How to regularly use task manager/todo list?

Hi MPUers :heart: , about 2 months ago I started a task manager (Things) to keep track of my todos, but stopped using it for the last few weeks. In the first month, it was great and I used it to track most things. I felt productive and had info about things I need to do every day, but now it has become my stash for storing random stuff. I also forget things I need to do - these are not appointments but tasks I need to do. This has happened a few times with other task managers (so it’s not the app for sure) where I use them for a few weeks and then stop using them.

BTW, my tasks are not always date/time oriented but mostly list of things I can/should do and I pick them up whenever I have time.

I was hoping for suggestions or even tricks that might help me regularly use a task manager so I can always keep track of things I need to do. :slight_smile:

Every single day, week, month, 3 months, 6 months and yearly.

Things 3 changed my life. Can’t wait to buy Things 4!

this is a pretty common issue with task managers. You need to get into the habit of input stuff and checking your system, and for that it’s really important that you trust it (otherwise it makes no sense to put things into a list that doesn’t say what you need to do). The way I gained trust is by realising that my life became more organized.

It’s not about the tool, it’s about your “system” or “workflow”. Things is more than nice enough, perhaps this blog article can give you some tips.

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Also: for me perhaps the biggest insight was that not all tasks are the same in nature, given the commitment the task needs. some tasks are “commodities” like taking out the trash, others are “things I do not want to forget but are not important” like books or movies I want to watch (perhaps these go to a Note or to a Someday project) and others are hard commitments like the deadline for a work deliverable (these usually go into my calendar). Still, what works for me may or may not work for you.

It’s just that simple.

My “system” for many years was paper, computers took up entire rooms. If something was very important a note might get taped to the front door so I would see it on my way out.

Today I use multiple programs, the Health app on my phone to remind me to take my meds. Due to remind me, and keep reminding me, to do those 'absolutely, positively, can’t forget about it’ items. And I have a third app (Reminders or Tasks, etc) for routine items.

My secret weapon is widgets. The Home Screen on both my iPhone and iPad Pro host widgets showing my email Inbox, Calendar events, Due reminders, and (currently) items on my Reminders app. And I occasionally use a dry erase marker to write something on the bathroom mirror. :grinning:

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Two things spring to mind

  1. you WILL fall out of the habit of using it. Get straight back into the right behaviours when you recognise that this has happened.
  2. Reviews are your friend, I perform Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly and Annual reviews of what’s in my system, what’s active, what am I waiting on someone else for, what’s on hold, and what someday items do I want to d now or drop entirely.
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This is where apps like Reminders and Due will be most useful. I’ve been using OmniFocus for years, but I still need reminders that fire up a certain times of the day to remind me to input, review, clear the inbox, and most important - when to engage the tasks.

Task managers seem to be an all or nothing enterprise for me - I either put everything, and I mean everything, that I have to do in my life in there or my productivity falls apart. This is particularly true of tasks for my job. If it doesn’t go in OmniFocus, it doesn’t get done, so I have to maintain a steady rhythm of engagement, at minimum twice a day.

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I use Things and time block planning together. Every morning I look at my calendar for the meetings I have to attend. Then I look at Things and schedule blocks of time for the items I want to get done today. I also make a weekly plan where I select 1 or 2 items I want to get done on a particular day although that often changes as the week progresses.

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Keep with it, like others have said it’s more about the system or practice than the tool. If you “forget” to check your list, set a reminder to do that every day at lunch, or some other convenient time. Or batch it with something like checking email.ince You might be going from email to your task list to add new to-do items anyway.

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@andy4222 this is vey close to my approach. I use Reminders rather than Things. I also pre-block my mornings for the year for the deep project work as shown on the attached template of my pre-set calendar. My EA fills in meetings not already blocked off. For urgent matters she has permission to add a meeting during my blocked period but she is rigorous in protecting this time.

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Welcome to my nightmare.

Just remember this, and life itself, is a practice. (I always liked that people say they
“practice medicine,” or they “practice law.”) You’ve tried various apps (as I did), and they seemed to help. “Ah, now I’ve got it.” Roughly: OmniFocus, Agenda, NotePlan, Passion Planner, Amazing Marvin, Paper and Pen, OmniFocus, Time Blocking, NotePlan, Paper and more Expensive Pen(s), Org Mode, Analog from Ugmonk, NotePlan, Org Mode, Paper and Pen. This has cost me hundreds of dollars, and a significant portion of my life (the irreplaceable thing).

But now you’re incorporating what you’ve learned back into your system, and posting here. That’s the practice.

As others have noted, the habit is important. Every day for the past 900 days, I’ve rowed on a rowing machine at least 30 minutes and at least 5000 meters. This is what I aspire to do with other things in my life. It’s hard to put into words, but I just don’t think about it, I just do it. I know that’s a common platitude, but I do think that I overthink things. “Should I…”, “What if…” I don’t do that with rowing. So perhaps a daily review would help me. Weekly is too infrequent, I think, and I lose the commitment. Should I do it Saturday? Nah, I’ll do it Sunday. Nah, I’ll do it Monday. Oh, it’s been two weeks. Well, it’s overwhelming now. What about Amazing Marvin :slight_smile:

I don’t have any definitive answers for you – as you can see, I’m still on this journey myself – but wanted to offer some encouragement. Everyone is unique; others can only offer suggestions, not answers.

I have ADHD, and the most helpful book I’ve found to date, is ADHD Pro: Sustainable Productivity for People with ADHD, by Robert Merki. I’m not suggesting you have ADHD, just sharing a resource that has been helpful to me and others here on the forum.

Keep that feedback loop going, adapt and change, but don’t beat yourself up!

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I keep a “Tasks” list and a separate “Tasks with Dates” list in my NotePlan app. And I use NotePlan’s calendar integration to add the tasks with dates there, too.

But you SHOULD NOT need to remember to look for tasks. My iPhone can do that for me. As @Aaron_Antcliff mentions, use an app like Due to send yourself task alerts that will keep reminding you of them until you (very flexibly) push them into the future or mark them complete.

6:30 is an early start. Do you work at home or commute to an office?

I commute. I’m in the office at around 6am. But, my commute is only about 10 minutes. I’m a morning person and I’m able to get A LOT done between 6-9:30am. After that, its meetings and after dinner (5pm), I often have evening events to attend, e.g., board meetings, etc. I also retire early, usually between 8:30-9:00pm. I also try to get in a 3-4 mile jog five days a week.

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” -Benjamin Franklin.

I’m still waiting on two of those! :joy:

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I spent a lot of time thinking through my system by tweaking my todo list of choice, ToDoist (migrated there after being a Things user). What cracked it for me finally was a series of custom views:

Most task managers will allow you custom views through the use of tags, areas, flags, or through other means. In my case, I set up filters that are favourited. (I also have lots of projects but I work from these favourites views most of the time. The ‘essential’ view is everything red-flagged as ‘priority 1’, the tasks that must happen on a given day (or the ‘if I get nothing else done but these that’s still a good day’ category, normally no more than 3 or 4 per day). Other ‘today’ tasks are aspirational/additional to the ‘essentials’ and linked to the different areas of my life. A ‘work tomorrow’ view helps me plan for the next day (I keep a separate quarterly and weekly planning document in Obsidian which I periodically review). The most important categories to move my work forwards (as an academic) is ‘Research next action’ – this links to a single or a few tasks that live in in a whole range of research projects currently ongoing, which means I always know where to pick up from where I left off. The ‘15-min tasks’ are admin, small research, small home/personal jobs that I don’t want to clog up my most productive hours. This list helps when, inevitably, I find dead time between two meetings; after teaching a class and my lunch slot; or from 4pm when I feel whacked. Then, it’s nice having a list of non-demanding things that need to get done but aren’t terribly important.

It took ages before I settled on a system that works for me – and now that it does, I live my life out of ToDoist. But before that I had hosts of tags, views, whatever, that didn’t work, and trial and error honed this to a system that’s now second nature. (Alongside time-blocking religiously!)

So stick with it. Don’t sweat it if you have tasks in your Things that you have no intention of completing. Just delete them! As commented above, review is key. Schedule a weekly trawl through the inbox and projects, which works wonders. As for forgetting to put stuff in, find the lowest-friction way of entering tasks (via voice on phone? push to Things via Drafts? write on your hand and add at the end of the day? whatever works for you!).

Good luck :slight_smile:

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This is an important technique, I would add another one that I got by reading Kourosh Dini’s book: having lists of “meta tasks” that trigger checking or doing stuff on certain aspects, perspectives or filters of your task manager. Again, this is somewhat advanced (and Dini also adds a bunch of keyboard maestro automations for OmniFocus) and may not work for OP.

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Haven’t read the comments above yet (but eager to do it in order to get insights), but I was in the same boat until some months ago.

Then I realized I had 3 kinds of “tasks” in Things 3:

  • tasks with a due date
  • tasks without a due date
  • routine tasks

Tasks with a due date: I realized they are my real tasks.
Now I keep only such tasks on my todo app (that is Reminder right now, waiting to see Things 4).
I give them a flag in order to make them to stand out from the routines tasks.

Tasks without a due date.
They are only something I have to do in order to go on with my projects.
So I keep a list of such todos not in my todo app, but in my note taking app, where I store my projects.
So when I work on some of these projects I open up the related note and see what I’ve left to do.

Routine tasks: I still keep them in my todo app, but without the flag.

Se when I open up my todo app I go to the smart group and see only the tasks with the flag and due today.

I don’t say it’s my ultimate setting, but it was good so far.

Hope it make sense.

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I’m thinking about doing something similar. Currently, all of my tasks associated with any given project are in my task manager with a link back to notes. But, this means that the task manager has a lot a project related tasks in it. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of following a process similar to yours in which tasks associated with the project but that do not have hard due dates would reside with the project notes rather than the task manager. The task manager would contain task with milestone dates, beginning, and end dates of projects, and whatnot.

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You’ve put your finger on the complexity of “tasks” and the many ways they can be handled between todo, task, calendar, reminder, alert, and note taking apps.

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This is quite similar to the ideas in Carl Pullein’s Time Sector system - he advocates for managing projects and their task lists in your notes app and then in your Task Manager use a date based system which is essentially managing tasks by when you want to/have to do them.

He has folders or projects in the task manager for This Week/Next Week/Next month/Longterm-on hold/Routines that you manage tasks through (via regular reviews) paired with a bit of structure to project notes in your note app of choice.

I have dabbled with this a bit (and I have his course), I’ve been worried it’s too simple but I keep coming back to it. With a new role coming up in January I’m thinking about starting with this method. The pull of it is the reduction in complexity and and the promise of just being able to focus on the work.

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