Thursday, August 16, 2018

Productivity tools for each project size range

Not all To Do list apps or tools are created equal. Not all projects are either for that matter.

I find I have three tiers of sizes for projects I try to accomplish: small, medium, and large.

Small projects are those that can be done in one sitting, and usually I can aim for getting them done in a specific day. Often they're anything from a momentary do-it-quickly project or item up to a few hours. Many of these come up on a repeat basis.

Reminders for iOS is intended to be a tool for this kind of project, but it has not worked for me for several reasons. For repeating items, it was not fast and it was not reliable. I found I could not count on it to regenerate completed repeating items as I had specified especially on a timely basis. Badge notifications for only past due items also seemed a bit backwards. I still use the app for a shopping list, but that's about it.

For small recurring projects, I have found Swipes to be the most useful for small and frequently recurring daily tasks. Their ingenious innovation is that by definition every item entered in the app has a due date this took a little adjustment at first, but it's quite powerful in terms of mentally engaging in a specific timeline for completing everything. Badge notifications are for things to be done now. In terms of its swipe actions on items for snoozing or completion, when I first started using it I would have reversed what the right and left motions do, but it's familiar and natural now.

I can't put a timeline on every project, though, so on to other tools.

I have used Trello for a lot of things in the past, and I've written about it previously. I have since scaled way back how much I use Trello, and I'm now expanding on a different, more specific way to use the tool.

For a while their tagline was basically, “Organize Anything,” and I did. I had boards for all kinds of things, email-to-board addresses in my Contacts, and was stuffing it full of content. The problem with that was it became a tomb. It became nothing more than a place to file everything about anything. It was futile to try and move anything anywhere. Not that one has to use the Kanban method with Trello, but the way I was using it, moving things around wasn't even close to being a useful option.

At first I scaled back to only using Trello for notes about coding and writing. My coding use was more full-on company development and still hoarder-esque, so I bailed on using it for that, too. I closed boards (not permanently) related to things I had saved I was nowhere near using, and moved notes on other things I was closer to doing over to Google Sheets. Dislodging those coding projects into something I'm accomplishing is still something for which I'd like to figure out a plan.

I decided to focus my use of Trello exclusively on my writing. I went from dozens of Trello boards down to three: one for each blog I planned to keep active: this one and my two policy-related blogs. I have other writing I plan to do, but none of those other items merit their own Trello board at this time.

Last night I started expanding again on my use of Trello. Now, instead of just one board per blog, I started a few more boards based on categories of topics I'd like to write about. Most of them are for this blog, and a few of them already have multiple lists. The topics vary widely, so I could see some of them spinning off into another blog, but for now with a writing commitment to keep, it's a more thorough fluid plan to be able to keep up with that commitment. Hopefully this helps with the workflow as the fall schedule ramps up again soon, Lord willing.

For the rest of my projects, I've narrowed my use of tools down to Google Docs. I've tried a lot of other apps, but none of them are as versatile, fast, and powerful across multiple platforms. There are several categories of things in which I'm involved, and I have a “To Do (category)” doc for each one of them, currently six. The categorized docs tend to be for the medium-sized projects, and I list the large projects in a single personal To Do doc.

I had used Sheets for a few of these lists, and while powerful in its own way, not everything fit into that kind of data structure. It was also too easy to spend time playing with structuring data in two dimensions, and Sheets is not as versatile on a mobile device, so it's Docs across the board. The linear nature of a document also helps me maintain a productive focus.

In addition to notes for myself, Docs is also useful for keeping notes on my next meeting with someone. I've both been on and done my own rocking back and forth of the boat on the email sea, and it can be nauseating. Six emails one way; six replies back. I prefer email for only the extremes of importance either very high or very low. (High may also get a text or call.) Docs is for the day-to-day work. If the person I'm meeting is a Google user I welcome them to read and collaborate on the doc, but otherwise it's a tool there for my use when we meet with or without their prior online collaboration.

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