What do you have to do today? Which are your appoinments for the next week? Did you rememeber to check that fact that you thought while was in your commute?
When talking about personal organization, all of us have our methods to remeber our tasks, appoinments or checks we need to do. Some poeple just rely on their good memory and some other need to write down literally every little step they have to remember.
I’m going to talk about what I call “The 3 tiers self-organization” method. The way I use to organize my mental stuff. It can be applied to your work or to your personal life. Personally I would say that I use this method for both aspects, but mainly for professional purposes. This method has 3 layers: one for daily checks or quick reminders, a second one for short/medium-term tasks or reminders and a third one for big projects, abstract tasks or whatever that needs more elaboration and time.
The method includes in some way the shortest remaining time first (SRTF) algorithm and prioritisation
First tier: quick ideas and daily checks
In our daily routine we tend to have a lot of thoughts rounding our minds while we are performing certain tasks or simply doing our routine. Like when you are watching a TV series and an idea related with a side project (or your job) comes to your mind (who knows why). Or when you are thinking about a problem you need to solve in your job, or a task you have to finish, so you elaborate a list of necessary steps that must to be done.
These are daily small ideas that will be just vanished in a few hours from your mind if you don’t pay enough attention to them. So here comes the first method I use: write them as a shopping list. It doesn’t matter if you write them in a notebook, in a post-it, in your phone or in your email, just write them down. Some days you will write a lot of item entries and other ones you won’t write anything at all.
The next important point here is to pay attention to that list in order to skip the “mental vanishing” you were trying to avoid 😅. I usually have a notebook in my desk so I can almost check it every day. Which helps me a lot specially in my job.
The last “shopping list” step, is to keep it small. It won’t help you if you keep writing and writing list entries, but never manage to finish them. You will end up just having your thoughts written in a piece of paper. So here is the trick:
- If it’s an important task that you can quickly finish: just do it.
- If it’s an important task but it requires more effort than you can spend right now or it’s not a priority: push it to the next level.
- If it’s not important at all or have been lingering there for a lot of time: remove it.
Second tier: mid-term tasks and reminders
I won’t say nothing new If I tell you that not everything can be done in a quick item-check way. So that’s the reason why you can use this level for more complex tasks. Like preparing that presentation for the next week meeting, finishing your current job assignment before the deadline, or don’t forget your appointment with the dentist.
All of those tasks are more elaborated and can not be finished in the very precise moment they come to your mind or you read them from your notebook list. So that’s why you pushed them from the first level into this second one.
To manage these kind of tasks, you can use a lot of online and powerful tools like Basecamp, Asana or Trello. But you can use your own resources like a more elaborated notebook scheme or your own blackboard with your preferred organization. They also include reminders, but you can additionally use a calendar to keep your appointments like Google Calendar, which can be consulted both from your laptop or from your mobile phone.
The important point here is to not miss the focus on those mid-term tasks. Even if they are big ones. The same rule applies here in a slightly different way:
- If it’s a task or reminder that you need to keep in mind: work on it and create new sub-tasks or “shopping list” entries in the first level an iterate.
- If it’s still an abstract or non-well defined task or idea: push it to the next level.
- If it’s a non-important task that has been there for a long period, probably you won’t really need it: remove it.
Third tier: abstract tasks
Probably you still have some ideas, some projects or just some thoughts that are not really well-defined in your mind. For instance you want to create a new side-project but it’s still a vague idea, with no shape or you don’t even know if it’s possible. Or you know you want to improve your skills but you still have to check the available resources in order to get the most benefit. Well, this last layer is the good place for those concepts.
In terms of tooling, you can certainly use whatever resource you better feel with. Since you will write abstract ideas and not a very elaborated ones, they will probably be simple items in a list, maybe a sublist, or maybe just a note. One good advice if you are using an online tool for the layer 2 is to create a different category for this one. Like a freezer box with the entries. But don’t forget to keep the freezer clean! Being abstract doesn’t mean being a clutter.
- If you have find the time to work on an entry of this level, create sub tasks for it, or define it better until you can move them to tier 1 or 2.
- If you have found that the idea you had was totally wrong or not achievable: remove it.
- If the task have been there for a long time, probably it will die there: remove it.
I reckon that lot of us are following this method (or a variant) without knowing it, so this brief resume could tidy up these concepts. The key is to know how to organize and prioritises our tasks, and have a mechanism to not forget them. After that, this method could help us to keep our focus and separate daily tasks depending on if they are quick or priority tasks, if we need to keep the focus in a mid-term way or if we need to work a bit more in them in order to clear things up.