What's the best productivity solution for managing my work situation?
November 30, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a new position at work where I'm now managing multiple projects and people, and need to overhaul my system for organizing tasks to avoid drowning. What solutions are there for my situation?

Up until now, I've used an excel "Master Task List", where I have columns for week#, location, task notes, and date completed. When Monday rolls around, I'll filter on that week, and look at all the tasks I've queued up for that week #. If a task isn't completed that week, I roll it over into the next week.
The major problem with this system is there is no real priority for tasks beyond the assigned week, and I end up making a lot of the decisions of "when" on-the-fly. There are also tasks which clearly won't be completed next week, that I just place there because I don't have a better sense of when it will/should happen. They just keep getting rolled over to the following week and long-term projects pile up. Another major issue is there is no reminder system beyond me manually checking the excel doc for pending tasks. I also have to be at my desk to check the latest updated version of this task list.
One thing which works about this system is I can easily reference the previous year to see exactly what we were working on during a given week. My job is highly seasonal and there are tasks which repeat the same time every year.

I'd like to find a system which is more flexible, I can add more context to, I can setup reoccurring tasks automatically, I can view from an app on my phone in the field if need-be, etc. I'd also like a system which I can view larger projects broken down into tasks. Right now, I just keep track of all pending larger projects in my head since they don't necessarily fall into the "task" category. I'm sure there are other things I'd benefit from I'm not even thinking of.

I'm also just starting to read GTD.

posted by pilibeen to Work & Money (9 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
What you're asking for is a system but sometimes there's a tool that's powerful enough that allows you to create a tailor made system just for you. I've had some success with Trello and its very simple and flexible way of organizing things into boards. lists and cards:
* It's free and easy to get started.
* The android app just works and makes note-taking fun.
* you can attach files and easily make checklists.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you want a system where you can manage multiple people within the system (as in they buy into the system/program you are using too) - and do you want a software program (and if so on what platforms)?
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2014

Add a priority column. Move the spreadsheet to Google Docs so you can see it on your phone. Start placing future stuff in a higher week number than the next one and set aside a little time to thoughtfully place the ones you're not sure about. Add a project column to group tasks where necessary.
posted by michaelh at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2014

Response by poster: I don't need to have people under me in the system as well. A software solution besides Excel, or on top of Excel is what I'm looking for. I use iOS for mobile and would love to have access there.

Right now I'm thinking the combination of Evernote + GTD using The Secret Weapon setup might be my best option. I'd like to gather a list of solutions and opinions before I dive-in.

posted by pilibeen at 11:37 AM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trying out Trello for my work and personal to do lists. It may be worth checking out. It is very customizable. Watch the demo video and see if you like it. It has an app for iPhone and it is free.
posted by fieldtrip at 12:25 PM on November 30, 2014

I use a modified version of The Secret Weapon. I find it flexible, and after initial set-up, pretty easy to use and maintain. I keep separate notes for a running master to do list and for topics to discuss with my boss.

I don't do a lot of to do list generation from email, and I think it works better that way. If you get a ton of to do's from your email, I think it is harder to keep up the system, even with the Evernote/Outlook integration.

What consistently works well for me is the tagging system, and the flexible approach to prioritization.
posted by jeoc at 1:09 PM on November 30, 2014

Do you use Outlook for email? Most of this can be used with Outlook's tasks. You can set up recurring tasks for annually, weekly, etc. You can snooze them as needed until you finish them. I usually make tasks/flags based on emails, but you don't need to do that.
posted by hydra77 at 2:42 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've tried various Evernote based GTD systems (but not The Secret Weapon, but from a quick skim of the website it seems to be similar to others) and they all work - but only to an extent. The big issue is that Evernote can't natively handle GTD concepts e.g. mature context management, context / project filtering, ticklers, the 'waiting' context, the weekly review etc. Once you begin to become fluent in the GTD methodology, Evernote starts to feel clunky and full of workarounds. I would recommend not going down this route unless Evernote is already a big part of your workflow.

I'd recommend starting out with something simple and free like mGSD so you can get a feel for a GTD workflow. mGSD may not have the slickest interface, but it is easy to pick up, simple to use and true to all the GTD concepts. It will also let you put in time-based reminders, and will handle your requirement for time-recurring actions. It will sync across devices using Dropbox or similar. It won't easily import/export to Excel (although with a bit of scripting I'm sure it could be done).

If you want the full GTD experience then I'd recommend Omnifocus (available on Mac, iPhone and iPad). It will do everything you've requested. I've been using the program on OS X for about five years and the apps on iOS for three, and it meets every one of my needs as someone who manages a lot of projects and a lot of people. Yes, the apps are expensive, but they're the best, full featured GTD solution I've ever used (and I've used a lot). The Pro version has extensive AppleScript support - importing / exporting actions to Excel should be easily achieved (I've never tried it myself, but there is an active developer community that has probably already solved this problem.) N.B. Omnifocus does have a really steep learning curve so be prepared to go through a bit of pain getting it set up.

One final note - GTD is not project management - it's personal task management. If you need to manage complex interdependent activities and resources against budgets and deadlines then I'd recommend you use a professional project management tool - e.g. MS Project, OmniPlan or (if you want to go for a full enterprise solution) Primavera P6.

Good luck with managing your projects and actions! Feel free to memail me if you want any specific tips on any of the programs I've mentioned.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 6:35 AM on December 1, 2014

If you have a modern mac you should use omnifocus for sure. It is hard to recommend without the mac app though - that is really the core of the system. (I use things which is another mac gtd client but simpler and not suited for your needs)

If you don't have a mac you might want to look at Flow It is expensive for single users as it is more a team solution - but the best web focused gtd client around.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:48 PM on December 1, 2014

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