October 20, 2016

Todos in the calendar

I’ve been playing around with putting todos in the calendar lately. Not as actual calendar events, that would be a potential mess, but blocking out time when I’ll work with a dedicated project or company, and then add tasks to that particular time period. It’s not a new way of doing things, I’m by no means the first here, but it has helped me to take better control of my days.

Here’s how it works, currently.

  • I get up at 8 AM, shower, and make coffee. I don’t eat breakfast, just coffee.
  • 8:30 AM marks the start of my first session. This is usually a writing session, so in true genius fashion I’ve named this the Write session. I’ll write until 9:30 AM, or 10 AM if I feel I need to get more done.
  • 10:30 AM is the first Work session. There are three of those during the day, and each is attached to a specific project. The same project can come back in several sessions per day, but a session can’t have tasks from different projects. I stop just before noon.
  • I plan a full hour for lunch. Whatever time not spent eating and/or talking to people, will be spent reading.
  • 1 PM is the second Work session, ending at 2:30 PM. As you’ve noticed, I believe in breaks between sessions. These can be spent resting, reading, doing errands, or just clearing away stuff from the todo list. Yes, there is a todo list. I’ll get to that.
  • 3 PM marks the start of the third and final Work session. It ends at 4:30 PM, after which I’ll not plan anything in particular. That doesn’t mean I’ll go home or even stop working, but everything after this session isn’t crucial in any way. The idea is that I can close my laptop or iPad or whatever, and do something else after the third Work session.

The sessions are blocks in my calendar. Easy enough, right? But how do I know what to do?

Enter the todo lists. Knowing what to work on in each session isn’t enough, you still need to know what to actually do, in detail. That’s why I keep todo lists per project, as well as an Inbox with todos that needs to be sorted and planned.

Speaking of which, when do I plan things, the sessions as well as the todos, if no session can be about more than one project? Every Monday, the first Work session is for admin. This is everything from cleaning out the email inbox, going through todos in the todo Inbox, check the office mail, err, inbox, and so forth. Admin is a project, in that sense, and it’s being worked on weekly. Sometimes when there’s a lot of paperwork to sort out, I’ll plan another Admin Work session, just like for any other project.

Want nitty gritty details? These are the tools I use for this.

  1. Any calendar app will do, but I use Fantastical 2. There’s a reason for this, other than that it’s a good app, which I’ll get to in a second. The calendar has each session – Write as well as Work – planned as recurring daily (weekdays) events with the appropriate duration.
  2. I use Reminders to plan in the project per work session. That way I don’t need to change or edit the calendar events. Instead, I’ll just have a reminder task for Work on L5 manuscript or the weekly Admin session. My primary reason for using stock Reminders here is that they show up in Fantastical 2’s calendar view.
  3. All general todos, the Inbox as well as a list per project, goes in Todoist. That way I always know where to look to get an overview of what tasks I have. In other words, when I get to the Work on L5 manuscript session, I’ll look for that project’s todos in Todoist. I use both lists and tags for this.

I like this system, it’s served me well the past few months, through lots of work, as well as family matters that’s been demanding my attention. I don’t think the system is for everyone though, because most people don’t have as many parallel projects as I do. For me, it’s important to keep a balance between projects, and dividing my day like this makes that possible.

In the end, however you get your tasks done matters little. Whatever works for you is fine. This works for me, but so has other systems in the past. That has led me to believe that your productivity system is primarily there to lure you into a sense of control, even if your work is spiraling out of control. If your system can do that, if you feel you can rely on it even when things are rough, then it’s as good as it can get. Don’t go out looking for a productivity system if you don’t need one.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.