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I have been reading and experimenting with techniques for many years. I have read the GTD book among dozens of others but I still can't find the answers to everyday problems. Working as a Web design/development freelancer and as an Administrator at the same time, I have tried countless ways to organise data, todo lists, applications, notes etc. and take control of my life. Every time I go a little further and then fail.

Expecting too much of myself usually leads me to fear of failure and procrastination. The hundreds of tasks to accomplish, plus errands plus exceptional cases, always confuse me and finally depress me. I have different operating systems for work and home, many email accounts, different applications I must use for home/business etc.

I would like to kindly ask for your opinion on my organisation technique right now. why do you think it fails and what do you suggest me to do?

I use (home/freelance/mac os x): - Asana for organising projects and tasks - Workflowy to keep a "draft daily paper-like list" - Google drive (spreadsheets mostly) to keep my finance and goals data - Evernote for keeping notes - Google calendar for scheduling. I have created a calendar for each "life category": professional, health, spiritual, intellectual, family, etc. - Mail for sending/receiving emails

I find great difficulty to deal with project data. I have a separate folder X for each project in a folder called "projects", then a X folder in my /htdocs/ folder, a folder in Asana with project tasks to accomplish, a folder in Evernote with notes and data, a folder in google drive with documents I need access from elsewhere etc.

I find a great difficulty also in scheduling. I have tried to set "blocks" of time each day to accomplish a task and simply it does not work. I have tried to accurately schedule tasks like 15.00-15.45 This, 16.00-16.45 That etc. and they fail because of the exceptional tasks and errands. Finally everything pile up and even I feel self-confident with lots of inner power to accomplish something, I see hundreds of tasks, I ask myself "God, when am I going to do all these? I am going to be old before I even realise I have completed some projects." I imagine myself losing contact with time and family, trying to accomplish a really endless list of infinite tasks...

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As an unrelated note, I would recommend you not to store important personal data, such as financial data, in a cloud - especially when it's owned by a company whose business idea is using/selling such data! –  Juha Untinen Feb 26 '13 at 13:23
    
Nice point, I've created another question for that. It's not something completely confidential, but we suppose that they are reliable. –  RobDel Feb 27 '13 at 6:45

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You should try to cut down on the tools.

At least insofar as to put all your tasks in one place, the reference files can be anywhere.

I have exactly your setup, except using "producteev" instead of Asana. ;) I just started Workflowy, but I aim in part to make it a substitute for other solutions - not to expand my tool range. My recommendations:

  • If you have many projects, try "podio" and throw it all in there! It will help you dump Asana.*
  • Stop setting time-blocks, simply start working! ROWE. No one cares when or how you did the work.
  • Dump the /htdocs/ thing.
  • Stop expecting from yourself to expand intellectually and spiritually (unless you're a very religious person). It's impossible to take MOOC courses just on the side, you'll incur large opportunity costs. Other than that, I throw all my reading things in one cloud-synced folder and articles into Pocket, even though I know I'll never be able to read it all - but it alleviates the stress for me.
  • Ask your wife / girlfriend for help and her opinion! I somehow rarely see women posting about this, they are often gifted in regards to time-management and organization.
  • Stop this calendar-complexity - you only have 24h a day anyways! Just use repeat tasks and colors.

*I have my reasons not to use podio for me individually, but I'm currently using it collaboratively.

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Dear friend, your advice is very valuable. I believe you're the one to understand me better, even though I have received very valuable advice from others too. I can't dump /htdocs/ it's a part of my work. I can't put my personal projects on a shelf because my personal freedom derives from them. I insist that there are very good tools out there and I cannot choose one of them. Wunderlist is great, so is asana, so is podia, so is omnifocus, things, nirvana and all others. I have tested them all. What I yearn for, is a technique to manage time and tasks. A PROVEN technique that brings results. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 18:16
    
Workflowy is the best paper substitute for task lists. But lacks in repeating tasks etc. I have tested productive among others. I love asana because it's free and let me share tasks with my fiancee. But it lacks in displaying all "today's" tasks in a list: it keeps several today's tasks in each workspace. Do I seem confused ? –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 18:18
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As I read through your text again and again I discover more things. How can you understand that I have a passion to expand intellectually (yes, I am maniac about this one)? Your comment on women and GTD also... I just realised this. I rarely read about GTD and women. You are genius. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 19:23
    
@RobertoDelgazzo haha, thank you, I was just perceptive. ;) I didn't mean women "plus" GTD, I just meant that women tend to be able to organized even without GTD, so your female partner may be able to help you. I feared that you can't ditch the /htdocs/ part. My last resort is to advice you to try liquidplanner.com ! It is a bit complicated and costs money, but it's the only one that does TRUE project and thus time-management. –  grunwald2.0 Feb 27 '13 at 7:41
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@RobertoDelgazzo Any technique can be "proven" to work, because it's less to do with technique mechanics and more to do with the person and implementation. Nothing works for everybody. –  Dave Newton Feb 27 '13 at 21:43

You sound a bit like me. Some of my challenges are:

  • I spend more time "getting organised" than actually accomplishing very much
  • I've got too many "systems" for organisation, so I have to look in lots of places to find the information I need.
  • I've got far too many projects on the go.
  • I'm not really motivated to get much of this stuff done anyway.

The solution is obvious, but much much harder than it sounds: I need to stop thinking of this as an organisational problem. Instead, I need to cut back and focus.

The first thing I need to decide which projects really matter and then to literally dump the rest. Dumping a project means ruthlessly getting rid of everything in my life that has anything to do with that project. Not just shelve, but completely eliminate all reference to that project. There is no doubt that this will hurt, but if the death of one project gives life to another then the sacrifice is worth it.

Rinse and repeat.

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Yeah, your challenges describe me also... but the problem is that I can't dump any project. Or that I have cancelled whatever was obsolete. I can't quit my day job because I don't have any other source of income and I have tenths of tasks to accomplish each day. Beyond that, I do not have several hundreds of personal projects, but 2-3 BIG ones. Finally, I can't cancel any of them because I hope that they will be a road to freedom from 9-5 for me. I can't believe that I am so idiot that I can't find a technique to work... –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 10:01
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You're not an idiot. However, your hope that your personal projects are the 'road to freedom' is unfounded if you can't complete any of them. You'll never complete even one unless you have time. So, you're going to have to cut back - either to fewer projects or to smaller projects - if you have any chance of success. –  Kramii Feb 26 '13 at 18:07
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Actually, it may well be that you're burnt out. If that's the case, get some rest before you become ill. If you don't, you'll be no use to anyone. –  Kramii Feb 26 '13 at 18:08
    
I believe I am recovering from burn out. I developed, designed and marketeer two websites in parallel with a 9-5 work. I am doing things for 25 hours in a day and as long as I am in the process of doing them, I feel I am on fire. I mean, I complete my tasks and proceed the projects with much procrastination and in slow speed. Also, If a distraction appears in my way, I feel that everything collapses like a domino and then my "decadence mode" begins. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 18:24

You are overloaded and need to reduce the number of activities. You may also be using too many tools and as a result end up with too much overhead work.

Now, how to focus on right stuff? Consider Steven Covey's matrix below and imagine your tasks placed in it according to level of urgency and importance:

enter image description here

Primarily, you need to focus on urgent and important tasks (quadrant 1). Then, what do you need to do? Many people go to quadrant 3 and do urgent non-important stuff. That's wrong. You should go to quadrant 2, making sure those non-urgent important things never even get to quadrant 1. Forget about non-important stuff.

For more inspiration, watch Randy Pausch Lecture: Time Management.

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I have read a lot about this matrix... it fails. I can't do this for hundreds of tasks. Imagine 4 or 5 projects with 10 milestones with 20 tasks each, plus personal tasks... it's not viable. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 10:43
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@Roberto Delgazzo: How can you have hundreds of tasks? If you are not Superman, you obviously need to reduce the number or face a possible collapse. Set realistic goals. –  Gruber Feb 26 '13 at 10:52
    
I have already collapsed. I am not saying I am doing hundreds of tasks, but that new appear every day and they pile up. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 11:03
    
How can you not have hundreds of tasks? Things like grocery shopping will fall into quadrant 1. Something like finding a way to improve the situation (like viewing SE now) will easily fall into quadrant 2 or 4. The idea behind it is solid, though... reflect on what needs to be done first. Though sometimes you do need to do the non-urgent things to relax. –  Muz Feb 26 '13 at 11:04
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@Roberto Delgazzo: If faced with an overwhelming amount of important work, I suppose you need to differentiate between super-important stuff and merely important stuff, in effect demoting important stuff to non-important. That said, you may need more radical change to get out of the cycle you're in. –  Gruber Feb 26 '13 at 11:09

First, until you get a handle on the many things you have to do at work, dump the personal projects.

Next, stop using all these tools. What you need is a priority list and the files for your projects and nothing else.

I'm going to make a radical suggestion that you keep your priority list on a piece of paper. Why? Because it is faster and you can see it without changing the display on your monitors. If you must also do an update for a company system, do that at the end of the work day (yes every day).

It seems to me that your real problem isn't organizational, it is the nature of the work. I too spend a lot of time doing project work that is constantly interrupted by production support. The key is to tell the stakeholders of the project work that there is a delay when you get called to do emerging work and to note what you were working on in your project notes before switching tasks to make it easier to pick up where you left off. Never accept a higher priority task without letting people know their task will be delayed. If you want concentrated time to work on something, then rearrange your work hours so that you either work later or earlier than the norm for your company.

Remember that all that organizational advice you are reading is directed at managers who can simply delegate the work away instead of having to do it. I have never seen it be practical at the non-supervisory level.

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+1 for "your real problem isn't organizational". –  Kramii Feb 26 '13 at 18:11
    
paper is good at speed note taking but... lacks in everything else. I mean papers get lost or destroyed easily, pile up easily and isn't that much portable.. I prefer the cloud. I need someone that has followed a PROVEN technique to success. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 18:20
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Paper works for me. Has worked for thousands of years. That's pretty well proven. The cloud is clearly not working for you. –  HLGEM Feb 26 '13 at 18:45
    
It depends on the person. Some people may work well with cloud apps while others will choose paper. I'm sorry but paper does not work for me. I can't have hundreds of tasks in paper. But I use it for day to day scheduling. –  RobDel Feb 26 '13 at 19:03

I've been using this site: www.simplist.me - they are in alpha right now, so there's a lot to improve, but the concept, which is to break down the things you want/need to get done in your life into steps is super helpful for me. Another plus is that I've given them some feedback and they've actually built the thing I asked for, plus it's free! :-)

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site doesn't let you preview unless you sign up, and the blog loads a message merely saying 'page ok' so, I'm not sure what to make of this endorsement. –  incumbent Mar 16 at 14:44

From your question, and from the comment conversations on the answers already given, it is very plain that your mental approach is core to the issue, not the type or number of organisational tools.

For work:

it is very useful to have a tool or small set of tools to manage customer/team/project tasks in a structured way, but the tools you choose should be chosen based on how well they map your mental planning structures.

At work, there is no point accepting a hundred tasks if you cannot manage a hundred, so step one should be taking a realistic look at how many tasks you can handle. Especially if you are in recovery from illness, burnout, or in fact anything that impacted your work processes. If you can't accept a piece of work, decline. Give reasons, but be sure to respond with something like:

I currently have these tasks which will keep me busy until next month - if you do want me to add one more task, please let me know which one I can drop to make room.

Honesty helps you and your company in these situations. Your boss should appreciate that this way tasks aren't dropped or lost, and it should be their job to prioritise what is important to them.

At home:

Simplicity helps here. Because I am the main earner in my household, and I work 40 hours more a week than my wife, my home routine is less predictable, so I haven't memorised the various tasks that she would take as obvious.

My solution is to keep a one A5 page as a to-do list. This includes essential things like "pick the kids up at 3.20" but also "pick up tomatoes and beer", "go to birthday party" and so on.

There are very few things that cross over from work to home, but occasionally I will take a shopping list with me to work, to pick up on the way home. But I don't think about it or worry about it until the moment I leave the office.

Keep those two separate where possible (I actually don't separate that well, but that is because I also volunteer in my chosen industry so a lot of my personal time is also work - but I would recommend that you do separate them unless you really love your work!)

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thanks for your time in writing this reply. It could be very helpful but in cases that tasks could be that simple. But in my situation that a simple web project needs 10 subprojects (design,development,planning,debugging etc.) with 20 tasks attached to each one, it isn't viable. And when you have many urgent tasks popping out, you just need a flowchart (like the one from David Allen) that you can blindly follow and go on with your life. This is what I am missing. I should face problems and issues as a robot and not "emotionally". –  RobDel Feb 27 '13 at 21:03
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It is absolutely viable. I manage teams of up to 100 in countries all around the world on multiple projects for multiple clients, and trust me - I only use two tools to manage all of it. A project management tool and a spreadsheet which I use for separate tasks. Blindly following is not a useful option, and I endeavour to connect personally with all projects and all client teams. –  Rory Alsop Feb 27 '13 at 22:37
    
My doubt in my opinion is that I believe what you say. I have been searching and testing all apps out there, even apps in beta versions and every one seems to have something missing. And then I am wondering: how can so many people be organised and proceeding with their tasks? The key must be somewhere else. People have been successful even without computers and smartphones. As Benjamin Franklin did. –  RobDel Feb 27 '13 at 23:10
    
Because you need to organise yourself, and then use a tool which fits the way you work to take over some of the organisational tasks. Don't pick a tool and expect it to make everything suddenly work. –  Rory Alsop Feb 27 '13 at 23:18
    
@RobertoDelgazzo Again, you only have two options: Use a simple (and often famous) tool or go for a complex tool. Both Podio and LiquidPlanner are complex, whereas the latter (LP) is inflexible, but this also gives you a lot of structure. I am currently trying to figure out how to merge their "priority-based scheduling" approach with the external "deadline-based scheduling" that I am naturally forced to undergo. As you always complain about the lack of features, I can only tell you: You need to take a harder look! You can create your own apps with Podio, i.e. it allows for total configuration. –  grunwald2.0 Feb 28 '13 at 13:10

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