lunedì 31 agosto 2015

My personal workflow Part 1: task management

Use of a tool for task ("to-do") management for me is a necessity. I have tried many, many approaches. Every once in a while I also look at new tools, to see whether I can improve my current way of working.

The approach I have been using since a couple of years, with minor fixes, turned out to be extremely useful. At least for my way of working. I recently gave another extensive look at similar tools, but could not find anything better.

I use Remember The Milk (RTM). I keep my to-dos separate in two lists: "Home" and "Work". This granularity is adequate to my needs.

I occasionally create to-dos directly on the RTM web site, but in most cases I transform either an email (GMail) or a note (Evernote) to a to-do with very few clicks:
  1. By tagging an email in GMail with a special label (either "Automator-Home" or "Automator-Work").
  2. By sending an email from GMail to myself, at a special destination address. The address is in my contact list (either RTM-HOME or RTM-WORK) and shows up as soon as I type "RT" (very quick even from smartphone). The email will not appear in my inbox.
  3. By creating a reminder in Evernote (one click on an Evernote note).
This is extremely handy, especially because an URL is automatically associated with the to-do, either a GMail thread or an Evernote note. Later, a single click on the to-do allows me to jump directly to the "context" describing the to-do.

The Evernote integration is provided by RTM.

The GMail integration has been implemented by myself. RTM provides a GMail gadget, which is very useful to have the full list of to-dos always under your eyes, sortable by due date, priority and alike. However, RTM provides neither option 1 nor option 2.

I implemented option 1 with a simple Google Apps Script which runs automatically every 5 minutes and executes the following steps:
  1. Collect all threads labelled either "Automator-Home" or "Automator-Work" (I keep my to-dos separate in two lists; this granularity is adequate to my needs);
  2. For each thread, send an email to the the special email address provided by RTM which allows creating to-dos. The email content follows the RTM syntax, so that:
    • To-do name: GMail thread subject;
    • To-do list: either Work or Home, depending on the GMail label;
    • To-do URL: GMail thread URL;
    • To-do deadline: "tomorrow";
Choosing "tomorrow" as deadline ensures that no to-do gets unnoticed while at the same time making to-do creation quick and simple. I can fix the deadline appropriately later, when the to-do shows up on the GMail gadget.

I implemented option 2 with a couple of GMail tricks. In GMail, an address of the form "user@gmail.com" is equivalent to "user+string@gmail.com". Thus, I defined two "strange strings", say "+kijyht-HOME" and "+kijyht-WORK". Next, I defined two GMail filters that detect emails sent to me, at those addresses, and label them appropriately (either "Automator-Home" or "Automator-Work") in order to be processed by the Apps Script described above. Moreover, these filters mark the email as "read" and "skip the inbox".

I do not use RTM reminders, nor do I let RTM deadlines appear in my Google Calendar. I have just too many pending to-dos: I would be flooded by reminders and by calendar events. I prefer to use the GMail gadget judiciously to postpone, change deadline, change priority (to detect visually what should not be postponed) and alike.

That's it. For me, this approach is a huge time-saver and efficiency booster.

In a next post I will describe the other cornerstone of my personal workflow: reading list management with Evernote (and Feedly, Twitter, Zapier, IFTTT...).

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