Getting to Zero: A Task Management Tool

Since December I’ve been using a free online tool that I can honestly say has multiplied my productivity by a zillion ☺. Liana Lehman turned me onto it and it is called Vitalist. You can pay for the service, but I find that the free features suit me just fine for what I need to do.

Vitalist is the secret behind my empty mailbox and calm feeling each and every day and is built around the principles of Getting Things Done.

Wikipedia defines GTD as:

Getting Things Done (commonly abbreviated as GTD) is an action management method of The David Allen Company, and the title of the book by David Allen which describes the method. Both Getting Things Done and GTD are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.

GTD rests on the principle that a person needs to move tasks out of the mind by recording them somewhere. That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks. What distinguishes GTD from other time- or action-management systems is the idea of grouping tasks by the context (defined as a place or set of available resources) in which they are to be performed.
Now everyone has to adjust the system to suit their needs, so I actually organize my tasks by projects instead of context.

Examples of contexts are: Errands, Computer, Phone, Home, Studio, etc.

The tools that I utilize within Vitalist are

Projects: Administrative, OC Weddings, Marketing, Misc, Personal, Website Update, My Wedding
Dashboard: Each day you can visit the Dashboard and see what tasks you’ve assigned to that day. Beyond that I get my Dashboard emailed to me each morning so I can see a snapshot of what I have to accomplish that day
Ticklers: This is where all my to do items go – each attached to a date so they pop up and remind me what has to get done!
Someday: Ideas or thoughts I may want to pursue in the future go in here
Star System: Red stars absolutely have to get done that day. To me they say: “Do me first!!”

Last time we spoke about email management. So many people leave messages in their Inbox to remind them of things that need to get done. The problem is new ones come in and bury the old tasks. Thus you open your email program and see you have 900 messages and immediately feel overwhelmed and wonder what you are missing.

Each time I get an email that has to be addressed I decide whether it’s something I can get done quickly (the GTD system measures quickly by 2 minutes or less but I’m not usually quite that strict). If not I put a tickler in my Vitalist for later that day, tomorrow, whenever. The important thing is I know it’s scheduled and a note will pop up and remind me what to do. I then move it into my “Pending” file in my email and put a “P” at the end of the tickler so I can easily find the email when I’m ready to deal with it.

If you are more of a pen and paper person you can print the Dashboard out each day and work off the list that way. The important thing is that each morning when I wake up I have a task list that I can get to work on right away, instead of hundreds of emails to sort through and determine what needs to get done. Vitalist has eliminated post it notes on my desk, notes in my calendar, all excess bits of paper because every item gets put it that system and I know I’m not forgetting anything.

One thing to keep in mind – assign tasks to days as you take a glance at your calendar. I.E. if you know you will be busy all day on Tuesday (like me today!) don’t assign yourself a lot of tasks for that day.

I have tickler items that will pop up as far away as August of this year, but I can sleep well at night knowing that they are all accounted for and I’m not trying to remember everything by myself.

A tool that goes hand in hand with Vitalist is Jott. Jott is a phone based tool – if I’m in the car and remember something that I need to do instead of driving off the road while trying to write something done I will call Jott (wearing my headset of course!) and “Jott Myself” with whatever needs to get done. Ex: “remember to talk to Jeff about registry stuff tonight,” “call Mom,” etc. That voicemail will get transcribed and emailed to your Inbox in both text and voice form. When I get home I go through any Jotts I have left myself when out and……..put them into Vitalist. The two work very well together!

Try it out and see what you think, and don’t forget that it usually takes at least a month to get used to a system before it becomes a habit… don’t get discouraged if you fall off the wagon a few times – just get back on and get to zero.

Good luck!