What is a task, what is a note?

I’m currently revisiting my task management (see also other post) and what comes up again and again for me is the dividing line between an idea, a note and a task.

Of course there’s stuff that is definitely a task, like “pay a bill”.

But then there’s stuff that’s somewhere between a note and a task. E. g. books or articles I might want to read or a topic I might want to research. This can range from “maybe some day this might catch my interest, I should keep the name of this book/the link somewhere” to “this is highly interesting and I must not forget to investigate it”. And all in between.

The same with ideas. I’m a part-time writer. So a lot of my stuff revolves around articles or stories or even novels I might write. Same thing: It ranges from “vague idea that someday may evolve into a project” to “that should probably some day be worked on” to “this is something I’m dedicated to work on seriously right now”.

So my problem is: If I keep these notes and ideas somewhere in my notes (which means Drafts5) I will probably just ignore them from then on. On the other hand, if I put them in my task manager, they will clutter things up even though I never really decided to make them an actual task.

Even more, if I restrict myself to put only highly important stuff in my task manager, it always evolves into this authority that dictates me stuff that must be done and gives me a bad conscience and I tend to stay away from it and not to put those things inside that I like doing.

I want the task manager to be something that gives me joy and that helps me remember both nice and annoying things. I guess I would use it more frequently if I got used to put tasks in there that are fun for me. If I got used to put more little stuff inside and actually get to tick off more, so that the use of it and the ticking off of stuff and the capturing of stuff becomes natural and joyful.

Right now it’s more like: “Oh, I like doing that anyway, so I won’t forget that. No need to put it in the task manager.” But on the other hand there is a lot of stuff I like doing (I have far to many hobbies and interests) and if I would integrate all that into my task management I would probably profit from that. But then again, if I do my review and I see all those things which I know I want to do in the first place, but don’t have the time for, it’s frustrating. And it feels like wasted time going through that every week and thinking “yeah, I certainly would want to read that book soon and I certainly want to practice my instrument and I certainly will write that article some day!”

So, what is a task, what should be one and where is the distinguishing line?

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Task “a piece of work to be done or undertaken.” That’s how I’ve always used the word. I have tasks, reminders, and events. A doctor’s visit is an event. It has a date, time, and location. And I usually create a reminder to remind me of an upcoming event. A task is a job to do and it may or may not have a date and/or time. If it does I usually create a reminder.

A note is a piece of information that I wish to keep. A grocery list, a quote that I might want to use some day, a link to something I might want to purchase, etc.

My calendar displays events, tasks, and reminders and I use all three to keep things on schedule. My notes are in a separate app. Everything except reminders can be linked to the others and to external documents (email & files) if needed.

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My way of looking at this:
task = something to do
note = something to remember (managed brain offload)
event = involves (dependencies on) others
reminder = anything that needs to be brought to attention at a certain time, place, event

Fantastical (or Calendar) holds events, reminders and/or time blocks to do tasks (based on time perspective), but NOT tasks itself
Devonthink (or Notes) contains notes (properly tagged and indexed for easy retrieval)
OmniFocus (or task manager) holds tasks properly categorised in projects/perspectives

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The problem is, for me there is no clear distinction between e .g. „I should remember the name of that book“ (note) and „I should read that book“ (task). Or „I could someday maybe write about X“ (note) and „I should definitely write about X next month“ (task).

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Tag your ideas / someday items in Drafts with #someday (or any other tag you want) and then you can find them all wherever they are with a simple search.

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Yes, but will I ever search for them? Maybe I should make it a task im my task manager to look at those kind of items every three month or so. Then I can decide if I‘m still so interested that I make a task out of it (Buy that book!).

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I think you are perhaps overcomplicating this.

A task is an actionable item. “Consider maybe one day reading this book” is not an actionable item. For books I want to read, I add it to my Amazon wish list, and leave it there. If I never buy it, no love lost, but at least I’m not constantly reviewing it.

This isn’t even necessarily about whether or not the book you might read one day belongs in a task list or a note. The better question is: does this clutter up my todo list and make me less likely to trust it for the things that matter?

For me, in your case, the answer to that question is yes. Which means that content shouldn’t live in my todo list.

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Maybe you should store informations like that in a folder, and run a (Hazel-)Rule on that folder to delete all items within that folder, let’s say after 45 Days.
On this way, you have eighter to deal with the information within these 45 Days (or whatever value you choose), and if you did not do this within that time frame, you don’t have to think anymore about it, and it is not cluttering your lists, folders and boxes.

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This is the essential question. As others have already said I:

  • Use Calendar for events i.e. things that will happen on a particular time and date
  • Use Reminders (or any task manager/list) for tasks that currently plan to do now, soon or sometime

In bullet journaling, there’s also the concept of collections, which are really just other lists, separated out from the main daily business. So in your case I’d keep a list, or more likely multiple lists, of ideas, books to read, films to watch, places you would like to go, dream projects and so on. Review them now and again. If you’re wondering what book to read next, consult your ‘books to read collection’. Other collections might just be reviewed periodically, say once a quarter. You might find books you thought worth reading are now irrelevant and can be deleted from the collection.

You can keep collections on paper, in a Word document, in text files, in Obsidian or even in a dedicated list in Reminders or another task manager, so long as you can keep them separated from actual tasks. Using a task manager has the advantage of the ease of ‘promoting’ a vague idea or possibility into an actual task.

@Robert Here is what I have found helpful.

  • First and foremost, to minimize the types of problems you are describing (which all of us face) the daily and weekly reviews are essential. It is only through a consistent, systematic review process that one can keep on top of “real” tasks (see below) and the ideas/somedays that we all have.

  • Any task should start with a verb: “call”, “email”, “write”, “review my articles and book reading lists”, “follow-up with …”, etc. Some of these will have a definitive date and some will be recurring. Most will not have a date—they will be in the equivalent of “someday.” For example, I have a Daily Review recurring task which shows up in my Today list every day (Complete my Daily Review). The daily review is a review of my inbox, calendar, emails, and anything showing up in my weekly list. As I conduct the review I answer these questions:

Daily Review

  • What is my #1 goal for the day? This goes in my Today list.
  • What should I do with this task?, make subject actionable with a verb
  • When do I need to complete this task?
  • Who is responsible for this task (if delegated, or, should it be delegated?)
  • What else about this task? (add notes, tags, checklist, deadline, like to notes related to this task/project, e.g., from Obsidian, DEVONthink, Apple Notes, Craft, Bear, whatever you use to keep up with meeting and project information.

Weekly Review

  • I systematically go through every project list. I schedule an hour each Friday morning for my weekly review as I setup for the following week.
  • I schedule only actions I absolutely MUST complete by a specified date or bad things happen.
  • Add/delete/revise projects and todos
  • Select one key goal for week: a goal that will have the largest impact for the week
  • Review my reference, someday/maybe, reading, book lists, etc.
  • Schedule any task I MUST accomplish THIS WEEK with a due date, see above
  • Todos are always preceded by a verb

NOTES

  • All of my notes include project details and documents and emails or links to documents and emails.
  • When in a meeting I take notes and list any action items. I then process those action items in my task manager (I’ve been using Apple Reminders). As noted above, these action items (todos) are reviewed daily/weekly.

In short, todos/action items are discrete, tangible things I can do, they always begin with a verb.

Notes are details of projects and meetings, e.g., names of committee members, reference information, research notes, and a list of action items that are then transferred to my task manager.

With all of that said, I want to emphasize again that without a daily and weekly review, things will fall through the cracks and or things will feel overwhelming and stressful. Here is how I schedule my daily and weekly reviews:

I hope this is of some help.

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Thanks for your answers!
I think my question also comes from the plan to (once more) commit myself to using a GTD like inbox. Just get stuff out of my head quickly and decide on it later. So in the moment I get an idea or stumble upon something interesting I don’t want to make the decision if this will actually be a task. I just want to get it down as a first step.
For example my brother recommended a TED talk to me recently that I would like to watch. In that moment I wrote the title down in Drafts. It sits in my Drafts Inbox since that day. It is nothing I must do, but actually I would like to do it some time soon. I keep forgetting it, as I’m busy all the time. It’s not a problem if I don’t do it, but it’s something that I just would like not to forget. So I just keep it in that Inbox.That’s not a good solution. But on the other hand in my task manager it would maybe something that I just keep deferring and that clutters my tasks instead of my brain.

Lots of folks have already added insightful posts about their tasks / events / notes workflows, so I’ll limit my comments to the infamous TBR (To Be Read) problem.

Eventually, one does reach that age where there won’t be enough “somedays” left for all the tempting “maybes.”

I’ve hit that inflection point. I declared TBR bankruptcy, tore up my old TBR list, and have tried to be very intentional about what gets added back to it, and why.

I do what I learned to do in grad school: declare my areas of focus, and, within reason, limit what I choose to read to books or articles that are relevant to them. A personal syllabus, if you will. The items on the syllabus are tasks-in-waiting that I need to keep track of, but don’t need to add to a task list just yet. (If “syllabus” seems too high falutin’, “Netflix Queue” will do :wink:)

I keep my various syllabuses in Obsidian. There’s syllabus for each area of focus. When I come across a book, or an article, or a podcast episode, or a documentary, or an exhibition, or what have you that seems relevant to the topic in question, I add to to the list as a checkbox item. At the same time, I create a new note for whatever it is that I’ve added to the list. That note contains some basic bibliographic / reference information, a few words about how I came across it and why I might want to read it (or watch it, or go see it, etc.) and links to reviews and the like. I add a tag that tells me that it’s a TBR item relevant to one of my areas of focus. (Once I’ve read it, I add a “read+year” tag. If I DNFed it—Did Not Finish it—it’s tagged as such.)

When I select something from the syllabus to read, it becomes a task with a deadline, even—especially!—if it’s something I’m reading for pleasure. (It’s too easy to de-prioritize something we’re doing “just for fun” for the sake of some chore that’s taking on more importance than it deserves.) If I select a performance or exhibit to attend, it becomes an event I commit to by putting it on my calendar. Every day’s task list has something from one (or more) of the syllabuses on it.

The first rule of the syllabus is that even with the best will in the world, you’re not going to read everything on it. That means you have to review it regularly and honestly assess where you are, what should come next, and what needs to get crossed off.

The second rule of the syllabus is that life tastes better with a dollop of serendipity. Sometimes you stumble across something that has nothing to do with anything, but sparks a flame nonetheless. It would be a crime against the great gift of being alive in the world not to take it up and make it a priority, syllabus be damned.

This workflow is more work than just adding a book title to a Reminders list, but it keeps me from chasing after every bright shiny object that looks interesting. (And from getting tangled up click-bait screeds, the outrage du jour, or your garden variety internet time sinks.) And, it helps me make sure that there’s something on my task list that I’m doing for joy.

Re hobbies: I have three and I do some little thing related to them every single day. For instance, I’m an avid amateur photographer. I may not be able to squeeze in more than one photo walk per week, but I can take a photo of something around me with intention every day. “Daily Photo” is the first item on each day’s task list.

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This happens to me all the time. For what it may be worth, here is how I handle those situations:

  • I put the item (watch video, read article, etc.) immediately in my inbox to process during my Daily Review.
  • During the next day’s Daily Review I decide to delete it or keep for future reference. If the latter, it goes to the equivalent of a “watch/read” list in the task manager.
  • Each week I review the “watch/read” list as part of my weekly review and decide if I’m actually going to watch or read it. I may decide that I’ve looked at it several times and though it seemed important at the time, I no longer think so so I’ll delete it. IF I still intend to watch/read it, I’ll schedule a time, e.g., early Saturday morning in the task manager. It shows up on Saturday morning and I do it.

IMHO, I would not keep those sort of things in a note system per se. I prefer a list of articles to read in my task manager because reading or watching something is a task.

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@krocnyc what a great post! I’m not sure I need a syllabus per se but what you are doing is fascinating and your description is well written. Thanks for sharing! I saved your post to DT for reference. :grin:

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Everything that @Bmosbacker and @krocnyc already said, plus this: Learn to be kind to yourself. You know you can’t do everything right now. Be comfortable with the ambiguity you create when you decide which things you won’t do right now.

If you’re diligent about reviewing regularly what you choose to do, and you’re honest with yourself about what you can realistically accomplish now, you will also benefit from learning to be comfortable with what you’ve decided you won’t do right now.

I know that’s much easier said than done. But I think the only alternative is stop taking notes or writing down ideas. And I don’t think you’re interested in that, or you wouldn’t have asked.

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Here’s how I’d handle it:

  1. Ask myself why I want to watch it. It could be because it’s exploring subject matter that I’m actively interested in. Or it could be because my brother is a reliable guide to TED talks in general, or knows me well enough to know when something will be worth my time. Or it could be that with a little reflection you realize you don’t really want to make time for it after all.

  2. If you really do want to watch it, put it on a list of things to read / watch that you intend to make time for. I make a separate list for each area of interest, but I’m finicky that way. One list should do just fine.

  3. Look at that list every day and pick something from it. Maybe you don’t have time for the whole TED talk. Fine. Commit to half of the TED talk. Just commit.

  4. Chances are you’ll never get to everything on the list. That’s OK.

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I consider being archived in DT a signal honor. :grinning:

It’s taken me too many years to figure out how to deal with the firehose of content that’s aimed at us 24/7. There’s a whole lot of shiny, well-produced, built-for-engagement chaff demanding to be clicked on out there. Making intention my mantra is the only thing I’ve found to keep me safe from temptation of empty content calories.

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Well said. This is one of many reasons I’ve abandoned social media. A lot of empty “content calories.” :slightly_smiling_face:

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Incredibly helpful, in my opinion. You’ve concisely outlined the gist of what I consider good task management practice far better than most of the books on the market.

@Bmosbacker if LYT can get by with charging $1200 to $3500 teaching folks how to take notes, you could do at least as well. I think I’d sign up :sunny:

Katie (the last paragraph was just kidding)

I have really enjoyed @Kourosh ’s writing on this front. I hope he sees this and chimes in.

For me this is a creative / artistic issue. I want to have a bunch of interesting stuff coming in and creating inspiration and appreciation. I also want to engage with some of this more deeply later, but it’s hard to know now what that might be. I often fall into the situation you’re describing. One thing that’s been helpful is just dumping stuff that’s not actionable in a DEVONThink database and setting off some time to browse through that in a leisurely way every once in a while. It’s also good to remember to search through here sometimes instead of going to the forums/Twitter for more new stuff when I’m feeling antsy.

I’ve also decided it’s crucial to have two different buckets: stuff I am not committed to and willing to erase or lose completely and stuff I will do. Mixing these up is dangerous and leads to too much guilt. I’m currently attempting to develop a workflow between drafts (inbox), obsidian (tasks I am committed to), and DEVONThink (bucket of cool stuff) to keep the lines clear. Previously I was doing everything in drafts and the lines got too blurry.

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