I have a job that often has somewhat vague, often shifting, priorities, responsibilities and goals. If you’re like me, that sort of constant change makes focus and productivity extremely difficult, and its easy to work on something that doesn’t matter quite as much or makes far less of an impact.
My favorite task management system involves my desk, a sharpie, and a stack of post-it notes. For practical reasons I’m trying to use Trello in the same structure, but below I’ll outline why it isn’t quite perfect. I call it The Tracking System because, well… you track stuff with it, but also I am a car geek and I’ve titled things with racetrack related terminology.
A pre-requisite to using The Tracking System is a clean and comfortable desk. I firmly believe your desktop (the physical one) is the absolute perfect space for you to keep track of your personal tasks. Just as there are studies that you shouldn’t work in bed because it ruins the quality of your sleep, you should work at your desk because it should be where you’re most productive. If it isn’t you should try to make it so. An added benefit of using your desk is that the space on it is limited. Once you run out of space there isn’t anymore room for additional tasks. If your desk looks like crazy town with tasks then it’s high time to clean them up.
A Great Task Note
A great task note involves a post-it and a sharpie. Don’t cheat. Use regular sized post-its. Don’t cheat. Don’t use a ultra fine point sharpie. “Fine point” (pictured above) and the super fat sharpies are ideal. This limited space, using rudimentary writing utensils helps you focus on making a succinct description of the task at hand and also helps you understand if your task is actually more than one task. If it’s too big a task, use another post-it to track.
The Tracking System then involves splitting up your post-its in to 4 columns:
This is where tasks are parked. The Garage can be 2 post-it columns wide and is arranged with some loose, non-binding priority. If something is a non-urgent idea, it should probably start here. Tasks here can be ready to go or in some state of disrepair. Having somewhere to park your tasks is pretty easy, but a key to productivity is actually getting rid of some of the tasks. I choose to prune this list at the start of every quarter to see if it’s just something I’ll never get to. Also, if you start to accumulate too many tasks in the garage and your desk either becomes unpleasantly covered with post-its or, even worse, that you’ve run out of vertical space, it’s time to get honest with what needs to just get removed.
Pit Lane is a qualified list of tasks. I try to limit this list to anywhere from 3 to 5 items. These are things that are on my radar, I might be thinking about, but I am not actively doing any work on. This prioritized list is essentially where you pick up new tasks from when the last one is done. Just pick from the top.
Things that are actually moving forward are driving. This column is limited to 2 items. In theory the column should be limited to 1 item, but this gives the flexibility to move forward when blocked on something, and also the ability to switch tasks should one become bored or overwhelmed.
The most satisfying part of using The Tracking System is completing tasks. Since I’ve moved to Trello I’ve found it lacking in one key area. Dragging a card to a column does not have the same visceral satisfaction of completeness as ripping up a post-it and tossing it in to the garbage. The Tracking System is best used by simply tossing things that are done in to the trash, but they come in two categories of doneness which I’ve also tracked on my Trello board.
Sometimes things go off the rails. Either you get wrecked by another racer, or you blow a tire, you’re so far behind it isn’t worth finishing anymore, or any number of reasons you just can’t finish a task. This is perfectly acceptable. Acknowledging something is not worth working on is often more important than working on it.
DONE. finé. finito. Rip it up, throw it in the trash, and pat yourself on the back. Then grab some more tasks to be done… because there sure is a lot of work to do.