Make Time

Make Time: How to focus on what matters every day

Although I now subscribe to the 12 Week Year approach to planning , one of my overall goals for 2020 is to read more.

I’ve got the year off to a good start reading Make Time: How to focus on what matters every day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, the team behind the popular Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days.

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How I start my weekly review

A white mug of coffee with the word begin written on it sits on a wooden table.

Above: photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Every Sunday evening I sit down to review the previous week and plan the week ahead. This is my weekly review, a discipline that I adopted after reading Sally McGhee’s book Take Back Your Life in 2003.

One of the first things I do during my weekly review is read a document I wrote in October 2017 that I called The Discipline™. Occasionally, I update it to keep it fresh and relevant; it’s a living document.

It’s a reminder of what is important to me right now, what I should be focusing on. It’s like a little manifesto for my life—something to give me direction, to help me prioritise.

Continue reading How I start my weekly review

Todoist vs Trello vs Wunderlist for managing small tasks

Since moving from Outlook (Exchange) to eM Client (Google) a few weeks ago I have needed to find a suitable task management application to replace Outlook’s excellent task tool. I’ve found a really nice application in Todoist.

I used Outlook tasks a lot on both my desktop PC and my mobile phone (Windows Mobile then Android), so my requirements were:

  • Must be cloud based.
  • Must sync quickly between mobile and desktop.
  • Must have a native app for both Android and Windows 8.
  • Must be able to handle multiple contexts/projects.
  • Must be affordable.
  • Should have a usable Android widget to both add new tasks and view a particular context/project.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist interface has a brown, wood-effect background with two columns: contexts on the left, tasks on the right.
Wunderlist (Windows 8 modern UI app) is really pretty.

The first application that I consider was Wunderlist which I had trialled a few years ago before moving to Exchange. I thought it was time to give it another go.

I migrated my tasks into Wunderlist and used it for a few days.

I really love the aesthetics of Wunderlist. It looks uncluttered and simple, and I selected a rich wood-effect background to complement the dark grey wood wallpaper both my PC and smartphone.

Following the GTD methodology, I was able to create multiple contexts (e.g. computer, desk, finance, garden, home, shopping, etc.). Moving tasks from one context to another is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks. Further details can be added to individual tasks (due date, reminders, subtasks and notes).

I really liked the ability to star important or favourite items, and to view all tasks, grouped by context in the order shown on the left-hand sidebar.

Wunderlist was looking promising, and I probably would have continued to use it had it not been for two issues.

The first issue I had was more of a niggle: the Android widget it really fiddly to use. I love that you can scroll left and right between contexts but I found with my not-too-enormous fingers that I had to jab at the screen four or five times to hit the sweet spot before it moved.

The second is a known problem: there are sync issues between Wunderlist 2 and 3. The web interface and Android both use the newer version 3, the Windows 7 application uses version 2. When I used both in conjunction I discovered discrepancies in my data.

I didn’t want to use the Windows 8 modern UI app or have to access my lists through Chrome, and the niggle with the Android widget was enough to get me looking elsewhere.

Trello

Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.
Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.

I’ve long been a fan of Trello from Fog Creek Software. We use it extensively at work, and I use it to manage all my personal projects. So I quickly migrated my tasks from Wunderlist to Trello and used it for a few days.

As much as I love Trello for managing larger projects I didn’t really warm to it as a simply list/task application.

Contrary to my experience with Wunderlist, I was quite happy to use the web interface but then that’s how I have used it for the last few years. The Android app is great and improves with each release.

The Android widget didn’t give me the information that I needed, though: it isn’t granular enough for my requirements. All it offers is a list of cards assigned to me, optionally grouped by due date. The problem here is that it lists EVERY single card assigned to me, starting with those cards that are dated in the past. Right now that is 461 cards. All I wanted to see was all the cards within a particular board, or even better within a particular list on one particular board.

Todoist

Todoist interface has two columns: list of contexts or projects on the left, checkbox list of tasks within that project on the right.
Todoist has a very clean interface.

That was when I discovered Todoist which appears to be available for just about everything: web, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, web, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail and Postbox. I’d love to see a plugin for eM Client—that would make my productivity life complete!

Todoist has a very minimalist and uncluttered look. On the left are your contexts, which Todoist calls Projects. It also offers labels and filters, but I don’t use either.

For the third time in a week I migrated all my tasks to yet another application. But this time they’ve stayed there… the ones that I’ve not checked off.

Todoist has met all my requirements. It is cloud-based, the Windows and Android apps work beautifully, I can add multiple contexts/projects, can easily drag and drop items from one list to another.

The Android widget does exactly what I need as doesn’t suffer from the same navigation issues that I experienced with Wunderlist. I’ve found that I use that a lot now, and the big plus (+) in the top-right corner of the widget allows me to add tasks quickly to any of my existing lists, and assign a due date too if I need.

The only thing that I miss from Wunderlist is the ability to view all tasks in one long list, [see correction below] but something that I found myself using much more than I ever did with Wunderlist is scheduling tasks. This is probably because Todoist offers two new views: ‘Today‘ and ‘Next 7 days’. (A perfect example of how user interfaces can affect user behaviour.)

CORRECTION: I’ve discovered a “View all” option listed under Filters. This lists all tasks by project. I wish there was a shortcut for this at the top of the application.

What is quite fun too is that Todoist shows your productivity trend and gives you points (which it calls ‘Todoist Karma‘), which I guess is there to help motivate you.

Graph and bar chart showing my productivity trend for the last seven days.
My productivity trend for the last seven days.

When you tick off items your points go up, when you don’t your points down.

I’ll definitely be sticking with Todoist for the foreseeable future, and I may even buy the upgrade to Todoist Premium which is a snip at GBP £18.00 per year, which gives you more project and label colours, task notes and file uploads, reminders, iCalendar feeds, etc.

I’ve just completed a task 2490 years early

It’s no secret that the default Outlook Tasks application in Windows Mobile 6 isn’t great, and given that I use tasks almost as much as the calendar—perhaps even more so—I’m always on the look-out for a dedicated application that will handle them better.

pTasks

I was therefore delighted when I discovered pTasks, which describes itself as “a replacement for the default Windows Mobile task manager” with a “finger-friendly user interface”.

Perfect!

It costs £2.69 from the Windows Phone app store.

Rather than paying for something that I don’t know if I wanted to keep I went in search of a free, early beta release. I found version 0.5f (the current, paid-for version is 1.5) and gave it a test drive.

An important note is that it requires the .NET 3.5 framework installed first.

Imagine my surprise when I added a new task, “Blog about pTasks”, and reviewed the details:

20110316-pTasks

How efficient am I! I’ve just completed a task nearly 2490 years early.

WordPress upgrade: filling in the missing pieces

Missing piece

Well, where to start?

I’ve been meaning to blog about life for ages but since Reuben and Joshua were born in November 2008 other things took more of a priority.  Things like attending to twin boys, eating, getting enough sleep, and generally trying to muddle through the days.  I’ll likely write more about that in the future.

Simplifying life

Over the last few months I’ve been working at simplifying life as much as possible, and being a good Getting Things Done / Take Back Your Life disciple and disengaging from projects and tasks that I knew I wouldn’t/couldn’t complete or which were no longer priorities.  It’s felt good.

That’s given me more of a focus on the things that I do want to do.  Sorting out my web server was one of those things.

Server upgrade

I suspect that I would have blogged more about it at the time (and I now wish that I had) but I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t blog again until I’d upgraded my server.  Of course, that took a good few months longer than I had anticipated (doesn’t everything these days?).

In February I moved from Webfusion to Heart Internet, after an abortive attempt to simply upgrade to a better hosting package at Webfusion.  The killer feature that was missing from the Webfusion package was subdomains; I didn’t want to lose my www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk URL that I’d just had printed onto a custom-made laptop skin.

So far my experience of Heart Internet has been excellent.

Upgrade WordPress

The most pressing reason for moving to a better server was to enable me to upgrade WordPress, the software that manages my blog.  My old host had a bunch of really out-of-date features (MySQL 3.2 and PHP4) which just wasn’t enough to run the latest versions of WordPress.  What a relief to be able to upgrade from WordPress version 2.0.11 to the latest version 2.9.

And wow! there have been quite a few changes to WordPress in the interim: the addition of widgets and tags, as well as critical changes to the main API, a much nicer UI, etc.  So many changes in fact that my old theme broke.  So that had to be fixed.

The upgrade was pretty pain-free thanks to WordPress’s infamous 5-minute install and upgrade script.  (I tested it out first, of course, on my localhost machine using XAMPP.)  The only thing that I missed was matching the database character set encoding.  It was set to ISO-8859-1 (Latin-1) rather than UTF-8 (Unicode) so there are still a few odd character combinations on the blog that I need to track down.

Batch categories

WordPress now has tags.  Back it the day it only supported categories so I, like many other WordPress users, created tens of categories to organise what I was writing about.  I had 88 categories.

I found a tremendous plugin called Batch Categories which let me quickly (by which I mean over the course of two days, rather than weeks if I had to edit each post individually) move groups of posts from one category to another, and also add tags to groups of posts.

So I took the easy route of replacing most of the categories I had with tags and rationalising my categories down to nine:

  1. Books
  2. Computer
  3. Family
  4. General
  5. God Project
  6. Mah Jong
  7. Music
  8. Psion
  9. Web

Next …

I’m really keen to redesign my blog theme but I’m going to hang off on that for the time being.  I’ve got a couple of other things that I want to complete first.

CSS framework

The first thing is to complete work on what started as a plugin for the Blueprint CSS framework and which is now turning out to be a combination of different parts of my favourite CSS frameworks.

Website redesign

Once that’s done I’m going to work on a complete reworking of my main website www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk.  The last time I did any serious work on it was, I think, probably around 2003.  The code has a very serious dose of ‘classitis‘.

One of my biggest drivers is the number of emails and telephone calls that I still get for information about and software for the Psion range of PDAs.  I want to create some space for myself by putting a lot more of that information on my site, in a way that it can be found more easily.