For the last few years I have been on a mission to find the perfect planner and to-do list. If there is an app, I have bought it. If there is a method, I have researched it. If there is a book, I have read it. Pen and paper, Omnifocus, 2do, Remember the Milk, Things 3, Eisenhower Box, the GTD method, bullet journaling etc. But nothing has really worked. Well, I guess that statement isn’t fair because I have earnt three degrees, started numerous side projects, and do manage to keep on top of my personal and work life, so I guess these methods have worked. But what I mean is that nothing has ever felt perfect.
Omnifocus was too complicated and busy.
The Eisenhower Box put my attention into the wrong areas.
2Do didn’t quite fit my style of work and variety of work.
Bullet journaling failed spectacularly when I realised just how unartistic I am which took all the fun and creativity out of the process.
So last week after spending yet more hours on the interwebs trying to find the perfect system for me. I pulled up a word document and made my own to-do list. It looks like this:
Yeah, pretty basic and ugly I know. But it serves a purpose which after all is the point of a to-do system. I am going to work with this list for a few weeks and make changes. That way I can constantly adapt the system to how I work rather than fitting my way of working into a system developed by someone else.
You may be asking yourself “why do you need a complex system, can’t you just write a single list”. Well yes you can and I know successful and produce people that do just that. However, I have found that a single list does not work for me. The reason is I have a number of different projects I am always workign on and I like to splut the list by project. That way I can prioritise tasks and projects, when I have done a single list I would find myself getting lost and confused trying to differentiate between all the different projects and then cross checking to make sure I was covering everything. This list splits my life into 5 areas – project 365 000, project write, project key, project free, other – all of which I am actively working on (and yes I code name my projects because it is fun). That way, at a glance I can easily see what is needed for each project and compare between projects. Within each project or task I may have single lists but I like to see the overview and big picture as it always keeps my goals and direction front of mind.
A new addition to the list are the 10K, 1K, 100, and 10 boxes which represent different types of work with 10K being high vale work (i.e – work that is valued at $10 000/hour, or in my case, work that has the potential to be valued at $10 000/hour as nothing I am doing now has the value) and 10 being low value work. By splitting up my projects this way I am forced to identify what are the high value tasks (which should be completed first) and what are the low value tasks (which should be completed last). However, this doesn’t always work, for example, a low value task is teaching English or marking essays as neither of them have the ability to scale to a $10 000/hour value. But they both have deadlines so I must do them otherwise I would lose my job. But by splitting tasks this way I can see that I will need to spend the next few hours doing low value work so need to balance it with some high value work. If I didn’t split my tasks this way my focus would be on what is due soon rather than what is high value. By shifting my focus to the value of work rather than when a task is due I can focus on the 20% that will give me 80% output rather than the 80% low value work that will give me only 20% output and growth. I discovered this method from reading the blog Rad Reads – check it out if you are interested.
The final interesting thing about this system is that it is on paper. I have found after many years of trying apps and online systems that paper is the only system that works for me. I get distracted when I need to go online, it forces me to have my phone with me all the time (which I hate), and ticking a box on an app is no where near as satisfying as crossing out a task that is finally complete.
If you are struggling with a productivity system then I would recommend making your own and changing it to how you work rather than trying to fit a system that doesn’t work. At least by doing this you will reflect on your productivity method and reflection is the best way to improve.