Uncommon Ground

Getting organized in 2018 – Tracking tasks revisited

Getting organized in 2018 – links to the series

I was planning to finish my discussion of Evernote this week by describing how I use it and Dropbox to keep archives. The system I have isn’t a system at all. It’s haphazard and inconsistent. In spite of that, once I have notes or a document in one of them, I can find them wherever I am, since both sync to all of my devices. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For more on Evernote and Dropbox, you’ll have to come back next week.

Instead, I’m returning to tracking tasks and my everything notebook. Why? I happened to see a post on Cal Newport’s blog, On simple productivity systems and complex plans. Earlier he’d described his ideas for a modified Bullet Journal into a Bullet Journal Pro that fit his ideas about weekly and daily plans, time blocks, etc. In his more recent post, he reports that his Bullet Journal Pro system didn’t work. He’s returning to a system that has a notebook for daily plans, printouts of text files for weekly plans (printed multiple times per week as plans change), and a collection of e-mails to himself. His system clearly works for him, but it wouldn’t work for me.

As I described earlier, I tried a Bullet journal last year. Like Cal Newport, I like the analog flexibility of paper and pen. What I don’t like about the Bullet journal, is that it would only work for me if I always had it with me. Ideas about things I need to do or ideas I need to follow up on occur to me at all sorts of times in all sorts of places. If I’m wearing a suit jacket or sport coat, I’ll have a couple of fountain pens with me in one coat pocket and a Levenger pocket briefcase in the other pocket. I can whip out the pocket briefcase and make a note on a 3”x5” card that I transfer to OmniFocus when I have time. That’s less distracting to anyone I’m with than making the same note directly into OmniFocus on my iPhone or iPad. So why not just transfer that note to a Bullet journal instead?

Because I don’t have my Bullet journal with me all of the time.

At any one time I probably have a couple of hundred tasks, maybe more, sitting in OmniFocus waiting for my attention. They’re not all waiting for my attention right now or even today. Some of them won’t need my attention for several months, but all of the tasks I know of that I’ll need to do – ever – are in there. Since they’re there, I don’t have to worry about forgetting them.

But the only reason I can have all of my tasks stored somewhere and know that I won’t forget them is that (a) the “somewhere” is electronic and accessible from all of my electronic devices and (b) I always have one of my electronic devices with me. That means that I can always check what needs doing now (or today) wherever I am and whenever I need to. I probably lack imagination, but I can’t imagine how I could set use a Bullet journal, or an Everything notebook for that matter, to keep a record of everything that I need to do and have that record current and accessible wherever I am and whenever I want it.

What’s working well for me is a modified Everything notebook, a notebook in which I keep notes from every meeting I attend. Not only is pen and paper more flexible than my iPad, iPhone, or laptop, I find that they are less distracting, both to me and to those I’m meeting with. For me electronic devices take me away from paying full attention to the people in the room. Pen and paper don’t. To maintain the electronic advantage of accessibility and comprehensiveness, I simply transfer any to-do items to OmniFocus and scan any notes that I need ready access to into a PDF for Evernote or Dropbox.

That’s what works for me. Your mileage may vary. As I said in the introduction to this series,

I am not a productivity expert, and nothing you’ll read in this post or the posts that follow has been validated by empirical research. What I’m doing to organize myself may not work for you, and what I’m doing right now may not even be the best way I could organize myself. What you’ll read here is what I’m doing now. Adopt and modify anything that seems like it might be useful. Ignore anything that seems pointless.

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