Posted on Fri 14 November 2014

How I keep track of my tasks, projects, and content calendar

I'm on a never-ending quest to find the best ways to keep myself on-track and efficient. As such, I'm constantly experimenting with different workflows or methods of organisation. Recently I've developed a setup that's working really well. Here's what it involves.

Analogue and digital

I love pen and paper but I also like having backups of everything and syncing my organisation setup so it's with me everywhere I go. For a long while I avoided using paper to plan anything because I didn't want to have to remember to carry that paper around, but I've finally decided to embrace analogue planning in conjunction with digital, syncable, available-everywhere planning.

Currently I use the following tools:

  • 2Do (Mac and iOS)
  • TeuxDeux (Web and iOS)
  • A whiteboard
  • Coloured sticky notes
  • Index cards
  • Coloured Post-It flags

This doesn't include my calendar, which I use to keep track of all time-sensitive events like meetings. For that I use Fantastical on my Mac and Readdle's Calendars 5 on my iPhone.

Keeping track of tasks

I use 2Do to keep track of everything I have to do. 2Do lets me create lists for different projects or contexts, like housework or bills to pay.

2Do

I currently have the following lists set up:

  • Personal (anything that doesn't fit elsewhere)
  • House
  • Errands
  • Bills
  • Exist
  • Project ideas
  • Christmas presents

Then I have a writing section with these lists:

  • Writing tasks (includes tasks like "publish Exist post" and "send my newsletter")
  • Working on (all of the content that's somewhere in my pipeline)
  • Topic ideas
  • Templates (projects I copy-and-paste for different clients or types of content so the subtasks are always the same)

2Do is a powerful task manager that lets me do things like repeat a task on the first Monday of every month, or only repeat a task 10 days after I complete it, or send me an alert about the task at a different time to when it's due. I can add tags, save searches as lists, add start dates, and I can use projects, tasks, and checklists depending on what I need.

The newest iOS version of 2Do has had a beautiful design update and is the best example I've seen of fitting a lot of information and functionality into a very small screen.

So this is where I put everything I need to remember at some point. My "someday" tasks with no due dates, my client work with very strict deadlines, and everything I want to get done for Exist.

Weekly planning

2Do has different views to help you see only the tasks you're interested in: you can view just what needs to be done today, view everything, search for a keyword or tag, or even set specific parameters for the focus mode (for instance, you might want to view everything with a due date in the next 10 days).

Even so, I've found it can be overwhelming to work through my day looking at a complicated task manager like 2Do. It helps me keep on top of everything, but it doesn't help me feel focused when I'm ready to work. Plus, I really like visual planning. I like to view my week as a whole and see what I'm going to work on each day—but without having to set strict deadlines for everything, since some tasks don't need them.

This is where TeuxDeux comes in. I was using a pocket Moleskine for this, but I'm currently experimenting with using TeuxDeux instead, and so far I like it a lot. TeuxDeux is a web and iOS app (I believe there are some unofficial Android apps for it too) that aims to be as simple and flexible as a piece of paper. It shows you five days at a time and lets you write one task per line.

TeuxDeux

It also includes an unlimited number of extra lists below your week that you can use for "someday" tasks, shopping lists, ideas, or anything else you can think of.

On Sunday or Monday I like to take every appointment from my calendar and type it into TeuxDeux. Then I go through 2Do and find all the tasks I want to work on this week. Lately I've found it's simpler for me to plan each new blog post as a simple task in 2Do and to use TeuxDeux for breaking it into steps, rather than having each step (outline, research, draft, etc.) as a separate subtask to check off in 2Do.

TeuxDeux automatically rolls over any unfinished tasks to the following day. This means I can add tasks to my list that I'd like to get done and not stress about deferring or changing due dates if I don't get to them.

Content calendar

For managing my content schedule I like a visual layout as well. I've used Trello before, but decided it wasn't for me. If you really don't want to use analogue tools, though, Trello and TeuxDeux are the closest digital options I've found for replicating my whiteboard setup.

Whiteboard

I keep a whiteboard on my desk with three weeks drawn on it like a calendar. Each day gets any calendar appointments written on it. (Astute readers will notice I've now replicated my calendar appointments in three places: Fantastical, TeuxDeux, and on my whiteboard. I just really don't want to forget them!) Then I use coloured sticky notes to plot out the content I need to work on each week. I've colour-coded the sticky notes so purple ones represent Exist content, blue ones represent client work, and yellow ones represent content for my own blog or The List.

Each sticky note gets a code to show where it will be published. For instance, BBC for my own blog, or EX for the Exist blog. Each client gets their own code, too. Then I write out the topic and stick the note on the whiteboard. This helps me to visualise how much content I have to work on each week and whether I'm keeping up or falling behind as the week goes on.

Content archive

Once a post is published, it's removed from the whiteboard and it gets filed into my index card system. This system might seem like overkill but I love having such a clear way to organise and keep track of all my content work.

The index cards live in an index card box. Each new card gets the title of the post written across the top, the URL of the published post, and the date I included it in my newsletter. If it's an Exist post, I also include the date it was sent out in the Exist newsletter. For client work, I include the invoice number and the date it was paid.

On the back of each card I make a note each time I submit a post to be republished. If it does get picked up, I note down the URL of the republished version.

Next come the coloured Post-It flags. I have Post-It tabs that are used as dividers. Each one has either a client name on it or the name of a blog or project (Exist, The List, etc.). Then I have smaller flags in three colours; again, colour-coded. Pink flags go on cards for posts that still need to be invoiced. Orange on cards that have been invoiced but not paid yet, and green on cards that haven't been included in my newsletter yet.

The box and dividers help me keep all of my work organised, and the coloured flags make it easy to find a subset of cards when I need them—for instance, if I'm doing invoices I can easily grab all the cards with pink flags instead of going through all the recent cards to check for invoice dates.


My setup isn't perfect, but I'm feeling organised and more in-control since setting up the mixture of analogue and digital tools. I avoided paper for a good couple of years but I've finally given in again, and I'm glad I did. If nothing else, I hope this post will help you rethink any tools or techniques you've been eschewing that might be helpful to you after all.


P.S. I make some stuff you might like: Exist, a personal analytics app to help you understand your life, and Larder, a bookmarking app for developers.

Image credits: destroytoday

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