My Habit of Noting Timestamps

Over the years, I gained the habit of noting timestamps on items like to-dos and projects in Things.1 Now I’m wondering if that’s overkill now that I’m getting comfortable with TaskPaper.

Generally, I prefer including timestamps with every task, project, or note for the following reasons:

  • “Then you’ll have it”2. (i.e. You never know if that will help in the future.)
  • When reviewing my tasks and projects, the timestamp is a gentle nudge to moving something forward.
  • If something is super stale, I’ll feel more comfortable deciding to punt it.

A penny for your thoughts! Does it really matter adding that information with to-dos and projects? Despite using snippets, am I still wasting time?


  1. With clipboard snippets in Alfred, seven keystrokes will paste 31 characters of the current date and time (including seconds and time zone). I have three other variations with the same keyword that appends one of these words: start, added, and done. 
  2. Arrested Development reference! 
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Thoughts for moving from Things to TaskPaper

Dimitry Jacobs helped me remember that I could copy several to-dos from Things into a text editor in one step—like TextWrangler (Mac)—or an entire project into a notes app like Simplenote or Drafts (iOS).

(See: Emailing To-Dos — Things Support)

Mac

You can send emails containing the titles and notes of your to-dos by dragging them out of Things for Mac and into a message in Mail.

Let’s say you used Quick Entry with Autofill when saving a to-do associated with a webpage.

Things test todo 1.png

Things test todo 2.png

When you drag and drop those to-dos from Things into TextWrangler, both notes are enclosed within parentheses. (Not optimal.) In addition, the page title is saved for each note, but the URL isn’t included. Deal breaker.

Things Mac drag and drop todos.png

Lastly, while you can copy multiple to-dos at once, you cannot copy a project and its to-dos, which means you’d need to manually copy and paste the project (along with its notes).

iPhone

In contrast with the Mac app, you:

  • Cannot copy multiple to-dos at once.
  • Can copy “the contents of an entire project”.
Things test project and todos.png
Preparation: Project to copy from Things for iPhone
Things iPhone share copy text.png
Result after project in Things was copied from iPhone

Process

As a workaround, the combination of the Things apps will speed up the workflow of migrating the rest of my to-dos and projects from Things to my TaskPaper files. I’ll explain “moving” to-dos that aren’t meant to be in a project.

Note: You can skip steps 4–5 when you’re comfortable with the output.

  1. Mac (Things): Create a new, temporary project.
  2. Move—drag and drop—all to-dos that are not in a project into the temporary project.
  3. iPhone (Things): Copy the project. This text copy retains a bit more information—including any URLs, in a slightly nicer format—than copying from the Mac app.
  4. iPhone (Simplenote): Paste contents into a new note.
  5. Mac (Simplenote): Copy the contents from Simplenote.
  6. Mac (TaskPaper): Paste the contents into TaskPaper.[^1] I paste into the top of the file.
  7. Mac (TaskPaper): Move the to-dos out of the temporary project and into my desired locations, then format to my liking.
  8. Mac (Things): After migrating the to-dos from an Area, move them to another Area for safekeeping.[^2] For example, along with my “Automattic” Area, I created another titled “Automattic to TP”.[^3]

 

If you have Drafts, here’s an alternative to steps 3–5:

  • After copying the project from Things (which means it’s in your clipboard), use Drafts’ Today Widget by tapping on the clipboard icon (“new draft from clipboard”).
  • In Drafts, run the appropriate Dropbox Action on the new draft to prepend its contents into the desired TaskPaper file.

 

A few other thoughts:

  • In TaskPaper, there isn’t an equivalent to Areas (Things).
  • At the moment, I’m using two separate TaskPaper files: Automattic and Personal. These are my main “Areas”. 🙂
  • One-off to-dos that don’t need an actual project go into a Todos project at the top of each appropriate TaskPaper file.
  • iPhone: I’m trying TaskMator 3, which supports saved searches. (Yay!) I’m not sure I need to edit my TaskPaper files heavily while I’m away from my laptop, so I decided against Editorial.

Keep your todos out of Slack

I read through a P2 thread at work discussing Slack and productivity, and figured I should share my thoughts and practices here.

These were some ideas mentioned for Slack messages:

  • Star if you need to take action.
  • Mark as unread until you respond.
  • Open the Slack archive page in a browser window.
  • Slackbot reminders.

I’ve done the first two, but these all blur the primary purpose of Slack: communication and collaboration.

Embrace your task manager and calendar. When used properly, these are your spam-free lists of time-specific events, todos, and projects. When I’m unsure what I should be doing next, I check these.

Embrace your inbox, and “empty” it often

A colleague asks for a favor that isn’t time-sensitive while you’re in the middle of something. What do I do?

Next, designate a few blocks of time daily to clarify the items in your Inbox3, which leads to organizing them out of your inbox. 😉

Now what?

When you need to settle down for deep work, communicate that with your team, then work from your calendar and task manager!


Also highly recommended: The five steps of GTD Methodology


  1. Reference — Quick Entry for: OmniFocus, Todoist, Wunderlist (called “Quick Add” 
  2. This could also be a prompt to gain clarification. For example, “Ask David for sanity check re: documentation update”. 
  3. See also: Battle To-Do Debt 

Things: Faux running to-dos

I was working on a to-do in Things that I didn’t finish today, but wanted to make sure it was:

  • Noted in the Logbook when my completed to-dos are archived at the end of the day, and
  • Copied to the my scheduled tasks for the next day…

all from the keyboard within a few seconds.

(Aside: Seeing the completed to-dos in my Logbook is more visible as something I worked on that day. The alternative is not keeping the to-do as incomplete, and adding notes to the to-do.)

Steps

  1. Duplicate the item by pressing ⌘+D (Command–D).
  2. Complete one of the items by pressing ⌘+. (Command–Period).
  3. Arrow down () to select the other duplicated item.
  4. Reschedule for tomorrow by pressing Control+] (Control–right bracket).

Why not make a new project in Things?

The project is on an Automattic internal P2. I’ve kept it as a single to-do in Things, and kept recreating it if I couldn’t mark the P2 thread as resolved.

And…I’ve talked myself into realizing that I should create a project for this. Starting…

Things: Repeating Projects!

Things - Repeating Projects

Browsing the Cultured Code support pages, I stumbled onto this gem, “Creating Repeating To-Dos“:

If you have an entire set of to-dos which need to be repeated on the same day, group them inside a project and then repeat that entire project.

Regarding project templates, I shared this idea:

Important weekly/monthly checklists

I grouped recurring (predefined) to-dos by adding repeating projects. This allows me to:

  • Focus on doing work.
  • Keep the Logbook “clean” going forward, and
  • Save time from manually copying the to-dos.

David Allen might not condone having the Today focus overflowing with to-dos and projects because some of the items don’t need to be completed that day. However, I know I have the freedom to reschedule or delete items for another day.

(By the way, the Logbook displays all to-dos and projects marked as completed or canceled, regardless of importance or length of time to completion. The repeating projects I share in the above screenshot image—and list below—aren’t that notable.)

If I see a long list of to-dos in the Logbook, where many took 5–10 minutes to complete1, and the large remaining chunk of time is dedicated for the main part of my job, it can be more difficult to identify the higher impact projects or to-dos2.

Here are my current ones:

  • Work (Weekdays) — Triage a few ticket queues.
  • Work (Weekdays) — Work in our regular ticket queues.
  • Home (Monthly, three days before the last day of the month) — Prepare and mail our rent check.

As an example, our landlord requests a mailed check for our rent payment (project3 and successful outcome). Here are the to-dos needed to mark this project as completed:

  • Write rent check.
  • Print USPS label.
  • Mail rent check.

I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share them in the comments, or publish a new post on your own blog, and link back to this one. 🙂


  1. Examples of minor to-dos at work: catch up on reading P2 threads, or watching new intro videos. 
  2.  Writing this post, I realize I can make this easier by adding a tag to filter the Logbook. It’s exactly what I did to single out the three repeating projects in the image. 
  3. If you’re using a task manager with tasks and subtasks, the main task would be “Mail rent check”, and the two subtasks would be (1) write rent check, and (2) print USPS label. The subtasks would need to be completed before the main task. 

Things: Import from a plain text file!

Creates a to-do for each line in a plaintext file.

Source: Importing To-Dos From Other Apps | Cultured Code

I did not realize this was an option. I’m excited because I learned about duplicating projects, which means I can effectively reuse checklists, such as a packing list for trips.

In practice, I’d do the following in less than a minute:

  1. Copy and save an existing list from Simplenote to a plain text file.
  2. Run the script.
  3. Select the text file I created.
  4. Watch Things import them into the Inbox.
  5. Move the to-dos into the desired project.

The script allows you to enter a title and note for each to-do, nothing more.

If you need to tag in bulk, you can follow these steps:

  • Specify keys to be used for each tag. You can view the Tags window with the keyboard shortcut Command–Shift–T.
  • To select multiple to-dos, hold Command (⌘) while selecting each to-do. To select all to-dos in your current view, press Command–A (⌘–A).
  • Decide on the tag(s), then use your configured keyboard shortcuts.

Alfred 2.7.2, snippets, and Quick Entry for Things

When using Alfred’s clipboard and snippet viewer with the Quick Entry window for Things, the item would paste into the previously active window, not the Quick Entry window.

I use Alfred snippets1 or several items of text in clipboard history when entering new to-dos into Things, and have been annoyed for awhile because I couldn’t do the same with the Quick Entry window.

Today, I’m stoked to see that Andrew and Vero fixed it. Thank you! ⭐

I think one—or both—of the first two items from the Alfred Change Log for 2.7.2 addressed this issue:

  • Significantly improve Alfred’s focusing behaviour, not taking active from the currently focused app. This improves a number of things including clipboard history paste behaviour with a multi screen setup.
  • Bring the Alfred window forward in the window hierarchy

  1. Specifically, timestamps. It’s a worthwhile habit to note when you added a to-do, or track how long it took you to complete a to-do. See also: Using Dynamic Placeholders in Clipboard Snippets