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Get Ready to Get Things Done in 2010 with TeuxDeux

Get Ready to Get Things Done in 2010 with TeuxDeux

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    As far as I’m concerned, there is no better personal productivity tool than the humble to-do list. Just the ability to put down and visually scan everything you’ve got on your plate offers a huge benefit – as anyone who’s ever reached for a sheet of paper and started listing tasks when they were feeling overwhelmed will attest.

    What’s missing in most to-do lists, though, is the element of time. My beloved Moleskine is a case in point: whenever I think of something I have to do, I add it to the end of the list. During reviews, I’ll sit and brainstorm tasks, and they too go to the end of the list. In good GTD fashion, there are no priorities and only tasks with fixed time requirements end up on my calendar.

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    Which means that when I have time, I have to scan through pages, skipping over finished items, to find something to work on. If I were a better GTD’er and used contexts more efficiently, I’d have the same problem, although the lists would be shorter since they’re be limited to what I can do in my office or out and about or on the phone.

    Enter TeuxDeux, a new task list that bills itself as “a simple, designy, free, browser-based to-do app.” “Simple” is right – TeuxDeux’s interface consists of columns for the next 5 days and a “Someday” section underneath. You can add tasks in the text box at the top of each day, click finished tasks to cross them out, delete finished tasks, and drag tasks from one day to another or to the “Someday” list.

    And that’s it. No contexts, no projects, no time tracking, none of that stuff. You enter tasks, you do them, you cross them off. If you don’t finish something, you can drag it to another day. The interface is lovely – you wouldn’t normally call something “designy”, except that TeuxDeux is a collaboration between two design houses that are clearly looking to demonstrate their skill to potential clients – and everything just works.

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    Using TeuxDeux as a planner

    I have accounts with a dozen online to-do list managers, and yet I keep coming back to my trusty Moleskine. So what makes TeuxDeux special? What do I need with yet another online task list? And could it possibly be that I’m giving up my beloved Moleskine?

    Have no fear, my Moleskine isn’t going anywhere. It’s still the best tool I’ve found for on-the-go capture, not just of to-do list items but phone numbers and addresses, notes to myself, project outlines, and random ideas.

    TeuxDeux fills a gap that I hadn’t really known needed filling, and that no other task list manager has really addressed – daily and weekly planning. As a daily planner, TeuxDeux acts as an MIT list – “Most Important Tasks”, also known as “Big Rocks”.

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    I have hundreds of tasks in my Moleskine – after all, I’m a college instructor, a freelance writer, a blogger, a website manager, a book editor, an apartment renter, an uncle and brother and son, a single man, and a person living his life. Each of those roles comes with dozens of things to do, from researching an academic presentation to buying toothpaste and breakfast cereal.

    But I can’t just sit down and do all those tasks one by one – on any given day, there are certain things I have to do and certain things I’d like to do and certain things I’d do if I found some spare time. An MIT list is a list of the 3-5 things that are, as the name suggests, most important to get done today. The things that, if you finished just those tasks, you’d have had a good, productive day.

    TeuxDeux makes it easy to whip up a list of the day’s tasks quickly, and I can drag and drop them around to roughly prioritize them. When they’re done, I can go back to my Moleskine and cross them off. If I don’t finish all of them, I just drag the remaining tasks to the next day.

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    Since I can see the whole week in one view, TeuxDeux also allows me to plan out what I need to do in the days to come, making it really useful for a Weekly Review. A calendar isn’t a really useful tool for plotting out tasks; rather, calendars are good for blocking out time to do those tasks in. For example, I might block out 4 hours for writing on my calendar, but the particular things I need to write go on TeuxDeux. Or I’ll block out the time I spend in my office on campus on my calendar, but the tasks I need to do while in my office are on my TeuxDeux list for that day. And whatever I don’t get done can be easily dragged to the next day.

    You can do all this with most task lists, of course, but not so easily or intuitively. The only real drawback is that TeuxDeux is entirely self-contained and not easily accessible except through a computer browser. An iPhone app is apparently in the works, and hopefully they’ll develop apps for Android, Palm, and Blackberry as well. But it would also be nice to be able to add tasks via third-party services like Jott or Dial2Do, or to access your daily lists in other applications.

    Still, as it is, TeuxDeux is proving an immensely useful tool that fits well with my mostly paper-based productivity system. As you look forward to the new year, you should definitely give it a try and see how it can help you stay on task and get things done in 2010. And let us know what you think in the comments!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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