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During the day (at work), I've got a number of different things I need to do (mostly work-related, but some personal). These fit into general categories:

  1. the major things I'm working on that day (could be a major project, or something that should take a few hours)
  2. misc. things that have to be done AT a certain time (e.g. concert tickets on sale at noon)
  3. misc. things that have to be done BY a certain time (e.g. run the report that will take 20 minutes and send it to my boss by 3pm)
  4. things that have to (or really "should") be done at any time during the day (call mom, talk to John and see if he can explain how to do something I need for my project)
  5. things that don't really have to be done with a deadline, but in general I should do them (clean out my inbox, reply to some emails that have been sitting there, read that research paper that is tangentially related to my job)
  6. things that pop up unexpectedly (an instant message or email from a co-worker asking me something random)

So what I'm looking for is an exact system for how you deal with all of this. Some of them are obvious (e.g. set an alarm for things in group 2 and when it goes off, stop everything else you're doing), but what often happens is that I'm working on something in 1, when an alarm for something in 3 goes off, but I don't want to work on that just yet, so I continually snooze it. Sometimes I run out of time to do the thing in 3, and forget entirely about things in 4. And I hardly ever get to things in 5. Things in 6 interrupt me and mess everything up.

What technologies/apps/software do you use? Do you use some sort of electronic todo list? Paper and pencil? How exactly does the sheet of paper look?

Do you set aside specific times for the different groups?

When do you set your schedule for the day? First thing in the morning? The night before? Do you just wing it?

That's the level of detail I'm interested in. Think of me as a dumb computer, and your "system" is a program for me to follow to do the stuff I need to do.

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A couple of things: 1. I don't think this is a valid question in the stack exchange sense - because you're asking for recommendations - not the canonical answer to a question. 2. I think you might have hit a point where simplification of the system is needed - if you are not familiar with Getting Things Done by David Allen (very bottom-up) - that seems where you're trying to go (try The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey as well for a more top-down approach). ps. You may also want to consider the Pomodoro Technique after looking at the first two. – Josh Bruce Oct 25 '13 at 23:02
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a very interesting question - IMHO you are asking for some sort of "micro project management" tool, which creates a master plan considering all your small projects and tasks and their dependencies. I'd love to have some tool like that, but I fear it would be far too complicated ... however I'm looking forward to the answers. – MostlyHarmless Oct 26 '13 at 19:04
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This question assumes there is an exactly. There is not. Do not overthink or over-organize this, the danger is you'll end up wasting time 'organizing' instead of getting things done. Take the snippets of advice that work for you, but do not assume there is a holy grail of how things should be done. – Jan Doggen Mar 21 at 10:51

My method for organizing my days is mostly based on lists and consistent behavior. I have a number of "to-do" lists (Personal, Work, Grocery, etc.) - as an example, below is my list for tomorrow.

You will notice I don't try to plan for every minute of my day, that's because (as you mentioned) you get unexpected calls from colleagues needing something. If they are contacting me about something that I can't finish right then and there, I add a new task to my list.

The items that begin with a time are things that have to be done at that time (or I'd very much like for them to be done at that time). The things that start with x) can be done at any time.

You can see that some tasks have sub-tasks, the sub-tasks immediately follow the primary task and are indented.

I generally make out "tomorrow's" list throughout the day "today". Obviously some things are already planned out for more than one day in the future, my "to-do" lists are dated.

As for the "consistent behavior" I mentioned - I try to start out my day at work by spending the first hour answering e-mails and voice mails and going over my list for the day. Sometimes things have to be rearranged, added or deleted.

My grocery list is stored on my phone, and all of my other lists are currently on Workflowy.com. A web-based solution for my lists is preferable because I need to be able to access it from home, work and every in between. The only time I use pencil/paper is for a one-off project like building a deck.

For things like the IT staff meeting I have an alarm set that goes off 15 minutes before the task. If the task is something I must do at that time, I generally set an alarm for it.

All of that being said - my process changes as my life changes. We have a two-year-old and he's quite capable of causing my entire day to be scrapped. At the moment I work two days a week in the office and three days a week from home but that will be changing once we get moved. Once you figure out something that works for you right now, don't be afraid to change it as circumstances in your life change.

05:00) Pack lunch (10m)
05:15) Commute (2.5h)
       x) "Joyland" by Stephen King
07:45) Get gas (10m)
08:00) Answer e-mails and voice mails. (10m)
x) Make doctor's appointment. (5m)
x) Domain name, VPS
x) Check Jenkins output for website project status. Talk to D about expected completion date. (10m)
x) Touch base with J/C regarding Commitment project. (15m)
10:30) IT staff meeting (30m)
x) Write software to port existing web data to new format, test ported values. (4h)
12:00) Lunch (30m)
x) Touch base with P about SFTP project. (5m)
x) Touch base with D regarding web request. (15m)
x) End-of-month summary for P. (10m)
x) Ask around about offsite backup (no syncing) for PC's and mobiles. (30m)
x) Commute (2.5h)
    x) Call T about lawn mower
    x) Call D about Halloween party
    x) Call S and wish her happy birthday
    x) "Joyland"
x) Drop off K's new phone. (15m)
x) Drop off mom's picture of E. (20m)

I currently have a list of things to be done so we can move and it looks more like this:

20131031) Leak fixed
20131101) Office desks sold
20131101) Closets cleaned out and packed
20131101) Garage cleaned out and packed
20131101) Sale flyer created
20131101) Place ads

The dates are when I would like to have that task completed.

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From my side I can give you these suggestion to manage all your daily task and routine.

White board work better then cool gadgets like phone, alarms etc. Because can make you stuck in it. Like check calls, play temple run etc. So white board is much better.

White board is stay in front of your eyes in your room or office then you never forget any thing. Its my personal experience.

Board can be smaller to large size and doing things which is I going to mentioned below take few minutes.
Put a white board or a pin board in your room and office, and make priority list of daily task on it.

On first priority keep things which are most important for you regarding your work. like project related things. On second priority list keep thing which you mostly forget like dinner with someone, call to mom etc.
Two priority lists are enough. And make one list for long term things in which you can include your long term goal, improve habits related thing, physical exercise, fitness goals etc. This list is permanent you not need to modify it daily.

So you only need to take decision what should be first in your priority list.

One more thing you write on board whatever you want or whatever running in your mind. This will help you to solve lot of problems and increase your creativity. This is the only reason most of speakers use board in seminars, teacher use board in schools to help students. So I hope this will help you. That's it.

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Interesting... I read this question a year ago and had no answer at the time. But things have changed a bit since I started using the Alpha and Beta versions of an AI-powered program called SkedPal. www.skedpal.net (Disclosure - In the past year I also joined their advisory board.)

SkedPal is at its core, an auto-scheduler. To set it up, you must first understand that it treats flexible tasks and fixed appointments differently. The latter it doesn't touch - it assumes they are set in stone.

The former, however, are what it optimizes with a single click of a button. The results - an optimized schedule - show up in one of your Outlook or Google calendars. Both of them allow overlapping calendars and an open API.

To optimize your schedule in a unique and custom way, it uses the standard input you would expect - the task's name, duration, due date, priority and the project it's associated with.

Most importantly, it requires that you associate it with a time map, which is what allows the program to produce a high-quality schedule.

Users of SkedPal create multiple time maps, each one showing a preferred time of week to perform a particular task. Example may include: a weekend time map, an early morning time map, a hump day (i.e. Wednesday) time map. Here is a simple example:

enter image description here

This one is my personal "Workday time map". SkedPal ignores the white time-slows and attempts to schedule your tasks assigned to this time map into green, yellow and red time-slots. (Green slots are the most preferred.)

As you can imagine, there are a lot of computations using powerful algorithms and heuristics that run in the background. The minds behind the program had to work hard because there's a lack of academic research in this area, unfortunately.

As users (such as myself) have become more skilled at creating time maps, their calendars have become a more accurate reflection of their needs. The fact is, using SkedPal is a bit of a self-discovery in many ways. While there's a lot of relief in being able to schedule, re-schedule and re-schedule again in seconds, it's sobering to see how much bandwidth we think we have, versus actually have. This self-knowledge is crucial.

It IS possible to do much of this activity without a tool like SkedPal (or Timeful, which is a similar app recently acquired by Google.) In my book, I describe how this can be done manually.

In fact, I was about the start writing a chapter for the new edition which would focus on teaching people how to optimize their calendars using manual methods when a colleague introduced me to SkedPal. So now, I have no plans to do any more work on manual scheduling.

The reasons might be obvious from your question.

Your 6-category taxonomy of tasks is right on point. It's the kind of thing we talk about at SkedPal in more depth than anywhere else I know of.

Optimizing a schedule using this fine degree of differentiation is very hard for a human to do. Many people who use SkedPal can tell you -- they tried to optimize and manage their calendars using manual methods and either quit or hates the activity. Only a few were successful.

There is, however, one place where SkedPal won't help.

In the last part of your question you share about your search for an adequate notification feature. SkedPal doesn't offer this capability.

In fact, I don't know of a notification app that offers the features you describe - and I am looking for one to use myself. I have given up and started dropping hints to developers that this is sorely needed. It's a logical companion to an auto-scheduler like SkedPal, but it's also needed today for anyone who uses their calendar to drive their daily actions.

This is just a beginning - I hope it's been useful.

The app is available in its Beta form for a limited time at www.skedpal.net and I happen to be hosting a Private Beta group.

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Francis - perfect example of describing a product that is appropriate for the task, that you are also involved with. Thank you. – Rory Alsop Mar 21 at 13:52

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