Reminders & Today Lists

So much of our work is about attention hygiene. Where do we want our minds to be? How do we get our minds there? How do we keep our minds there?

There are many types of reminders available. OmniFocus 3 offers several types: reminders for a certain time before something is due, custom reminders, reminders related to location, and a reminder for when something is due.

We may hope that reminders are the means by which we will learn to be productive. We can set various reminders until we feel that everything is perfectly scheduled.

However, a major issue with reminders is that, by design, they interrupt us. Whatever it is we are doing, reminders impose a decision.  When it sounds, we decide, do we::

  • Continue current work and ignore the reminder, having been interrupted?
  • Continue current work and reset the reminder, having been interrupted further?
  • Drop current work and move to the reminded task, potentially damaging the work we are leaving behind?
  • Begin closing current work and hope to remember to go to the reminded task when done closing, creating an anxious state of working?

In this way, every reminder involves some form of loss or impairment. By definition, someone learning to be on top of work is coming from a place of feeling that they haven’t been able to get on top of work. Especially for someone just learning to get on top of work, any feelings of loss translate to feelings of defeat and failure quite readily.

In this way, there are at least two important considerations when starting a journey of productivity.

  1. Consider minimizing your reminders to the bare minimum.
  2. Realize that the smoothest path into work is a deliberately chosen one.

In terms of the first point, consider going through your phone’s system preferences, and one by one turning off reminders, then turning them back on as desired or needed.

In terms of the second, to make a chosen path, the work must be approached by way of habit. The habit to start though is not to “just do everything”. It is instead to create a single list to which you can turn daily: a today list. A well-honed list creates a simple silo of play and work, a collapsed and streamlined set of ideas from the entirety of our environments.

If you have a list that stores your work and other desired habits of the day, then your single habit of “look at daily list” covers you.

There are several methods for doing so. One is to have a simple list using pen and paper. Another is to translate a list to the calendar with times scheduled for all tasks.

You can create a “Today” tag in addition to any other tags you’ve added to a task. If you tend to use the Forecast view, you could then “pin” that tag to the Forecast view. Those tasks will now appear in the list for today. You could also use the “Dashboard” set up I’ve described in previous posts. I actually still use the Dashboard setup (though retitled “Today”) as I find it most accessible for my needs.

Whether you create a dashboard, use a Today tag, the Forecast perspective or some combination, you want a central list to turn to. A central list gives you one habit as an anchor. While there is certainly more to task management, the simple rhythm of a daily list is an excellent start.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with using reminders. The question is about how they are used. They are best considered nudges, satellites to a main system.  They are much less useful, and plainly painful, when used to act as a full system.

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