As I’ve mentioned briefly I got into GTD in 2004, but I’ve always struggled with organising and reviewing.
I resisted a heavy-weight task manager like Things or Omnifocus, but in October 2012 I finally got Omnifocus for iPhone. It’s pretty good for capturing tasks and organising tasks but it was terrible for reviews, it didn’t take long before I was overwhelmed.
I got the iPad Mini and Omnifocus for iPad app as I’d heard good things about using it for reviews and it was great but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back to paper
A few years before my task management went digital I was using paper notebooks and really struggling. I tried a few versions of Autofocus back when Mark Forster was developing it, I haven’t tried Final Version. I won’t go into that too much, but needless to say it involved a lot of rewriting of lists and, for me, not a lot of getting anything done.
I decided to look for a digital task manager, I tried Todo and stuck with it for a few months but it quickly became unmanageable and I rarely opened it. This me to believe I needed more power and to Omnifocus.
I need a daily planner!
A pile of emergency task planners
None of these apps really helped me with my daily planning, I was spending too much time shuffling tasks and struggling to decide what needed to be done and when. So I decided I need some help with this, the Emergent Task Planner (ETP) by David Seah fit the bill.
It’s a single sheet paper day planner, at the beginning of the day you write down your key tasks for the day (3 is the suggested number), then you enter your scheduled meetings in the planner section and finally you assign the remaining time to your key tasks. You might realise at this point, as Brain Cutlery did that, you don’t have the time to do the tasks you set yourself and you have to rethink your day.
Once you’ve rearranged meetings and/or dropped tasks you’re ready to go. Throughout the day you can use the notes section to record any interruptions, new tasks or just doodle. It’s very likely you day won’t go to plan!
A typical day started with pulling out a photocopy of the pretty colour ETP. The first thing I would do was write down my top 3 outcomes, if they didn’t come to mind I would review my task manager. Then I would block out any appointments and schedule time on each of the tasks. Through the day I would scribble notes, tasks, reminders, draft plans, draw quick diagrams, move meetings, Mindmap and occasionally tick off how much time I actually spent on a task. By the end of the planner was a mess.
It also became clear that most days didn’t go to plan, but this was where the ETP was great. You could spot problems very early and change your plans based on whatever the day threw at you.
The ETP was very useful but I found I wasn’t doing that much with what I had produced at the end of the day and my review process was non existent. So it was quite common for my top 3 outcome to drag on longer than they should have and any notes or tasks I’d noted to slip away.
I hate paper, I need a journal
So after picking up Omnifocus I decided it was time to break free from the shackles of the physical world and go completely digital. I had my iPhone in my pocket and my iPad as my digital notepad. I became the guy in the office who produced no paper whatsoever.
To help me review my day and progress I decided to take up journalling using Day One. I took the parts of ETP that I thought worked well for the year I used the paper ETP. So I took the outcome setting, dropped the schedule - which I would later realise was a mistake - and kept taking notes in a slightly more structured way.
Joining it back together
That was 5 months ago and I’m still not happy because there’s friction in the system. And it came in the form of the newest additon, the iPad, typing took too long, and was too restricted, a bluetooth keyboard didn’t really solve that problem either. It was too fiddly, unlocking the screen, finding the app, find my place, typing, moving sections of text around and generally getting bogged down.
So my experiment is coming to an end and I’m going to try something different. I got myself a Noteboard, which is a pocketable, portable, whiteboard. The new plan:
- Sketch the basic layout of the ETP onto a section of the Noteboard.
- Write my key outcomes for the day, using one ‘card’ per outcome.
- Enter my appointments into the grid side.
- Split the remaining time my outcomes.
- I was probably too ambitious in step so I’ll make appropriate adjustments and maybe reschedule appointments.
- Through the day I’ll use the Dash/Plus system for the notes I capture, this will keep them structured.
- At the end of the day I’ll process my notes either by capturing them in Omnifocus (via Drafts), making notes in Trunk Notes, and logging my day outcomes and my progress against them in Day One.
- Then I’ll wipe the Noteboard clean leaving just the headings and structure of it.
Sounds simple, and based on the example below it is, I’ll let you know how it goes.
My noteboard and pens
What did I learn for all this pissing about?
- I’m not ready to go completely digital.
- Make a change and stick with it and take the best bits.
- There isn’t a perfect system, stop looking for one.
- Structure is important.
- Spend as little time as possible messing around with task managers, you probably know what you need to do.
- Expect your plans to be rewritten and torn up 5 minutes after you make them.
- Celebrate your successes, getting one thing on your list done is sometimes a success!
- I really don’t like mess, I’m a little OCD.
- Capture what you learned from you day.
- Review daily and eventually your weekly review will be easy! Hopefully…
- Rambling blog posts are sometimes useful.
- ETP will remain part of my toolbox but will take a backseat rather than being throw from a moving vehicle.