If you are frustrated with your long lists of tasks, pop-up notifications, endless projects, countless flags and due dates, you shouldn’t be. Believe it or not, task management can feel very good. It comes down to having the right level of organization – not too much, not too little. In this article we will focus on reducing unnecessary clutter in your task management.

Setting Priorities & Due Dates

When I look at my task list, I usually see 0 to 3 urgent tasks (flagged or due). I have found that about 90% of my tasks don’t need any priority level and have no true due date. Keeping urgent tasks to a minimum allows me to focus on what really matters first without feeling overwhelmed. Once my urgent tasks are done, I simply work. The order doesn’t matter. Don’t get caught in a mental web of unnecessary prioritizing.

If a task has a true time constraint I will put a due date, but I’ll set the due date to a day or two before. In the title of the task I put the real due date. The point of this is so that the task gets marked as urgent when it is due soon, rather then when it is already due.

For example:

Task Name: [9/16] Pay electric bill

Due: 9/14/15

In the above example, paying the electric bill becomes urgent two days before it is due. To set this as due on the 16th would be dangerous and somewhat pointless, because I wont know that it is urgent until it is too late.

In this example I would set the due date to 9/14 so that I will become aware of its urgency a few days before. If I set the due date to 9/16, then if I am busy I might not realize I needed to do this until 9/16, when it might be too late, there may be a fee on the bill. It’s the same thing buying a birthday present. The real due date is the day of the birthday, but you’d like to know it’s important at least the day before.

If you are creating fake due dates or fake flags to try to motivate yourself to finish those things, I have found that it tends to make a person feel overwhelmed, not want to deal with it and not be able to sort out between the fake priorities and the real ones.

Projects

Setting up projects in task management apps are often a trap for the mind. It goes crazy dividing and categorizing, which makes work feel more complicated and ends up wasting time for no reason.

In my experience here are some relevant reasons to have a project:

Time tracking: If someone is paying for your time, then it wouldn’t be right to work on outside what they are paying you for. Working within the confines of a project would make sense.

Meetings: In meetings it is great to be able to pull up all relevant tasks to discuss with others related to a specific project.

Sequential Projects: Some projects have a set start and end date with tasks that need to be completed in order along the way. Projects are useful here to plan what to do now, and what is next. A task management app that can set a task as dependent on completion of another task is great in these situations.

For other work that is not a sequential project and does not have time tracking or meetings, then I have found grouping types of work is the best for productivity. For example, you could be writing a book, writing a blog, and making facebook posts for a friend’s company as a favor. All these things could be combined under one project called “Writing.” There is really no reason to have four separate projects, unless the volume of tasks gets very high. I’ve found that when you get in the zone of one type of work like writing, time is lost switching gears into a different type of work such as finances. One of the quickest ways to be productive is to fly through all the tasks of the same type of project one sitting, if nothing else is urgent.

Typically I like to keep my projects containing an average number of tasks between 4 and 12. Less than 4 tasks, and I consider merging projects together into 1. More than 12 tasks and I consider splitting them into two projects. I like to feel simplicity in my projects. Everything that is unnecessary is cleared away.

Feel Good About Your Work

Every so often I change the background of my gmail, just to give it some life. Movement is good. If you are spending many hours doing office work, bring beauty to that part of your life. It should feel good to open your task list. I have emoticons in front of all my 🚴projects and 🎪contexts and change them when they start to feel dull. Have fun. And don’t let your stressed out mind tell you that you don’t have 20 seconds to change an image…

Perfection and beauty can create a state of consciousness in which you will not only love your work, you will get more done than you could ever imagine.