I am obsessed with task management software. More specifically, with trying to find the "best" one. And I have tried a lot of them: Toodledo, Remember The Milk, Google Tasks, Org mode, Producteev, Evernote, The Secret Weapon, Any.do, Asana, Trello, Zendone, IQTELL, Google Keep, Tick Tick, Workflowy, Wunderlist, Doit.im, Taskwarrior, Todoist, and probably several others that I forgot right now. My conclusion from this rather extensive software review is that, at least for now, the perfect solution doesn't exist.
However, a combination of three of them seems to do for now: Todoist, Trello and Evernote. Each one has different strengths and they hence complement each other nicely. All of them are available on a variety of operating systems (either native or via a web interface), including mobile platforms, meaning they are quite accessible no matter where I am. What follows is a detailed description of my productivity setup.
Todoist for tasks
At the center of my workflow lies Todoist. Inspired by the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, I have implemented a trusted system that allows me to get tasks out of my head quickly, identify next steps and focus on what should be done at the moment.
The desktop application is open at all times and I can easily add new tasks from anywhere by using a global keyboard shortcut (
Cmd-Shift-A on a Mac). These go into my Inbox, a place I check regularly for any new and unprocessed tasks. (Tip: Using this IFTTT recipe, all starred emails in Gmail will also create a task in the Inbox). From there, tasks will be organized into projects. I have only two top-level projects: Personal and Work. Every tasks goes into one of those categories, either directly or into a sub-project. Here is a (simplified) view of my projects tab:
While I don't follow GTD very strictly, I do use contexts - at least for some things. Labels are used for this purpose and allow me, for instance, to view all my errands in one place. Here is a (simplified) view of my labels tab:
I also use the priorities system. However, instead of considering priorities as gradually increasing importance or urgency, I gave each of them it's own meaning:
- Priority 1 (Focus) are those tasks that I want to act on right now
- Priority 2 (Next) are my next actions, that is, tasks I could act on right now
- Priority 3 (Waiting) are tasks that I cannot act on right now
- Priority 4 (Default) are all tasks that do not fall in any other category
The real magic, however, happens with filters. Since I rarely use the Today and Next 7 days views, I have set up my own four main views, based on specific filter queries:
- Now is a query for all tasks that are either overdue, due today, or have Priority 1
p:personal & (overdue | today | p1), p:work & (overdue | today | p1)
- Up next is a query for all tasks that are either due in the next 7 days (but not today) or have Priority 2
p:personal & (p2 | +1 | +2 | +3 | +4 | +5 | +6 | +7) & !p1, p:work & (p2 | +1 | +2 | +3 | +4 | +5 | +6 | +7) & !p1
- Waiting for is a query for all tasks that are assigned to others or have Priority 3
p:personal & (p3 | (:to_others:)) , p:work & (p3 | (:to_others:))
- Someday/Maybe is a query for all tasks that have Priority 4, but no due date
p:personal & (p4 & no date), p:work & (p4 & no date)
For a better overview, all query results show Personal and Work tasks separately. For each of these categories, task will be ordered first by priority and second by due date. Here is a view of my filters tab:
Every day I start with working on Now. Once this is empty, I will refill it by briefly reviewing Up next to pick further tasks that I want to work on and mark them Priority 1 (Focus). At least once a week, I do a longer review of Waiting for and Someday/Maybe (and/or specific projects) to see if any tasks can be marked with Priority 2 (Next), have to be marked with Priority 3 (Waiting), or if due dates have changed. In case a task has a due date far in the future and I cannot work on it before another date in the future, I will create a reminder to function as a start date. Once this reminder goes off, I will mark the task with Priority 2 (Next) and proceed in my system. Similarly, when a task has to be done at a specific location I won't be at in the near future, I create a location reminder to bring it to my attention only when I actually will be at this location again.
Trello for collaboration
For the bigger picture and collaborative projects I use Trello. The kanban paradigm helps to get an overview of what general stage a project is in and who is doing what in a team. My usage of Trello is pretty standard. I have multiple boards, organized in Personal and Work categories (e.g. one for each research project/experiment, one for the development of Expyriment, one for each personal project). Almost every board is shared with at least one other person. Each board is divided into lists that represent states of workflows from left to right (e.g. General information, Ideas, ToDo, In progress, Done). The cards on each list hold detailed descriptions, links, files, updates, and a lots of discussion. Once in a while I archive the Done list, rename it with the current date, and create a new one. This has proven to be helpful for reviewing the team's accomplishments over time. The specific set of labels used differs from board to board, but they are in general also used as contexts to filter all cards on a board down to a meaningful subset.
Importantly, I have Trello synchronized with Todoist: Whenever I get assigned to a card or assign myself to it, this IFTTT recipe will create a corresponding task in my Todoist Inbox, with a link to the Trello card. This makes sure that my responsibilities in collaborations will also be integrated into my trusted system.
Evernote for information
Eventually, I use Evernote to store any (non-sensitive) information that I need access to later on. This can be of personal nature (e.g. pictures of official documents, vouchers, recipes), or work-related nature (e.g. pictures of whiteboard drawings, meeting notes). All notes are organised into notebooks. The hierarchy of notebooks I use reflects my project structure in Todoist. That is, I have two notebook stacks called Personal and Work, each with several notebooks reflecting sub-projects. I use tags very similarly to how I use them in Todoist - as contexts. This can be anything, from places to persons.
Just as with Trello, I also have Evernote synchronized with Todoist: Whenever I need to act on a note, I integrate it into my trusted system by using this IFTTT recipe to get a corresponding task in my Todoist Inbox, with a link to the note.