3 Techniques of Journaling Work and the Slipperyness of Tasks
I have been using Flow (getflow.com) as a work management/work journaling platform for months.
However, Flow is trending more toward features suited to larger team project management, which don’t really match my focus. That focus is journaling my work, and lightweight task and project sharing with smaller teams. I am not knocking implementation of Gantt charts and Kanban cards, but they’re not central to my needs.
Secondly, I recently came upon a better set of techniques to manage my work journaling, and the features of Todoist line up really well for that, better than Flow does.
3 Techniques for Journaling Work
I basically employ three styles of work journaling:
- On a daily basis, I plan and track my work with the ‘1, 2, 3′ technique.
- On a weekly basis, I plan and track using the ‘must, should, might’ technique.
- On ‘agenda’ projects, I plan and track using the ‘do, do, do’ technique. I use the term ‘agenda’ to distinguish with the short-range calendar orientation of daily and weekly projects. This will make more sense, later on.
Daily: 1, 2, 3
A long time ago, I realized that for whatever reasons, I really am able to only accomplish a handful of tasks per day. This leaves out the maintenance of reading and writing emails, and other minor annoyances, but does include things like meetings, working on client and internal projects, and all larger-grained work activities.
Specifically, I have learned that I can do the following:
- One major activity, such as working for a few hours on client research, or writing for a few hours. This is the ‘1′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
- Two medium sized activities, like a 45 minute phone call, or doing an hour-long webinar. This is the ‘2′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
- Three short activities, taking less than 45 minutes. This is the ‘3′ in the ‘1, 2, 3′.
In Todoist, I have defined a template that I use each day to create a daily project whose name is the date, as in 2018-04-04. The template doesn’t do much, but includes sections for the three categories, and then I add tasks either prospectively (at the start of the day, when planning), in process (while doing the activities themselves), or retrospectively (at the end of the day, perhaps, or after performing some work):
Note the various specific features of Todoist on display. The three categories, like ‘1 of 1:’ are represented with section headings, which in Todoist are tasks whose title ends with a ‘:’. That Todoist convention leads to the tasks acting as a section heading: with no checkbox, and instead having a caret prefix used to accordion the tasks in the section. Section heads also have the great side effect of holding onto checked tasks: checked tasks don’t fade away into completed (hidden) mode. They just are grayed out, like the top two above.
Note that my journaling involves a lot of intentional duplication and moving tasks around. For example, after writing yesterday’s Work Futures Daily, AI is Everywhere, I added the post title to the task (I knew in the morning I was going to write something, but not the title). If I wanted to take notes on that I would add as a comment to the task (in this case I didn’t).
And then, before I checked it off, I made a duplicate of the task, and dragged that to my Work Futures project. I will show that later, in the ‘do, do, do’ section, below.
Then I checked off the task in 2018-04-03. (By the way, a nice feature of Todoist is that comments can be added to checked tasks. The lack of that capability in Flow caused me a great deal of annoyance and time wasting.)
On the left hand side you can see that 2018-04-03 is now a subproject of the project named Past, but yesterday it was a sub of Present. I moved it from Present to Past this morning, when I created 2018-04-04. A sibling project in Present is 2018-04-02 week, which brings me to the second of the three sorts of journal techniques.
Weekly: Must, Should, Might, Didn’t
If I select the Present project, it displays tasks and subprojects. This is what I am usually looking at when I use Todoist. In this case I see the Present title at the top with the opportunity to add tasks directly to that project. Below that are the two subprojects, 2018-04-02 week and 2018-04-04, with their respective tasks and sections.
Note that the Week project has four headings: must:, should:, might:, and didn’t:. At the start of each week I try to plan out what I hope to be working on, or activities I know will be happening, like travel, phone calls, meetings, and deadlines. This often involves copying tasks from other projects. Didn’t is a category for activities that might have been planned, but which are no longer relevant, for example, when two alternatives are researched and one is selected. The rejected activity might be placed in didn’t.
(Some people might want to take the thinking behind week projects and apply them to months, or years. Go for it. Those scales don't work for me, but they may for you.)
Note that my goal with copying and/or linking in general is that tasks should be distributed out to whatever sort of project timeframe makes sense. An activity that involves me working on a client project part of five days in April might lead to five tasks in daily journal projects, appearing in one or more weekly projects, and one or more tasks in the client project.
Also note that if I think it is worth the effort -- like when I want to account for my time on a project -- I can use the task links that Todoist provides so that these various fragments can be linked together, with those links captured in the client project task, referencing the many linked tasks sprinkled among the days. I have an example, below.
Projects: Do, Do, Do
For the agenda projects, those that are intended to cover the life-cycle of a project that will persist longer than a day or week, I use the ‘do, do, do’ technique. Here is Work Futures, an agenda project:
At the top of the tasks, you can see the annotation with Highly task, with a folder icon that means a comment has been created. When I click on that icon you’ll see this:
I created that comment, one that contains a link back to the completed task in the 2018-04-04 daily journal project, referencing the set up Highly for Slack work futures, make announcement task. As I take on and accomplish other subtasks in support of the agenda task of annotation with Highly, I can add additional comments of this sort, referencing tasks in other daily and weekly journal projects.
[Note: Todoist supports a subset of Markdown in comments, including bold, italics, links, and other styling. It does not support quotes, lists, footnotes, or tables, I am sorry to say. The link above was coded as ‘2018-04-03’, for example.]
This linking approach allows me to keep track of the various daily and weekly journal tasks, the days when I worked on them, and to access their respective comments, as well. For example, for a given client engagement I might comment in each daily task how much time I had spent that day, and on a weekly basis I could add those hours up, and provide them to my client in an invoice.
The sections of these long-range projects are ‘doing’, ‘do soon’, ‘do someday’, ‘done’, and ‘don’t’. In my approach, these time domains mean this:
- doing -- actively doing at the present time, meaning activities are going on in the present week, and perhaps weeks to come.
- d****o soon -- activities that are not on-going at present, but soon will be, meaning, in the next week or so.
- do someday -- activities that need to be done, but not in the immediate future, namely, after the next few weeks.
- done -- tasks that have already been accomplished.
- don’t -- things that were considered, and perhaps even started, but which are now not going to be pursued.
In this example, I had hidden the tasks in the ‘done:’ group, because it is too long. It includes all the posts made at Work Futures, for example:
The Wavicle Theory of Work
I have found these three techniques, when used together, accomplish the different sort of focus, or lenses, appropriate for the three time domains involved.
On a daily basis, I want to catch the salient information for planning during the day, and and recalling the day’s activities later on. The ‘1, 2, 3′ technique is principally oriented toward planning, and specifically to avoid overcommitting to more than a reasonable number of things to do each day.
On most days, I shift my focus to the medium-term weekly project quite frequently, which is why I have set up the Present project as it is. That’s also why I move each day’s project from the Future to the Present each morning, and also, move yesterday’s project out to the Past (after duplicating tasks that are of continuing interest, today).
Several times a day I refer to the longer-range agenda projects, like the Work Futures example. I refer to these as agenda projects because the agenda technique is intended to cover the entire lifetime of the project, not just a defined duration like a day, week, or month. It presents the entire agenda of the project, of whatever duration.
It is often at the end of the day that I find myself creating links from today’s tasks to ongoing tasks in the agenda projects. I confess that sometimes I skip a few days, and do that project ‘bookkeeping’ at the end or start of the week, or when today’s work has led to a reappraisal of the work-to-come in that project.
Another observation is perhaps one that might have been made at the beginning: the daily and weekly journals hold tasks rooted in many longer-range goals, all mixed together. But agenda projects only contain tasks dedicated to that project.
The purpose of these techniques together is to make sense of the two-sided nature of our work.
On one side, as I am working on some activity -- like writing this post -- I am inevitably grounded in the moment. It is Wednesday, 4 April 2018 at 4:18pm Eastern Time. I am in a small chunk of time, doing a defined and delimited task. I am in a small particle of time, independent of others. And so I want to capture that reality, which I do in the daily journal for 2018-04-04 (and the weekly, too).
But, on the other side, writing this post is part of a greater, longer-term objective, the care and feeding of Work Futures, growing the community there, and one of an on-going series of writing and other activities. This activity is part of a greater fabric of other more general activities. It is part of a wave of Work Futures work, dependent on them and connected to them, contextualized by them.
So, this approach balances and unites the paradoxically opposed particle and wave sides of how we work, and how we think about work. It allows us to see it both ways, one at a time, or both at once. That's the wavicle theory -- or reality -- of work.