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I have alot of complex tasks, and sometimes they get lost in the shuffle and I forget to return to them.

One thing I know helps in returning to a complex task is using a session manager (examples: google chrome, firefox, vim, eclipse), but sometimes this fails because session managers are often program specific and the things that I work on are often done in multiple programs.

Do you know of any best practices for returning to a complex task, or switching between multiple complex tasks efficiently?

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I suppose you are talking about task on your computer. I also do not know what you mean by "session manager". However I am positive that switching task will have its cost in productivity, no matter what software tools you use. – 0x6d64 Jun 22 '12 at 13:39
Well a boss at a job makes switch tasks without any regard for how this effects your productivity, often shooting themselves in the foot. So rather than bump heads with my boss about matters like these I was wondering if there were any tips for managing complextask change. Also I have added session management examples to my question above. – leeand00 Jun 22 '12 at 13:49

I cannot emphasize enough to keep track of your ideas. Here are some ways to do that.

  • Have a document you keep somewhere readily accessible- either on your desktop or within a few clicks reach. Keep your project information with discussion points in this document. It may be more organized to use an Excel spreadsheet to establish common fields for each project.
  • Google+ is handy in the sense that you can post to circles. For say, home projects, create a new circle and post your updates, changes, or notes to that circle. Maybe you will decide to include someone else in them later on , in which, they will be able to collaborate with you by accessing those posts.
  • Third option: You're a programmer, why not make something to handle self-project management ? ;)

The fact is, we will all start projects and forget to finish them. By tracking them, we give ourselves reminders that they are still there. The idea of starting a new project always seems more appealing than finishing another, in my opinion.

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Well as far as using a document of some sort to keep track of them I use a Tiddlywiki. The Google+ idea sounds like a good one. The third idea sounds, good, but before I do that I have to figure out what works well for me first so I can implement it as a program. – leeand00 Jun 22 '12 at 18:12
Then again...sometimes programming something has a tendency to bring out problems your imagination couldn't forsee...and then you can solve them using code... – leeand00 Jun 22 '12 at 18:16
Ironically, it may turn into another complex, forgotten project! – Gaʀʀʏ Jun 22 '12 at 18:46
heheh :) That's hilarious! – leeand00 Jun 22 '12 at 18:48

I do not have a complete solution to your problem, but that tasks get lost is avoidable: any kind of to do list where you collect all items should fix that (that happens to be also one of the core ideas of GTD).

For the task switch I think you make use of multiple desktop if your OS supports that, and try to switch at a point where you can easily wrap up the results so far. Also think about writing down what is in your mind or what the next step is before switching to another task: I do this at the end of every workday so I can start right away the next day. For me, a couple of keywords usually work, but I'm fortunate that I have only to manage one big project (and two smaller ones) atm.

I also hope that you get the chance to speak to your boss about giving you some freedom to prioritize tasks yourself, so you only interrupt your current work for really urgent stuff.

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Thank you, I do use a multiple desktops app already (dextop for Windows) and the Linux one that's built into Gnome. The problem that I have with that is that my computer generally doesn't have enough RAM or operating time before a memory leak to deal with that many programs being open at once. The operating time before a memory leak is probably a Windows-specific problem, as I have heard of Linux machines running for several consecutive years without a reboot. – leeand00 Jun 22 '12 at 18:08

I've adopted the process of time tracking software and contrary to what you may initially think, it does way more than just track employee time! I'll attach a screenshot from TSheets Time Tracker because their software has a wigit that remains in the top righthand corner of my screen with my list of projects/tasks and it only requires one click to switch between multiple jobs. And it's extremely beneficial to be able to have main job codes and sub-codes which is my method of prioritizing tasks within each project. Job Code List

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You're conflating program state and brain state here. You're really asking two questions:

  1. How can I keep my programs in a state so I can return to the complex task I was doing?
  2. How can I remember what the complex task is that I was doing?

For 1, I suggest an archive folder with per-project folders that have all the files pertaining to a project, however small it is. Simply pick a name for a project and put it in the archive folder. Any notes etc go in there. Save often. Get into the habit of completely closing all documents related to a project when you're switching projects, so you don't have to worry about programs crashing or some program state you forgot about.

For 2, I suggest using GTD or ZTD or 1MTD or MYN or whatever strikes your fancy. Keep a list of everything you do, even if it's just a text file, and make sure you can access it any where, any time.

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For complex tasks and projects I strongly recommend visualization tools, so mind and concept mapping software. This way, even if you have to interrupt a project and continue later, it's easy to come back as those tools give you a clear graphical overwiew how different sides of a project/problem relate to each other rather than reading a bullet list or text which is also harder to manage and edit with a lot of interruptions.

I already recommended Aibase software for such knowledge and project managment. I haven't seen a much better concept mapping software.

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