In my last post on steps I have taken to be productive when working from home, I mentioned a pen-&-paper-based system that I have been using for the past many months to manage my work. In this post, I will walk you through that, with the hope that it will make your work life a little easier!
But Wait! Why Don’t You Just Use An App For Task Management?
I totally get it if you have this question screaming in your head right now! Well, I actually did. I tried many apps and online tools – Google Tasks, Asana, Todoist etc. But there were a couple of strong reasons why they didn’t work for me:
- none of the apps had all the features that I wanted. Due to this, I kept moving from one app to the other, and soon the focus shifted from organizing my day to finding the best app that can help me do that
- while it is convenient to have an app for adding tasks as you almost always have your phone on you, that’s what I wanted to avoid. We already spend so much time on our phones, I didn’t want to add yet another reason to take out my phone
The Pen & Paper Method Of Planning The Day
The approach that I use is a mix of various online and offline tasks systems that I have read or followed in the past. My approach is influenced by Jira, ToDoist, Bullet Journal, and GTD, and probably contains a mix of all, minus some complexities. So, without further ado, here is how I plan my day.
Section 1: Legend
The first section in my notebook is the Legend page. This page captures the guidelines that I want to follow while planning the day. This ensures uniformity and eventually, you will be in a place where you won’t need to refer the legend.
I keep 1 page for legend.
Section 2: Meeting Agenda
Next, I have a section called Meeting Agenda. Here I capture agenda items for 1:1s with my manager & and for team meetings. During the week if something comes to the mind that I want to discuss with my manager or bring in the team meeting, I add it here along with the date, so that I don’t forget it during the meeting. Once it has been addressed I tick it off the list.
I keep 5 pages for this section, you can increase or decrease as per your requirement.
Section 3: Backlog
The third section is called Backlog. I will explain this in the next section.
I keep 10 pages for this section.
Section 4: Task List
The last section in the notebook is my Task List. Let’s spend some time here.
Every morning before I start the work, I go through my mails and add all the tasks for that day here, like this:
A task can be anything – an action item, a follow-up, scheduling a meeting, writing a document, reviewing a piece of code, etc. However, I don’t add meetings that I have to attend as tasks.
If the task is linked to a project I add the project name next to it as *proj_name
- Task *proj_name_initials
If I need to follow-up with someone on this action item, that gets added as @initials_of_the_person next to the action item.
- Task *proj_name_initials @initials_of_the_person
If a task doesn’t need to be completed on that day, I add it to the backlog.
At the end of the day, I go through this list and take one of the following actions:
- Change the bullet to forward-pointing arrow for tasks that have to be moved to the next day
- Change the bullet to backward-pointing arrow for tasks that are not required to be completed anytime soon and add that task to the Backlog section
- Change the bullet to a tick for tasks that have been completed
- Change the bullet to a cross for tasks that are no longer required to be completed
I also add any important notes or reflection from the day at the end of the task list.
Next day, when I repeat this exercise, I do the following:
- Scan through the Backlog to see if anything from there needs to be added to the task list. If I add something from the Backlog to the Task List for the day, I change the bullet to a tick-mark and mention the date, so that in future when I scan the Backlog I do not pick the same task again, and I know which date to refer to check the status of that task
- Check the Task List from the previous day and move any tasks marked with a forward-pointing arrow to the current day’s task list
- Check emails to add tasks from there
And the process continues…
A Few Suggestions If You Plan To Follow Pen & Paper Approach
- Add index tabs at the beginning of each section to quickly navigate to that section
- Use a small notebook so that you can carry it easily with you
- Use a notebook with good-quality pages, so that you enjoy writing on it. I use Thought Slots B6 notebook, which I purchased from Amazon.
- Use different colors for task, project_initial and person_initial, so that you can easily look for tasks by person or project. I use blue ink for tasks, green for project_initial and red for person_initial
I hope this will help you plan your work better. Do let me know if you try this approach. If you have a different approach of managing your tasks, please share it using the comment form below, I’ll love to read that.