I have a habit of making lists on pieces of paper, or under notes for other things. Then I lose track of what lists or notes refer to what or scribble over them in pursuit of a more urgent target. This is not an efficient way to work. I know this, because I don’t use anything like that to track my job. For that I have a multicoloured Excel spreadsheet of many pages that works like a charm. It works because it has been built on the job, tweaked and altered to fit the task exactly.
But my creative life is not so organised. I have several notebooks in various stages of completion, I have an A4 pad for expansive brainstorming, a morning pages notebook, a creative notebook, a keeping track notebook, a look at this cool notebook notebook. It’s all a bit analogue and I sometimes forget which notebook is which.
I decided to investigate some online to do lists and task management apps. There’s a lot of them out there and many of them are mind-boggling. Most are geared towards group work, allowing you to pass the buck between team members. Some are simple lists, some are based on efficiency methods with funny names.
I first tried a to do list app and added a template for a book project. But then I had a busy week and couldn’t get around to setting it up any further. Every day I got emails telling me I was behind on the 750 words for a book project that didn’t exist. It didn’t encourage me much.
Next I came across the Kanban board. This is basically a board with columns representing different stages of a process with notes representing tasks which can be switched from column to column. So you could have columns for planning, in progress, stalled, and completed and move your tasks from one to the other. It works well for projects with well-defined processes and tasks, but I couldn’t see how to fit my more nebulous projects into it.
Then there was the getting things done productivity process. This involves creating an inbox of tasks and filtering them to figure out how to get through them. It’s a rather involved system involving an inbox, trash can, filing system, lists and a calendar. The stages are capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. And tasks are completed according to where you are, time available, energy available, and priority.
Thinking back to my workflow on the job, I knew that whatever I chose would have to be able to adapt as my creative projects changed and developed. And assuming all this productivity paid off, I’d have more time and structure to my writing.
There was a danger here too, productivity is an addictive habit. You could spend all your time thinking about how to be productive and actually avoid working altogether. And as I watched various videos of people explaining their productivity systems, it seemed that every one tweaks and changes whatever system they choose to suit their task.
Realising that I needed a more fluid system, where tasks can be included in several projects, have variable priority and where new tasks could be added at will, I decided to try out an app that allowed any system to be set up.
I found an app that is pretty much a blank slate and adding in templates without knowing how you’ll use them can lead to absolute confusion. But it has the option to connect tables so I can see tasks in several ways, from the point of view of what the task is like writing, or what project it’s in like this blog. With both mobile and desktop versions, it’s easy to keep track at any time or place. It’s taken me a few weeks to get a handle on it, and I’m only beginning to fully work by it, but so far it’s proving handy.