Organizing your thoughts

I‘m sure we all feel like the thoughts are just spinning around and around from time to time. This is common in stressful situations or when you just have lot’s on your mind in general.

I’d argue that the processing power of the brain is amazing, the way it creates connections and find new patterns in situations are marvelous. The capacity to multitask many different things is not as impressive, it is true that we can multitask an impressive amount, but whenever we do without an organized system we tend to make mistakes, get stressed out and in bad cases take a real toll on our psychological selves.

I deem my self to be a fairly intelligent person, I’m good at solving problems and finding patterns in whatever I work with, my memory on the other hand is not so great. My first solution to this was a basic to-do list in a simple text file, something which I in time outgrew so I downloaded an application called Things, which is a task manager application for Mac OS X, it is simple and elegant which is key in organization. After a while I built a system for handling different type of tasks concerning involved people and priority using Things project functionality.

This really helped me out, I got a lot better at handling all the different kinds of tasks being thrown at me. I was able to handle more tasks and more work than ever before, it even got to the point were I with this system could take on so much work that I stopped sleeping and just worked until I crashed and burned hehe! (But seriously, don’t do that, if you’re a fellow work-o-holic then you should balance your work, fun and rest is good for your thinking process)

The term “to-do list” is often used to describe a simple form of task management, I like to use that term because it’s my belief that task management is all about simplicity, you want to log as much information as possible of your future task but you want to spend as little time as possible doing so, to achieve this it’s important to have a framework to follow and a simple way of using that framework.

My framework was built on 6 categories:

  • Deadline
    I used this to keep track of all my deadlines for my different tasks.
  • Ongoing
    I put all tasks I had started in some way here.
  • Important
    This was a list of important future tasks, it’s important to separate the important tasks from the less important tasks if you have lots of tasks, or a very important task could be delayed due to you not realizing it.
  • Less important
    A list of the less important tasks.
  • External
    I used this to describe the different jobs I had placed on other people, which is important as I was the responsible person for those jobs.
  • Misc
    Whatever suits here, pay invoices, send chocolate to your hot american friend, just the stuff you don’t want to forget about.

This system worked really well for me as I have really bad memory, but my memory works in such a way that if I have a system for all the important information concerning me then I have no problem remembering what I need to remember.

An important aspect of this system was that I could just drag ‘n drop the different tasks into the different categories, again, simplicity is key here! A less important task could easily become important with time, and the Ongoing tasks would obviously change all the time.

I somewhat use this system even now, but I’ve recently built another system which allows me to not only make tasks and take notes but to also develop thoughts in such a way that the act of creating tasks and figuring out the tasks are one and the same. But this system call for another blog post so I’ll write about that later.

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  1. Leo Ryberg
    Jul 12, 2010

    I have recently made a choice to organize my own life since the workload has begun to outgrow the capacity of my conscious mind. It is interesting to see that you have done the same thing.

    I have another pattern of organization though, one that works pretty well for my purpose. The basic principle is that I have programmed myself to always decide upon the next required action for every goal that I have.

    Actions that has to take place on certain dates go in the calendar. Everything else is kept on a simple to-do-list that only lists the next (or next few) actions that need to be taken care of. Then I can pick whatever I want to do from this list, and do everything in whatever order I wish.

    This way I can be certain that I work towards my long term goals, but the to-do-list is simply an array of pragmatic, real world tasks. Most are easily executed.

    I then evaluate the progress on a regular basis, and establish the next step in every active project.

    This breakdown of huge objectives into baby steps is very effective, and the external order system keeps my mind clear from the petty stuff.

  2. Tobias Wallin (Mentation Away)
    Jul 13, 2010

    Simple yet effective, I like the way you think! It reminds me of how I used to organize things before I implemented a more advanced framework for managing tasks.

    As long as it works well it’s probably the ideal choice, there’s no need to make things more advanced than they have to be. One can always enhance it with categories when there’s a real need for it.

  3. Leo Ryberg
    Jul 13, 2010

    Thank you. The system still has a formidable testing period before I can evaluate it with confidence, but to this point, it works well.

    I have planned for heavy duty management too, of course. Whenever a project grows too large, it gets its own category and plan of action.

    I treat everything that takes more than one step to complete as a project. This way, I avoid loose ends, since I have a list of all active projects, and periodically review this list.

    The basic principle remains, though. I only want real world tasks on my final to-do-list, and I have decided to organize them by availability. Some tasks can only be handled over phone, therefore I put reminders on the phone. Some tasks require a computer, and therefore, the relevant sticky notes go by the computer. And so on.

    Something I just noticed is that my system does not differentiate between tasks in any way.

    If I hypothetically set “spend more time with my girlfriend” as a goal, this goes in the project category since it requires several steps, and then I decide upon the next required action.

    I am very interested in this recent system you have designed, and how it works. I might have use for something like that.

  4. Tobias Wallin (Mentation Away)
    Jul 14, 2010

    Interesting, I do get your reasoning for dividing tasks on different platforms (such as your phone or computer screen). I don’t think that would work very well for me, I can’t keep track of anything that isn’t in digital form hehe…

    But I do divide my tasks, I still retain my old system described in this blog for personal stuff regarding my private life or my work life.

    For TuneRIghts I’ve build a task management system for everyone in the team using a web application you can access from any computer, so I typically put all my TuneRights tasks in that system.

    The need to differentiate tasks becomes apparent… when there is a need I guess :). If things feel messy than there’s probably a need to differentiate different tasks or projects.

    I like how you create a goal to spend more time with your girlfriend, I could definitely see my self creating the same task to bring a potential mate into my system for handling my time. (Many people would probably find it odd)

    I’ll be sure to write that blog about my new system unifying thought and task development, it’s basically a combination of the mind-map principle and the concept modeling system I’ve showed you. It’s much simpler though and accounts for way more freedom.


  1. Mental frameworks « Mentation Away - [...] invented two systems for managing my life; an external system which I’ve been describing before, and an internal system, ...

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