I kind of want to title this piece "the remains of the day," but I'll spare you.

This week I found myself doing something sort of different with my task list. Since I use org-mode to manage my todo list, my explanation will include a bit of "introduction to org-mode," but I think this practice may be generally applicable regardless of the software you use.

In org-mode you can take elements of an outline--any outline--and turn it into a "todo" item, and using the agenda feature, generate views of these tasks. This is great because you can do planning and brainstorming in a manner that makes sense for you, and when you're ready to start working, the list that you work from is organized in way that's conducive to doing things. It's a great system.

When you create a task, org-mode provides the ability to schedule it for a particular day or set a deadline. You can generate agenda views organized by day. This is how I work, most of the time. In the morning (on the train) I open the agenda and I see about five things per day, and I start working. The key to success, for any situation, but particularly fragmented situations like mine, is figuring out how to structure your projects and tasks such that there's always a task that's "small enough" no matter how short your free time is.

This works pretty well, except sometimes, you run out of free time, something takes longer than you'd like, or you reprioritize. The system of scheduling tasks breaks. Solution, at the end of your work day (or evening,) spend a moment or two going though the remains of the day's tasks and figuring out:

  • If you couldn't get to a task was it because you simply didn't have time, or because there was an unforeseen dependency.
  • Which tasks can be rescheduled for another day (and what days would be best for this.)
  • What no longer needs to be done?

At the end of the process there should be nothing left on your todo list. Now you may be tempted to engage in a little "productivity theater," but the goal is less to "get everything done," and more to check in with yourself more regularly, and make sure everything is on track. Also, I'm convinced being faced with scads of overdue tasks, particularly tasks that have grown stale is hardly a wining strategy either.