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Declaring surrender on my TODO list

tags: emacs org meta

Last year I made some serious attempt to better organize myself by using a periodic process backed by emacs/org-mode. It was inspired by Zen to Done [a]. And it's not really difficult:

Collect everything that springs to mind (whenever it happens) using org-capture, a headline and maybe a sentence or two and hit C-c C-c. org-capture will put the item into my 0_inqueue.org as instructed. Easy.

Empty this inqueue once per day. To every item add TAGs to indicate where I can do this (@home) and possibly what tools or environment is needed to make it happen. Add information or pointers if applicable. Then move the item to "its appropriate place" --- well, yes, "appropriate", you know? Turns out, I didn't. I put project related stuff into project files and everything else into another "queue" named 1_todo.org. Still easy. But wrong.

Once per week review the list of TODOs, add some to the agenda of the upcoming week.

This is the easy part.

But --- surprise, surprise --- nothing gets /done/ magically. Not even a whee bit. With the possible exception of things that become irrelevant after a certain instance in time.

Well, to be fair. The whole thing saved me from missing several scheduled appointments. So its not all in vain.

To be honest. The 1_todo.org turned into a gigantic pile of TODOs, more than I could possibly do in any given time. So at some point I moved quite a number of them to the "cancelled/wont do" dumpster. Just deleting these items is not good, because my mind keeps putting them back in. Because they were not done. So with the dumpster list I can convince myself that I decided to skip it. Sigh.

But of course there are things that I must do no matter what. I started flagging them with NEXT (actionable) and with priority #A. I put the default priority from #B to #C. I changed the selection of items for the agenda view to only list "NEXT" items. The visible list became shorter. This looked better, but wasn't.

After some time I started to keep a short list of items at the bottom of my journal --- now everyone screaming at me "But that's the wrong place! Put them into the TODO list!". Yes. Well. No. No matter what I return to this habit of keeping the short list at the bottom of the journal.

Needless to say: I can ignore any list for any amount of time. Its impressive. And it's not, that I wouldn't get anything done. I still do most of the must do items.

Does any of this mess sound familiar? I'm sure, I'm not alone.

This week I came across a post by Bastien Guerry[b]: On using to-do lists efficiently.

> Very often, your to-do list becomes your enemy.

How did he know? Well. Probably he's been there, done that. The article is well worth reading.

So, the one thing that struck me is this. Just maybe my TODO list suffers from having to many NOTEs? I'm still not sure, but one example occured to me:

TODO is: place an order at $my_favourite_supplier for stuff of type X.

NOTEs are all the details of what needs to go onto the list of said order. And of course, so far these are different TODOs in my list.

Aha. I have not tried to review my TODO list, but this distinction appears to be important.

The other thing is

> But do not schedule a task unless it really needs to be done on a specific date ...

That is probably what my short list provides. Aha.

Did I say I hate TODO lists?

Did I say that my mind gets a little worse every year in remembering things?

I am afraid, I have to invest substantial time into this self organization thing again.

Wish me luck,


[a] Leo Babauta, Zen to Done

[b] Bastien Guerry: On using to-do lists efficiently


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