Task Management

I work in a variety of areas. I work in the military as a program manager, a military unit that trains soldiers in infantry skills, presentations at conferences for veterans issues, group work in domestic violence, and other areas. I am usually the lone geek in all of these areas. This isn't itself too bad, I'm an advocate of using tools that works for you, not tools for their own sake. The real issue with me is that of project management and task management. Where I will spend time in mind-mapping, diagramming, and planning roles, goals, and projects, nobody else that I work with in all of the areas of my life do so. The most sophisticated application that I see in my daily life is when someone in the military will share a calendar event with me to keep me apprised of an event, or to invite me to an event, using Outlook. First, it is Outlook on a closed military network and thus doesn't connect outside of the office and I still have to manually type it into my own devices. Second, there are more sophisticated levels of calendar views and publishing states in Outlook that are never used. Remember, everyone in the military still uses PowerPoint as a document publisher.

The civilian world is no better. I remember in 98 showing my coworkers in an office in Houston that there was a thing called 'document change tracking' routing in Microsoft Word and that we didn't have to print out version after version after version after version of a document in our editing process. Flash forward 15 years and the same issue still comes up.

So my fellow geeks, we need to teach our coworkers. We are missing the promise of the electronic age because people are afraid of the shiny boxes and glowing screens and the obvious Voodoo that goes on inside computer code. 'Best let sleeping dogs lie' they say, and every once in a while we'll sacrifice an intern to the great gods of the interwebs so that the network doesn't go down.

I was asked about tools to aid in task/project management. First I would direct that tools are just that... tools and that if a person has lousy driving habits and is drunk, then the safest vehicle won't help much. So before anything I recommend that one buys copies of the book Getting Things Done and read it quickly through non-stop, and then read it through again slowly with a highlighter and pen and take notes. I keep reading it over and over, gleaning a little more each time. Without the proper skills all the tools in the world will avail you nothing. With the proper skills you can make due with most any tool.

One small example. I showed a friend the simple idea of Inbox Zero, from Merlin Mann, and she said that it made a huge difference in her workday. As Shawn Blanc points out, Inbox Zero is not about the email I look around my coworkers at the military department, their Outlook inboxes are filled with hundreds and thousands of emails, and if they are the tiniest bit organized there are folders on top of folders (that are never used well). It is one more piece of friction in one's life. Every piece of friction, no matter how small, should be erased from your creative, productive process. You'll be happier, more productive, and more effective in the end.

Back in the day I used the Franklin Covey and would order the planners religiously. I loved the sense of big picture and meaning that Stephen Covey's book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First offered me. While I moved about with a sense of purpose, I was unable actually Get Shit Done until I found the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Now to the tools. Which ones do I use? I've tried several. I've like the tag system of Things but it couldn't function for me enough with so many different hats and future planning. I'll get to that in a second. I LOVED the simplicity and elegance of TaskPaper but it had the same glaring shortcomings with dates and deferments. On my end of things I keep coming back to OmniFocus on the Mac. It is the best tool that is out there, bar none. It is a Ferrari with rocket boosters. You can either use it to simply drive to the nearest coffee shop, or you can crank it all the way up and go nuts with its sophistication. Windows users... I'm sorry, it is for Mac only. If you are truly interested in how design meets performance (form and function), I don't see how you can possibly be on a PC instead of a Mac. I've never met anyone who switched to a Mac and hated it.

Shawn Blanc has a great article here on A Sledgehammer called Omnifocus that is definitely worth a read for anyone looking into task/project management at the individual and team levels. But if you want some alternatives, check out 11 alternatives to Omnifocus.

I was asked about collaboration with other people. In this regard I am guessing because nobody that I work with uses any system other than the usual hodgepodge of post-it notes, calendar and email tag, and simple lists. Yet I will offer a few suggestions to investigate.

Concerning program management I like the looks of OmniPlan for the Mac. Again, sorry Windows users. This is basically a Gantt Chart and you can collaborate on it, assign hours and resources, and so on. For large scale projects, or a birds eye view it looks handy. So far I've not had a reason to use it and certainly nobody around me has the workflows to use such a tool.

Another possibility is Asana which is geared specifically around team collaboration, project and task management. It is cross platform and web-based. I've not had to use it because nobody around me uses a system (again, alas) and in task management it is not as fully sophisticated as my beloved OmniFocus. You can get started in this for free, but I am unsure as to price structure and features available.

Another possibly great source is Evernote. This application is on all devices and platforms. It is incredibly useful and the team keeps making it better and better. The latest changes to the iPhone app (iOS 7) are really great! Not too long ago they added a reminders feature where you can create dates on notes. Premium users (which is really cheap) get the ability to share notes. Think Google Docs with a reminder feature. It is so integrated into the system, which is my filing system by the way (GTD), that I contemplated switching from my OmniFocus to the Evernote for task and project management. It would certainly be doable. Such as this articlehere.

And lastly there is BaseCamp. I know nothing about this other than I've heard various guests on MacPower Users podcast reference using it. I can so no more than this on it.

Before you leave, check out this great blog called Zen Habits. It is a constant reminder to get to the real simplicity of the moment. Only in this reality can true productivity arise. You can have all the shiny tools in the world, but if your mind cannot focus, what good are they?

Live long and prosper.