If you are a very wilful person and you're already great at managing your time, skip this article and save yourself some time. If, however, you're an ordinary human being, bear with me — my formula of good productivity tool doesn't include willpower and being smart all the time into the equation. I'm also sure that out–of–the–box solutions don't work and you have to figure out what works best for you and you only.

Introduction

There was a lot of hype going on around the GTD time-management technique in last years. I've read the book and tried to apply it to my daily routine — and it didn't work for me. You have to be very smart applying it to your life and that's just not gonna happen if you're not a very determined person — not a lot of us actually are.

What does work for me are several visualisation techniques that let you offload your mental models into something tangible. My favourite two tools are Mind Mapping and Kanban. Mind Mapping helps you offload everything about particular thing into something actionable, represented in Kanban cards.

Turning ideas into cards helps a lot with the conscious part of the process but what about the things you can't control, automatic human behaviors and habits? The inner mechanics of those things involve your emotions and trying to control them with reason doesn't work too well in the long-term perspective.

There is a technique that can help. It's called Autofocus and it's a neat hack to workaround your procrastination and habitual laziness. You can read everything about it on the site of it's author Mark Foster.

Autofocus lets you choose what you want to do now rather than what you think you have to do, building the momentum and going from comfortable tasks to the hard ones.

I took some ideas from Kanban and Autofocus to build the system that works for me.

Using Trello

Trello is an excellent tool to manage projects collaboratively Kanban–style. It also happens to be an excellent personal tasks management system.

I have two boards: !Backlog and !Ongoing.

!Backlog contains Inbox list and several project lists. Inbox consists of ideas and tasks for the future. The projects in !Backlog are either not started or on hold.

!Backlog

The !Ongoing board has several project lists followed by Doing and Done lists. All the projects in the !Ongoing board are active.

!Ongoing

You've already noticed those little coloured labels on some of the cards. I use them to mark the tasks related to something important. There are several things I have to keep in balance to feel well, so additional visual clues help me make decisions faster.

  • money – work I get paid for
  • respect – non-profit projects
  • soul – hobbies, music making and drawing
  • venture – my own possibly profitable projects

Labels

Main workflow:
1. I go through the Doing list to find the task I want to do.
2. I do the task and repeat the process from the start.
3. If there is no task I want to do I start going through the project lists from right to the left.
4. When I feel like doing something about one of the projects I go through it's list and move a task or two into the Doing list.
5. If there are no projects to do I go to the !Backlog and move several projects into the !Ongoing.
6. Repeat.

I put a limit on the amount of tasks in the Doing list and on the amount of simultaneous ongoing projects. If something urgent kicks in I put it on top of the Doing list and allow myself to go over the limit.

From time to time I review my lists to prioritise projects and tasks inside the projects. The more important the task, the higher on the list it is. The more important the project the closer to the Doing list it is. And those coloured labels are really helpful with prioritisation.

If I want to put the project on hold I move it back to the !Backlog.
I never move single-step tasks to the backlog – I either do them or cancel them completely.

That's it!

There are some drawbacks though. I miss the ability to put something into the Inbox fast (e.g. from my mobile phone) and I'd like to have some kind of data visulisation for the Done list. But I'm a software developer and I'm going to solve these problems using my skills and Trello API.

Thanks for reading and let me know how do you manage your tasks — and if this article was in any way helpful or insightful.