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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 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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