A low-friction task management system.
I have tried every GTD approach and software application under the sun. Without fail they fall into two camps: not enough organization, or far too much organization. I finally developed a system that works well for me, is low-friction, and keeps me organized (even though by nature I am a very disorganized person.)
The system has several benefits:
- Answers the question of 'what do I do next?', which is the ultimate productivity killer.
- Keeps my working memory uncluttered.
- Keeps me from um'ing during my daily standups. I always know what I worked on yesterday.
- Is a handy record of accomplishments that I can reference when it's time for my review, I want to ask for a raise, or I'm updating my resume.
- Provides a reminder that I do, in fact, get things done and that I don't, in fact, suck at my job.
The system consists of a number of folders, each containing a specific kind of text file. I use BBEdit and open the parent folder as a project so that I have all of my subfolders in a tree view with easy access to their enclosed documents. You should be able to do the same thing in the editor of your choice.
It's important to keep these as plain text files. Don't do markdown or anything like that; this will increase friction. Plain text is faster, and faster means that you'll actually use the system.
Keep a separate document for each person with whom you have 1-on-1s. Make date headings, and keep it updated with things that you want to talk about on that date.
Before your 1-on-1, open the document to review your last session and remind yourself of the things that you want to talk about.
During the meeting or immediately afterward, write down anything else that you talked about and capture action items. After the meeting is over, transfer the action items to your work journal under the
For recurring meetings, keep a single document named for the meeting title. Jot down notes either during the meeting or immediately after. Capture action items as you go, and transfer them to your work journal when the meeting is over.
Make a folder for each month and one document for each week. Never work in advance.
Daily Headings In the weekly document, you should have a heading for the current day and any previous day; avoid adding headings for the future (that's what calendars are for.)
You should also have a heading for
Soon, which are action items on your backlog. It's fine to arrange them in priority order but don't stress too much over this.
I also have a heading for
Reminders, which consist of actionable feedback that I have received or goals for myself relating to my interactions with others.
Keep all your project notes in one place. Create a subfolder for each project, and one or more files in that subfolder for notes, goals, meetings, and so on. It's okay to have tasks in the project, just make sure to surface the ones that you will need to get to soon under the 'Soon' header in your work journal. This will actually help that 'Soon' group from growing too large to manage.
Create a separate document for each project that you have planned or in the works. Write down your thoughts and ideas, paste in URLs of relevant project docs, and write preliminary to-dos. Don't worry about over-organizing: this is a place for you to brain dump and free your mind from having to remember a thousand details.
How to Use The Journal
When you start your day, pull a couple of items from your
Soon heading up into the current day. As you work, take a few seconds to update the daily heading with what you're working on. Write down every task you completed or started, even if it feels minor. This will reinforce that you are a productive person and give you confidence in your ability to Get Shit Done.