Ingermanson on Low Priority Task

I am thinking a lot about how to get everything done in an efficient way, and I found some of Randy Ingermansons idea’s and suggestions pretty helpful. Here is more:


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

I can only encourage you to sign up to his newsletter. It’s always good advice on anything writing- and publishing-related. Enjoy!


Organization: What About Your Low-Priority Tasks?

Last month in this column, I talked about the value of choosing just a few tasks and projects to focus on at any given moment. Those few things are, by definition, the high-priority things in your life.

But that means most tasks and projects won’t be high-priority. How do you make sure you don’t forget any of those lower-priority tasks and projects?

The answer is simple. You can ensure that you never lose track of any task or project if you do two things:

  • Put all your tasks and projects in a “trusted system” that contains absolutely everything you want to do.
  • Schedule time at regular intervals to review all tasks and projects in your “trusted system.”

If you follow those two simple rules religiously, you’ll never forget anything. Everything will be in your trusted system, so it can’t get lost. And you’ll regularly review it during your scheduled review times.

All of this is explained at length in David Allen’s classic book Getting Things Done. Allen suggests using a paper filing system for the trusted system.

My New Trusted System

I’m not a big fan of paper, and could never make it work. For some years, I’ve been using various software tools as my trusted system. Last September, I began experimenting with a new program, and I’ve now been using it consistently for about eight months. It’s the best tool I’ve ever used, and it’s helped me get a bit more control of my life. I’ve decided it’s about time to tell you about it.

The software I’m using is an online tool at KanbanFlow.com. It lets you create one or more “Kanban boards” to keep track of your life.

What’s Kanban? It’s a project management system that came out of Japan that’s now used by a lot of software developers. It works great for managing teams of programmers.

But it also works great for managing your life. The idea is that you want to be able to easily visualize all your tasks and projects on something that looks like a whiteboard. So you create a series of columns for holding all your tasks and projects. Think of each column as a To Do List, but the different columns have different priorities, sorted from low to high.

How Kanban Works

The goal is to move tasks and projects ultimately into the Done column, which is at the right end of the Kanban board.

The things you’re working on right this instant are in the Doing Now column, which is just to the left of the Done column.

Everything else is in columns to the left of that. You can have as many columns as you like. I recommend having at least the following set of columns:

  • Today
  • This Week
  • This Month
  • This Quarter
  • This Year
  • Someday/Maybe

Put things in the Today column only if you can reasonably hope to actually do them today.

And likewise for all the other columns.

Kanban Keeps Things Visual

What I love about KanbanFlow is that you can easily color-code tasks and projects so you can visualize them better.

I code most tasks green. (A task is something I can do in one sitting, which might be anywhere from 5 minutes to a couple of hours. For example, writing the next scene in my novel is a task. So is mowing the lawn. So is getting a haircut.)

I code most projects purple. (A project is a collection of tasks. For example, writing a novel is a project. So is selling a house. Doing the laundry is a simple project with three subtasks—putting the clothes in the washer, moving them to the dryer, and folding them when they’re dry.)

An appointment is a special kind of task that has to be done at a certain time because it involves meeting with other people. I code my appointments red, so they’ll stand out on the screen. I also attach times to them, to let me know when they’re due.

KanbanFlow makes it easy to drag and drop tasks and projects around on the screen. You can put multiple tasks inside a project as checkboxes. Here’s a screendump of a sample Kanban board that I set up using KanbanFlow. (This is not my real life; it’s a simplified example board that illustrates the basics.)

The blue blocks are recurring tasks that take up blocks of time every day, such as working at my day job, working on my novel, etc.

Using Kanban To Manage my Life

At the start of every day, I drag a reasonable set of tasks into the Today column. Usually these come from the This Week column. Then as the day progresses, I move things out of the Today column into the Doing Now column, which has a limit of 3 tasks. (This keeps me from trying to multitask. I rarely have more than one task in the Doing Nowcolumn.) When a task is finished, I move it to the Done column and add another task into Doing Now.

The goal of each day is to move all the tasks that started out in the Today column into the Doing Now column and then ultimately into the Done column.

The goal of each week is to clear out all the tasks that started out in the This Weekcolumn.

The reason the Kanban board is helpful is that on any given day, I don’t have to look through all the tasks and projects in my entire Kanban board. I just need to look through the This Week column to find things to work on Today. And at any given minute, if I want to know what to do next, I just have to look through the Today column.

The Weekly and Monthly Review

Once a week, I review the tasks and projects in the This Month column and move some of them into the This Week column.

Once a month, I review the tasks and projects in all the other columns, looking for things that can go into the This Month or This Week column.

As time goes by, tasks and projects move from left to right, eventually ending up in the Done column.

But nothing ever gets lost or forgotten, because it’s written down and I review it at least once a month.

Kanban doesn’t make you more efficient. It just gives you peace of mind that you won’t forget anything, and that you’ll always be working on the things that you know are your current highest priority.

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