I promised in a previous post to describe my task management system – here it is!

But before I do that, here are a few reasons you should be using one if you aren’t already:

  • Safety. My class and work schedule are mostly fixed, so it’s usually easy to remember what I need to be doing at any given point in the week. But none of us are perfect, and I would’ve totally forgotten a handful of assignments if it wasn’t for my system. It’s easy to skip using a planning system when you can remember everything without assistance, but that’s not the point – think of it as an investment for those moments when things do slip your mind.

  • Mental clarity. Personally remembering all your assignments and commitments takes up valuable mental space. Record these things elsewhere so you aren’t distracted by random dates and lists floating around in your head, and so you can focus more fully on actually doing what you need to do.

  • Scalability. At some point, you’ll take on more stuff than you can remember. In other words, your ability to remember to-do lists and deadlines probably isn’t very scalable. A good task management system is – it will remember whatever you throw at it with no issues.

My system

I use three main tools:

Trello: essentially my master to-do list. This holds all (seriously) of my class assignments, side projects, and other personal administrivia. I was introduced to this on a startup project with a friend, and I immediately fell in love with it. Available on Android and iOS as well.

Google Calendar: class schedules, meetings, traveling, etc. For clarity’s sake, I don’t put tasks in my calendar. If it’s something to do, it goes on my Trello board. If it’s somewhere to go, it goes in GCal.

Planner: my girlfriend got me this planner from Leatherology as a Christmas gift. It’s the perfect size, and I have to admit that the luxurious leather backing makes me feel like a seasoned executive every time I pull it out. This is my reference point throughout the day; I typically either write down the few large tasks I want to hit, or I explicitly block off time for each of several shorter tasks. Sometimes I use a hybrid of the two – it really depends on what I need to get done that day. (Examples of each follow.)

planner-large-tasks A “large task” day

planner-schedule A more tightly scheduled day.

planner-hybrid A “hybrid” day. The first two columns were used to block time for important tasks; the third column was a list of low-energy, non-critical tasks to fill in any spare moments (though paying the electric bill arguably meets neither of those criteria).

I also use small Moleskine journals when I’m on the run, but anything important always ends up in Trello or GCal.

Designing your own

These are the properties that I think have kept me using my task management system, as opposed to being my usual fickle self:

  • Simple: while I use several tools, each of them is easy to use. Each of them also has a well-defined purpose within the system, so I don’t have to think about where to record new information.
  • Flexible: each tool was quickly set up exactly how I wanted it. For example, my GCal has separate calendars for classes, band rehearsals / performances, capstone meetings, etc. that required minimal effort to configure.
  • Fun: my planner just makes me feel like a successful human. And the mascot for Trello is a husky – who doesn’t love huskies? (His name is Taco, in case you were wondering.)