Organisation and a new year

It’s January, which is a time when a lot of people are poking at their methods of organisation and getting things done, and that makes me want to talk about what I’m currently doing and how it’s working.

Why on a Pagan blog? Well, first, I don’t stop wanting to get things done just because I’m Pagan. But also because a couple of the things I’ve started doing are related to long-term divination and lunar / astrological awareness. My current organisation of my tasks is also (lightly) astrology centered, using a method I’m finding very helpful for getting an idea of balance between different parts of my life.

About me:

Organisational tools are such an individual thing. I can talk about works for me, but I also know that it may not work at all for you. Some people swear by paper methods, and others by digital. Some people want things in more than one place (like having lists that are just their work or freelance or school tasks) and others want everything in one place. Some people are very priority or date based, others are very context based.

The actual tools I use may be useful for some of you, but the way I’m organising it may also be interesting, even if you don’t use the same tools. If you want to skip to that, you can.

So, you should know the following things about me to put my choices in context:

I do all my todo stuff digitally. I love a lot of aspects of a paper system, but I both need to move things around on lists a lot, and need something that’s with me all the time. The computer that fits in my pocket that sometimes makes phone calls is with me even when I run into someone in the hallway to the bathroom. Otherwise I forget things people ask me during those times when I get back to my office.

I’m a librarian, so my work day is a mix of

  • responding to questions and patron needs (unpredictable tasks I want to handle promptly)
  • admin things to do regularly (time sheets, newsletters, budget stuff)
  • larger projects (creating resources, bigger research tasks, etc.)
  • doing things with people (researchers, interns, volunteers, meetings, etc.)

I also need a place to park larger projects I’m not going to get to for a while but want to remember to keep in mind, or things I’d like to do something about but won’t have time for for a while. I often have things where it’s “Come back to this in a month” or “We’ve had enough questions about this it’s worth moving a guide on this up the priority ladder.”

In terms of location, most of my time, I’m in my office, but there are some tasks I can’t do if we have a visiting researcher, and there are others I don’t like to do if an intern or volunteer is working in my office on tasks.

I have a bunch of chronic health things so figuring out what I can get done on a given day is often complicated by varying levels of physical energy, focus, etc. I actually mostly don’t tag my things by how much exertion it will take, but I definitely balance it.

Because of this, I keep a pretty strict limit on other stuff I commit to in my life, because a lot days, by the time I get home from work, I am out of ability to do much beside make simple food and fall over. It means I have to plan household tasks pretty carefully, to get them done. I also have a bunch of irregularly recurring medical appointments, some of which come with things I want to do before the appointment (research, track something in more detail than usual, etc.)

The basic system:

I found a lot of things in David Allen’s Getting Things Done very helpful, though there are parts of it that deal very badly with being a librarian (where a lot of your work time is, of necessity, driven by what people ask you and when, if you’re doing reference.)

I have not found a really good application of contexts that work for me, other than ones that are not ‘at a computer’ (i.e. I usually do tag errands and appointments.)

Tasks are in Todoist, which I’ll discuss more below. I can create a link to a specific email in Gmail via Todoist which is great, I also add things like “Forum thread I want to respond to that I’m not going to get to immediately” using the ‘add website as task’ option.

Events that have a time and date are on the appropriate calendar. (I use the Calendars 5 app on my phone: I like the interface better than the GCal one.)

Email is in the appropriate email account. (All my personal email addresses dump into a single account, which I almost always have open. Work emails go to the work account.)

In both cases, I mostly function by Inbox Zero: I file or delete emails that need it immediately, and an email is only in my inbox until I answer it, which I try to do same-day. I put emails that need more than a trivial answer (i.e. more than a minute or two) into Todoist to make it easier to see that’s where a chunk of time went. I also archive work emails, and pull stats from them as a regular task.

I sometimes move things into an “Ongoing” folder at work if they’re going to stretch out and I’m waiting for answers from people, and don’t want to have to hunt in the archived email for them. I clear that out every month or so.

Extended notes for writing projects are in Trello (summaries and outline notes) so I can move the cards around to different categories and in Scrivener (desktop app) and SimpleNote for things that have bits in progress. (You can sync between these two.)

A few thing are phone apps or web docs. My medication reminders are a phone app (Round, in my case, which handles varying schedules very well), and I also have a rather thorough Google Spreadsheet on which I track:

  • exercise and activity (activity via another app, Human)
  • Tarot card of the day (I’m curious if I see patterns and it’s worth doing long term: I’m using the Shadowscapes Tarot app)
  • how much energy I have and how productive I felt
  • how much writing I do (any more than 1K responses or posts in less structured spaces, plus blog posts and articles on Seeking of any length)

Todoist:

I like the way Todoist will let me move tasks around. Both at work and at home, it’s very common for me to have one idea of how my day’s going to go when I start, and then a new reference question comes in or I run out of stamina faster than I expected, and I have to rearrange.

Being able to move things not only between lists easily but also within a list so I can rearrange the order I want to do things in turns out to be one of my personal must-haves. (This is a big part of why paper doesn’t work for me, I was endlessly spending time rewriting.)

I have the Premium version, which I consider worth the money for several additional features. The ones I use all the time are the label options, filters, and adding emails and websites as tasks. There are some other premium features I use less often, but also find handy: the comment and attachment options, the reminders, and the project templates. (You can compare plans here: I’ve had Premium for about two years now.)

Now, on to the more interesting parts.

Structure:

I had been doing a pretty boring default sort of structure for a while, but a month or so ago I switched to one that is roughly astrology based, in the sense of ‘ruling planets’. It looks like this:

  • Sun : work tasks
  • Moon : priestess and religious things
  • Mercury : writing (also other complex communication stuff)
  • Venus : friendships and relationships
  • Earth : practical daily life stuff (chores, errands, etc.)
  • Mars : tasks I want to be more active about
  • Jupiter : things that expand me (things to read, online courses, etc.)
  • Saturn : dealing with limitations, time, space issues.
  • Uranus : group activities, online website staff tasks, volunteering
  • Neptune : someday/maybe/ideas space
  • Pluto : financial tasks

Each has a colour associated with it that is a reasonable fit for that planet’s correspondences within the limits of the software colour choices. This is because while I don’t dwell on Todoist’s tracking system (they call it karma), I do find it useful to look at the tasks I’ve done and see a visual snapshot and using different colours gives me a sense of the balance.

How many items are in each category varies a lot. Some have almost nothing, but my Mercury project has 146 things (all different things I might like to write sometime, sorted into a bunch of specific projects or areas.) And work has over 60 (at least half of those are things I don’t expect to do much on for at least 3-6 months.)

Some of these have multiple projects underneath them: for example, the Sun (work) has subprojects for:

  • projects (larger tasks that have smaller steps)
  • newsletter and display tasks
  • ideas and future possibilities
  • meetings and people (I stick agenda items in here, and things to bring up at checkins with my boss.)
  • regular tasks (stuff I have to do that has a recurring task associated like doing my own time sheet and approving my assistant’s.)

Some of these may not be the associations you’d pick, and I’m still playing around a little with what goes where. But I’m liking it a lot because I can see quickly how things are organised and know that some categories usually involve more exertion and others involve more focus.

Looking at it today, I think I’m going to start putting in a task in Saturn when health or other reasons limit me doing something, so I have a better record of when that’s happening in one place (like going home sick from work, cancelling plans with a friend or declining something, etc.)

On a given day, I usually start with 10-15 tasks. During the day I’ll add some and quickly cross them off (emails, for example), and others I’ll move around (I’m often too ambitious about how much bigger project work I’ll actually get done.)

Size of tasks:

I’ve played around a lot with different ways to figure out a ‘is this a big thing or a small thing’ and ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ just weren’t doing it for me.  (or ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘high’ energy.) I ended up with a lot of things in medium, because it wasn’t clear where the boundaries were, and it wasn’t very helpful.

Cleaning up my tasks as preparation for writing this, I started playing with the coinage system in the Potterverse (which is decidedly non-decimal and also there’s a lot of meta about how it doesn’t really make sense in places. Which is to say, there’s a lot of leeway to it in terms of what it means in day to day life while still having scale). It is 17 knuts to a sickle and 29 sickles to a galleon, and that makes 493 knuts to a galleon.

Anyway, I tried it out today, and I actually feel like that sort of scale feels a lot more right than small/medium/large. My big projects (like creating a resource, etc.) tend to have 15-30 medium actions attached to them, even if I don’t make them all into separate tasks. Tiny little tasks (like writing a trivial email or entering a small chunk of a larger data project) tend to be about 10-20 items to the medium size task.

Breaking it down this way, knut tasks take me 5 minutes or less, sickle tasks take me 10-30 minutes on average, and galleon tasks are things that take me hours and have multiple subdivided parts or sequential pieces. Which feels about right.

Ritual and magic tasks:

One other thing I did starting about a month ago I’m really liking. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing a year ahead reading for my birthday, either astrology or Tarot, and this year, I put in the card for the month and a brief summary statement in as a repeating task (every day for that month).

I also spent a couple of hours just before New Year’s putting in moon dates and major astrological info into tasks (it’s easy to get much of this for calendars, but in practice I don’t look at my Google Calendar every day.)

By putting it in as a task, I both see it first thing I check my lists every morning, and it means I can check a couple of things of my todo list before I’m really awake, which is nice momentum. (I pause and think about them: I might write something down if I feel it’s notable.)

I got the questions I’m using for this year from Briana Saussy’s Astronomy Rx 2017 – I like how her questions are brief but pragmatic. I put in longer things (retrogrades and other notable planetary things) as repeated tasks for the duration (and also put in the end date in the task text – I find it’s useful to know if it’s about to end or not.)

I’m finding this very useful for quick reflections, and it’s a good way to remember to look at it every day.

Conclusion

As I said above, I don’t think this method should or would work for everyone – but I hope that me talking about it gives you some ideas that do work for you.

Bookmark the permalink.