Overcoming a task overload problem when you’ve tried everything

My problem

I have hundreds of things I need to do because of all the things going on in my life.

I have multiple areas of responsibility in my job, whether it’s researching customer usage of the product, writing new feature requirements, or delivering new releases. I’m a writer and photographer and need to keep thinking of what the next article might be or where might be interesting to go and take a few shots. I also have a wife and five daughters who need my attention and for me to do a vast array of things for them.

As such, I need something that allows me to get all of the tasks that get thrown at me out of my head and into something that will remember them all for me, and of course prompt me to take action when I need to.

Whatever the solution is, I need it to be easily available because a task might get thrown at me at any time. It needs to be able to be viewed in a variety of ways, depending on where I am or who I’m with. It also needs to be aware of other things that are happening in my life, so I can make sensible decisions on what I can realistically handle at any one time.

My solution

I’ve tried paper and pen, the to-do lists that you get inside your email programmes, note taking apps like Evernote and OneNote, as well as Kanban style boards like Trello, but they all fall short in some way.

But now, I’m on Things.

  • Each day I can see the tasks I have scheduled, alongside information that’s sync’d with my calendar.
  • I can see what tasks I have scheduled on upcoming days, so I can plan my time better
  • If I’m having a meeting about a specific project I can view tasks only relating to that project, cutting out the noise and focusing on what’s only relevant for this conversation.
  • And if I’m having a meeting with a particular individual then I can view tasks that only relate to them, which is great when you have line management responsibility and need to keep a track on all the tasks you dish out to others.
  • If I get given a task, or think of something I need to do, there are shortcuts on desktop and quick launches on mobile, so I can record the task with minimal interruption to what I’m doing.

It’s on my phone, and my desktop. I check it every day (multiple times) and it’s become the source of truth for what I need to get done.

But …

the problem with the product is that its success relies on my effort in using it. It can’t work wonders on its own.

It does need you to figure out ways of categorising and grouping your tasks. It comes with Project Areas and Areas of Responsibility, which I supplement with tags for individuals (eg John, Jane, Ahmed), tags for location (eg at a computer, on the phone, out shopping)

It also needs you to put some thought in on a higher level to figure out what your goals will be for the week, month, quarter etc…, but I’ll look at that in a future article.

To help this, I think the Things team should be looking at:

  • Improving the way tasks get added to lists, such as through forwarded emails, task sharing, and automatic follow up tasks
  • Providing more prompts for me to take action, such as ‘You’ve not checked your tasks in a while. Have you got things to do?’
  • Improving the structure of tasks so that they can be completed more easily, such as prioritisation (must do, like to do), highlighting tasks with minimal information which will therefore be harder to complete, or suggesting tags.
  • Introducing intelligent support in taking action, such as ‘You added this task a while ago but haven’t done anything with it. Do you still need it? If so, tag it with dates and categories to get it into an actionable position” or “You’ve now changed the date of this task three times. What’s stopping you doing it? Is it too big and needs breaking down? Is there information missing so you need a task before it?”

Note: I’m not paid to advertise Things. This is just an article that considers the challenges of task overload, how I’m currently addressing it, and how my current solution could be made even better.

Written by

Helping people kick start their product management career at gettingstartedinproduct.com * Product person at Watchfinder

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