How I manage tasks

In Getting Things Done, David Allen says: "I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them." This is how I manage to do what he recommends.

How I manage tasks
Photo by Marissa Grootes / Unsplash

I care deeply about my productivity tools, and try to constantly evolve them to make sure they're still effective for who I am today.

Admittedly, as it stands today, my system is a little esoteric. This system is mostly a manifestation of many of the ideas described in Getting Things Done, but I've also injected this system with some other lessons which I've learned along the way.

Right now, everything I need to do is in one of two spreadsheets, both of which apply this system: one for my job, and one for the work I do outside of work. I want to turn this system into an app relatively soon, but I'm viewing the spreadsheet version as a prototype — like how, when you make a video game, you'll likely want to playtest certain elements of it with pen and paper.

Each row on the spreadsheet is an idea. Each row also has cells which provide the data as to when the idea will be reviewed next. This means that the row has the following cells:

  • The actual task at hand. This should be as concrete as possible, but sometimes it's not something that's immediately actionable, like "think more about this thing."
  • Some label that allows me to group tasks into bundles. This is "things to talk to so-and-so about" or "morning routine" or "code to write" for when I'm in that mindset.
  • The date that I last reviewed the row.
  • The number of days I should wait after the last review to review it again.
  • The next review date, as determined by combining the previous two rows.

By constantly sorting the spreadsheet by the next review date, I get a list of things I need to action today.

When I action an item, I either do it, or postpone it. If it's completely done, I simply delete the row. For tasks I need to do every day, I'll mark the row as reviewed by setting the "last reviewed date" to today, and the due date will be set to tomorrow. Likewise with other tasks that recur at other regular intervals — if the number of days to wait for review is 7, I'll see the task again in a week. If the task is something to contemplate or otherwise a thing to keep in mind, but I feel like I'm being reminded about it too often, I'll bump up the days to wait to review it, typically by doubling it.

This effectively applies spaced repetition to as many things I could think about as possible: all of these big, cool ideas that I don't want to lose track of, and many of the things I want to always remember about the way I want to see the world. Every idea gets put on this spreadsheet. If there's no way I'll close out the idea any time soon, it'll quickly get bumped to be reviewed far into the future — but by being reminded of it, I get to continuously transform the idea into something that's more tangible.

In Getting Things Done, David Allen says: "I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them." This is how I manage to do what he recommends — and, on a meta level, be reminded of this quote, which is currently being reviewed every 16 days, and due to be reviewed again tomorrow.

I don't think this system is for everyone. It certainly has its disadvantages, and is quickly outgrowing its ability to be managed by spreadsheet management software. I hope, however, that you'll draw some inspiration from this idea and experiment with the way you manage your lists of things to accomplish!