A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

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