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New Year, New Task Management
Andrew McKnight – 7 January 2019

Last year I thought a lot about how to schedule time for work, in terms of things I’m actually building and activities to help me grow as a builder. I’d like to become a little more disciplined with how I spend my time, setting up some routine.

To do this, I’m going to use the Calendar and Reminders iOS apps in a sort of Bullet journal fashion. They aren’t perfect for the job and there are plenty of good task management apps out there, including one specifically for Bullet Journal. This post lays out how I plan to work within the constraints of what’s available in Apple’s stock apps.

Reminders

I like using Reminders for checklists and quick one-off scheduling, using Siri to facilitate the process. So I’m simply extending a habit I’ve already built towards managing my time for work.

I created new Reminder lists named Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly. At this point I have many lists, as I already had others I’ve shared with family and friends, for things like grocery shopping, gift ideas or trip planning, etc. I’d love for Apple to provide a way to organize them with folders.

Each item in Daily has a repeat of a custom interval with weekly frequency and selected days of Monday through Friday. (Nits: when viewing the event information, it calls the repeat “Weekdays”; when viewing it back in the list, it calls it “Custom Repeat”–not as helpful. Just as well, I’d love a canned weekdays option for repeats, along with “Every Day,” “Every Week” etc. As it is now, I had to tap 12 times and drag once to configure an event to repeat on weekdays.) Siri can handle most ways to add recurring reminders to specific lists and repeating events to specific calendars, but one thing I couldn’t get it to do was schedule an event e.g. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

For things I’d like to do every day, I set their scheduled reminder time to the latest possible time allowed, 11:55 PM. This way I don’t get a huge list of reminders in the morning or spread out throughout the day. I can check off each item as I go, and the ones I don’t get to, I’ll have a reminder waiting to scold me the next morning as it’ll have triggered in the middle of the night while I slept.

For everything in weekly through yearly, I set the reminder time to 11:55 of the day I’d like it to be done by. Again, if it’s not checked I’ll have a reminder yelling at me the next day. Variations like biweekly repeating events will go into the list with the granularity to handle it; so the Weekly list for biweekly, Monthly for biannual, Yearly for biennial.

One thing I’m not sure how to handle yet: silencing daily workday notifications during vacation.

Examples of daily tasks include checking email and calendar, Trello, Fabric, TestFlight, reading an article or blog post. Oh yeah, and writing code. Every week I want to publish a blog post and look for new potential clients.

With everything set up, I only have to look at the “Scheduled” Reminders list, and it has them broken out by day for each current iteration of each event. So, I have everything under Today from Daily, and Tomorrow through Thursday from Weekly. I don’t have anything for Monthly, Quarterly or Yearly yet, but they’d show up at the bottom too, as a sort of back-burner Reminder that it’s coming, eventually.

Calendar

While I use the checklist functionality from Reminders, I’d like to digest the information about my schedule more graphically, like how Calendar shows blocks of time over a day, week, month or year.

I tried in vain to find a way to sync information between Reminders and Calendar. I consider Reminders to be the source of truth as far as my tasks go–I just want to view them and their deadlines along with all my other calendar events.

So I just do the sync manually, in a new calendar I created called “Work Schedule”. It’s not really a one-to-one mapping anyway, but maybe there’s space for a software solution here. Maybe this experiment will show me a good way to do it?

I’ve tried setting up reasonable blocks of time for each task, leaving some available slots here and there for meetings and whatnot. The time I set in the Reminder event is the deadline; I try to schedule actual time slots to work towards the goal beforehand. So a weekly blog post is due Thursday, but I have a slot scheduled Tuesday to specifically set aside to work on it, regardless of any other inspired times I work on it. Ideally this will be a forcing function to write about something from my blog backlog (blocklog?) if I don’t already have a pressing idea.

For more important items, like those related to taxes, I can add a Calendar event alert before it’s actually due–a reminder for my Reminder. I want my Calendar events to be proactive; the notifications from Reminders should serve as a signal for things I thought I should be doing but am not, and deserve some reflection.

A setup I plan to use a lot: iPad split-screen multitasking with Reminders and Calendar showing two views of the same plan. Floating Safari or Trello over top forms a trifecta of task managemnt.

A setup I plan to use a lot: iPad split-screen multitasking with Reminders and Calendar showing two views of the same plan. Floating Safari or Trello over top forms a trifecta of task managemnt.
Giving Calendar a little room to breath opens up options to view weekly, monthly and yearly views.

Giving Calendar a little room to breath opens up options to view weekly, monthly and yearly views.

Mostly I plan to manage the tasks via Reminders on my iPhone and iPad, which with a split-screen calendar next to it provides a nice overview of my day, week, whatever, and I almost always have at least one of those devices going alongside my laptop while I work. Today, I still keep these and other admin and communications-focused apps open on my laptop, but they’re relegated to a separate desktop space, again to facilitate focus while writing code.

That’s all, folks!

I hope this proves a simple yet effective method to build a new working routine. I’ll modify my tasks as time goes on, I’m sure, as I find I’ve been too ambitious here, have extra time there, or have sufficiently made a habit out of something that I no longer need to check the box for it every day.


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