OmniFocus) of tasks you need to worry about. If you make good commitments, and put commitments on everything, then eventually the task will come into view. Until it does, let it go, because worrying about a future task too early can detract you from what you need to get done today.
- Fill in the metadata. OmniFocus supports a wide range of metadata from due dates to context, from projects to flags and repeating occurrences. Use all of it, especially due dates and project. If you don’t at least try to commit to getting something done by some date, then it might get lost. And all of the other metadata creates a richer experience that helps you see your life and work in the multiple dimensions in which it exists.
- Plan on planning. You will need a few minutes each day to change the commitment dates on the things you thought you would do but didn’t. Don’t let stuff fester in the past. You can’t go back in time and do it, so you might as well attempt to find another day when you think you can get it done and move it forward.
- Use a service. Most of use don’t use just one device. At minimum we have a tablet and a PC. If your time management service don’t include the ability to synchronize across your devices, you will find yourself wasting time going to the device or record or putting items in more than one place. OmniFocus, for instance, uses Omni’s WebDAV servers to store OmniFocus data and to create a calendar that iCal, or any other standard calendar can subscribe to. You want every tool you are using to manage time to be aware of your commitments captured in other tools.
As Yoda would say, “Many time management classes taken, have I.” But until you really start managing your time and your tasks, all the theory will be meaningless noise added to your already overtaxed mental information overload buffers. When you take action, that noise becomes information and that information informs tactics and strategies. Only when you actually engage with your learning do you learn. So if you want to manage your time better, start managing your time better — and get better at it as you go alone. Don’t expect a miracle, you will be disappointed. If you take time management on as a learning journey, you will eventually find what works for you, and you might even learn something about yourself, and have a little fun, while you’re at it.