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Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Automatic quadrants using priorities and due dates

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 by Andrew Conkling

We recently covered an Eisenhower matrix to separate important and urgent tasks. We thought we'd, well, square things off with another take on quadrants. This week's tip, shared by cek1227, suggests 5 quadrants — yes, 5! — to prioritize your tasks.

The Four Quadrants from Covey are very helpful, but not conducive to how I go through tasks. So, I've put together the following scheme – it's 5 quadrants, but who's counting?

Go through the GTD daily review to adjust due dates and priorities. Only put due dates on things that really have due dates.

Priorities mean:

  • 1 – Must do
  • 2 – Should do
  • 3 – Might do
  • 0 – Could do

The "quadrants" are the following Smart Lists:

  • Q1: Must do today: dueBefore:tomorrow AND priority:1
  • Q2: Should do today or must do soon: (dueBefore:tomorrow AND priority:2) OR (due:never AND priority:1)
  • Q3: Might do today or should do soon: (dueBefore:tomorrow AND priority:3) OR (due:never AND priority:2)
  • Q4: Could do today or might do soon: (dueBefore:tomorrow AND priority:none) OR (due:never AND priority:3)
  • Q5: Someday: due:never AND priority:none

Process Q1 as much as possible, then Q2 and then Q3. If there's any time left, do Q4. Review Q5 on your weekly review. For ease of list management, the Smart List I use to show Q2 also includes Q1, so that I can see everything in one place. Likewise, the Smart List I use to process Q3 also shows Q1 and Q2. If that's too busy, don't do it.

Keep your due dates and priorities right on a daily basis, and this helps keep the main thing the main thing. From these Smart Lists, I also have related Smart Lists for each of my contexts (work, home, other).

Thanks for sharing this tip, cek1227! 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: Using 'kill' dates with Smart Lists

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by Andrew Conkling

Due dates seem like a pretty straightforward property, but it's always interesting to see some different uses for them. This week, cadetblue shares a tip for using dates as a "kill" switch — complete the task or get rid of it!

Often I use RTM not only to record activities that are recurring or must be completed, but as a way to collect activities that I would like to complete but I do not have to. They can be ideas, web pages to visit, something to study and learn, whatever. They are at risk to contribute to the growth of a bunch of undone activities without a real deadline that is too bloated to be managed. They will be forgotten, or will distract you, or will be postponed every day if you set a date, or they will waste your time due to the need to clean inflated lists. Even defining a complex segmentation or a full fledged priority system does not solve the issue because the activities stay there as a static mass requiring a proactive behaviour from us.

So I use jointly "kill dates" and Smart Lists. When I add an activity which is not a must and I am not required to complete, I add the tag "kill" and then I add a date so that only one of the following happens: I am able to complete the activity before the end or I delete the activity without pity (should the activity be something really worth it will come in my mind later on). Then I define couple of very Smart Lists:

  • A calendar to see incoming tasks: NOT due:never AND NOT tag:kill
  • A Kill Date list, a complete-or-cancel list of activities: tag:kill

This works very well for me because:

  1. Kill-Dates is a list of "optional" activities grouped together and naturally ordered by priority according to the kill date entered;
  2. Activities with a kill date flow naturally in my today list, so they will be easily deleted without being kept in the bunch.

Thanks for sharing this tip, cadetblue! 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: 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

Share how many tasks you've completed in 2013

Thursday, December 26, 2013 by Emily Boyd

Wondering how much you've accomplished with Remember The Milk this year? No problem, Bob's been keeping count for you! Just login to the web app, and we'll tell you how many tasks you've completed in 2013.

If you'd like to let everyone know how much you got done this year, there's also an option to share your achievement via Facebook or Twitter (as you can see, Bob had a pretty productive year).

Posted in: New Features & Updates

Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Keeping track of important questions

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 by Andrew Conkling

Whether it's your boss, family, friends, or someone else, it's easy to think of something you want to ask someone… but not have the opportunity to ask it right away. This week's tip, shared by visruts, offers an easy way to keep track of these questions until the opportunities arise!

If you are anything like me, you have a perpetual habit of forgetting important questions that you wanted to ask someone. However, Remember The Milk has a really easy way of helping you with this.

  1. Create a new list with the name of the of the person you want to ask the questions.
  2. Add tasks to the list that you want to ask the person.
  3. Use priorities for each question so you know which to ask first if you have limited time.
  4. Add a location for all of the tasks in this list – this should be where you would normally meet the person (that way you won't forget when you are nearby)
  5. Remember your pressing questions!

In addition to these tips, I find it helpful to add a note with the answers I got to each question before I completed them so that everything would be organized in a central place.

Thanks for sharing this tip, visruts! 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: Remembering to show gratitude

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 by Andrew Conkling

Some tasks can be necessary to get things done, while others are the type that simply make your day better. This week's tip, shared by kateoneill, suggests passing on a bit of joy by being mindful of one's gratitude for others!

I keep meaning to write more thank you cards, because it's such a joy every time I get one that I want to share that joy with others. So I have a repeating task called "Write and send a thank you note to someone for something they did this week, just because" that recurs twice a week to remind me.

Thanks for sharing this tip, kateoneill! 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 holiday party

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Andrew Conkling

The holidays can be rather hectic times, particularly surrounding parties — for all their fun, they often require a lot of planning! This week's tip, shared by vkhubani, shows a few ways to help navigate the planning process to make them less hectic and more fun!

Bob hosts a holiday party

I am planning a holiday party at my house this season and the activity can get pretty hectic to manage (what to cook, what to wear, decorations, shopping, etc.). Not to mention keeping track of all of the things I need to do for someone else's party!

RTM has helped me manage my parties in several different ways:

  1. I created a list for each party that I am attending or hosting
    • My Party
    • John's Party
    • Michelle's Party
  2. I use hashtags to tell me what the task is about
    • #cook
    • #buy
    • #chore
    • #errand
  3. I use locations to add all of my favorite stores and my house so that I get alerted whenever I am nearby (with my Android app)
    • @grocery
    • @partystore
    • @butcher
    • @home

And there you have it! All of my party tasks in a nice neat little gift-wrapped package. Of course, don't forget to create some Smart Lists to help you through like:

  • For a quick list of things I need to buy for my party
    list:"My Party" and tag:buy
  • For a quick list of things I need to do to prep for someone else's party
    list:"John's Party" and (tag:chore or tag:errand)

Happy Holidays!

Thanks for sharing this tip, vkhubani! 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: Simple GTD using Remember The Milk

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by Andrew Conkling

We've featured a few different GTD setups in the past but, perhaps as a testament to the flexibility of Remember The Milk, there are a variety of useful ways to set things up. This week's tip, shared by mattssoncarl, outlines a straightforward setup for projects and other tasks.

This system attempts to make a GTD-ish system as appealing and easy as possible. I created this system for myself due to most others including different arrangements of symbols in front of the actual tasks or tags, something which to me makes it looks very unappealing and complicated. I wanted something which both looked good and was extremely easy to work with.

The system has a few key concepts which you will have to accept for the system to work, or at least to work as mine does:

  1. First, every task must have either a tag or a due date.
  2. Second, every project gets its own tag.
  3. Third, priority one is to be utilized for project goals, whereas priority two is for next actions.

This is basically it, let me illustrate. Say I want to clean out one of my closets to put the summer clothing in the garage. I start with creating the goal and tag for the project, lets call it summerclothing.

Clean out the summerclothes from your wardrobe and put them in the garage !1 #summerclothing

By doing this, we state the goal of the project and we create the project by starting the tag summerclothing. Let's continue with adding some new tasks to it:

Buy crate for storing clothes !2 #summerclothing
Sort out summerclothes from the wardrobe #summerclothing
Put the summerclothes in the garage #summerclothing

And there we have it, a simple project. You simply move around the priority 2 for sorting your next action (if you want to, in some projects you might consider this a bit redundant), and when you are finished with a project you simply mark the priority 1 as finished.

Other tasks might not be projects and or need to be done on specific dates, for this you simply add a due date.

Book a time for laundry ^today
Pay the bills ^26th *monthly

Read the full post for more details.

Thanks for sharing this tip, mattssoncarl! 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