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I don’t believe it for a second.  Procrastination is a self-management problem, not a time-management problem.  And yet… when you’re feeling organized and on top of your responsibilities, you don’t experience that stress that can trigger a serious bout of goofing off.  Lately I’ve been exploring the intersection of Good Work Habits and Task Management.

TRO

A friend of mine introduced me to a GTD hybrid called TRO: “Totally Relaxed Organization.”  Like GTD, you write down all your to-do’s in one list.  Tasks are organized into “Projects.”  The idea is that, at any one time, you might have five to ten “Active” Projects, that is Projects that you’re currently working on.  The rubber really hits the road in the weekly and daily reviews.  

In your weekly review, you look at all your Active Projects, and you tag the next one or two Tasks in each one as being “Next Tasks.”  Sort all these Next Tasks into one list: this is your weekly plan, what you plan to accomplish over the next week.  Look over this list, as well as your calendar for the week, and make sure it’s realistic.  Iterate if necessary.  Elapsed time: ten minutes.

Now for the daily reviews: every day, you go through your weekly plan and pick two to four Tasks to accomplish that day: ideally your top priorities.   This is your daily plan.  Again, look at this list and your calendar together and make sure the plan is realistic.  Done!  Elapsed time: five minutes.  Now you can focus on just the Tasks in your daily plan, comfortable in the knowledge that all your other to-do’s are in the system and awaiting their turn, not forgotten.

There’s more to it, but this is the heart of the system (and really, all that I’ve implemented so far).  (The numbers of tasks in the examples above scale up or down, obviously, depending on duration.  You could have dozens of 5-minute tasks in one daily plan, or just one whopper.)

All this tagging and list-making is greatly simplified with the right software app (although some people do it successfully on paper).  The software suite called Things is purpose-built to facilitate the TRO method, and it’s very user-friendly.  Unfortunately for me, it’s a Mac-only app (and I’m… not).  But I’ve managed to implement TRO in Toodledo, a free web-based task management system.

So far it’s working for me.  After spending a day setting up the system, my reviews have quickly gotten down to about five minutes each day.  I have a short list of my top priority tasks, while the rest of my to-do’s are out of sight but not forgotten.  The system is helping me to identify and focus on my top priority of the moment (the essential procrastination-beating work habit).  It’s even helping with motivation: finishing a concise daily plan is a short enough goal that I’m motivated to get down to work and try to finish it before the end of the day.

Planning Is Time Well Spent

Here’s a related blog post, forwarded by that same friend:

MacSparkey: Task Management When the Bullets are Flying

“Generally, when things get nuts, I’m tempted to shut out everything else and just get to work. It is very tempting to ignore my task management system entirely and start pounding rocks. With this latest influx of work, I’ve tried a different strategy. I’m trying to manage my tasks at the same time that I’m overwhelmingly busy. It is working for me. While it now seems obvious, it was initially hard for me to justify spending any time on task management with bullets flying around me. So here are two ways to pull this off…”

-J

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2 Comments

  1. Things is a fantastic app. I have it for the iPad, and it has kept me on track for a number of months now.

  2. Thank you for your insight in the system. I will be enrolling now.
    Thanks!


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