How I got to Inbox Zero for the first time in 14 years

Until last week, I used Remember The Milk to keep track of my to-do lists. We’ve posted before about how to get organized, but recently I realized that my system was stressing me out more than helping me, so I’ve switched.

What I noticed was that when planning a new project, I created a text file instead of putting it into Remember The Milk. Kyeli and I have a schedule of what types of tasks to do on each day, so I didn’t even look at Remember The Milk anymore. It had become stale and irrelevant. I had a schedule and a bunch of text files.

Observe, don’t judge.

When trying to be awesome, it helps to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

This means to look objectively at what you’re doing rather than judging it. “Descriptive” means to describe what is actually happening, either out loud or in your head. “Prescriptive” means “telling what to do”, as in when a doctor prescribes medicine to you, she tells you what drugs to take, when, and how much.

I had been stuck in prescribing Remember The Milk to myself instead of describing what I was actually doing.

Ask why.

I looked at what I was doing, and I realized that I was avoiding Remember The Milk because it wasn’t easy to use for me. I couldn’t order the items in the list as I liked, I couldn’t cut and paste easily, I couldn’t edit and reorganize easily. Apparently that was important enough to me that I’d rather have ease of editing than all the other features of Remember The Milk.

One thing that I used to like about Remember The Milk back when I was using it was the email reminders. If there’s a time-sensitive task, I want to be reminded of it. If it’s sitting in a text file somewhere, I might forget about it.

Get to the root.

Kyeli and I talked about this, and eventually I figured out that what I need in a to-do system is:

  • easy to edit
  • easy to share
  • easy to store and find information
  • a way to keep on top of time-sensitive things

We decided to completely ditch Remember The Milk in favor of MediaWiki + a schedule.

What? A wiki?

A wiki (any wiki will do, I’m just partial to MediaWiki because I like Wikipedia) is easy to edit, easy to share (no more “but that file is on your laptop, I can’t get to it”), and easy to store and find information on. Far easier than a bunch of text files, because it has hyperlinks, which are even more flexible than nested folders.

To keep from getting overwhelmed with a huge pile of scattered to-do items, we created one main page on our wiki that lists our weekly schedule.

  • Monday: current project
  • Tuesday: conversion + tribe building + website
  • Wednesday: learning + planning
  • Thursday: blog + newsletter + coffee house
  • Friday: misc + catch-up

Each of the daily items is a link to a “project page”: a wiki page with that project’s to-do items on it. All to-do items live on a project page; we don’t ever put to-do items on just any old random wiki page.

This is far better than having one huge honking to-do list, or even one huge honking to-do list separated by subheaders. The advantage is that each day, we only have to look at a to-do list of a manageable size, because we’re only thinking about one or two or three projects each day. The rest can wait until their day comes. Of course there are always urgent things that need to be done quickly, but most things can wait up to a week.

On each project page, we put the to-do items with deadlines at the top of the list, with the deadline in bold. At the beginning of the work day, we review the project to-lists for the day’s projects, and we make sure to complete all the tasks that are due within the next 7 days.

Any to-do list is useless if you never look at it.

Of course this system wouldn’t work if we didn’t stick to it, but it’s been pretty easy to stick to so far. We like the wiki, so we like to look at it and update it throughout the day. We use it for storing information as well as to-do items. And most importantly, we established a routine. Each day, we say to each other “What are we going to do today?” and we look at the wiki together. It’s working really well!

In fact, it’s working so well that I’ve gotten down to zero emails in my inbox for the first time in… EVER. I’ve had an email address for 14 years, and this is the first time I’ve had a to-do system so good that I didn’t need to store to-do items in my inbox as well.

How To Be Awesome

While I was working on all this to-do list stuff, I realized that the pattern I used to work through it was pretty much the same pattern I use for self-work, for relationship issues, for business decisions, and all sorts of other stuff.

  1. Notice that something isn’t right or could be better.
  2. Observe without judgement.
  3. Keep asking why until you get to the root.
  4. Come up with a solution to the root problem.
  5. See how it goes!

Feel clear and confident about your direction in life!

HeartCompass

Do you wish you could follow your heart, but it seems impossible? I can help you find the clarity and courage you need.

In other words, I can help you find your path.