I have spent seven years organizing my whole life with a task manager (and I recommend it to everyone)

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The day I started working full time. That was the before and after moment in my life. Until then my only concerns were due to personal relationships, studies… and little else. I could afford to have all my tasks in my head, or at most, only the most exceptional, to take it to the calendar of the Mac. I did not manage my pending tasks in any way. I just registered them mentally.

Once I started trading 40 hours a day and once I was independent, it was getting harder and harder to continue turning all the turntables at the same time without them falling to the ground, although it was still able to work. However, oversights, delays and late deliveries were the first signs that a solution was urgently needed. My partner’s reasoned warning Cesar Muela (“with these oversights in your work you also complicate mine”) was the definitive signal: having a vocation as a tightrope walker does not mean that it is ideal to spend your life on the wire.

The application is the least

My first choice at the time was Wunderlist, a brilliant German app about to be bought by Microsoft to run it and launch To Do instead; although with the passage of time I went through alternatives typical of the digital restless. omni-focus ephemerally, Todoist for a few years and Things for a few months have been my choices. It serves as proof that it’s such a simple method that it fits almost any such application.

“It’s not even a method,” someone will say. And you will not be wrong. One method, perhaps the best known, is GTD by David Allen. These are just some basic indications, not even something considerable “a version of GTD” (there is no such thing, GTD is canonical and what is outside of its dogma is no longer GTD). The bad: they are very basic. The good thing: they are so basic that they are understood very quickly and they work. The best: they are so basic that they fit in an article in Xataka who is not trying to sell you a book or a course. That everything could be expanded, but with this it is useful for anyone who starts from scratch, or for anyone who feels that it is time to get rid of papers and notebooks. Do it for the Amazon.

The best homework app for Android, iOS, Windows and Mac: guide with test and comparison

First of all, you will have to decide on a task manager. In general I recommend Todoist as a starting point for anyone: simple, versatile and free (except for some options that require a subscription). Then we can talk about notion for those who want to incorporate much more than their tasks into the same product, things for those who prioritize design and also only have Apple devices or omni-focus for those looking for something very advanced and complex.

ideal is find a task manager you’re comfortable with, whose interface encourages you to use it, and is available on the platforms you use. For example, Omnifocus has a web version, but no Android app. Apple’s native Reminders are not replicated outside of your devices. And Notion is very versatile but perhaps not so light if you need to use it a lot from your mobile.

hierarchical pillars

Whichever task management application you choose, they all have similar principles, although the nomenclatures change, with a hierarchy of the type: Areas → Projects → Tasks → Subtasks.

  • areas. Great collections of projects. For example, “Personal” and “Work” are usually the most used pair. If you have something in your life that encompasses a lot on its own, you can take it to be an area as such.
  • Projects. The own spaces that populate each area. For example, within “Personal” they can be “Home”, “Health”, “Management”, “Sport”.
  • Chores. The specific tasks that we have to complete in each project. For example, under “Home” they might be “Duplicate master key at hardware store”, “Take carpet to dry cleaner” or “Lower box of quilts in storage room”.
  • Subtasks. This is optional and can only be applied to tasks that make sense to be broken down into multiple subtasks. For example, within a task such as “Weekly cleaning” we can detail subtasks such as “Clean the extractor hood”, “Change bedding”, “Sweep and scrub the entire house” or “Clean shower screens and mirrors in the bathrooms” .

It is possible that at this point some reader considers that this is an excess. It’s okay. The greatness of applications is that everyone uses them the way they need and want, and all are correct insofar as they provide a benefit to those who use them.

Tools to ally with, not obsess over

Task managers, despite some differences, have some more or less common features. Knowing how to use them wisely is much better than ignoring them completely or, perhaps worse, assuming that we have to use them all, always. Flexibility.

  • Expiration dates. The GTD method says that tasks should only have a due date if something terrible would happen if they were not completed on time. Personally I’m more lax with this, my reading is that I usually assign dates to tasks on days when I really would like to have them completed, not just when it’s a matter of life and death. And if I have to move them because that’s life, there is no greater drama. It is also important to have recurring expiration dates, which are repeated in the cycles that we want.
  • tags. Perhaps the most complicated to apply universally. In my case, I use them to label tasks of any kind or project that I can only do in a city where I go five or six times a year. Once there, seeing the tasks with this label, I know exactly what I have to do there, and only there. There are also those who designate them for certain work environments, work tools or specific people. Todoist talked about it on his blog.
  • Priority indicators. They are sometimes indicated by color codes, like traffic lights. Others, by the number of exclamation marks next to each task. It’s an example of the kind of feature where it’s counterproductive to obsess over using it for the sake of it: the absence of it can be understood as “low priority” and so we don’t have to spend as much time configuring each task.
  • the inbox. Here come the tasks that we want to add quickly, and we will process (subtasks, specific project, date, labels…) when we can. Ideal to have this so as not to miss any idea or memory.
  • headers. Ideal for making timely separations within projects. For example, within the “Infinite Loop” project (the podcast), which in turn is part of the “Webedia” area (the house where we live Xataka and company), there are the tasks in one header, and the ideas for future episodes in another. That way they don’t mix.

some concrete ideas

If until now everything has been presentations and generalities of use, we are going with some specific ideas that I have applied in recent years and that, although they are far from exclusive to me, they do tend to surprise other people when I tell them about them.

Some of the Personal area (and already within Home, Health, Management, etc):

  • Book an appointment to renew the DNI. I created this task as soon as I renewed my DNI for the last time. In four years and eight months. The same with passport and driver’s license.
  • Book an appointment for the ITV. When I bought my car, I created this task for three years and nine months later, when I would have to pass the MOT for the first time.
  • Make an appointment for dental cleaning. This is repeated every year, twelve months after completing it, automatically.
  • Plan Christmas menu. I like to spend Christmas Eve in the kitchen preparing dinner for my family, on December 6 of each year I am notified of this task, simply to think of a menu. A few days before Christmas Eve, another task called “Buy the Christmas menu” pops up as a notification. Neither does the bull catch me to think about what to prepare or to buy it.
  • To pass the foam roller. blessed myofascial release. Its effects are fantastic but it is something that I tend to forget easily. Creating this task that is repeated daily, I do not neglect this action and my muscles recover better after the gym or a while running.
  • Phone book backup. For what it could happen.

And now we go with some, which can be counted, ahem, from the professional environment:

  • process mail. It repeats every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With the aim that the mail does not engulf me under the thought of “kick and forward”. Every time I mark it as completed it is because I have answered or processed the emails that I should have like this, leaving the unread counter at zero.
  • Respond to listener emails. Among the emails that I cannot answer at the moment are those that listeners send me of the podcast, that I can only let them accumulate in a specific folder so that I can respond in bulk when I have a while to do so. It is repeated once a week.
  • think topic for tomorrow. Also from the podcast, I save a lot of time and I am more relaxed since every morning I only have to prepare a script and announce it on a planned headline, instead of looking for a topic with the clock attached to it.

Notion: 27 Tricks and Features to Get the Most Out of This Personal Productivity Swiss Army Knife

Personalization 101

Surely few of all these will serve you, but I hope they help you think about what processes of your day, your week, your month or your year can benefit from an automatic reminder. Perhaps you consider that some are so obvious that they do not even deserve to be created.

I, for example, set the bar in considering that showering or brushing teeth are such obvious automatisms that it makes no sense to contaminate the task manager with them. Instead, taking a vitamin supplement that is sometimes forgotten or leads to the classic “have I already taken this today?” It is something worth including.

Perhaps someone only needs it for their work, and perhaps another has a job where something like this does not fit but can help them improve their daily lives in the personal sphere.

The perfect balance: letting appointments and events live on the calendar; and tasks in the ditto manager, without contaminating each other

I would also add that tasks are not appointments or events. The first live in a task manager, the second and third live in the calendar. Understanding the difference in concept is capital.

and beyond that I would only encourage everyone to consider how a task manager can best help their daily lives. Maybe you only need six daily tasks on average, or maybe multiply that figure by five. It will depend on the context of each one, the more complex it is (home ownership, vehicle, family with several small children, profession in which you can decide on your own work…), the more helpful one of these applications will be.

If you liked this as an introductory character, you may want to complete it with much more ambitious readings, such as ‘Getting Organized Effectively’, the book in which David Allen explains his GTD method. If you prefer a friendlier reading (Allen’s can be rough for beginners), a great option is ‘Personal productivity: learn to free yourself from stress with GTD’, by José Miguel Bolívar.

The day I started working full time. That was the before and after moment in my life. Until then my…

The day I started working full time. That was the before and after moment in my life. Until then my…

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