Productivity tools are like penny candy. There are a wide variety and can be mixed and matched to satisfy your individual needs, but it can be overwhelming. You don’t need the next shiny tool, you need to use your existing tools better.
Remember that feeling as you walked into a store with money in your pocket and the determination to create the perfect mix of penny candy? You look left, then right, the bins vibrant with color and sweet aroma. But where do you start?
Maybe you go to your favorites or venture into something new. Both have their value. If your productivity tools work for you, most likely you’ll stick with them. If not, you’ll be looking for the next shiny tool.
It’s really not about the tool, it’s about how you use it. Most of us don’t use our tools to their fullest extent. I’m still learning new ways of using my core productivity tools thanks to both experimentation and other professionals who share what works for them. And so that’s what I want to do here, share what has worked for me in managing my projects.
Why Remember The Milk? It has enough flexibility to meet my needs but is still simple and easy to use. I don’t need to use a complex project management tool for my 4weeks&DONE projects, I save those tools for the cross-functional complex projects.
For everyday work and projects, I need something that is simple to use, accessible anywhere, and flexible enough to adapt to my projects. That tool is Remember The Milk (RTM). Here’s how I use it:
Depending upon the complexity of your project, you may need to do some pre-work before setting up RTM to manage that work.
As part of the 4weeks&DONE program, we select and scope out your project resulting in a detailed schedule for the entire 4 weeks. This schedule is the pre-work for setting up the project in RTM.
Alternatively, you can enter your tasks directly into Remember The Milk. If you know all of the steps necessary in your project, this approach may be more efficient. (Note: if you do similar projects over and over this direct-enter approach is best, but for a type of project that is different or new to you – I still recommend the 4weeks method.)
1. Create a unique tag for your project. This will allow you to view and manage your project tasks amongst all of your other tasks within the master list of to-do. When possible, it is always good to use one tool instead of multiple tools (to-do lists, project management software, post-it notes, etc)
2. Create a smart list for your project’s unique tag. Though you can simply go to the tag view, I find it valuable to create a special list keeping the project in front of mind encouraging focus on managing my project. Make sure to set up the view of the list to sort by due date and priority.
3. Using the schedule created in the 4weeks&DONE program (or your own schedule), enter each task into RTM. Make sure the description clearly identifies the task. Use the notes area for any links or extended description as necessary. You want to make it as easy as possible to get the work done!
4. Assign the project tag to each task (Tip: RTM will automatically add the tag for you if you are in the list view for your unique tag, making this step unnecessary.)
5. Assign a due date based on your schedule.
6. Assign a priority (1-2-3- or none). Although all of the tasks may be top priority, the idea is to prioritize the project tasks within the day. This allows you to identify a pre-requisite task or a dependency of one task on the completion of another.
This approach only works if your tasks can be started and completed within one day. That’s part of the secret to success in the 4weeks&DONE program.
7. Set up daily digest emails making sure to check ‘Tasks that are due today. You may also like to include ‘Tasks that are due in the upcoming 7 days’ to provide a view of your week.
8. When it’s your scheduled time to work on the project, open RTM and view the list you created for the project. Work on priority #1 until it is completed.
9. Make sure to mark each task as completed on the actual day of completion.
This is the bonus step that most people miss. We are so busy moving on to the next project that we neglect to learn from prior successes and failures.
10. Open your project’s smart list and select the completed view. This will show you your actual completion day. Selecting each task will also allow you to compare the actual due date to the planned due date – valuable information for your next project planning session!
Project management does not have to be overly complex. Choose the right tool for the situation and no more.
I started using Remember The Milk in 2007 as a simple to-do list. In 2008 I became a Pro member and had moved to using it with GTD and other methodologies. Over time my use of the tool evolved to allow my unique methodology for working. It is one of my three core tools for managing my business. Other tools have entered and left my business toolbox but Remember The Milk remains.
Give it a try on your next project!