We often live by our todo lists. We drop all the stuff in those lists, and we can then prioritize them, work with them, observe them grow over time, and spend money on tools that supposedly help us manage those lists.
As you saw in my setup post, I live within the Apple Reminders app. It’s one of my main tools for everyday work. However, during more than a year of being mostly distanced from other real humans, and interacting with them only through a screen, made me more aware of my own irritations and grudges against myself.
I noted that I was getting irritated by my tasks and I couldn’t quite find the reason why. Then, after some thinking, I figured that it was the todo lists. I found out that I really don’t like it when a list of things looks like a collection of orders given to me by my past self. Essentially, the way I saw it, as I was thinking about it, was that I was writing down a set of “marching orders”.
So I began experimenting with a nicer, less strict way of setting up tasks that needed to be done. After some iterations I landed on a less minimalist approach, however one that is better suited to my personality, and one that provides so much more context as I read the task and information at hand.
The way I settled on, for now, is on something with some more text per entry, where I write three things per task: context, task needed to be done, and timeframe.
The writing has increased, with the addition of the “context” and “timeframe”, but the result is essentially a narrative of where my head was at when I wrote this, what was the thing I was looking for or trying to achieve, and the problem I am now trying to solve. Yes, more writing, but less time to find what I need to do, and do it. I invest in providing a future me with more context, so he can go solve problems in a more efficient way.
For example, the orignal todo list looks like:
- Refactor website X
- Finish report and send it to The Customer
Here’s how it looks now:
- Current X website is hard to maintain due to the underlying server becoming rotted, MySQL database instability, and older PHP code that needs a refactor. Several bugs filed last month set the tone for a much needed overhaul. Update underlying infra, and modernize code. Needed by the end of 2 July.
- The Customer requested the report of Project Y to be modified to include the latest additions to their staff. This new senior staff will approve all future projects so it’s imperative to get a good impression. Add the new items to the report, finish the last touches and send by EOF 30 June.
As you can see it’s a lot more work upfront, but this allows me to get right into the issues I need to solve the next day without having to chase what I was thinking when I wrote down the todo item.
Sure, I could be more descriptive on each item on a simple todo list in order to provide more context, but the more you try to keep it short, at a “tweet” level, the more you go back to giving yourself commands. So, nop. I like this way better.