The second section of my organiser is my ASAP list; these are all the actions that I could work on now and should be completed as soon as possible. Unfortunately because I’ve been following Getting Things Done guidance and writing everything down the list is long, but I know that everything is listed.
The list is based on the idea of a next action list from Getting Things Done, but I have also incorporated some ideas from Mark Forster’s books Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play and still have time to play and Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management. Mark Forster is not a supporter of a to do list:
Since the tasks on a to-do list are unrelated to each other, the human mind is only too good at thinking up new tasks to go on the list. The result of all this is that to-do lists tend to get longer and longer. They take on a bigger and bigger load of items which are carried forward from day to day. This can only go on so long before the list gets torn up in frustration and the list-keeper breathes a sigh of relief at the new sense of freedom from the tyranny of the list.
I don’t find this a problem because I am trying to capture as many tasks as possible anyway and with my Today planner (I’ll describe this in a future post) I select tasks to work on each day from my ASAP list so I don’t feel the stress related to having a long to-do list (too much).
Mark’s view on keeping on top of tasks is simple, but it certainly got me thinking:
If you think about it, you need to be able to get through one day’s incoming work in one day on average.
I tried following his idea of completing the tasks on the following day in an earlier attempt of an organisation system. I have found this very useful to reduce distractions and to ensure I work on what I planned, but found my daily incoming workload so varied that it was difficult to maintain. Therefore combining it with GTD I have one long list and mark it to show which tasks came in on the same day. I see this as the reverse (and perhaps negative version) of Mark’s idea of Don’t just catch up – get ahead.
This is not Projects in the sense of GTD, but is the way my work is organised. Each Project in this column represents a different set of job numbers that I book to for the time I spend completing tasks, it is important that I get the time I book monthly for each project close to the manager’s estimates, so this column used to be very important as I rotated between the projects. However, because I am now out of the office more, the context of each task is becoming increasingly important and I’m thinking of changing this column to context.
This column lists the actual task, some are part of bigger projects and some are discrete tasks, but they are all written in an actionable format. This has made a big difference to my efficiency because I used to write a task list with vague descriptions which often did not describe the action and often were a project rather than a task. My key problems with this area is including agenda items spread through the list and not always identifying the next task, but perhaps the second or third task.
I estimate how long each task will take me, this has two benefits – one it enables me to select task on my Today planner which fit into the time I have available and two if I have some unexpected spare time I can quickly look through my list and find something to work on. I frequently overstimate the time it takes me to write an email to people, but I usually underestimate (by a long way) many of my big tasks (although this may be an indication that I need to try and break my tasks down further to find the exact next task).
I understand the concept of only giving deadlines to tasks which if you don’t complete them by that time there is no point completing them and I call these ‘hard’ deadlines. However I also have ‘soft’ deadlines which I give to tasks which will be most effective if I complete them by the date; if I miss the date they still need to be done, but the impact is not as great e.g. minutes from meetings I like to complete within two days so the meeting is clear in everyone’s minds and reaffirms their actions. I include both of these deadlines in this column, but the majority of tasks do not have a deadline.
In the spare column caused by the binder holes I also add markers. A dot shows I have added the task to my today list and a star shows a task which was already on my list has been mentioned again since adding it to the list, so is perhaps more important than the other tasks.
I have seperate lists for work and home because I found it distracting to have them mixed together, but this maybe something I can reconsider depending on how I incorporate contexts.
I use an inbox where I write down all my ‘stuff’ during the day and process this at the end of the day, update my list and draw a line under the tasks to show that was one day’s worth of tasks. My work list is connected to my Today planner, so each day I idenfiy which tasks I want to work on and write them on the planner and mark them with a dot. Working with the ideas from Do it tomorrow I start with the most recent tasks (last in, first out) and try to complete all the tasks that were added the previous day (unfortunately it is not normally that simple because of tasks with deadlines).
I review the list each evening and highlight all the tasks I’ve completed and cross out the ones which are no longer relevant. I aim to rewrite the list once a week and it is a great feeling when you have a new clean shorter list.
My ASAP list is the critical section of my organiser, so much so that I can no longer remember how I kept track of my tasks before I started implementing some of these ideas in December 2006.