I wish I could type faster.
I say that because I have lots of unfinished posts and ideas that I'd love to finish up. Sadly, however, time is always a factor. And lately, it's been even more of an issue due to a plethora of projects at work and at home. One such post, inhabiting my desktop as an open window in Byword for a few weeks now, is this one.
David Sparks has probably been having a week similar to mine because he wrote an excellent post a few days a go, touching on a few of the things that this post was supposed to be about. You should all go check it out and then come right back.
You're done reading it already? That was pretty great, right?
Depite my disappointment in not getting this post out sooner, it does have an unintended consequence of making me think more deeply about some of my habits -- habits borne out of that feeling that I'll drown otherwise.
When things get hectic, I find myself relying even more heavily than usual on my task manager. As most of you must know already, OmniFocus is my go-to.
There are three things that make it my tool of choice:
- Ubiquity - OmniFocus is on every device I have at-hand throughout the day.
- Reliability - It is unquestionably one of the most stable and reliable pieces of software I use day-in and day-out.
- Flexibility - As noted in my last post, you can view your data however you need to and its never locks you into a method or technique.
Why these things matter is outlined below. Indeed, the things that are listed below would not be possible if the things listed above weren't true.
When I'm facing a week or two when things are worse than usual, there are some essential workflows that I stick to that keep me centered and focused on what's important.
I am always capturing things to OmniFocus throughout the day. Some would probably say I over-capture. As I dump things into the Inbox to sort through day, or as events trigger reminders, there are times when I'll enter things twice.
A potential scenario like this could happen when doing a project review; I'll make a task entry specific to the project but forget that I did so a few days later when a colleague triggers my memory. Rather than worry "Is this in OmniFocus?", I'll just dump it in the Inbox anyway.
When I'm processing my Inbox, I'll invariably categorize the duplicate task in the same project and the same context and the two nearly-identical tasks will end up next to each other in project view. I used to flog myself for being such a scatterbrain, but now I just see it as the tool working as intended and delete the duplicate.
The important part is to always be capturing on whatever device happens to be with you and trust your process will work (I told you I'd come back to why OmniFocus solves these problems so well, didn't I?)
Related to "Constant Capture" is doing a full "Daily Capture" when possible.
This is a mental sweep, usually in the morning, to make sure you get your brain emptied of all of those half-thought-of things that you were thinking of when you woke up.
I generally do these mental sweeps during my morning coffee, just prior to processing all of the previous day's Inbox items. When I prioritize the Inbox tasks or create new projects, I won't have any lingering doubts as to whether or not I have clarity for the tough day ahead.
David Sparks mentioned this one but it bears repeating since it's a big part of my process as well.
Doing a daily review is key. You can set your projects to be reviewed every day and use OmniFocus's built-in Review function, or you can set up several Perspectives like "High Priority", "Work Projects", "Stalled Projects" and "Work Contexts" like I do.
After your Inbox processing is complete, you can get a really good sense of where you are by cycling through these Perspectives. Often these reviews shake things loose that hadn't occurred to you by way of a mental sweep.
Part of the "art" of task management, and ultimately time management, is knowing when you're beat. When you have a lot of projects going on at once, there will be times when there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. Having the experience to know when you simply can't get a critical task done is what separates the people who are late on everything from the people who manage expectations accordingly, minimize risk and mitigate the disasters.
You have a few choices when the worst-case arises.
- Find someone to help or delegate to -- in this case, you're changing the task to another context (like 'Phone' or a specific person)
- Change the date -- this will likely involve coordinating with others to make sure the new date works
- De-prioritize -- this might sound counter-intuitive but, if this task isn't important enough to demand the attention it needs to get done "on time", it might be a good idea to take a look at the original due date. Was this date ever realistic or did circumstances change? If circumstances changed, then taking a good look at the task's new place in order of priority is called for.
- Delete -- As time goes on, things that seemed important on Monday sometimes look quite different on Wednesday. Maybe it was a shift in client need or new shit has come to light. Regardless of the reason, if you think this is a dead task, delete it. Keep your task list as lean as possible. If you think you might need to hang on to it, set its "start date" to tomorrow, hit ⌘+K and forget about it. When the task appears in your list again, evaluate it. If you still don't think you need it, make it go away.
Lastly and obviously, weekly reviews are the place where you can pause, amid the wreckage of the week, and take stock of what happened. Evaluate what worked and what didn't. What didn't get done that should have? What didn't get done that you no longer need to worry about?
The key to the weekly review for me is to clear the decks for Monday. Even if I'm working over the weekend, I want to start Monday morning with my OmniFocus database as the truest representation of what I need to focus on for the coming week.
When things get hectic, whether its work or home related, our lives become a balancing act. With tools like OmniFocus we can get better clarity on what's really important and also experience that familiar, Pavlovian response as we check off our goal-based tasks and see the list whittled down to nothing by week's end.