Simple Self Organization

This is a guide to a simple self organization/task management system I built for myself over the years.

From time to time I showed it to someone and they got some benefits from it, most adapted it to better fit their needs down the line, which is exactly what you should do with any kind of personal task management in my opinion.

Disclaimer: I did not do heavy research into task management systems or productivity methodologies, instead I just did a thing and changed it around until it worked for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if none of it is remotely original or has some formal name in the productivity community.

Getting started

To get started you will just need two things: A pen and a paper notebook.

Choosing paper may seem a bit counter intuitive or antiquated, at least it did for me. But there advantages, especially when getting started.

Having a physical object makes it easier to switch into the right mind set and start building a habit. I also found keeping it at a static location in my office, maybe even a different desk if possible, helped a lot.

Along the same lines there is another thing that can make this way more likely to succeed: Get an accountability buddy for the first couple weeks

I’d recommend either a good friend or a colleague, though I’ve also seen this work with a persons manager. Their job is quite simple, you will go over the results of your daily loop with them daily for 2-4 weeks, just talking through your process. My recommendation is to loosely keep it to 1-2 minutes per item, but expect to got over some times, especially in the beginning.

In addition you should go over the results of your weekly loop with them for the first month, again keeping things short and focussed on your thought process. It may also be advantageous to keep doing something like this about once per month indefinitely, but that depends completely on you.

The daily loop

This is the main thing you will do daily, after doing it for a while it should take no longer than 5-10 minutes every day.

Depending on the way you like to work this can be done either at the end of the day for the next day or as the starter item early each day. I found that most early-bird people like to do it in the morning and night-owl workers like to it at the end of the day, but do experiment and find what works best for you.

The loop itself is quite simple:

  • Look at the list of projects from your weekly loop, just to have them top of mind for this
  • Look at the 5 tasks from yesterday and assess how they went
    • It is OK to have not finished them, planned work often gets displaced by unplanned work
    • If it keeps happening there are different ways to try and fix this, see unplanned work
  • Think of the 5 most important tasks for today and write them down
    • If there are blockers preventing your from finishing a task them write them down as well
      • Reassess if the task can even be done today
      • Bring up the blocker with your manager, colleagues or appropriate contact
      • Communicate that this blocker is stopping you from finishing the task on time

The weekly loop

This is the retrospective part of the process, it can help in finding long running tasks that are actually projects, recurring blockers and whatever you would like to track over time.

I strongly recommend doing this in the afternoon on the last day of your week and looking at it again on Monday morning when doing your daily loop.

  • Look at your notes from the week past
  • Are there tasks you “pulled” through the week?
    • Maybe they are actually blocked externally and shouldn’t be on the list at all?
    • Maybe they are more projects than tasks, move the up to be those
  • Look at your projects list, remove whats finished and add new things as required

Handling unplanned work

Unplanned work is a fact of life, instead of getting annoyed let’s accept it and take a look at handling it better by defining the anticipated level of it.

Once we have this we can simply say this unplanned work becomes a task we need to do, therefore informing our capacity in the daily loop. We may not know exactly what we will be doing with that time, but we know, on average, we will be doing something that needs to get done.

What is a task and what is not?

A task is anything that you can actually complete within the day if nothing unplanned comes up.

Otherwise it becomes more of a project, no matter if it takes two days, a week or an undetermined amount of time.

See also