Thursday, 19 March 2009

Making A List

Low-tech solutions are often underrated by developers and their technically minded brethren. We tend to look down on things that aren't bleeding edge, or are designed for the technically inept. It's true that I have little respect for Frontpage, or Powerpoint or anybody who saves HTML from Word.

But low-tech is the wildcard that always trips us up. How many times have you spent hours debugging a hardware/software problem, only to finally find the cause was less technical than you imagined?

Oh, the stories I could tell: Cache files ate all the drive space.., The LAN cable fell out.., They rebooted the wrong server... Twice!, We've been Slashdotted...

One of the simplest and most effective tools that is often overlooked by developers is a daily To Do List - on paper, right next to your keyboard.

Electronic To-Do lists have their place. They really shine when you want to look back at what you did and when, and for logging chargeable time, and automated reminders, but for managing just today's tasks, I don't think you can beat a real lined page on your desk.

Here's my top reasons why I think you should adopt this practice:
  • Quick glance access avoids Alt-Tab disruptions
  • Less stuff to hold in your head - don't rely on your memory, write it down and then you can fully concentrate on what you're doing
  • Helps you set an appropriate work-pace for today's tasks
  • It doubles an idea scribble space
  • Doodling can help you concentrate
  • It's a great prop for declining new tasks, "Sorry, I can't fit that in today, I've got to get through all this..."
  • The tactile satisfaction of drawing a line through completed items

And here's some tips on making the most of your list:
  • Don't spend more than 20 minutes planning your day
  • Don't use too much detail
  • Create sub tasks for complex tasks
  • Prioritize tasks in groups
  • Note which tasks depend on others
  • Quickly reprioritize after completing each task
  • Start a new list each day. Transfer uncompleted tasks from the previous day

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