Skip to content

Task Management Tools

I currently use two tools to manage my tasks: the inbox and the task manager.

Inbox

The inbox does not refer only to your e-mail inbox. It is a broader concept that includes all the elements you have collected in different ways: tasks you have to do, ideas you have thought of, notes, bills, etc…

To achieve a stress-free productivity, emptying the inbox should be a daily activity. Note that this does not mean doing things, it just means identifying things and deciding what to do with them, when you get it done, your situation is as follows:

  • You have eliminated every thing you do not need.
  • You have completed small actions that require no more than two minutes.
  • You have delegated some actions that you do not have to do.
  • You have sorted in your task manager the actions you will do when appropriate, because they require more than 2 minutes.
  • You have sorted in your task manager or calendar the tasks that have a due date.
  • There have been only a few minutes, but you feel pretty good. Everything is where it should be.

I've developed pynbox to automate the management of the inbox. Help out if you like it!

Task manager

If you've never used a task manager, start with the simplest one and see what do you feel its lacking. Choose then a better task manager based on your needs.

In the past I've used taskwarrior, but its limitations led me to start creating pydo although I didn't finish it. Then I moved on to the simplest task manager but it eventually fell short in my needs, so I started working with Openproject but working on a web interface is not for me, so now I'm migrating to orgmode.

The simplest task manager

The simplest task manager is a markdown file in your computer with a list of tasks to do. Annotate only the actionable tasks that you need to do today, otherwise it can quickly grow to be unmanageable.

When you add a new item, choose it's location relative to the existent one based on its priority. Being the top tasks are the ones that need to be done first.

* Task with a high priority
* Task with low priority

The advantages of using a plaintext file over a physical notebook is that you can use your editor skills to manage the elements more efficiently. For example by reordering them or changing the description.

Add task state sections

You'll soon encounter tasks that become blocked but need your monitoring. You can add a # Blocked section and move those tasks under it. You can optionally add the reasons why it's blocked indented below the element.

* Unblocked task

# Blocked

* Blocked task
  * Waiting for Y to happen

Divide a task in small steps

One of the main benefits of a task manager is that you free your mind of what you need to do next, so you can focus on the task at hand. When a task is big split it in smaller doable steps that drive to its completion. If the steps are also big split them further with more indentation levels.

* Complex task
  * Do X
  * Do Y
    * Do Z
    * Do W

Web based task manager

Life happened and the development of pydo has fallen behind in my priority list. I've also reached a point where simplest one is no longer suitable for my workflow because:

  • I loose a lot of time in the reviews.
  • I loose a lot of time when doing the different plannings (year, trimester, month, week, day).
  • I find it hard to organize and refine the backlog.

As pydo is not ready yet and I need a solution that works today better than the simplest task manager, I've done an analysis of the state of the art of self-hosted applications of all of them the two that were more promising were Taiga and OpenProject.

Taiga

An Open source project with a lot of functionality. If you want to try it, you can create an account at Disroot (an awesome collective by the way). They have set up an instance where you can check if you like it.

Some facts made me finally not choose it, for example:

  • Subtasks can't have subtasks. Something I've found myself having quite often. Specially if you refine your tasks in great detail.
  • When browsing the backlog or the boards, you can't edit a task in that window, you need to open it in another tab.
  • I don't understand very well the different components, the difference between tasks and issues for example.

OpenProject

Check the OpenProject page to see the analysis of the tool.

In the end I went with this option.

References

  • GTD time management framework.