I'm always moaning about how I have too many ideas and not enough time, so it's quite important to me to manage my time efficiently.
My biggest concern, with many projects on the go at once (and I don't just mean fun personal projects, I'm including things my family depends upon me for as well), is that I'll forget something important I'm supposed to do. And I'm also concerned that I'll forget a fun personal project, so that when I do get a moment, I can't think of anything to do, or that I spend my time on something that doesn't get me as good a reward for the available resources as I could have had.
Therefore, I've always been a big fan of "To Do" lists in one form or another. I've tried a few apps to manage TODOs for me, from the excellent personal information management facilities of the Palm Pilot to Things on the Mac, but I've tended to find such things restrictive. For a long time I had a complex OmniOutliner setup that also computed my timesheets with AppleScript, which suited me well; indeed, I've still yet to completely migrate all of the content out of that file (tricky now I no longer have a Mac, but I've looked at the underlying XML file and it seems reasonably parseable), and I think it still contains some notes about ARGON that I've not written up anywhere else!
However, I've had the most success with text files, adding hierarchic structure with headings, so it was fairly natural for me to try Org Mode one of these days. For those not in the know, this is an Emacs package designed to help you organise things with hierarchically-structured plain text files. You write heading lines prefixed with an asterisk, indicating the level of nesting by adding more asterisks, and Org helps by syntax-highlighting the header lines, hiding entire subtrees so you can see the large-scale structure, editing operations to cut and paste entire subtrees (properly adjusting the levels to match where you paste the subtree too), and so on.
But that's just the start. That's what it inherits from the Outline Mode it's based on.
What Org Mode adds on top of that is really hard to list. You can add workflow tags (TODO -> INPROGRESS -> STALLED -> DONE, for instance; you get to define your own little state machine), along with optional priorities, to mark some headings as tasks requiring attention (and obtain a report in the "agenda view" of all headings in certain states, ordered by priority, for instance). You can attach tags to headlines (and use them as filters in the agenda). You can attach arbitrary key-value metadata lists to headings (which are folded down into a single line, and opened up on request, so they don't clutter it), and use those to annotate things with deadlines, or scheduled dates, and have a calendar view in your agenda. Or use the key-value properties to filter the agenda view. Or have Org Mode automatically record a log book of state transitions of a task in the metadata. Or take metadata keys out and display them as extra columns in the hierarchy of headings, in a manner reminicent of OmniOutliner. You can embed links to other files that can be opened in Emacs; if it's an org-mode file you can link to a heading by a unique ID, or you can link to any old text file by line number or by searching for nearby text. There's a feature you can use, while editing any file, to create an Org-Mode heading containing text you are prompted for and a link to the place you were at in the file you were editing, timestamped, inserted under a specified heading of a specified org-mode file, so you can trivially create tasks referencing the file you're working on. Or you can embed executable elisp code to perform arbitrarily complex operations.
I'd been using Org Mode for a while, but I wasn't really using it properly; I had a whole bunch of .org files for different areas of my life, but it was sometimes difficult to fit things into the taxonomy. However, lately, I've had a big tidy-up of my home directory.
I've migrated old projects from Subversion or Git into Fossil, for a start, so now all of my projects - open-source ones at Kitten Technologies, and personal ones, are in their own Fossil repos, which means they have their own ticket trackers for their individual tasks. But each and every one of them has a heading in my new single
tasks.org file, which is a unified repository of things I should, or would like to, think about. Fossil projects have a single heading, tagged with "FOSSIL", that lists the place in my home directory where I have the repo working copy, and the URL of the master repository on my server; ŧhis exists to prevent me from forgetting about a project.
I've migrated our long-standing home wiki (mainly a repository of recipies and other such domestic stuff) into the inbuilt wiki of the Fossil repo I already use to store documentation about the house, such as network configuration, a PDF of the plans from the Land Registry, and stuff like that; and the ticket tracker in that repo is now the domestic TODO list. Running the Fossil web interface for that repo off of the home fileserver means that Sarah and I can share the Wiki and task list. And I've configured the Fossil user roles so that anonymous users can't see anything too sensitive.
So in general I've moved as much as I can to Fossil repositories, combining versioned file storage and ticket tracking with a wiki as appropriate; and my
tasks.org exists to act as an index to all of them, and to store actual task list items for things that don't naturally map to a fossil repo, although I may find ways to deal with those as well (for instance, I have a fossil repo I use to store my org files, encrypted password database, household budget, address book, and the like, that I'm not using the ticket tracker on; that could be used as a place to put my general administrative tasks as tickets).
However, although putting tickets in the repositories that store individual projects is conceptually neat, and allows for third parties to interact with my task list for open-source projects on Kitten Technologies, it does mean that I have a lot of separate task lists.
tasks.org means I won't forget about any of them, but I still have no simple way of knowing what the most urgent or interesting task out of all of my twenty-five repositories is. That's not a great problem in itself, but the next logical step will be to use the automation facilities of Fossil to pull out the tickets from all of my repos and to add them into
tasks.org as tasks beneath the corresponding Fossil project heading (including the ticket URL so I can go and edit them easily), so I can see them all consolidated on the agenda view...
Part of this process which has been interesting, though, is digging out various old TODO lists (such as the aforementioned OmniOutliner file) and project directories scattered over archives of old home directories and consolidating them. I've found various projects I'd forgotten about, and neatly filed them as current projects or into my archive tree as old projects (and, oh, how I look forward to being able to put things like that as archives into Ugarit, automatically cross-referenced by their metadata...). Having brought everything together and assembled an index reduces the horrible, lingering, feeling of having lost or forgotten something...
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