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Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Using Smart Lists to break down long lists

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Andrew Conkling

Long lists can seem inevitable when organizing or planning things thoroughly, and they can be a bit overwhelming to look at entirely. This week's tip, shared by lars_m, describes a few Smart Lists to help break down a long list into some more manageable pieces.

As a PhD-student and teacher at University I have a lot of tasks, and viewing them all at once can be overwhelming. Basically I have two lists, 'uni' is for work related tasks and I also keep one for personal tasks. This post is about the 'uni' list.

To navigate my tasks more easily I use tags and Smart Lists. Right now I have 59 tasks in my 'uni' list all connected to different projects like teaching, chapters in my dissertation or papers I need to write etc. I have a tag for each project, and each project-tag is prefixed with a dot. For instance, chapter 3.3 in my dissertation is tagged '.3.3' and my teaching in Studium Generale is tagged '.sg'. I also use '+' as a prefix for tags to signal an action. So '+read' is the tag I use for stuff I need to read, which, by the way, works really great with the Evernote integration where I can keep linked articles, meeting agendas etc. I use the Task Cloud to pick the relevant tag.

This works well for different tasks or projects but to structure my day I rely on two Smart Lists. One is simply called '5min' and it holds all my tasks that have a time estimate of 5 minutes or less regardless of list, project, type etc. In this way, I quickly get a view of all the small tasks that can be done when I don't have enough time to start working on a project. This Smart List is very simple:

timeEstimate: "<6 minutes"

The Smart List I rely on for my workday is called 'uni_today'. It's a list that picks from my uni list what I need to do today (using deadlines) or what is most important (using priorities 1 or 2) and filters out certain tasks that I don't need on this list like repeating tasks, the ones on my '5min' list or, in my case, the tag for articles I need to check out). I tend to use deadlines for the overall project (finish chapter '…' by the '…') and assign priorities for sub-tasks to help me focus on the important aspects of a given project instead of just a deadline. The list looks like this:

dueBefore:tomorrow AND list:uni NOT timeEstimate:"<6 minutes" OR (list:uni AND (priority:1 OR priority:2 NOT tag: +check_art NOT isRepeating:true) NOT timeEstimate:"<6 minutes" NOT dueAfter:tomorrow)

(I use 'dueBefore:tomorrow' instead of simply 'due:today' because it shows tasks with overdue deadlines, which I do have some of…)

I used to have another list called 'uni_week' that showed the tasks I needed to do within this week, but now I just use the sorting options to sort the "big" 'uni' list by deadline.

This way of sorting my many tasks has made RTM easier and more reliable to use: I can quickly add new tasks with tags for the right project (I use the 'Inbox' if I am in doubt) and my tags and Smart Lists reliably picks out the relevant tasks for me.

Thanks for sharing this tip, lars_m! You're our Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner this week.

Do you have a suggestion for our weekly Tips & Tricks post? Got an interesting set-up or idea? Head over to the Tips & Tricks forum, add a new topic, and let us know how you use Remember The Milk. Each week we'll give away a 1 year Pro account to the user whose idea inspires the Tips & Tricks Tuesday blog post for that week.

Posted in: Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Planning a week at a time

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Andrew Conkling

It's easy to get into a routine of postponing too many tasks too often. This week's tip, shared by marthe.marthe, suggests a straightforward method for keeping track of just the current week, making your lists and projects more manageable.

I have tried many things to get my tasks done, and I finally have found a way without being busy and wasting time in endlessly rescheduling my tasks. I thought I would share it as there might be other people around using the same method.

What I have noticed and tried is first to make different lists of different activities that I have, based on Personal, Work, Home and other things in life. I initially tried to spread my tasks over the week by scheduling for every day a certain amount of tasks that I thought would be feasible to complete. However I found myself in rescheduling the tasks, postponing and feeling hopelessly lost in my work at the end of the week, because I never manage to finish them all.

Therefore I decided to mix RTM a bit with the insights of kanban flow and give all my tasks that need to be done on short notice the end date of Friday. That will set, for every list, the week's goals. As you can imagine that will result in a long list with too many tasks. So what I have done to keep focused is to set my priorities by using the 1, 2, 3 priority indicators of RTM. The golden rule is that no more than three tasks in every list can have priority 1. So what happens now is that I have my focus of every list, limited to 3 top priorities. And whenever I finish all three of them, there is just a short list that I have to evaluate to consider the next top 3 priorities.

Of course there also are tasks that are repeating and come up during the week. But because I have used the priorities they are just on top of the list by due date and do not stop me from keeping my focus.

This way of working saves me a lot of time since now the only thing I have to do is evaluating my week and setting the new focus for the week, without rescheduling a lot, since all will move to the next Friday!

Thanks for sharing this tip, marthe.marthe! You're our Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner this week.

Do you have a suggestion for our weekly Tips & Tricks post? Got an interesting set-up or idea? Head over to the Tips & Tricks forum, add a new topic, and let us know how you use Remember The Milk. Each week we'll give away a 1 year Pro account to the user whose idea inspires the Tips & Tricks Tuesday blog post for that week.

Posted in: Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks Tuesday: An Eisenhower Matrix using Smart Lists

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 by Andrew Conkling

An Eisenhower matrix can be a useful way to separate and to prioritize important tasks versus urgent ones. This week's tip, shared by mehardin, suggests an automatic setup of these four quadrants using Smart Lists.

It's difficult when planning our day and our actions to lose sight between the difference in those items that are urgent and those that are important. For example, answering the phone is urgent. If you don't do it now, the caller will hang up. But the vast majority of the time, for most of us, it isn't all that important. Spending time with your spouse or children, exercising, scheduling a physical, etc. are all examples of tasks that are important, but they may not be urgent at the moment. […]

I propose the best way to manage these quadrants in RTM is by combining Priorities and Due Dates. To do this, I made 6 Smart Lists: Important, Urgent, Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. My search terms for the Smart Lists are as follows:

  • Important: priority:1 OR priority:2 OR priority:3
  • Urgent: dueBefore:"3 days"
  • Q1: list:Important AND list:Urgent
  • Q2: list:Important AND NOT list:Urgent
  • Q3: list:Urgent AND NOT list:Important
  • Q4: NOT (list:Important OR list:Urgent)

Be sure to read the whole post for more thoughts on using the matrix day to day.

Thanks for sharing this tip, mehardin! You're our Tips & Tricks Tuesday winner this week.

Do you have a suggestion for our weekly Tips & Tricks post? Got an interesting set-up or idea? Head over to the Tips & Tricks forum, add a new topic, and let us know how you use Remember The Milk. Each week we'll give away a 1 year Pro account to the user whose idea inspires the Tips & Tricks Tuesday blog post for that week.

Posted in: Tips & Tricks