My dashboard(s) or how I cheat on GTD

As alluded to in Do I have a GTD setup 3.0 in the pipes?, I was very tempted by other platforms (other than OneNote) to set up my GTD system. Being strong-willed, I persevered with my intent to use OneNote as my GTD organizer despite its limitations and my failed attempts to circumvent them. And it paid off! I managed to turn OneNote into a real, standalone task manager (see My OneNote GTD setup 2.0). And yet, something was still missing: a dashboard!

“I thought you had what you called a ‘dynamic dashboard’ in your new GTD system?”
“Yes, with Tags Summary! But this is limited to the Next Actions.”
“You also have the embedded Excel sheet for your completed projects.”
“That’s right, but something is still bothering me.”

Now, I am not talking about a graphical summary as fancy as what you’ve got in some GTD apps, such as FacileThings. What I had in mind, instead, was something more down to earth. Something I’ve liked in Wendy Neal’s GTD dashboard, for instance. Something as simple as a view of what I have on my plate for today, tomorrow, the next 7 days, and later, and, equally, if not more, important, what was overdue.

“What about your Reminder and Deadline tags?”
“Granted, they do the job; still, I wanted more.”

That being said, I trust my Reminder and Deadline tags, so I did not need all the above categories; “overdue,” in particular. All I wanted was to know at a glance my schedule for the day (or more specifically, those time-sensitive tasks), as well as the next day, and an idea of my week assignment. I needed a Today and This Week section, that’s it. Well aware of its limitations, I knew I could not implement such functionality in OneNote. I also knew this was not aligned with GTD principles…

No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar

Those three things are what go on the calendar, and nothing else! This might be heresy to past-century time-management training, which almost universally taught that the daily to-do list is key. But such lists embedded on a calendar don’t work, for two reasons.

What many want to do, however, based on perhaps old habits of writing daily to-do lists, is put actions on the calendar that they think they’d really like to get done next Monday, say, but that actually might not, and that might then have to be moved to following days. Resist this impulse.David Allen

For the first, I use Outlook and my @work timeblock (see My calendar(s)). Every morning, I open it and see on the top a 5-column table (labeled Monday to Friday) with the important things I want or need to do that specific day. I have two rows (in addition to the headers), one for the current week and one below for the next week. While I can fill the latter daily, I also check all my projects, as well as my Reminder and Deadline tags, during the Weekly Review on Friday to prepare for the next week (and move the content of the bottom row up). Importantly, the tasks listed there are not in my actual calendar, which remains “sacred territory”. I also do not have never-ending lists of items, limiting my use of this space for critical Next Actions; those that are time-sensitive, in particular. Like this, I still have (plenty of) time to check my Tags Summary dashboard to determine what to do. Admittedly, it happens that sometimes I have to move an item to the following day because I had to deal with “unsuspected, unforeseen” emergencies that day.

For the general “to-do” list, I use Google Keep. Yep, being on my phone, this list is always with me! Not only did I create a list (with checkboxes) called Today, but I also added it as a widget (always visible on my second screen below my Skiff calendar widget). Even though it’s called Today, I also list all my week’s assignments there (below a “=======This week=======” separator). Every evening, I move upward (above the separator) what I have to deal with the next day. The beauty of this system – actually there are two cool things – is that 1) I can check a completed task directly from the widget (i.e., without the need to open the actual list) and 2) I can recycle (every Sunday when I prepare the coming week) the items that are recurring tasks (I just have to uncheck them and Google Keep put them back to the list where they were). It is indeed prefect for chores such as doing the laundry or (what I should be) cooking for dinner. To be honest, this list does not replace a calendar or is not really a “to-do” list but serves mainly as a reminder for all these things that a busy, tired mind can easily forget.

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