4 min read

My Task Backlog

My Task Backlog
Photo by C M / Unsplash

How I organise my tasks and reach my goals‌‌

The time I spend working towards my dreams determines when I will reach them, and even though I am aware of this, I don't invest the necessary hours. I used the 5-why method and found one reason (next to my addiction to digital content) for my lack of progress: I don't know what to work on.

I have too many projects I haven't started, administrative tasks, and over 20 to-dos in Things 3. Ultimately, I spend my time in motion and don't take any steps toward my dream. When I decide to work, I am overwhelmed with the number of projects and the uncertainty of how to bring them forward, which leads me to do easy tasks like re-organising my to-do list.

I need an organised backlog that helps me jump straight into action. Whether I have 10 minutes of free time or hours to work on projects, this backlog should allow to immediately start making progress.

Requirements

  • Increase in productivity‌‌
    Most productivity tools make me less productive because they require too much time to set up and maintain. My new tool should stand in the background and not demand unnecessary attention.
  • Dynamic‌‌
    I have to be able to edit my tasks and move them around.
  • Detailed‌‌
    I should be able to fill my tasks with additional information that will help me when working on them.
  • Always on me‌‌
    My backlog should be ready to be used in every free second I have.
  • Like a pilot's checklist‌‌
    A pilot follows a list of necessary steps to reach his goal - getting a plane in the air. Every step is essential and following all the steps leads to the desired outcome. And this is how I want my backlog to be as well.
  • Minimalistic‌‌
    Most tools have too many features I don't need, and I want my new backlog to be minimalistic.
  • Time & Priority‌‌
    I should be able to prioritise, categorise, and group tasks according to different criteria, like the time needed to complete them.

The Contestants

Pen & Paper

A bullet journal was my first attempt at organising to-dos, and I experimented with multiple adaptations of index card-based setups. They never helped me. I don't have them with me when I need them, I cannot store or edit any additional information, and they end up being a mess (for me). While I prefer going analog whenever possible, my new backlog won't be a digital adaptation.

Things 3

I use Things 3 for my daily to-dos, and it is fantastic. I tried to track my projects in it and didn't like it. While Things is perfect for creating smart to-dos, I didn't like it as a project management tool because it lacks some features beyond a checklist.

Roam

My favourite program, Roam Research, is a terrible project management tool. I have seen people make it work, but for me, Roam is a beautiful mess by choice. It is a place for unorganised thoughts and brainstorming, not planned project management.

Trello

During my research, the first tool I found was Trello, a simple application to track tasks in Kanban boards. It ticks a lot of my boxes, but one: I don't enjoy using it. I don't know why, but when I used Trello in the past, I didn't feel like it was the tool for me, and if I don't enjoy a tool, I don't use it. I feel this is an important factor ignored by almost anyone looking into possible tools.

Notion

While being a great tool I use as a personal Wiki, Notion has one flaw: I cannot use it for daily work without spending way too much time on administrative work. It is a personal problem, and Notin might be the perfect tool for others, yet I never like the layout I came up with and am stuck in a constant loop of rearranging blocks when using it.

Project Management Tools

Asana, Jira, ClickUp, or Microsoft Project are fantastic project management tools with way too many features. They are meant to be used in teams, not by an individual, and focus on providing the necessary tools, which ultimately distracts me.

Excel

I never considered Excel an alternative until I saw my father-in-law track and prioritise his to-dos. It surprised me how well tasks can be organised and sorted within Excel, yet I'd rather spend the time necessary to set it up on something else.

Airtable

Finally, I found Airtable, a tool I still don't fully understand but the one that might be the answer to my problems. My information lies in an Excel-like database with the option for me to define individual parameters. After playing around a few minutes, I created a minimal task backlog with all my desired features.

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Airtable will be the tool of my choice from now on. I feel good about setting up a minimal backlog, and while the software offers a lot of possibilities for collaborations, I don't feel overwhelmed by it but motivated.

Conclusion

To be brutally honest, I have to admit that a task backlog won't fix my productivity problems, and spending a day looking for the right program is a prime example of (unnecessary?) work that doesn't bring me closer to my goals. Any tool would do the job if I could prioritise my projects and sit down to work on only one.

My real problem is jumping between projects before finishing anything, and that is why my choice of a new tool comes with a new rule as well: I am only allowed to work on the things I have in Airtable.

Airtable fills a gap in my productivity setup and will help me spend less time on administrative work in the future. The secret to success is working with this tool instead of re-evaluating my decision in a week.

I am happy with the minimal task backlog I have built-in Airtable and am now looking forward to using it. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you want to know how this will turn out.