I am a very busy person and always have lots of things on my mind. It’s not that I want to be busy, I can’t help it. The side-effect of always being busy is stress and lately that stress has come out in ways I don’t want to deal with.
So I decided it is time to do something about this. I went on a mission to find a way to organise or structure my life better, to get a better and less stressful hold over everything I have to do every day.
Researching this area brings you automatically into the realm of Task Managers and the different methodologies out there. Of course, I came across David Allen and his book “Getting Things Done”. He makes an excellent point, and his idea of clearing out your head to be ready for what needs to be done now makes real sense to me. He also talks about a trusted system that holds all your ideas and thoughts to be available at any time to either work on, plan or disregard as things change. It clicked with me.
So I went on the search for my perfect task system.
The first thing that confused me is the term “Task Manager”. I wasn’t looking for a manager. I thought of it more like an assistant. What I felt I needed is a system that works for me, not a system I need to work for. That became far more difficult than I thought.
I wanted something that works along the line of GTD. My requirements were low. All I wanted was a depository of my ideas, thoughts, emails, snail mails, information and calendar entries. So whatever comes in, either from me or any other source, should be collected in that depository.
I knew that not every information that comes in is important at the moment, but might become an important source at some stage. I also knew that anything that relates to a specific timeframe will become important nearer at that time and will be very important at the time.
This reminded me on the old films I used to watch were the busy CEO of a company had personal assistance, taking care of pretty much everything in that field and feeding information when it is important or required. The assistant also understood the way the boss was working and what he or she needed and when.
When new information would come in in any format, the assistant would order and tag it to being able to retrieve it quickly when required. The assistant would also assess the importance of the information to the things which are going on right now — learning and understanding how the boss works was a skill required to be a good assistant.
Coming back to my search, I’ve gone through over 20 different “Task Manager”, and not a single one comes anywhere near my requirements. All of them, without exception, require me to be my assistant. Most of them have nice depositories to store all the things, but none of them is any good in organising, structuring and retrieving the information. They all require me to work with many different systems like calendars and expect me to do all the work retrieving the information.
This is not what I call stress-free working. The opposite, it puts more work on to me. I found myself constantly checking my “Task Manager” to make sure nothing gets forgotten. What is the point of that? They talk about beautiful interfaces: why? I don’t mind for my human assistant to look good, but it wouldn’t be a requirement to get the job. But if my assistant doesn’t speak my language and I have to learn it first to understand what she says, I would probably not hire her. Why should I make an exception with an app?
I would accept a certain “Getting to know each other” period with a human or virtual assistant, but I would require each of them to have the right skills for the job and in the end to work for me the way I like to work.
Let’s have a look at a few problems I encountered:
Input: Putting any information in the depository of a Task Assistant requires some form of action and access to the system. This is relatively easy if you work on your computer all day, but if you like me out and about all day, data entry becomes more of an issue. Of course, I could record it all and in the evening, sit down and go through it categorise and tag it. But I don’t want to. I can’t remember what I thought in the morning and why it was necessary. What do I have an assistant for?
Calendar/Meetings: Preparing for meetings is essential for me, but this doesn’t include finding the things I need for the meeting. For me, a meeting has a goal, and that is what I am preparing to achieve. I prepare for the person I am meeting and the conversation we will have. Having to find documents and related information is not on my list. What do I have an assistant for?
Assigning and delegating: Many things need to be done where I have highly skilled people for. They are much better than me in that field, and sometimes things land on my table, which is better managed by others but is within my direct responsibility. This could be a report I need to present or anything. In such a case, I would delegate or assign it to the specialist with the note to be completed before my presentation. This might not even be a fixed date or might be shifted to another at one stage. My assistant would know that and inform the related parties of the changes. All apps require me to check every day (or set reminders/which are fixed). What do I have an assistant for?
So far, I have not found a working virtual assistant. All apps I tried, force me to work in many different apps to complete everything, and most of them don’t work together very well.
I believe we come a long way when it comes to technology, but at the same time, we’re so far away.
I am still searching and in the hope that one day, someone will understand what is required to create a real virtual assistant.
What do you use to organise your life?