Theming your tasks list in Toodledo

Toodledo remains the sine qua non of personal task managers. But sometimes, despite your best intentions, your hotlist can get entirely ou...

Toodledo remains the sine qua non of personal task managers. But sometimes, despite your best intentions, your hotlist can get entirely out of hand even if you bring all Toodledo's features to bear. I've found one way to help manage lists that are just too long: dedicate different days to different "themes" of tasks.

I use contexts to divide up my tasks by overall area, or life "zone," or whatever you want to call them. There's five key contexts in my setup: home, personal, teaching, research, and work. These correspond well to what I think of as "themes." My problem was in having a single overall Hotlist containing tasks for all five contexts and making sure that all tasks got their fair share of my attention.

I asked myself, What if I focused on only one context at a time? And what if I can get Toodledo to help me make sure every context gets some of my attention on a regular basis? Well, it turns out that it's quite possible to do just that.

(Some readers may note that I tried something like this during my last sabbatical. That didn't end well, but I know why: it was just too damned complicated. The version I'm describing here is a lot simpler, and uses Toodledo more intelligently.)

It's my summer semester now, and so my scheduled obligations are few. This is the perfect time to see if this kind of system can actually help. For this summer, I want to focus on my research and on updating a lot of my courseware (which falls under teaching). Also, I'm not the type of person who can regularly spend a whole day doing a single thing, so I just need a way to prefer one theme/context over the others. And the work and home contexts are those most likely to require me to actually be at work or at home. With these three simple constraints, I came up with the following system.

  • Saturdays are for home tasks, Sundays are for personal tasks, and Wednesdays are for work tasks.
  • Mondays and Thursdays are for teaching, and Tuesdays and Fridays are for research.
  • I spend no less than half of my active time of each day (about four hours) on tasks relating to the day's theme.

To help stay organized, I developed a series of Saved Searches in Toodledo, one for each theme. The criteria for each of these searches are quite similar.

  1. Matching tasks must be not completed. Duh!
  2. The Start Date of a matching task must be today or earlier, or not set at all. This hides tasks that I don't want to start yet, and helps keep the task lists cleaner.
  3. The Due Date of a matching task is today or earlier, if it's set. If it's due or overdue, it doesn't really matter what context it's in, it needs to be done, so it's got to be visible.
  4. The context of a matching task is the context of that day's theme.
  5. All starred tasks match the criteria. This is because some of my tasks aren't due today but are so important or require so much work that I need it to show up every day regardless of theme.

The only criterion that changes from one search to the next is which context is being matched (condition #4).

Here's an image showing the Toodledo search settings page for my work theme, so you can see how the search is actually implemented.

Finally, I created 7 new weekly tasks, one for each day, that reminds me of the day's theme. I set those tasks to be optionally due; this means that they'll essentially check themselves off at the end of the day. In this way, that one task that tells me what theme to focus on will update itself every day, regardless of my checking it off. That's one less thing for me to worry about.

So each day, I check the task that tells me that day's theme, then hit the Saved Search for that theme. The resulting list of tasks will include all started, incomplete tasks in that context, plus all other tasks (over)due that day, plus all starred tasks. These lists are much shorter than my regular Toodledo Hotlist, and help me decide with greater clarity and confidence what to do next and how long to spend working on it.

One last thing: on top of this method, I still use my rolling tasks Toodledo hack to help make sure tasks I've worked on the least get the higher visibility. This is an important aspect of the system too, and not to be ignored.

I've only been using this system for a couple of days, so it's still too early to know just how helpful it really is. But I'm hopeful. I'll post an update later this summer.



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The Trouble with Normal...: Theming your tasks list in Toodledo
Theming your tasks list in Toodledo
The Trouble with Normal...
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