How I manage tasks

7 minutes read

In the past I was always pretty unorganised. During the last years I had to spend a lot of time getting more organised, especially during my time at Codeship. Thankfully my co-founders Manny and Mo are crazy organised, so I could learn a lot from them and build on top of that. In this post I’ll go through the different ways I needed to organise my life and which tools I use.

The main goals of the way I organise my life are:

  • I never want to forget things
  • My brain is for creative thought, not remembering things. WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING
  • There has to be a clear and obvious place for everything so I don’t have to think where I wrote it down
  • Its OK to use separate tools as long as its obvious which tool is used for what
  • I should be forced into good habits by getting notifications and nudges when I need them

With that said, there are basically 4 different scenarios for me:

  • Manage new incoming tasks and group them so they are easy to find
  • Recurring tasks
  • Daily/Weekly Standup to plan my day
  • Reminders

How to capture incoming tasks and group them

I use Omnifocus on my Mac and IPhone to organise all incoming tasks and group them. They follow the Getting things done way to manage your tasks effectively. Their quick-add feature is super helpful while working on my mac or when I’m out with my phone so I can always take quick tasks and never have to remember anything:

Omnifocus Quick Add

Their grouping feature makes it trivial to organise work in diffeent projects and use contexts as a second way to group tasks. E.g. you might have different work projects, but by giving them the context work you can individually select them depending on the project or context. Kind of like labels.

Omnifocus has great usability and I can very quickly add tasks as well as take a look at what has to be done today or in general. I can get a quick view on my phone to see what needs to be done today:

IPhone Overview

It also forces you into a regular feedback cycle where you look through all of your projects to clean them up.

Check out Omnifocus, yes its a bit pricey, especially when you get both the Mac and IPhone apps, buts its sooo worth it. In the past I also used Wunderlist which is good and I heard great things about Todoist as well.

Recurring tasks

Now this one is going to sound a bit weird, but its super effective. Make sure anything you need to do on a recurring basis is in a task management tool and comes up automatically. I for example have two different Omnifocus projects, one for house chores and one for taking care of myself (and a few others for regularly following up with people, …).

Examples from the house chores list that come up regularly (some weekly, some less often):

  • Taking out the trash (especially plastic bottles, metal cans, … that don’t need to be taken out that often)
  • Vacuuming
  • Clean the vaccum cleaner
  • Cleaning the toilets
  • Clean my shoes
  • Clean my coffee grinder

Examples from the “take care of myself” list:

  • Shave once a week
  • Dentist appointment every 6 months
  • Make an appointment for a haircut every 6 weeks
  • Change my toothbrush every 3 months
  • Put all expenses into my expense tracking application every week
  • Brush my teeth with special tooth paste once a week

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got tons of ridicule from friends and family for this and so will you. But that isn’t a reason not to do it. Its extremely effective to make sure you’re taken care of without having to worry about taking care of yourself.

And because all of these are tasks in your task management system it feels really good to finish them, get shit done and stay healthy and handsome. I typically listen to podcasts while doing these chores and I’ve been pretty consistent ever since I started doing it.

Daily/Weekly Standup to plan my day and week

I love jumping straight into work. Just getting stuff done and shipping things is exhilarating. But do I always work on the most important things when I just jump straight in?

Planning my goals for the week and doing a daily standup has become a very core and important part of my process. Every Monday I sit down for a few minutes, review all Omnifocus projects, review any email tasks that are still open, check what I didn’t get done last week and think about what else I want to get done. Then this all is put into a post in Slack (a slack where I’m the only person) and isn’t changed after that.

Weekly planning

The idea is to keep myself focused and accountable. If at the end of the week I didn’t get all or most of the things done it can mean that other things became more important or I wasn’t as focused as I should be. This makes it possible to review my week and learn for the future.

Every day I take a few minutes in the morning to think about my day and do a similar post.

Daily planning

During the day, sometimes at the end of the day, sometimes the next day, I check off those tasks. Again this allows me to review what I got done and keeps me focused. And whenever I ship a task I can look up what the next thing that I want to work on is.

This is pretty much the same system we used at Codeship and Serverless in the engineering team and it worked pretty well in both teams. It forces everyone to take a few minutes in the morning to think about their day before jumping in.

In total this planning might take 30 minutes out of a week. Spending 1/80th to 1/100th of a work week on planning my work to keep me focused seems to me like a very reasonable tradeoff.

To really follow through on Standups I need to be reminded though, so lets look into how I use reminders.

Reminders

There are two kinds of tasks for me. The ones I definitely have to finish and the ones I can click away, but feel bad about doing that. All tasks that have to be finished go into Omnifocus, all tasks that are a reminder and I can click them away go into OSX reminders. This also syncs them to my phone and shows me the reminder on my phone.

Additionally I don’t want to have daily tasks (like doing my standup) in Omnifocus as it clutters my actual work.

Example reminders:

  • Prepare clothes for tomorrow so I don’t wake up the kid in the morning (rarely do this one)
  • Give our kid her daily Vitamin-D drops
  • Add daily standup tasks at 9am
  • Add weekly standups and review Omnifocus every Monday at 9am
  • Prepare running clothes 3 times a week in the evening for the next morning run
  • Wake up the kid at 5pm every day if she isn’t already awake so her sleeping cycle doesn’t go crazy

As you can see those are all non essential tasks, but having them as regular reminders is really helpful. In the past I’ve tried adding them to my calendar, but then I simply skip them without noticing. Having to click them away at least makes me feel bad in case I didn’t do it.

Conclusions

While this might seem like a lot of process it really isn’t to me. It forces me to do the right thing at the right time, while giving me the ability to deviate from my plans. But when I deviate I always know I did and have to reflect on it.

If you use different ways to manage your tasks let me know on twitter or send me an email. Happy Shipping.

Back to posts