May 18, 2023

Long Days & Task Management

 I've been marvelling a bit recently about how much time I have in a day.

For instance, this day (Thursday) I woke up at 5am and caught the 6:20am train to London.  I arrived in London in time for a coffee and a pastry before a 9:30 meeting, which went until 1pm.  I ate an amazing Turkish Mezze for lunch (I love London food!).  I sat in a courtyard with my colleagues, then sat in a different courtyard with different colleagues.  

I had three hours of meetings - exceptionally productive ones all scheduled and agenda'd by me.

In my last meeting I reviewed my used of my task management system.  I am loving my mental headspace that comes from working on one thing at any time.  I started this a few months ago after listening to a Cal Newport podcast - I use Trello to file all incoming requests and then categorize them based on the following "Ready To Execute" "Scheduled to Execute" "Waiting for Reply" and "Today Priority"

It does take me a few extra minutes to copy text from teams / slack / email into Trello cards, but I am fairly sure the full ownership of my time and responsibility more than makes up for it.

Since I was off on Monday and Tuesday I came back to work with 55 emails and many teams messages.  I spent 25 minutes filtering them into trello.  Once filtered I filed all the emails away and my inbox was empty.  I then prioritized the tasks in Trello and got to work.  At the end of Wednesday I had worked through the entire list, and finished 30 minutes early.  I think staring at a 55 email inbox and guessing at which email to reply to first would have taken a lot more time, and felt way more stressful.

I love inbox Zero, but email is a terrible task management system.  Knowing everything is in Trello, and that emails are all stored in the appropriate folders, means I only have to use Trello to decide what to do.

But I digress.  I caught the 6pm train back from London and hopefully will be home by 8:30.  Tomorrow I have breakfast with a friend, and I might try for a quick 20 minute swim over my lunch break.  I've realized I can just about fit a 20 minute swim into a 1 hour lunch break - as long as my afternoon calls don't mind wet hair (I like to pretend it's "tousled")

Part of the reason days sprawl with time right now is the light - I drove to the train in the sunshine, at 5:30am.  I am on the train home in daylight, at 7pm.  Winters are cold and dark, but summers are endless possibility.  

Do you use a task management system for yourself at work?  Are you a Zero inboxer?   Does summer feel like opportunity for you?


  1. Team Inbox Zero for life! Because of the time zone difference between me and the rest of my team, my inbox is usually jam packed when I start work (though fair enough I fill theirs up after they leave work so what goes around comes around). For the most part I'm good about getting the emails that are just informational out of my inbox right away so things stay at a manageable level. If I ever got to the point where I was missing things, then I'd look at something like Trello.

    Summer is awesome! It just makes such a difference to my mood that it's light when I wake up in the morning and there's plenty of daylight in the evening.

    1. Oh the time zone difference must make a huge difference to your workflow! But I bet it also means you don't have lots of interruptions and random tasks dropped on you during the day?

      Using Trello has helped me keep on top of the "waiting for reply" things - I would so often send emails and then not remember to follow up if they weren't actioned. I never found a good way of monitoring this with just email (I used flags sometimes, but then would have to remember to clear the flags if I got a reply). And I felt like I was missing stuff that came in on teams if it fell too far down my chats... plus I couldn't figure out how to prioritize teams vs. email. On Trello I can weight things based on what they are, rather than how they came in.

      I think it wasn't as big of an issue before teams and email was fine then, but so much of my work is teams driven now it's far harder for me to track.

  2. I am very intrigued by your task management system. I definitely do much better when I can focus on one thing at a time, which is unfortunately not always feasible when multiple things need my attention. I have to adopt a better system.

  3. Your system sounds SO appealing. I am definitely not an inbox zero person. My gmail alone has 125 unread emails -- YIKES! You are so right that the days feel longer because of the extra daylight. I love the light and the illusion of additional hours!

    1. 125 unread emails would send my head spinning! But also I am aware that email management is a somewhat futile task because there are always more emails.

      I definitely do appreciate the illusion of hours too :-)

  4. I really like how you organized your email! I remember trying to learn Trello but I never acquired it as my capture tool. I don't get a lot of email so that's not a major issue and I love inbox Zero. I mainly do GTD and capture tasks onto my notebook, post-its notes and Google Keep, then assigning them to "project list" and "task list".

    When I leave for work in winter is dark, when I leave work at 3, the sun is ready to set, but in the summer I feel more "alive" if you will ;)

    1. I tried Trello before but thought it was silly, now I can see how it does help. I love inbox zero and I think I get 20-30 emails a day, but of course the more emails I get the more I receive so I'm aware that it's a bit of a repeating cycle.

      I haven't read GTD, I started it once but I definitely need to read it in full. Thanks for the reminder.

      I also hate the early sunsets... the one nice thing about working from home is that at least I don't feel like I'm in an office from dawn to dusk in the winter.