The increasing utility of Things


That title should probably read “My increasing ability to use Things,” because that’s essentially what continues to happen: I’m developing better and better ways of making Things work for me.

Which begs the question: should I alter my workflow to accommodate an application, or should the application be flexible enough to accommodate my workflow?

I’m going to propose that any time I encounter a new application I don’t have a workflow, and neither does anyone else. From an epistemological perspective, learning any new program, even as I attempt to set it up to follow an established workflow, will cause me to reevaluate and very likely revise my workflow.

Enough philosophy; let’s get real.

History: about two months ago I had 8 tag “categories” and about 40 “subcategories” that I used to slice and dice my tasks into incredibly fine contexts. For instance, a task might be tagged thusly:

  • Context: work
  • Time Commitment: 15 min
  • Priority: high
  • Place: office
  • Method: computer
  • Means: lawson
  • Teammate: bob

It was all too much. I was spending more time categorizing my tasks than I was actually doing them. I don’t know if this was because I was procrastinating or because I am a control freak, but it really was useless. And confusing.

So I cut back drastically. Now I have three parent categories, context, priority, and time, and that’s it.

Here’s a typical day of task management. I’m going to start in the afternoon, because my workflow in the morning is determined by my preparation the afternoon before:

  • Afternoon: review remaining tasks in Today and prioritize accordingly, then switch to the Next view and determine if there are any tasks that need to be moved to Today for the following morning; finally, switch to the Inbox and disposition any tasks I’ve added throughout the day
  • Morning: Quickly review the Today list as a whole before filtering the list by context, priority, and time. I do the most critical items with the shortest time commitment first, then I generally move to longer and longer times until I get to those tasks which will take an hour or more—for these I’ve blocked time on my calendar to work on at specific times—then I move to the next-highest priority and work my way through the time tags until my list is effectively clear; the other time I block my calendar is when I know the task is going to require focus and I need to mitigate distractions.

All this is in the context of a regular day of work, of course, with all it’s emails, phone calls, IMs, texts, and visits from peers and employees. This is another reason I block time on my calendar for time or focus-intensive tasks: call it defensive calendaring. If I don’t block time someone will invite me to a meeting or see that I’m free and drop in for 30 minutes of productivity-killing chat—which is sometimes just what the psychiatrist ordered, only not when I have a deadline to meet or if I need my creative space.

The critically important qualities of Things are its inherent simplicity and its flexibility; they allow my to adjust and build the task management system that works for me. If I want to create an incredibly complex system, as I did at first, it even allows me to do that. In short, it’s one of my all-time favorite applications.


2 thoughts on “The increasing utility of Things

  1. Sandi K. Gupton

    It sounds like you’re finally getting organized. I used to do the same thing when I worked in LA. and there was a lot less stress with more work getting accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

    They have names for people like us such as control freaks, OCDs, Anal, but guess what…..We get the job done!!!!

    Congratulations and I am so proud of you!

    • Samson

      Thanks, Sandi. It’s all relative, this getting organized thing, but I at least feel productive and in control. Besides, it’s kind of fun, playing with technology and tackling complex problems like time and task management. My brain does so enjoy challenges…

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