Making my to-do list more detailed; process versus outcome

Some time ago, I wrote some code to make it easier for me to update my web-based Quantified Awesome time logs from Org Mode in Emacs, clocking into specific tasks or quickly selecting routine tasks with a few keyboard shortcuts. I’ve been refining my/org-clock-in-and-track, my/org-clock-in-and-track-by-name, and defhydra my/quantified-hydra, and I’ve been getting used to the new workflow. The more I smooth out the workflow, the more possibilities open up. Because I’ve set it up to prompt me for a time estimate before I start a task, I can see a running clock and timer in my modeline, and Emacs lets me know if I’m running over my estimate. Come to think of it, this makes it even easier to track at the detailed task level than to track at just the medium-level categories available through my web or mobile shortcuts. (If you’re curious about the Emacs Lisp code, you can check out my Emacs configuration.)

I’ve also been sorting out my workflow for quickly adding tasks. C-c r t (org-capture, with the t template I defined in org-capture-templates) displays a buffer where I can type in the task information and set a time estimate. From there, I can file it under the appropriate project with C-c C-w (org-refile), or maybe schedule it with C-c C-s (org-schedule).

Since both creating and tracking tasks are now easier, I’ve been gradually adding small, routine tasks to my task list. This includes household tasks such as vacuuming and quick computer-based tasks such as checking for replies to @emacs. These tasks are in my file or tagged with the :routine: tag, so I can sort them in my Org agenda view or filter them out if I want.

It might be interesting to bring that data from Emacs to my mobile phone, but it’s not particularly important at the moment. I’m usually home, so I can just check my org-agenda throughout the day. If I’m out for some errands, my errand list is short enough to remember (or quickly note somewhere), and I can use my phone to quickly jot short notes to add to my to-do list when I get back.

The next step for that workflow would probably be to improve my views of unscheduled tasks, choosing new things to work on based on their time estimates, contexts, or projects. I already have a few org-agenda-custom-commands for these, although I still need to tweak them so that they feel like they make sense. Project navigation works out pretty well, though, and it’ll get better as I gradually clean up my Org files.

It feels a little odd to use my to-do list this much throughout the day, compared to the less-structured approach of deciding at each moment. The day feels less leisurely and expansive. Still, there’s a certain satisfaction in crossing things off and knowing I’m taking care of the little things. I’ll find a new balance between the number of items on my list and the time I want to use to follow the butterflies of my interest or energy. Maybe I’ll use tags or priorities to highlight energizing tasks, the dessert tasks to my vegetable tasks. (Ooh, I wonder how I can get different colours in my org-agenda.) In the meantime, I think that fleshing out my to-do list even more – capturing the little routines that might get forgotten if I get more fuzzy-brained or distracted – may help me in the long run.

I think one of the things about working with a list of small, varied tasks is that there’s less of that feeling of accomplishing a big, non-routine chunk. One way I can work around this is to pick a dessert-y project focus for the morning and finish several tasks related to it, before getting through the rest of the routine tasks. There’s also a different approach: focusing on the process instead of the outcome, cultivating the satisfaction of steady progress instead of the exhilaration of a win. If I keep on improving my workflow for managing tasks, ideas, and reviews, I think it will pay off even as circumstances change.

2015-12-04e Process versus outcome -- index card #productivity #mindset #perspective #stoicism #philosophy

2015-12-04c Preparing for steady progress -- index card #productivity #fuzzy #preparation

  • George Jones

    Qui scripsisti vere bona est. Gratias tibi ago.

    Thanks for sharing your reflections and your config/code. I will probably cogitate (cogito, cogitare….) on both and continue to borrow from both.

    On the “process vs. results” thing there is a phrase popular among Appalachian Trail through hikers: the “the journey is the destination”. These are people who spend up to six months working HARD every day for a very definate goal. Don’t miss the beauty and experiences along the way
    Longfellow’s ” A Psalm of life” is apt:

    Ok, now off to steal some elisp code :-)