View Full Version : Task management tool - gained unexpected perspective (very long)

03-01-17, 02:42 PM
I've become an ardent flag-waver for Toodledo. The tool can be kind of hard to understand - the purpose, not how to use it - if you haven't been exposed to David Allen's "Getting Things Done" aka GTD. He's a de-facto time management expert...I say de facto because the reality is that his own writing style is un-necessarily complicated and his 320 page book SHOULD have been 80 pages.

Basic stuff about GTD that makes it useful:

- The human brain can do all kinds of creative things, and it's really good at connecting ideas together. But it totally BLOWS at information storage. You cannot find a worse place to store information and later retrieve it. So, any thought/idea/to-do list that's in your head will not get lost - it will clutter the brain. So, get it out of your head and into a system of your choice. David Allen likes paper notebooks.

- Most people don't actually have difficulty knowing what they SHOULD do. The more normal problems are:
-- We get too many interruptions while doing what we should, and society tells us those take priority - even if in our own lives they should not
- - There's just TOO MUCH TO DO and you can spend hours just thinking about all that without doing anything

Therefore, David Allen proposes lists.

List 1: All the projects you are supposed to do. A project is any set of things that have to get done that are not likely to be done the first time you sit down to do them. Mowing the back garden is probably a task, not a project. But for me, mowing my 4 acres is definitely a project. It CAN get done in a single 8 hour session, but more likely, I'll be interrupted. If a thing can be interrupted, it's probably a project, since your likelihood of finishing it the first time you do it just went from 100% to zero.

List 2: "Next Action". For every single project in List #1, what is the next physical step you need to take? Might be calling someone to set an appointment, but it is physical.

List 3 - actually a set of many lists. Contexts. There are things you have to have a computer to do. There are things you must do during business hours. He calls these "contexts". He has a list for each.

There are 4 more lists, but they pertain mainly to information storage and retrieval, and long-range planning.

Now, I saw a problem with those 3 lists right away. They change! I don't want them in a written notebook, I want them electronic. And - lists 1, 2 and 3, as I see it, intermingle...same info exists on all 3.

There are many tools intended to implement his system. The most organized human I know used Toodledo and recommended it. I started with the free version...I may go back to it. The only thing the $30/year version did for me was allow me to nest indented tasks under a project heading. I find that when I complicate things that much, they just don't get done.

I do most of my Toodledo via the web interface but it also has apps for iPhone and Android and I use them, too.

Now, having advertised a free product, here's what happened to me.

I emptied my inboxes (David Allen concept) into Toodledo. I have email inboxes (3 work, 2 home, 2 musician) I have a drawer full of stuff to fix, I have sticky notes...any email, sticky note, etc, that represents something to do or maybe do became a task in Toodledo. And, as my days went on, I thought of more stuff that's been rattling around in my brain.

I realized that a lot of my desires were projects - things that took more than one task. Draw picture of thing I want to build, figure out materials, go to store and get them, build it, then figure out what color I want it and go to store for paint...not a single-sitting thing. I split all these "tasks" into a top project and sub-tasks.

At first, I gave everything a due date - and had Toodledo sort by due date. But I ended up with a day's task list that looked like doing one task per each of 50 projects. Some were in my barn, some were at at I got better at assigning contexts and had Toodledo first sort by context, then due date. Buggers...still complex.

I finally realized that having work and home in the same task manager was part of the problem, so I created a second free account just for work. That was quite helpful. And led me to realize how much I disliked work, so I quit, which made Toodledo much simpler.

I ended up, for now (I will change again) defining goals..these are bigger than projects. Some are lifelong. "Be organized in mind and home". I used also the usual 4-quadrant life system that exists inside most old belief systems - Mental, physical, spiritual (connectivity with self and others) and Emotional. Each life goal begins with a single word indicating quadrant.

On my calendar, I put ticklers every day "which life quadrant gets attention today?" There are only four. It's been helpful.

I feel like I can manage the application fairly well, sorting it this way and that. Ultimately I did what many users said to do - I created about a dozen different saved search/sorts. My most popular are "most recent tasks added" and "oldest tasks added". I often find I add a task, then upon later reflection, decide it's not important and delete it. Old tasks are similar - if I haven't done this in two years, do I really need to? Some of the oldest, however, like "learn how to program", are EXACTLY the ones I want to get to by finishing others.


But - HERE is the Great Awakening for me.

One day, my various sorts were obviously not working. I knew I had a lot of tasks related to clearing junk out of the barn, but a search for tasks with "barn" in the title came up empty.

I went to the user forums and asked if anybody else saw the problem. After a bunch of Q&A, someone asked "how many total tasks do you have in the database?" Well, that figure pops up on the home screen so I said "today it's at 749". The other guy said "that's the problem. The search/sort algorithms begin at one end of the list, and sorts according to your criteria, and stops once it's sorted 500 tasks. Nobody can have 500 tasks and actually get them done in a lifetime, so this behavior is due to how you're using the tool."

What??? I was just doing what David Allen said - get those ideas out of my head and into a system. Or was I? I then asked questions on the GTD forum and someone said "you're probably doing way more than simply getting it out of your head. You're probably going too far, and planning in great detail something that you're not likely to do for 2-3 years, right? And, as any experienced project manager will tell you, you cannot plan detailed tasks for 2-3 years out. Tools change, methods change, material availability changes. My suggestion is look at those old projects and if you simply can't bear to eliminate, say, 20 sub-tasks, then merge them into one tasks by putting the 20 sub-tasks in the "notes" field, rather than having one task for each of the 20."

I have begun a laborious exercise - reviewing ALL my TD tasks. TD helps in this manner...I created a context called "reviewed" and a search/sort for all tasks that are not "reviewed".

I got vicious - I sorted by "date added" and when I looked at all tasks older than two years, there was only one keeper and I simply deleted the remaining 40. I found other ways to sub-split - for instance, I had home tasks that were essentially self-study for where I was working at the time...gone. I have cut the task list in half, and am only 50% done.

Too much!!! Too many!!!


So, I began with a task list manager and ended up finding a deeper problem - I take on too much, and insist on covering it in too much detail.

Thank you to TD and GTD.

I know this is long...but I've found that my deepest and most significant learnings don't happen in a sound bit. Hope this helps someone.

03-01-17, 05:15 PM
I'm also a user and big fan of Toodledo... Use it on both my phone and computer. Usually make the lists on my computer and definitely take advantage of the phone when I'm out and about..