Dec 15, 2008

The Perfect Task List

I hope you didn't read the title of this post and hoped that I had found the end all perfect task management tool.  I've had no luck in that department yet.  Has anybody found the perfect task list management tool?  I'm going to go out on a limb and guess the answer to that question is "no".  I've been looking for ways of managing my work flow and I've been hoping task management software will help out.  The problem I've found is that there are basically only two different types of task management software: to-do lists and project management tools.
What I'm looking for is something in the middle.  While I'll have "real projects" I have to manage, I'm not anticipating I'll be tracking resources and using advanced project management features any time soon.  E-Learning content development projects where I'm the primary developer will be the main projects I'm tracking.  More often than not, I'll be managing less formal projects like "Prepare for meeting with Bob" that might include tasks like "Do dry run with Sally on Dec. 19th" and "Print out process documents in preparation for meeting".  These are the types of "projects" I want to be able to easily manage.  These projects seem to be some where in between a standard to-do list and a formal project management tool.
The organization I work for provides a work productivity tool that contains e-mail, calendar, database, and task list functionality.  Like many to-do list implementations I've seen, the software leaves much to be desired.  Tasks can not be sub tasked easily for managing projects.  There is no good tagging scheme.  Tasks can not be easily filtered.  Completed tasks seem to linger around instead of leaving the list once completed.  Needless to say, this is not a valid option for me.  I decided to use a mind mapping tool called FreeMind to manage my tasks.  The ability to create a tree like structure and the free form approach was very conducive to managing my work flow.  I've used this for a few months and it has been very useful.  The drawback I am running into is that it is not easy to filter (for example show all priority 1 tasks) and there is no good tagging scheme.  I've decided I'm ready to try a new approach.
I've been using Remember the Milk for my personal task list.  (Note that I've been using many of David Allen's principles but his principle of combining work and personal lists is not something I'm ready to do)  I like the tagging scheme RTM provides and it has a lot of good features like due dates, repeats, and notes.  The main drawbacks I see are that there is not a good way of handling sub tasks and I don't know how to easily export tasks to a new system if RTM no longer is a good option for me.  However, since it's worked fairly well for my personal list I'm now ready to try it for my work list.  I have a plan in mind to handle project management through tagging but I have seen no good examples of this so I consider my plan experimental at this point.  More to come on that.
Do you use a tool to manage your tasks?  What has worked and what has not worked?

3 comments:

George Pitagorsky said...

Just seeking the answer is enough. It leads to a closing in on perfection.
I have not found the perfect task management solution for multiple small projects. My "Zen Approach" to managing projects is still seat of the pants. Its easier to be a project management expert for others than it is for oneself.

For sub-tasking in a task management tool that doesn't make it easy I have used labeling and structured numbering to identify the higher order task and its sub-tasks.
I have also used Microsoft Project in the most simplistic way, as if it were a task management tool alone. That makes it possible to get some of the scheduling and other features, if I want them.
having an assistant to keep it all up to date is wonderful.
As for mixing personal and business tasks, its power is in the ability to see all the tasks and then be able to manage the time availability based on the total picture.

Tiberiu Ghioca said...

I've created my own ToDo List and using it for personal life and for work: Efigio ToDo Organizer. Helps a lot.

But you are right. There are certain needs that a to do list can't handle and a PM tool is too much. Still depending on the price and flexibility you could use a PM software for organizational purposes. Just do not use all it's features.

Matthias Beyer said...

Hi interesting psot. I'm using RTM as well, read GTD and am thinking as well how I can keep better track of my projects with RTM. I haven't found a good solution yet...
Good luch! Matthais