task managers

What Makes For A Good Task Manager

The LTRC Expert Roundtable Discussions have returned! This month we asked our experts their preferences when it comes to selecting a Task Manager

Our Panelists:

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Greg Siskind (GS), Aaron Street (AS), Steve Embry (SE)  Allison C. Sheilds (ACS)
and Catherine Sanders Reach (CSR).

Paper or Plastic? Do you keep your task list in an app, on old fashioned paper, or somewhere else?

DK: Is it OK to say both? I need to keep work and personal separate. My core app is Omnifocus, which I love. I don’t think I’ve ever spent money better than I did in purchasing the Omnifocus program and apps for all my devices. For work, I use a nice notebook (like a Moleskine), preferably squared or dotted, and a mechanical pencil. It’s not ideal, but it works for me.

GS: I use Evernote for my Tasklist, but am exploring other options.

ASI admit I’m constantly tweaking my task management “system.” At the moment I use a hybrid of tech and paper. I keep all of my tasks (personal and work) in the Wunderlist app, but then also write out a daily overview of my tasks and events in a paper notebook each morning, where I then keep all of my notes from the day.

SE: I haven’t kept a paper list except in a limited form since I got my first blackberry years ago. Before that, I used a spiral notebook. When it filled up, I would go back through and add the uncompleted items to a new one. Huge waste of time! Now I keep a running list electronically.

ACS: Do you keep your task list in an app, on old fashioned paper, or somewhere else? I still use a combination of both methods; I find it easier when I’m working to jot down things I remember that I have to do on paper, but eventually those lists get transferred into electronic format. I use Trello to manage ongoing projects and put individual tasks on my Outlook calendar daily and weekly to make sure I’ve blocked out the time to get them accomplished. I also use Basecamp for projects with the LP Publishing Board and our staff teams to keep things organized for all of our upcoming books. I think people need to evaluate whether they’re working mostly alone or mostly with other people or teams when they’re thinking about what to use – do others need to have access? Do you need to delegate tasks within your app or list and be able to see whether they’ve been completed? These questions (and others) might influence your choices.

CSR: I have multiple task lists because tasks are generated from different activities. For the most part if it is an email I flag it for follow-up or use FollowUpThen to remind me to act on it. I use paper for brainstorming outlines and ideas. I do share ideas for longer term projects with my team via Wunderlist. And, for checklist oriented items I’ve just started playing with CollectDocs.

Do you use lots of different lists or just one list to rule them all?

DK: I want to use one list in Omnifocus, but I am not able to use Omnifocus for work. In the office, I go to list in a notebook using a template of my own design. I’m likely to move from a notebook to OneNote using a stylus.

GS: I try and use one list, but occasionally develop a supplemental one for a complex project.

ASI use a variety of lists, mostly based on context: work, errands, home, computer, phone, etc.

SE: I basically have 2 lists: one for work and one for personal items. I don’t have a hard and fast rule for what goes where, my main concern is that a to do item goes somewhere so I don’t forget it.

ACS: Again, it’s a combination of both! I have a ‘master list’ which is essentially a brain dump of everything, but then projects and tasks get separated out into categories – home, client work, marketing and business development, writing projects, etc.

CSR: See above

Is your methodology to keep it simple or go for lots of features like categories, tags, repeating tasks, etc?

DK: I’m a simple country lawyer – simpler is always better. I use projects, contexts and repeating tasks. I don’t use tags or colors or other features that seem to me like they will take more time to keep up-to-date and organized than they will be worth. Your methodology shouldn’t be another source of stress.

GS: Simple.

ASI try to include all the necessary context for each task in the task note/link so I don’t need to jump between things too much. And I definitely make use of repeating tasks (I have a task for renewing my LLC registration next December, for instance.)

SE: I really don’t. I  have tried several of these and basically find they just create friction and complicate input. Like I said above, my goal is to get the to do item memorialized as quickly as I can. The more information I have to input, the less likely I will input an item when I should—that is when its top of mind. And when I don’t do it then, the chances are fair that I won’t remember it later.

ACS: I’ve found that different things work for me at different times, but for the most part, keeping it simple means I’ll actually use and manage the list more effectively. I do use color coding/categories in both Trello and Outlook so that I can see at a glance what I need to do and where my focus is skewed (do I have more client appointments this week, or am I doing more presentations?). I also find that tagging helps me find previous projects or client work I’ve done on a similar topic for reference, or to locate items that might cross different categories. But if I’m in a rush, I might dispense with the bells and whistles and just make sure I’ve got everything captured so nothing falls through the cracks!

CSR: It depends on the activity as to how many features are required. For team tasks assignments, sharing and deadlines are essential.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done system still has a lot of fans – do you use GTD, some other framework or one of your own making?

DK: I love GTD. I’ve used it for more than 15 years. It’s made a huge difference in my work and my life. It is profound how much difference it makes to get things out of your head and to focus on “next actions.” My implementation of it tracks the system very closely and Omnifocus makes that easy for me. I do experiment with some other systems in parallel to the GTD system from time to time. I’m currently dabbling in the Ivey Lee Method to help me set priorities.

GS: I have read the book twice and it’s a helpful system. Then I fall off the wagon for a while. More my issue than GTD’s.

ASI love the concept of GTD and for many years have incorporated concepts of having an inbox for everything, processing it regularly, and being focused on “inbox zero.” But the formal GTD formula, with its 43 folders and ticklers and stuff, doesn’t work for me.

SE: I don’t use the GTD system and may be on of the few who have not read David’s book. Frankly, for me for me the simpler the capture and retrieval of the to do items, the better. Which is why I don’t try to over characterize my items into various lists other than work versus personal.  This probably results in more work on the back end: sometimes my to do items stick around for a long time as I simply kick the due date down the road. But at least I still have them someplace on the radar. For me the goal is to record the item not record its importance—I already know that when I see it.

ACS: I definitely use the basic principles of GTD – capturing everything into the system, breaking things down into actionable tasks and next steps, prioritizing and setting deadlines are the foundation of my work on a daily basis. I also incorporate elements of other systems.

CSR: Since I have tasks that are both proactive and reactive I tend to use that as the dividing line and don’t have a framework except constant assessment of priorities.

What’s the one killer feature your task manager must have?

DK: The ability to triage. I like to see everything that rolls up for a day or week in Omnifocus and then triage them by bumping them out a day or two, a week or even a month with a click. You can go from overwhelmed to feeling sort of in control in a few minutes.

GS: Integration with Outlook.

ASI’ve used a number of task management apps and my five must-have features are:

1. Ability to use the same software for personal and work tasks so I only have one thing to manage.

2. Ability to share some personal tasks with my wife.

3. Ability to group tasks (with lists, categories, or tags) by context.

4. Ability to manage repeating tasks.

5. A dashboard or tab to just see today’s tasks.

SE: For me it’s the ability to easily and quickly capture the item and then search for it. Again my big goal is to capture the to do item before its gets away so the easier the better.

ACS: For me, the most important feature is that it needs to be intuitive and easy to use, but I’m finding more and more that having reminders is essential. Sometimes it’s nice to have that extra prompt so that if I’ve forgotten about something, it still isn’t too late to get it onto my calendar and into my workflow.

CSR: No matter which tool I use it has to be portable and sync across all devices and easily updated from any device.

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