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5 Responses To A Missing Task List Crisis

5 Responses To A Missing Task List Crisis

    Earlier this week, Gmail went down. The fact that it happened only a day after my task manager of choice spent 15 minutes refusing to load. Between the two, I probably spent a full hour wondering, ‘what if?’ What if I lost my to-do list? What if I lost the emails that are pretty much my only hope of recreating my to-do list? I really didn’t like the idea.

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    It’s nerve-wracking to think about, but any of us could lose our system. A Moleskine could go through the wash, a text file could be written over, a web application could shut down. Unfortunately, task systems don’t lend themselves to the easiest of archiving. It seems almost guaranteed that one of these days we’ll lose at least some part of our to-do lists. Depending on just what happened, you may have some hope of recovering your data or finding your list. But once you’ve exhausted your options for retrieving your information, you may feel like you’re up a certain creek.

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    But it’s not the end of the world to lose your task list. Think of it along the lines of email bankruptcy: it must be refreshing to have absolutely nothing you need to check off your list. The odds are pretty good that, eventually, somebody will ask you about the important items on your list. If no one asks, maybe a task wasn’t so important. The real worry, at least in my mind, is missing a deadline — especially the kind that involves money.

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    How do you recreate your task list?

    If my to-do list disappeared today, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to get back a good chunk of it. I add ideas for blog posts, thoughts for long-term projects and even errands I need to run to my list. I’m equally sure, though, that I would at least be able to get back the stuff that I’ve committed to — the stuff I really need to do.

    1. Write down everything, immediately. My first step would be to write down literally every task I could think of that was on my list — even the ones that seem unimportant. I don’t think you can put off this sort of thing; every day that goes by makes it harder to remember. It may seem like something that will take up a lot of time, but once you sit down and start making notes you’ll be surprised how fast it goes. Need a starting point? Try to remember everything you had planned for tomorrow.
    2. Go to email and other documents. Have a shared project calendar? Old emails you can go back to? Timelines? Any documentation you have from the planning stages of your project can help you determine not only what is on your to-do list, but the priority. In my opinion, one of the worst things about a missing task list isn’t necessarily figuring out what you were planning to do in the next couple of days. It’s trying to remember what you had to do immediately, and what could wait.
    3. List the major stakeholders in your projects. Whether we’re talking about household chores or big assignments from your employer, there’s usually other people involved in any project you work on. Make a list of those people and start contacting them: they’ll be able to provide you an idea of what’s next. You don’t need to admit that your task management system has gone on vacation, either. A simple email — Bob, I wanted to double check the due date for the widget. — is probably enough to help you get back on track.

    How do you prevent another disaster?

    Once you’ve gotten some semblance of your task list back, you’re probably going to be thinking about how to prevent such crises in the future. And while I said that task lists aren’t the easiest things to back up, there are some options, as long as you’re using a computerized system. If you’re prefer the pen and paper method, though, I’m afraid I don’t have too many bright ideas.

    1. Back up your new task list — the easy version. If you handle your task list through some sort of file you have easy access to — a text file, a wiki, etc. — making a periodic copy is all it takes. I’ve had a lot of success using Dropbox to sync / back up files across multiple systems, personally.
    2. Back up your new task list — the hard version. If you use Remember the Milk or another web application, you still have some back up options. With RTM, at least, there is now a relatively simple way to back up your tasks: use Google Gears to create an offline version and you automatically have a back up. But if you use something other than RTM (or you don’t want to use Google Gears), you’ll have to get a bit more technical. Using the scripting language of your choice, write a query requesting your data. For RTM, you can use the RESTful interface, for example, and just save all of your data to a text file. It isn’t the most elegant solution, but it will get the job done.

    What suggestions do you have for someone trying to recall the important items off his or her task list? Any ideas that don’t involve going through the last year’s worth of e-mail? Or perhaps a suggestion for backing up your task list?

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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