I used to be just like you. I used to have a mass of notecards, Post-It notes, and Evernote checklists. While I used to be unorganized, and lost I am now focused and organized. How did I do that? How did I manage to know everything, and travel through space-and-time with minimal effort? Let me take you on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. Let me tell you about…
A five-bin kanban system
Kanban is a well known tool for dependency management. Just ask Google about how you use it on software development! I’ve modified this three-bin system into a five-bin system. My bins are time-based instead of dependency-based. They are as follows: inbox, later, this week, today, and done.
This is a dumping ground for all of the little tasks that need to be prioritized. Quick notes can also end up in here like “you should write a blog post about how you manage your life.” This is a tool to make your e-mail less of a todo list, and more of a communication tool — I believe in no e-mail in your inbox but am not an Inbox Zero zealot. Did someone ask you to do something while you were focused elsewhere? Add a card to the inbox bin.
Do you have a list of tasks you need to eventually to take care of? The later bin is for tasks that don’t have a deadline, but need to be tracked or are going to take a big more work than you can support right now. An example card in this bin might be ‘re-architect pgbouncer infrasctructure to run on Mesos.’
There are tasks you know you need to get done this week because of a deadline. Do you have a presentation to prepare for on Friday, and it is Monday? The this week bin is perfect for that card. The work in this queue is generally prioritized by being moved into the today bin on the day I will have time to handle it.
The today bin is the prioritized queue of work you will complete between 00:00:00 and 23:59:59 of the current day. This queue is prioritized when your day begins, and is empty when your day ends. This is the meat and potatoes of getting things done.
Cards for tasks that have been completed are moved into the done bin. If Trello is your tool of choice at the end of the week you can ‘Archive All Cards In This List’ to start the following week fresh.
Tracking multiple focuses
I have a very basic labeling system to be able to quickly glance at what needs focusing, as well as what needs filtering. I have three labels in Trello. ShopKeep, Family, and Personal. While your labels may differ you must be able to deterministically label cards.
Don’t be afraid of cross-prioritizing. There are only so many hours in the day to focus on and you need to find balance. Spend 15 minutes in the morning making sure things are properly labeled, and bined. Finding time to re-prioritize is key here. Things come up! Nothing is a “stop what you are doing and refocus” event so a lot of these are dropped into the inbox bin. Trello has mobile apps, and you can use those to quickly add cards to your inbox on the go.
Evernote vs. Trello vs. Notes vs. Paper
Any tool can be used to keep track of your cards, and bins. Find a tool that works for you and use it to power your life.
Quickly, and efficiently viewing your day as a work queue will help you be more organized, and more focused on what you need to do. You will find yourself having more clarity into your efficiencies and inefficiencies. Be retrospective on what you did, and didn’t do. Be retrospective on what you can do and you find yourself accomplishing more towards your goals.