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ChoralTech: Task Management and Swatting Flies

Buzz, buzz, buzz...
I call them "flies:" those quick to-dos that are constantly floating across my brain, usually at the worst possible time. They're the ones that pop up in the middle of dinner, a conversation, rehearsal or class. Their buzz often sounds like "I was supposed to...", "Don't forget to..." or "I need to..." They are distracting, they're annoying, and most importantly-- they tend to fly away after a few seconds. They may come back at a good time, in which case I can do whatever it is that I was trying to remember to do, or they may be gone for good, in which case I'll never remember what it was that was so important at the time.
There's only one solution: capture them someplace. If you can trap them, they will a) no longer be buzzing around your mind at inopportune times, and b) not fly away, but be there for your examination when you have time to deal with them. In short, if you have flies, you need good flypaper.
The Flypaper
This is mostly a series about process. My preferred flypaper is called "Remember the Milk." It's a great free system with a very active user community sharing tips and tricks about how people use it best. At the end of the day, though, there are tons of free and paid task management websites, software, mobile apps and suggestions online. If you don't want a tech-based solution, many people do well with post-it notes, Moleskines, or any other paper-based solution. If it works for you, go with it. That said, I hope to show you a couple of iron-clad benefits of a online system that I think make it worth the initial investment of time.
Regardless of your system, I encourage you to find flypaper that is:
  • Always with you. If you have to remember to write something down/add it to your list, you're not swatting flies, you're creating new ones.
  • Easy to use. Flies move fast. By definition, they come up when you're in the middle of doing something else. If you can't capture them fast, you end up losing both the fly and whatever you were initially doing.
  • Big enough to take notes in. (Advantage #1 of tech-solutions) The name of the task isn't always enough for me to remember what I have to do. I like to make note of things like who else is involved, any resources that are helpful, any deadlines, or any intermediate steps that I find. I don't always know these immediately, so it's helpful to be able to go back and add notes. Again, this can work with notebooks, etc., as long as I purposely leave space between my tasks to go back and add notes.
The Art of Swatting Flies
Over the next three weeks, we're going to walk through my essential steps of fly swatting:
  1. Capturing and organizing them.
  2. Sorting them into lists by category, theme, class, ensemble, project or anything else relevant, and
  3. Building smart lists that show me the whos, wheres and whens of all the tasks.
Again, these are all just processes, and there are many ways to achieve them. I'll be using Remember the Milk to demonstrate them, though, and I recommend the tool as a way to achieve true fly swatting kung fu. Finally, if you are interested in becoming a fly swatting master, I recommend reading David Allen's "Getting Things Done," which is one of the bedrocks of modern task management.
What About You?
How do you capture all the little to-dos that you have during the course of the day? What are your favorite strategies?