Tech Post: Task management the efficient way!

I mentioned in my sticky post that I would be doing a small portion of posts on topics other than “all things vegan”…..and here is random post #1. I have become obsessed over the best way to do anything in life more efficiently. Anything from washing the dishes all the way up to project management at work. I first learned of what some call lean, a few years back when I worked in a lab that did the same repetitive motions daily. A worker had gone over to Japan to learn about process flow. He visited one of the Toyota factories in Japan and was amazed by how efficient every process of their workflow was. He brought this back and shared the wisdom with us. I immediately took it to my workstation and figured out by just rearranging some equipment I could cut out 30 minutes from the workflow! At that point I was hooked. My second wave of productivity enlightenment came back in March of this year. I had just taken a new job as an Account Manager for a large landscaping company here in Iowa. I was immediately thrown into the fire and asked to manage over 50 different accounts (properties). I was completely overwelmed by the bombardment of phone calls and emails requesting different services, not to mention the complaint phone calls I had to manage. I had to so something, and fast, before I got fired for poor account management. Luckily my searches stumbled upon the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. If your ever looking for a resource to help you improve your productivity in all aspects of your life, this is it. The main takeaway that David Allen suggests is that your brain is great at creating ideas and creativity, but terrible at a task management system. As he mentions in the book, if it was good at managing tasks, then you would remember the new batteries when you walked past them in at Walmart rather than when you go to turn on the flashlight during a power outage!

Now that I knew that I needed to get my tasks out of my head and into a trusted system, I had to find that trusted system. Trust me when I say this, I have tried just about every task manager out there that is either web based and/or an iOS app. Here are a handful of tips that I have learned through this discovery process:

1. First and foremost, you must trust the system. If for some reason you don't (ie the app loses your data from time to time, etc.) than your brain will not let go of the task. It will sit in your skull as an infinite loop, stealing precious energy until the task is completed or put in a trusted system.

2. The system you use, must be efficient enough to where you are not spending more time in the system than actually doing the work. I have done this first hand. I won't mention the app(s) because I don't feel that is right, but they are out there. (Plus, if I called them out here, you may not try them which would mean you wouldn't learn first hand what I'm talking about!) Watch out for them. I suggest trying many of them, but just be cognizant of the time you are spending in them. These apps just aren't set up effectively to allow you to “get in and get out”!

3. The system must be mobile. Atleast for my job, I am on job sites just as much as I am in the office. With that, I had to have a system that was always at my fingertips. If you only have an office job, than a web based program may just work for you, but remember, if your using it for personal productivity than you will want it for when your out running errands.

4. Be prepared to change the way you manage your tasks as you learn. I know I have changed mine atleast three times now which required me to almost wipe the system clean and start over. With that being said, each iteration has been better than the first.

Now that you know some of the tips that I learned the hard way, I will tell you which app I have finally settled on. The app I am currently using is called Pocket Informant. I am giving them a shout out here because I feel it is necessary to spread the word for companies that you truly believe are doing the best work. This is an app for both iPad and iPhone, but they are working on a web based program as well. My biggest praise is that they allow integration of both your calendar and tasks in the same app. GTD is all about doing things more efficiently and there are too many apps that fail at this basic level by not integrating both into one app. The other major praise is for the amount of customization and filtering possible within the app. They get so detailed into customization that they even allow you to change the color of your text if it is tagged a certain way or even when that task hasn't been synced! They have really thought about all aspects of making your system as efficient as possible. When it comes to filtering, they have allowed you to create “searches” that you can save and refer to at a second's notice. In my case, I save searches based on personal tasks as well as work. I even break down the work tasks further into a waiting for search, a someday/maybe search, as well as other searches based on frequently used keywords or contexts. As mentioned before, this is the most robust system I have come across and the nice thing about that, is that it allows beginners to be as simple as they want and hardcore GTD'ers to be as granular as they want. I could go on, but the best thing you can do is simply try it yourself. I believe they still have a free trial where you can try all the pro features for a limited time. Also note, that there are much more comprehensive reviews on Pocket informant that are much more worthy of checking out than this one!

The last thing I want to mention is that you should alway keep learning about GTD. I frequently listen to GTD podcasts and follow many GTD blogs.

Podcasts:

GTD Virtual Study Group

Prodpod

The productive life: Evernote

The 5 AM Miracle

Blogs:

Lifehacker

Productivityist

Time Management Ninja

It would be a shame if I didn't mention how I blog efficiently as well. Check out the Blogsy app for iPad!

I would love to hear your comments as well!

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