January 20, 2020
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.
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
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!