My new system to organize tasks

This was my first goal for 2009: create a system to do things and actually regularly use and improve it.

It’s based on the known systems from David Allen (Getting Things Done, GTD, a bottom-up approach) and the one from Stephen Covey (the 7 Habits, a top down approach).

How I did it

I started collecting and writing down all the things I wanted or needed to do and to group them into projects (of course when a task can be done quickly and easily should be done immediately).
I reviewed the list using the approach suggested by Covey: thinking about my mission (or vision: what do I want to be), my roles and my goals.
Then I associated the projects to the goals and when necessary created new projects and new task. Sometimes initial projects (which were not so important for my goals) have been moved into the “maybe” category.

For example one part of my vision is to (better) take care of my body and to remain fit and one way I tought to reach it is to regularly run, so I defined as goals to join a 10k race in June. Then I created a project “complete the 10k race” and started to add tasks to it, such as prepare a training program to be able to do it, with a 3 times per week run schedule, recurring tasks to run and so on.

I review the projects and the mission every 3 months.

The GTD system for me is working in this way:

  • I always have a way to capture ideas, in all contexts
  • I have one physical bucket for all the physical letters, invoices, notes. Actually they are three: one is for me, one is for my wife and one is common (house-related and so on).
  • I have one small Moleskine booklet where I can write ideas, things to do, notes, on the fly.
    And one electronic system, currently I’m using Evernote, on PC or iPod.
  • The buckets are emptied regularly (more or less): every Sunday I go through this stuff and for every item i decide what to do with it (discard, to which project, when, to be delegated) and I record this into and/or Google Calendar.
  • I have a place or places to keep the task lists, and is the tool RememberTheMilk (RTM) for which I just need a browser (so I can access it from a PC or iPod). With Google Gears is also available offline.
    At the beginning – in case I hadn’t a PC available – I was printing the weekly list directly from RTM out (you can do it at or copying the big stones to my Moleskine, but quickly I dropped it since it came out that I have always a PC available …
  • I have a calendar, which is the Google Calender and there is a RTM extension for it.


I really like the GTD system but a couple of things I needed to trim:

  • The collecting and processing system must be simple and light; if it’s too complicated or time-consuming you don’t put enough effort on the doing part.
    This is why I stay relaxed about it: I use several buckets, sometimes I skip the weekly review or I don’t collect everything. And I don’t use the context system (at least until now): no @pc, @telephone and so on.
  • The list of things to do can became very big: it’s ok, I try to see it as a backlog (as in Scrum): important is to have clear which are the front burners and which are the back burners (I like RTM because you can assign priorities).
  • The projects and tasks need to be associated to your goals. Not important projects should go into the “maybe” category.
  • I keep only tasks in the system and not habits. A habit could be a goal (such as “run regularly, three times per week”) which can lead to a project and a series of task (for example I could start running once per week and then increase it, I can set sub goals as running 30 minutes).
  • I tag some of the tasks as “next action”, for every project. I have a smart list in RTM for them and I can go through them and mark a few as priority 1. These are for me the tasks for the week, “the big rocks”: not more than 5-6.
  • I prefer to have a clear separation between personal and work tasks, so these tools are the one I use for the personal tasks. At work I use different tools (but the same system).

One thought on “My new system to organize tasks

  1. Pingback: The retrospective: review of my goals for 2009 « Look back in respect

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