Over the years I've tried almost any system I've come across to manage my TO DOs and my time. Off the top of my head:

  • nothing, just a big mess :-)
  • a text file with all my TO DOs and notes
  • multiple text files, one for each area of interest
  • a calendar
  • a structured spreadsheet (resembling a product backlog + sprint backlog in Scrum style)
  • Inbox Zero
  • the Getting Things Done approach with pen and paper
  • the Pomodoro Technique by my friend Francesco
  • Google Tasks
  • various tools GTD style the best of which is Things for Mac (that I bought and is really a great tool)

I went back and forth a few times adding and removing tools and looking for the best combination for me and this includes not only the system but the supporting tools for someone like me who alternates days in office with days taking 6 tubes, 5 buses, a couple of trains and a flight here and there.

This is my current setup which seems to work better than others:

  1. Inbox Zero
  2. Google Tasks
  3. Google Calendar
  4. All Sync'ed up and pushed to my mobile (and the other way round of course)

Inbox Zero

I strive to empty my inbox as soon as possible and GMail labels help a lot here:

  • as soon as I get an email I apply the relevant labels
  • unless it's really urgent I then leave it there for whenever I'll be able to tackle it
  • depending on the importance of the task associated with the email I leave it in either unread or read state. This gives me a visual sense of how much important stuff is still in my inbox (unread) and how much is stuff that can just wait
  • an email stays in my inbox until I have done whatever needs doing then I remove it from the inbox
  • if I've done whatever needs doing but I want to make sure I'll remember to follow up I'll star the email before removing it from my inbox. Starred emails are therefore emails I've answered to but I should really keep an eye on (e.g.: if I don't get a reply back in due time).
  • If an email requires both a reply and some other activities I'll create a new Google Tasks linked to that email (More Actions -> Add to Tasks

Google Tasks

Google Tasks is where I dump all the tasks I'll have to tackle. I like the fact that it can be as structured or unstructured as I want it to be. Some tasks can be very structured (due date, notes, links to an email, nested children and so forth) while others can be just a line.

Google Calendar

I do realise my use of the calendar mixes things up a bit: of course I put all my meetings, calls, conference calls, trips and the likes but I also use it to remind myself of deadlines for very important things. Hence it is a mix of things I need to do with other people and things I want to be sure I remember myself.

All Sync'ed up

I'm a push addict: everything must be pushed to my mobile and the other way round: email, calendar and tasks.

On top of that I like to have a dashboard-like view whereby everything is visible from one single web page and for that reason I'm missing more than ever the old Better GMail feature of having my email and calendar in the same (please bring it back!!). As a workaround I'm using the little google widget in the left column but it's not the same (and it also pushes the Google Docs box down below the fold of the page):