How to regularly use task manager/todo list?

Pullein’s video seems to focus on things that can be relegated to a list or that can be templated, which many people do in OmniFocus, NotePlan, et al. And that’s fine. If you have (as his example) a job where stuff comes in, you perform some transformation, then file the stuff away, a checklist or list of steps is desirable. (Noting that the burden of a lot of these “tasks with steps” have been placed on consumers/clients in the 20-odd years since Pullein did this job.) In fact, Atul Gawande wrote The Checklist Manifesto about the power of checklists to help minimize variations and errors, and to help manage increasing complexity.

I would have liked to hear him elaborate more on projects, which he mentions only in passing (watched late last night, so may have missed something). Especially projects that are somewhat ill-defined, and that evolve over time.

Task/project managers with better flexibility surrounding dates would be helpful. E.g.

  • Start - when do I want to start working on this?
  • Seriously - definitely should be making progress at this point
  • Dude! - can’t do this overnight
  • Due - when do I want to finish it?
  • Deadline - when is the hard deadline?

When I open the app at any time after Start, I should see that I’ve committed to working on this project, and any others that are past Start, and not completed. I’d also like to see how much time remains until Due. And whether I’ve entered the Seriously or Dude! phases (only half joking, I would actually use these). These wishes of mine are in “project planners”, but they also assume that you’re sending people to Mars and want to assign resources, have realtime collaboration, etc. Which are way overkill.
Maybe it’s just me.

Finally, our vocabulary is ill-defined. “Task” means different things to different people, as do “project” and other terms. Pullein references GTD when he says a project is anything with 2 or more steps, but then says, no, it’s just a checklist, and shouldn’t be called a project. But, again, this is for lists of steps that have been pre-established – which are essentially “procedures”.

Just thinking out loud. I should probably have just put this into Tana, or Logseq, or Obsidian, or NotePlan, or Notes, or org-mode, …


If you like Things, this is a good place to start:

My solution, ToDoist, is very poor in terms of containing metadata on the level of projects. There is a single ‘comment’ field (one click away) – that’s it. A project is no more than a bucket. And you are right too, that if you run complex multiple projects, with timed or resources dependencies, then you are into the realm of project management apps like MS Project or OmniPlan – and that’s a whole new level of complexity and overhead.

In most apps, you could manage your desired degree of flexibility of task urgency (‘start’ through to ‘deadline’) by tags or flags. But maintaining a system with that degree of complexity and frequently changing statuses would also create huge overheads. Updating your task manager and keeping the oversight would quickly get in the way of doing the work?

I think you are right there isn’t a sweet spot app between the task manager (list of tasks in buckets) and fully fledged project manager. Perhaps OmniFocus (which I gather does allow for good metadata on the level of the project, not just the task), but I don’t use it.

I’ve learned the hard way that for ‘ill-defined’ projects, putting tasks into a task manager is a waste of time. Until the project is well articulated, you will be creating tasks you have no intention or need ever to complete. For me, a single tasks in that prospective project ‘Develop this project!’ would be enough until you have time to flesh it out?

I am happy to live with with a few imperfect but good-enough intersecting solutions:

  • Fantastical for scheduling (which will will contain my ‘DEADLINE’ tasks, e.g. completing a batch of coursework marking by a certain date)
  • ToDoist for tasks (would contain daily reminders ‘mark the next 5 essays’)

For my research and writing, I keep resources in DEVONThink; note taking happens in Obsidian; and Todoist contains top level tasks. I also have a Kanban on Obsidian just because I like a top-level visual board of all writing projects that are in progress at one time. ToDoist does these too, now.

Mine isn’t the leanest system; there are unhelpful overlaps from calendar to to-do app to note-taking app, but too be honest, I am trying not to care. The system works well enough, and allows me to get my work done and few things that are important now fall through the cracks. I go through periods of tinkering. I mean, I am on MPU so a propensity for tinkering comes with the territory. I was listening to episodes of the OmniGroup podcasts recently and of course I think ‘I need to try and get the new shiny RIGHT NOW!’).

But I can’t remember a time where this sort of tinkering allowed me to get my work done quicker or more efficiently. Perhaps there are tiny incremental gains, but not worth sinking time into a new app. So I allow myself some fun (which is really what it is!); and otherwise try to run with a trusted system that’s good enough.


I’m not sure if it was in some of his other You Tube videos or actually in his online course but he does go into a lot more detail on setting up/planning and then managing projects in a notes app. Essentially as part of the review process you are either bringing over tasks with deadlines into the time based lists or (as @SebMacV touches on in their post above) just having a ‘Continue working on Project X’ task in your task manger with a link to the full detail in the project note / list of next actions etc…

I’m all over the place in terms of my system right now (something about the end of the year?) but the simplicity of this is appealing. Of course, it’s probably just moving the mess of tasks from Task Manager inbox to a less structured list in a note…

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Thanks @obbiie, much appreciated. I’ll take a look at the video for ideas.

I’m glad you wrote these thoughts! I agree that task managers are not good at project management, and project management apps are waaay too complex for the most part!

In addition, in my mind, “notes” apps are a bit too loose. I know that tools like Obsidian, Craft, Roam, etc., can be manipulated to create some structure here… but it also feels a little like a science project until you get it figured out (maybe… and then wants/needs change).

BTW, I love the Seriously and Dude! statuses! I need to figure out how to use these for myself!! :joy:

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