managing tasks

I’ve geeked out on the insanely personal yet ubiquitous problem of task management for 20 years.

We’re hit with tasks from a million sources – texts, emails, in person, Facebook, IG DMs, Snapchat, phone or Zoom calls. Work is done from everywhere – many of us are just as likely to be strolling through the grocery store when a task comes in than sitting at a desk.

I categorize tasks a few different ways:

  • Quick tasks (sub 30 minute simple tasks like updating a spreadsheet or sending an informational reply)
  • Long “simple” tasks (writing an article, re-sodding our yard, coding a mini-project – something I won’t divide into smaller tasks)
  • Emotional / thoughtful tasks (this could also be writing, or a text or call to a person I care about, or creating some art, or a course I want to take, or a strategy session about some issue…)
  • Repeating tasks. Things like “pay out tips every Monday,” or “Owners standing call Thursdays at 10:30 AM” etc.

Task management is personal – our lives are varied.

My lifestyle is one where I generally have dozens of things I need to do in a day, some timely, some not. Most of them I can do from a computer or phone. My tasks come from a wide variety of sources. Blessing or curse, no one organizes it for me – I decide priorities and timelines. This is often wonderful, but also presents issues. Also, I work with others, but most of our work is either tasks we’re individually doing, or time together to discuss or do a thing.

Here’s what I use currently to manage my workflow:

  • Email inbox. Email used to be my only real task-management when I was doing more professional work (fundraising, networking – lots of communication). I use email slightly less now, having moved into the QSR world in January.

    I use Gmail and love the Inbox Zero method, where the only items in my inbox are things I can and need to work on NOW (today or tomorrow). Everything else is either:
    • Archived (if it’s informational/conversational and I have no more tasks to do with it)
    • Deleted (if it’s spam or automated reminders), or
    • Snoozed if I need to do something about it, but either “not right now” (not high priority) or at a specific date.

  • iOS Notes. I use Notes for more timely (daily) organizing of my tasks, and also for anything that came in outside of email. If someone texts or DMs or tells me something in person I need to remember, I add it all to a single note called “Daily Tasks” with a bulleted list.

    I separate out a couple headers in that note:
    • For Today. These are items I’d like to complete today. Depending on the days and priorities, they’re often left over from the previous day (or longer). 
    • House / Life things. These are all the personal things I’d like to do “soon” (within a few weeks), but aren’t incredibly timely. Things like “call dentist to schedule cosmetic front tooth fix” or “look into a tree guy” or “re-do budget sheet.”
    • At Some Point. These are the “extras” I’d like to get done, but have no timeline. It includes things like “start using Tags in how I manage files on my computer” or “start work on an ‘if I died, where is everything stored’ plan.”

      I will often take my first 30 minutes of work to look through email, voicemails, and my memory to pull items into my Daily Tasks note and organize the day.
  • Calendar. I use my calendar (Google Calendar on iOS and Fantastical on OS X) for appointments, regularly scheduled repeating events,  and important day reminders.

    This includes standard meetings, events, blocked off time for myself (whether work or intentional time off), my family’s regular schedule (take kid to school, dog groomer appt), and birthdays / anniversaries. I set reminders/notifications based on the time I’ll need to get ready and go, and enough time (day, week) ahead of time to make any plans necessary (remind attendees, book the flight or make the reservation, etc).

    I use multiple calendars, with different sharing settings on each. My family calendar syncs with my wife, one work calendar that syncs with our managers, a personal one which is just for myself… plus a couple more.

This setup mostly works for me. I tried falling in love with Reminders on iOS/OS X, but something about the simplicity of iOS Notes keeps me coming back. Reminders is more powerful – you get pretty deep customization of notifications, but for whatever reason I had trouble training myself to consistently use Reminders. The simplicity of Notes pulls me back. I’ve also tried Google Keep a few times, but I also can’t get myself to continue using it.

My pain points are mostly tasks that come in via iMessage or social media direct messages. Without a way to mark something unread after checking it, if I don’t put a task in my list RIGHT AWAY I simply forget it. iOS 16 actually had a simple-yet-huge change for me: the ability to mark an iMessage thread as unread. Now I can read and reply to a message, but mark it unread to remind myself to add a task or do something later when I have time. 

Getting tasks via Messenger, IG, Snap, etc remains difficult, and I try to train folks I work with often to email me instead of reaching out those ways. Still, I have customers who will reach out that way, or anyone in a relationship where I’m not able to suggest to them how to reach out to me (clients I don’t speak with often, or a boss – which I’ve been privileged not to have for a while). I have to remember to put those tasks in a Note instantly. 

So that’s what I use, and some of the issues I still notice.

What do you use? What tips have you found helpful?

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