Sunday 14th February 2021

As much as I moan about the lack of productivity here, I do have a number of background systems I use to at least try and keep me on target.

I primarily use two tools for my day-to-day admin.  The first is ToDoist.  It’s a task tracker, but it has some features that I’ve utilised to take it beyond a simple todo list.  The second is Notion, which is a knowledge management tool where I hold my notes and record things like daily word counts and the like.  Although it’s impossible to replicate my task management inside Notion, I like the interface and speed of ToDoist and until there’s an API, I suffer having to work with two systems.

A lot of what I do, especially when it comes to writing (but also applies to everything from fitness to World of Warcraft progress) relies on doing similar tasks each day, week or month.  Some people find habit trackers better for these things, but I tend to use recurring tasks inside ToDoist.

I have major areas in my life – Writing, Sword Fighting, Gaming, etc.  I call these my life pillars because it needs to be called something when talking to other people about it, and life pillars seems suitably wanky.  These life pillars are replicated in both my task management and knowledge management for the sake of consistency.

There’s this concept called task batching.  At it’s very basic level, it’s about having tasks for buying tomatoes, potatoes and ice cream, and going to the shops to buy them all (rather than make 3 separate trips).  At a slightly deeper level, it’s the idea that if you are doing work on one life pillar (or area, or whatever non-wanky name you want to call it), it makes sense to do other things.  Not only are the tools likely to be the same, but it’s likely you’ll be in that mindset.

Some life pillars can’t be done once a week, but where it makes sense, I’ve designated a day to specific ones.  So Wednesday is the day of World of Warcraft resets.  It makes sense to make that my gaming day, although it encompasses more than just playing games and extends to some long term work I’m doing on writing for games.  Thursday is my social media day.  Any long term tasks related to social media get scheduled then.

My idea is that life pillar days should take up half the day.  That leaves me half a day for daily tasks like writing.  Over the past few weeks I’ve found they’ve been eating up the entire day – hence all my posts about lack of productivity.

Coupled with all these days of specialised focus, and something I introduced last year, is the idea of planning and a weekly review.  With the type of task management I do, you already do a mini weekly review, that at it’s most basic says “Oh, I never completed that task last week, let me schedule a time to do it this week”.  With the planning, the idea is that you state your goals for the year (write a book), break them down into milestones (write a first draft, send to beta readers, edit, etc.) and then break those milestones down into tasks (write a chapter).  Where the weekly review is useful is to review those goals, see where you are (have you completed any milestones?), and make adjustments going forward.

My weekly review process has grown to be quite complicated (although fairly easy).  As I said I work in two apps.  Goals and Milestones live in Notion, Tasks live in ToDoist.

In Notion, I have a page for the week.  I have a template I use to make things easier but at the start of the week I have to create the entry, and link it through to the milestones I’ll be working on that week.  I’ll give myself a focus for the week, and make a note of any events coming up.

I’ll then go into ToDoist.  I’ll go through the backlog of tasks.  Are they still relevant?  Are there any that were forgotten to be marked as completed?  With the upcoming week, are there new tasks that need to be added?  Do I need to focus on anythign specific in the week ahead to break the back of some of these tasks?

I have a checklist inside the Weekly template that I can check off.

At the end of the week, I’ll review.  This is something I only really started doing last year and have expanded since.  The template gives me questions to answer:  how productive did I feel I was?  What were the highs and lows?   What are any particular challenges?  Do I need to adjust?

I review the last week as I plan the week ahead.  That way any insights or challenges can be addressed in the plan for the week going forward.

It sounds complicated, but a lot of the time it’s more of an exercise in focusing on what’s working and what’s not, and maybe creating some new tasks or breaking down others into smaller chunks.

I also store things like weekly word count, what I’m reading, social media stats, what I’ve learnt in the last week.

All this proves helpful.  With long term goals it’s really hard to see progress so spending some time to do this really does help set you up for the week ahead.

But situations change and no system is ever perfect so I will make changes from time to time.

I’ve decided to move my admin day from Monday to Sunday.  I’ve been playing around with this for a few weeks to see if it could be done from the Support Bubble Sofa.  I could do it from my iPhone and the iPad has made this even easier.  This potentially saves me a morning.

I’ve also started excluding The Climb from my weekly writing stats.  I still capture the individual writing sessions so the info is there if I need it, but I’m not going to be smug about the extra 4000 words a week that The Climb gives me.  This also helps me identify if I’m getting snowed under with tasks.

Both these changes should help me be a bit more efficient with my time going forwards.  I’m putting a load of focus into learning these next few months and as such, anywhere I can save time is really going to help.

I doubt these will be the last changes I make, but I think being able to make such changes is the sign of a good system.

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