It seems in this day and age that negativity is the norm.
Whether it is the news, a conversation with a friend, or a trip to the local coffee shop. We are bombarded with negativity.
The latest political scandal and scandalous and has people up in arms. The friend is unhappy about something in their life. The customer ordering their coffee is complaining about the supposed lack of options (or how hot their coffee is, or how the drink has too many ice cubes, etc).
Even if we try to shut out external sources of negativity, our minds will turn inward and begin to point out the things in our own lives that could use work. There is nothing wrong with this but the fact remains that it is easier for us to be negative than to be positive. Instead of taking inventory of how much good we have in our life our energy is focused on what is missing or not good enough. And so, even though we have so much to be thankful for and to be positive about, we become unhappy because of what is supposedly missing from our lives.
Having a negative view about something is like hanging out with the “in” crowd. Everyone is doing it, so it will be easy to do.
However, if we choose to find the positive, and share the positive, we will be going against the majority and may create conflict…so it will not be easy to take the positive route.
Similar to frowning verses smiling. Frowning uses fewer muscles and is easy for us to do, while smiling uses more muscles and is harder to do!
Although more difficult, let’s choose to have a positive mindset and share that with the world around us.
March 3, 2020
I have noticed lately how we (people, humans, or maybe just my son and I) are naturally inclined to be satisfied and prefer simple things. We start by over complicating something in order to learn (an unplanned part of the process) and then scale back to whatever “it” is at its most basic structure or function.
Mozzie’s room is filled with toys, but if given a choice will choose sticks and stones (no joke) over the battery powered junk from the store.
I obsess over finding the best task management app/system. Months, years, and a few hundred dollars later I decided to manage everything with text files and pen and paper.
Same with the perfect text editor for wrangling all of the words I write. I try all of the new tools on the block and go back to text in a simple text file written in an app I have used since it was first launched. Even still, all of my words start with the most basic tools available: pen and paper.
I think we do this so that we come to fully understand whatever it is. We have to go through the entire discovery process in order to fully grasp the thing and appreciate all of the components. We learn about ourselves through this process, which I think may be the most important part. Whether learning which toys we like the most as kids, to figuring out how we best organize and manage life as adults, we ultimately learn more about ourselves and become a better more authentic version of who we are. All part of the process of becoming who we are…
So, lean into whatever path of discovery you find yourself on at the moment. Don’t feel bad about jumping from one thing to the next. It is all part of the process. You are becoming you. And right now, you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
March 2, 2020
The Human Spirit
Last week I stretched my mind a bit. Not with anything complicated or complex, but with something (two things, actually), that I previously thought, or told myself, I could not do: I built a few things out of wood. Four shelves to be exact. Two for our kitchen (stained and fancy looking), and two floor to ceiling units for in the garage. I used a miter saw, wood glue, clamps, drill bits, a stud finder, and lots of screws.
And they all turned out great, much to my surprise :-)
I determined what I wanted to do, acquired the tools to get it done, did some research, and set aside time to build. I had a few false starts, bad cuts, and steps to undo and then do again, but in the end it all worked out.
The point has less to do with what I built, or even that I built something, and more to do with the human spirit. I was reminded that as a human-being I am only limited by what I allow to be a limit. As long as I set my mind to something, and take the steps to do whatever it is that I want to do, there is a 99% chance of success (completion). The 1% is any roadblock I refuse to overcome.
Armed with determination, patience, a mind ready to learn, and Duck Duck Go, there is nothing that I cannot do. There is nothing that we cannot do. We may fail in whatever it is we are setting out to do, but nothing can stop us from trying.
Armed with the confidence of successfully completing my first two “wood working” projects, I am making a list of things that I want to build over the next few months to a year, and I’ll see where it goes from there. Some are big projects/ideas, others are small. I will build on what I have learned, acquire new skills (and more tools) along the way, and will chip through my list - learning and growing through the process.
This is something that we, as humans, are pretty darn good at. Coming up with an idea, defining ways to fail and ultimately to succeed, and then leveling up from there, always looking for ways to do and be better.
Quick examples that this mindset applied to when the dreams and ideas were just words on a page:
February 25, 2020
Accepting that I will never be focused
I really do try to be one of those people who is focused, sticks to a routine, and knows what I am doing every minute of the day and why. But I’m not.
I’m just not. I am easily distracted and hopelessly stumble from one random thought or idea to the next. I never finish what I start and never feel like I have accomplished what I needed to in a given day.
But I want to! I want to know what it feels like to map out a day’s work and very confidently and successfully walk through that todo list, slaying each item with accuracy, efficiency, and perfection.
Instead, I look at my list for the day, acknowledge how organized it is, walk away from my desk, make a cup of coffee, stare outside for a few minutes, nod my head in agreement, and finally determine to not do anything. So, by the end of the day, I am left to pushing each task to the next day. I repeat this cycle until the deadlines cannot be pushed any further and the work just needs to be done.
Maybe it isn’t me but the work. That could be the case. But no, I can’t even blame that. There are personal things, writing things, fun things, that I just continue to post-pone.
Like right now. It is Friday, the end of the work week. I should be a good worker bee and get my list for the week completed. But, instead of doing that, I allowed myself to go down the rabbit hole of a shiny object, crack open a beer at 3pm, and write (which is something I do want to do, but shouldn’t be doing right now).
So what do I do?
What should I do?
I should buckle down and focus.
Will I? Nope.
Do I really want to? No, not really.
That’s another part of the problem. I lean into procrastination because it typically works out for me. I delay delay delay until something cannot be delayed any longer, and then I work work work work work work (cue Rihanna song) until my eyes are fall out and I meet the deadline with minutes to spare. I collapse from exhaustion, tell myself that I should have spread the work out across multiple days so I didn’t kill myself in the process, but then go right back to procrastinating the next deadline or thing I should start working on.
So it is what it is. I procrastinate. And I’m good at it. And I think I’ll accept that fact and stop trying to do otherwise.
I enjoy the process :-)
February 14, 2020
How I use Drafts for Task Management
Overall Task Management Philosophy
Simplicity, and endeavoring to keep things simple.
I have used all of the expected tools for keeping track of things that need doing: pen and paper, Things, OmniFocus, Todoist, Trello, Taskpaper, Bullet Journal, Apple Reminders, Any.do, and so forth and so on. I have been using all of these like a pin-ball machine over the past fifteen years, jumping from one system to the next, in search of “the one” to meet all of my needs.
As I tend to do in life, I go all in and over complicate something that is simple in practice so that I can fully understand whatever the thing is. Through all of this experimenting, learning, and doing, I determined that it is best if I manage things at their most basic form: with words, numbers, and symbols.
I now have a “system” that could be run very well using basic text files, and I may experiment with that in the future, but for now I am very satisfied and at home in managing my personal and professional responsibilities in an application called Drafts.
What is Drafts?
For those of you that do not know about Drafts, it is an iOS and Mac application that focuses on capturing whatever is on your mind. The primary intent and use of the app is capturing text, and then using “Actions” to put the text wherever it needs to go. The beautiful thing about Drafts is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want/need it to be. The app itself gets out of the way.
When you open Drafts you are met with a blinking cursor, nothing else. Write so you don’t forget whatever came to mind, then go about your day. Open it again and you are met with the same blinking cursor. Nothing is there to distract you from your present.
At its core that’s all Drafts is.
But, like I said, it is also very flexible. If you want it to do more, it can do more. A quick visit to the Drafts Community and Action Directory highlight this.
If you haven’t done so yet, give it a look and try it out. It is free to do so. Advanced features, if you need them, can be unlocked via a $20 yearly subscription.
Ok, with that out of the way, I’d like to show you how I am using Drafts to manage tasks and projects.
How I Organize My Drafts
￼Organizing all of my tasks and projects is based entirely on tags, dates, and Workspaces looking for those tags/dates in Drafts. I use Flags to filter the most important things for the day to the top of my “Today” list. If a task is part of a larger Draft with other tasks and notes (i.e. a project), marking a single task as complete is as simple as removing the date from its line. If a task is the only content in a Draft I’ll just archive the Draft to mark it as complete. If anything is put into Drafts without a tag then that draft will appear in the “Processing” workspace where I can tag as needed to have it appear where it needs to appear (and even when I need it to appear).
I have a Workspace that shows me all tasks (personal and work) due on the current date, and also two separate Workspaces for Personal and Work tasks. For the purpose of this post I am focusing entirely on how I use Drafts for managing my Work tasks.
My “work” Workspace (“PD - Today”, shown in the image above) contains all Drafts with a specific date (today’s date) and with a specific tag (“pd”). Each morning, before doing anything else, I update my three “task” oriented Workspaces to refer to the current date (example below) so that those tasks appear in my list of things to do.
So, if we look forward to January 21st, I can see I have the things to work on (see first screenshot above. The task list is the individual drafts at the very left of the screen).
All of the drafts in the first screenshot above contain Tuesday’s date in the following format: @due(2020-01-21).
Additionally, they contain a tag to mark them as a “work” task and thus sort them into my work’s “today” workspace.
This is a high level view at how I use Drafts to manage tasks and projects. Let’s take a closer look how all of this happens in more detail.
A Note About TextExpander
Before getting into the sections below, it is important to note that I use Text Expander heavily to assist with adding dates (and other bits of information) with as little effort as possible. I have snippets add dates for the following scenarios:- Today
- Today +1
- Today +2
- Today +3
- Today +7 (i.e. 1 week from today)
- Today +14 (i.e. 2 weeks from today)
- Due daily the next 5 days
- Due the next Sunday and Thursday
- Select Date (used when one of the above snippets does not meet my current need).
I have a handful of tasks that are due on a recurring basis. Some daily, some weekly, and some monthly. These Drafts simply reflect that need in the “header” section.
As an example, Sunday through Thursday I need to prepare and send out surveys to customers that worked with our team on a ticket. The draft in the first picture above is how I manage this recurring task.
￼At the very top is the title. I include “routine” in the title so that I know at a glance that this is part of my routine. It also helps to differentiate this task from other tasks that are not routine.
Below the title is a series of dates. These are the dates I need to do this task for the next week, beginning with Sunday, the 19th. As I complete this task on each date I simply remove the date from the draft, which removes the entire draft from my list of Drafts with today’s date (see GIF example below). It will not appear again until the next date is used in my “All Tasks” or “PD-Today” Workspace.
Underneath the dates is the TextExpander snippet I need to use to setup dates for the next week. So, on the 23rd, the last date in the current series, I will add a new line below that date and type
;drf5. Doing so will add the following dates:
Below the TextExpander snippet reminder are notes related to the task.
Recurring Review Tasks
Some of the most important tasks within any task management “system” is the “Review” task. Just like the post-ticket survey recurring task example above, these recurring reviews are notes with recurring dates scheduled for the future. I have drafts for daily reviews, weekly reviews, monthly reviews, and yearly reviews. Within each note I provide information on what needs to be reviewed.
In addition to a review @due(date) they will also be tagged with the “Routine” tag so that they appear in the “Routines” Workspace. I apply a flag to them so that when they are due they appear at the top of the Today list.
I reschedule non-routine tasks quite often. On my planning days I am often overly ambitious on what I think I will accomplish in the future and so moving tasks out is a frequent reality. Doing so within this system is very simple. Where a draft has a single task I’ll just modify the date directly, bumping it out to the next date I’d like to consider working on task.
Where a draft has multiple tasks (i.e. a project) due on the same day I’ll use Find & Replace to move all of the dates in one click.
With both methods, the task that was previously in my list for today will now be hidden from this Workspace until the new/next date arrives.
Single Action Items
For tasks that are non-routine and not part of a larger project, I will create Single Action Items. These are single tasks that I need to remember to do once and are most likely not part of a project. If I am on my MacBook Pro I will use the Drafts Quick Capture shortcut (available in Settings -> General) to have a small draft note appear in the bottom right of my monitor where I type what I need to do, use a TextExpander snippet to assign a date, enter the tag needed to put it in the correct list, and CMD+Return to save and get on with my day.
On my iPhone, I created a quick action in Shortcuts to handle this. When tapped the Shortcut runs and prompts me for what I need to remember. I type that, then tap OK. Next it asks when I want to do this task and gives me a date selector to select the date. Finally, it asks if this is for work or is a personal task (assigning the appropriate tags to put the task into the correct list).
When a single action item is complete I simply archive that Draft, which removes it from the Workspace inbox and archives it out of view.
Projects are simply drafts with multiple tasks. For me, a project is either a maintenance release for an application my team is responsible for, onboarding a new employee, an improvement initiative, and so on. These drafts usually contain notes, links to emails and other resources or tools, and also tasks embedded within this information, therefore my project drafts are an all-in-one resource for just about everything I need for a given initiative.
For repeatable projects (like an application release or onboarding a new employee) I use TextExpander to create the initial project body (example above). This allows me to very quickly and easily add in custom data for these types of projects (i.e. employee name, start date, etc). Once they are created I customize as-needed with additional notes or links to emails I need to remember (but don’t want to needlessly keep in my email inbox).
As far as easily identifying a task within how busy a project can become, I will see them called out by the due date that is bold, or by the markdown task format: - [ ]
When completing a task within a project I remove the due date and mark the checkbox with an x (click the box if on my MacBook Pro, tap if on my iPhone). When the project is complete I archive the entire draft. Archiving keeps things accessible via search if I ever need to refer back to a project and its contents.
An example of a project I am in the middle of is the annual survey I sent out to our customers/users in December of last year. It started with an initial block of tasks that I jotted down, and then morphed to include Excel formulas, custom Survey Monkey links, email drafts, HTML to use in emails generated by Zapier, items to fix once things got underway, targeted follow-up emails to send, and goals I wanted to reach. Because all of this is essentially in a simple text file I am free to organize it however I want/need to.
As with all tasks, and even entire projects, some things need to have context other than a date. In these cases I utilize “@tags” within the note itself to denote what the current situation is.
Sometimes I need someone or something else in order to do a task, or someone else is responsible for it all-together. In these situations I will assign the @waiting tag to a task (single action item or within a project). I will also include @name so that I know who the task is waiting on. Additionally, @waiting can also include a date which can be used for follow-up or as a due date for when the person responsible needs to have it completed by.
Notes that contain the @waiting tag are sorted into the Waiting workspace. I review this Workspace on a weekly basis and send out my nag emails after verifying that the @waiting tag is valid.
There are also circumstances where a date just can’t be known right now, or maybe I still need to determine if I will do a particular task or project. In these situations I apply the @someday tag to the note (“maybe” is assumed with this). As with the @waiting tag, this will sort all @someday drafts into the Someday Workspace that is reviewed on a monthly basis so that I have the opportunity to schedule it (assign date(s)), defer it (i.e. keep the @someday tag), delegate it (assign the @waiting tag), or archive it with the @dropped tag so that I know I chose to not do the task or project. If dropped I can include additional context (notes, links to emails, etc) explaining why it was dropped, or I can just drop it and not worry about the context.
Finally, the @schedule tag. This one is used for tasks or projects that I know I can find a date for, I just don’t want to take the time right now. For these I will assign the @schedule tag which sorts drafts into the Schedule Workspace which is reviewed on a weekly basis. When reviewing, I replace the @someday tag with a @due(date) tag so that it will appear in the “Today” Workspace when it needs to.
Because I primarily use Drafts for keeping track of what I need to do each day, I have a Workspace that grabs all of the drafts using the @due(date) tag mentioned above and dumps them all into one place. I have the Drafts Mac and iOS app use this Workspace as the badge count, thereby showing me how many total items I have to handle on any given day.
On the Mac you can define which Workspace the badge uses by going to Settings -> Notifications.
￼On iOS, tap the gear icon in the lower right of the screen, tap Badge, toggle the “Show inbox count” switch to On, then select the Workspace to count for the badge.
￼That’s it. That’s how I use Drafts to manage all of my tasks and projects. I enjoy and appreciate how flexible this “system” is. As I stated above, Drafts can be as simple as I need it to be and also as complex as I need it to be. This makes Drafts the perfect application and solution for managing my tasks and projects.
Questions or comments? Reach out on Micro.blog or by sending me an email: hello at aaronaiken dot me.
Thanks for reading!
January 20, 2020