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January 2, 2023

How I manage my todos?

I'm reading a lot - to stay up-to-date but also to get inspired - and because of this, I don't have a shortage of ideas. But there are so many of them that I find it difficult to manage them. Because it is kind of funny how I maintain all of this, here is my way of dealing efficiently with my todos.

The business of unfinished ideas

In the past I've encountered people who had great ideas and who mentioned that having those ideas is half of the job. I strongly disagree with that. Having a great idea is not half of the work. Or perhaps, it is the worthless half, because with just an idea you won't accomplish anything. The most valuable part of an idea is implementing it into actionable items. To get the job done. As soon as I became an enterpreneur, I started to gather wonderful ideas. Processing these ideas as efficient as possible has been an important goal for me, because only then I could focus on realizing things as efficiently as possible as well.

Before using something I digital I wrote things down on a piece of paper. Every day. And after years, I found myself often copying tasks that I didn't finish the day before onto the paper of today. Luckily technology evolved. I started to add them to a todo app - in the end, Wunderlist - and tried to work down that list on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many more ideas came in, while it became harder to cross off items from the list. The list on Wunderlist grew and grew. And the app didn't allow for me to manage things in the way I wanted.

What is an idea and/or todo?

Maybe I need to define also what such an item is: It ranges from the idea to voluntary work at a local petting zoo, buying some stuff to clean the dishwasher, to refactoring my Magento-based courseware access to a SSO or reading a good book on dealing with legacy code. Sometimes it is just a phrase that I found catchy. Sometimes it is a task that is urgent and needs to be picked up upon in a matter of days.

My brain is just full of thoughts. And I firmly believe in some kind of task system, to offload your brain. The more inspired you are with whatever, the more thoughts you will have, the more you need to offload to another system.

Moving from system to system

Ever since I started with gathering these todos, I've been trying to implement a better workflow in managing these todo items. Wunderlist became too small, so I moved things to simple text files on a shared SMB drive (accessible via my desktop computer, laptop and phone). But this became pretty cumbersome to maintain. So I wrote my own little PHP/MySQL app based on Laravel for this. Maintaining that became too much work.

So finally I moved this into the Todoist app, but because I had so many old notes as well, I decided to keep those notes in a text file repository (stored on my GitLab server) with a cronjob syncing those files automatically: I refer to this myself as my git notes. So currently, I've got two systems: Todoist for my time-based tasks and the git notes for ideas. Works for me.

Say that again: How many todo items?

The thing that really makes me laugh about this is that the git notes count up to 40.000 lines: It's not necessarily that many ideas - sometimes there is a paragraph describing one idea, sometimes it is just groceries, there are duplicate entries. But I would definitely say that the number of ideas is 10.000 plus. Some are outdated, some are worthless, some are priceless.

Next, in Todoist, I've got about 2000 items waiting to be picked up. Using one project for this obviously didn't work. So I arranged them in about 20 different projects, with the Inbox being the most important one there. However, after moving items on a regular basis to the Inbox, I decided to schedule the most needed items for today, to filter them down. Unfortunately, the Inbox items that are scheduled for today count up to 400. So I started to label them with priorities (red, orange, blue). And most days, I only focus upon red items - usually between 5 and 20 of them per day.

Sidenote, my Gmail inbox counts 6000 emails.

My processing

I gather things in those git notes, I gather tasks in Todoist. And the entries are constantly backlogging. I wrote a little API script that resets all of my Todoist of yesterday to today, so I don't get frustrated with seeing warnings about outdated tasks. I move around git notes from year to year, so the list does not get too long. The mess is growing. And I'm definitely not going less things on this todo list.

But there's my point: I'm not trying to finish all tasks anyway.

Whatever. Your own efficiency is key

The number of open tasks is overwhelming. But the fun part is that it isn't. I don't try to get to a zero-inbox. I don't try to do 300 tasks per day. I simply try to clean up the mess in my brain by offloading things to another system. And my system is different from other systems, but it works for me. I'm happy with it. If I loose track of an idea, I know where to find it again. If I want to get an overview, I know how to get it out. And I am super-productive, because the system is helping me not to think about that enormous list again and again.

So what is your system?

Posted on January 2, 2023

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