One of the productivity apps I rely on most heavily is Todoist. So many things go in there, and I can use it to help me figure out what to do with my day. I talked a bit about the tools I use in my last post, but figured Todoist deserves some specific examples.
My job and my personal energy levels both mean I end up moving stuff around on my to-do list a lot. I need a system that’s okay with that, and that lets me move things (both within a given day, and between days) easily, while also accommodating a lot of “I want to do this sometime in the future, but not any time soon” goals.)
That’s a big part of why I like Todoist – it lets me rearrange without fear of losing things.
It can be really hard to figure out how to use a tool without seeing it in action. So I thought I’d give you a practical example of what this looks like for me. The three days I include here are actually a great example. I hit “Wow, I can’t even things” rather early on Saturday, had an unexpected not-quite-nap on Sunday, and my work days always involve a certain amount of rearrangement based on what questions we actually get.
One accessibility note : I’m including a number of text-heavy images here, but I’ll explaining what’s in the screenshots in the surrounding text.
Background and layout
First, I should note that I have Todoist Premium (which costs about $30 for a year). I find the additional tagging options and filtering useful, but the thing that makes me sign up to pay them every year is the ability to link emails from Gmail as a task. Your needs may be different!
Projects and how I divide them
I divide my broad project list up into broad categories based on the planets (via their general astrological associations, and adding in the Earth for ‘I live on this planet in a physical body’ tasks.) I’ve tried different categories over the years, started with these around January, and have really been liking them. They help me keep an eye on balancing different kinds of things in my life.
Here’s what that looks like.
The colours are chosen based on options in the app and colours associated with those planets, with enough visual distinction to be able to pull out different options. The parentheticals are quick reminders to me of what goes where.
- Sun (work) : Subprojects for ongoing reference questions I’m working on, reviewing and improving library practices, projects I want to keep in mind, meetings, ideas for the future, and regular tasks like timesheet approvals.
- Mercury (writing) : Broken into specific writing projects. Each specific topic I want to write gets a task.
- Venus (relationships) : Also tasks related to the arts that don’t fit other places.
- Earth (practical) : I live on the earth with a physical body. Household and health tasks go here.
- Moon (priestess) : Priestess and religious tasks, including planning and doing rituals.
- Mars (active) : Goals I want to make extra sure I get done (often reorganisation and other home tasks that aren’t routine.)
- Jupiter (expansion) : Things I’m learning, also my research consulting business.
- Saturn (structure) : Tasks about getting things done (sorting files, reviewing tasks, managing schedule) but also where I put tasks that are about limits or foundations.
- Uranus (groups) : Group activities and projects, volunteering, staffing on an online community tasks.
- Neptune (someday) : Things I want to do sometime, but not any time soon.
- Pluto (finances) : Reminder to update my budget app, mail my rent check, pay credit card bills, etc. Also tasks about long-term legacy (so, will, intellectual property notes, etc.)
In some cases, I just have a general reminder I want to work on that thing, and add a task related to it when I decide to work on it.
For example, for fiction writing, I add a task of “Write some fiction” on days when that’s the thing I want to write, rather than have a lot of tasks saying “write some more on this fiction project”. For articles for Seeking, I want to remember the specific topic I wanted to write about, so it gets a task. (I keep some additional notes for these in Trello, too.)
My Venus project list often doesn’t have a lot on it (or Saturn) : those tend to be things I put on at short notice and then check off, based on other events. I’ve got a regular monthly dinner with friends (and their kids), and then other things that get scheduled on a week to week basis.
While my system is roughly based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, (more about that in a future post), I don’t actually use context as tags. I found it didn’t work well for me to keep up with them, and the project classifications and task notes give me a pretty good idea what’s involved. (I do usually tag errands.)
I use a very rough system of magnitude of task. Because it amuses me (and works better in my brain), I use the exceedingly non-decimal money system from the Harry Potter books: knuts, sickles, and galleons. (17 knuts to a sickle, and 29 sickles to a galleon.) In practice, knut tasks take me less than a minute or two, sickle tasks take me 5-15 minutes, and galleon tasks are about an hour.
I track how many of each I complete each day, and on a reasonably productive day, I average 4-5 galleons, 2-7 sickles, and a handful of knuts. My spreadsheet calculates tasks at 20 knuts to the sickle, and 10 sickles to the galleon, because I often don’t break out sickle tasks as much as I probably should, so a given task is probably 2-3 sickles.
I also have some tags for other things: focus (things that require focus to do), next (so I can pull a list of the next projects I want to work on easily), ongoing (things that I do a little bit over time), and waiting (if I’m waiting for a response from someone.)
What those task lists look like in practice
One of the things that’s hard about talking about to-do lists is figuring out how they work out in practice, so I thought having a couple of sample days would be really helpful. You’ll get both a sample of what my task lists look like for three days (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) and also an outline of what I did when.
You’ll notice there are some things I don’t put onto my task lists.
- Medication reminders (three times a day in 2 hour windows – I use a separate app)
- Reading RSS feeds and other online content (I do that anyway, in an order that works for me.)
- Watching things while doing other tasks and chatting online (again, I do that anyway.)
As you’ll see Monday, I do put swimming on my task list once I’ve done it, but that’s to help me track a “I did a thing that took a chunk of time and energy” so I can factor it into my stats for the day.
Saturday : tasks
Here’s what my task list looked like Saturday morning. I usually do grocery shopping either Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on the rest of my weekend. I needed to write a post for this blog. I had an acupuncture appointment.
I had a couple of project tasks I wanted to do (putting notes in my astrology study file for Leo: I didn’t finish with the new moon in Leo last week, and the thing with a little email icon is an email for me to review that’s related) and prepping an outline for the free class I’m working on in detail.
I also have three tasks with upcoming dates. Two of the ones on this list are astrological: reminders of current retrogrades, with questions from Briana Saussy’s AstroRx 2017 resource. Last January I put them in, and they pop up on my todo list (long-term ones on weekends, when I can think a little more, lunar cycles on the days they happen) when appropriate. I also did a year’s Tarot reading with a reader, Theresa Reed, last year for my birthday, and put the card of the month and her summary into my todos.
My acupuncturist is a friend and husband of one of my college friends, and they live about 40 minutes drive from me. So it’s a hike to get up there – why I’m glad he’ll do an appointment on Saturday – but it’s also a mix of social time and treatment time. Here’s what my list looked like when I got back, and checked some things off, and added one (remembering I kept meaning to deposit a check via phone.)
Did I actually do all those things? No, I did not. I started feeling out of it around 4:30, and didn’t get a lot else done, though I did add another task (making turkey burgers, which go in the freezer so I can eat them later).
This was a 4 galleon, 2 sickle, 3 knut day. The galleon tasks were reviewing my task list, grocery shopping, acupuncture, and writing that blog post.
Saturday : what happened when
- 7:45am: Wake up. Putter. Read a bit.
- 9 : Grocery shopping.
- 10 : Write a blog post and do the image for it.
- 11:15 : Get in the car, drive north for acupuncturist and friendly chat.
- 12:15 pm : Acupuncture and social time.
- 1:45 : Drive home.
- 2:30 : Get home, minor puttering, have a bath.
- 3:30 : Settle into computer, figure out what I should do next. Stare at things on the computer in a not very productive manner. Add “Make turkey burgers” to my task list, since I should do that either today or tomorrow. Eventually decide to make them now.
- 4:15 : Finish making the turkey burgers. Sit down again. Fiddle with depositing check. Putter online (reading stuff in my RSS reader).
- And then I hit ‘unable to do more things’ and puttered all evening. (And caught up on my RSS feeds.)
- 10pm : went to sleep
Here’s my list for Sunday, as it was when I started the morning.
You’ll notice that there one repeating task (my standard ‘prep things for the work day tomorrow’ task that reminds me of the specific things I usually need to think about doing.) There are the Leo note tasks I didn’t get done on Saturday. There are some routine tasks I need to do (laundry, prepping lunches for the work week.)
I woke up feeling sort of lousy, with a headache that got worse during the morning, and pretty much decided it was not a good day for an organisational task like sorting through old mail and catalogs, nor was it a great day to work on a complex resource guide, like the visual impairment and ritual access one I want to write as a sample for Seek Knowledge, Find Wisdom.
It was actually a day where I got a lot of tasks done – this comes out to 6 galleons, 8 sickles, and 5 knuts. And that’s not counting a nap! It’s a long enough list I can’t actually get a useful screencap in one shot. I’m sort of startled by this, because the day definitely didn’t start out feeling productive. This is why a task list and tracking help me so much.
Sunday: What I actually did when
- 6:30am : Wake up. (Thanks, cat.) Puttering and reading in a not-very-awake way.
- 9 : Put laundry in, read RSS feeds.
- 9:30 : Put laundry in the dryer, have a bath to short circuit allergy issues, have breakfast, sort my download folder and add some new music to iTunes.
- 10:20 : Get clothing out of the dryer. More puttering trying to get my brain to go so I can do other things. Take an ibprofen for headache.
- 11 : Work on putting notes into my astrology research (that’d be the two Leo related tasks)
- Noon : Have lunch. Still have headache. This is annoying.
- 12:30 pm : Pause to lie down for a bit and see if I can make the headache go away. (There was some quality supervision by the cat in this time.) Never quite nap, but lie there and read and doze.
- 4 : Sit up again. Work on the product design outline. Finish it around 5pm.
- 5 : Combine things into a black bean and corn salad for lunch at work this week. Eat dinner.
- 6 : Fill my meds containers for the week, discover that the formulation of the supplement I take for migraines has changed, do a bit of spot research to see if there’s likely to be a problem with the new thing in it, determine probably not, order the new formulation, and make a note to check with my doctor at my appointment later this month. Do other small tasks (charging and swapping out podcasts on my swimming MP3 player, packing my swim bag for tomorrow.
- 7 : Break down my astrology study project into actual well-defined tasks.
- 8 : Work on this post, as part of my ‘write 500 words today’ project. (It was actually more like 1000.)
- 9 : Take notes on the astrology chapters
- 9:30 : Play silly Flash games on the computer, prepare for bed.
- 10pm : Go to bed.
Here’s my list of tasks before I leave the house on Monday. It’s got five coming dates, two work tasks, part of my astrology study, a reminder to work on this blog post, and a reminder to do some sorting of links in my Pinboard account.
That doesn’t seem like a lot of work tasks, does it? That’s because I mostly set my work tasks once I’m actually at work, unless there’s something that’s carrying over from a previous work day, because my day is highly dependent on what questions people have asked, and we get most questions in email.
In this case, I know in advance I have some guides to review for our museum since we’re updating the formatting, and our archivist did some updates but wanted another pair of eyes.
Here’s what the tasks I actually did look like. (Up until about 7:30pm)
They’re in order of when I checked them off (so the most recent are on the top). I forgot to add in the swimming until I was leaving (even though I swim first thing in the morning.) I don’t make that a regular task for several reasons, and put it in each time.
So, that’s 6 substantial work-related tasks (plus one I hadn’t put in yet, and one I’d forgotten to check off a while ago), swimming, five reminder notes. And then two personal projects at home, and a couple of minor home and householdy things.
How Monday went in practice:
(I should note here: I get up for work absurdly early and I am totally not a morning person by nature. But scheduling my work hours for 7:45 am to 4:15pm mean my commute is about 30-40 minutes, instead of 20+ minutes more, and I am much better about actually swimming if I do it before work. I’d much rather get up early than lose nearly an hour and gain a lot of frustration in traffic.)
- 5:25am : Wake up, do morning necessity things, do morning-of packing stuff for work.
- 6 : Drive to pool. Swim from 6:25 to 7. Shower and get dressed.
- 7:30 : Arrive at work, check in with the library assistant, who was on vacation last week. Check my work email. Decide on what I’m working on this morning while we have a volunteer here. Add updating reference question statistics to my task list. (I’m way behind, which is why I’m still working on March.)
- 8:30 : Realise that our volunteer is here Thursday (dear self, look at your work calendar). Rearrange the day a bit. Work on a “Do we have copies of this set of historical conference proceedings problem”
- 9 : Work on email archiving project.
- 10 : Sort the first half of March into my reference questions stats tracking.
- 11:30 : Pause from reference stats to review museum guides and make notes.
- 12pm : eat lunch at my desk because in the midst of the museum guides.
- 1 : Finish the guides. Talk to my assistant. Put in a vacation day request. Skim through work mailing lists for useful bits.
- 2 : Work on stats for the second half of March.
- 2:30ish : Get a reference phone call that takes about 20 minutes to sort out what we can offer, and then about another 10 to write up notes for me and my assistant so we can figure out how to make it happen tomorrow. (It involves a chunk of transcription)
- 3:30 : Finish stats for the second half of March, paste them into my stats sheet, watch my computer grind to a halt, reboot, and recover most of it.
- 4 : Wrap up and head home.
- 4:45 : Get home, putter, make dinner, eat dinner, putter.
- 7:30 : Work on this post, and a few other tasks.
- 8 : Work on the astrology notes and bookmark sorting.
No day’s quite like any other
And that’s really how it should be – I have a pretty structured life, in terms of schedule and what I do when, but there are also a lot of moving parts depending on my energy, focus, and what has priority at a particular moment.
For example, at work, reference questions get dealt with before long-term projects, most of the time.
You’ll also notice there are some fairly large gaps here where I’m not all that productive in measureable terms. And that’s okay. After extensive tracking, I’ve determined that 5-6 large tasks is a pretty good day for me most of the time (and a level of productivity I can sustain, that keeps me on top of things at work, and making steady enough progress on long-term tasks both at work and at home.)
Doing things that are useful but not immediately productive (a lot of the random online reading I do, plus self-care) also matters.