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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.

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Posted in: Tips & Tricks