Many years ago, I worked in car sales. I learnt a lot in those days about people and about how a business with multiple parts could work together. One area of the business that stood out for me was the service centre. The service centre of the dealership I worked at was attached to the showroom and I had a lot of contact with the team that worked on the cars brought in for service and repairs.
A valuable lesson learned
One of the lessons I learned from the service centre was how they organised their work. When they took an appointment for a service or a repair, the basic work required was entered on a booking sheet and a day was assigned for when the car would come in. The booking sheet contained only the basics of what work needed carrying out on the car. For example, it might have “full service” or “oil change”. Apart from the make and model of the car and the customer’s name, there was not much else on the booking sheet.
When the car came in, however, a worksheet was placed inside the car. This sheet contained the list of work that needed to be carried out, notes made by the person taking the booking and a place for the mechanic to write what he had done and what he believed needed to be done. Any issues, anything waiting from the parts department and customer requests were all written down on this worksheet. It was a system that worked and one that led to very few mistakes. As a result of this system, our service department had one of the highest customer service ratings in the country.
Going all in digital
When I decided to create an all-digital productivity system in 2009, I adopted a similar approach. I had my to-do list manager, my calendar and my notes app. My calendar always told me when my deadlines were, where I was meant to be and when. My to-do list manager told me what work I should be doing that day and my notes app was where I kept all my project notes, things that needed thinking about and things I was waiting for. My notes app acted as my worksheet. It was where it really didn’t matter whether things were beautifully laid out or were in any kind of organised list. It was my reference guide. I could dump links to articles of interest, telephone numbers of key people related to the project and issues that needed resolving.
The system I created meant my to-do list manager told me to “Continue working on Project X” and in my notes app, I found the corresponding note called “Project X”and contained in that note were all my thoughts, ideas and, to a certain extent, what I needed to work on next.
A better way of handling tasks
It’s a system I’ve used for years and it works. Often, I find many people write out a task list on their to-do list manager like this:
- Download image
- Resize image
- Crop image
- Colour correct image
- Add text to image
- Post image to website.
Instead, all I would have is a task called “Post new image to website”. This means my to-do list never looks overwhelming. It allows my notes app to be my digital playground and it really doesn’t matter what I dump in the note. I am free to write what I want, how I want and I am not forced to create endless lists in a hierarchical manner.
These days, I can also add a link directly to the document I am working on, be that a Google Doc or an Apple Pages or Keynote file which makes this system even more efficient. Less clicking and an immediate update on where I am with the project.
My workflow essentially works something like this:
- Review Todoist to see what work needs doing. Click on the Evernote note link and
- open Evernote note to that project and review notes.
- open document I am working on and begin work.
It’s simple, it gets me up to speed very quickly and over the years has evolved into a sleek, efficient system.
Here’s how I use Todoist to get this working:
A better archiving solution
Another benefit of using this method I found is I am able to save the notes I made during the project in my archive. This means in the future, if I ever work on a similar project, I will have all the notes and ideas I had from a previous project available to me. One of the problems with to-do list managers is once the task is done it disappears and although some to-do list managers do archive your completed tasks and projects, they are not easily searchable, unlike with an app like Evernote, where all your notes are searchable.
An Antidote to project task overwhelm.
When you start adding a lot of unnecessary tasks into your to-do list manager, you very quickly find yourself overwhelmed by the length of your lists. You will also find it difficult to resist the temptation of picking and choosing what to work on. Some tasks will be easy, others will be more difficult and quite a few will be sheer drudgery. Not a good way to get you motivated to get on with your work. When you see a task such as “Continue working on Project X” and, in my case a direct link to my project notes from my to-do list manager, I have no overwhelming list. Just a simple direction to work on a specific project. The choice I have to make is do the work or not do the work. Once you start working, the flow begins and you quickly get into doing the work.
So if you find you have long lists of tasks in your project lists, consider farming some of those tasks out to your notes app. Create a note with the same title as your project and use that note as your playground. You can add ideas, notes, links and keep track of what you have done each day. Once the project is complete, you can archive the note for future reference so next time you have a similar project you will have a good set of notes to guide you through the difficulties.
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