Before I begin
Please note: I present this as a description of how I work. I’m not suggesting that you should adopt my methods, or that my system is superior to any other. I’ve been using the routine I’ll describe here for a long time. It works beautifully and has allowed me to stop “fiddling” with productivity. With that said, here’s how I work.
My daily routine is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I say “based on” because I don’t follow his instructions strictly. I do break projects into observable tasks, which I sort by context. I also conduct a weekly review, which I believe is crucial.
However, I stray when determining what to do. David suggests that you notice your available resources, time and context when picking a task to complete. I identify the 3 tasks that I must complete within 24 hours. These are the day’s most important tasks (MITs), and are pulled from OmniFocus.
I also identify 3 or 4 “batch tasks.” These could be completed before the end of the day, but the world won’t end if they aren’t. I took the MIT/batch task idea from Leo Babauta’s book “The Power Of Less.” Check it out if you haven’t.
Once I’ve identified my MITs and batch tasks, I grab an Emergent Task Planner (ETP) and get to work.
Setting up an ETP
The goal of the ETP (as I use it) is threefold: To monitor how much time I spend on certain tasks, to act as an inbox and to provide scratch/support information.
The ETP provides room for nine major tasks. I put my MITs in the first three and batch tasks underneath. Next to each is a series of “bubbles.” Each one represents 15 minutes. The idea is to fill them in and see how long it took to complete each task. Before I begin, I draw a little hash mark to represent my best guess (for example, if I think a task will take one hour, I’ll put a hash above the fourth bubble).
On the far right are more bubbles, text fields and boxes. There’s a box next to every fourth bubble, marking the hours. There are 14 boxes in total. I write “7:00 AM” in the first one and continue down to 8:00 PM. The fields next to the bubbles are labeled with the active task and the bubbles are filled in as time passes.
This way I can measure a task’s duration and watch as a scheduled appointment (“Take daughter to cheerleading practice” or “Call Janie re: class”) approaches. The bottom half of the form is meant for additional, minor tasks, but that’s not how I use it. At the top of that area I write “Inbox.” Halfway down, I write “Support.” The inbox should be self-explanatory. As new “stuff” arrives (by my definition, “stuff” is anything that isn’t where it should be), it’s written down for later processing.
Support is where I store information related to tasks-in-progress. For example:
- Image dimensions
- An app’s system requirements
I like having a work area like this for jotting down bits of data for quick reference, working out problems, etc. At the end of the day, several things happen.
- I can see how many tasks I completed
- I can see how long each task took to complete, compared to my estimate
- A total number of hours worked is tallied
- Anything in the inbox is processed and added to OmniFocus as is appropriate
I know what you’re thinking
Why use a piece of paper when you’ve purchased powerful, expensive software?
I need both. Some information, like images, can’t be stored on paper. Also, OmniFocus is where I keep all aspects of a given project together, like files, research, email correspondence and so on. There’s no denying that OmniFocus is tremendously powerful. The over-the-air sync alone is a huge selling point. Check it out if you haven’t.
Then there’s this: I just like writing on paper. It’s efficient and fun. I love David’s beautiful, useful forms. Using both lets me work with a sense of relaxed control that is unattainable otherwise.