As I mentioned in a previous post in this space, task management is a very useful skill for the technical communicator. How to do it seems to be a matter of contention.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that people turn to increasingly complex and granular productivity systems to help them get things done. Being something of a minimalist, I dislike complex systems. They take too much time to maintain, and can be convoluted.
On top of that, far too many people spend far too much time obsessing about their productivity and task management systems. They try to tweak those system to unattainable perfection, or try to make them do something that the systems can’t do. In the end, they don’t have much time to do anything else.
A simple approach often works best. And you can’t get any simpler than a text file.
Task management with a text file
One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that you need to be flexible, due to either limitations of the available technology or due to circumstances beyond your control. I like to keep a list of my daily tasks handy; it keeps me on track. I maintain my personal tasks and the ones related to the running of DMN Communications in Remember the Milk, and sync them with my Blackberry.
But I like to keep the daily tasks related to a gig I’m working on separate. Instead of maintaining multiple lists in multiple applications, I go low tech when working at a client site. How? By firing up a text editor and creating a text file that I update at the end of each day. The file lists the task that I plan to complete, along with a status — either Done or In Progress. The file also a contains a set of goals for the current week.
At the end of each day, I get rid of the items that I’ve finished and move anything else forward. Here’s a sample:
Each task is listed in priority. Doing it that way ensures that I take on one task at a time, finish it, and then move on to the next one. Multitasking is a dead-end road as far as I’m concerned.
The great thing about using a text file is that it’s small, it’s simple, and it’s portable. Not matter what operating system I’m working under, I can open a text file in an editor. And I don’t have to worry about the file becoming corrupted. Really, the only thing that I need to worry about is deleting the file.
Getting a little more detailed
You’ll notice that the tasks in my text file are just a simple list — name of the task and whether or not it’s in progress or finished. That works nicely for me.
A while back, though, I stumbled across this blog post. Like me, the poster uses a text file. But the descriptions of his tasks are very detailed. As he writes:
[My] file takes advantage of this reality. It allows my brain, each week, to do what it does best: figure out a very workable short-term plan for making progress on what’s important.
Definitely nothing wrong with doing it that way.
So, how do you keep on track? Share your methods and experiences by leaving a comment.