Task-Managing Series, Part 1: Introduction to a Self-Experiment

Published August 29, 2009 in Self-Organization - 1 Comments

Usually, this is where I would write an introduction on how effective task-management is becoming more and more important in this information-age etc. etc. I hope you don’t mind if I get right to the point, instead.

Goal of the Experiment

I will test out a few different methods of task-management, centred around task-lists or to-do-lists. The objective is to find an optimal method for keeping track of all the relevant tasks in my life. With any kind of task-management, it’s important to find a good balance: A system that leads me to excessive micro-management and distracts me from the big picture is just as useless as one that keeps me focused only on the larger tasks, letting me forget the smaller, maybe mundane but nonetheless important tasks.

The reason I’m doing this as an experiment is that I want to avoid just using the first method that comes along. I suspect that any kind of systematic task-management is better than no task-management at all, so whatever I try first will probably already seem like a fairly good idea. By deliberately trying several different approaches, I wont succumb to laziness and just settle for the first method I come across in a book or on a blog.

Here are the different methods I will test:

  • Having an ongoing list vs. rewriting the list every day (i.e. rewriting any unfinished tasks for the next day).
  • Setting tasks for just one day vs. setting tasks for a few days in advance.
  • Using software vs. writing tasks down on paper.
  • Software I will try: ta-da-list, todoist, OrchestrateHQ

I will try each variation for at least one week to give myself a chance to get used to the method. It’s possible that something seems uncomfortable to do the first few times but then becomes habitual and turns out to be a good solution after all. I wont try every possible combination of the above variations, just the ones that make sense – for example, if I find that using an ongoing list fits me better with one piece of software I won’t test ongoing vs. rewritten lists for every other software as well.


When it comes to deciding which method is the best one for me, I want to rely on more than just my subjective experience. How I subjectively feel about each method is an important factor, of course, but it’s not terribly reliable and so I want to set two objectively measurable benchmarks:

  1. Tasks set / Tasks done per day.
  2. Time spent task-managing.

The first factor is a bit tricky: Ideally, I want to be completing close to 100% of the tasks I set for myself every day. This is easier when I set fewer tasks, but that’s not necessarily beneficial. The goal is to find a method that helps me set an adequate amount of achievable tasks and complete all, or almost all of them. Looking at the ratio of tasks set and tasks completed for each day should help me adjust accordingly.

The second factor, how much time I spend managing my tasks, is simpler: I don’t want to be wasting time managing the tasks when I should be getting them done. A task-managing method that uses less time is therefore always better than one that uses a lot of time.

There is one final benchmark that I will apply to whatever method I settle for: I will report on whether I stick with it. A few months after I have decided on what method to use, I will report on how it went, whether it was easy to continue and whether I modified anything about the method.

Getting Things Done

Since you are on the internet, you probably know about Getting Things Done by David Allen. I haven’t read this book yet, but I intend to – after my task-managing experiment. The reason I am postponing reading GTD is that I want to come to it having already gathered some experience on the subject of task-management. I think this will make it more interesting to read GTD and I might be able to learn more from it this way. If I find the ideas in GTD convincing, I will test them out as well and post about it here.

I don’t yet know what the focus of GTD is. I do know that my ideas for task-managing are mainly concerned with short-term tasks and less with long-term goals and the big picture. I intend to experiment with methods for longer-term task-managements somewhere down the road.

For now, stay tuned for updates on my initial experiments.

This post is part of a series.
Part 1: Introduction to the Experiment (currently viewing)
Part 2: Optimal Method